Archive for the ‘ Psych ’ Category

Flower Travellin’ Band “Make Up”

In the wake of their rather extraordinary, barnstormer of a classic, Satori, the Flower Traveling Band stepped up to the bar and managed to pull off that all-too-rare of feats, an artistically successful follow-up. While not quite the record that Satori had been, Made In Japan managed to establish the Band as a force to be reckoned with, and hinted at a long and illustrious career to come. Something seems to have gone a little haywire in-between the time that third record hit shelves and the compilation of what would come to be the group’s fourth, and final, release: 1973′s studio/live double-record set, Make Up. The Traveling Band had shed off a good percentage of the psychedelia that had marked their most legendary work, and instead developed themselves into a progressive, hard rock band, in tune with the sound of the era.

So what does all this have to say about Make Up? Well, despite the odds being against it, the record is a solid work, with some memorable material and at least a few gems. Most of it is something of a grab bag, veering back and forth between hard rock bluster and rather sentimental balladry. “All the Days” is one of the record’s heavier, most typical Traveling Band numbers, with a gnarly guitar solo and a rather schizoid bass line. The following “Look  At My Window” is a ten minute cut of acoustic prog that makes it clear that the band wasn’t planning on resting on their laurels, as marked by some great vocal harmonies. “The Shadow of Lost Days” is hundred-proof blues, and a showcase of sorts for Joe Yamanaka’s soulful wail. The more unusual cuts to be found here include a twenty-three minute work-out on Made In Japan‘s “Hiroshima,” half of which is unfortunately taken up by a ridiculously overextended drum solo, and a laughable riff on “Blue Suede Shoes” featuring the band’s manager on lead vocals that never should have happened in the first place, much less have been recorded for all of posterity. If it weren’t for a roaring live take of Satori‘s legendary second movement and the soaring, atmospheric acoustic closing number, “After the Concert,” the second record might be considered pure filler, but as it is these last two tracks almost makes it worth sitting through the preceding half hour of hits-and-misses.

Make Up may not be the place to start with the Flower Traveling Band’s catalog, but if you have already dug the majestic freak-outs of Satori, then you could do a lot worse than picking this collection up as well. The band would not release another record until 2008′s rather dismal reunion album We Are Here, making this the end of the line for one of Japan’s most highly-regarded psychedelic exports. The two-disc set has most recently been reissued by Phoenix Records, and while their set commands a rather high, double-CD price new, you can score a copy second-hand for far less.

mp3: Look At My Window

:D Reissue | 2011 | Phoenix | buy here ]
:) Original | 1973 | Atlantic | search ebay ]

H.P. Lovecraft “H.P. Lovecraft II”

There are some bands that maintain classic status to a certain informed percentage of listeners despite almost complete anonymity elsewhere. Chicago folk-rockers H.P. Lovecraft may never have made much of a musical impact on the 1960s/1970s psychedelic rock scene, but they did manage to lay down two extraordinarily cosmic records of west coast rockers that rank up with the best the era had to offer. Their self-titled debut, released on Philips in 1967, set the scene: tight rhythm section, spaced-out guitars, whirling organ, and wide-screen vocal harmonies. Though they took their name from Edgar Allen Poe’s most worthy of successors, the mind-warping writer H.P. Lovecraft, their music itself leaned far closer to the wired, black-light anthems of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Mad River than anything overtly Gothic.

By the time that H.P. Lovecraft II hit shelves, the band had undergone a series of personnel changes and a timely relocation to Los Angeles. Though the material was immediately recognizable as being that of the same band, the jams were tighter and just that much more surreal, with a greater emphasis on experimental keyboard work (as well as a heavy new dose of reverb and tape delay). It was a clear distillation of all that the first album had promised, a kaleidoscopic refraction of the folk influences that weighed so heavily in the band’s choice of material and a closer embrasure of the spectral edge to their sound. Even when the band was not drawing inspiration directly from their namesake’s work, as in the frenetic “At the Mountains of Madness,” there was a weird edge to their lyrics that was hard to ignore. Cuts like “Electrollentando” and “Möbius Trip” were some of the most memorable compositions the band had conjured: floating, meditational heirs to the preceding album’s centerpiece, “The White Ship,” which had been the closest that Lovecraft had ever come to a charting single. Momentary detours here come in the form of the medieval folk pastiche “Blue Jack of Diamonds” – which, while not one of the group’s finest moments, manages to survive on a twist of charm and a benignly pleasant melody – and the brief-but-bizarre affected vocal collage of “Nothing’s Boy.”

