Thursday, 15 December 2011

Xmas 2011 compilation

As a modest thank-you to everyone who has taken an interest in my blog this year, I've put together a compilation of some of the songs from the late 60s / early 70s that I've most enjoyed in the past twelve months. It can be downloaded here:

Xmas 2011 Compilation

I haven't included the names of the artists or tracks - the first person to identify them all can either have a copy of Endless Trip sent to them, or any record they fancy from the Sunbeam catalogue.

A merry Christmas to us all, my dears!

PS Sorry, no prize for identifying the heroin-wracked Santa to the left.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Thin Lizzy: shades of a green label

Can anyone state definitively which of these is the first UK pressing? The matrix numbers are identical, and the only difference between the sleeves is that the one that came with the bright green label has a wider spine. Thanks.

Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll & The Trinity - Open

Released in November 1967, Open was the second LP on the great Marmalade label (the first was the Blossom Toes' debut, We Are Ever So Clean, which appeared simultaneously). There seems to be confusion as to what constitutes a first pressing, perpetuated by the usual self-appointed eBay experts, so I thought I'd clarify it here.

First pressings of Open came in thick, unlaminated card sleeves, and had textured labels. The majority were mono (607002), though a handful were pressed in stereo (608002). The cover gave some background info about Brian and Jools, but didn't mention the Trinity - guitarist Gary Boyle, bassist David Ambrose and drummer Clive Thacker. The very first batch of LPs remedied this on a square card insert:

Presumably the printing cost was too high to continue, as very few copies of it have surfaced.

Open wasn't a hit, but in April 1968 the band reached #5 with This Wheel's On Fire, prompting the album to be repressed, this time in a thinner, laminated cover and with smooth labels. The vast majority of copies are thus, but if it's a true original you're after, you need the much rarer unlaminated sleeve, with textured labels and insert. Glad we've got that one cleared up. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Beatles acetates: a nice little earner

As most people reading this will know, acetates are fragile lacquer discs that unfinished or as-yet unreleased music used to get pressed on. They were of temporary use for purposes such as reference amongst musicians and producers, quality testing for engineers, advance radio play, or publishers' demos. The point is, very few (if any) were made  for any given recording, and those that survive tend to have done so by accident. At this remove from the 1960s, collectors will pay huge sums for acetates that contain unreleased music or different mixes to familiar songs, and if the band in question is well-known, the price gets higher and higher. No artist is more collectable than the Beatles, so Beatles acetates are perhaps the most desirable of all. This is where it gets complicated. Unlike official releases, there is no way of telling how many acetates exist of a certain recording, and they're pretty easy to fake, seeing as they tended to have simple labels with hand-written or typed info, and plain sleeves. At any time on eBay these days there is a rash of potentially counterfeit Beatles acetates on sale. The main purveyor of them at the moment is based in Jordan, Minnesota. Check out his recent feedback by clicking here. That's $20,000 worth in the last month alone. Not bad, eh?

I emailed him to ask whether his astounding acetates (which span the whole of the Beatles' career) were the genuine article, and his response was as follows: "I cannot guarantee 100% that they are 1960s issues. If you have any doubts, please do not bid on them." Yet he allows no such doubt to cloud his listings - while offering no provenance for them, he simply claims they are 'RARE' and 'vintage' and on 'EMIDisc Records' (there was no such label, this was simply the brand name for EMI's blank acetate discs, which were also available for domestic use). I asked one of the world's leading rock memorabilia experts for his take on this extraordinary haul. He replied as follows: "I don't think John Lennon left these behind in Minnesota, but someone did leave a cutting lathe there, and the result is that a lot of unsophisticated people on eBay are buying worthless fakes. Unfortunately, people's desire for an unbelievable deal trumps common sense. I find that if the deal looks too good to be true, it almost always is - especially if the torrent of stuff never stops. If I thought any of it was remotely authentic, I'd be bidding on all of it, as would all the major dealers. Ridiculous stuff."

