1968. I was 15 for most of it. Don’t be fooled by those “Swinging Sixties” documentaries. England was not swinging like a pendulum do. The media had no clue . They wanted to reduce new ideas to a haircut, strange clothes, a freak show. It was a great time to be young and inquisitive and one of the reasons was that the “straights” just did not get it. Chuck D called rap CNN for Black people. Similarly, in 1968, it was the music that informed the youth of the changing world. The music was changing too.
The release of “Sergeant Pepper” the previous year had given carte blanche to musicians to expand their sound. The drugs helped that too. Some of the music was just dumb. The classic 3 minute pop single was now overshadowed by a sense of grandeur that the music did not always deserve (yes you The Moody Blues). 1968’s best albums ? The “White Album”, “Beggars Banquet”, “Electric Ladyland, “Astral Weeks”. There were artists who grasped the new freedom and moved forward musically & lyrically. The audience looked to them for not just new sounds but for new information. There was nowhere else.
I first became aware of Nirvana with the 2 1967 singles. I was always a sucker for a bit of intelligence in my rock (as we now called it). “Tiny Goddess” & “Pentecost Hotel” both made an impression on me. “Goddess” , a string section,harpsichord, a stately progression & build. British psychedelia, always more pastoral & whimsical than it’s transatlantic counterpart, at it’s finest I thought.The Existence of Chance Is Everything and Nothing While the Greatest Achievement Is the Living of Life, and so Say All of Us”.
Try getting that on a CD cover. So, here’s what did it for me. Still does it now. The wistfulness replaced by optimism. Wonderful phased strings & brass, ethereal backing vocals, it was bloody ethereal mate. I knew that a song’s worth was not necessarily reflected by it’s sales but this was the new sound. Surely the rest of the world could not help but pick up on this. The record stalled in the mid-30s of the chart & I was as mad as hell. Come on if the industry & the audience could not get behind this then what hope was there ?I stopped buying the music papers. Didn’t wanna know about the next big thing or the new single from bands I loved. Music had had it’s chance & I it had been ignored. Of course it did not last. There was so much great music about & I was addicted to the effect it had on me. Still am. The wind went out of Nirvana’s sails after this. There were good singles & further LPs but if the masterpiece did not cut it then the others were not gonna be the breakthrough.The last cut is a cover of a Nirvana song , an almost note-for-note cover of the track. The Alan Bown Set were an established live soul act. Seeing which way the wind was blowing they dropped the “Set” & went “progressive”. This fine piece of whimsy was a minor hit.You Tube would not let me show a version which is a Super 8 movie of a TV show. Makes as good a job of it as German TV would have.
There were bands before Nirvana that I loved & that did not sell records but I kinda knew it was not made for mass appeal. Nirvana’s 3 minute songs had more lyrical & musical ideas than many of the inflated rock operas of their contemporaries. The sound was fresh & innovative. New pop for the Age of Aquarius. 1968 should have been their year. Seriously, i may have been 15 but i knew & cared about these things.
It’s “Pentecost Hotel” we get to see because it seems to be the only TV appearance by the band. It’s a fine example of black & white TV trying to freak out to the new psyche & having no idea what they were doing. The song is a little more upbeat than “Goddess” but the wistful vocal kept it anchored. The performance is lip-synched. It must have been impossible for the band to recreate the sound live. I loved this sound. A touch of the baroque without wearing it on it’s sleeve. Jesus I hated any pop/classical link even then.The band were Patrick Campbell-Lyons & Alex Spyropoulous.Just the 2 of them then & such a full sound. The 2 singles showed that here was a band to keep an eye on.They did not disappoint. The 3rd single “Rainbow Chaser” just blew me away for the whole of the 1968 spring. THIS was where our music should be heading. The 2nd Nirvana LP was titled ”