Dantalian’s Chariot “Chariot Rising”

Chariot Rising

The sudden arrival of British psychedelia threw up some odd stories, but surely none odder or more notorious than that of Dantalian’s Chariot. Like other established acts – the Beatles, the Stones, Donovan, the Pretty Things, even the homely Hollies – these experienced Beat-era musicians drastically changed tack to embrace the new counterculture, yet no others did it so publicly, nor with such apparent commitment, nor did they fail so spectacularly in spite of critical acclaim and huge hype.

Keyboardist/vocalist George “Zoot” Money had helmed his Big Roll Band since 1961, playing fiery R’n’B to enthusiastic Soho Mod club dancers whilst selling precious few records. Seeing the psychedelic scene suddenly burgeon around them, Money, guitarist Andy Somers and drummer Colin Allen threw themselves bodily on to the bandwagon, announcing abruptly in July 1967 that the Big Roll Band no longer existed and that henceforth they would be Dantalian’s Chariot – Dantalian being a Duke of Hell, referred to in The Key Of Solomon. To emphasise the point they kitted themselves out completely in white – kaftans, guitars, amps, even a white Hammond – and put together a light show so sophisticated that the Pink Floyd hired it on occasions. From their first self-penned recording sessions EMI released a single, “Madman Running Through The Fields”. Despite critical approval it stiffed chartwise, and a subsequent attempt to release an album, appropriately titled Transition, on CBS subsidiary Direction also stalled when the label insisted that its psychedelic elements be diluted with more familiar Money fare and the release credited to the Big Roll Band. This too sank without trace, and a miffed Money finally junked the Chariot in April 1968. Retrospectively, “Madman” became THE essential Brit psych track, much sought after by aficionados as it appeared only rarely on anthologies. The other tracks from the initial sessions attained legendary “lost” status for almost thirty years, until compilers at tiny label Tenth Planet decided to assemble them as the “true” Dantalian’s Chariot album, this finally appearing on vinyl in 1995 with an extended CD release the following year.

After the hype and the wait, the music itself turns out to be rather different from the anticipated unrelenting heavy-psych trip: indeed, it’s an eclectic mix that reminds me more of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s ambiguous psych credentials. The brilliant “Madman” offers scything backwards cymbals, floating flutes and rippling guitar figures as well as suitably lysergic lyrics, but underneath all this is a tautly constructed pop song, not one of your rambling improvs a la “Interstellar Overdrive”. Some songs follow the distinctively British whimsical personal-narrative psych groove: “Fourpenny Bus Ride” and “Four Firemen” could have come from the Kinks or S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things. Others seem purely ersatz psychedelia; the instrumental “This Island” resembles a Morricone spaghetti-western outtake lugubriously decorated with Somers’s electric sitar, and “High Flying Bird” sounds almost like a music industry parody of the San Fran hippie scene, like the Flowerpot Men’s infamously insincere “Let’s Go To San Francisco”. “Sun Came Bursting Through My Cloud” is a winsome acoustic pop song penned, along with two other tracks, by the staff writing team of Tony Colton and Roy Smith. Only the thunderous “World War Three” really approaches “Madman” as a heavy psych tour-de-force. And although the musicianship is excellent throughout, Zoot’s brassy, bluesy vocals simply don’t fit the psych template.

An interesting and enjoyable period piece, then, but not the anticipated Holy Grail of psychedelia, despite its enduring reputation. And what became of the musicians who had thrown themselves so wilfully into the psych stewpot? Money went on to work with Eric Burdon’s LA-based Animals and various third-division British prog acts. Bassist Pat Donaldson fell into folk-rock, helping found Sandy Denny’s short-lived Fotheringay and touring with Richard Thompson. Colin Allen drummed on John Mayall’s Blues From Laurel Canyon and subsequently joined Stone The Crows. And after a brief dalliance with Soft Machine, Andy Somers eventually changed his surname to Summers and became one-third of the Police, no less. Listen to his textural backings on “Madman” and hear unmistakeably the genesis of his unique Police guitar style.

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“Madman Running Through the Fields”

:D 1996 | Wooden Hill | search ebay ]

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  • Jason

    I remember the first time I heard Madman Running Through The Fields….it turned my head upside down. Even today, after hearing so much more great music from the era, I still rate this as one of the best singles ever..it’s imaginative, an immediate shock to the senses; up there with the best of the early Pink Floyd, Tintern Abbey’s lone single (both sides are killer) and the Beatles’ psychedelic work. I think they recently reissued the Zoot/Chariot album Transition.

  • Len Liechti

    Indeed, somewhat to my surprise, they have! It has only three tracks in common with Chariot Rising, which shows how far Transition was watered down from the original proposition: “Coffee Song”, “Recapture The Thrill” and “Soma”. Of these only the last, another sitar-led instrumental with a backing that sounds like Gregorian Monks intoning “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, can really be considered serious psych. The other seven tracks are mostly standard Money R’n’B fare with soulful vocal and plenty of brass arrangements; of interest only to historians, I’d say. Chariot Rising is as near as you’re gonna get to the real deal. Incidentally, the CD of Chariot was reissued in 2007 and should still be available on eBay.

  • Great. Thanks. I will check this out. My view of the psychedelic era is that the good stuff is great but the rest, sheesh…and the good quality usually confined to particular songs rather than whole albums.

  • Jason

    I have mp3’s from a hard to find album Zoot released in 1969 titled Welcome To My Head. I would guess that it’s a better record than Transition though nothing on it reaches the highs of Madman Running Through The Fields (from the above cd which I also own). Welcome To My Head is often labelled as psychedelic pop and some of it kinda is but there’s more horns and strings not psychedelic freakouts/studio effects. Some of Zoot’s earlier big band sound seeps thru too but it’s really an interesting record that’s never been released on cd. None of it rocks hard either. I guess you could say that it’s progressive pop with lots of strings and horns…

  • dk

    Andy Summers’ autobiography ‘One Train Later’ is a droll, well-written book that talks about his entire career, including his time in Dantalian’s Chariot and The Police. Highly recommended…

  • channel light vessel

    I’m listening to it now and I have been listening to it a lot. I can’t really compare it to the Big Roll Band as I haven’t heard any of that, but I think they did quite a good job of going psychedelic. Okay, so it’s not way-out like The Soft Machine or The Floyd. The songs are pretty well crafted and none reach the irritation levels of the Sgt. Pepper album or the tweeness of Syd sitting on a unicorn and travelling by telephone. Not a classic, but well worhth a listen.

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