I also asked another expert - one of the best-known collectors in the US - for his take, and this is what he wrote back. "I can't recall anyone in the history of eBay offering so many Beatles acetates. To me the labels look wrong, and of course the discs aren't hard to make (after all, they made mono record cutting machines for home use in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, so there are still a lot out there). Assuming for a moment that they're all real, though, it's gotta be a damn short list of people that would have been in possession of all these, right? Like George Martin - but then, he was a tape man. So maybe someone like John Peel. But would he have had the early ones as well as the later ones? Whoever it was, if they had that many Beatles acetates, you'd wonder why they're selling them to an eBay dealer now, and you'd think they would also have some by associated acts like Gerry & The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, who are of course a lot less interesting to collectors."

I'm not going to accuse this seller of cheating his customers, but I am going to say that if these are real, the story behind them is guaranteed to be one of THE greatest record-collecting tales of all time, maybe the greatest... Perhaps he can post a comment here and tell it? In the meantime, this eBay thread makes for intriguing reading:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Inside Creedence: the worst rock book ever written?

Creedence Clearwater Revival were so popular in 1969 that they even outsold the Beatles, but to a 1990s teenager like me they seemed almost obscure. Their albums were hard to obtain, reference books were vague, and Mojo - pretty much the only magazine that might have covered them - seemed resolutely uninterested. I was therefore intrigued to discover that a book had been written about them in their prime, by one John Hallowell, who'd been granted full access as they worked on Pendulum in the autumn of 1970. Only with the advent of eBay was I able to get my hands on a copy, sent from the US. I read it with mounting disbelief. The book may have been cranked out at considerable speed so it could be promoted alongside the LP, but Hallowell was the worst sort of wannabe hipster hack, and seemed to have no interest in the band beyond using them as a hapless vessel for his ludicrous metaphors ('If CCR is a car, John Fogerty is the steering wheel, Stu Cook is the clutch, Doug Clifford has to be the accelerator and Tom Fogerty the brake. It's that fast, close and complicated. The car itself? A Ferrari'), dream sequences (really) and patronising waffle ('you can't possibly get Inside Creedence without first getting inside each shaggy head, one by one'). There's also an uncomfortable homoerotic subtext to his descriptions of the band's magus, John Fogerty ('mahogany brown hair, eyes that never stop, and a taut body tuned to move, to move fast, like his motorcycle', 'John Fogerty looks like Heathcliff just out of Wuthering Heights', etc etc).

Hallowell was in fact a film writer for Life magazine, which explains the preponderance of tortuous celluloid references in his text ('It would help immensely if one were slightly stoned. Since I am not, the only thing I can do is pretend I am a camera' / 'the Creedence movie running nonstop refers constantly to all the images we've shared, from Nixon and TV commercials to Humphrey Bogart' / 'I decided to get each one alone, as soon as I could, for a close-up. There is no such thing as a star without a close-up', etc etc). Needless to say, it's extremely irritating, not only because of its poor style and scrambled presentation, but because it's such a wasted opportunity. The speed at which it was written is no excuse, as it's short and could clearly have been far better handled by an experienced music writer. Inside Creedence was ridiculed upon publication in January 1971. 'The book is marked by a complete lack of perception into the youth culture and its music', wrote Phonograph Record Magazine, while Rock Magazine said it was 'beyond linear comprehension' and that Creedence should 'be skulking around corners, red-faced at the image the book conveys', and Robert Christgau called it 'positively bad' in Village Voice. Nonetheless, there's a certain campness to its ineptitude ('Drummer Doug trains his eyes high up on the cloud formations: by now those swollen clouds are deep dark giants warring and making love over the earth'), and the photos, quotes and lyrics it incorporates make it worth picking up if you're a Creedence nut like me.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Tudor Lodge: 'a most desirable property'

Tudor Lodge were one of many hardworking folk bands whose name would have been well-known to gig-goers (and readers of Melody Maker's 'Folk Forum') in the early 70s. Here's a management ad from 1970:

On July 25th 1970  Melody Maker ran this rare feature about the trio:

Their sole album didn't appear for another full year. Here's its amazing fold-out sleeve:

The LP has become one of several expensive Vertigo obscurities that divide people. Some consider it a folk classic, while others find it insipid. Contemporary reviewers had the same problem. 'In order to strengthen the impact of their music, a surplus of orchestration has been added,' griped Melody Maker on August 21st 1971. 'More often than not this is superfluous. There is a lack of aggression and variation of mood within the basic framework of the music. If more of the album had relied on the guts of rock accompaniment, then it would have been improved.' Disc & Music Echo were somewhat keener on September 4th, writing that 'Tudor Lodge have put up a good show for their first album, and come over as completely unpretentious. The trio have had a lot of experience in folk clubs, and it's paid off for them... The entire album is well thought-out and presented.' Sounds, however, was less convinced. 'I'm afraid the recording just doesn't do justice to this fine trio,' it carped on October 23rd. 'The arrangements are exteremly pretty, but whilst I'm in favour of some albums being deliberately cooked slightly under, producer Terry Brown seems to have gone too far, and in doing so has detracted from the impact of the Tudors.'

