Wednesday, 12 April 2023

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE - Volunteers, Dick Cavett and Hampstead Heath

(MS)

Oh the after-tram-ride quiet, when we heard a mile beyond,
Silver music from the bandstand, barking dogs by Highgate Pond

"Parliament Fields" JOHN BETJEMAN

I had a strange moment on the lavatory recently. I was absent-mindedly surfing the net on my phone when I discovered an old fan review of a gig by the Jefferson Airplane that had taken place in London back in 1968. On a wet Wednesday the Airplane supported by the Sandy Denny line-up of Fairport Convention, played to 200-odd people for Camden Council’s first free festival on the slopes of Parliament Hill. 
Playing dare with the blinds that largely protect my modesty from the dog walkers and joggers traipsing down this very Hill, I considered this as I rose to flush. “Wow what a line-up!”, I enthused to myself. Then peering out through the window towards the mist
gathering round the distant bandstand, I realised - like a thunderbolt -that the account of the gig I was reading about… had actually taken place right in front of my field of vision. Trousers hastily gathered around my mid-rift I urgently ventured out into the drizzle and mud, driven by a need to pay immediate homage to this event. As I stood under the bandstand in Grace Slick’s very footsteps, listening to the rain drumming against the roof, I smiled to myself about the band’s reported plea to the crowd to go home because of the shit weather.

A year later The Airplane were the featured guests on the Dick Cavett Show, a day after they had played a much larger free gig to 400,000 people at the Woodstock festival. Everyone’s seen the famous concert movie, Richie Havens strumming away, Joe Cocker, “The Star-Spangled Banner”...the freaks, the bad acid...all that. 

Even Charlton Heston saw it, chilling  in his own personal theatre during mutant-slaughter downtime in “The Omega Man”. Forming part of a future-shock triptych with  "Soylent Green" and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes",  the scene was added to the narrative to illustrate the symbolical yearning for a recent time when the earth was FREE. The film was made in 1971 and if they were fondly looking back to 1969 I guess they were basically saying the apocalypse came down just after Woodstock. This runs through my mind when I watch this TV Show.

Beneath the genial hip-uncle bit, Cavett’s ringmaster seems to be straining to fill this ABC showcase with the freak-show that you just knew middle America was craving for. As a crash course in the counter-culture there’s a bit too much traffic colliding here; there’s anarchy in the air but it’s oddly stage managed with all the participants pursuing their own unacknowledged agenda, The knowing discarded neckerchief schtick in the intro, shorn like a Woolworths “genuine hippy wig”, signifies something REAL is coming but the temperature never really rises beyond the petulant kick Paul Kantner aims at one of the fireside poufs.

Noted critc Robert Cristgau prematurely dismissed the JeffersonAirplane’s first recordings as an “electrified Peter, Paul & Mary”, but the progression through folk-rock into full blown psychedelia established them as the highest grossing West Coast act, with a RCA record contract that guaranteed expansive studio time and a lavish communal mansion in San Francisco. With the recent addition of session man star Nicky Hopkins, their contemporary “Volunteers” album also featured some of the most successful studio work of their entire career with political and sci-fi themes rubbing shoulders with fearsome song-jams like “Eskimo Blue Day” and “Hey Frederick”. The title track is worth comparing to the song “St Stephen” by fellow travellers The Grateful Dead to get a sense of the difference between these two West Coast giants. Both songs appropriate the same old bluegrass reel for the opening guitar riff, but where the Airplane sound is tightly driven with propulsive bursts of guitar, the Dead meander their way across the soundscape with semi-audible lyrics over a largely acoustic backing. The studio version appearing on the Dead’s “Aoxomoxoa” LP, a definitive study in acid-folk and one in sharp contrast to the way Jefferson Airplane sounded in 1969.

Thus the most immediately shocking aspect of this TV show may be the ragged opening song from the Airplane who were then at their musical apex. Days before, their 8am set at Woodstock had been one of their very best with the preceding energy of The Who pushing the band to a wonderfully wild hour and a half blow-out. It is alleged they only missed out appearing in the original movie due to Slick’s misgivings about her stage outfit. But this opening salvo does them no favours. It reminds us that as a live act, beneath the thunderous bass and urgent acid guitar lines there was always a lot of risk-taking in their combined and disparate talent that threatened to crash them. The competitive antagonism between Grace Slick and Marty Balin did not help the “harmony” of their massed vocals, with the latter’s exposed histrionics at times verging on the caterwauling. Here they seem cold in the lights and so self-consciously focused on getting over their message that they forget to “get it together”, which is somewhat ironic as the song performed is “We Can Be Together”. The lyrics of this anthem boast the first expletives ever aired on live US TV no less, which was probably less a random shock tactic and more a pre-determined act of symbolic subversion designed to aid all assembled parties. Cavett in fact underlines this point, helpfully alluding to the song’s impending controversy to his audience who in truth may have missed the “Motherfucker” amidst all the noise.

The band had been pushing for a while. Take a step back to December ’68 and the Airplane’s appearance on CBS rivals The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It’s unclear exactly why, as she has since claimed she simply took advantage of the extensive backstage make-up, but Grace Slick appears in blackface for the band’s musical segment. At the climax of “Crown of Creation” she throws in a Black Power salute and hey presto! An obscure political statement is preserved. (In case you missed it she followed it up with a magazine cover a little later-LEFT). The incident contributed to the growing concern in the carpeted exec suite at CBS towers that the show’s increasingly subversive direction was heading the corporation into dangerous waters. This culminated in the cancellation of the show in mid-run during April 1969. In light of this it may well be that CBS’s loss became ABC’s gain, with the Woodstock special designed to exploit the times to the widest audience imaginable.

