The Sound of George Martin

George Martin, 1965

 

Yesterday’s string quartet and the ambitious, skewed arrangement of I am the Walrus might be held up as among the pinnacles of George Martin’s contributions to The Beatles’ sound.

But I think it’s in the smallest of his additions that his presence is perhaps most keenly felt, the way he introduces a particular instrument at a particular point for a particular purpose.

Immaculate precision

The half-speed piano of In My Life and For No One’s French horn solo are good examples.  Each shows imagination, economy and immaculate precision, a combination which is characteristically his, applied with the same skill as an artist might select a specific hue and use it just so, subtly at this point, so as to assist the entire painting but without drawing attention to itself.  Both clavichord-like piano and French horn arrive, say what they have to say and leave.  Both show deference, a quality in short supply in pop and rock.

George’s contributions are as integral to both songs as the voices of Lennon and McCartney themselves, his instrumental solos so ideally realised as to be the placement of another voice.  The solos very much stand alone – it’s not hard to imagine piano and French horn silenced for the duration – yet the songs are incomprehensible without them.

Discreet flamboyance

Often George Martin’s inspirations were classical, unsurprising given his background.   Whilst he added a ‘trained’ element, his ideas were not overly refined.  That he was able to introduce classical elements without them seeming at all grafted or imposed is testament to his great skill.  Of course he was fortunate to have as George Martinhis framework the consummate songwriting of Lennon-McCartney.  Martin’s choices are surprising, daring even but are always (just like Ringo’s drumming) in service of the song.

Yet both the examples I mentioned above work against the overall tenor of the songs; the discreetly flamboyant clavichord of In My Life is almost jaunty* amidst such ‘sighing introspection’ (as Iain MacDonald so perfectly puts it) whilst For No One’s French horn seems removed from the unfolding chamber tragedy.

This is also what makes George Martin’s contributions so great, not merely their understated elegance but their refusal to add an overt emotionalism which would have been out of keeping with the anti-romanticism of The Beatles.  He steadfastly avoided both the obvious and the lush (Something comes closest but remains adept, apt and justified).

Is Sir George’s influence still heard in music today?  I leave that for others to comment upon.

*though it does, to my ears, suggest a kind of rapid flick through life’s back pages or an old film reel spinning by in under twenty seconds.

Sir George Martin:  3rd January 1926 – 8th March 2016.

 

Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black

The Casuals before Jesamine: 1961-mid 1968

The first of five posts on the 60s group celebrated for 1968’s ‘Jesamine’


Casuals Sun Ain't

 

It seems mean to divide The Casuals fifteen year career around just the one song – pre-‘Jesamine’, Jesamine, post ‘Jesamine’ and longafter ‘Jesamine’ –  but, beyond record collectors and 60s afficiandos, that song, wonderful though it is, rightly or wrongly, is just about their sole legacy.  Yet for any fan of 60s pop, there is much more to be discovered.

The early years

The band were formed in Lincoln in 1960 by 13 year old John Tebb and Howard Newcomb, becoming The Casuals in 1961 (Howard Newcomb got the inspiration for the name from a clothing catalogue which is perhaps why it sounds so convincingly mod).

The original line-up consisted of John Tebb, piano and vocals; Howard Newcomb, guitar, harmony vocals and trumpet; Don Fortune, drums and Zenon Kawolski, bass.  Fortune and Kowalski left and were followed by several Casuals lack of successreplacements, culminating in 1962 with Mick Brey, drums and Ian Good, bass, from other well-known Lincoln groups The Avengers and The Sultans. Over ten members passed through the band over its fifteen year lifespan.

Opportunity Knocks

In 1965, The Casuals appeared on ABC’s talent show Opportunity Knocks, a sort of Britain’s Got Talent for the 60s presented by Hughie Green.  They won three times (the winning act getting to return the following week).  Sadly, inevitably, no footage survives.  There might be a slightly better chance of the end of series ‘All Winners Show’ still existing (there is a 1968 ‘All Winners Show’ on Youtube featuring Mary Hopkin) but a trawl through the internet reveals no such trace.