After releasing H.P. Lovecraft II, the band would find itself disintegrating at the height of its powers due to band member disillusionment and differing ambitions. A false reincarnation of the band (under the abbreviated monicker Lovecraft) would release a mild slab of country rock a couple years down the line, but for a more authentic “lost third album” one should turn to the live Fillmore West recording released on compact disc in the mid nineties. Here the band’s talents shine brighter than ever as their instrumental prowess is unleashed from the restrictions of the studio. Really, though, any additions to Lovecraft’s limited catalog are welcome. If you don’t have of of this band’s recordings, do yourself a favor and remedy the situation: these are a few slabs of wax that no collection should be without.

mp3: It’s About Time
mp3: At the Mountains of Madness

:) Original | 1968 | Philips | search ebay ]
;) Download | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Almendra “II”

Yet another classic group out of Argentina’s inspirational seventies rock scene. Almendra is probably one of the country’s most legendary groups, if for no other reason than for laying roots for the career of Luis Alberto Spinetta, who has become the country’s most celebrated pop/rock songwriters. Almendra has more value than as some sort of origin story, however (hell, I’d go so far as to argue that this is the raddest music the man has ever made). The band’s two self-titled records are heavy, eclectic slabs of late-sixties psych grounded in smoky, Buenos Aires blues, with brief acoustic flourishes that hint at the mellower sounds to come from the quartet’s principal exponent. In fact, Almendra runs a pretty similar current to the work of fellow travelers Vox Dei.

Though the first of these two vinyl slabs is the most celebrated, its follow up is just as worthwhile. What sets this one off from the first, however, is the fact that this thing is a monster: a twenty-one track double record brimming with enough riffing and rumbling to last you halfway to the Mojave and back. Though those more familiar with European and North American hard rock might find these South American kids’ jams to be a little on the raw and unvarnished side, I find it’s that very characteristic that makes Almendra stand out from the pack. This could very well have been just another overloaded grab-bag of biker rock miscellanea, but Almendra has enough character and songwriting power to turn a now worn-out format into something earthy and reinvigorating.

That being said, the record’s finest moments do come with its occasional deviations from the norm. “Los Elefantes Saben Descansar” is a memorable slice of semi-acoustic psychedelia, brushed in warm bottleneck and wah-pedal guitar playing, while the short, late-period Beatles venture “Jingle” proves that the band could be as subtle and charming as the best of them. My particular favorite here, however, arrives when the band finally comes in and lays all these sounds down together on the fourteen-and-a-half minute opus “Agnus Dei,” which makes up the bulk of the first LP’s second side. Songs seem to bleed in and out, as a loopy acoustic groove slowly descends into a choogling electric improvisation. The bass work is a particular highlight here, especially during in the number’s rather chaotic final segment.

Almendra II may not be a perfect record – very few double albums like this are – but it manages to rise above its less successful moments (the silly interlude “Verde Llano,” the obnoxiously loud bongos on the otherwise excellent “Carmen,” and a couple of somewhat generic blues-rock cuts) and reward repeated listening. This one’s best listened to the way it was intended, either on wax or with a good break to refresh your senses in-between records (for those of you digging this one on compact disc or otherwise, this would fall right after track ten, which I may as well note is another highlight, despite failing to receive a mention in the preceding paragraph). Reissues of this one are remarkably easy to come by at budget prices for whatever reason, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and dig it.

mp3: Toma El Tren Hacia El Sur
mp3: Los Elefantes (Saben Descansar)

