I recently rediscovered my PlayPlax set, looking as bright and modern as it did nearly 50 years ago, minus only two squares of the original forty-eight.

PlayPlax (rather pedantically, I thought it should be PlayPacks as a child) was invented by Patrick Rylands in 1966 whilst studying at the Royal College of Art.

Ryland’s ‘spatial construction game’ consists of 48 brightly coloured plastic squares in red, blue, green, yellow and transparent.  An incision on each side allows them to be fixed together to form myriad, interlocking abstract shapes or architectural structures.  The Montreal Convention Centre is a real PlayPlax building.

Rylands became chief designer at Ambi Toys and PlayPlax a staple of children’s play during the late 60s through to the 80s with over a million packs sold.

Plastic fantastic

I used to spend many happy hours with PlayPlax, sometimes simply revelling in the bright colours.

The structures I made were part abstract imaginary, part versions of real-life buildings rendered bright, open, transparent and looking even more fantastic if the sun cast stained plastic reflections over the bedroom carpet.

I thought of my buildings as kinds of churches.  They bore no resemblance to a traditional spire and steeple church yet felt inspirational, hallowed in a very modern kind of way.  They would probably be urban art galleries now.

Six years ago, the original PlayPlax was reissued, no doubt with baby boomers in mind, using the same dyes and even manufactured in the same factory as back in the 60s.

I am sure I have seen a circular/cylindrical version in the intervening years but it’s the squares which have stood the test of time.

PlayPlax company
PlayPlax on Retrowow
Guardian interview with Patrick Rylands

Cuisenaire rods
Growing up with Lego
Moving house

Morning of My Life (In the Morning) – 1966 version

No. 2 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

By Barry Gibb 
Lead Vocal: Barry
Recording: 1966 for Spicks and Specks sessions
Album Inception/Nostalgia 1970 compilation

“Building castles in the shifting sands, in a world that no one understands”

This song alone inspired me to roll back my ‘early years’ canvas one year to 1966 so I could include Morning of My Life high in my Top 50.

Morning of My Life (originally known as In the Morning) has a longer and more complex gestation than perhaps any other in the Gibb canon.  Written in 1965 it was first recorded in 1966 while the brothers were in Australia.  Given its standout quality, it’s surprising that the song wasn’t picked for inclusion on an early UK album but then there was such a wealth of material to choose from.

Morning covers

So instead, Morning of My Life surfaced as cover versions, most resplendently, perhaps, by Nina Simone.  This was the version I heard first with its jazz piano accompaniment and replete with Miss Simone’s distinctive vocal and turn of phrasing.  Morning of My LifeAs she has done so many times elsewhere, every nuance of feeling is elucidated but upon first listening, what made me sit up was perhaps less her performance and more the song itself.

Some years later, I heard the Bee Gees’ recording of Morning of My Life, the one included in the 1971 film Melody.  I must have assumed this was their only version, perhaps recorded in response to the popularity of the Nina Simone cover.  The Melody version is very much in keeping with early ‘70s ballad-orientated Bee Gees – slow pace, lush orchestration and sung in Barry’s soft, feather-light style.  Gorgeous though it is, it seemed to add loveliness upon loveliness to lesser effect.  And that tootling flute is just a little too much.  So Nina’s remained the version for me.

Crystalline fragility

Until, that is, some years later again, I came across the Bee Gees’ original 1966 version.  Immediately its clarity and straightforwardness seemed a perfect vehicle for allowing the song to simply speak for itself in all crystalline fragility and innocence.  The lyrical images seem to paint instant pictures as if out of thin air.  Barry’s voice has gentle, natural warmth.  The guitar just strums and the percussion shuffles away nicely in the background.

Some comment on Morning’s breadth, its apparent insights hinting at a ‘spiritual’ quality – how could this have been written by one so young?  Maybe (as the title suggests) that’s the point.  It takes freshness and vulnerability to be able to feel life this way.  And that again is why I prefer the earlier version.  I’m surprised to hear myself say this as I generally prefer more ‘worked over’ versions of songs.

I’ve heard In the Morning compared to Donovan’s Colours and, yes, I can hear the similarities.  But with its delightful day in a life/life in a day conflations and sometimes startling lyrical freshness, Barry’s composition is more subtle and moving than Donovan’s simple colour-list love song.

