Nobody’s Fool And It’s Cool (UK Pop Psych October 1969)

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.

 

 

Image result for family no mule's fool"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.

 

Image result for family band 1970s"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.

 

 

Image result for slade wild winds are blowing"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.

 

Image result for slade magazine cover"“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!

 

Image result for terry reid superlungs my supergirl"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.

 

Image result for terry reid 1969"

Terry with B.B. King

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.

 

He was Butch But I Was No Sundance (1969-70)

I was not the only clever kid at our school. Our whole form was force fed facts so that we could pass our exams a year earlier than others our age. It was some bullshit exercise in school pride but if it reduced the time spent under the archaic, cruel (the cane was still used by the headmaster) & unusual (an English teacher made transgressors write out chapters of Genesis) punitive system then we would go along with it. This meant that I entered the sixth form when I was 15 going on 16. The 17 year old girls in my classes were a lot further on down life’s road  & 68/69 was Peak Mini Skirt as I remember. I was amazed that they would even acknowledge my presence, it was months before I was able to say anything that made any sense back to them. The guys were already drinking at the weekend (only a year underage so…y’know) & that seemed better than the Youth Club. On their 17th birthdays some of them got cars. That was certainly an upgrade on taking the bus !

 

 

Image result for morris 1000Butch had a Morris 1000, a classic car now, cheap & cheerful in 1969. His name was Keith but his Dad had a butcher’s shop on the High St so…His girlfriend, Natalie, worked in the local record shop Rushton’s, a place that sold instruments & sheet music before awkwardly adjusting to the demand for small discs of vinyl. After college Butch & I would drive into town to keep her company for the last hour of her working day. To keep us out of further mischief she gave us free range in one of the soundproof booths to listen to any of the latest records that took our fancy. They didn’t always hit the spot. That second Blood Sweat & Tears album, David Clayton Thomas singing, no Al Kooper, may have sold by the lorry load but it was no “Child is the Father to the Man”. One non-album single with a red Atlantic label, “Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton, had us opening up the booth for the other customers to hear & irritating our favourite shop assistant.

 

Image result for delaney and bonnie comin homeDelaney & Bonnie Bramlett had done musical time before they were married, D as a member of the house band of the “Shindig” TV show, B as a fake-tanned Ikette. Their first LP was recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis with Booker T & the MGs. By the time of the follow up they had assembled a smoking band, people who would go on to make a pile of good music. Their brand of Southern Soul, Gospel & Rock attracted an influential friend in Eric Clapton, happy to play the sideman after all the attention attracted by Cream & Blind Faith. Eric brought along the newly ex-Beatle George & his stinging, ringing contribution to “Coming Home” made it more than notable. Delaney’s mate Leon Russell needed to assemble some Mad Dogs to back Joe Cocker on a hastily arranged tour & he borrowed the whole band except keyboard player Bobby Whitlock who left for England to write with Clapton. When these two needed a rhythm section for “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” they were joined by Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) to form Derek & the Dominoes. Now that is a good record !

 

 

Butch lived above the shop, just a walk away from mine & I would go round in midweek to listen to his records. At night the front was closed up & you entered the house through the back of the shop past simmering pots of pig’s heads. Brawn is some kind of peasant jellied terrine (my Mum loved it). It’s apparently called “potted heid” in Scotland & in France “pate de tete” & that sounds no better. Now I’m a Big Meat Eater (yes I am…now there’s a movie you have to see) but I don’t always choose to get that close to its production. I would hurry through that steamy, funky room. Butch had some good records. I particularly remember 3 double LPs, Cream’s “Wheels of Fire”, Jimi’s “Electric Ladyland” & “Streetnoise” by Julie Driscoll, all good long listens as the music got & was taken more seriously. We had a couple of bottles of cider & a coloured light bulb for atmosphere…that’s all. We didn’t know where to buy any hash back then. Our town had not yet done with Modernism. The cool kids were robbing chemists of their good stuff, waking up in the park with blood leaking from their ears. That sounded like not much fun at all.

 

Image result for julie driscollThere were no women like Julie Driscoll in our town either. Julie, with organist Brian Auger, Long John Baldry & Rod Stewart had been part of Steampacket, a Mod Soul-Blues revue who, despite their popular live act, never recorded. In 1968 her & Auger’s take on Dylan’s “This Wheels on Fire”, an urgent psychedelic classic, shifted the ground for British female singers. Her expressive, distinctive vocals put Cilla, Lulu, Sandie, even Dusty in the shade. She became a beautiful, instant icon of cool, replacing Emma Peel as the object of my affections. “Streetnoise” reflects the times, musical boundaries were to be ignored. There are old songs, new songs, Jazz & Blues songs, all given the individual stamp of Driscoll & Auger that still sounds fresh today. “Indian Rope Man”, one of the band’s best, written by Richie Havens, is promoted here on German TV but was only released as a b-side in the UK. Julie married jazz pianist Keith Tippett & stepped away from Rock & Roll to make more experimental music. Whatever she chose to do was just fine by me.

 

 

Image result for family a song for meAh Family…Leicester’s finest. Butch had their 3rd LP “A Song For Me”, released in January 1970 & a Top 5 record. At the end of 1969 the single “No Mule’s Fool”, a gentle daydream of a song had totally hit my spot but only grazed the Top 30. Their debut “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) was a more than interesting slice of post-Sgt Pepper’s British psychedelia & “Family Entertainment” (1969) consolidated a reputation as a band on the rise. The loss of 2 founding members, multi-instrumentalist Jim King & bassist Rick Grech (he joined the aforementioned Blind Faith) was a setback just as they were ready for prime time. The idiosyncratic, forceful presence of vocalist Roger Chapman made Family’s live show memorable.They were one of the first big concerts I attended & Hull City Hall rocked that night. The new-ish group were possibly less textured, a little more full tilt, than previously. There were 3 Top 20 UK singles, an LP a year until 1973 before diminishing returns & a failure to make an impression in the US called a halt. Family don’t really get the credit they deserve. If you have an interest in psych-prog they merit further investigation.

 

Image result for bath festival 1970We hung out a lot over the next year. The 4 of us (rather surprisingly I had a girlfriend too) tore around in the Morris looking for pubs, parties & places of interest. We both studied Geography & a week’s “field study” in North Yorkshire became an alcohol-fuelled exercise in besmirching our college’s good name. Butch was a good guy to have around, a dry sense of fun & humour, a little more grown-up than the other happy idiots I called friends back then. He was the perfect companion for an adventure to the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June 1970. Over 2 days we joined 200,000 others to see a musical line-up that can only be described as awesome. We saw a lot of things that you didn’t see in our small town that weekend. The Hell’s Angels were cool & the casualties of the purple acid were not. It was a great time, we could see the attractions of this Hippie thing but we were Northern lads, this stuff wouldn’t really fly back at home. I’ll repeat myself, he was the right guy to share the experience with. He drove me there, he got me home & we had approached things correctly.

 

Butch left college that year. I had to hang around to make up for that year I had jumped. The next year I left town & only returned for flying visits to see my family. Keith is actually on Facebook & we live in the same town though we would probably pass each other in the street these days. I’ll send him this & hope that he has the same good memories about the short time that our paths intertwined all those years ago.