Cavett was a genuinely engaging interrogator too, as easy with a Truman Capote as he was with a Janis Joplin but here he assembles his guests like a School panto with the photogenic girls sat either side of him and the hairy boys sat with their back to the parents. The deeply-tanned and dangerously knowing Slick is counter-balanced by the pale and sweet Joni Mitchell, whose exposure on this show was so important to her management she wasn’t actually allowed to attend Woodstock. She delivers a couple of faultless songs, preaches “Trudeaumania” and basically sits smiling with the hope that no one thinks she’s the one smelling of Acapulco Gold. Then on comes Stephen Stills, like a ponchoed Daniel Craig impersonator looking for a dentist and Mitchell’s old amour David Crosby. “Don’t you think he looks like a Lion?” she tweets. Yeah like the cat in the Wizard of Oz that’s been laying out in the Wicked Witches poppy-field a little too long. It is impolite to speak ill of the recently deceased but on this showing Crosby must have been insufferable to be around for too long. Sensing the fakery of the occasion he rushes in to steal every awkward moment, filling the vacuum with the inane, masquerading as the profound. (Or is it the profound masquerading as the inane?) Even Slick looks baffled at times, perhaps more comfortable with the flirtatious Cavett who teases her about her life at an elite finishing School. 
So elite in fact Patricia Nixon attended her year group and invited her to a White House gathering the following year. Slick took along Abbie Hoffman to ensure she was barred entry and made sure the cameras captured it for posterity. A little later she appeared on stage at the Fillmore East in New York hamming it up as Adolf Hitler next to actor Rip Torn as Richard Nixon. By the end of the 70’s she was sacked from the band for berating a hostile Hamburg audience with a volley of “Hey remember who won the fucking war!”

Slick may have had the biggest balls of them all, but the advert breaks display the truth about where America really saw where it’s female population was at. I think the ads have been retrospectively compiled for effect here but it serves as a delicious counterpoint to the studio proceedings (Watch out for Max Bialystock’s Swedish “toy” in the first one). Thankfully the band finish strongly with the rhythm section dominating versions of “Somebody to Love” and an unnamed signature jaaaaam. The latter prompting much control room confusion and an outbreak of freak dancing from some break-out straights. Look at the moves from the hip stockbroker at 41.48 and 43.33. He’s pushing 60 at 35. The camera settles in on the light show and the final shot is of a cop nervously appearing from behind a curtain, tapping his feet in time with Jack Cassady’s monstrous deep bass.

The band ended the year at the Altamont concert with Marty Balin being punched out by Hell’s Angels ("It doesn't seem right man") and Slick being forced to attempt crowd control in the only way possible with the immortal plea, ”You’ve got to keep your bodies off each other unless you intend LOVE”.


Back in London the Camden Council free festivals continued with the likes of Pink Floyd, Roy Harper, Procol Harum, Soft Machine, Pete Brown and John Fahey all gracing that bandstand. By the end of the decade the gigs had moved indoors to The Roundhouse. The last hurrah came when a bunch of skinheads ran down the Hill and disrupted a Fleetwood Mac concert. Mick Fleetwood was hit by a beer bottle and Peter Green’s dad released the following statement to the music press:

" My son travels all over the country playing to different  audiences practically every night and last Friday was one of his nights off. But instead of taking advantage and resting, he offered his services to play for free at an open-air concert along with other artists. Everything would have gone off fine , when along came a small group of hoodlums - not I may add , long haired freaks , 
as is their usual description -but a gang of crew-cut young thugs who seemed to delight in spoiling a night out for the vast majority of people who were there to enjoy themselves. After many nasty incidents the concert had to be abandoned, much to the disgust of the organizers who went to a great deal of trouble to arrange it. It is time sterner measures were taken by the law and stiffer sentences imposed on these so-called citizens of the future. "


(PS)

Although my knowledge of Dick Cavett is limited, I think I kind of like the cut of his jib. He seemed completely at ease with whichever guest he had on the show and seemed to straddle generations with his wide range of interviewees, from establishment pillars to counter-culture weirdos.  


That he devoted an entire programme to a bunch of smelly hippies who had come straight from Woodstock - I’m guessing there wasn’t much time to shower on the way to the studio - and indulge them for who knows how long (the extended jam that played out the last 5 minutes of the show was heavily edited and may’ve actually gone on for several days), shows how much empathy and affection he held for the youth movement of the time.  Even so, I loved Grace Slick’s wariness of Cavett’s genuine compliment, “You were wonderful”, and the cod eye she subsequently gives him – maybe she was still coming down from a trip, certainly sleep deprived - but I can’t help thinking that her default response to any praise received from a guy in straight clothes should be that of suspicion, such was the fierce divide between youth and establishment at the time. 

I also loved the adverts, brilliantly left in by the uploader, which speak volumes about where social mores were at the time in Amerika: men should essentially be James Bond and women should bend over backwards in their efforts to be attractive to them, if they’re not serving them coffee or cleaning up after them at that precise moment, that is. Subtle, not so much. 

 

From a musical point of view, the driving force of the show for me is the Airplane drummer, Spencer Dryden. Joni Mitchell was a drippy pain in the arse and tolerated far too much for my liking; Stephen Stills’s 4+20 was decent enough; but for sheer power, tightness and visceral energy the Airplane really were streets ahead here. This was a band at the peak of their powers, and Dryden was the behatted heartbeat at the centre of it all, cigarette permanently pinched between his lips, looking like Lee Van Cleef’s harder brother. 

 

Bonus sweary points must go to Slick, who managed to get her “Up against the wall, motherfuckers” line in We Can Be Together in uncut, even if it’s not quite as prominent as, say, the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams (edited on subsequent re-releases of the LP to “Kick out the jams, Brothers and Sisters!”). 

The opening two songs both signpost the rising tensions between
generations and it’s a brave call from Cavett to allow these to open the show. Following on from their doom-laden Crown of Creation the previous year, (complete with cover photo of the band in front of the Hiroshima mushroom cloud and sleeve credits reading “courtesy USAF”, nicely done) the Airplane had just recorded their angriest and most cynical LP Volunteers, which would be released a few months later in the November of 69. I think that ‘tude comes across loud and clear in their commanding performance on this show, they really look like they mean it. 
A month after the LP’s release, the sixties died (both literally and figuratively) along with Meredith Hunter at Altamont and both Dryden and Marty Balin soon quit the band; the seventies would turn out to be no less tumultuous for the US than the previous decade. 