Casuals If You Walk OutOn the back of their Opportunity Knocks success the band signed a record deal with Fontana.  A single appeared in November 1965, If You Walk Out b/w Please Don’t Hide but was unsuccessful.  ‘If You Walk Out’ is in a smoother Dave Berry style and sounds not unlike John Carter at the time.  ‘Please Don’t Hide’ has a boogie-woogie flavour but still smooth vocals.

The lack of success for this, their sole single (during this incarnation) was compounded by a dearth of live dates thanks to an ineffectual Grimsby booking agent.

When in Italy

In 1966, John Tebb saw a TV documentary about an English band (almost certainly The Senate according to Howard Newcomb) working in Italy.  This prompted discussion with the band about relocating to the continent given the lack of action in their homeland.  A transfer to Italy was not an unfamiliar path for English bands at this time and for some, The Primitives and The Sorrows, for example, the change brought considerable success.  So by mid 1966, The Casuals had relocated to Milan, adding bassist Alan ‘Plug’ Taylor to their line-up before they did so.

The Casuals were essentially a tight outfit in search of a hit.  They worked hard as a live band and their professionalism secured them a record contract with the Italian wing of CBS in 1966.

They recorded mostly Italian covers of British hit singles such as Il Sole Non Tramonterà (‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ ‘ b/w  L’amore Dura Solo Un Attimo – ‘If You Walk Out’ – and Land of 1000 Dances).  1967’s Il Grigio Mr James is none other than an Italian version of ‘Semi-Detached Suburban Mr Casuals Siamo QuattroJames’, translated into Italian by ‘G.Testa’ (Italian singer Alberto Testa).  Cook-Greenaway’s Siamo Quattro (‘We Four’) is an Italian vocal version of ‘I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman’, a hit for Whistling Jack Smith.

The Casuals issued one single as The Climate in January 1968 Chi Mi Aiuterà, (Holland-Dozier-Holland’s ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’) b/w Quando Parlo Di Te, (‘When I Talk About You’) by G. Bardott and F. Reverberi.

A 1967 Gino Paoli Casuals album appeared with Gino Paoli (their first producer whilst in Italy) on Side A and The Casuals occupying Casuals Gino Paolisix tracks on Side B.  The track listing for The Casuals side was (and these are rough translations) ‘The Grey Mr James’ (I suspect ‘Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James’)  ‘We Four’, ‘The Sun Does Not Fade’ (surely ‘The Sun ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’), ‘Land of 1,000 Dances’, ‘Love Lasts Only a Moment’ and ‘Sorrow’, the latter very possibly being a cover of The McCoys/Merseys 1966 single.

Their first two singles did well locally but the third, now produced by David Pardo and on Joker, was their cover of the Bee Gees’ Massachusetts which made No1 in Italy, beating the Bee Gees’ own version which reached No 5 in the Italian charts.  A straightforward cover, even their sleeve mimics The Bee Gees’:

Bee Gees Massachusetts

 

Casuals Massachusetts

But it’s the B-side which intrigues.  Take a listen to their mysterious yet melodic Jennifer Browne.  John Tebb’s voice is unmistakable and that’s presumably Howard Newcomb on trumpet.  Lovely vibes and organ too.  An English language version apparently surfaced in the 90s, if you know more please get in touch.

They’re back in Britain

Back in England in late 1967/early 1968 with Ian Good having departed in mid ’67 and Robert O’Brien now on drums, producer and manager David Pardo secured for them an initial one single deal with Decca.

In February 1968, the Decca deal produced the single Adios Amor (‘Goodbye My Love’ – maintaining the Italian connection) written by Tom Springfield and Casuals Adios Amorsongwriter/ record producer Norman Newell (who wrote ‘Portrait of My Love’) and also recorded by José Feliciano b/w Don’t Dream of Yesterday by Carlos Leresche and Daniel Hortis (starting out as ‘Je t’appelle Encore’ but given new lyrics by Pardo) released in February 1968.

With John Tebb’s vocals taking centre stage and with the addition of orchestration, their signature sound was now fully established.

