I surprised myself a little in writing no less than eight posts on The Casuals who, by any stretch of the imagination, were a minor pop group of their time and no more than a one hit wonder to a majority of the public who might have heard of them at all.
When I started lightspots, I said I would try to avoid reproducing information available elsewhere – discographies, biographies, reeling off a band’s career. But for The Casuals, to fill in some of that background has felt necessary as it appeared to be barely out there. What existed was widely scattered and tended to be brief, focusing on their ‘one hit wonder’ status.
I hope something of my appreciation of the band has emerged through what were fairly straight and narrow biographical posts. But writing them has made me think further about why The Casuals hold a particular appeal for me.
Two aspects spring immediately to mind – the abiding quality (and qualities) of their big hit and the underappreciated elegance of John Tebb’s unique voice. But there’s more.
I’m also interested in the role of these 60s arrangers whose talents often seem severely undervalued. It’s as if the arrangements are regarded as unfortunate necessities for young bands signed to major labels who had to endure their creations being ‘dressed-up’ for commercial success by older, more conservative record company stalwarts. Well that was how it might have seemed at the time and to rock cognoscenti subsequently whereas by and large, I find the arrangers add a great deal of expertise, colour and interest, taking the music to another level of sophistication rather than reducing it down or blanding it out.
It makes more sense to hear these bands in the round – as an amalgamation of the talents of performers, composers, arrangers and producers rather than focusing only on the frontmen.
There is something I find quite endearing about young groups being nurtured by the talents of a largely older generation who were themselves informed by earlier and other traditions: big band, orchestral, jazz, classical and so called easy listening to name but a few (George Martin obviously springs to mind here). That collision of the old with the new – psychedelia, rock, experimentalism – produced something rare and unique to the mid-late 60s with everybody benefitting from the cross fertilisation. I think the ‘old’ was as essential to the ‘new’ in the mix although it tends to be the new which gets the attention.
But there are other aspects of bands like The Casuals which appeal, more personal ones, perhaps, which are harder to pin down but which have quietly crystallised as I’ve written these posts. Now I’d like to say something about these too.
There is sometimes a sense when listening to pop of imagining yourself as part of the band. Sometimes this might be subtle or what you might call ‘psychic’ – feeling an intense part of the music simply by being a listener or a fan – sometimes it’s much more overt – identifying with particular band members, or relating to a group’s ethos or sympathising with the scene they represent. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a rock god (which is perhaps just as well as I was never going to be one). I don’t much relate to the macho, muscularity of that nor of wanting to hog the limelight. But I think I can imagine what it might have felt like to be a Casual – part of a working band from the provinces, hoping for that elusive breakthrough hit. Yes, it’s a fleeting fantasy of being in a POP group at that time, the comraderie in music, being on a shared quest. The excitement yet modesty of it appeals.
I feel it in a closer way still with groups such as Honeybus who wrote all their own material but, like The Casuals never made it big. Their lack of grandeur or spectacular success beyond the one hit seems curiously English – defining them as unassuming though they never intended it to be like this of course. Pete Dello’s diffidence probably played a part in crashing the band’s career. Still, I find these qualities immensely appealing and a huge loss once they slipped out of music during the Americanisation of the 70s before being effectively demolished under the weight of international stadium rock in the 80s.
Experimenting with the mainstream
The Casuals’ music may not be the most ambitious and yet it provides an ideal example of how ideas from outside the mainstream come to influence that mainstream and why this is so redolent of the 60s. The Beatles exemplified this. The Casuals highly arranged, orchestrated pop sound with its sometime nods to a flower power/psychedelic sensibility would not have been possible two years before and was already cut adrift two years later. The narrowness of this window gives their music an added poignancy.
There is a sense too that because music has moved on so much since then, music which at the time simply did not qualify as ‘artistic’ has acquired a certain piquancy or even potency. Nothing sounds remotely like it today and we simply don’t have the means – the backgrounds of the arrangers, the jobbing nature of the touring band playing in a myriad small venues, that unadulterated style of smooth ballad singing, the ability to distil something in song primarily through melody – to capture that sound anymore even if we wanted to.
Here come the nice
Another thing which fascinates me about The Casuals’ music is that it is a refinement of quintessential pop in 1968. The Herd were perhaps its trendy embodiment but The Casuals offered something less modish, less gimmicky, friendlier (‘you’re really too kind’). Their songs are often characterised by a courtly quality, a niceness, a kind of politeness so that when they do kick-ass (Seven Times Seven) they do so within parameters which are fundamentally pleasant! To some this might seem like damning with faint praise but I believe that there is room for music which isn’t necessarily utterly outré, world changing, in your face, ‘out there’, banging – and that that music can be appreciated for its particular virtues just as can any other. It need not be bland, boring or disposable but charming, delightful, understated.
Although I don’t recall hearing The Casuals at the time (being only four in 1968), there is something in their music (as with The Family Dogg) which powerfully takes me back to the late 60s/very early 70s, as if it was in the air when I was a child – the sunshine brass, blissed out harmonies, that ‘honey and buttercups’ vibe. The Casuals‘ juvenilia themes intensifies this, as if their music describes both my childhood – Toyland, Daddy’s Song – but then also what it might have felt like to have been a teenager in 1968 – I’m thinking Here we Go Round the Mulberry Bush – with fare such as Fool’s Paradise, Sunflower Eyes and even Toy.
I have tried my hand at songwriting and from time to time have borrowed some of the feel of songs like Toyland and Letter Every Month without consciously trying to do so, let alone emulate them. I just find it’s there as a part of me – the desire to write a three minute, melodic pop song which is modest but in its own way hopefully eloquent, crafted, going beyond guitar, bass and drums – a kind of 1969 Casuals’ single in other words.
I might even post some of these songs up one day…
Posts on The Casuals