 

Friday, 11 November 2022

VIV STANSHALL & SEAN HEAD SHOWBAND -Labio-Dental Fricative


(PS)
Much has already been written elsewhere about the bizarre and unpredictable career of Viv Stanshall, with good reason. His best-known work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was, if never really ground-breaking, frequently interesting and highly amusing; especially with belters like Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? which brilliantly skewered the late 60s British blues boom, or the Noel Harrison-esque Canyons of Your Mind which took that poetic imagery one step further from the ridiculous to the sublime. During a Bonzo’s hiatus, his short-lived bIG Grunt project was one of the oddest things ever broadcast on TV and went to prove that Stanshall wasn’t pretending to be a loon, or hamming it up for effect: he really was that odd to his very core. 

Released in February of 1970 Labio-dental Fricative came shortly before the bIG Grunt episode and I love it because, much like Stanshall himself, it doesn’t really fit anywhere. It sort of has one foot in either decade, straddling the 60s and 70s; perched on some sort of fence separating them like Mr Slater’s Parrot, bobbing its head between the two. Also Stanshall and Clapton weren’t exactly natural bedfellows, how the hell did that collaboration come about? 

The song has the hallmark of Stanshall’s irreverent Bonzo lyrics, with the alliterative tongue twisters tripping along like an Edward Lear poem, but still rooted in the 60s with lines like “Big fat Fred sticks fur to his head, cos he thinks fur makes him freaky”. Silly, but great fun. The line “I got up at eight, it was half-past two” is also perhaps a window into Stanshall’s personal situation – I mean, we’ve all been there after a heavy night out, but you get the sense it was more a way of life for him. And when was the last time Max Bygraves got a namecheck in a pop song? Over the other side of the fence and there’s a vague sense of the nascent 70s vibe coming through as well, with the Willie and the Hand Jive-type chucka-chucka sound that became all too familiar with Clapton’s early-mid 70s records; but there’s that middle eight right next to it that absolutely reeks of the late 60s with its dream-like lyrics, leading into a solo that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Blind Faith LP from the previous year (by the way, those who say that album was a failure couldn’t be more wrong, it’s a masterpiece).

Incidentally some may see this as sacrilegious but I regard this as one of Clapton’s last decent recordings, released some months before his first solo LP and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Evidently hitting the hard stuff during his time with Derek & the Dominos and his subsequent crippling coke & booze addictions took their toll in terms of quality output. People may argue he released material worth listening to after 1970, but again, they’re largely wrong. Anyway, back to the single: of course, it didn’t trouble the charts; the record-buying public’s mind was elsewhere. Perhaps it was asking for trouble being released on Friday 13th, but it was nowhere near the zeitgeist of the period; for comparison, Black Sabbath’s debut album was released the same day and it's hard to find an LP that better sums up the mood of 1970 than that one. I don’t care though, I love it – it’s joyous, silly, fun and makes me grin from ear to ear whenever it comes on (ok, whenever I put it on). There’s not enough genuine eccentricity in music for my money, everyone seems to be engaged in some sort of vain popularity contest. And when did that turn up anything interesting?


(MS)
And here's an excerpt from " Frank and The Captain's Big Night Out" with Terry-Thomas on vocals!!




Sunday, 12 June 2022

THE SPECIALS - I Can't Stand It

 (MS)

In the summer of ’81, we had a family holiday on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London. The previous summer Jerry Dammers had filled that big gap in his smile with this delightful swing into Muzak; a song that somehow manages to be both genuinely affecting and wilfully ironic. 

A highlight of the More Specials LP it commenced the exploratory direction he would soon be sending his re-imagined Special AKA Orkestra and at Wood Green Shopping City I first heard it via a Twofer Double-play cassette that combined it with the band’s eponymous first LP. Guest vocalist Rhoda Dakar sings this in a pastiche call and response (ED: not really) like a shell-shocked bar maid who’s just been asked to fill-in 'cos the singer's not feeling very well, but she carries it off with un-tutored aplomb. For years I thought she was the girl ambling about the Leamington Spa canteen pictured on the LP sleeve but it’s not her. That slight warble in her throat gives a foretaste to the unspeakable horrors so graphically outlined in the following year’s “The Boiler”, one of the more unlikely singles to grace the top 40 and not one I’d recommend listening to late at night. At the other end of the duet is Terry Hall the monotone-faced blank expression of the whole Coventry scene. A Fun Boy One grimly drifting on towards the terrible revelations he would later reveal about a valium-numbed childhood induced by abuse at the hands of an international paedophile ring. Bookended by the dark lounge of “Stereotypes” and “International Jet Set” the song is best heard as part of the bigger concept of the LP, which like all the best things can be viewed as having if not an all embracing theme…at least an all-embracing mood. But in isolation there is much to enjoy in those Pearl & Dean backing vocals, Jimmy Smith organ stabs and the verdant and intoxicating jungle ambience of the exotica rhythm track. I often reflect that a few years later all the Twofer Double-play cassettes got looted from Wood Green Shopping City.

Anyway thanks for this one Rhoda.

(JF)

As usual from The Specials a great sound full of energy and you can understand why they remain a popular live act to this day. It can be no coincidence that the group had several black British members and it is interesting to reflect on the musicality and politics of the personnel.  Without them I suspect it might be the case that the social consciousness of the sound would be reduced to a rant, reducing the band to more of a cult sound. The songs are delivered in the usual sardonic fashion associated with the band and I think this in itself is part of The Specials mass appeal and longevity

(PS)

Hmmmm... This came at me out of left field somewhat, so I’ve had to quickly scrabble into the late 70s/early 80s section of my vinyl and give it a dust off. Finding only the first Specials LP there, I gave that a couple of spins and then followed it up with an introduction to the second LP online… and at this stage, I remain unconvinced. 

When I think about what defines The Specials for me, it’s those earlier tracks that spring to mind (Rudy, TMTY – although definitely the live version over the album one), with the addition of the non-LP single Ghost Town… those were great, memorable songs that get your toes tapping and fingers popping even 40 years on. More Specials had less of those for me, possibly because of the new musical directions the band took after their debut. 

I get why a band would want to do something different on their second LP, in fact that should be widely applauded – but I do feel that some of the tangents taken on More… were less successful than others, and I Can’t Stand It is one of those lesser ones to my ears. Firstly, it seems like a couple of different songs stitched together: I like the opening bass riff and drum pattern, but after it all goes a bit bossa nova it stops working for me. Also the structure of the song is a bit sprawling, with the vocal lines and harmonies getting lost at times. The melody isn’t catchy enough and the whole thing seems neither here nor there, ending on a bit of a whimper with the goodnights from Rhoda and Terry… maybe that’s the point of the song, but it just felt a bit ‘meh’ to me. 

