Casuals’ Classics: ten of the best by The Casuals

Following my series of posts on the band here is my Casuals Top 10 in reverse order:


#10  Weather Vane 
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


‘Though you point from east to west, you point just one way…’

Of the two new, quiet ballads on Hour World, John Tebb’s Weather Vane, surprisingly outshines Manston- ‘Jesamine’-Gellar’s Sunflower Eyes.

‘Weather Vane’ is simple in melody and conception but it’s graced by John Tebb vocals.


#9  Jennifer Brown 
A-side Italy, Joker 1966


If you think The Casuals just weren’t cool enough, bend an ear to this early chilled Italian mood piece.

Moody organ, piano out of nowhere, mysterious vibes and mellow trumpet, it’s truly the lost gem of The Casuals’ crown.


#8  Hello It’s Me
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


… for its combination of almost courtly though slightly ironic beseechment  (‘You’re really too kind…’), cutely cooing falsetto backing vocals and air of youthful heartache (the singer longs for communication yet struggles to say what he really means).

Most of all it’s just the sheer niceness of the thing.


#7  Adios Amor (Goodbye My Love) 
A-side, Decca 1968


The Casuals favoured elegant Italianate ballads in their earlier days and Adios Amor is perhaps their finest.


#6  Seven Times Seven 
A-side, Decca 1969


A giddy take-off over choppy piano riffs, brilliant brass and an unexpected subtly blues based melody all collide into a high octane chorus overseen by an edge of excitement and anticipation…

This is the most confident and driven of The Casuals’ singles.  John Tebb’s voice almost shifts into rock mode as he urges us to hedge our bets.

And then there’s that very Joey Levine ‘Hey!’ – or is it an ‘Oh!’ ? – sandwiched between the intro and main vocal, surely one of the most bubblegum vocal moments in pop.


#5  Toy 
A-side, Decca 1968


As Toy was the impossible follow-up single to Jesamine, inevitably I skated over its delights in my 1968/69 singles post.

‘Toy’ may be fluffy (as well as catchy) but it’s an early hint at The Casuals’ toytown leanings and the song is treated to a rousing arrangement.

Chris Andrews successfully updates his stood up love dramas from real-life monochrome suburban streets to imagined technicolour toy bandstand.


#4  Letter Every Month 
B-side, Decca 1971


 

Tucked away like a winsome afterthought on the B-side of what I always think of as The Casuals’ final single Someday Rock ‘n’ Roll Lady (for all their bluster Tara Tiger Girl and The Witch are little more than prodding producer induced rigor mortis twitches), this marks Howard Newcomb’s virtual debut as composer.

There is a boyishly forlorn mood, a deft touch to the lyrics and an occasional nice use of imagery (‘the staircase turns to stone’).

It’s a shame Howard and John didn’t try their hand at writing more or was it that their contributions were simply sidelined?


#3  Toyland 
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


‘Let’s all go and blow our mind… in Toyland … ‘ – a hint of psychedelia in the everyday setting of a child’s bedroom, animated by the dare-to-dream magic of make-believe.

Written by Jess Roden and Tony Catchpole, Toyland was first produced by their band, The Alan Bown Set but from its ‘Alouette’ opening fanfare to those mumblings over an energetic (toy?) trumpet lead-off, it’s The Casuals who have the honey and buttercups scene sewn up, bringing the song – and the toys – to life.


#2  Never My Love 
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


This humble, elegant classic from the Addrisi brothers is one of the most covered songs of all time.  I may not have heard all the versions but I can definitely say I like The Casuals’ better even than The Association’s and I’d expect theirs to be the gold standard.

Arthur Greenslade picks up the reins as Musical Director for this song only, applying a light touch to allow the blissed out backing vocals to soar and shine… and shine they do, suggesting that the group might have made it as a full blown sunshine pop outfit.

The song’s melodic sensibility and earnest romantic assurances suit John Tebb’s voice as if it were created for him.


#1  Jesamine 
A-side and album track, Hour World 1969


 

 

Sometimes the most predictable choice is fervently the right one.

If ever a record was made to waft gently out of summer windows, it was Jesamine – especially in 1968 but anytime will do.

