Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Sights and Sounds of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd

So much has been written about the mythical Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett, one of music's most beloved cult heroes. At the peak of his powers, Syd shone as bright as the sun, as band mate Roger Waters would sing of him years later, drawing in so many who were privileged to be in his orbit. Syd was in all ways the brightest star - witty, charming, gorgeous, talented and charismatic, and like all stars that burn that bright, he shone for only a precious short time. Whether it was because of the pressures of being a pop star, or the copious amounts of acid he imbibed (often unbeknownst to himself; he lived with some acid missionaries who constantly spiked his beverages without his knowledge), Syd said goodbye to the music business and retreated to his mother's home in Cambridge. Although his catalog is slim, it is a treasure we are fortunate to have. Syd has long inspired those of us who feel we are outsiders - anyone who feels they could teeter on that abyss,unafraid to peer into its depths, but thankful something keeps us from falling. His solo works reveal such pain and darkness, yet there is much love and sweetness to be found as well. His was a unique poetic voice, no posturing or pretentiousness to be found.

Those wishing to know Syd's story, I recommend watching the documentary clips I've posted here - the VH-1 Legends special (the US version of the BBC's The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story), as well as Which One's Pink? and others. I also recommend you immediately get your hands on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets (for the chilling "Jugband Blues," especially), The Madcap Laughs, Barrett, and Opel, a collection of outtakes. For those wanting to dip their toes in before diving in completely, the beautifully compiled An Introduction To Syd Barrett (lovingly done by David Gilmour, the "One Who Took His Place," and the one who admired him prior to that. It must be noted that songs are remixed, and Gilmour added bass to some songs). Several books have been written about his life and recording career, the most consistently praised ones being A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman and Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett 1965 - 1974 by David Parker.

This past week saw the "Why Pink Floyd?" promotion begin in earnest as the band promoted their remastered back catalog of Discovery, Experience and Immersion editions. One can only hope that Immersion editions of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets will be released, hopefully containing the hitherto commercially unreleased "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream," as well as concerts and BBC performances. It would be a Syd fan's dream come true.

Syd remains an unforgotten hero to those of us whose lives he touched with his wonderful words and music. Maybe he is one who keeps us from falling into that abyss. May he rest in peace...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Psychedelic Freakout!

Please listen to the colours...

We are truly entering the Wonderland of British music at this moment. Although I love many genres of music, I believe that UK psych just might top my list of favorites. Here is an excellent introduction into this gorgeous land of tangerines, eiderdowns, gnomes, gladiolas, frozen dogs, fairycakes and lemonade...

The psychedelic experience in the UK differed a bit from its US counterpart. Whereas US psych music often provided radical political platforms for the counterculture (such as reaction to the war in Vietnam, civil rights, etc.), UK psych tended to take the listener on a journey back to childhood to again experience a simpler time, or as a way to tell wonderful stories about a variety of interesting characters. Some bands might take a dadaist/surrealist approach to the absurdity of life, while others emphasized toyland and tea with aunties. It is a delightfully rich form of erudite, literate escapism. (That isn't to say that the British Underground was entirely apolitical, far from it.)

Please enjoy this wonderful article by psych expert David Welles as he writes about his favorite UK psych albums. This article appeared in a 2003 issue of the UK magazine Record Collector. I agree with his marvelous choices; Welles also runs his own record label that specializes in re-issuing long-lost psych classics. If you haven't delved deeply into this genre, hopefully this blog entry will inspire you do go further into Alison's Wonderland....

Coming soon - an in depth piece on Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Manchester's Mindbenders

Once Merseybeat exploded on the scene, record label executives scoured England in hopes of discovering "the next Beatles" for their own labels. Since Manchester was quite close to Liverpool, it was naturally one of the first cities mined for talent. Vocalist Wayne Fontana (born Glyn Ellis, he took his stage name from Elvis' drummer D. J. Fontana) secured a gig at Manchester's Oasis club where he would be auditioning for a producer from Fontana records, Jack Baverstock. In what seemed to be a precursor for disaster, only Bob Lang, the bassist for Wayne's band, showed up for the gig. Wayne was able to draft guitarist Eric Stewart and drummer Rick Rothwell at the last minute and continued with the performance. Jack Baverstock was actually impressed by the band and signed them to Fontana records in early 1963.

Wayne named his group The Mindbenders after a B-movie horror flick being shown in their local cinema. After several minor singles that merely shaved the bottom of the hit parade, their fifth single, a version of the Curtis Mayfield song, "Um Um Um Um Um Um," reached number 5 in the UK charts. In the United States, it was their 1965 single, "Game of Love" that skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Unfortunately, their subsequent choices of singles did not impress as this one had, with each subsequent release peaking lower and lower in both UK and US charts. Blaming each other for the lack of success, Wayne Fontana acrimoniously parted ways with the Mindbenders (read article above) and began a solo career that focused more on ballads and caberet-type songs.

The other three Mindbenders continued to record together, with guitarist Eric Stewart taking over the lead vocals on most songs. In 1966, the Mindbenders reached number 2 on both sides of the Atlantic with a song penned by two teenage girls, Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager, which cleverly used a new slang word just beginning to be used by young people, "groovy." The song, "A Groovy Kind of Love," brought huge success and promise to the Mindbenders, but they were unable to continue this success. It is quite ironic that Wayne's backing band he threw together so many years before turned out to have more chart success than he did during his solo career. It is also good to note that he and The Mindbenders mended fences long ago.

Eric Stewart went on to achieve much success in the 1970s as a member of 10cc, along with Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

The Mindbenders, with or without Wayne, recorded some solid records in the '60s that deserve a good listen. With Wayne, their version of "Where Have You Been?" is top-notch, as well as their records "Stop, Look and Listen," and "She Needs Love," plus many others. Without Wayne, The Mindbenders recorded some killer freakbeat with the song "The Morning After," and their final album, With Woman In Mind, bears touches of both freakbeat and popsike.

(References, Nigel Smithers article on Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, which appeared in the January 1984 issue of Record Collector, plus other articles on the band.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jet Harris - Early English Rocker

British rock'n'roll owes a great debt to the Shadows. Beginning as the backing group for superstar Cliff Richard in 1958, the Shadows dominated British popular music prior to the advent of the Beatles and the Mersey Beat scene. Hank B. Marvin was one of the first British guitar heroes. In fact, John Lennon was noted as saying that prior to Cliff Richard and the Shadows, there was no British music worth hearing.

Just last week, founding member and bassist Jet Harris MBE, passed away after a lengthy battle with throat cancer. After he left the Shadows in 1962, Harris went on to record successful singles with Tony Meehan, including the hit "Diamonds," which was number one on the UK charts for six weeks, posted above. This song also features Jimmy Page's first session work, and later, Harris and Meehan hired John Paul Jones to accompany their act on the road; therefore, Jet had a hand in jump-starting the careers of Led Zeppelin!

Jet will be remembered as one of the first musicians to use the bass guitar as a lead instrument, (remember, this is prior to John Entwistle!) and also one of the first British musicians to use the Fender Precision bass.

The scans above include photos of the Shadows after Harris' departure, and other photos of Jet with and without Tony Meehan. These photos and articles all appeared in various early issues of Beat Monthly. Rest in Peace, Jet.