The upshot was that barely anyone bought it, causing a perfect copy to sell on eBay in October 2010 for over £2000.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The late Michael Garrick

I was sorry to hear that Michael Garrick died on Friday, not least because I kept meaning to go and hear him play at the Bull's Head in Barnes (frustratingly close to my house), and never did. He was one of the most inventive jazz pianists / composers Britain has ever produced, and released a string of fine albums under his own name as well as being a key member of the Rendell-Carr Quintet, pioneering the fusion of choral music and jazz, and being a tireless jazz educator. As he said in 2009: "The reality of it is that most musicians teach because they can't earn enough money otherwise. They also do it for another reason - a psychological reason. You love the music, and therefore any activity in which you can indulge that love is very welcome. And that's the real reason people teach jazz. Because they love it, and it's a way of living with what you love."

The piece below appeared in Melody Maker on November 9th 1968, and gives a good overview of his attitude towards keyboards:

This piece comes from Melody Maker of June 6th 1970, and concerns his collaboration with the poet John Smith on Mr. Smith's Apocalypse:

Melody Maker, June 6th 1970
And here are a few ads:

Jazz Journal, December 1970
According to Garrick, incidentally, The Heart Is A Lotus was his best-selling record - the grand total shifted was 1200 copies.

Finally, here's a lovely tribute by Jonny Trunk, containing a link to Garrick's winsome Sketches Of Israel (from October Woman) to listen to as you read:

Monday, 7 November 2011

Julian's Treatment: 'a mental stimulative'

Here's the only article I recall having seen about this obscure London-based band, whose sole (double) album, A Time Before This, appeared on the Youngblood label in June 1970. It's a pretty good (if repetitive) set of doomy, Hammond-heavy jams that the sleeve describes as 'a fantasy story set in part of our galaxy'. The quintet's Dominican-born leader, Julian Jay Savarin, was also a science fiction novelist, while Australian vocalist Cathy Pruden had one of the most powerful voices of the era. Beware the US issue, incidentally - it has a better cover design, but truncates the songs to squeeze them onto a single disc. In March 1973 Savarin put out a second album, Waiters On The Dance, under his own name on the Birth label.

Melody Maker, April 17th 1970
For good measure, here's an ad touting their services, from much the same time:

Monday, 31 October 2011

THE MILLENNIUM: transmitting general happiness

I think Begin by The Millennium is one of the greatest pop records ever made. It was notorious in its day for being the most expensive album Columbia had ever recorded, but - in the absence of a performing band to plug it - sales were low. The back cover promised it was 'TO BE CONTINUED', but the septet split soon after its August 1968 release, dooming it to retrospective cult worship. Here's everything I've found relating to it.

The first reference I've seen to them was in Record World of March 23rd 1968. It managed to misspell their name in two ways; many subsequent references limited themselves to omitting one of the Ns. Interesting to note that Curt Boettcher (pronounced 'Betcher', by the way) was already being called 'a true genius':

Here'ss the earliest contemporaneous interview with him that I'm aware of. It appeared as part of a feature about the occult in the April 1968 issue of the faux-hip and short-lived  Cheetah magazine, and would have been conducted at the time that Begin was being recorded:

Here's a snippet from TeenSet of June 1968:

Begin was released in July, trailed by a 45 coupling It's You and I Just Want To Be Your Friend. Here's the picture sleeve a few copies came with:

(Incidentally, a handful of copies of the picture sleeve show Joey Stec's middle finger extended, in the manner of Don Stevenson on the first Moby Grape sleeve; as with that LP, Columbia swiftly airbrushed it out.)