There was what appears to be an Italian release of Adios Amor backed with a different song Dolce Valle (‘Ballet of Broken Hearts’) written by Pagani, Stewart and Langley.  Can anyone shed any light on this?

All group members except drummer O’Brien professed P.J. Proby to be their favourite singer.  There was an inherent smoothness to Tebb’s vocals and a radio-friendly air about their sound which produced a far tamer mood than almost anything Proby produced.  Perhaps their fondness for Proby suggests the direction they might wish to have moved in.

Despite the band undertaking significant promotion in the UK, this first UK Decca single did not chart.  The Casuals returned to Milan which, for the time being, continued to be their main base.

David Pardo joined them there and when he played the band a Pye demo of The Bystanders’ ‘When Jesamine Goes’ – which hadn’t been a hit for them earlier that year – this was the song that both he and the group felt should be their next single.

Pardo returned to London and set to work with arranger Cy Payne on what was to be the definitive version of one of the 60s most definitive hits.

And that’s where we take up the story next time.

Jesamine – Part 1


Previous posts on The Casuals

The Casuals: beyond Jesamine

Take Three Songs … by Cilla Black

 

Cilla Black said she wanted to be remembered for her music.  Yet amidst all the accolades and plaudits following her untimely death last Sunday, when it comes to Cilla’s music, I sense a little reluctance, maybe even embarrassment on the part of the obituarists to acknowledge anything beyond how her cheeky Scouse persona translated into incredible chart success.

We have a little snatch of her signature Liverpool Lullaby here, a strain of Anyone Who Had a Heart there and then there’s the historic black-and-white wonder of those alleged twenty-nine takes of Alfie with Burt Bacharach, a 48 piece orchestra, George Martin and The Breakaways at Abbey Road.

But no one actually wants to commit to the non-commercial, intrinsically musical value of what she created, let alone suggest a musical legacy.  That would probably involve mentioning the word ‘artistic’ which tends not to be placed in the same sentence as the words ‘Cilla Black.’

So that’s what I’d like to do here by choosing three songs – not necessarily the best songs she recorded or even my favourites (though the first one is, actually) – but three songs which showcase what Cilla Black brought to pop music: her vocal power, range, warmth, genuineness and yes, at times, even subtlety.


I’ve Been Wrong Before

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by Randy Newman
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, April 1965


 

Cilla fully inhabits this tremulous Randy Newman song, perfectly capturing the ambivalence of love in a private moment of angst.  She looks back to past hurt and speculates on the possibility of its unwelcome return.  Last time – almost certainly her first – she fell naively and wholeheartedly in love and was hurt when love ended.  It mustn’t be like that this time.

Dusty Springfield also recorded I’ve Been Wrong Before but Randy Newman has said Cilla’s is the best version.  This is perhaps the only occasion on which Cilla trounced Dusty Springfield but I do believe Cilla’s version to be the better one.

Dusty trounced 

Taken at a slightly faster pace (2.24 to Cilla’s 2.12), Dusty offers elongated phrasing and greater sophistication and there is a dreamlike quality too.  With Cilla both piano Cillaand voice are that much sharper as if to highlight the very starkness of the situation.

Dusty evokes vulnerability with a softness in her voice whereas with Cilla we hear a youthful, heartfelt quality which wants to fully embrace her new suitor and yet pulls back from doing so.  It’s this unadorned quality, the heartfeltness always wanting to break through but tempered by learning which gives Cilla’s version so much power.

On the blurred cusp

Listen to how differently each singer handles the most important part of the song, the apex at the end of the final bridge – ‘Then he left me and a-broke my heart in two’ – going into the bequietened start of the final verse – ‘I see your face…’   This change from bridge to verse marks a sharp turnaround between a memory of past hurt and the seductiveness of the present moment.  It’s crucial to the song.  With Dusty, the cusp is blurred because of clever but disorientating changes of phrasing whereas Cilla switches from fervent cry to whispered intimacy in a trice.

And hear how she sings ‘I’ve…’ each time (against that austere D minor 7th chord).  There is a real edge there.