:) Original | 1970 | RCA Vik | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2008 | Sony | buy here ]

The Poor “Help The Poor”

Eagles may have earned themselves a reputation for taking late 1960s country rock and turning it into slick, corporate drivel, but that doesn’t change the fact that the band’s early members have some solid histories in underground rock and roll. Just check Bernie Leadon’s much-lauded work with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Dillard & Clark, and Hearts and Flowers (and that’s one horribly abbreviated list) for a glimpse. One of the least explored Eagles histories, however, is that of bass player Randy Meisner. Not only did Meisner work high-profile stints with Poco and the Stone Canyon Band, but he also served time in a number of far-lesser-known mid-sixties garage bands, such as The Poor, The Esquires, and The Soul Survivors, all of whose recordings have been assembled by Sound City Music on 2003′s rather forgotten Help the Poor.

If the Eagles references have you frightened, fear not: Help the Poor is solid psychedelic garage rock, about as far removed from Meisner’s later band’s output as you can get. From the chiming folk-rock of “Hung Up On Losing” to the crashing psychedelia of Tom Shipley’s “She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes,” this is a platter full of strong songwriting, sharp harmonies, and adventurous arrangements. These guys knew what they were doing, taking cues from west-coast combos like The Byrds and The Association and adding a hefty dose of sonic bite. If there’s any complaint to be made here it’s that this anthology is rather top-heavy: the first half-dozen cuts are absolutely phenomenal could-have-been-hit-singles, while the remainder (with the exception of the aforementioned “She’s Got the Changes,” which is actually one of my favorite pieces here) tend to be a little less memorable.

As is always the case with a comprehensive anthology spanning two or three different bands, you are bound to get some musical anomalies. The choogling surf-rock of “The Prophet” (the only cut we get from Meisner’s short-lived Esquires) is Help the Poor‘s case-in-point, featuring a booming introduction and awkwardly overdubbed applause which mar an otherwise righteous Morricone flavored instrumental. The album as a whole remains an exciting listen, however, and like all successful compilations leaves the attuned listener hungry for more. Too bad this fifteen-track collection looks to be all we get – another should-have-been from an era brimming with great sounds.

mp3: Come Back Baby
mp3: She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes

:D Collection | 2000 | Sound City Music | buy here ]

The Groundhogs “Split”

Here’s one I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. For a record with such a commanding presence, excellent would-be classic tunes, and an ahead of its time Nirvanesque sound it’s a shock I can find too scant mention of it around these parts or elsewhere. In reality, it’s my shame I haven’t run across the Groundhogs before now, as their legendary run through most of the 60s’ British blues scene and subsequent forays in hard jam-rock are not to be overlooked.

Not at all “blues” and too cool for the prog tag, Split is more like a psych-tinged  insanity-fueled classic rock opus. Side A, a continuing amalgam of anthemic classic rock jams, “Split Parts 1-4″ (the lyrics apparently inspired by a panic attack), is the kind of amped-up music it can be dangerous to drive to; “Part 1″ is so juiced it makes me want to join a frantic crime spree. “Part 2″ may be the catchiest song with it’s driving wah-guitar lead and chop chords. Tony McPhee is clearly running the show, his guitar playing so effortless, dynamic, reeking of virtuosity; this is as in the zone as it gets. Not to diminish the efforts of Peter Cruikshank on guitar and bass and Ken Pustelnik wildly beating away, this band can fucking play.

“Cherry Red” may be the sickest, meanest classic I’ve never heard. How this masterpiece has evaded classic rock radio, movie soundtracks, and my ears altogether I’ll never understand. (Instead of the endless barrage of Black Keys and Jack Whites on the airwaves, music supervisors would do well to score something like this, both for the better of their budgets and our sanities.) On the self-titled “Groundhog,” McPhee proves he can swat the devil blues out of his electrified acoustic as fine as Robert Johnson, providing the album’s only real taste of blues.