Where I think the new directions on the LP do work, songs like Rat Race, Sock it To ‘Em JB and Pearl’s CafĂ© – by the way, the latter’s refrain of “It’s all a load of bollocks” could’ve been written & sung by our very own GV – there’s a kind of South London vibe flowing through them that gives it them a real charm. Enjoy Yourself would’ve been a highlight too, if Jools Holland hadn’t permanently ruined it for me – I can hardly blame that on the band, but still.  

I’m afraid that the easy listening sound just didn’t do it for me though. 



Friday, 24 September 2021

HUMBLE PIE - As Safe As Yesterday Is

 (MS)

… I'm not quite done with the Small Faces yet.

I'd argue the band peaked a little before “Ogden’s” with the barnstorming Tin Soldier 45 and that LP however brilliant, has a fair bit of recycling going on. The oozing title track is a psyched-up instrumental of their crunching early release I’ve Got Mine and there amidst the whimsical carnage of side two, Mad John is a folk'd up arrangement of Call It Something Nice, a song later released posthumously on the Autumn Stone/In Memoriam comps. (And reworked again as Silver Tongue on Humble Pie’s "Town and Country" LP).

Those two Immediate fire-sale comps gathered a number of SF odds and sods that some believe formed the basis of an “Ogden’s” follow up LP called “1862”. Type that into Google and you'll get sundry efforts to replicate its running order. They’re all pretty dodgy too inserting choice Humble Pie and Faces tracks into a what if they'd all stayed together Frankenstein's Cockney-type effort. There's no need to do this as you can (just about) compile a very nice 33 minute LP from the existing SF strays, kicking off with Marriott’s parting Jugband Blueish busk-duet with his dog: That dog by the way found its way onto a Pink Floyd record a little later on:

The Universal

Donkey Rides Penny a Glass

Wide Eyed Girl on The Wall

Call It Something Nice

Red Balloon

 

The Autumn Stone

Collibosher

Wham Bam Thank You Man

Wrist Job Fred

Every Little Bit Hurts

I’ve used poetic license with the title of the Procol-esque Wrist Job Fred which was originally titled Fred on the Olympic tapes but with a vocal ended up as the majestic Wrist Job on Humble Pies's first 45. I LOVE the gently mocking soul chorus backing on this, in harmony with the clashing sentiment of the words and …err… knocked-out title. Anyway this is a better title than the The Pigs Trotters which Charly records used a few years ago, confusing the issue immeasurably.  (Which I don't think I've done incidentally). This definitive “1862” is probably short of one whole song actually so I’d like to see the group version of If You Think You’re Groovy come out of the vaults please. These Albums That Weren’t Never Made But Should Have Been type guys clearly didn't have the stomach to include two more bonafide tunes from the final death throes of the SF namely the sessions with Monsieur Johnny Hallyday, that spawned early versions of the “As Safe As Yesterday Is” tracks, What You Will and Bang. The latter giving the Pie version a run for their money. I can understand why they didn't but then again these are a real bridge to Humble Pie featuring Peter Frampton on guitar as they do. But the true birth of this band to me is Wham Bam Thank You Man the song that broke The Small Faces. This in itself was previously recorded as Me, You and Us Too with different lyrics but then ramped up into the full groupie metal shouter it ended up. It’s a full rehearsal for things to come and the lyrics – with more Don Arden bile - a forewarning to changing times;

Our lives are run by ego freaks

A walking book of rules who seek

To keep you in your pigeon hole

Bash you if your soul steps out of line

And so we get to the “As Safe as Yesterday Is” album.

I should say I’m not a big fan of Humble Pie or The Rod Stewart Faces for that matter. In my view both bands released a lot of product that failed to create too much as memorable as The Small Faces small but perfectly formed oeuvre. It’s the difference between hunger and excess of course. Between a frightening gangster standing over you and a lot of coke and free time in Richmond on Thames. But then I'm a very biased and jaundiced listener too. And as I get older even more so. I increasingly resent Rod Stewart’s schtick, as I replay in my mind the terrible torment he inflicted upon my innocent youth. You see shows like Lift Off With Ayshea and Top of The Pops were so much FUN in those days, Mud, Sailor, Slade, Roy Wood, Alvin Stardust, Roy Wood again (we wanted him every week) and all those visiting soul singers with bad teeth, bad hair and utterly wasted … emotion. Music was just another form of escapist stimulation like those crap Harry Harryhausen dinosaur films we gorged ourselves on. TOTP with it’s necrophiliac presenters was like a visual circus extension that signified something of the mythical Beatles tapes our Dad got for us from Oldham Library. Yes there was melody, yes there was some toe tapping going on but ’73-75 just wasn’t serious music and we knew it. Even at 7 years old we recognised we’d been robbed of the 60’s and so we watched this freakshow in the full knowledge it was all we had left and we made damn sure we enjoyed it in some sort of giddy Tizer-flavoured post-modern frenzy. It was a phoney war to the impending apocalypse that would become punk, a conflict brooding with even greater intensity behind my brother’s bedroom door, with all his Moody Yes and Palmer records. It was like Edwardian Britain before the slaughter of the trenches, it was like Weimar before the rise of Hitler, it was like Charlie Parker as the skies filled with the cancerous radioactive waste of the drifting atomic test clouds. And in 1975 it finally came our way through our TV sets like something out of Videodrome, We watched Rod Stewart - thankfully - Sailing off on a very grey looking ship in a very primitive video, but…but… he kept coming back, again and again, week after fucking week after week. He seemed to be at Number 1 throughout my entire transition from Airfix tanks to grabbing Ruth Thomas’ xxx’s. It all changed round about then. It really did. Music stopped being FUN!! God in retrospect I realise Steve Marriott was just as grotty in this period, round about the time he grew a moustache. Sorry where was I?