At heart, Jesamine is a fragile delectation inhabiting a song built with solid craft and the persuasive power of a lovely melody.  It’s a textbook case of the right voice, arrangement, song, group at the right time…  everything coming together to create a timeless classic which just goes on spreading delight.

And having halted at No 2 in ’68, it’s a pleasure to make ‘Jesamine’ my No 1.


Coming soon:  ‘Not a Casual Affair’ summing up the band’s appeal.


Previous posts on The Casuals

The Casuals: beyond Jesamine
The Casuals: before Jesamine: 1961- mid 1968
Jesamine Part 1

Jesamine Part 2
When Jesamine Goes: Singles 1968/69

Hour World 1969
With Jesamine Gone 1970-76

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Take Three 60s Songs … by David Bowie

Overlooking – if that’s possible – Space Oddity (my favourite song of his from the 60s and very probably from any other decade) here are simply three more David Bowie favourites from the 60s, starting with the earliest.


I Can’t Help Thinking About Me

Written by David Bowie
Performed by David Bowie with The Lower Third
Produced by Tony Hatch
Pye A-side, January 1966


Embed from Getty Images

A boy, on the run from his home town can’t see that his wretchedness stems as much from his relentless self-spiralling thoughts as it does the narrowness of his surroundings.

Almost from the very start, David Bowie was dealing in an outsider’s sense of claustrophobia.  He later described this piece as a ‘‘beautiful piece of solipsism”.  I Can’t Help Thinking About Me may be more straightforwardly autobiographical than we would later come to expect of him but the emotion is near universal.  Countless suburban teenagers hearing this on pirate radio would ecstatically endorse the sentiment.

Inner charge

The song gains much of its power because of its inevitability – the boy has started something he doesn’t know how to finish or return from.   He’s unleashed an inner charge which is catapulting him out of his home town, it’s beyond choice now, it’s become so much bigger than he is.  Characters from his life swim into view and then out again like fragments already disappearing into the past.  But he can’t think about them.  Only about me.

I like the slightly subdued verse giving way to the despairing howl of the pre-chorus and then the compulsive, repetitive refrain.

There’s a Kinks-like feel and Graham ‘Death’ Rivens’s busy bass contributes greatly to the restless pace.  It’s curious listening to this knowing that, along with production duties and piano, Tony Hatch also adds backing vocals.

In 2015’s Lazarus, Bowie asks ‘Ain’t that just like me?’ as if he’s looking back at this younger self.


The London Boys

Written and performed by David Bowie
Produced by Mike Vernon
Deram UK B-side [France A-side], December 1966


Following on from I Can’t Help Thinking About Me, the boy has reached the ‘bright lights, Soho, Wardour Street’, where disillusionment and triumphalism seem mingled into one.  A realisation of, not just a new life but a new identity arises; the song ends with swollen pride though still tinged with uncertainty.

Mark Almond covered The London Boys but tries too hard to inject drama.  For Bowie, the drama is already there.  I love the way he David Bowie bylinesings ‘Someone cares about you’ – where the drop away – a very learned, theatrical one – exposes uncertainty, vulnerability.

Think of how a band such as the Small Faces might have done a song on a similar theme with all the unfettered passion of the ‘real thing’.  Bowie plays a part even when he is as apparently intimate as here but it’s still touching.

The accompaniment is all the better for being sparse – woodwind, tremulous organ; peeling brass London ‘bells’ towards the close allows a brief few moments of assurance.

Unfolding drama

The London Boys reaches a climax in a similar manner to When I Live My Dream.  It feels as if a whole new drama is about to unfold after that closing chord.

Remade for the Toy album, it’s inevitably moving to hear the 50-something Bowie meeting his former self, but the arrangement is disappointing mainstream rock lumbered with a heavy, steady drum.  If only we had heard more of the closing moments’ muted trumpet, woodwind and organ.


There Is a Happy Land

Written and performed by David Bowie
Produced by Mike Vernon
Album David Bowie Deram, June 1967


Embed from Getty Images

Themes of children and childhood run throughout several tracks on Bowie’s debut album but this is the strongest.  Although incredibly evocative, the song avoids sentiment because behind its carefree, nostalgic tableau there is always the child’s stare, instructing us, ‘Mr Grown Up’,  to ‘Go away sir’.  Such a secret, esoteric world was still effortlessly accessible to a just-out-of-his teens David Bowie.

