Kaleidoscope Eyes (British Psych March 1969)

This year I intended to start a monthly bulletin of music from the British underground from 50 years ago. Based on information provided by the good people at the Marmalade Skies website January’s went just fine. February proved to be a little sparse & I struggled to find three tunes to feature. Not wanting to short change my valued reader (Hi Micky), I stopped doing that weeks ago, I gave it a swerve & regular has become occasional. Things have picked up for March 1969 & it’s time to remount the giant albatross which flew through a crack in the cloud to a place where happiness reigned all year round. So, are you all seated comfly-bold two-square on your botty? Then I’ll begin.

 

 

Image result for kaleidoscope bandThere’s a strong argument to be made that Kaleidoscope are the great lost band of British Pop-Psych. The 2 albums released by the 4 piece from London, “Tangerine Dream” (1967) & “Faintly Blowing” (1969), have continued to attract interest even devotion from those who either missed them or were too young the first time around. The group’s pop-pastoral intent, influenced by “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Syd Barrett & Donovan, is very well realised. Personally I find the lyrics of vocalist Peter Daltrey, feathered tigers & porcupine captains, a little prolix. I prefer my fantasy to be sturdier, more Mervyn Peake than Tolkein. Hey, pop a microdot on my tongue & I may tell you something different. It is the music of guitarist Eddie Pumar, interesting instrumentation & effects, a crisp, sparkling production by Dick Leahy, that gives the records a stylistic consistency & an enduring appeal. “Faintly Blowing” aims for a bigger, heavier sound & is more than capably handled by the group.

 

Kaleidoscope were well supported by the small bohemian cadre on the UK’s only music radio station but failed to find a large audience. 4 of the group’s 5 singles were not included on the LPs. The intention with these melodic but more lightweight songs was to crossover on to the daytime shows & grab a hit. It could have worked, careful if you click on “Jenny Artichoke”, it’s so flipping catchy you will be humming it all week wondering just how it didn’t make “Top of the Pops”. “Do It Again For Jeffrey” is in a similar vein, the big chorus sounds like one of those Beatle steals that Oasis were so partial to. The obvious, long term strategy would have been to have used the singles format as promotion for the albums. The record company, a little behind the changing times, knew better. Kaleidoscope re-branded as Fairfield Parlour for one more album of cultured, harmonious Progressive music, one more nugget that remained unappreciated for years.

 

 

Image result for pete brown battered ornamentsWhen poet Pete Brown added music to his words the First Real Poetry Band had some major players including John McLaughlin off of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cream needed  lyrics for their music & he was in the right place, making a lasting connection with bassist Jack Bruce. “I Feel Free”, “White Room”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, in fact if it wasn’t a Blues jam, a drum solo or “Badge” Pete was involved. His greater visibility & the sizeable royalty cheques led to the formation of Pete Brown & his Battered Ornaments. With the former John Mayall saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith moonlighting from Colosseum & tyro guitarist Chris Spedding they made the scene with the LP “A Meal You Can Shake Hands With”, an unruly mix of Jazz, Blues, poetry & studio improvisation is a snapshot of the influences & variety to be found in 1969’s British underground music. I have friends (Hi Andy!) who love this sort of stuff.

 

Image result for pete brown battered ornaments“The Week Looked Good On Paper”, a single released this month, is a little more restrained than the material on “A Meal…”. The next LP “Mantle-Piece” was recorded & a place on the bill for the Stones in Hyde Park free concert set (through the group’s management Blackhill Enterprises who organised the gig) when Pete, an individual & unpredictable performer, was sacked from his own band the day before. The Battered Ornaments played in the park, Chris Spedding replaced the poet’s vocals on the record. Undeterred Pete was soon back on the road with Piblokto & recorded the finely titled “Things May Come & Things May Go But The Art School Dance Goes On Forever” (1970). The Ornaments folded & Spedding went on to play with just about everyone you have ever heard of.

 

 

This month saw a great line up at Mothers, a former ballroom above the furniture shop on Erdington High St Birmingham, near the small precinct, you know it. Mothers only ran from August 1968 to January 1971 & was quickly established as a fixture on the underground gig circuit. I moved to Erdington in 1975, right place, wrong time. My good friend Clive was on the spot, it was a short walk, a longer stagger back every weekend to catch the brightest new groups in the country. On March 22nd it was 50p (67 cents) to see Led Zeppelin who were to release their debut LP in 9 days time (it was already available in the US). We were huddled around a small radio in a Yorkshire youth hostel to hear “Communication Breakdown” for the first time. Imagine doing the same thing while Led Zep, live & loud, were yards away in a small North Birmingham club.

 

 

Image result for free band 1969The British Blues Boom, led by the John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers diaspora, hit a commercial high in January 1969 with “Albatross”, an instrumental by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, making the UK #1 spot. Bassist Andy Fraser played with Mayall’s band when he was just 15. His next band were the young guns of the scene, friends who saw one of the early gigs by Free came back raving about the energy & excitement they had witnessed. This was more than youthful brio, the 4 teenagers had skills too. “Tons of Sobs” Free’s debut LP was in the shops on March 14th 1969. Pretty much their live set, recorded in a few days with producer Guy Stevens (Mott the Hoople, “London Calling”!, just out of prison), it’s raw, raucous & it rocks, Fraser & drummer Simon Kirke are a powerful rhythm section, guitarist Paul Kossoff, a precocious talent & singer Paul Rodgers a braggadocious, forceful frontman. There was a greater than the sum of its parts thing going on here.

