The timeline provided by the interesting & entertaining Marmalade Skies website has been the basis for irregular posts on the British underground music scene of 50 years ago. Their listings for October 1969 included “Five Leaves Left”, the wonderfully poetic debut album by singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Terrific, it was 1971 when I became aware of this record & many pleasant evenings were enhanced by its company. Pick a track, any track, two maybe three paragraphs extolling its & its creator’s virtues…job’s a good ‘un. Unfortunately my “research” showed that the album, named after the run out slip from a pack of rolling papers, was released in July of 1969! Now I’ve been doing this Internet thing for 40-odd years & I haven’t lied to you yet so that’s out. The lesson here is “never trust a Hippie” but you good folk knew that already. Right, what music did have its actual Golden Anniversary in this month.
Family, a five-piece group from Leicester had released their second LP in March 1969. “Family Entertainment” consolidated the reputation they had made with their debut “Music in a Doll’s House”, produced by Dave Mason off of Traffic, as one of the most interesting, innovative new groups. Not as experimental as the likes of Pink Floyd or Soft Machine, the imaginative instrumentation they brought to their varied, agile psychedelia & the raspy vocals of Roger Chapman gave Family a distinct & recognisable sound. They were a formidable live act, making new fans with every appearance & “…Entertainment” found a place in the Top 10 of the UK album chart. “No Mule’s Fool”, written, like most of their songs, by Chappo & guitarist Charlie Whitney, was surely the 45 that would put the band on TV’s Top of the Pops. Well, I thought so when I bought it.
Family’s first hiccup of 1969 came when bassist/violinist Rick Grech left the group to become the least well known of new “supergroup” Blind Faith. John Weider off of Eric Burdon & the Animals could play both of those instruments & was quickly drafted in. His violin break on the pastoral, mellow “No Mule’s Fool” moves the song up a gear for the race to the end. While recording the next LP multi-instrumentalist Jim King was the second member to split. King added nuance to many of Family’s tunes, there’s a John Peel session where his saxophone replaces the violin on the single & it’s most effective. Poli Palmer stepped in, “A Song For Me” proved to be the group’s most successful LP & that elusive hit single “The Weaver’s Answer”, was there on “Family Entertainment” all the time. Family never enjoyed the international acclaim of many of their contemporaries, were perhaps never as distinct as they had been on those first two records. Looking back to changing times in British music they deserve a wider hearing.
Earlier in 1969 Ambrose Slade (formerly the ‘N Betweens), Wolverhampton’s premier live band, had released their debut LP “Beginnings”. A varied selection from their onstage setlist the diverse covers included two from Steppenwolf, the Fabs’ “Martha My Dear”, Marvin Gaye & even Frank Zappa. The record & the single “Genesis” made little impression. By this time the group were managed by Chas Chandler, former bassist of the Animals with plenty of money from his time with Jimi Hendrix. Chas’ big idea was to abbreviate the name to Slade, get the quartet to to crop their hair & adopt the boots & braces of the current Skinhead youth. “But Chas, Skinhead music is Reggae not Rock” said, apparently, no-one.
“Wild Winds Are Blowing” was the first 45 for the group with the shorter name & hair. The image did generate a deal of press & Chandler persuaded his old Animal mate Alan Price to include them on his TV show. The song, written by Saker & Windley, two guys who wrote little else, is given a rowdy enough treatment, not as aggressive as you might expect from a bunch of “bovver boys” & was, like the next two singles, not a success. Encouraged to write their own material, leather-lunged singer Noddy Holder & bassist Jim Lea proved to be an effective team. The skinhead thing was ditched, Doc Martens replaced by a platform booted stomp, Ben Shermans by glitter & glam. An album, “Play It Loud”, had no hit single & it was an old Little Richard song that finally put Slade into the UK Top 20. In October 1971 “Coz I Luv You” hit #1, the first of a string of eccentrically spelled records that made them a permanent fixture in the Top 10, eminent in the British Glam Pop Explosion & Noddy Holder, deservedly, a national treasure.
It says here, on the Marmalade Skies register of this month’s releases that Terry Reid had a new album called “Superlungs”. I’m sure that the folk at “The Home of British Psychedelia” were adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen to keep their minds, you know, limber but there was no LP of that title until 2004. A 45 of “Superlungs My Supergirl”, a Donovan song was released in 1969 along with a self-titled LP. OK, because I think Terry Reid is a lovely man who should have been a huge star, I’m going to go with that. October 1969? Possibly!
How about that band? 19 year old Terry, brimming with confidence, backed by Keith Webb on drums, keyboard player Pete Solley &, bringing the groove to the Blues-Rock, bassist Lee Miles, formerly of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. “Terry Reid” the album was the second he made with producer Mickie Most whose extraordinary success in the British Beat Boom confirmed an undoubted Pop acumen which was now meeting resistance from artists, the Animals, Yardbirds, Donovan, looking beyond the three minute single. Both albums showcase Reid’s extraordinary voice & range from Blues shouter to a more restrained, still soulful intimacy. The grandstanding cover versions of familiar songs, “Season of the Witch”, “Stay With Me Baby”, are less successful than the fine moments provided by Terry’s developing talent as a songwriter.
Of course turning down the Led Zeppelin gig still hangs around. Peter Grant, manager of the Yardbirds/Led Zep, was Most’s business partner but Terry had his own thing, committed to an extensive touring schedule in the US where his reputation was growing. His absence from the UK didn’t help with promotion of the LP. Surely if the magnificent “Silver White Light”, a joyous rocker, had found its way on to the playlist of Britain’s only music station things would have been different. It sure sounded like a hit to me but then, what do I know?
Reid wanted away from Most & it became a prolonged legal matter. With a new stellar band, Miles still hanging out, drummer Alan White off of the Plastic Ono Band & master guitarist David Lindley, his music had a looser, rootsier feel (think the Black Crowes only better) but they were unable to record. It would be 1973 before “The River”, his best collection, was finally available. That one’s for another time & I’m not leaving without including the delicate beauty that is “Mayfly”. If you need something to warm you as Autumn turns to Winter & the nights get longer then here it is. Good man Terry Reid.