And so we get to the wonderfully titled “As Safe as Yesterday Is” album. The four key songs all seemingly about the process of stepping off the precipice into the wilds of an uncertain future. Very apt for a new rock band leaving behind the relative security of the pop treadmill. The title track recounts the weird dreams brought on by a troubled state of mind. “Desperation” a study in mental turmoil. “I’ll Go Alone” a Rimbaudian walk out into the unknown. And “What You Will” a naive meditation on life by young men turning into adults: 

Seems to me the only way to be is like a businessman

And have bad colours round my head

Getting drunk to find some peace of mind and consolation

But there’s still the problem of what happens when I’m dead

Lyrics, songs even, are secondary to the real appeal of this record. The Producer- Andy rather than Glyn Johns this time -captures the sound of young musicians really clicking. You can hear the glorious release to let rip and the hunger to impress with imaginative and dense instrumental passages that get better with repeat listening. The Small Faces did a lot of fade outs with in-vogue slight returns and it seems Marriott and co deliberately progressed this to memorable instrumental coda’s. There are 4 on here. The song As Safe As Yesterday Is has a very satisfying and primitive riff that when it erupts, blasts away the artful imagery of the song it leaves behind. In truth the medieval mid-section of this Frampton composition could’ve gone very Spinal Tap but it holds itself together nicely. The coda has a memorable acoustic guitar strum accompanying the primal riff and the whole thing fades out to bubbling Stephen Stills Bluebird style guitar. Alabama 69 is the one dud on the LP, with the black Americana taken to ridiculous extremes. Towards the end it drags out a “When will I be free” chorus and as we ask the question ourselves a most unexpected segue arrives in the form of a dreamy sitar blues jam. All is forgiven. Nifty Little Number Like You is an ordinary song with an extraordinary coda, which repeats the riff from the title track coda (a coda repeating a coda?) and adds a stereo-shifting drum solo from teenage Jerry Shirley, a drummer very well served by the production of this LP. What You Will adds a dramatic drum riff rise and fall after the final lyric which drops away into its mournful sunset-chasing conclusion.


Anyway I would recommend the other 69 album “Town and Country”. They apparently recorded it at the same time in a splurge of inspiration whilst The Small Faces contract was winding down. It’s mostly acoustic replicating their live gigs at the time which started with an unplugged set. There is some good stuff on it, mainly the Frampton songs like Home and Away which is very Crosby Stills and Nash inspired. But after this Humble Pie lost it in my opinion.

In the early 1990’s on the dole I criss-crossed the North of England searching for records. I remember being conned into buying a copy of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” in a shop on Ashton Road in Clayton.

It looks a big worn”, I said to the girl.

I remember her dad had a Humble Pie “Rockin’ the Fillmore “ t-shirt on.

“Just turn up the treble, it’ll be alright”, he said through a mouth full of chips.

I mean I’m not basing my opinion of this record on this one experience, I’m not that jaundiced. But this record has to be heard to be believed. My god about 40 minutes are given over to two songs, Rollin Stone and Walk on Gilded Splinters. It’s absolutely exhausting. And yes in a bad way. In fact it’s just been re -released as a 4 gig set with the exact same running order so that’s 160 minutes of those two same, rotten songs. It seems as though Americans love this album and this period of the band. And it seems this is what Humble Pie wanted. It didn't end too well for them all. I dunno. Anyway I’ve run our of room to even talk about Peter Frampton’s pre-Pie band The Herd. In a future piece I'll elaborate on the sub-genre of Pansy-Pop of which they were stalwarts. And one year later his new band recorded this!!


(PS) 

The career of Steve Marriott was a curious one: from child musical actor, to East End mod, to white soul/cock rock god, to relative obscurity and eventual middle aged death in a house fire. That he had an extraordinary voice, not least in proportion to his physical size, is undeniable; and one wonders what Led Zeppelin might’ve been, had he joined that band instead of Robert Plant as was rumoured at the time. 

I think it’s also fair to say that, although he created some timeless classics in both The Small Faces and Humble Pie, he should’ve achieved more; and that the pinnacle of his career was arguably in 1969 leaves a sense of unfulfilled promise lingering behind. 

After the psych excellence that was Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Marriott disbanded the Small Faces to form Humble Pie and release their debut LP As Safe As Yesterday Is the following year; it’s a bona fide classic, combining heavy rock guitars with strident keyboards and taut, characterful drumming (from an unbelievably young Jerry Shirley) and of course, that voice. The opener Desperation is one of the finest cover versions ever in my opinion, and easily in the select group of those far better than the original; Steppenwolf’s version was fine, but Pie’s was monumental… and definitive.  

Even the more crass songs (Nifty Little Number, Buttermilk Boy) are great fun and I love the fact that there are errors on the LP which are left in (Greg Ridley’s bum bass notes on the epic I’ll Go Alone, and someone evidently leaning on the tape reel on the wistful What You Will). There’s genuine charm in the title track with talk of naked troubadours and minstrels of the night; and the Ian MacLagan penned Growing Closer sounds like Traffic playing The Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune (absolutely not a criticism, by the way). Also the decision to leave off the hit single Natural Born Bugie on the UK release was a good one, although it probably affected album sales in the long run. 

And then the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. The difficult 2nd album Town & Country was ok, but as a sort of watered-down version of Safe, it’s just that…ok… not particularly memorable, apart from the rocker Down Home Again. 1970’s Humble Pie (also known as the Aubrey Beardsley album due to the racey art deco cover) also had its moments, but already something of the original sound had been lost and they were becoming a somewhat standard rock band as they evidently made a concerted effort to chase the Yankee dollar.  

Rockin’ The Fillmore had a huge sound and tracks like Four Day Creep went some way to conveying the excitement of a live Pie experience, it really did ROCK. The extended version of Walk on Gilded Splinters was ambitious and actually went places, but there were irritations on this LP for me too: Marriott’s white soul boy schtick really pisses on my chips, especially on the intro to I’m Ready when he’s part singing/part talking to the PEOPLE - IN THE BACK - OF THE HA-AWWWL… you’re from Newham mate, give it a rest. Some of the extended boogies on this and later live recordings also tested the patience far too much, they just weren’t interesting enough – and that’s criminal.  

As it turned out, the move to A&M records signalled the beginning of the end: it seemed that they were no longer a British band trying to make it big in the US (which they undeniably did, the 1971/2 period was by far their most commercially successful) but they now seemed to be a British band trying to be a US band. Keeping the same company as Led Zep and the Stones is one thing, but ending up sounding like a Grand Funk Railroad facsimile is something rather different; and way, way less interesting.  