‘I’ve Been Wrong Before’ only made No 17.


If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind 

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by John Cameron
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, November 1969


Cilla

This attractive, literate, quasi-classical chamber piece is perhaps the closest Cilla gets to baroque pop.

Sometimes criticised for her foghorn voice, If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind is proof that Cilla could, when required, tone down her natural exuberance and express tenderness as effectively as she does fervour and excitement.  During the 70s, her softer side was to dominate across a series of sometimes bland albums.  But here, married to Mike Vickers’ suitably intricate, intimate late 60s arrangement (harpsichord, cello, woodwind) it shines.

Little girl voice

Employing a lyric of feminine, miniaturist abundance, Cilla maintains a little girl voice throughout, offering up not only ‘sweet perfumes and columbine’ but also one of her most restrained 60s performances.

Even at the song’s imploring climax she holds back as if not daring to wish that hope might defeat despair – or is it that she feels compelled to hide the true intensity of her feelings behind an air of girlish charm, remaining in the role of supplicant if she is to win back her love?

The song seeks to escape from its depressed verses so that Cilla greets each hopeful chorus with breathlessness only to be delivered back again into the next verse’s melancholy litany.  And so to end.

Diffidence – or submissiveness? 

I was surprised when Agnetha Falskog covered If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind as recently as 2004 as I had long assumed that, to a modern audience, the song’s female diffidence might be mistaken for submissiveness.  Unfortunately, whilst aiming for Cilla’s innocence and understatement, Falkskog achieves only flatness and the song is finally stifled by the predictability of its arrangement and curious airlessness of its production.

Marianne Faithfull might have brought out a darker side beneath the pleasing boudoir floweriness.  But I suspect it will remain Cilla’s version – beseeching, slightly coquettish, imploring but sympathetically so – which lives on to define the song.

Cilla’s quieter side can also be heard on the then children’s standard but now semi-forgotten I Can Sing a Rainbow from her 1966 album Cilla Sings a Rainbow.  Trees and Loneliness (from 1967 EP Time for Cilla) is another less winsome example, just pipped to the post by If I Thought You’d Ever …  as the second of our three songs here.

Photo Credit: Stenycotte via Compfight cc


Love of the Loved 

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by Lennon-McCartney
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, September 1963 


 

Here we are right back at the start of Cilla’s recording career.

Some might say this song is a prime example of Cilla’s ‘foghorn voice’.   Somewhat more kindly and far more accurately, George Martin refers to Cilla singing Love of the Loved in her ‘corncrake voice.’  And – given strident competition from blaring brass – that’s just what the song demands.

‘Love of the Loved’ marks Cilla’s transition from Cavern Club cloakroom girl and Cilla Love of the Lovedpart-time performer to 60s hitmaker and star.  You can easily picture her belting this out on the tiny stage at The Cavern but it also became her first hit, a UK No 35.  Unlike most of Cilla’s future singles, its beat origins can be clearly heard and, if anything, are actually emphasised by George Martin’s brassy blasts.

Go to it Cilla!

Love of the Loved brims with early 60s confidence, optimism and above all, excitement.  The rawness of those Cavern days can be heard in every groove and the carefree exuberance of the song (‘So let it rain, What do I care?’) is perfect for Cilla’s unpolished, full blown voice.

I wonder would a soft voiced songstress have been heard at all above the bustle and noise of a smoke-filled Cavern?  It was all about giving it what you’ve got and showing the boys what you’re made of and this is exactly what Cilla does here.

I like the fact that Love of the Loved was written by Lennon and McCartney (and also performed by the Fab Four), as a reminder not just of Cilla’s Liverpudlian roots and close association with the Beatles, but her hipness in those early days.

Oh, I didn’t get round to commenting on Cilla’s vocal range but for that try the unusual jazz flavoured Follow the Path to the Stars where she indulges in a little upper register scat singing!

