Friday, 24 September 2021

HUMBLE PIE - As Safe As Yesterday Is LP

 (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



Sunday, 18 April 2021

CAN - Paperhouse

 (GV)

When I first started watching this it took me back to the early 90s when I would attend gigs in crappy pubs or clubs and watch a line-up of bands featuring 'friends' of friends who were 'really cool', usually judged by the length of the lead singer's hair. Back then, within ten minutes I would invariably be asking myself why I'd had so much FOMO and bothered coming before swiftly reverting to the trusty strategy of getting absolutely shit faced to the point of not being able to stand, talk or hear anything anymore.

However, this performance was different. Had I been lucky enough to know people who knew people who could pull off a live performance like CAN I would have remained standing throughout and then creepily rushed up to the band afterwards to tell them how good they were (they needed my endorsement of course), probably avoiding the bassist and his stare. I would probably still be talking about the experience today too. I love how this progresses from what sounds like a warm up and a drummer in need of better cymbals to a fairly standard woe-is-me progression, before quickly turning into a belter of an instrumental. Sounds and looks very Doors-y and I loved the jazz influence. Brilliant.

(PS)

A few years ago I spent a summer delving into krautrock, immersing myself in the other-worldly sounds of Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Amon Düül II and the like, and I found there was something unsettling yet compelling about the genre; once I was sucked in I found it hard to climb out again for quite a while. 

For me it’s the way the music is so sparsely produced: desert-dry with no frills whatsoever to fill the gaps between the notes; your ears take a while to adjust to the economy of sound, so cosseted in endless overdubs and reverb as we are now. It all sort of hangs together in a way that suggests it’s about to fall apart like a house of cards at any moment, but of course it never does; and the opening track of the trance-like masterpiece Tago Mago from 1971 is no exception.

In the opening bars Holger Czukay doesn’t play a standard bassline, he’s almost acting like a second lead guitar, playing arpeggios which hint at a harmonic foundation – but it does mean that Damo Suzuki is very exposed with his gentle opening vocals, and it makes for a rather shaky, uncertain start to the song; but it’s after a minute or two when the pace picks up, Czukay’s role becomes more traditional alongside Jaki Liebezeit’s expressive drumming and Michael Karoli can rock out in front with some soloing which is halfway between structured and improvised. 

For me, Suzuki’s vocals are far more suited to the rockier sound, so when he screams out “YOU JUST CAN’T GIVE BACK NO MORE!” it really has an impact and brings the song to a satisfying, expressionist climax. Fraught, melodramatic, but always somehow in control... this is great stuff. I can see myself getting sucked in again for another summer.

(MS)

For what seemed like years I used to humour a friend of mine who would regularly rant about the impossibly brilliant music created by Can. At a certain time in the night he would put down his pint and elucidate at length about the devastating contribution made by each exotically named band member. In truth his words never moved me to actually want to listen to the music though I always liked to listen to his overbown fervour, even though he repeated it in Clapham, Bow, Kilburn or wherever else our nocturnal ramblings might take us. Many years later I still find myself wandering the nooks and crannies of the city, only now I do it to a soundtrack of actual music, acting out my own personal movie. And in the last month this soundtrack has been exclusively scored by Can.

Paperhouse is the opening section of one of a compelling quartet of startling quasi-rock LPs that sound quite unlike anything else being recorded in the early 70’s. The band started out mixing Stockhausen with a shot of Velvet Underground then started to shake it all up with James Brown-like funk and jazzy-rock noodling. The music lent itself well to ambient atmospherics and they soon found themselves treading the same landscape as pre-Dark Side Floyd, scoring soundtracks to obscure art-house Euro-films. I’ve seen a couple. One of them “Deadlock” is a contempoary western shot in the disputed Israeli territories during a lull in fighting between the 6-Day and Yom Kippur Wars. The other “Deep End”, an erotic tragi-comedy with the flame-haired Jane Asher set in an East End Swimming baths filmed in Munich. It’s ideal music for background colour, leaving any number of actors to wander around vacantly whether on film or in the flesh, like me wandering up and down Earls Court Road in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. 

Their albums were assembled from miles of tape and then edited down like Miles Davis’ stuff into what we might describe as suites of sound, so in the midst of the seriously funky Hallehuwah we get a mini section where a helicopter seems to arrive to play a little jazz thing on the keyboard before giving up to take off again. A listen to this one and Pinch always make me think of The Stone Roses, another band with a semi-articulate vocalist. I’ve often explained to people that a band can prosper without a great vocalist as long as they are compensated by having a great drummer. A fact proven that in reverse it doesn’t matter how talented the singer is, the band will always fail with an agricultural, if enthusiastic tom-tom basher. Can are a case in point.