So Marriott found his modest pot of gold, but lost all the charm and personality of the band in doing so (and evidently spent all the gold too). The band struggled on with various replacement members, making the whole thing feel a bit like Trigger’s broom, with each incarnation being further removed from what made the whole thing sound so fresh and… well, Immediate on that first album.  

It started so well for Humble Pie, we really should’ve had better from them after that… but at least we have As Safe As Yesterday Is to remind us what a great band they started out as. 


Saturday, 28 August 2021

THE SMALL FACES - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake

(PS)

As I see it there seem to be two distinct versions of the Small Faces, principally defined by the drugs on the scene at the time: the first was of the pill-popping mods, all sharp suits and punchy, tight 3 minute maximum singles; the second being the more acid-tinged psych rockers with their rather more adventurous outings, culminating in their 1968 magnum opus, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.

Along with the Stones’s At Their Satanic Majesty’s RequestOgden’s was one of the LPs most obviously directly influenced by Sgt. Pepper, moving away from the hamster wheel of the singles production line and taking time in the studio to create an LP that was more than just a collection of hits, B-sides and fillers, rather a cohesive work in its own right. In fact for me, this LP has much more in common with the Beatles’s trailblazer than Satanic Majesty, and it’s a much stronger album because of that, despite its failings. 

From the instant the needle is dropped on the opening title track, we’re in business: the wonderful flanged organ sounds incredible, the lush strings add warmth and tone without dominating or softening the groove set by Kenney Jones’s rolling drumming and Marriott’s psych fuzz guitar. Once that overture is finished, we’re presented with one of the finest Small Faces songs in Afterglow; and Mac’s Hammond is as much the star of this as Marriotts’ incredible voice: soulful, driving, spine-tingling stuff. My only gripe here is that they ditched the fade out/return of the alternate version in favour of the abrupt edit point, but kept it on the following track Long Agos and Worlds Apart. It’s awesome on the former and rather superfluous on the latter. But I’m nit picking here, what a song. 

Unfortunately with Rene and Lazy Sunday we hit the principal weakness of the LP, as with Sgt. Pepper: the music hall gubbins. Whereas When I’m 64 and Mr Kite! were vaudeville, these are pure Lionel Bart, with Marriott back in his Artful Dodger persona, complete with East-aaah End-aaah thumbs-in-weskit urchin posturing-aaaah. What a shame that Lazy Sunday should be the hit from the LP… As Mac put it once in interview, it’s “rootie tootie too, oh what a load of bollocks”.  

Luckily there’s a bone fide gem tucked in between the tracks that close side 1, the magnificent Song of a Baker. It’s huge, strident, funky and one of my favourite songs of all time. The guitar gets a little lost in the mix at times, but my God – what a belter. Who’d’ve thought you could rock out that much to water, flour and salt? I also love that on the (mimed) Colour Me Pop TV appearance, Marriott wipes his mouth mid-solo. He’s SLAVERING, goddam it… and with good reason, so am I. 

Side two is the more ‘out there’ concept work, with Stanley Unwin providing some utterly charming Lear-like nonsense/hippy narration. There’s a childlike charm to the story, but it’s underpinned by a heavy sound as in the second part of Happiness Stan, and the out-and-out rocker Rollin’ Over: Richie Blackmore spent many years ripping off that riff with Deep Purple, he should pay them royalties. The Hungry Intruder might’ve been written by Pete Townsend; at times The Journey sounds like an ancestor of 90s Madchester; and Mad John has a weird folkie feel, mixed with early Bowie (if you can imagine him singing “eye-diddly-eye-dye”). Happy Days Toy Town reprises the music hall sound, but this grates less than before as it works better as the conclusion to the fairytale, and Unwin wraps it up beautifully with a bit of Huckleberryfickleticklemyfinglode. Glorious. 

Ogden’s is a genuine psych masterpiece and we must forgive its few minor faults; it’s 3/4 of the band’s finest hour (Marriott’s would arguably come the following year, with Humble Pie’s magnificent debut) and the real mystery is that Marriott dissolved the band in order to work on more “serious” music, when evidently he himself was responsible for the album’s more frivolous moments. Figure that one out… anyway, we should be thankful that this exists. 

Oh, for a niblode of some mincey meaty! Stay cool, won’t you? 

(GC)

With this album you jump into the past and have a nice break from your routine :) it’s simultaneously relaxing and exciting. An album that could have definitely been played at Woodstock, or maybe it was?! “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” is excellent, it nourishes my old soul! But not difficult to listen to at all. It’s a mix of rock and psychedelic style, and also very romantic :) Now I know where the ‘Holy Drug Couple’ band was inspired from :) 

(MS)

The lights drop, the projector whirs and the space fills with the booming bass and phased organ of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.

On screen we’re at Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park football ground where small faces press hard against the car windows, creaking from the weight of the roof slowly caving in. From inside The Small Faces pop group stare back in horror, beneath them wheels spinning impotently, sinking deeper and deeper into the boggy turf. Fighting their way out, four silhouettes bolt past the corner flag and out into the brick terraced streets racing headlong into a panorama of factory chimneys. A publicity stunt gone awfully wrong, dreamed up by awful men. But as The Small Faces wound their way back to London in 1966 they were escaping more than just the clutches of manager Don Arden and Oldham Chairman Ken Bates.

Soon The Beatles manager was dropping into their communal flat in Pimlico proferring sugar cubes dipped in acid. “It’s all too bootiful” they sang, stuffing the “bennies” away in a bottom draw like worn-out toys. By the time the manager of the Bee Gees was dissuaded from persuing his interest in them…round about the time he found himself dangling from a 5th floor Cavendish Square window…the band was already committed to new horizons. And as though stepping out of the black and white world so they broke with the thuggish Arden and the Decca factory for the brash technicolour charms of the newly created Immediate Records where for a spell everything was possible. On Carnaby St. today there is a small plaque above a sports shop immortalising where Arden and the Small Faces "worked"' together. On either side are plaques to the famed John Stephen and Lord John boutiques, where the band had charge accounts where they were "paid" in lieu of wages. One can only wonder how handy all those three button candy stripe jackets came in 10 years later as singer Steve Marriott struggled with alcohol and mental illness and bassist Ronnie Lane battled with the early onset of multiple sclerosis. Across the road is a megastore dedicated to selling product by their friends and rivals The Rolling Stones.