Somehow I don’t want to unpick Morning of My Life too much.  Really you just need to take a listen for yourself.

No 1 I Started a Joke
No 3 And the Sun Will Shine


Fading Yellow Volume 4

Fading Yellow 4Flower Machine Records, FMRCD1004

“Timeless UK 60s popsike and other delights”

No, my Fading Yellow reviews haven’t disappeared, maybe just faded for a while.

I wanted to review the volumes in order which meant tracking down the elusive Volume 4. It’s a solidly enjoyable collection.

I hope you will find it easier to pick out individual tracks than in previous Fading Yellow reviews.

#1 Thoughts and Words – Morning Sky [1969] *****

‘I’ll fly the morning sky and then I’ll fly away’.

A fine melodic start to this comp.  Wistful harmony folk-pop not unlike Simon and Garfunkel crossed with Christie with an echo of ‘Across the Universe’-Beatles.  Producer Mike Batt brings sparkle to acoustic guitar strings whilst maintaining an overall natural vibe.

Bob Ponton (who wrote Morning Sky) and Martin Curtis were ex members of Pandamonium (not the Manchester based group of the same name).  There is a 13 track Liberty album also produced by Mike Batt with a cover depicting the duo in a woodland setting which I have not yet heard.

And here is Bob Ponton with Morning Sky in 2008:

I stumbled across this excellent  Mike Batt discography

#2 The Picadilly Line – At the Third Stroke [1967] ***

From The Huge World of Emily Small the Line’s only album (Picadilly was intentionally spelt with one ‘c’ since London Underground owned the copyright to the original though Fading Yellow adds the second).

The duo were Welsh born Ron Edwards and Roger Hand who began as folkies before being signed to CBS for an album of very 1967 lightly orchestrated  folk-pop-rock.

Picadilly LineThe arrangements are John Cameron’s, fresh from his revitalisation of Donovan’s career via Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow.  ‘Emily Small’ shares many of the same musicians – Danny Thompson on bass, Harold McNair on flute, Tony Carr on drums for some tracks – but the arrangements never quite fly as freely as they do for Donovan.

At the Third Stroke is a little twee at times (‘the circus returns to the town’), but is redeemed by an undercurrent of mystery or incipient threat.  There’s a feel of Chad and Jeremy in its determination to fully paint a scene and a tasty guitar sound which I know from somewhere.

I’m not sure what the ‘at the third stroke’ aspect of the song is apart from an obvious reference to the then ‘talking clock’ telephone service and this being the third track.  A concept ran through the album but it was enigmatic at the time and utterly lost a half century later.

#3 The Majority – Charlotte Rose [1969] ****

Majority OneThe Majority (1965-69) were an accomplished band especially in their later Majority One incarnation (1969-71) as 2005’s Rainbow Rockin’ Chair comp shows in abundance.

This is an enjoyably multi-part love song written by Grapefruit’s George Alexander with baroque flavourings, Beatlesque moments in those ‘I don’t know’ backing vocals and perhaps a flavour of ‘Man in a Shop’ era Marmalade.

#4 The J & B – There She Goes [1966] ***

Micky Jones and Tommy Brown’s promising first release before changing their name to the more zeitgeist State of Micky & Tommy.

Here we have a post beat/just pre-psychedelic sound, so it’s electric guitars with sometime strings which enjoy some nicely augmented moments.

#5 The Playground – The Girl Behind the Smile [1969] ****

B-side to I Could Be So Good, this Essex band released three singles around 1969/70 and this is the second.

Some nice piano arpeggios over twangy acoustic guitar and harmonies suggest innocence and indeed in its sunnier passages, The Girl Behind the Smile reminds me of Malcolm Holland’s Wendy from Piccadilly Sunshine 16

#6 Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon – Animal Song  [1969] *****

B-side to I’m Beside Myself (on the fabulous Marmalade label) and both sides written by Godley and Creme, Animal Song is charmed and charming, an escape into a beguiling realm similar to the more mellow tracks from Godley and Creme’s 1970 album as Hotlegs.

Tony Meehan (early Shadows) opts for a shimmering sitar arrangement which perfectly complements Kevin Godley’s rapturous vocals post-script on this point

Intriguingly imaginative before they placed too much cleverness between them and their music.

