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JOHNNY GUITAR; EXCLUSIVE CHART-TOPPING SONGWRITER IS HONOURED WITH NUMBER ONE AWARD Texas star's 25 years of hits.

Byline: By BILLY SLOAN

SCOTS rocker Johnny McElhone has written dozens of hit songs, played sell-out gigs all over the world and lost count of the number of times he appeared on Top Of The Pops.

But the millionaire musician - bass playerwith Texas - can walk down any street in his home town unrecognised.

And in a rare interview, the 43-year-old revealed that is just the way he likes it.

While singer Sharleen Spiteri is the public face of Texas, the man who co-wrote the band's string of hits shuns the limelight.

But the shy star will be forced out of hiding on Wednesday when he is presented with one of the world's most prestigious songwriting prizes.

He will receive the Gold Badge Award - given by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters - at a ceremony at the Savoy in London.

Johnny is being recognised for co-writing Texas hits I Don't WantALover, Say What You Want and Black Eyed Boy.

He also penned Top 40 hits Happy Birthday and I Could Be Happy for his first group Altered Images and best-selling single The Honeythief for Hipsway.

Johnny said: "It's nice to be recognised for what you do. After 25 years, I'mstill having hit records. I'm very lucky.

"Going on stage in front of 20,000 people is fine - I've always got Sharleen to draw attention away from me.

"But walking up to accept the Gold Badge will be a really big deal."

Johnny left Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow - without sitting his Highers - to concentrate on music.

He was swept along by the punk rock of The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

He said: "Punk changed everything for me. Joe Strummer made anyone feel they could form a group.

"When you're 15 or 16 you know no fear. That's why I had the confidence to start writing songs of my own."

His career really kicked off when he formed Altered Images with singer Clare Grogan in 1979.

He said: "I gotmy first group together with school mates Tony McDaid, Tich Anderson, Caesar - later replaced by Jim McKinven and Clare.

"We were big fans of Siouxsie And The Banshees so I sent them a copy of our demo. They invited us to support them at Tiffany's in Glasgow in early 1980 and later asked us to go on tour."

The band were offered a deal by CBS Records. Johnny was a minor so his late father - respected Labour MP Frank McElhone - had to sign the contract.

Altered Images were championed by the late John Peel and played a session on his legendary Radio 1 show.

Their career took off in 1981, when they joined then unknown Irish group U2 on their first major UK tour.

Johnny said: "U2 used to roadie for us. At gigs they'd stop their sound check to help unload our gear from the van.

"We opened for them at Strathclyde University, brought along a big local following and got four encores. We couldn't believe it when Bono got five."

That same year, Altered Images released the single Happy Birthday, which hit No. 2 in the UK charts.

The band followed it up with six top 40 hits and three chart albums.

When Altered Images disbanded in 1983, Johnny formed Hipsway.

Their self-titled 1986 album featured hit single The Honeythief and the group played sell-out gigs supporting Simple Minds at Wembley and Ibrox. They also toured with Eurythmics.

When Johnny quit Hipsway 12 months later, a mate invited him to meet a female hairdresser who was keen to break into music.

Johnny said: "It was Sharleen. She sang Do You Really Want To Hurt Me by Culture Club.Her voice was unbelievable.

"The first song we wrote was I Don't Want A Lover. It was our first hit in 1989."

Texas - which includes guitarist Ally McErlaine and keyboard player Eddie Campbell - have since had a run of more than 20 top 40 hits.

They also enjoyed eight massive albums, including No.1's White On Blonde (1997), The Hush (1999) and Greatest Hits (2000).

Johnny said: "In 2006, it was great appearing on Top Of The Pops performing Sleep 25 years after I'd first gone on it with Altered Images. And I'm still as hungry to write a brilliant song now as I was then."

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b.sloan@sundaymail.co.uk

JOHNNY'S HITS

Altered Images: I Could Be Happy (1981).

It was a challenge to write a great song after the success of Happy Birthday. We didn't want to be one-hit wonders.

Hipsway: Ask The Lord (1986).

We wrote it in a rehearsal room above the Glasgow Apollo. The ghosts of the venue inspired it.

Texas: I Don't Want A Lover (1989).

It's special because it was the first song Sharleen and I wrote together.

Texas: Say What You Want (1997).

It's the song which got us back into the charts after we'd struggled with our albums Mother's Heaven and Rick's Road.

Texas: Sleep (2006).

We recorded it in my home studio. Seeing Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile and Sharleen duet was amazing.

JOHNNY'S HEROES

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On (1971).

He's the best singer ever and was one of the first Motown acts to write about war and environmental issues.

Bob Dylan: Knocking On Heaven's Door (1973).

A simple song which sounded incredible on the Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid soundtrack.

The Clash: Complete Control (1977). Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were a brilliant writing partnership and the song has so much energy.

The Beatles: A Day In The Life (1967).

The lyrics capture Lennon and McCartney's genius.

Prince: Pop Life (1985).

He's a great writer and musician and can play anything. He was a huge influence on Texas.

'I'd never want to be in the spotlight like Sharleen'

JOHNNY has nothing but praise for Texas' frontwoman Sharleen - but admits he wouldn't swap places with her in the spotlight.

He said: "Sharleen is the focal point of Texas and does all the interviews.

"That's an incredible burden and I admire her for being able to handle it.

"Sharleen is incredible to watch on stage, while I prefer being in a recording studio.

"When Texas do acoustic sets I'm not required on stage.

"I get just as much enjoyment watchingmy songs being played as I stand at the mixing desk.

"It would be a total nightmare if I had to swap with Sharleen.

"The audience would be doubled up laughing. It would be a complete disaster." When he isn't touring, family man Johnny lives in Glasgow with wife Janice and their sons, Mickey, 16, and Jack, 13.

He said: "My kids are into music. They love the fact I can get them into loads of gigs. "What they like best of all is the Texas tour bus.

"They love going on tour, sleeping in the bunks and playing computer games all day.

"If I'm working on a new song I use them as sounding boards.

"I've been making music since they were born so they're used to it."

Although Johnny is a reluctant stage performer, he enjoys touring and has fond memories of special Texas gigs.

He said: "Headlining T in the Park in 2001 was very special for us.

"As soon as we walked on stage the crowd were with us.

"It was like having 50,000 friends with us and it really lifted the band."

CAPTION(S):

Family man: Johnny aged six (front row second left) with his dad, MP Frank McElhone, his mum Helen and siblings (from left) Lorraine, nine, Rozanne, 5, and Gerard, 10' Sing when you're winning: Johnny will receive Gold Badge Award for penning hits such as I Don't Want A Lover Picture: VICTORIA STEWART' 1981 80s idols: Altered Images' Tich Anderson, Jim McKinven, Clare Grogan, Johnny and Tony McDaid scored a string of hits with tracks such as Happy Birthday and I Could Be Happy' 1985 Hipsway: Johnny, left, with Graham Skinner, Harry Travers and Pim Jones' 1986 The way they were: Early Texas' Ally, original drummer Stuart Kerr, Sharleen and Johnny' 2006 Scottish pride: Johnny, right, Sharleen and Ally are the only original Texas members still in band' Super Shar: Singer Sharleen' Special: First Texas hit' In control: Clash 45
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 22, 2006
Words:1370
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