Cilla Black: 27th May 1943 – 1st August 2015

Cilla – lightspots review of ITV biopic

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

 

Jackie Trent: Where Are You Now – The Pye Anthology, Part 1

A neat reversal of her cover shot for first album ‘The Magic of Jackie Trent’, 1965

So often, recently, my posts are prompted by the death of another 60s figure.  So it is with Jackie Trent who died last Saturday 21st March at the age of 74.

I’ve long admired Jackie’s wonderful Where Are You Now (My Love), so 1965 in its Bacharach inflected cool.  This was just one of many songs Jackie co-wrote with Tony Hatch – the couple were married 1967-2002. Indeed ‘Hatch-Trent’ became a formidable songwriting partnership from 1964, most famously creating a string of stellar international hits for Petula Clark.

Jackie Trent2 CD set Jackie Trent: Where Are You Now – The Pye Anthology [Sequel, 2000, NEECD 396] reviews Jackie’s 1963-75 career on Pye across fifty tracks including many of her solo UK hits and adding some album cuts along the way.  The running order is broadly chronological.  Paul Howes provides workmanlike notes in the usual glossy fold-out format and the sound quality sounds fine to me (in fact superior to Sequel’s 1999 Petula Clark Pye Anthology which suffers from background hiss on some tracks).

The singles not included are How Soon (from the Richard Boone Show) and Somewhere In the World (both 1964), That’s You and Bye, Bye My Love (both 1967) and I’ll Be Near You (1970) in addition to Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch co-releases of which there were eight on Pye spanning 1967-75, one on Astor and a further three on Columbia.  The rousing 7.10 to Suburbia was B-side to Jackie’s Hollywood in 1968 and a Warner Bros A-side in that year. The song had appeared on her first album, The Magic of Jackie Trent some three years earlier but is not included here.

Jackie and Petula

It’s interesting to speculate whether Jackie’s flop singles (of which there were unfortunately many) could have been hits in the hands of Petula Clark – or conversely, if Jackie had kept the likes of Don’t Sleep in the Subway and The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener for herself, might they have given her hits?

For a direct comparison of a song covered by both singers, I listened to Petula’s and Jackie’s versions of There Goes My Love, There Goes My Life (included here) and, to my ears, both are equally fine.  Jackie’s arrangement perhaps has the edge as it aims at atmosphere rather than sheer impact with responsive passages between brass and strings and unusual pattering rhythms.  For what it’s worth, Petula’s comes in at some thirteen seconds less.  Jackie’s lyrics (entirely re-written from the original French lyric) could hardly be more fulsome if they tried – ‘Guilty of complete devotion, Sentenced to a life of longing, Prisoner of my own emotion, Wanting you but not Jackie Trent 1belonging…’

Jackie on Pye

So onto this release… I’m going to comment on the most noteworthy tracks, starting with CD1 this week and continuing with CD 2 next.

We kick off in 1963 with Melancholy Me which is anything but – a jittery, skittery piece of pure pop quite unlike anything else here and not a little unlike Helen Shapiro.

If You Love Me (Really Love Me) has an arresting Spectoresque arrangement – huge drums, horns, guitars and clackety castanets doing overtime – which suits Jackie’s big, big, voice down to the ground.  If you love this style, you’ll really, really love this song.  What a fantastic echo on that final piano chord.

Signature style

Don’t Stand in My Way introduces the signature Hatch style though, as this is still 1964, it comes with plucked strings and a crisp pick guitar instrumental along with Jackie’s imploring ‘love me, love me.’

The standout track remains Where Are You Now (My Love), a deserved Number One, albeit for one week only.  It’s just so beautifully put together and there’s a restraint underpinning the emotion which serves the song perfectly.

It’s All in the Way You Look at Life is one of the strongest tracks here and could almost be a Hatch-Trent composition though it was penned by Aaron Schroeder (who wrote Elvis’s ‘It’s Now or Never’ amongst many others).  Surprising indeed that this wasn’t a hit.  Everything here just works.

Faces

The duo penned Faces, one of the most interesting tracks and one which has grown on me.  With a theatrical quality and sometimes tentative melody, Trent’s exploratory lyrics take the song into new territory.  ‘Faces’ was aptly dubbed ‘abstract’ in the sleeve notes to The Magic of Jackie Trent and it is certainly very 60s in its impressionistic, window-on-a-rainy-day reflectiveness.