#7 Pipes of Pan – Monday Morning Rain [1967] ***

Buzzing cello, clanging guitar, organ, telegraph wire strings and a slowed down lysergic mood.  The B-side was an instrumental version.  

Monday Morning rain was just too outré to make it.  The sleeve says produced by Larry Page and written by Chip Taylor.

#8 The Toyshop – Send My Love to Lucy [1969] *****

A trippy fantasy of loneliness and yearning – wonderful.  The singer is missing his love but seems strangely content to remain in an  enchanted world.

B-side to Carter-Lewis’s poppy Say Goodbye to Yesterday, this is ambitious and beautifully put together and will truly take you on a journey.  A portentous vocal recalls Moody Blues as do lyrics such as ‘and in the depths of deep unconsciousness you’ll find you’re on a journey to the cities of your mind…’   I can almost hear early Family too.

A fine arrangement overall though I’m not sure about the wailing backing vocals… still, this scrapes to five stars.

How come they only made the one 45?

#9 The Candlelight – That’s What I Want [1967] ***

Written by Carter-Lewis in their Ivy League vein with echos of ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, That’s What I Want has been recorded since 1963 by The Cicadas, The Marauders, The Liverpool Five and probably others.

The Candlelight’s version comes with dense harmonies, ‘cello and nice guitar work.   This works up a little to be like Hour Girl (The Rites, #10, Fading Yellow 2) but not half as powerful.

#10 The Epics – Henry Long [1968] ***

B-side to Travelling Circus.  Written by Chip Hawkes and produced by ex-Tremelo Alan Blakley, Henry Long perhaps sounds later than 1968 with that compact piano sound and the electric guitar break.   I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere.

‘Travelling Circus’ b/w ‘Henry Long’ was The Epics third and final single release before they morphed into Christie but not before releasing the Roy Wood produced ‘Round the Maypole’.

#11 Finders Keepers – Light [1966] ***

Big drums, big production, surf-influenced vocals and a girl group influenced sound… dramatic brass, strings, harpsichord flourishes set to fairly banal girl/boy vocals.  Those descending piano motifs do give a sense of ‘when the night closes in’ though.

Finders Keepers included future Deep Purple member Glenn Hughes but, that apart, is one of the less interesting tracks here.

#12 Martin, Martin – Imagine [1967] ***

The trippy B-side to Say Shalom on Buddha with a desolate bookending (well, OK, breath wind effects) trippy, drony and vocoded backing vocals and – trumpet.

The rather knowing picture sleeve portrait of Martin Martin in shades suggests he was well hip to the vibe of ’67.

#13 The Young Brothers – Mirror, Mirror [1968] ***

Cook-Greenway produced and wrote the A-side I’ve Always Wanted Love whilst group member Paul Young went on to Sad Café.

Not the Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours song, the melody recalls Jimmy Campbell’s ‘Forever Grateful’ from his 1970 album Half Baked.

Mirror, Mirror breaks out into a soul influenced chorus which prepares us for…

#14 Robbi Curtice – The Soul of Man [1968] ****

Robbi Curtice truly operates at the crucible of mod, soul and  psychedelia.  His epic ballad When Diana Paints the Picture was a definite highlight of Fading Yellow 3

Knowing this A-side pairing represented his more upbeat northern soul side, I was eager to hear it, hotly anticipating Robbi would inject excitement into proceedings, which he does from the word go with pounding drums/bass, dramatic stop-start ‘Smash!’ ‘Damn!’ lyrics before we open out into full chorus with brass and flutes.

This slab of hi energy dynamism is a great pairing for its dreamy B-side though ‘Diana’ remains the single’s crowning glory but see also #25.

#15 Alan Bown – All I Can [1969] ***

Written by Tony Catchpole, this was B-side to Deram single Gypsy Girl.  

I’m getting to find out more about this band through various fragmentary sources.

#16 Jason Paul – Shine a Little Light into My Room [1969] ***

According to Fading Yellow‘s notes, this A-side orchestrated pop piece was written by Al Gorgoni of The Flying Machine and Bobby Weinstein.

#17 The Californians – Can’t get You Out of My Mind [1967] ***

Of Follow Me and The Cooks of Cakes and Kindness fame, this is the swinging pop B-side from The Californians first single, Sunday Will Never be the Same (a hit for Spanky and Our Gang).

