Daze Of Pop & Marmalade
The TIN TIN Story
by Pat Pierson
"And a footstep is such a small thing
That it's neither here nor there
'Til you string those steps together
And find home is way back, way back where?"
- Paddy McAloon
When I decided to tackle the story of the early '70s band Tin Tin, I realized there was a LOT more to the story that deserved to be told than just a quick overview of the catalog and a brief synopsis of their trials and tribulations. And deeper digging revealed a serious dearth of clarified and researched info on the band, despite sincere efforts. So I sought the band for their input to this story.
It is the story of two Steves: Steve Kipner and Steve Groves and how their paths crossed. And, how from 1968 to 1973 they created brilliant pop music that, for as time-capsulized as it is, still illuminates with a fearless inspiration that has to be chalked up to Beatles-era zen and the touch of God as far as melodic and musical zeal is concerned. It's something more in line with magical late '60s British Invasion pop (re: The Hollies, Chad And Jeremy, Bee Gees, and The Zombies) and classic American pop like The Monkees, Harry Nilsson, and Sagittarius vs. the countless also-rans that peppered the landscape.
For some reason, Steve Kipner and Tin Tin failed to gain any serious post-life traction the way certain artists of their time (Curt Boettcher, Emitt Rhodes) did. Alas, there was never a Rhino or Sundazed reissue and MOJO never came knocking on their door.
To be POP in 1969 and remain connected to a cool rock mind-frame was the struggle; the massive success of bands like Three Dog Night and Creedence Clearwater Revival began altering the sunshine vista of 66-68 whilst creating a top 40 atmosphere that was more down-home and funky. Mix that with the ever-fast evolution of serious rock music (fueled by the social upheaval of 1968 and the Vietnam War) and you have the proverbial nails for sunshine pop's coffin as well as British Invasion pop acts.
UK bands like The Hollies and Herman's Hermits struggled after the summer of love with nary a US hit, while US pop bands (Mamas And Papas, Lovin' Spoonful, Turtles, Monkees, Paul Revere & The Raiders) either faded into the sunset or splintered into solo projects or rebooted new formations between late 1968 and mid 1970.
After a brilliant yet unsuccessful debut in 1968 (as Steve & Stevie) Steve Groves and Steve Kipner signed with Robert Stigwood. For Kipner it was also a re-connection with Maurice Gibb and The Bee Gees who had worked with his father, Nat Kipner, who (in 1966) produced their breakthrough hit, "Spicks And Specks."
Between 1969 and 1972 Tin Tin released two albums and several non-LP singles that sounded like a lost connection between Paul McCartney and the Bee Gees; never, as one online commentator stated, "mushy" like the Bee Gees. And they were never as bluesy as Badfinger. Kipner and Groves's pop sense aligns them more toward guys like the aforementioned McCartney and Paul Williams. (It's no big stretch that years later, Kipner would become a class A songwriter for hire.)
After the band split up both Steves went their own way: Mr. Groves went on to step away from the music biz that would eventually become Mr. Kipner's gravy train. As a songwriter for hire Kipner scored with many hits including mega ones like Olivia Newton John's "Physical" and Christina Aguilera's "Genie In A Bottle" and is still a very productive and successful songwriter.
--Pat Pierson (editor boy)
THE STEVE KIPNER INTERVIEW
YEAH YEAH YEAH: What was the fate of Steve & The Board and how did you meet Steve Groves?
Ok, one day/night in the flat Steve & the Board lived in at Grange Road, Toorak (a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria) someone in the band said, “what if we disappeared, broke up with out telling anyone?” Somehow, the next day Steve & The Board was.
Carl was back in Brisbane. So, when Steve & The Board broke up and basically abandoned Melbourne I was informed by our then manager that we still had an agreement to perform a gig that couldn't be cancelled so I (as the lead singer) had to hire a band, learn the songs and perform as Steve & The Board; I remember it as terrible- haha.
That’s around the time I started to write with Steve Groves. I didn’t drive or have a license and my father--my parents lived in Sydney--was leaving for England to manage John Rowles. He convinced me to fly to Sydney, learn to drive, take over responsibility of his Ford Holden car, which I did. The day after I got my license I drove the 600 or so miles back to Melbourne; ran out of money and gas and slept in my stationary car that I’d luckily parked on the street outside Steve Groves' parents house.
It was a really cold Melbourne winter and I would write with Steve during the day and sneak back to my car at night. I got very sick and one night Steve’s parents appeared at the car's window and invited me to stay with them. They had an army bunk I could use in Steve’s bedroom. I got sicker and ended up in hospital with Pneumonia. Steve’s parents were really good to me. Pride wouldn’t let me ask my parents for $ and they never knew.