Coming up roses…Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, 1965

The A-side Love Is Me, Love Is You razzle-dazzles with its bold brassiness and comes with a swinging singalong chorus.  This sounds like a sure fire hit but its impact was diluted because of competition from rival versions on singles by Connie Francis and Truly Smith.

This Time represents Hatch-Trent at their most melodic whilst If You Ever Leave Me is the kind of epic ballad which Scott Walker could have made his own before probably disowning it forever a few months later- ‘ if you ever leave me, I’ll die’.

Either Way I Lose, a 1967 single, is an early Van McCoy song but just don’t go listening to Nina Simone’s peerless version after you’ve heard Jackie’s.  Gladys Knight’s comes in second whilst Robie Porter’s might have been a movie theme.

1967 single, Humming Bird, was an unusual choice as it was penned by young up-and-coming Cat Stevens.  Jackie’s version is augmented with an unusual xylophone-prominent arrangement.  The melodic B-side, I’ll Be With You has an appealing, reassuring uplift at the chorus.

Half time

So by the end of CD1, Where Are You Now (My Love) still reigns supreme but the tightly written and performed It’s All in the Way You Look at Life impressed me.  In fact, I find I enjoy Jackie Trent when that powerful voice is reined in by a song which doesn’t try too hard to hit stratospheric emotional highs.  Or perhaps the likes of If You Love Me (Really Love Me) and There Goes My Love (There Goes My Life) are just a little too overblown for my tastes.  Her lyrics never let the side down but I’d like to hear Jackie push the ‘romantic love’ envelope a little more, as on Faces.

I hope you’ll join me next week for Disc 2 and a full track listing.

Jackie Trent: Where Are You Now – The Pye Anthology Part 2
Tony Hatch: a life in song

Fading Yellow Volume 2

Flower Machine Records [second press]
“21 course smorgasbord of US pop-sike & other delights 1965-69”

Fading Yellow 2

And so to the tricky second album… Fading Yellow Volume 2 draws inspiration from across the pond.

There is a fairly sustained mood throughout – minor key, surprisingly melancholy, not dark, as such, more like sunshine breaking through overhanging branches or firelight patterns on the walls – so this collection works well listened to as a whole (perhaps omitting tracks 17-21, interesting curios which nevertheless feel a little as if they are tagging along to flesh things out).

Fateful, foreboding

Cover artists Disraeli appear in matching red hunting-style jackets, white polo-necks and sporting immaculate side-partings leading you to think they’re a garage band or a Paul Revere outfit turned  serious for the psychedelic dawn (though this is from 1968).  B-side to Spinnin’ Around, What Will the New Day Bring *** is gently chugging, dreamy folk-pop with a fateful or even foreboding mood – a little Spanish guitar decorates strummed guitars and lazy (in a good way) vocals.  This is very well regarded by many and its premier position suggests Fading Yellow’s Jörgen Johansson recognises a strong lead-off when he hears one but I can’t get why it’s so mightily favoured.

‘We played our pipes for you but you didn’t dance’…  There is a Curt Boettcher influence in the arrangement for The Network’s Ears of Stone *** recalling tracks like It’s a Sad World  and Glass but lacking the melodicism of the former and the inspiration of the latter to lift this to four stars.  Percussion, sitar, woodwind, organ and strikes of electric guitar conjure a shadowy atmosphere but the song never quite transcends itself.

The Whispers’
Knowin’  *** is energetic garage pop with a soulful vocal, a mournful oboe and a crazy but short-lived instrumental freakout.

The child-woman who inhabits many ’60s psych songs flits through The July Four’s sunshine elegy, Frightened Little Girl  ****  ‘looking for a world, one that she doesn’t know.’  Some might say this is cheesy but there’s a good song here and I like its air of innocence wrapped up in those ba-ba-ba vocals.