#18 Wayne Fontana – The Impossible Years [1967] ****

A survey of the titles of Wayne Fontana’s 1967/78 singles – 24 Sycamore, The Words of Bartholomew, Storybook Children – show how eager was he to jump aboard the psychedelic bus.

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After a portentous beginning this sympathetic exploration of the mixed emotions of adolescence develops into a characteristically minor-key Graham Gouldman revelation complete with plucked strings, precision trumpet and that Gouldman giveaway final off-tonic strum.

Gouldman was bassist with the Mindbenders and recorded his own version of The Impossible Years for The Graham Gouldman Thing LP.  Gouldman’s English enunciation and baroque stylings add a delicate feel but Wayne Fontana provides more edge.

#19 Wayne Fontana – In My World [1967] ***

Hats off to Fading Yellow’s policy of featuring rarer tracks from artists not associated with psych, sike or psychedelia showing how almost everyone was touched by the changing times.

This is a Sergeant Pepper influenced invitation written by fellow Mindbender, Glyn Ellis aka Wayne Fontana.

#20 John Bromley – If You Were There With Me [1968] ****

John BromleyThis achingly idyllic track from SingJohn Bromley’s 1968 Polydor album, is consummately gentle folk-pop with wispy female backing vocals courtesy of Yvonne ‘Sue’ and Heather ‘Sunny’ Wheatman.

John credits Graham Dee as probably having come up with the idea for the female counterpoint melody.

The arrangement is by Gerry Shury who, despite his later pop-soul leanings, here turns in a gorgeously understated baroque accompaniment.

#21 The Gibsons – You Know I Need Your Loving [1967] ***

B-side to The Magic Book, with a more US flavour though there is a Beatles influence to some of the vocal phrasing.

The band hailed from Australia but came to England in 1965 – hence their inclusion here.

#22 Dave Berry – And I Have Learned to Dream [1967] ***

B-side to 1967 Bee Gees’ penned single Forever, this is a highly wistful song written by Ian Hunter (given as Ian Patterson here).  You can straightaway tell it’s Dave though even through the heavily vocoded vocal.

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Pre-dream Dave 

His best chart-era single was 1970’s Chaplin House, captured on Fading Yellow Volume 12.

#23 The Majority – Wait By the Fire [1967] ****

A sobering, atmospheric B-side (produced by Ivor Raymonde) to I Hear a Rhapsody – ‘in the cold light of the dawn you will understand’ – also recorded lower, slower and more sombre still by Just Us.

#24 David McNeil – Linda [1969]  ***

David is the son of Marc Chagall!

A stoned, self-written A-side complemented by rich harmonies and string/woodwind arrangement though sub-par sound quality.

It’s atmospheric but doesn’t quite do enough despite a springy energy, hinting at a breakout into something which never arrives.

#25 Robbi Curtice with Tom Payne – Gospel Lane [1968] ****

Robbi Curtice truly operates at the crucible of mod, soul, psychedelia and – music hall?  Well it worked for The Small Faces.

An assured touch from the very start with a Billy Nicholls’ cheekiness and a vein of quirky graveyard humour all set to a catchy melody.

Gospel Lane was written by Rob Ashmore and Tom Payne and feels like it wants to break out into a big arrangement but doesn’t perhaps because this is a home recorded demo.

The track is dated 1969 by Fading Yellow but Robbi Curtice’s Youtube upload says 1968 so let’s go with that.

I hold the next volume in my hand so hopefully the gap won’t be quite as long before Fading Yellow 5 fades into view.

