Abel Fuentes: Tramp’s Footprints – The History of Supertramp

Uno Editorial 2021

Tramp’s Footprints –
The History of Supertramp

When all the world’s asleep and the questions run too deep, an extensive and exhaustive treatise on the life of and times of British art-rockers offers all the answers and more.

There are bigger bands who don’t have 700-odd-page books dedicated to them, but then, this collective never really worked on a small scale – filling arenas, witnessing riots and selling millions of albums all around the globe – and their memorable pieces still are radio staples. Back in the day, Princess Diana went on record as calling the quintet her favorite group, and French government presented them with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, so it’s only natural somebody would issue a whole tome on the ensemble and shame the authors who attempted the same feat, on a lesser scale, before. That somebody is Abel Fuentes, one of the driving forces behind The Logical Web, a site which has been running for two decades now to become the most authoritative SUPERTRAMP resource on the Internet – endorsed by musicians themselves. No wonder, then, in “Tramp’s Footprints” leaving no stone unturned.

And yet, it’s surprising how gripping Fuentes’ tale can feel, given that the group didn’t have any scandals or sensations on their résumé beyond the facts directly related to the players’ creative achievements – and the fact that they were supported by a Dutch millionaire at the outset, before Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies’ songs captured audiences firm enough to secure the band’s eternal financial independence, and 1974’s “Crime Of The Century” established a sonic benchmark for many other artists. Yes, police raided the launch of this platter, and 1985’s “Brother Where You Bound” was premiered on The Orient Express, but such anecdotes form a small part of the book. Based on personal documents, paper clippings and, what’s important, a multitude of specially conducted interviews with the musicians of each line-up and their entourage, whom they considered part of the family, the narrative is permeated with utter respect for the entire ensemble, providing more than a fan’s perspective, the only sign of the writer’s presence being a repeated singling out of Spain when it comes to the quintet’s tours. The tome rather serves as a chronicle that’s peppered with plethora of details which may seem to be bordering on overabundance but, actually, are bound to open a window into the collective’s inner-circle dynamics.

The players preferred to be famous, if faceless, the principal singer-songwriters standing further from the public and letting reedman John Helliwell compère the band’s performances, and it’s nice to have a closer look at Dougie Thomson, Bob Siebenberg and their colleagues. It’s good to delve into Davies’ aptitude for finding for kindred spirits and Hodgson’s spiritual search – the vegetarian latter was deeply troubled to go on stage at “The Pavillon” whence most of the “Paris” tapes came, because the venue used to serve as a slaughterhouse, while the former infused his philosophy with down-to-earth rhythm-and-blues and brought a string of guitar luminaries into the team’s orbit, including Carl Verheyen, Marty Walsh, Bob’s brother-in-law Scott Gorham and David Gilmour, to spice up the group’s ’80s albums. Contradictions appeared to be crumbling the ensemble’s façade early on – the farewell card that Richard Palmer-James, their original guitarist who had coined the band’s name, sent to Rick and Roger read, “Happy Christmas, cunts… And fuck you!” – yet Fuente’s not taking sides in the Hodgson-vs-Davies and other conflicts, the rifts fueled in the beginning by the players’ different, class-wise, backgrounds and intake of LSD, and while it’s not difficult to see where his sympathies lie, Abel’s trying to stay as impartial as he’s able. And he had to: after all, the composers’ often contrasting views aligned classics like “The Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger” within a single context and defined the collective’s balance the book is scrutinizing.

Every little detail is covered, so the reader will know not only the name of the waitress on the cover of “Breakfast In America” but also the name of the model whose breasts decorate the sleeve of “Indelibly Stamped” as well as tonnage of the quintet’s concert setup and when the Wurlitzer piano, an integral part of the collective’s sound, ceased to be manufactured – and of course, as one of the appendices will confirm, every song the band laid down, be it a released cut or a number left on the shelf, is touched upon, revealing the thinking behind it. And there’s a lot of pieces, a backlog so immense that this cache used to serve as a source for most of the ensemble’s albums and the group’s alumni’s solo offerings. After 1983, when Hodgson left the fold, the tome’s storyline gets diverged yet its two branches remain tightly intertwined, and sometimes the dualism enriches the account, highlighting Rick’s perseverance in steering the enterprise into a new century and looking into Roger’s oeuvre – mentioning his collaboration with Trevor Rabin, which landed him a credit on a YES record, and with another TR, the great Terry Riley, whose tambura is heard on a Hodgson longplay.

“Tramp’s Footprints” is exactly the book a band of this significance and popularity deserves: tightly packed with information and augmented with black-and-white illustrations. The tome’s English edition is a translation from Spanish, and linguistic issues crop up here and there, but it doesn’t get in the way of the text’s flow. As a result, the volume’s a must-read for any SUPERTRAMP aficionado – with no ensemble action in sight and no new record in the last 20 years, the book is as definitive as one can expect from the experts.

*****

February 25, 2022

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