 

Image result for free broad daylight 1969“The Hunter” is an Albert King song written by Booker T & the M.G.’s, a modern Blues & a discerning choice for a group less attached to purism than other British players. A 45 not included on the LP was also released in March 1969. “Broad Daylight” is from the burgeoning songwriting partnership of Fraser & Rodgers, prolific enough to provide another collection later in the year when the song was re-recorded. The single, like “Tons of Sobs” was not a great commercial success but Free would find their feet, make their mark & could have joined the top rank of British Rock bands. That deserves a post of its own, some other time. But for now…

 

Psych In Black And White. Beatles-Lite (1968)

By the mid-1960s, however assiduously the mass media tried to swing like a pendulum do, they just did not get it (and they still don’t). OK, the Beatles were bigger than Jesus but did “Magical Mystery Tour” have to be so strange ? The Stones only made the newspapers when one of the members got busted or died. In 1966 the 2 major music programmes on commercial TV were scrapped, A year later offshore radio stations which played records 24/7 were made illegal. As youth culture moved through Mersey Mop Top to Mod to Marijuana it was left to the BBC, with the weekly “Top of the Pops” & the new Radio 1, to supply our musical rations. The Beeb assured us it was very exciting but really it wasn’t. Something was happening but you don’t know…you get me.

In 1968 if you did not make the Radio 1 playlist then you did not get heard. I have a vague memory of the Breakfast Show clown choosing VU’s “Who Loves The Sun” as a Record of the Week but I think I must have dreamed that. A generation of children who received a guitar for Xmas 1963 were ready to make some records by 1968. There were a lot of them & there was not a one who had not been influenced by those Beatles boys. There were few opportunities for them on UK screens but, lucky for us there was a little room for some of Pop’s new wave on French TV.

Blossom Toes made LPs on either side of 1968 but neither sold many. In between times the band covered a Dylan song & released “Postcard”, a hoped-to-be chartbound sound which just wasn’t enough of an ear worm to stand out in a very competitive market. It’s a lovely slice of melodic whimsy, more pop than psych, definitely more McCartney than Lennon. Between their baroque, hashish harmonies & the acid dissonance of the 2nd LP the Toes nailed it with “Postcard”. Enough of us remember it but not too many of us bought it & the band broke up. Guitarist Brian Godding had one more try at pop with B.B.Blunder before becoming a noted player of (Jah help us) jazz-fusion. The other one, Jim Cregan played with a who’s who of British rock. Family, Cockney Rebel, Rod Stewart. He also married singer Linda Lewis (left)…lucky, lucky,lucky.

Kaleidoscope are another band remembered as being on the psychedelic side of the street but listening to my favourite of their singles “Jenny Artichoke” I am hearing a good pop song. the band were on it in 1967 with a debut 45 “Flight From Ashiya” (see Nuggets II) causing a ripple. Now I really like these British Love generation reveries, not as abrasive as acid-rock nor as experimental as the folk pixies. from the reaction of my friends I know that I am in a minority but I’m sticking with this, it’s fun. The same line-up morphed into Fairfield Parlour & “progressive rock” making less of an impact than the original band. Here is Kaleidoscope in their Carnaby finery. The clip may be from 1967 & loosehandlebars, as you know, is all about context & the real nitty-gritty.

In 1968 out there was getting further out & there was an audience who had little interest in this magical mystery music. They wanted shiny, happy music like the Beatles used to make. Nothing wrong with that &, of course,  if there is a demand then the market will supply it. In the US there was the rise of “bubblegum”, groups who were cartoons like the Archies or almost cartoons like the Monkees. In the UK there were new teen groups happy to replace those bands now “getting it together in the country”. The Beatles were always able to straddle any divide but it’s a pity that this new breed of pop kids did not quite catch the ear of a bigger audience. A little too much artifice perhaps, good pop records did not always need to over-elaborate & keeping it simple has always been a thing.

Absolutely Beatlesque, Grapefruit signed to the Fab 4’s label Apple & were named after Yoko’s book by John Lennon. The group got plenty of publicity from this connection & seemed set to make a mark. The 1st LP “Around Grapefruit” was pretty much all released on 45, “Yes” is, I remember, a double A-side with “Elevator”. Grapefruit’s mainman was George Alexander (born Alexander Young) who had stayed behind when his family emigrated from the UK to Australia. His younger brother George returned as a member of the brilliant Easybeats while 2 other brothers were in the mega-successful AC/DC. A talented bunch.

If there were a couple of hits they are best described as minor then 1969’s LP “Deep Water” was less distinctive. Before the end of the decade the group, like the previous 2, were done. By 1970 the generation that followed the Beatles had a keyboard player in the band & were making prog-rock. The clips of these bands are in colour too. To finish here is Grapefruit, suited & booted but phasing & flanging with the best of the pop-psych bands with “Dear Delilah”