1. Thoughts and Words – Morning Sky   3.36 • 1967 *****
2. The Picadilly Line – At the Third Stroke  3.03 • 1967 ***
3. The Majority – Charlotte Rose  2.59 • 1969 ****
4. The J & B – There She Goes   2.46 • 1966 ***
5. The Playground – The Girl behind the Smile   3.02 • 1969 ****
6. Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon – Animal Song   2.22 • 1969 *****
7. Pipes of Pan – Monday Morning Rain   3.02 • 1967 ***
8. The Toyshop – Send My Love to Lucy   4.20 • 1969 *****
9. The Candlelight – That’s What I Want   2.26 • 1967 ***
10. The Epics –  Henry Lord   2.46 • 1968 ***
11. Finders Keepers – Light  3.12 • 1966 ***
12. Martin Martin – Imagine  2.13 • 1967 ***
13. The Young Brothers – Mirror Mirror  3.25  • 1968 ***
14. Robbi Curtice – The Soul of Man  2.32 • 1968 ****
15. The Alan Bown – All I Can 2.46 • 1969 ***
16. Jason Paul – Shine a Little Light Into My Room  2.48 • 1969 ***
17. The Californians – Can’t get You Out of My Mind  2.05 •1967 ***
18. Wayne Fontana – The Impossible Years  2.31 • 1967 ****
19. Wayne Fontana – In My World  3.04 • 1967 ***
20. John Bromley – If You Are There With Me  3.14 • 1968 ****
21. The Gibsons – You Know I Need Your Loving  3.02 • 1967 ***
22. Dave Berry – And I Have learned to Dream  3.11 • 1968 ***
23. The Majority – Wait By the Fire  3.14 • 1967 ****
24. David McNeil – Linda  2.50 • 1969 ***
25. Robbi Curtice with Tom Payne – Gospel Lane • 2.38 • 1968 ****

Fading Yellow Volume 1
Fading Yellow Volume 2
Fading Yellow Volume 3

The Sound of George Martin

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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

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

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

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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

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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

Totally 60s Psychedelic Rock at the BBC

Tx. 23.10.15 • 10.00-11.00pm  BBC Four

Overall, a fine though somewhat predictable representation which tends to cling to the giants of the genre, inevitable, perhaps, given the hour-slot and what remains in the archives.  Essential psychedelic bands who were big at the time such as Tomorrow and The Idle Race feel notable for their absence as well as those who embraced aspects of the movement – Family and Caravan, to name but two.  Still, it’s good to see the psychedelic net cast wide so as to embrace comic, folk, baroque and pure pop facets of the genre.

Here is a complete rundown of what this compfest offered together with a few thoughts from me along the way.

The Yardbirds – Over, Under, Sideways, Down
Whole Scene Going b/w 1967

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A raw, dynamic opener.  Watch

Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine
The Look at the Week • b/w 1967

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Their dramatic and atmospheric Queen Elizabeth Hall performance with lightshow of course.  This thrilling piece conveys a sense of cosmic poetry, performance art and happening all rolled into one.

Procol Harum – A Whiter  Shade of Pale 
Top of the Pops  b/w 1967

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A straightforward studio (surely mimed) performance which has had many outings going back to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Years.  Even given the stately nature of the song, the staging is rather uninspired and this must be just prior to the introduction of the ‘tin foil’ Top of the Pops set.

This is presumably the only BBC performance remaining in the archives, at least from the early psychedelic incarnation of the band (not that they ever described themselves as such).

The Who – I Can See for Miles
Twice a Fortnight • b/w 1967

The camerawork and editing are a vital part of the performance with dizzying zooms and rapid pulls sideways as if to capture a far reaching but jarring vision.  Whoever produced this clearly thought the song was about more than “a jealous man with exceptionally good eyesight – honest!” as Pete Townshend has claimed.   Watch

Donovan – Hurdy Hurdy Man
Bobbie Gentry  colour 1968

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A sudden switch to pristine colour for this show’s guest spot with a pretty, pink trousered Donovan perched on a studio stool with acoustic guitar and a band heard but nowhere to be seen.  Donovan seems quite entranced by his own song.   Watch

The Nice – America
How It Is  b/w 1968

This tries every trick in the book to inject excitement over and above the pyrotechnics (or antics, depending on your point of view) of Keith Emerson’s gymnastic, knife stabbing keyboard performance.

It’s like being granted some kind of enhanced vision – overhead lights topple like flying saucers, Emerson’s huge hands seem to knuckle into the camera lens, overlapping, spilling images jerk away to the edge of oblivion and back again.  Watch

Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity – This Wheel’s on Fire
Top of the Pops • b/w 1968

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This clip has seen a fair bit of exposure but it’s a great song and performance even although Julie Dricoll’s icy charisma seems at comic odds with Brian Auger’s blokeish appeal.  Watch

The Status Quo – Pictures of Matchstick Men
Top of the Pops b/w 1968

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Francis Rossi wrote this in the toilet, we are told, appropriate perhaps given how little regard he has for the song though he’s clearly enjoying the ridiculousness of it all here, barely suppressing a laugh or perhaps just forgetting to mime.