A launch party for the album was held on July 19th. Here's the invitation (and yes, the brownies did follow the Alice B. Toklas recipe):

Here are the (strangely drab) cover and the insert that a few copies came with. Originally it folded over the back cover, showing a tear-off 'Mee Moo' logo strip, as below. It contains thanks from the band on one side and a bad poem by one Brian Longe on the other:

It was also issued on 8-track cartridge:

Various ads appeared in the contemporary press:

To accompany its release, the band was interviewed by Bob Garcia for the July 26th edition of the weekly Los Angeles underground newspaper Open City:

On August 3rd, Cash Box reported that Columbia was 'sponsoring public hearings of the album' in various locations', and quoted Gary Usher claiming that the response was wildly enthusiastic: 

I haven't found many reviews, and the ones I have are mixed:

‘New group with a unique sound that should quickly establish them with the fans. With the flair and feel of The Mamas & The Papas and The Stone Poneys, they offer a diversified program that’s musically first-rate. ‘It’s You’ is a smooth rock ballad with singles potential, and ‘Anthem’ is outstanding’ – Billboard, 31/8/68

‘The vocal and instrumental arrangements and the harmonic textures this group achieves are surpassed only by the quality of the original material written by its members’ – Saturday Review, August 1968

'Soft-rock sounds are coming back into favor, although, of neccessity, they are now much more complex. Columhia’s new group, the Millennium, explores the intricacies of 'new rock' in a manner which could bring many new listeners into the fold. Strong points of this set are the vocal harmony (slight Association influence here) and the ultra-pretty songs. Exposure should move product' – Cash Box, 7/9/68

‘Soft, full, light – sometimes overdone arrangements, but generally excellent songs and vocals’ – TeenSet, October 1968

‘Despite certain pretensions (extraneous sounds, etc) incorporated into the music, what The Millennium offers is faultlessly-surfaced teeny-bopper fare. There is no denying the septet’s smoothness and professionalism, but equally there’s no denying the essential vacuity of its material. Production is absolutely first-rate, as befits an album of this type. Not much for serious listeners, however’ – Down Beat, 15/5/69

This article appeared in TeenSet of December 1968:

In the February 20th 1970 issue of Fusion, Clive Davis - head of Columbia at the time - had the following to say. (Both the interviewers and Davis seem to be conflating Begin and Present Tense by Sagittarius, which was released simultaneously.)

What do producers do at Columbia these days?
I think we allow a great deal of freedom to our producers. We allow them to do work and build up a track record upon which we can judge their creative standards. In the past I think this has been abused by a number of producers - certainly not by all, but there have been producers both in and outside of Columbia who have not held the highest standards for themselves and have perhaps lowered their sights and signed artists who they feel are competent but yet who don't have the degree of charisma to really step out above competition.

Gary Usher and the Millennium, for example? We understand they became pretty expensive.
I think the truth about that is Gary never really knew how much money he was spending, and that responsibility was entrusted to him. The progress reports showed a much lower amount than was actually being spent. We knew that it was going to be more expensive than the average album. We did not know that it was becoming as heavy an expense as it did. Listening to the quality of the tapes. I was quite impressed. Millennium had an exciting sound. But there are very few recording entities that have ever made it without building up charisma and a following. Also to make records sell, you have to perform and of course they never did appear around. There are basic principles as to why records sell and, number one, this group did not perform and appear around to create an underground following. We sold a fairly respectable number of the Millennium album — not enough to re­coup the recording cost — but they certainly created quite a stir among a number of people.

Did the group exist?
In the recording studio. They never appeared in person. Another principle is that if a group doesn't appear in person, the only way you can break the album is to get a single from the album. We couldn't break a single with them.

Where'd they come from?
This was Gary Usher's project that he worked on with Curt Boettcher. The two of them put together the art­ists for Millennium. It was a studio group that they just formed. They signed the group. Mostly everyone I know liked the Millennium album. There were hardly any negative comments. I know my friend Jac Holzman at Elektra once said that if he had to bring three albums to an island to live with over a period of years, the Millennium album would be one of them.

The cult reputation of Begin was well underway by December 1971, when the following paragraph appeared in Phonograph Record Magazine, in an article about Millennium member Michael Fennelly's new band Crabby Appleton:

In the autumn of 1974 Fennelly gave this revealing interview to the ever-great ZigZag magazine:

A detailed conversation with Curt Boettcher appeared in the December 1974 and January 1975 issues of ZigZag, but it's too long to reproduce here. Sorry!