Flower Machine Records FMRCD 1001
“Timeless pop-sike & other delights”
Let’s hear it for Fading Yellow (but quietly, please).
For a limited edition, low profile series which barely whispers its name, Fading Yellow has proved remarkable in the breadth and longevity of its quaintly bespectacled view. For over ten years, within sleeves of assorted late-Victorian, Beardsley-like beauty, Fading Yellow has faithfully gathered together obscurities from the golden age of pop-psych (or is that pop-syke – I never know), unearthing some true gems along the way. Whilst its very particular vision has evolved, the emphasis tends to remain very much on the melodic, orchestrated side of the spectrum.
Here, I’m reaching right back to that first CD. I don’t have all the Fading Yellow releases as they are, by their very nature, frightfully obscure. But I feel confident in saying this initial offering is consistently strong and an altogether delightful listen from start to finish.
So let’s begin with Kate’s Strange Girl. ***** Cy Payne’s swirling strings and sinuous sax evoke a skewed mood of feminine mystique: ‘Strange girl, Strange way of talking… ’. The arrangement adds a good deal to this song. Cy Payne’s background is the solidly mainstream world of big bands and regimental occasions but within a Fading Yellow context, that sensibility and a careful choice of instrumentation conjures up an enticing otherworldly strangeness which, unfortunately, is allowed to dissipate somewhat during the more conventional choruses. Is Angela merely a figment of imagination?
The Making of Marmalade
That Lonely Feeling *** is by pre-Marmalade Dean Ford and the Gaylords. Written by Carter-Lewis, it’s a nice beat song with an understated bitter-sweet flavour. This, and especially the follow-up single A-side ‘He’s a Good Face’ segue fairly effortlessly into early Marmalade.
Despite a Alan Hawkshaw arrangement, Eddy Howell’s Easy Street *** strains a little during its choruses. Still, this is enjoyably carefree orchestrated pop with a ‘Penny Lane’ beat.
You would expect a song which lends its name to the ‘Fading Yellow’ moniker – let alone a series running to sixteen volumes and counting – to be pretty stellar and Mike Batt’s Fading Yellow ***** doesn’t disappoint. Evoking perhaps the ultimate ‘Fading Yellow’ femme fatale, this is highly melodic medievalist folk-pop augmented by Richard Hewson’s woodwind and buzzing cellos. There are a few slightly obvious lyrics but these pale (sorry) into insignificance given the loveliness of the whole. And the liner notes are right – Phase 4’s RnB Listen to the Blues (his band but a non-Batt penned song) is great though there’s no sign of Fading Yellow’s A-side Mr Poem to be seen. Mike Batt compilation anyone? (And I got through that without mentioning The Wombles once…)
Oh, What a Lovely Day **** is prime pop-psyke by Steff Sulke, the ‘Swiss Curt Boettcher’ say the liner notes and indeed Lovely Day alludes to a Millennium dynamic sensitivity with a carefully engineered hummingness and there’s a nod to early Pink Floyd at times thanks to the organ.
John Williams’s Flowers in Your Hair *** is modesty-becomes-you, lightly produced folk-pop – from 1967, of course.
I can hear a slightly more produced version of Zephyrs’ I Just Can’t Take It **** though this guitar/organ version is really fine.
‘Imagine yourself on a tropical ship’ invites Jon in Is it Love? **** Heavily treated vocals and strong backing from two members of Lulu’s band (and later Colin Blunstone’s backing group) make for a heady concoction.
A standout track is Koobas [below] cover of Burt Jansch’s Woe Is Love, My Dear **** where emotive vocals combine with an overall quietist feel courtesy of strings and piano. There is a satisfying blend of pop/pysch/folk going on here. The song’s effectiveness stems from its straining to offer reassurance amidst a sense of melancholic unease.
Although Orange Bicycle’s Competition *** is not as good as their No 1 in France, Hyacinth Threads, Competition boasts some strong harmonies whilst Gremlins provide this volume’s prime jangly guitar pop entry in The Only Thing On My Mind ***
I’m not a country fan but when country goes head-to-head with psychedelia and when the song is written by Neil Diamond, that’s a different matter. Quintin E. Klopjaeger & the Gonks’ The Long Way Home **** is different from anything else on offer here with its darker edge and lower register vocals. And a Diamond quality shines through.
Sundragon’s Far Away Mountain *** is wide-eyed orchestral pop from the ex-Sands duo.