Grab this mean, mighty bastard as soon as you can find it.

mp3: Split (Part One)
mp3: Cherry Red

:) Original | 1971 | Liberty | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Caroline | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Sandy Denny and the Strawbs “All Our Own Work”

It is telling that during the course of Sandy Denny’s short but illustrious career, she managed to cut two full-length records which, despite remaining unreleased for many years, are nowadays heralded as essential pieces in the puzzle that is British folk-rock. One of these two “rediscovered” LPs was Fotheringay 2, which met a good deal of critical claim when it was put out on CD a few years back, while the other is this: All Our Own Work, the tragically-unreleased debut album that Denny cut with a young, unknown group known as The Strawbs back in 1967, but which failed to see the light of day until Denny had built a name for herself with Fairport Convention.

It is actually rather interesting to place late-sixties Strawbs alongside Fotheringay, as both bands share a number of commonalities outside of Denny’s extraordinary faerie voice. Each group borrows from both British and United States pop and folk-music traditions, and pair Denny’s voice against a strong, distinct male lead…actually, now that I read back over that, Fairport pretty much followed the same formulas, though they quickly shucked off the U.S. influences and contemporary rock and roll material for starker, traditional ballads and old English dance songs. On All Our Own Work, Denny and The Strawbs are still drawing out bits and pieces from mid-to-late sixties radio sounds, as the densely-orchestrated balladry of “You Need Me” and the bouncy, acoustic “Always On My Mind” reveal. There are also many touches of classic psychedelia here that never quite carried over into any of Denny’s other work, such as the droning sitar work on “Tell Me (What You See In Me).”

The songs here are almost uniformly excellent, making it even more of a shame that this album never saw the light of day back when it would have made the biggest impact. It’s hard to select just a few cuts to talk about, as each has its own unique, quirky charms. “How Everyone But Sam Was A Hypocrite” and “Poor Jimmy Wilson” could have easily come from the pen of Ray Davies, while the simple, swirling acoustics on “Two Weeks Last Summer” create an entrancing day-in-the-life head space that could very well have made this one a classic on the folk-psych genre. Perhaps the most historically notable song on here is Denny’s original full-band recording of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which would soon be put on vinyl first by Judy Collins and later by a Denny-fronted Fairport Convention. There’s a lot of ground covered here considering the constrained palette of sounds that the band conjures, touching on all the best British flavors of the era. On later records, Strawbs would expand their arsenal of instruments considerably, but to hear the band working primarily with acoustic guitars and touches of orchestration is something of a revelation. Sometimes you just have to clear away the clutter and Mellotrons and electric guitars and just let a record breath.

There have been a couple separate reissues of All Our Own Work, released under varying titles, but the most readily available these days is Witchwood Media’s CD issue, which includes not just the original LP but also a wealth of additional cuts from the same sessions. I imagine that this is one of the more obscure Denny releases out there, so if you’re a fan and have yet to hear this – one of her earliest recorded offerings – you are in for quite a treat.

mp3: Who Knows Where the Time Goes
mp3: Tell Me (What You See In Me)

:) Original | 1973 | Pickwick | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | Witchwood | buy here ]

Ithaca “A Game For All Who Know”

Though only one record was ever released under the name Ithaca, the band actually has a rather lengthy history which encompasses four different LPs. The band’s roots lay in the British folk duo Peter Howell and John Ferdinando, who put out two obscure albums in the late 1960s under their own names before pulling their act together into the band Agincourt. That band’s Fly Away, released in 1970, was a gently magnificent slice of cosmic folk-rock which highlighted the ethereal vocals of Lee Menelaus. A Game For All Who Know is technically the follow-up to that unfortunately unheralded release, marked by a change in name (which probably didn’t help the groups’ momentum, if they had any at all by this point), and a somewhat darker atmosphere.