Calliope’s I’ll Take It Back *** is harmony-rich tambourine driven guitar-pop with nice electric guitar work and a surprise change of pace for an extended lead off.

Never Mind, I’m Freezing ***  a great arresting title which turns out to be an early single from HP Lovecraft vocalist George Edwards.  It comes with peeling guitars and an insistent heavy drum beat.  I know this single has its fans but it’s a bit of a dirge for me I’m afraid.

After a light start, How Many Tears *** by The Poor emerges as slow building folk-rock with lovely soft vocals and a detuned leaping octave electric lead-off.

Then this collection hits its stride with three fine tracks, following on from each other…

Mellow, melodic, mellotronic

It took three listens for me to fall for The Happy Return’s mellow, melodic, mellotronic harmony-pop, I Thought I Loved Her *****.   A summer-turned-to-autumn mood pervades, melancholy verses giving way to cathartic choruses and an unusual wavering motif around the title.  There’s something of a Moody Blues sound here, though less magisterial, of course… maybe it’s the flute-like mellotron and chorus vocals.  I’ve found myself humming this one.

From the start Don’t Say No ***** by The Oracle sounds unmistakably like a Curt Boettcher production and indeed it is produced by Curt and Keith Olsen.  The song was written by one ‘Friedmann.’  Is that Curt on vocals?  The register is too low, surely.  The Oracle were presumably another band that he lent his talents to, working wonderful magic with sitar, oscillating wind effects and cascading vocal harmony choruses.  This can sit proudly alongside anything produced by The Millennium.

Sung in a distinctively deliberate fashion, The Rites’ Hour Girl ***** is flickering flamed, cool shaded, prime psychedelia in a neat pop package.  I really like the economical precision to the playing and performances.  It sounds as if The Rites have set up their stall in one of those ’60s ‘caverns in a hollow where the sun never shone’, the band silhouetted in close fitting black with ‘velvet flamed’ shadows dancing across the walls.  I’ve been humming this one too.  More on The Rites

Minor key moodiness

There is more minor key moodiness courtesy of The Dynamics’ All She Said  *** and then we have The Holy Mackerel’s Scorpio Red ***.   It’s interesting how well this Mackerel piece fits into the Volume 2 template.  Paul Williams’s songwriting nous is unmistakable through the psychedelic lens.

Track 13, Trust, by The Peppermint Trolley Company ***** is probably the loveliest thing on Volume 2.  Arranged by Chad Stuart (Chad & Jeremy) with flutes and harpsichord aplenty, The Trolley provide the harmonies to this great Paul Williams and Roger Nichols song.  No great originality is added to Paul Williams’s own version on his 1969 solo album Someday Man, but this is a highly enjoyable piece all the same, deserving five stars even if it is a straightforward cover.  And here they are in action, looking just like a Peppermint Trolley Company should.

The Summer Skies by The Higher Elevation *** is Volume 2’s sunniest offering – ‘let’s pretend the whole world is made out of great big red balloons’ – and this was co-written by John Carter and Tim Gilbert of The Rainy Daze (they also co-wrote Incense and Peppermints).

Chris and Craig’s  Isha ****
is an insistent and exotic eastern skewed piece with crazed harpsichord from the future Penny Arkade duo whilst Where Is Mary? by The Backseat *** is of interest as it was written and produced by Larry Tamblyn of The Standells.

There is a slight dip in quality for the remainder of Volume 2 (final track excepted, as we shall see).  Tracks 17-21 just seem less remarkable than most of what has gone before.

The Poor’s Come Back Baby  *** is a nice mellow piece with chiming guitar but the lyrics are a tad uninspired.

The Cascades I Bet You Won’t Stay  ** is where frat-pop meets the Fading Yellow’s outer fringes.  Apart from some nice vocal harmonies, the main interest here is that this is the same group who had a major hit with Rhythm of the Rain back in 1962.

