Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Deviants: keeping it lean

Mick Farren
It’s usually a bad sign when a band releases successive LPs on different labels, but in The Deviants’ case, signing to Transatlantic for their third LP resulted in their most economic and punchy work. With new guitarist Paul ‘Blackie’ Rudolph aboard (bringing a distinctively jagged and aggressive guitar style with him from Vancouver, despite having a withered right arm from childhood polio), the band entered its most musically coherent phase. Mick Farren has remarked of the album: “I was convinced in my gut that it sucked. It was the first one created by committee rather than the dictatorship of my personal megalomania,” adding that “I had one idea and the rest of them wanted to be a kind of Led Zeppelin guitar band.” Nonetheless, it’s the concise tracks in the latter style that stand up best today. Produced with admirable crispness by Farren, the album certainly isn’t free of the self-indulgence that marred its predecessors, but it contains some ace proto-punk, most notably the vicious Broken Biscuits, twitchy Billy The Monster and lean First Line (whose new-wave sound is a good decade ahead of its time). As Farren told Melody Maker at the time: “We’re not interested in dexterity, or this big technical thing represented by people like King Crimson. That’s so sterile. The function of rock and roll is to get out and have a good time, not to stand in groups marvelling at the guitarist’s technique.”

For some reason, the tiny booklet that accompanied its UK release (in September 1969) has become intensely desirable, pushing the price of complete copies ever higher. This has been partially fuelled by dealers like Malcolm Galloway, who bagged £432 for a copy on eBay last April, jet-propelled by the claim that it was from a 'VERY FIRST PRESS OF 100 ONLY WITH THE 8 PAGE BOOKLET WHICH WAS WITHDRAWN IMMEDIATELY DUE TO SUBVERSIVE CONTENT (EVEN THEN!)', adding that 'THE BANNED 8 SIDED MINI-BOOKLET WAS CONSIDERED TOO SUBVERSIVE BY THE POWERS THAT BE'. Where he got this information from is hard to say, but I would politely suggest that it might be unfounded. For a start, without the booklet, the artwork contains no information whatsoever about the songs, musicians or production. Secondly, the LP itself contains the word 'fucking', which is more offensive than anything in the booklet. Thirdly, who are 'the powers that be' that would care so much about some mild anti-establishment sentiments? Certainly not Transatlantic (after all, it was a proudly independent label, and was glad to pick up Zappa's Uncle Meat for the UK when Reprise declined to issue it over here). It seems to me pretty clear that, rather than being banned, most copies simply got lost. Anyhow, you can judge just how subversive it is for yourselves here:

No reviews seem to have appeared of the LP, despite gigs in France and Germany and a triumphant performance in Hyde Park on September 20th (alongside Soft Machine, The Edgar Broughton Band, Al Stewart and Quintessence). Deciding they needed a change of scene, they accepted manager / speed dealer Jamie Mandelkau’s proposed tour of Canada and the US, with backing from Seymour Stein of Sire Records. Upon arrival in Vancouver, however, it was discovered that local promoters had stitched them up and there was no money to pay them. It was the final straw, and as Farren binged on mid-altering substances, the other members decided to oust him in mid-October. Stunned and disgusted, he returned to London, where he produced Twink’s Think Pink LP and recorded his solo debut, amongst other activities. His former bandmates, meanwhile, limped to San Francisco and began to morph into The Pink Fairies. But that’s a whole other story…

I spoke to Farren about the album earlier this year, and here's what he told me:

Why did the hippie dream die?
We’d all started with such high hopes, way before 1967 (the roots of the underground went back to 1963 or so). Things had gone from there – a gathering storm, if you like. But the so-called underground was never all that realistic for most people. ‘Psychedelia’ was really a commercial construct – bells, beads and kaftans sold well, and the hippie message was packaged up on hits by The Flowerpot Men, Scott Mackenzie and others. The reality was that the police were frisking you on your doorstep and Mick Jagger went to jail…

What was the atmosphere like in the underground by 1969?
The 1968 student revolt had crashed and burned, leaving little but social secretaries on the make, incompetent wannabe terrorists, and scrag-end psychedelic clubs waiting for the coming of Disco. A lot of the optimism was gone. People had taken LSD and expected some great change to happen, but acid did bad things in the long run – Syd Barrett went mad, for a start! People went back to drinking. 1968 was a bad year in many ways – Vietnam, the Paris riots, Czechoslovakia, the Tet offensive, Chicago, Nixon, you name it – and the violence that had always been beneath the surface (mods versus rockers, etc) became more palpable as time went on. People had begun to realise that society at large didn’t want to change. Also, the flower-power gold rush was over; the hustlers were gone, and it was time for hard digging by the real hippies. Trench warfare, you might call it!

What state were The Deviants in by 1969?
We’d been hard at it for 3 and-a-half years, so we were tired out. We’d had constant hassles and harassment from the police, and had taken a lot of drugs, so there was tension both in the band and between the band and society. Paul Rudolph was a great guitarist, but maybe in hindsight we should have gone on the road with him a bit more before recording. By the time the third album was made there was a major schism developing, as we were pulling in different directions. But there’s nothing like a bit of acrimony for producing energy in a band!

Tell us about the LP.
It was recorded pretty quickly and efficiently at Morgan Sound in Willesden. We were off the methadone by then, so it was quite snappy and businesslike. We’d done all the experimenting on the first two albums, so it was a smooth process. We were stripping things down, trying to keep it lean. We weren’t interested in flanging, reverb, echo, double-tracking or any of that – we’d done it all already and wanted a simpler and more direct sound. I liked the cover, but they released the album with a stupid little booklet containing the credits and a bit of rhetoric.

Was Transatlantic a good home for The Deviants?
They were a folk label who wanted to enter the rock market, but didn’t really know what they were doing. Nat Joseph, who owned it, meant well but was more used to one man and his guitar. He’d made his money from Bert Jansch and Pentangle, and didn’t know what rock and roll was all about. Recording bands was more expensive, and though we were quite organised, I think he found the costs a bit surprising. Then they went and publicised their venture into rock music with a ridiculous slogan about Transatlantic being ‘where the electric children play’. I mean, what sort of bullshit is that? But we weren’t very interested in playing the publicity game anyway.

What do you make of the album today?
I’m keener than I used to be, on some tracks more than others. But there are a couple of things I really don’t like. I’m pleased if people still enjoy the music, but it was all a long time ago!

Are you still in touch with the other members?
I’m still very much in touch with Russell and Sandy, and occasionally in touch with Jamie Mandelkau and Paul. There’s no more resentment.

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