When you listen to their stuff like the live bootleg taped at Hatfield Poly in 1975, it becomes evident how true this is. For a good, continuous 40 minutes or so the band lock themselves into a groove peppered with guitar riffs and cascading washes of keyboard, punctured now and then by thunderous bass notes booming in and out. Way up front, disciplined in his funky metronome, the drums of Jaki Liebezeit lead a sonic assault clattering and throbbing across the soundscape. The band take off in the directions he dictates and you feel that if the rest of the band fell off the stage it wouldn’t matter too much, he’d just keep on going, holding it all together; like a grooving Hannibal mountaineering pachyderms over the alps, scattering troops asunder, lumbering on over hill and dale.

In the mix the vocalist fills in spaces in the sound, almost jazz scatting in his rambling abstraction, bluesy and wordless at times, painting sound patterns, occasionally strangulating barely decipherable grunts. At about 25 minutes-in during a brief lull in play the vocals are suddenly exposed and a lone voice from the crowd lets out a cry of “Rubbish!” with the timing if not impact, of Morecambe to Previn on the 1971 Xmas Special. It provokes a sole wolf whistle in the crowd and a temporary restlessness that dissipates with the band dedicating the remaining 12 minutes of the gig to an entirely instrumental improvisation. I’d like to think that this was the moment the singer retreated into the street and launched a TV set through a car wind-screen but I understand he did that later in the month outside Drury Lane. But then Tim Hardin was forever awash with his demons.

Yes Tim “If I Were a Carpenter” Hardin. This was the third phase of Can as they began to unravel, filling that space in the sound with whoever might fit. Hardin was briefly passing through, having re-located to the UK to register for methadone on the NHS. His time with the band wouldn’t take him into 1976, or indeed anywhere else after an overdose in 1980. Someone needs to write a book about him. I digress. The Can peak years between 1970 and 73 are full of mystery and well worth the investment of multiple-listens. But it is telling if you listen to the mountains of retrospectively released un-edited stuff from Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way/ Bitches Brew” period, to discover there was good reason why jam material is edited down and it’s the same with Can. Various lost un-edited tapes have surfaced over the years that give us much more than we need diminishing their magic through interminable impro-ramblings that veer a little too close to the “Ummagumma” end of pre-Dark Side Floyd. This TV performance with the magical presenter zooming our way is frankly a bit sloppy too compared to the studio version (at the bottom). But when Can were good they were spell-binding. Give the albums Soundtracks, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days a spin. Whether walking around W12 or not.

(JS)

I first encountered Holger Czukay as a guest star in Canadian avant- garde science fiction comics by Matt Howarth. He was always outside the main plot twist, fiddling with tapes or waiting for the drums to start. He didn’t really play a role but the cartoonist always presented him in a universe of his own. Paperhouse is from Can’s golden period. It appears to be a jazzy improvisation with a shirtless man shouting over the top of it. A brief exploration of the literature credits Can as being one of the most influential bands ever. So what’s the fuss about?

Forget that Can spawned Krautrock. Forget that Holger Czukay studied under Stockhausen. Forget the influence of the late sixties German free jazz movement. Forget the undeniable gravity of American prog rock and the significant lures of Mammon. The music of Can defies categorisation.  Most music is produced to act like an arrow from a bow, its tone, rhythm and lyrical foreshadowing are directed at you to evoke a particular feeling by the musician. The musician whether low or high culture, aims to evoke a feeling in their audience that encourages a commercial response to their creation. It has created a sprawling industry of multi-facet genres, and subsidiary trades.

Compared to the structure of most music Can can read as less structured. Compared to most music using lyrics to support their communication bandwidth Can’s lyrical contents make their music more ambiguous. Compared to most traditional popular musical 3 minute song structures, the music of Can relies on a much looser structure, facilitating greater individual musical improvisation, which in turn leads to greater song length. So what do we have then, highly drum and bass driven explorations of conflicting scales, avant-garde titles, structured musical improvisation, ambiguous lyrical content, very early use of sampled and mangled tape effects and a demand that their audience listen. The drum and bass form the overarching structure of the piece and the guitar and keyboard and other noises join in and have a conversation. Its sounds improvised and free form, but the ardent student quickly learns the improvisation is highly structured and form is developed from hours of recorded improvisation. And as the cherry on the cake the vocalist starts speaking in tongues over the top of it all.