There Is a Happy Land sets about its evocations with joyful ease, showing children as a different race, entirely set apart from adults and their concerns.  The roll-call of (all boys’) names and playful activities – Charlie Brown’s kite, Tommy lighting a fire, Tiny Tim and his prayers and hymns  – is four parts Ken Loach to one part Enid Blyton.  Despite the vividness of these images, taken collectively they remain deeply mysterious, like esoteric rites.

Esoteric rites

The mode of address shifts.  Sometimes the voice is definitely that of a child, sometimes that of a kind of universal story teller and sometimes not quite one or the other.  The only slightly clunky moment is the shoe-horned rhyme ‘…burned the field away’/ ‘…put the blame on me and Ray’.

The arrangement, especially that languid thirty-nine second introduction, is David Bowie’s best.  There is almost a cool sophistication about it which is surprisingly not at all incongruous.  I love those deliberately blurred dissonances, the open sevenths sounded on two trumpets.   The ending seems to descend entirely into a child’s world with jangling, clanging sounds and a scat-nonsense vocal.

When I’m Five is a kind of up-close follow-up.  Ostensibly cute through and through, it takes bravery to risk being so childlike but astuteness to be able to pull off the trick in a song.

David Bowie: 8th January 1947 – 10th January 2016.


More Take Three Songs

Take Three Songs… on Blackpool
Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black
Take Three Songs… or early 60s instrumentals
Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia

Red Chair Fade Away

No. 9 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

By Robin & Barry Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album Bee Gees’ 1st 1967


Embed from Getty Images

 

“Rainbows all the time, we’re all going higher”

A swirling kaleidoscope of children’s storytime memories, this transport of delight probably marks the high watermark of the psychedelic Bee Gees, at least in the 1967 sense of psychedelic.  I know many crown Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You with that accolade but for me, it tries a little too hard to be weird.  Red Chair Fade Away is the more accomplished piece and also a more enjoyable one for actually being about something.

The emphasis is not so much on the cosiness of grandpa’s fireside storytelling as the strange and wonderful worlds he evokes.  The storyteller’s red chair vanishes and the old man takes his wide-eyed young audience on a miraculous journey.

Barry’s line ‘I can feel the speaking sky, I don’t want to know…’ possibly relates to the voice of God-like parents recalling the children from these rainbow worlds, back to reality and responsibility.  The repeated chorus refrain – ‘Red chair fade away!’  – can be heard as a child’s command to be whisked away into fantasy before this can happen.

Pitch bends, bleats and beats  

As with the strangest or most lyrically outlandish of the Bee Gees’ songs, a strong melody prevails.  Here it eventually disintegrates amidst repeated chants of ‘red chair fade away’ to flutes, ‘cellos and what sound like bleating goats (was grandpa’s Red Chair Fadeaway bylinestory The Three Billy Goats Gruff, perhaps?)  Assuming the bleats to have been added sound effects, upon reading Andrew Sandoval’s Bee Gees: The Day-By-Day Story, I was astonished to learn that these bizarre sounds are courtesy of Robin!*

Phil Dennys turns in a more adventurous arrangement than Bill Shepherd might have done, adding greatly to the mood of enchantment. It’s a shame his talents were not heard more often on Bee Gees’ recordings.

Maurice supplies some terrific mellotron pitch bends and Colin’s drums sound particularly incisive.

The ‘fragrant lemon trees’ are announced by a piccolo passage which hints at Indian or Middle Eastern exotica; this sounds rather naff put down in black-and-white but works well within the context of the song.

A key structural element is the shift from 3/4 to 4/4 time occuring not at the expected place – the start of the chorus – but four bars before that –  ‘I don’t want to know…’.  This slides an unexpected transition beneath the song, enhancing its mood of sly playfulness.  And at that precise point, the additional beat also creates a momentary feeling of time slowing down, a generosity absolutely at one with the languidly defiant lyric.