Tracks 19, 20 and 21 come from an undated Canadian promotional EP, Live from Vancouver so these are real curios.  The three songs are the competent soul-psych-pop of The Sound Set’s Mind in a Bottle  *** , Sea of Dreams by The Reign *** – enjoyable guitar/drums interplay which takes off into a brief garage phase before echoing out – and the sunny day but slightly pedestrian psych-pop  of In a Whirl by The Look ***  If sound quality is important to you, you might want to take away a star for tracks 19 and 20.

Expecting the very last track to be either another obscurer than obscure obscurity or a triumphant finale, what we get instead is a perky little instrumental.  And very welcome it is too.  Mystery Track 22 is Mr Miff ***, the B-side to Track 4.  It’s a really nice mid-’60s guitar-led piece with a playful air and it turns out to be the perfect way to round off Volume 2.  I’m tempted to give it four stars.

 1. Disraeli – What Will the New Day Bring? [1968] ***
 2. The Network – Ears of Stone [n/d] ***
 3. The Whispers – Knowin’ [n/d] ***
 4. The July Four – Frightened Little Girl [1966] ****
 5. Calliope – I’ll Take It Back [1968] ***
 6. George Edwards – Never Mind, I’m Freezing [1967] ***
 7. The Poor – How Many Tears [1966] ***
 8. The Happy Return – I Thought I Loved Her [1969] *****
 9. The Oracle – Don’t Say No [1967] *****
10. The Rites – Hour Girl [1967] *****
11. The Dynamics – All She Said  [n/d] ***
12. Holy Mackerel – Scorpio Red  [1968] ***
13. The Peppermint Trolley Company – Trust [1968] *****
14. The Higher Elevation – The Summer Skies [1968] ***
15. Chris and Craig – Isha [1966] ****
16. The Backseat – Where Is Mary [1967] ***
17. The Poor – Come Back Baby [1968] ***
18. The Cascades – I Bet You Won’t Stay [1965] **
19. The Sound Set – Mind in a Bottle [n/d]***
20. The Reign – Sea of Dreams [n/d] ***
21. The Look – In a Whirl  [n/d ]***
22. [Bonus track] The July Four Mr Miff [1966] ***

Fading Yellow Volume 1
Fading Yellow Volume 3

 

Fading Yellow Volume 1

Flower Machine Records FMRCD 1001
“Timeless pop-sike & other delights”

Fading Yellow 1Fading Yellow is moonlight through leaded glass windows; it’s the face of a girl barely glimpsed in an antique mirror; it’s basking in the lysergic sunshine of an imagined Edwardian afternoon.

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.

 

No Competition

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.

Magical twins

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.

Blissed Out 

‘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 [1968] *****
 2. Dean Ford and the Gaylords – That Lonely Feeling  [1965] ***
 3. Eddy Howell – Easy Street [1969] ***
 4. Mike Batt – Fading Yellow [1968] *****
 5. Steff Sulke – Oh, What a Lovely Day [1967] ****
 6. John Williams – Flowers in Your Hair [1967]  ***
 7. Zephyrs – I Just Can’t Take It [1965] ****
 8. Jon – Is It Love? [1967] ****
 9. Koobas – Woe Is Love, My Dear [1966] ****
10. Orange Bicycle – Competition [1967] ***
11. Gremlins – The Only Thing On My Mind [n/a] ***
12. Quintin E. Klopjaeger & the Gonks – The Long Way Home [1968] ****
13. Sundragon – Far Away Mountain [1968] ***
14. Juan and Junior – Andurina [1968] ****
15. Hamlet – She Won’t See the Light [1967] ***
16. Paul & Barry Ryan – Madrigal  [1968] *****
17. Phil Cordell – Red Lady [1969] ***
18. Ronnie Bird – Sad Soul [1969] ****
19. Ronnie Bird – Rain in the City [1969] ***
20. Elliots Sunshine – ‘Cos I’m Lonely [1968] *****
21. Peter Janes – Do You Believe (Love Is Built on a Dream) [1968] ****
22. Bliss – Lifetime [1969] ***
23. Jackpots – King of the World [1968] *****
24. Members of Time – Dreamin’ [n/a] ***
25. Aerovons  – World of You  [1969] ****

Fading Yellow Volume 1
Fading Yellow Volume 2