I've tried to like Can for years, and even though there would be no My Bloody Valentine without them, they create the illusion of music with no form or shape other than that the audience projects onto it. It’s very highly structured and would in my opinion benefit from a less is more approach. Its conception is too dense, and I fear that even Paperhouse is probably more fun to listen to than play. Going back to my original analogy of the musician being an archer. I don’t care if the musicians bow is made of the rarest sandalwood. I don’t care if they can get 5G reception twenty years before 5G is invented. I don’t care if they are making music no one has heard ever before. It’s important that I believe that they are thinking of me, and what they are trying to say to me, because my needs in the musical equation matter too. I need to know I am some kind of target, even if they miss. When I listen to Taylor Swift or the Sleaford Mods or Fiona Apple or Joanna Newsom (obviously not on the same playlist) their cast is more focussed on winning my acclaim, to the extent I can convince myself they care about me. Whilst I’m never going to the prom and get some cowboy to marry me, I can sort of understand what Taylor swift is singing about. It transports me for an instant into fantasy romance land, the transition is easy. With Can this is so much harder. They don’t give a shit about me, they exist in an intricate prison, endlessly talking to each other in a language I can’t even glimpse, never mind understand.



Wednesday, 31 March 2021

THE KINKS - Rich Man Poor Man LP

Pop music has a terrible inbuilt weakness of destroying itself through over-familiarity. The constant and cynical repackaging of music served up as random compilations to recoup the investment of record companies, is a particular curse of the industry. Exposed to constant replay, individual songs lose meaning in their contextual association with inappropriate company. In short it loses it's power. Yet when done right, a collection of songs carefully sequenced to aid an overarching theme can occasionally rival good fiction or film. The medium is relentless and in a concentrated 40 minute sitting, there can be fewer more intense artistic experiences to achieve so much whilst demanding so little effort. At it's best it envelops us.

This stereo double album compilation by The Kinks, may or may not have been prepared for foreign territory release in the mid '70s. Either way the oil crisis and copyright problems with the sleeve design sidelined it until this copy with hebrew text on the label surfaced at the end of last year. Had it been widely distributed it would have joined a multitude of other such releases to seemingly milk the band's 60's heyday. Yet look again and you can see it is so much more.

Rich Man Poor Man appears to have had it's source in an original and previously lost all embracing theme that pre-figures the arc of concept albums The Kinks released from the late 60's onwards. The period was marked by relentless touring that took a physical and mental toll on the band. Poor management by upper class chancers with severe cash-flow problems exacerbated the pressure on the band to deliver hit after hit and Ray Davies found his visionary ambitions frustrated with each song either rush-released as a self-serving single, b-side or album filler. 

The songs reflect what he was witnessing close at hand. The class inequalities were bursting through the veneer of swinging London and we can clearly see why he would return again and again to the recurring theme of innocents abroad. The Kinks like many other bands were regarded as no more than walking pound signs created to keep a small army of users fed and clothed. As the years passed Davies would become more explict in calling this out, but in 1966-67 this anger was largely supressed behind a facade of elaborate metaphor and satire. I would argue that had this record been released at the time it would have greatly altered our perception of The Kinks and seen them ranked on an equal footing with the progressive long-play output of their Beatle and Beach Boy peers. As such it's a remarkable discovery. 

RECORD ONE (36 mins)- a sharp tongued pantomine set to music hall rhythms mocking the rise and fall of old money from school, office and discotheque. The fortunes of the protagonist collapsing through a conspiracy of govt. policy and poor English weather, leaving him adrift from both family and class.

The first side follows the fortunes of a single character, a certain David Watts"head-boy at the School, ...captain of the team" whose immense
superiority is recounted in detached third person by a narrator we imagine machine-gunning from the School roof in Lindsay Anderson's "If...". 
"He is so gay and fancy free.." he spits "... and I wish all his money, belonged to ME". But the old money stays with the old money, as made evident in the summer '65 song A Well Respected Man which acts as a touchstone for the whole concept. This was the first song released by The Kinks to reveal the inner sardonic mind of Davies who affects a sneering vocal to the following priceless couplet, "And he plays the stocks and shares and he goes to the Regatta, he adores the girl next door, cause he's dying to get at her". And on this record, as though it was always meant to be, the final strummed chord miraculously segues into the opening strummed chord of an alternate Dedicated Follower of Fashion, breathing new life into Davies great misappropriated anti-swinging London anthem (see my RAY DAVIES-Spring 1966 entry). 
Then amongst the subterranean-set, the drums poundng like an impending coronary, our narrator encounters the cast-off 
Little Miss Queen of Darkness, a waif like Jane Asher in "Alfie", burnt-out "cause the only boy she had, went and cooly stepped aside"  by... a now far too randy Dandy rampaging across the Mayfair nightlife. Here the underside of the swinging City is laid bare in all it's debauched futility. Our privileged toff dragged over the coals in the accusatory rave-up, House in the Country ,"Well he got his job when drunken Daddy tumbled down the stairs, from that very day this boy has more than had his share." It ends side one with a sense of hubris...for those whom the God's would destroy. And, "One of these days I'm gonna knock him off his throne"sings his old classmate. It's like a promise. 