The songs on A Game For All Who Know tend to bleed into each other in a rather seamless continuum, giving the record the feel of a concept album. All in all, it’s a relaxing trip. Though “The Journey” opens rather auspiciously with an explosion, the buzzing of insects, and what sounds like a soaring air raid siren, it soon dissolves down into a beautiful wash of gentle cymbal crescendos and finger-picked guitars. Droning vocals are kept relatively low in the mix, making the overall sound a little disorienting but also emphasizing the engaging instrumental textures which underlay the songs. According to the liner-notes on the Acme Lion reissue, the band decided during the recording of this album that their material had gotten too complicated and involved to perform live.

The sound of the record has more to do with chiming 1960s U.K. folk rock than it does with most of Ithaca’s progressive-leaning contemporaries. Jangling acoustic guitars provide the bedrock around which most of these songs are written, and instrumental flourishes tend toward flutes, Gilmour-esque slide guitar runs and organ trills that never escape their place as accents. Even the record’s eight-and-a-half minute centerpiece “Times” floats on a quietly-tumbling Bryter Layter atmosphere before picking up the pace into a bright, country-rock groove. The cosmic “Dreams” is perhaps one of the album’s most unsettling moments, in which traces of jazz piano melt and bleed into clouds of fuzz guitar before light ivory arpeggios bring the proceedings down into a rather sudden fade-out. Cut to the lengthy, record-closing reprise of “The Journey,” introduced by the sound of pages turning and a a burst of flamenco guitar before sampled NASA radio chatter announces that “Houston, we are underway” and Ithaca returns to the spaced-out balladry that by now has clearly been revealed to be their forte. It’s only in the introduction of weird, rudimentary synthesizer harmonies on this cut that the band starts to push into standard prog territory, though they redeem themselves a little later in the piece as it begins to slide out into a super mellow, freestyle improvisation.

The band would release one more record, this one under the name Friends and being more of a Peter Howell project than anything. Howell was also spending more and more time as a composer at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (where he would go on to compose the second Doctor Who theme, released as a single under his own name in the late seventies), and slowly the loose amalgam of musicians that had made up Agincourt, Ithaca and Friends ceased recording formally together. They left an impressive run of musical testaments, however, and A Game For All Who Know is worth checking out. Though it was only released in a limited run of ninety-nine LPs back in 1973, the aforementioned Acme Lion edition is readily available for anyone down to take “the journey.”

mp3: Questions
mp3: Peace of Mind

:D Reissue | 2008 | Lion | buy at amazon ]

Tandyn Almer “Along Comes Tandyn”

We recently lost another unsung genius from the cracks and crevices of 60s pop/psych. Tandyn Almer, who sadly passed in early 2013, would never become a household name, but you’ve definitely heard his work. Penning major tunes like “Along Comes Mary” for the Association, “Sail on Sailor” and “Marcella” for the Beach Boys, and countless other psych-tinged gems, Almer left behind a distinguished trail of well-crafted compositions. Luckily, and ironically (as I’m sure he would have enjoyed to see its official release), we have gained a new trove of lost work in Along Comes Tandyn, a collection of Almer’s demos from 1965-1966.

Originally written and recorded for Davon music, a small number of acetates labeled “The New Songs of Tandyn Almer” was circulated in order to shop his tunes to other recording artists. While some acts like The Sure Cure and Curt Boettcher’s The Ballroom took the bait, most of these tracks have remained unheard. The sound is definitely demo quality (all the better), the band generally led by a clangy electric guitar and sprinkled with bits of piano and harpsichord. The vocals soar with typical 60s harmony, the lyrics quite often along the same vein. You can tell Almer was a real musician’s musician, his tunes never compromise, always taking an unexpected turn and often for something quite complicated. Take a listen to the surprisingly hip “Everytime I Take You Back To Me” and just try to follow the changes; or check the classical piano work on “There’s Gotta Be a Way.” Even “Along Comes Mary” (not included here) ducks and weaves at every chance, delivering it’s punch where you’d least expect it.