It’s worth pointing out that the basic track was laid down on 7th March 1967 and the song was very possibly written on the ship to England some two months earlier.  Red Chair Fadeaway might not be Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds but it does show how in touch with the zeitgeist the band were at this time.

With its childhood concerns and taste for the exotic, Red Chair, Fade Away marks a notable contribution to classic English psychedelia.

* Andrew Sandoval, Bee Gees: The Day-by-Day Story, 1945-1972, (2012), page 25

No 8 Odessa (City on the Black Sea)
No 10 Birdie

Sing Slowly Sisters

Saved by the Bell 1968-70The second of three posts on Saved by the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-70.  

Here I’m listening to CD2, the Sing Slowly Sisters sessions recorded 1st January – April 1970.

From the stentorian drum beats which open the album, Sing Slowly Sisters conjures up so many ghosts:  the exhuming of material nearly half a century old, the shadow of World War One which haunts some of the music and most of all, the ghost of Robin Gibb himself.

Ghosts

Sing Slowly Sisters’ apparently sepia-tinted setting is a historical place only inasmuch as it is fundamentally a place of the mind, Robin’s mind, a shrouded place in which to contemplate loneliness and loss.  Sing Sing Slowly SistersSlowly Sisters is introverted to its very core.

Some of the music might have made a good soundtrack for a film or TV play with a historical setting – a Victorian drama made in the early 70s, a Ken Russell production perhaps?

There is more variety on offer here than on Robin’s Reign  Not all the songs proceed at a similar pace and the production is more intimate especially on the chamber songs.

Along with his pronounced eccentricity, Robin’s amazing facility for melody barely relents throughout more than twenty tracks; in fact, the songs are pretty much built on melody alone with not a riff, a groove or rock motif in sight.

The ideas seemed to pour out of him at this time, not just in the songs collected here but across other projects too, some mentioned in interviews with Brian Matthew and David Wigg on CD3.

No less than four songs mention the word ‘wife’, an unusual emphasis in pop, perhaps used to root the songs firmly in the past and within a particular structure of society.  But the uxorial pre-eminence also points to an enduring relationship rather than mere passing fancies, thus dignifying love and intensifying its loss.

The contrast between the ambitious Sing Slowly Sisters and the uninspired reunion group effort Two Years On recorded only months apart is astonishing.

Track record 

Joseph Brennan gives the Sing Slowly Sisters track listing and running order (based on two acetate LPs) as possibly:

 

1. Life – 2.32
2. I’ve Been Hurt – 4.21
3. Irons in the Fire – 4.07
4. Cold be My Days – 6.14
5. Avalanche – 4.13
6. Make Believe – 5.03
7. All’s Well That Ends Well – 2.12
8. A Very Special Day – 2.56
9. Sky West and Crooked – 2.31
10. Sing Slowly Sisters – 3.57
11. C’est la Vie, Au Revoir – 3.19

Running time: 41.25

 

Saved By the Bell provides us with an entirely different one, supplementing the eleven above with a further seven tracks and two demos:

 

1. Sing Slowly Sisters – 3.57
2. Life – 2.32
3. C’est la Vie, Au Revoir – 3.19
4. Everything Is How You See Me – 2.39
5. I’ve Been Hurt – 4.21
6. Sky West and Crooked – 2.31
7. Irons in the Fire – 4.07
8. Cold Be My Days – 6.14
9. Avalanche – 4.13
10. Engines Aeroplanes – 2.25
11. The Flag I Flew – 4.15
12. Return to Austria – 2.17
13. It’s Only Make Believe – 5.03
14. All’s Well That Ends Well – 2.12
15. A Very Special Day – 2.56
16. Great Caesar’s Ghost – 2.23
17. Anywhere I Hang My Hat – 3.41
18. Loud and Clear – 3.34
19. Return to Austria (demo) – 8.02
20. Why Not Cry Together (demo) – 2.09

 

I would barely want to take issue with the eleven tracks shortlisted by Brennan (and presumably those chosen by Robin to comprise the finished Sing Slowly Sisters); these alone would comprise a most distinctive and distinguished album.  Return to Austria is perhaps a surprising omission.  I’d take any of Robin’s originals over the slightly underdeveloped All’s Well that Ends Well though his highly unusual borrowing of another’s melody (‘In the Bleak Midwinter’) probably makes it a ‘must’ for inclusion.