The guitar reverses into Side Two like the beginning of the end because "He went and spent all the money that he had, because he had a heart and not a head”. The net result, his Most Exclusive Residence for Sale. An alternate version of Afternoon Tea follows the downward spiral, switching the narrative to first person. It's references to an absent tea-room tryst under starry skies, signalling a delusional descent in both ambition and libido. 

"The taxman's taken all my dough" sums it all up, Sunny Afternoon or not, with his property loss ill-compensated by forced inertia 'neath changeable sunny skies, the future is bleak. Lazy Old Sun is like that chilly moment as we watch the cloud cover the ground before us and we wait for it's inexorable shadow to roll over our spot. The song is a woozy nod to the downer brought on by too much excess whether material, chemical, sunshine or ...booze. An inspired shift back into Pop, the third person Mr Pleasant though arrives like an unwelcome guest. The chirpy upbeat mood clashes with the bleak truths like something out of Dickens. And even Mrs Pleasant has gone. "Wintertime is coming, all the sky is grey, summer birds aren't singing since you went away" closes the End of The Season curtain like an old show tune at the end of a rain-lashed pier. "I just can't mix in all the clubs I know” he moans, “Now Labour's in, I have no place to go"And so part one ends. The swinging snapshot of the Capital city now forced to look into itself. 

RECORD TWO (35 mins)- a parallel world on the other side of town under the same grey skies where the stakes are so much higher. Characters break free and fall under the City's wheels, before blissful redemption awakens them to the life-affirming realisation of the wonders they've always had. Even if it's not that much.

Side three opens with studio chat into a short instrumental run-through of Waterloo Sunset that drifts straight into the profound Autumn Almanac"This is my street and I'm never gonna leave it and I'm always gonna stay here.." sings a proud everyman until the mysterious inner workings of the mind are revealed like an actor's split-second expression, "because the people I meet seem to come from my street and I can't get away... the street is calling me. Come on home!. Hear it calling me, Come on home!"

And Billy Liar is left at the train station as Julie heads off for the streets of gold. The London bells introduce us to the Big Black Smoke and immediately we consider her fate, as told by a bristling stentorian voice, "Well she slept in caffs and coffee bars and bowling alleys and every penny she ha-a-a-d, was spent on purple hearts and cigarettes". The words bowling alleys spat like a blasphemous rebuke from the pulpit. Rosy Won't You Please Come Home follows the lament of her abandoned mother, whilst Too Much on My Mind may be the song of them all. A study in mental anguish where to these people, human choice and happiness are forever at the mercy of chance. But smile, smile, smile as long as you've a lucifer to light your Harry Rag eveything's ok. And at the beginning "Susie and Johnny were happy... earned enough to pay the rent" but these new characters are introduced to bring us back into the circling kitchen sink of it all. It's Davies most Marxist scenario. The Situation Vacant reading like a death notice for Johnny's broken dreams,“Susie’s separated living with her Ma" and "little Mama’s satisfied”. The fourth song on the side to contemplate the happiness or otherwise of a Mother.

Inevitably side Four finds us in Ken Loach territority on the aptly named Dead End Street. A trad jazz coda plays over the fade like a New Orleans funeral parade, before a thunder crash empties the streets with apocalyptic portent. “The reckoning was beckoning, they’re living to their doom, there is no hope, no reasoning, this Rainy Day in June. And “…everybody felt the rain”. Everybody, Johnny, Joe, Tom and Susie, like Rosy before her, free from Mama again but in the mire. Like a miracle Susannah’s Still Alive, but only because we see her breathing and its all too true that it “Doesn’t matter what she does, she knows that she can’t win”. The hapsichord waltz of the Two Sisters, which Davies wrote about himself and his brother, introduces two more characters to the mix, “Sybilla looked into the mirror, Priscilla looked into the washing machine” but through an unexpected moment of grace (in the maisonette), the mood is transformed, Priscilla saw her little children and then decided she was better off than the wayward lass that her sister had been”. And that's all it took to return to the beginning and this is my street and This is Where I Belong. It's a blissful mini anthem of hope and it seems to circle back to Record One and the "house upon a hill" character, now "with no place to go". And at the end of it all we are made to understand that the bright London lights shine with illusion and as they recede back into the darkness, a glorious Waterloo Sunset lights up Terry and our Julie, who we leave to their life of simple pleasures.

On reflection the whole thing is a synthesis of the 60's cinematic working class dream, re-channelled by a writer in the thick of it. It's tuneful, simplistic and at times quite moving. It also breathes new life into songs you thought you knew. Try and track down a copy (or make your own). It's a great enveloping listen.