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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
ELO: An electric return
Jeff Lynne and co are returning with a new ELO album, Zoom
All spaced out at the 1978 ELO concert, Wembley
By BBC News Online's Cliff Wootton

There is a Strange Magic in the air. The Electric Light Orchestra has just released a new album and Jeff Lynne is involved again.

This will lead to a perfect alignment of the planets, world peace and an end to global warming.

Well, maybe not, but the first new Jeff Lynne produced ELO album in 15 years, Zoom, evokes memories of those heady days of the 70s.


He tossed the grapefruit out into the audience and my brother caught it

Cliff's ELO memories
Back then, we all wore our hair afro-style, had outrageously flared trousers, stack heeled kinky-boots and gold lame jackets. And that was just the blokes.

I have enjoyed ELO's style of rock'n'roll since 1972 when I saw them playing on the pier at Hastings.

That was when Roll Over Beethoven was first released. Until then ELO had been appreciated by only an elite few hundred fans.

That evening, Mike Edwards played a cello solo but instead of fingering the notes, he used a grapefruit.

Totally weird, especially as he was dressed in scuba diving flippers, large black overcoat and balaclava.

Roll-over Beethoven catapulted ELO to stardom
Cello hurling that would make Beethoven turn in his grave
He tossed the grapefruit out into the audience and my brother caught it.

On the way out afterwards, we saw Mike Edwards and Wilf Gibson (violinist). So grapefruit in hand, we stopped off for a chat.

My brother and I had just started a rock group and had not long given up violin and cello ourselves to play bass and drums.

Mike and Wilf told us they were going to chuck it in and said we should get in touch for an audition to replace them.

We never did of course but I like to imagine what might have happened if we had.

Soon after that ELO evolved their musical style into the familar sound we are all used to. From then onwards they were totally huge.

ELO perform at Wembley, 1978
Kelly and Jeff performing prior to Jeff Lynne's burn out
Later on I saw them playing in the Flying Burger (Spaceship) concert at Wembley in 1978.

They went on to conquer the world and were, for a time, the biggest selling rock band on the planet.

And then Jeff Lynne got burned out. Tired of endless touring and having to crank out new albums to a formula, he decided to call a halt.

Until recently, there has been no hint of Jeff ever wanting to get ELO back together.

In the meantime, there have been a couple of interesting albums by individual band members and ELO Part II, which was formed by Bev Bevan and most of the ELO other than Jeff Lynne.

It apparently had Jeff's backing but, without Jeff writing and producing, it was not quite the ELO we remember.

ELO Part II did do a massive comeback show at Wembley with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the early 90s.

It was an impressive event, with a full-sized symphony orchestra playing all the great ELO hits and the band out in front.

Mik and Hugie do not feature in the new ELO line-up
Mik and Hugie in 1978, ELO have promised more concerts this time around
Oddly though, Bev does not figure in the new line-up, nor do any other former band members apart from Richard Tandy - who has been involved in just about everything that ELO have ever done.

But then the line-up of ELO has never stayed the same. The sound is based very much on Jeff Lynne's skills as a composer and producer.

For now, I am going to relish the anticipation of buying a new ELO album and sitting down to listen to it for the first time.

It is like the years have been stripped away and the world is full of colour again. I hope it is the first of many new albums to come.

And there is more. All of the original albums are going to be re-mastered on CD and re-issued with extra tracks.

They are promising TV specials, live concert tours and huge promotional spectaculars.

Perhaps this time round they will cross the generation gap too, and there will be concert halls filled with wrinkly rockers like me and fresh-faced young kids hearing Roll Over Beethoven for the first time.

And what of the grapefruit? Sadly it went mouldy a long time ago - but ELO just keep on rocking.

Zoom is released by Epic on 11 June.

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