Based around some insistent chord changes, a repetitive, ringing guitar riff, ample phasing and some nonsensical words, it feels basic rather than exotic now but still something of a classic of chart pop-psych and an object of fascination given how the band were soon to depart from this template.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Fire
Top of the Pops  b/w 1968

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Obviously a terrific performance all round, even more so given this hellish evocation was conjured in the Top of the Pops studio!   Watch

Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends
How It Is  b/w 1968

Rapid-edit camera work here, compulsively pulling away from the action and then jolting us back again though it’s the close-ups of Joe Cocker’s expressive face which are most affecting.  Watch

The Small Faces – Song of a Baker
Late Night Line Up  colour 1968

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A favourite clip of mine – something about diminutive Steve Marriott manhandling that electric guitar, strutting around the stage, furiously pouting from behind a newly grown fringe though it’s Ronnie Lane who carries the vocal here.  Given the hard rock feel of the song, I love it when they yell ‘the texture and the flavour!’  Actually it’s the metallic hardness which works so well to hammer home the unusual themes – hard physical graft and aching lust.   Watch

The Moody Blues – Ride My See-Saw
Late Night Line Up  colour 1968

Moody Blues 1967

Seen many, many times but still delights as they look at their best around this time and this early rock outing written by John Lodge is a long standing fan favourite.

A friend newly exploring the band’s output and stumbling across this clip was highly amused by Ray Thomas’s finger clicking, wrist twitching ‘dad dancing’ and it also seems odd Ray’s clothes resemble almost precisely those worn by Jon Pertwee in his first season as Doctor Who (apologies for these irrelevant asides..).

I do like the way that TV studios came in every colour and hue in the late 60s and 70s, not the boringly ubiquitous midnight blue of today.

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – In the Canyons of Your Mind
Colour Me Pop  colour 1968

Endearing English eccentricity and deserving of a place here.   Watch

The Incredible String Band – The Half-Remarkable Question
Once More With Felix colour 1968

From Julie Felix’s BBC show, Mike Heron on sitar, Robin Williamson on guitar – spellbinding!  Watch

The Move – I Can Hear the Grass Grow
Colour Me Pop • colour 1969

The Move were described by Joe Boyd in the documentary preceding this comp as ‘beer drinkers’ psychedelia’, said with fondness and acknowledgement of Roy Wood’s talents to absorb what was going on around him.  Another major contender might have been the insane Cherry Blossom Clinic but it was The Idle Race, a lesser band in the scheme of things, who were the major league Birmingham psychedelics.  Watch

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Hey Joe/Sunshine of Your Love
Happening for Lulu b/w 1969

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This must be the legendary appearance when the audience – and Lulu – were almost blown away by the sonic power of the Experience onslaught, in one of those strange but fascinating cultural collisions so characteristic of the late 60s.  A resplendant clip but I wonder what had immediately preceded it.  ‘Boom-Bang-a-Bang’?  Watch

Cream – White Room
Omnibus • colour 1969

The BBC were at the Royal Albert Hall to film Cream’s farewell concert in November 1968 for their regular arts slot.

The Moody Blues – Om
Late Night Line Up  colour 1968

My favourite clip of the evening, partly because I am a fan of the Moody Blues and partly because I always suspected that they had recorded more than just the one song (Ride My See-Saw) for Late Night Line Up and partly because it was wonderful to find the second song should turn out to be the blissful Om.

Here we have a blue suited John Lodge at the cello, Justin seated with sitar, Graham also seated at bongos, Ray poised with flute and Mike, of course, at the mellotron, an unusual ensemble.  You can almost feel that sense of questing and discovery which In Search of the Lost Chord – and psychedelia – was all about.  What we have here is an edited version though.

In a nice bit of synchronisation, the spiralling out light sequence which closed the piece in 1968 becomes one with the more geometric version which ends this programme.  Watch
Moody Blues Photo Credit: emmapeelpants via Compfight cc

Psychedelic Britannia
With a Little Help from Joe Cocker 
The Bee Gees at the BBC… and Beyond
Cilla Black at the BBC