Sixties 'Grocer Jack' rock opera gets off its back after 30-year wait

One of the longest-delayed librettos in history, a rock opera which burst into the singles charts in 1967, will be finally released next month almost 30 years after its first "aria" was championed on Radio 1.

In the summer of 1967 a singer called Keith West had the surprise hit of the year with "Excerpt From A Teenage Opera", a whimsical story about the death of a popular neighbourhood grocer.

Lavishly orchestrated and somewhat outlandishly topped with a children's choir singing "Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack, get off your back," it became one of the classic sounds of the Sixties, and is still played endlessly.

But the promised teenage opera, in which the tale of Grocer Jack was to be just a part, failed to materialise. Keith West disappeared into musical obscurity.

Now, 29 years later, West's collaborator, an American musician, Mark Wirtz, has completed the score, and it will be released by the RPM Records label. RPM's director, Mark Stratford, the executive producer of the record, said: "Teenage Opera is a long lost Sixties dream project.

"We've just had a resurgence of interest in Tommy, the first pop-rock opera produced and yet Teenage Opera, if finished, would have pre-dated it by two years."

West, 51, who lives in Weybridge, Surrey, said: "I can't believe it. It was just done as a bit of fun 30 years ago.

"I thought you made a record and people tossed it away after six weeks.

"It was just full of the ideas of the time. That was the Sixties - you could just try things and go for broke. It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek and we just decided to go overboard with it."

West is now a marketing director for the Burns guitar company. "I've been offered a lot of money to record a new version of the song, but I've always declined that," he said. Royalties from the song, which is still played on radio in Britain and the United States, continue to form an integral part of his income, he says.

In the Sixties, Cliff Richard expressed an interest in performing in the opera if were ever produced.

And one of West and Wirtz's collaborators on the project was the guitarist Steve Howe, who went on to join the Seventies supergroup Yes.

tAn attempt has been launched to pull the plug on two sell-out shows by the band Oasis on the shores of Loch Lomond, it emerged yesterday.

Residents in the lochside village of Balloch have filed numerous objections to the concerts, complaining that the promoters sold tickets without planning permission. Villagers are also nervous about the prospect of 80,000 Oasis fans converging on the area for the shows, on 3 and 4August.

Although all the tickets for the Loch Lomond concert were sold within hours when they went on sale last weekend, the deadline for objections to the gig does not expire until tomorrow.

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