Of the twenty tracks on this CD, the most accessible songs with the biggest arrangements mainly come first, as if from a rousing start we move deeper into the album’s melancholy heart.  But with the eleven Brennan tracks largely placed across the first half of the CD, there is an inevitable, though slight, dip in quality on the second half.  Significantly, the Brennan selections tend to be the songs with the strongest historical placements and/or narratives.

Three songs recorded together – I’ve Been Hurt, Irons in the Fire and Cold Be My Days – occur consecutively on Brennan’s proposed running order and almost do so here (separated only by Sky West and Crooked).   This nearness allows for a sense of a developing and deepening mood across the three which share in delightful chamber arrangements and a delicate, inward discernment.  The mood culminates in the crystalline sharpness of Cold Be My Days. 

Still, whatever the running order, at last here is much of the material gathered together from scattered acetates, demos and tapes and as cleaned up as it can be for our listening pleasure.  Having heard – and in some cases endured – scratchy, creaking versions of some of these songs, it’s marvellous to hear them in near pristine form.

Two Sing Slowly Sisters tracks are utterly definitive and if I was compiling a ‘Best of Robin Gibb’, they would have to be included.  They are Sing Slowly Sisters and Cold Be My Days.

 


Sing Slowly Sisters: track-by-track

Sing Slowly Sisters 

Bob Stanley describes Sing Slowly Sisters as ‘possibly the most moving song about the First World War ever written’.  It surely sits alongside the very best of Robin’s work.

Sing Slowly Sisters – in full

Life

This lively number sounds like a hit, pure and simple, in the orchestrated pop style of the day.  You’ll appreciate its simple virtues once you reach further into the lonely depths of Sing Slowly Sisters.    There are even echoes of  I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You  if you listen for them.

C’est la Vie, Au Revoir

Although more mainstream than the two unarguably (in my opinion) essential tracks Sing Slowly Sisters and Cold Be My Days, C’est la Vie, Au Revoir is classic Robin with its affecting, inexorably sad chorus and that wonderful couplet:

“All the trees around me ignored the sun and died,
Grass and reeds around me quietly apologized”.

  C’est La Vie, Au Revoir – in full

Everything Is How You See Me

This has something of an Idea Side 1 song about it though Vic Lewis’s introduction lends an incongruous epic western quality.   I especially like Robin’s late entry backing vocals swelling the outro.

I’ve Been Hurt 

After the relatively lavish arrangements up until this point, I’ve Been Hurt shows the way to the intimate, introverted heart of the album by way of a sweetly Victorian string quartet and woodwind arrangement.

Combining startling vulnerability with an air of quiet entreaty, Robin sings of shame, about being hurt and misled.  ‘Be careful with my heart’ might sum up the song’s gentle plea.

Amidst the studied seriousness, he can’t resist a little humour – ‘last not least my job went east’.

Sky West and Crooked

‘Cobwebs smother the eyes of another…’  A simple strumalong waltz with elliptical lyrics referencing an ‘East Derbyshire dentist’ this is perhaps Robin at his most endearingly strange.

The title seems to be a self-acknowledgement of Robin’s eccentricity but is also a 1965 film starring Hayley Mills.

Irons In the Fire

Set to the loveliest arrangement of harpsichord and strings, Robin imagines himself as old and downcast, looking back on the ‘arcade of my age’ as ‘tapestries of youth fall into view.’  There are some characteristic rhymes within rhymes – ‘mentally on the whole you stole my soul’ and a lovely downward drop of key on the very final vocal ‘I’m a helpless choice’.

Cold Be My Days

The second of two essential Sing Slowly Sisters tracks.

The bright-eyed Cold Be My Days shows Robin’s mastery of a quasi-classical genre in his own inimitable style.  His voice is utterly suited to the string quartet arrangement.

The apparently meandering middle detour is immaculately integrated into a carefully thought through whole, its thematic and musical sensibilities completely at one.

A disarmingly ambitious song.