Steve's band (The Kinetics) and mine used to play a lot of the same gigs. We weren’t really friends but knew each other. So after both our bands broke up we met up. We would write at Groves' parents' house in Melbourne. John Vallins lived in the same suburb (Kew). John and Steve Groves were still good friends and even though we didn’t write with John at the time we all spent a lot of time together.
Y3: Can you recall how your relationship with the Bee Gees grew and how you connected with them, going from those early recordings "Spicks & Specks" era to a few years later when you signed with Robert Stigwood?
I’ve known the Bee Gees and their parents (and Andy Gibb as a baby in diapers) since I was somewhere around 11 years old, in Brisbane Australia. I think the twins (Robin and Maurice) were about the same age as me; my father (Nat Kipner) had a lot to do with them (lots of existing articles about that). One of my earliest memories of them was being in a car. I was in the passenger seat and the three brothers were all in the back seat singing a cappella in 3-part harmony; it was the first time I recall hearing harmonies like that and it sounded incredible to me hearing that in the confined inside space in the car. (It was) a big influence on me.
When I was around 15 I had my first band called Steve & the Board. Because of my dad we had the good fortune--and probably with a little nepotism--to record a lot. Most signed artists only got to record singles, not albums, in those days. (This was) at the same studio (in Hurstville) Dad had arranged the Bee Gees to record in. So we spent a lot of time hanging around there. I recall Maurice didn’t have a guitar amp so he played his guitar through a small record player speaker; very primitive recording equipment and gear, but it was exciting.
One day Maurice called and said Barry had the flu and it was too late to cancel their studio time and that we (Tin Tin) should use it. And that session resulted in a hit song called “Toast and Marmalaide for Tea." It got to #20 on the US Billboard chart when we did a 30-date tour of America opening for the Brothers (Gibb). And, by bus I got to really see the States for the first time, starting in Nashville and covering mostly the east coast.
Y3: During the days of Tin Tin and working with Maurice Gibb there were many pop bands mining Beatlesque pop and evolving with post-psychedelic sensibilities. I think this is what is so fascinating about the records made with Steve Groves and Maurice Gibb; there's a great sense of musical freedom with the songs and an unbridled energy and spirit. What was the general atmosphere during that period? And how did you personally approached it?
Not sure how to answer but, I like everyone else was greatly influenced by the Beatles and British music from the 60s. Steve Groves and I would write songs on acoustic guitars and sing all the time, never thinking too much about the production. When we got to record (usually at IBC studio because the Bee Gees used it a lot and Stigwood had an account there) we would hire a drummer and we would record and add to tracks as we went along.
There was a nine-foot grand piano there so I would plonk along on it. There were no synthesizers in those days but there was a Mellotron (one of only about three in London and made famous by the Beatles using one of them). We took advantage of things like that; when the Bee Gees would do an orchestral string session, Maurice would slip one of our songs on the end of it if there was time. Maurice played a lot of the bass parts on the first album, not so much on the 2nd.
Steve and I would stand in front of a microphone and sing together--not separate tracks--and when we weren't singing in harmony we usually sang the lead together in unison. That's probably why our voices sounded similar. We did that because, one: we didn't know any better and two: being a couple of wide-eyed kids from Australia and now in the mecca London we naively didn't want to waste the rare opportunity of being in an expensive studio to get both our voices on every bit of tape we could. Haha.
I don't remember being too serious or dedicated about it. It was a fun thing to do and an exciting world to be a part of. We had no money. We received a small $ retainer and merrily went along with what ever came up.
Y3: Album two (Astral Taxi) is more conceptual. And, overall, it really holds up. What's your thoughts about that album?
The Astral Taxi album was the three of us. We were a little more experienced but nothing much had really changed. Billy Lawrie (Lulu’s brother) was more around that time. I wish I could tell you how we sweated and worked hard to improve and get better but that wasn't the case. It was just a carefree adventure with no thoughts of the future and where we could take it if we buckled down. I think I loved the feeling of being in a gang--band members against the world--more than the actual making music part. Actually, I didn't get serious about making music and business until years later when I became a song writer for other artists.
The Fut thing came about one night at IBC studio when Steve and I were making the track of a song called “Have You Heard The Word.” We had a lot of the music done when Maurice and Billy walked in with a bottle of scotch and we got too drunk to continue so for a laugh we all stood around one microphone and ad-libbed one take of the song impersonating the Beatles. Maurice did a great Lennon and we were drunk as skunks and forgot about it.