Some of Almer’s other happenings of note include an interview in Leonard Bernstein’s Inside Pop – The Rock Revolution (a “serious” investigation into pop’s emergence as an art form), as well as a short-lived best friendship with Brian Wilson, allegedly ending in an enstranging three-way.  While not exactly loaded with clear winners (Face Down in the Mud” is a downright weirdo blues offering that would sound at home on FZ’s Only in it for the Money and some tracks sound a bit like psychedelic filler), Along Comes Tandyn is still an excellent comp of lost pop-psych with a satisfying garage sound. Essential for fans of complex pop, the full package includes excellent liners (with lots of information provided by Tandyn himself) and will turn anyone into a hardcore Tandyn fan. Count me a Fandyn.

mp3: You Turn Me Around
mp3: Everytime I Take You Back To Me

:) LP | 2013 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed | amazon ]
:D CD | 2013 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed | amazon ]

Amon Düül “Paradieswarts Düül”

This is quite an anomalous record. Issued under the name Amon Düül in 1970, Paradieswärts Düül has very little to do with any previous records released under that aggregate’s name. In fact, it is not hard to see how this record tanked commercially back when it was released. By the time this album hit shelves, the name Amon Düül meant pretty much one thing: low-fidelity recordings taken piecemeal from a legendary, hypnotically intense communal psych-out held by the German political commune of the same name in 1968. Albums like Psychedelic Underground and Collapsing had polarized much of the international music scene, with some hailing these records as extraordinary improvisational snapshots of the psychedelic extreme, and others dismissing them as meaningless, tuneless disasters; symbolic postcards of the worst counterculture excesses.

But then we have this record. Paradieswärts Düül has more in common with the records of Amon Düül II, the spaced-out (much more musically-inclined) offshoot of the original commune, which had been releasing a number of critically-acclaimed LPs away from their former communards-in-arms. The truth is, this version of “Amon Düül” shares little but a name with the anarchic ensemble that preceded it. Though its members were involved with the commune, they sought to pursue the actual idea of a band, with actual songs and melodies, and the result was a world apart from 1968. The focus here is on long, rambling acoustic/electric environments and earthly vocal harmonies, and for the first time Amon Düül can be said to be creating some truly beautiful music.

“Love Is Peace,” which occupies the entire first side of the record, is a number you will find yourself returning to again and again. Behind its cryptic lyrics and intimidating running time lay inspired vocal and guitar melodies. The first half of this one is truly entrancing, with that lazy rhythm and the carefully-woven tapestry of reverbed instruments. Repeated listenings reveal just how well-composed this piece is, and highlight the instrumental talents of the bands several members. Key in to the jazzy, minimalistic drum patterns or the burbling electric bass line, for example: everything runs together as naturally as a river, creating cyclical loops of sound that refuse to let you go. Around the halfway mark, everything but the guitar drops out and the listener is left with several minutes of warped, deconstructed electric guitar before a wall of acoustic guitars bring everyone back in for what in all honesty sounds like Can on a camping trip. Incomprehensible, Suzuki-styled vocal meanderings leap in and out of bongos and rudimentary piano plucking as the guitarists take turns soloing somewhere off-center in the mix. It’s nowhere as illuminating as the first half of the song, but remains engaging up until its rather sloppy end.

The second side of the record consists of two songs, which actually mirror Side A’s two sections: first up is the long instrumental electric guitar workout “Snow Your Thirst and Sun Your Open Mouth,” closely followed by another warbling acoustic guitar can’t-quite-sing-along called “Paramechanische Welt.” The former is a fantastic listen, and proves that these cats had their game together. The influence of Amon Düül II (more specifically Yeti, sides three and four) is obvious here, which makes the fact that two of that band’s members contribute not to this track but the following one a little ironic. “Welt” is by no means a bad cut, but it isn’t anywhere as memorable as the rest of the material here, lacking the impressive instrumental interplay or clear vocal lines that seasoned the preceding tracks.