Cold Be My Days – in full

Avalanche

Born out of Robin and wife Molly’s four days trapped in an Alpine cabin, this is the most stripped down thing here.  Robin’s voice strains (deliberately) a little at the upper reaches as if to convey the altitude and extremity of the situation (probably a little serendipitous thinking there on my part!).

The title left me hoping for vivid imagery à la Cold Be My Days.  This is very highly rated but I’m afraid I find it a little repetitive.

Engines, Aeroplanes

A break for an ostensibly jaunty countryish mood after the intensity of what has gone before and we’re back to a more arranged sound.

The Flag I Flew

This and the following three fully orchestrated tracks share something of the flavour of Robin’s Reign’s tracks such as Gone, Gone, Gone, The Worst Girl in This Town and Most of My Life.

Return to Austria

A continuation of farewell from the previous track, the same key and a definite similarity between the melody in the verses.

It’s Only Make Believe

“I’ve never been alone before,
It makes me feel so insecure,
There’s nowhere I can turn”

Few singer-songwriters are as unguardedly exposed as this.  There is a nice upward moving inclination taken up towards the end by the violins and a well crafted elaboration of ‘believe’ morphing into a repeated ‘Believe me…’

All’s Well That Ends Well

Robin utilises the melody of that most melancholy of carols, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, his upper register voice a complete contrast from the preceding track.  His plaintive tone belies the title.

The melody is so well known that upon hearing it, one cannot but help recall the original words, like a kind of silent subtext.  This element of recall is probably an artful aspect of the palimpsest.  If so, Lord Bless All far more successfully conjures a wintry feel.

A Very Special Day

“People danced like in a story from Bernard Shaw…’”

… such gaiety begins a vivid and extraordinarily economic narrative.

It’s possible to piece together a story from the lyric’s allusions: Robin is about to leave for war.  He has been ‘thrown down like the enemy’ by his bride to be who has left him to seek her ‘very special day’ with a new suitor.  He surveys the dancers at an unnamed occasion (her wedding?) with great sadness and loneliness at the prospect of walking away and losing everything – his wife, his comfort and familiarity and ultimately perhaps his life.

A companion piece to Sing Slowly Sisters, A Very Special Day is characteristic in its conflation of personal loss with broader themes of greater loss in war.  Robin skilfully uses the language of one to evoke the other.

This piano and vocals only piece is wedged amongst a run of heavily orchestrated tracks so as to accentuate its starkness.

‘A Very Special Day’ is a later standout track.

Great Ceasar’s Ghost

A stately serenade, Great Ceasar’s Ghost is possibly a kind of idiosyncratic ode to ‘the most incredible man to arise’, a product of Robin’s historic heroism.  But given the almost unrivalled obscurity of the lyrics even that interpretation may be conferring upon the song a precision its writer never intended.

‘Great Ceasar’s Ghost’ was possibly to have been Robin’s fourth solo single.

Anywhere I Hang My Hat

A likeable piece which ups the tempo and wants to inject a little soul into proceedings.   Re-worked I can hear this almost fitting into Bee Gees 1st.

‘Anyone can come and use my phone…’ thanks Robin.

Loud and Clear

Repeats the melody and some of the lyrics of I’ve Been Hurt with a far more conventional and upbeat arrangement, a less intimate vocal recording and to lesser effect.

Return to Austria (demo)

An eight minute demo which perhaps begins with something of the flavour of Hudson Fallen Wind thanks to heavy echo and synth only (joined by drum machine after five minutes).

Robin sings the chorus with real feeling ‘I still love you more than you’ll ever know‘ but retreats to la-las and da-das for sections which do not yet have lyrics.  The repetitive nature as Robin gets to grips with the material is almost hypnotic.  The ‘I just don’t know what to do’ proto-lyric is thankfully excised in the finished version.

Why Not Cry Together (demo)

A heavily reverbed vocal for a short acoustic guitar accompanied piece with an undertow of bleak good humour, a plea for togetherness in the face of life’s mixed emotions.

Look out for my third Saved By the Bell post coming soon where I shall review CD3, Robin’s Rarities.

Gibb Songs 1970 – Joseph Brennan’s site

Robin’s Reign … Plus
Bee Gees’ Top 50 1966-72