After a slightly harsh sound in its intro, Juan and Junior’s Andurina **** gives way to an insistently melodic, innocent Kaleidoscope-like song. If you prefer a lighter, flutey version without electric guitars, you’ll find it on Youtube. Look out too for the A-side, To Girls, (Circus Days Vol 4) which has a lovely cinematic/melancholy quality with brief break-outs into garage.
With its self-conscious, slightly faltering vocals, Hamlet’s She Won’t See the Light *** is one of those actorly ‘60s songs where you imagine Hamlet plucking petals from a flower as he mourns his lot in life.
And so to Paul & Barry Ryan’s Madrigal *****, the twins’ last single though not written by Barry. Madrigal takes elements of A-side Pictures of Today a stage further. The sound quality isn’t great but the song and performance are, with a perfect balance of humour and sincerity making for mock-medieval swooning loveliness. There are good sounding drums and delicate glockenspiels and what could be better than a sitar peel to close?
If the picture-sleeve is to be believed, Red Lady *** could be about Phil Cordell’s red setter. This song is loaded with fantastic elastic guitar throughout.
Next up, are both sides of a Ronnie Bird single. Sad Soul **** is the better of the two with its sense of longed for escape – ‘Grab hold of a star for me’ – whilst Rain in the City *** has a heavier, almost garage sound.
Elliots Sunshine’s Cos I’m Lonely” ***** – like many songs on this ‘Fading Yellow’, a B-side – has surfaced on several compilations and deservedly so. With its blissful air of softness, warmth and light, ‘Cos I’m Lonely’ is one of those ’60s gossamer, as-if-out-of-thin-air songs. Here it comes complete with lovely melody, groovy organ solo, sweet strings. Loneliness has never sounded so good. I wonder what the A-side is like?
Peter Janes‘ Cat Stevens-produced Do You Believe (Love Is Built on a Dream) **** is strong melodic pop with a little garage guitar.
‘What need have we for answers? For we are just dancers in the wind…’ so say Bliss in Lifetime *** orchestrated folk-pop with a pastoral feel. This was the B-side of their only single with the A-side, ‘Courtyards of Castile’, nowhere to be found although Pneumatic Bliss on MySpace suggests a blissful re-emergence.
The Jackpots’ King of the World ***** is a great pop single and one of the most commercial tracks here. A playful piano intro gives way to close-up verses contrasting with fuller reverb bridge/choruses. There is a smart trumpet break, glockenspiel throughout and lyrics like ‘I would tax the rich, give bread to the poor, love the old.’ And not forgetting those bursts of haha! vocals.
Dreamin’ *** is a harmony and guitar-led major-minor Hollies-like song by Norwegian band Members of Time, leading into final track, Aerovons’ World of You **** – ‘It’s a new world of you and I’m just a stranger here’… Like so many ’60s singles it had hit potential and yet failed to chart. There is an Abbey Road album which I haven’t heard yet.
The three/four stars sometimes blur around the edges but don’t take my word for it. ‘Fading Yellow’ was made for you to enjoy.
1. Kate – Strange Girl  *****
2. Dean Ford and the Gaylords – That Lonely Feeling  ***
3. Eddy Howell – Easy Street  ***
4. Mike Batt – Fading Yellow  *****
5. Steff Sulke – Oh, What a Lovely Day  ****
6. John Williams – Flowers in Your Hair  ***
7. Zephyrs – I Just Can’t Take It  ****
8. Jon – Is It Love?  ****
9. Koobas – Woe Is Love, My Dear  ****
10. Orange Bicycle – Competition  ***
11. Gremlins – The Only Thing On My Mind [n/a] ***
12. Quintin E. Klopjaeger & the Gonks – The Long Way Home  ****
13. Sundragon – Far Away Mountain  ***
14. Juan and Junior – Andurina  ****
15. Hamlet – She Won’t See the Light  ***
16. Paul & Barry Ryan – Madrigal  *****
17. Phil Cordell – Red Lady  ***
18. Ronnie Bird – Sad Soul  ****
19. Ronnie Bird – Rain in the City  ***
20. Elliots Sunshine – ‘Cos I’m Lonely  *****
21. Peter Janes – Do You Believe (Love Is Built on a Dream)  ****
22. Bliss – Lifetime  ***
23. Jackpots – King of the World  *****
24. Members of Time – Dreamin’ [n/a] ***
25. Aerovons – World of You  ****