Monday, 27 June 2011

Electric Ladyland: three electric ladies

One of rock's little mysteries is why Track and Jimi Hendrix sanctioned such a tacky concept for the British Electric Ladyland sleeve (not to mention where designer David King and photographer David Montgomery found 19 such unattractive topless models). The scantily-clad theme was continued by top London boutique I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet, which promoted the LP in November 1968 by employing three further ladies to disport themselves in its window, as this cutting - from Top Pops - shows. Despite their noble efforts, in an age when the LP has sold for over £1000 on eBay, the sheer quantity of brand-new copies on display here will no doubt prove more titillating to collectors than the 'bikini-clad beauties'.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Sweet Slag: a few words from Paul Jolly

Following my recent post about jazz-rock oddballs Sweet Slag, I've just had a chat with their multi-instrumentalist Paul Jolly, as below. For many years Paul has run the prolific 33 Jazz label, which can be found at

“I was working with free jazz bands around Luton, and got involved with an opera that Mick Wright (which is Mick Kerensky’s real name) had written. He also asked me to join a jamming trio that he had, so we became a quartet called Sweet Slag. It was a bizarre group of people. We were managed by a guy named Keith Edwards, who knew Eddie Kassner at President, so that’s how we got our deal. They wanted us to tone it all down in the studio, which was like a red rag to a bull. The album was recorded in two days flat. The front cover had rubbish on it because there was a binmen’s strike on at the time. No single by us ever appeared, just the LP. We did some strange gigs, including a tour supporting The Equals (who were also on President). I particularly remember a show compèred by Jimmy Saville at Kitson College in Leeds, where we had to play on a revolving stage. We improvised a lot onstage – Mick and I tended to do crazy instrumental workouts, very stretched out. Sometime around the summer of 1971 our bassist, Jack O’Neill, became a Jehovah’s Witness, so he departed and we reconfigured as a quintet, but that didn’t last long. The sadness about Sweet Slag is that we vanished into obscurity before people caught onto what we were trying to achieve – Roxy Music and others later did similar things. Oh well – happy slagging, as we used to say.”

Friday, 17 June 2011

Jerusalem: ‘aggressive music with a lot of rhythm’

Over the years several people have warned me off the sole album by British hard rockers Jerusalem, saying it was amateurish, derivative and trashy – but as I tend to think those things can be virtues in this genre, I recently picked up a copy. Reader, I like it a lot. Yes, it’s crude, dumb and heavy, and shamelessly cops licks from Hendrix and others - but its relentless riffing, tasteless guitar leads, caveman drums and over-the-top vocals / lyrics combine well with its garagey production sound, making it a definite keeper for me. 

Jerusalem were discovered in their hometown of Salisbury by Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan, who signed them to his so-macho Pussy Enterprises company. Shortly after the nascent band had supported Led Zeppelin in Salisbury's City Hall (in December 1971), Gillan produced their LP in four days flat in De Lane Lea in Holborn, central London. It was released in a gatefold sleeve (with front cover artwork by lead guitarist Bob Cooke) on March 24th 1972:

This is what Gillan had to say about them on the back cover (note that he acknowledges that they are 'raw', 'crude' and 'in their formative stages'):

Here's a test pressing label:

And here are the finished articles:

In January 1972, after the album had been recorded, the quintet posed for some promo photos in the grounds of Hurdcott House, a pile outside Salisbury (the shot on the back cover was taken in the orangery there). Here are some more pictures taken that day:

The disc appeared in the UK and Germany, but no one took much notice. I have only encountered one review, which appeared in Gramophone in May, commenting that 'Jerusalem are young and very heavy, and their album should suit anyone who wants to give a sympathetic ear to the underprivileged side of the latest musical generation gap, between today's riff-sodden teenagers and their sedate, Dylan-loving elders. I find this band distinctly better than Black Sabbath, but who am I to judge?’ Sales were minuscule, despite the appearance of a couple of press ads in early April:

Nonetheless, Deram persevered long enough for them to issue a 45 a month later, coupling the excellent non-LP Kamakazi Moth with the lead-off number from the album, Frustration. The new song has a slicker, more polished and tight sound than the album, and suggests they could have gone on to great things had they had the chance. Here's the press release for the single:

And here's an ad for the 45:

 Here are demo and stock labels for the A-side, and an acetate of the B-side:

The single also appeared in a picture sleeve in Germany (reproducing the LP artwork), and - somewhat bizarrely - had an Italian release too, in this rare sleeve:

In June Beat Instrumental ran a piece offering the quintet's history:

By the summer of 1972, however, the dream was over. The band mutated into hard-rockers Pussy, but sadly rhythm guitarist Bill Hines died in a car accident soon afterwards. The other members are (I believe) still with us. The Jerusalem album is no masterpiece, but still a lot better than most early 70s hard rock obscurities, and I recommend it to fans of Black Sabbath, The Pink Fairies and so on.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Kaleidoscope: A Signal From Mars

Following my last post about Kaleidoscope's November 1967 A Beacon From Mars LP, here are two versions of the rare sheet music from which its artwork was adapted. It dates from 1901, and is described online as 'one of Paull's typically long and rousing marches'. You can hear part of it here (I think I prefer the efforts of David Lindley & co...):

The version below has the telescope the wrong way around, while the corrected one beneath it adds some extra text that the band left intact on their sleeve 66 years later. 

And here's the album cover itself, which bears no artwork credit:

(With thanks to Dave Morosoli and Bill Allerton)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Derek Taylor: Fifty Years Adrift

Being what you might call a Beatles fan, I have read what I can only describe as a number of books about them. But until a couple of weeks ago one had always eluded me, and many others beside: Fifty Years Adrift, by the late Derek Taylor - one of the very few insiders whom all four of 'the boys' liked and trusted. As such 'Degs' (as they called him) had remarkable access to them for much for the 1960s and beyond, making it a key read for Beatle nuts. Sadly, however, only 2000 copies were printed in 1984, and quickly sold out. A lavish production aimed squarely at collectors, it has never been available since, and when copies occasionally surface they fetch well into four figures. It's magnificently produced and bound, to be sure, with plenty of woodcuts, rare photographs and ephemera breaking up the dense text. But the real pity of its rarity is that Taylor's writing is so enjoyable. A true fan of The Beatles, music and life itself, his enthusiasm, wit and warmth consistently communicate themselves, and because he was clearly a fastidious sort, his recollections are sharp and beautifully articulated.

Anyhow - here are a couple more titillating pictures of the book itself (as ever, click to enlarge):

And here's the flyleaf (signed by Taylor) and the foreword (signed by George Harrison, with whom Taylor had a special affinity):

And, for trivia gimps, here's the original promo flier for the book:

Taylor was born on May 7th 1932 in Liverpool, and grew up there, attending Calday Grammar School and becoming a journalist on The Hoylake & West Kirby Advertiser in early 1949. The book brilliantly evokes those far-off days of boozy local news-gathering, as well as his National Service, and his excitement becomes palpable when he joins the national press and enters what he calls 'the cradle of the sixties', as tastes and fashions began to change following the austerity of the post-war years.

Derek Taylor, 1964
As I have mentioned, although he was guilty of the cardinal sin of being 'old', Taylor fell for The Beatles the moment he saw them (at the Manchester Odeon on May 30th 1963, supported by Roy Orbison), and his love for them, their music and what they represented is a constant theme of the book. Here he describes his feelings in the pub immediately afterwards (to another, less enthusiastic hack):

Before long Taylor had persuaded his boss at The Daily Express to run a weekly column by George Harrison, but ghosted by him. This was something of a coup for the paper, and Brian Epstein was sufficiently pleased with the results to ask Taylor to ghost his memoirs, A Cellarful Of Noise, and to become his personal assistant. Taylor then served as press officer for The Beatles' first US tour in the summer of 1964, and the book offers fascinating insights into the white heat of Beatlemania - not least of all in the form of itallicised interjections by George. Here are a few examples:

The book is full of little insights into the world of The Beatles, written with sympathy and scrupulous fairness - which isn't to say it's anodyne, simply that Taylor understood the pressures the four were under, so his judgement of their actions is never harsh. Here's a touching passage about John:

Following one row too many with Epstein (whom he liked greatly but found exasperating, not least of all because of his inability to comprehend his need to spend time away from the Fab Four and with his wife and children), Taylor upped sticks to California, where he and his growing family lived the good life as he became Hollywood's most immaculately hip PR man, serving stars like The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Paul Revere & The Raiders and Chad & Jeremy, as well as underground heroes such as Captain Beefheart and Harry Nilsson. This period is dealt with in vivid detail, with plenty of trivia to entertain fact-hounds like me (did you know that Roger McGuinn's parents were the authors of a best-selling guide to child-rearing entitled Parents Can't Win?). At this time he also filed a weekly column for Disc & Music Echo, which is terrific reading if you ever find a copy, and wrote for underground rags like the enigmatic Royal's World Countdown.

A business card reproduced in the book
In the spring of 1967 Taylor was one of the principal organisers of The Monterey Festival, though he had yet to take LSD himself, being relatively slow fully to embrace the psychedelic lifestyle of his clients. Here's a (somewhat repellent) drawing he solicited from The Beatles for use in the official programme:

Happy though he was in LA (where he eventually became A&M's in-house publicity boss and an avid consumer of LSD and dope), he was lured back to the UK in the spring of 1968, when all four Beatles conference-called to beg him to become press officer for their exciting new venture, Apple. The dream swiftly curdled, as we all know, but his nostalgia for what briefly was and what could have been is plain. By this time The Beatles were pulling in different directions, and could be obnoxious. Here's an interesting snippet about Paul:

He also reproduces some intriguing paraphernalia from his sojourn at Apple, including documents relating to concepts I'd never heard of, such as a proposed Apple school ('John requested that all the arts, including music, dancing, theatre and films should be in the school timetable', runs the relevant memo. 'The art of propaganda in the advertising field must also be taught. With regard to religious teaching, all aspects must be dealt with - e.g. Gods of other countries... Games and physical exercise will be encouraged, but not enforced. No physical discipline of any kind... John stated that all attempts should be made to open the school by September.') And here's George on The White Album (note that he doesn't capitalise it...):

Taylor also reproduces some interesting recommendations made by the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson regarding The White Album (dated October 24th 1968), including white double-decker buses to drive around London. Sadly, this never happened - as Richard DiLello writes in his terrific Longest Cocktail Party:

Another of J. Walter Thompson's suggestions indicates that The Beatles were well aware from day one that numbering the sleeves was a canny marketing ploy:

Though Apple ended in tears, Taylor expresses no bitterness over his experience, and is at pains to emphasise how unfairly The Beatles (especially John, of course) were treated by the media as the era of the malleable moptops receded into the distant past. Here's an amusing little note he found on his desk at Apple one day:

Following the collapse of The Beatles, Taylor went on to work at Warner Bros. for a number of years (where he produced Nilsson's 1973 A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night LP). Having conquered his alcoholism - which he describes candidly - he became a full-time writer in the 1980s, collaborating with Harrison on I Me Mine, amongst other things, before returning to Apple in the early 90s to oversee the marketing of The Beatles At The BBC, The Beatles Anthology and their remastered catalogue. A heavy smoker for many years, he died of lung cancer aged only 65 on September 8th 1997. Reading his book felt like spending a few evenings in the company of a lovely new friend - and, even better, one that would never tire of talking about The Beatles. It's hard not to emerge convinced of what a decent, intelligent and entertaining chap he was, and it's a crying shame that this terrific record of his life and times is (and seems likely to remain) unavailable to the vast majority of Beatles fans.