Like most krautrock albums of the era, this one fetches a pretty high price in its original vinyl form, but if you’re lucky enough to spot a copy, pick it up! For the rest of us, there’s an excellent CD reissue on Repertoire records that, while also out-of-print, also includes both sides of an excellent 45 released by the band, which distills the sound of Paradieswärts into two, shorter numbers and, had they been included in the original album, would probably fall second only to the first half of “Love Is Peace” insofar as album highlights go.

mp3: Love Is Peace (Excerpt)
mp3: Eternal Flow

:) Original | 1970 | Ohr Records | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2006 | Repertoire | buy here ]

Focal Point “First Bite of the Apple”

They say it’s not what you know but who you know, but sometimes even rubbing shoulders with the absolute royalty of rock can’t guarantee you success. Focal Point was a short-lived pop-psych outfit from Liverpool, based around songwriters Paul Tennant and Dave Rhodes who in the summer of 1967 became the first two writers signed to the fledgling Apple label. Tennant claims that he and Rhodes ambushed Paul McCartney walking his dog in Hyde Park and managed to blag an introduction to Apple Music Publishing head honcho Terry Doran. Allegedly the ensuing band’s name, Focal Point, was suggested by Brian Epstein. Apple sponsored the band through the rest of ‘67, housing and equipping them and recording demos of their songs at Apple’s makeshift studio at 94 Baker Street with producer Lionel Morton (ex-Four Pennies).

Focal Point signed to Decca’s progressive music subsidiary Deram early in 1968. Four songs were re-recorded to professional quality and the first 45 came out soon afterwards, “Love You Forever” b/w “Sycamore Sid”. Inexplicably the selected A-side was a sappy, unoriginal love song notable only for its excellent Mellotron accompaniment, and unsurprisingly it tanked chartwise. After unsuccessfully trying to reawaken interest at Apple, the band returned to Liverpool and concentrated on live work, supporting top-flight acts touring the North. By mid-69 they’d gone back to their day jobs.

The B-side of the single however, had been a fine, aggressive slab of hard psych and it appeared on psych compilations from the 1980s onwards, whilst the other Deram tracks appeared on 94 Baker Street, a compilation of sounds by lesser-known acts signed to Apple. In the wake of the new interest in 60s psychedelia erstwhile band members Tennant, Dave Slater and Tim Wells laboriously tracked down the surviving Apple demos and some later stuff they’d recorded independently in Manchester after returning North. The results were assembled along with the Deram tracks as First Bite Of The Apple and finally released to the world in 2005, giving an impression of how a Focal Point album recorded at the tail end of psych in ’68 might have sounded.

The Deram tracks and the first Manchester recordings mostly present dreamy soundscapes and lyrics not far from the Toytown end of psych, realised through layered vocal harmonies and sumptuous keyboard washes and all quite presentable. “Miss Sinclair”, “Sycamore Sid” and “McKinley Morgan The Deep Sea Diver” are typical Swinging Sixties third-party pen-portraits, the first benefitting from a hard-edged guitar and a flat Syd Barrett-style vocal whlist the last is an enjoyable singalong that could have come from The Teenage Opera via “Yellow Submarine”. “Never Never” is a blissed-out flower-power song with great organ work and a powerful walking bass line. “Far Away From Forever” is another languid, introspective soft-psych outing with some pleasant surprises in the chord sequence. Sadly the band took a wrong turning with their later attempts to find commercial success. “Falling Out Of Friends” is a dismal schlock ballad with an ersatz Hollies feel, whilst “Goodbye Forever” was an attempt to write for the Eurovision Song Contest and exhibits all that genre’s boom-bang-a-bang awfulness. The Apple demos illustrate how greatly the songs changed in their final realisation; “Miss Sinclair” is played purely on acoustic guitars whilst “Never Never” plonks along on what sounds like a honkytonk piano.

Focal Point has always been keen to lay to rest the assumption that “Sycamore Sid” who lived in a tree house was actually Syd Barrett. In fact it refers to John Mayall, who in his early days as a musician did just that. For a lot more detail on Focal Point and a first-hand history from Paul Tennant visit their page in the excellent Marmalade Skies UK Psych site.

mp3: Sycamore Sid
mp3: McKinley Morgan the Deep Sea Dive

:D CD Compilation | 2005 | Kissing Spell | buy here ]