Immediate was the brainchild of the Stones former manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who hustled in his own particular way taking The Small Faces on as a virtual house band for a grandiose project which attempted to replicate the magic dust of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson on New Oxford Street. The band’s reward this time in lieu of wages being the provision of copious studio time at the state of the art Olympic studios in Barnes. If you listen to recordings from this time you can hear Steve Marriott’s throaty voice as though leaking though the walls into other people’s records. The Stones “In Another Land”, Traffic’s “Berkshire Poppies”, Chris Farlowe’s “My Way of Giving”, Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe”, The Easybeats, The Herd… At one early morning session Hendrix dropped in from next door, enthusing Marriott to wake up the engineer under the guise that a Small Faces session was evolving. After driving through the night he was not impressed to find a stoned Marriott surrounded by sundry roadies jamming incoherently

Their sound changed as a result of this move with much of the power of their furious super charged Booker T mod-soul diluted into rather understated stoned pop which whilst uniformly good is a little thin in its sound. But there is a lot to like not least Here Comes the Nice the most explicit drug song by anyone at the time to ever gain a commercial release and I'm Only Dreaming with its wistfulness erupting into passages of soul shouting frenzy. Marriott had this in him in spades. The stereo version of I Feel Much Better is a curious schizo-wonder with its chipmunk do-waddy-daddy chorus suddenly ripping into monophonic proto-heavy metal towards the fade. In truth Marriott’s throaty soulful voice was far more suited to the rock than the pastoral where the intensity was given over to acoustic guitars, flutes and Georgie Fame’s brass section of Eddie Tan Tan Thornton and Harry Beckett. The difference is particularly noted when they did rock out, such as the ramped up raves Don’t Burst My Bubble, Wham Baam Thank You Maam and the grandstanding Tin Soldier. When The Small faces play in this style you hear a bridge between Ray Charles and Led Zeppelin and it serves as a reminder that this is the same band that delivered the seriously heavy  records they made in 65-66. It's a little too simplistic to view their Decca period as mono and Immediate as stereo, indeed caution should be observed when listening to the music of most bands in 1967 as stereo took hold. But the fact is The Small Faces sound so much more complete in mono...until that is their ambitious album release Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (yes we finally get there).

This album is a stereo delight in particular the first three songs where the instruments pan around the ears with skilled engineering from Glyn Johns who’d soon helm the Olympic records made by The Stones when they realised what they were and a little later The Who when they finally realised Who they were. The instrumental interchange in the Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake title track sets things alight, with the modest dabs of fuzz guitar giving way to strings, one part David Axelrod, one part Jean Claude Vannier, before drifting into George Martinesque Blue Meanie orientalisms. Afterglow of Your Love follows with its teasing club singer croon, shocking abruptly into proggy organ progressions that bounce around between the ears. If the first track was a mini symphony for heavy bass and drums then this is a full blown duet for organ and vocal. PS- PS A little rudimentary Audacity use enables a grafting of the mono single fade onto this superior stereo mix. Long Ago’s and World’s Apart is background colour, almost programme music to revisit the innocent Itchycoo hash dream drift.

As the teenage Steve Marriott elbowed out other hopefuls to appear as The Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart’s first staging of Oliver, his dad was running a pie and mash stall in Poplar, whilst mum worked at the monster Tate and Lyle plant on the Thames. With its syrup tin logo of a rotting lion consumed by bees, the factory was pilloried as something of a knocking shop due to it being the best paid centre of female employment for the East London dockside community. All these things and none may explain the germination of Rene which is essentially the end of a long line of SF tunes that hang together as Ian McLaglan keyboard wig outs. I like this song far more that I should and I think it stems from my Northern aloofness that regards cockneys as being far more hilarious than they can ever hope to realise. Even now I occasionally plant my 'arris on a no. 30 to 'ackney Wick whilst ruminating that Chas and Dave really were more than just the sum of their parts. In Rene Marriott delivers a number of fruity couplets about the said waif, including her illegitimate offspring residing “in coal sheds double locked”. Double locked? And then she’s “Groping with a stoker from the coast of Kuala Lumpur”, and we listen to an extended knee trembler against the dock wall, with the oohs and ahhs coitus, interrupted by passing liners booming their horns from rumbling distorted guitars. It’s an extended dirge into the heart of darkness going nowhere, a wonderous anti- climax spent upon the fallow ground.

In North London only the Kinks come close to this with their 7 minute long
Australia epic. Setting sail with chirpy mickey mouse voices extolling the virtues of post war emigration the song breaks down as boredom and doubt set in via a malingering (trad) jazz-rock freak-out over the duck pond of the Indian Ocean. These songs come from the uncharted backwaters of British psychedelia in all its multi layered forms and distinctions. They are what make this strain so peculiar and interesting. Reaction to parental post war obsessions, a playful rebellion with class, the appropriation of old musical forms and a mind-bending aural approximation of what happens when a thought extends long beyond reason. But behind it all playful unpredictability.

1968 suddenly allowed the more pop conscious groups to stretch out nurturing a maturing culture of musicianship based on competition and shared bonhomie. Around nocturnal sessions at after-hours clubs Beatles and Yardbirds rum and coked it with other Animals cross-fertilising their influences. It’s there in the Hey Joe bass-line of Song of a Baker, a very 1968 rocker with lyrics reflecting Ronnie Lane’s new found interest in mysticism, an interest shared with Who guitarist Pete Townsend that would lead them to collaborate through the 1970s on devotional projects to guru Meher Baba. For Townsend the irony of the nothing is everything mantra would be his inspiration for the mother lode of Tommy, yet both bands sat on the precipice in this period. For The Who Tommy would make them, for The Small Faces Ogden’s would  break them, the single Lazy Sunday acting as their swan song. Structurally it's a far better song than its over familiarity has made it and I particularly love the way Marriott reverts to a straight delivery after the dumdidumdidoo dumdidumdidoo section and the in-joke soul chorus snatch of Satisfaction. The Who actually tried to mirror this unlikely hit with their White City anthem Dogs and that year saw the bands touring together both home and abroad. This is immortalised in their joint appearance that November in a Paris TV studio miming away to a group of Paco Rabanne models. Against the playback Keith Moon is captured air drumming behind his Who successor Kenny Jones beneath a caption retitled Not Gone Flake.

