I thought it was time to give this series another try after some less than stellar volumes suggested Piccadilly Sunshine could be running out of steam. Encouraged by a Shindig review, I picked up a copy in my local second-hand music shop and was certainly glad I did. It’s been on the turntable a good half dozen times over the last month.
With two exceptions, the strongest tracks occur in the first half of this twenty track compilation. In fact the opening four tracks are possibly the strongest consecutive line-up of any Piccadilly Sunshine I have heard, so long as your tastes veer towards melodic, sometimes folksy orchestral pop as this tends to be the focus of Volume 16.
Two Sugars opens the set and is baroque-pop of impeccably twee credentials complete with harpsichord, medieval guitar and instantly hummable melody. Even though the CD notes suggest vocalist Matthew Bones – of whom nothing is known – might be of Dutch origin, Two Sugars tastes as English as Victoria sponge. The singer wonders after his dearly departed sweetheart, imagining her life of supposed domestic bliss without him. Presumably she didn’t care two sugars for his affections but, as he muses upon her well-run day, there appears to be not a trace of bitterness beneath his sweetly mannered exterior.
Track 2 is the reason I snapped-up this compilation and I’m going to post about Philip John Philby‘s David McKenzie separately. I’ll just say it’s my favourite track here.
Next is Toast’s Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall, a 1966 Simon and Garfunkel song given a full, upbeat arrangement, off-setting an indelibly melancholic theme. I first heard this song when I was seventeen and thought the title image surreal and interesting – and that was it! When you’ve bent with the rainfall for three decades, you know exactly what it’s saying. Having revisited the S&G original (and discovered an excellent Paul Simon solo version from his 1965 songbook) I’m reminded how good is even S&G’s lesser known material. Toast’s cover can’t dislodge the supremacy of the originals but it’s enjoyable in its own right.
Napoleon Smith’s nicely arranged Painting Pictures (Track 4), is one of my favourites with its pleasing melody, unfussy arrangement and hint of Breakaways-esque backing vocals. It’s for you to decide whether the pictures are all in his mind – or has he just taken up watercolours? Happily for NS, more exuberant times were just round the corner in the Les Humphries Singers.
After John Williams’s acoustic, world weary My Ways Are Set comes the lovely Wendy by Malcolm Holland. A delicate piano led piece with a repeated music box inspired passage (also recalling, for me, Radio 4’s Listen With Mother theme) it’s a charming ode to the happiness inspired by a newborn child. To hear ‘Wendy’ you might think the song’s title is actually ‘Happiness’ which only adds to its considerable charms.
Such an almost unbroken run of quality cannot last and indeed it does not. Ivor Cutler Trio’s Zen-like I Had a Little Boat floats serenely by until we reach Track 8, Marc Reid’s Sale By Auction, a cute-as-can-be confection about a man-boy whose mother insists he auction his childhood toys to make room for his sweetheart in their little house. With a vocal delivered in truculent boy-plays-toy-soldier mode, Marc twice tells us he will sell his toys to the highest bidder but somehow you feel he won’t go through with it – ‘And I must have room for my penguin’…indeed. There is an endearing cheekiness to ‘Sale By Auction’ but you’ll need a sweet tooth for this one.
It’s not until Track 13 that things pick up again with the ever dependable Barry Ryan who gives us Annabelle, a delightful woodwind arrangement complimenting Barry’s sometimes falsetto vocal and – later – double-tracked whistling! ‘Annabelle’ has a winning melody and that playful mood Barry does so well. And it was only the B-side.
On the way to Track 20, at 17 The Oscar Bicycle offer an okay cover of P.F. Sloan’s lovely On a Quiet Night but it lacks the grace and subtlety of The Association’s version.
And Track 20 itself – our closing track – is ‘Little Miss Someone’ Susie Klee’s Mister Zero, one of those self-consciously ambitious yet enjoyably enigmatic ‘60s opuses. Clocking in at over four minutes, Susie tells of ‘department store counters’ ‘sunset’s crescendo’ and ‘tapestry kittens that hung on the wall’. I don’t know what it’s about or who Mister Zero is. Hopefully you do.
So if you enjoy the melodic side of late ’60s/early ’70s pop with a chamber flavour, veering towards folk here and there, this one’s for you.
***** Matthew Bones Two Sugars  Philip John Filby David McKenzie  Napoleon Smith Painting Pictures  Malcolm Holland Wendy  Barry Ryan Annabelle 
**** Toast Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall  John Williams My Ways Are Set  Marc Reid Sale By Auction  John Williams Can’t Find the Time For Anything Now  Susie Klee Mister Zero