The recording engineer recorded it without us being aware. It was released on Beacon Records in the UK. (Robert) Stigwood heard it and wanted it not to get heard because a Bee Gee impersonating a Beatle wasn't desirable. So it disappeared and it wasn't until 20 years later I found out about it. It ended up on all those unofficial Beatle albums as a Beatles outtake. It's really bad and a joke, but Maurice really did sound like John.
Y3: What is the story behind the disbanding of Tin Tin and what followed?
Tin Tin was going nowhere and Steve and John returned to Australia. I got a call to audition in California (where I had never been) to become a member of a group being formed at MGM records. I wasn't really interested (at first) because I was writing with a mate in London called Peter Beckett and because of Tin Tin I could get free time in a little studio that we were taking advantage of. But, anyway, I figured I've never seen LA and could use the audition and a warm vacation from the London winter.
Once I arrived in LA I loved it; reminded me of Australia, the weather etc. Also: they put me up in a nice hotel and paid my expenses and Michael Lloyd was a talented and successful young bloke. The other member was an Australian called Darryl Cotton. I decided to stay and made the Friends album at Michael's home studio. (It was the first time I knew someone who had their own studio.)
I missed the creative feeling of working with Beckett and felt it had a future. Eventually, when I knew LA was the place for me, I flew back to London to get Peter Beckett to come join me as a musical partner in America; that turned into Skyband. None of these bands amounted to much but they were steps into the future. Peter eventually formed a band called Player and had a huge #1 hit with “Baby Come Back.” He and I also to made a little money backing Peter Noone in Hermans Hermits. I played bass and sang background vocals and Beckett played guitar and sang. We did stints at Disneyland and other similar venues including the World's Fair in Spokane Washington opening for the Jackson 5.
It was still something I did casually. It wasn't until years later--when an Italian singer recorded one of my songs and it did great--that I realized I could make a good living this way. This was around the time (1979) when I made my solo album (Knock The Walls Down). I started writing songs not intended for myself to sing and that gave me a freedom of not being restricted by being in the confines of a band.
Also around that time I did a 180 degree musical turn and discovered Stevie Wonder, Santana, The Brothers Johnson, Aretha and felt embarrassed i neglected such life-changing music in the past. Everything changed and I started to write songs for the song's sake. It was the first time I really got IT. And I was happy not to be in a band. Later I would do another album as a duo with Beckett called Think Out Loud on A&M (in 1988). My demos gave me the satisfaction of performing (to myself in front of a microphone).
My TIN TIN Days
(as told by John Vallins)
For me the Tin Tin story goes back quite a way. Steve Groves and I had formed a band The Kinetics together with some friends in 1965 and we were working the Melbourne scene (the music centre of Australia at the time). We met Steve Kipner at that time as he was leading his own band and we often worked together in various venues around town. As often happens, both these bands broke up through one thing or another and I remember that the two Steves had met and were working together in Sydney for a while.
They eventually came back to Melbourne, which is where the three of us (along with my brother Jim) worked some gigs and did some TV under the name Rombo’s World. Both Steves were doing a lot of writing at the time and eventually decided to head off to London where Steve Kipner’s father, Nat, was working at the time. I wasn’t quite ready to make that leap at the time so decided to stay in Melbourne for the time being. We kept in touch, though, and I was following their adventures in the music industry with interest.
I had heard the albums (Steve And Stevie and the first Tin Tin album) and thought what they were doing was great; particularly the songs. Not long after I got a call asking if I wanted to join them in London and become part of Tin Tin. "Toast and Marmalade" was just starting to chart in the US and, of course, I accepted.
Within a week or so I found myself in London, at IBC Studios in Portland Place writing and recording songs for what would become Astral Taxi; I had just turned 21 years old. I loved doing the album; sang and played bass on a lot of it and found that we all worked really well together in terms of ideas for arrangements and various different instruments for different tracks.
The other thing was that our three voices blended very well together (as in the track "The Cavalry’s Coming"). I remember I played a piano accordion on that track, we all thought it would work well and it did. I think Steve Kipner played the harmonica solo on it too.
Breakdown Of The Tracks On Astral Taxi
The title cut saw both Steves on acoustic guitars and Steve Groves soloing on electric through a Leslie speaker.
"Ships on the Starboard"
(This) was a great song to work on. I played the recorder on it, trying somehow to give the impression of someone being piped aboard…it sounded ok I think. Steve K. plays some really strong piano at the fade too.
"Our Destiny" and "Tomorrow Today"
An interesting track. Beautifully arranged for a small orchestra by Gerry Shury who did all the string and brass arrangements on the album. It lead perfectly into "Tomorrow Today" which had acoustic guitars on it originally, but it was soon obvious that we didn’t need them throughout, only in the choruses. "Tomorrow Today" also shows how the two Steves would often share the lead vocal together. I mean, actually singing together, it was a great sound.