Not yet

Perhaps side two’s fusion with gobbledygook is a remnant of the still born Carry On Psych-Out project sired by Sir George Martin during the Beatles in Rishikesh downtime. A studio extravaganza that would feature a number of archaic guest artists from the world of light entertainment it was to employ the little known Felius Andromeda (of Cheadle Heath Delusions / Meditations fame) as backing band but their contribution only extended as far as Harry H Corbett’s Flower Power Fred. Roy Hudd delivered Sir Rhubarb Tansey, whilst Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were given a 7-minute slot re-working the L.S. Bumble Bee into a segue with Bedazzled. The album reached the sleeve design stage but Sid James unfortunately only got so far as putting on the outfit. 

Some stellar names dropped out and ended up being replaced by youngbloods Rodney Bewes and Bill Oddie who plugged the gap with Meter Maid and Harry Krishna respectively. But ultimately it was Lance Perciful who brought the whole thing to a close when tapes were leaked of his after hours session coaxing out a b-side for The Maharaja of Brum. Even Spike Milligan found it’s racial satire more than a little beyond the pale. It certainly makes his own acid dream Purple Aeroplane a somewhat limp affair in contrast. As things went pear shaped Stanley Unwin was drafted in to ad-lib the night away until the plug was well and truly pulled. But at Olympic Steve Marriott was listening behind those paper thin walls.

No this is not true I don’t think (but the songs are). It’s all gone a bit hazy here. Please listen to side two and make up your own mind about Ogdens Beano Pigtail. Does anyone have any jaffa cakes?

I dedicate this piece to the late Tim Brooke-Tayor who I last heard on Sorry I Havn't a Clue where the panel were invited to do rude things with Pop group names. His contribution being "The Small Faeces


(JF)

Musicians individually and collectively at the top of their game. A great sound, a great listen

I didn’t like the Stanley Unwin thing and think it was a bad idea for such talented musicians to give over so much time to it. Never really understood psychedelia but when I listen to this record I get two things – the influence from rock and roll of the past and the future influence this album seems to hold – e.g Paul Weller’s early solo albums like Wildwood. But what it ultimately leaves me with is Englishness. This is very evident throughout the record in the writing if not the musicianship, which has an up tempo bluesy feel particularly with the prominent organ sound


(JS)

Ogden's Nut Gone Flake 

Nice woozy mellotron /bass heavy instrumental.

Afterglow 

Sputtering verse with majestic over the top chorus. Placed together they are effective and passionately delivered, but after the music stops I can’t remember the tune. A bit over blown. Perhaps a good example of how the music doesn’t quite capture the mood of the subject matter.

Long Agos And Worlds Apart  

Musicians they definitely are, and as such they are chasing both a form and sound but their lyrics and delivery don’t seem to be as much a part of the process. This song reminded me of another song, and I couldn’t think what it was called until I re listening to Afterglow. Has a a trick ending where it pretends to fade out then comes back for another minute of wig out.


Rene  

Comedy girl focused narrative sung in the style of Chas and Dave, with a bit of a hint of the Pink Panther Theme. Another song straining to ditch the lyrical content for the mellotron instrumental break with added harmonica.

Song Of A Baker 

Troggs-esque intro that settles down to a narrative verse which is flattened by an over blown chorus. Much more guitar driven, which in its day must have sounded charming but the solo sounds a bit pedestrian today. Maybe im going deaf from hammering out viking coins at the mock forge but the vocal mix sounds too thin and needs warming up.

Lazy Sunday 

An obvious influence on Blur’s Park Life. A splendid period piece. I haven’t done my detailed bio check on the band but they sound like posh boys pretending to be working class, (ED. Wrong, wrong, wrong) just like Blur, but their complex musicality defeats this charming ruse, with the skilled tempo and key change at the end which is pure McCartney.

Happiness Stan  

Huzzah for Stanley Unwin,( but was he also operating the vocal processing for the recording?) 

These boys are clearly classically trained musicians slumming in the sub-culture and casting out into early prog for a new direction, because they want to be The Who. Tin can production values.

Rollin' Over  

A guitar/piano driven stomper 

The Hungry Intruder  

A flower child song, sounds a bit like a pastiche, but its the real deal, lots of pixie flute and complex strings. But again impressive as it is can I remember the tune? Adults pretending to be children.

The Journey 

My ear drobes haven’t quite recovered before this mellotron pantomime began. Sounds like a piece of background music as Austen Powers runs down a street in Amsterdam not wishing to stare but unable to help himself. Lyrical element ends to long instrumental wig out. But the Austen Powers image hasn’t completely vanished. This doesn’t sound like flying on the back of a giant talking fly.

Mad John  

Guitar folkesque song with a bit of mandolin in the style of early Jethro Tull/Fairport, narrative but with not enough conviction, it sorts of gives up on itself. Stanley Unwin is getting a bit irritating and my dangly wants to kick his ass until he shuts up.

Happydaystoytown 

An early version of look on the bright side of life. A reprise of Lazy Sunday.

Overall this was released in May 1968 and shows a band fragmenting, throwing everything they”ve got into the melting pot in the hope something will stick.  Months later King Crimson released In the Court of the Crimson King. Both albums feature musicians first with lyrical content tagged on as an afterthought. Both albums indulge the audiences with long instrumental sections. Both albums are composed around a variety of styles by virtuoso musicians. The Small Faces album has been trapped in its own aspic, it attempts to be a ground breaking mind expanding album, but its roots and influences as clearly visible in its construction. As genre has shifted it has trapped the efforts into a period piece. The Crimson effort on the other hand still sounds fresh, because it remains a pioneer in its sonic voyage of discovery. Its not really a fair comparison but I hope it explains the difficulty I had rendering a fair opinion of this piece. I heard it, I Listened to it but Iv’e almost completely forgotten it, with the exception The Hungry Intruder. That song’s danglies have stayed with me