Jenny B was actually someone we knew, but I’m not saying who. Great brass arrangement from Gerry again and I liked the swaps between the electric guitars and the brass towards the end. Great drums on that track from Kenney Jones from the Faces too. (Geoff Bridgford, who was playing drums with The Bee Gees at the time, played on a lot of the album and I remember Steve Kipner played some drums on a track or two as well.)
"I Took a Holiday"
Probably my favourite track on the album; acoustic guitars, a lovely melody and a wonderful string arrangement from Gerry.
This was a nod to an old country sounding track with Steve Kipner on lead vocals.
"Set Sail for England"
Tells the story of Tin Tin in a way; sort of biographical.
"The Cavalry's Coming"
Our three voices blended very well together. I remember I played a piano accordion on that track, we all thought it would work well and it did. I think Steve Kipner played the harmonica solo on it too.
"Benny The Wonder Dog"
"Benny..." was a tribute to Steve Groves’s German Shepherd Ben. I played bass and some recorder and remember plucking the strings on the inside of the studio piano for a new sound. Steve K on piano and Steve G on guitars. That whole track just happened in the studio, as we were looking for a final song for the record.
(Note from John Vallins: "I’m afraid I missed the “Is that the Way” session by a week or so when I was on my way to London.")
Maurice Gibb was the exec. producer on Astral Taxi. He would be there off and on through the sessions, and I remember he offered me the use of his Hofner bass for the sessions, because I used to play one myself. I always liked Maurice, or Mo as we called him. He was extraordinarily generous in many ways, and we all got on well.
TIN TIN Tours The US With The Bee Gees In The Fall Of 1971
Astral Taxi was released in the US on the ATCO label to very good reviews not long afterwards. It was only a few months I think after finishing the album that we headed off to the USA on tour with The Bee Gees. I remember we kicked off in Nashville at some huge stadium. There was a young orchestra from Chicago travelling with us, who were on stage with the Bee Gees, as at that time much of their repertoire had orchestral backing. Bill Shepard, who arranged all the Bee Gees tracks at the time conducted.
For us it was quite a lot more intimate really. The three of us sat on stools, close to the front of stage, with a semi-circle of, I think it was eight string players behind us. We did a lot of the songs from Astral Taxi, along with a few others and "Toast and Marmalade" of course.
I remember that first concert so well. I was so damn nervous. Maurice came in to see us in our dressing room just before we went on and took one look at me and said, “just wait a minute,” and disappeared then came back with a large Scotch and said to me, “drink this.” Which I did. It calmed me down enough to get through our gig and I was extremely grateful. I honestly don’t remember much about the rest of that night. However I do remember Robert Stigwood was sitting front row central, and was smiling broadly, so I figured we were doing OK.
As we moved on through the states we became more and more confident on the stage. By the time we got to New York we knew pretty much what we were doing. We went down very well in New York, the reviews in the papers were full of praise, and we left on a real high. I’m afraid much of the rest of the tour is a bit of a blur for me, but there were highlights:
I remember Steve Kipner and I going out on the town in Chicago (much against orders) and having a great night in a club somewhere downtown. We brought a whole lot of people back to our Hotel and partied on all night. The next days traveling wasn’t fun at all.
I can also remember the gigs at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. I was knocked out by playing on that stage that nearly every star of the past 40 years had appeared on including Sinatra and Presley. I also loved the hotel we stayed at there. It was one of those majestic old places that had seen a lot over the years, and it had a fabulous atmosphere. I somehow managed to get a suite in that place and it was magnificent.
All this time of course Maurice was keeping an eye on us. He and I used to meet at the bar of nearly every new hotel we stayed in. We’d have a couple of drinks and get talking to the people in the bar. It was a great way of finding out about the city we were in and get to know a few people. Mo was naturally a good-natured bloke and people liked him immediately.
The other thing I remember is stopping at a Diner somewhere on the road to Washington. I ordered a coffee and a sandwich and told the young waitress to keep the change when she brought the bill. It was only when we reached the city that I realized I’d given her a one hundred dollar bill.
I can remember standing backstage watching the Bee Gees perform some nights on the tour. When we opened in Nashville the whole stadium erupted when they played "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart." It was number one at the time.
I loved the tour. It was a huge eye opener for me, and have me a chance to see a lot of America, even though it was in short hops.
(The most current and thorough reissuing of the band's material has come via the obscure French label, Magic Records who have done a wonderful job of securing every release from Steve & Stevie and Tin Tin for a 2020 2-CD collection; see above image.
(Special thanks to David Jenkins and Caley Groves)