Starry Eyed And Laughing “Starry Eyed And Laughing”

The elder statesman of rock historians, Fred Dellar, wrote of the hugely-underrated Starry
Eyed And Laughing that “they were either 15 years ahead of their time or 10 years too
late”, by which he meant that with better timing they could have been as big as the Byrds or
REM. Certainly, SEAL arrived somewhat late for the first and most popular phase of their
chosen genre, country-rock. The two involuntary albatrosses they carried round their necks
didn’t help much, either: being cast by the UK rock media as an ersatz Byrds by dint of their
prominent Rickenbacker twelve-string jangle and close harmony vocals, and being saddled
with the uncultured, back-to-basics Pub Rock image by virtue of working the same London
venues as the R’n’B and Chuck Berry-fuelled likes of Dr Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe.
Neither association was deserved.

SEAL was initally old school friends Ross McGeeney and Tony Poole from Bedford, who
worked the capital’s folk clubs, pubs and subway stations as a guitar/vocal duo in the
early 70s, taking their name from a line in Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” and covering the
Zim himself, Jackson Browne, Michael Nesmith and other quality singer-songwriters. Late
in ’73 they aspired to a stable four-piece line-up with Brighton bassist Iain Whitmore and
appropriately-named drummer Mike Wackford, and began working up a set of country-rock
originals based around the songwriting of the three frontmen, Poole’s chiming Rickenbacker
330-12, McGeeney’s bend-laden Telecaster and fluid vocal harmonies. These graced
the eponymous debut album which appeared on CBS in October ’74 to considerable
critical approval. While the Byrds influence could be detected, so could those of various
other heroes of the genre – CSN&Y, Poco, even Moby Grape – and there were yet plenty
of original touches. The songwriting may not have been as smoothly adroit as the more
sublime compositions of McGuinn or Browne, but still showed an adventurous respect for
their West Coast antecedents. Poole’s dexterity on the Rick Twelve was (whisper it low . . .)
way ahead of Roger McGuinn’s, and his duels with McGeeney’s fiery Fender made the
uptempo cuts sizzle.

The debut’s twelve tracks comprised a classy, energetic, varied set. “Lady Came From
The South” recalls Notorious-era Byrds with flanged 12-string, powerhouse percussion
and psychedelic overtones, while the joyous boogie “Oh What?” rocks along on guitar
and piano in best Southern Rawk style. All four musicians generate an absolute tour-de-
force on “Going Down”, on which Poole’s licks in particular are incandescent. But despite
support from heavy UK touring the album failed to sell in large numbers at home, and didn’t
get a release in America at all. CBS nonetheless optioned a follow-up which appeared
eleven months later as Thought Talk and which, following the prevailing trend, offered more
keyboards, less twelve-string twang and more mature, complex compositions; different, but
certainly as accomplished and rewarding as the debut. SEAL then embarked on a brief but
well-received US tour, during which McGeeney visited Gene Parsons to have his Tele fitted
with a String Bender.

The history becomes sketchy thereafter; at a tour post-mortem meeting McGeeney was
summarily fired or resigned (depending on whose account you read) for reasons never made
public, and the depleted band fell apart shortly afterwards when their management went
bust. Unlike many of their contemporaries, there has been no reformation, though Poole
remains active in the genre as producer and record label owner and struts his Rickenbacker
along with Whitmore in the rather excellent Falcons. The best way to experience SEAL’s
oeuvre thirty-five years on is via the fine 2CD package That Was Now And This Is Then,
containing all of both albums, interesting bonus cuts (including their version of “Chimes Of
Freedom”) and snatches of concerts and radio broadcasts, available only from their official

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“Lady Came from the South”

:D 2CD Reissue | 2003 | Aurora | buy direct from starryeyed ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1974 | CBS | search ebay ]

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  • Len Liechti

    Having now obtained the Falcons’ 2003 album Fallen, I can confirm that it’s an enjoyable outing, alternating galloping Rick-driven country-rock tunes (“The Devil Made Me Do It”) with some very traditional Nashville shuffle songwriting by Tony Poole and Iain Whitmore (“Be Careful Where You Fall When You Fall In Love”, etc.). It’s described as an “audio movie” and lays out the life and love history of Everett Maine, a well-meaning border town ne’er-do-well: “Did the Lord know I was born to lose?”. The whole thing works quite well as a loose concept, and Poole’s guitar work is as incendiary as ever in places. The work gets a thumbs up from Roger McGuinn, no less, on the Starry Eyed website, whence you can order this album. One for hoary old country-rockers (like me).

  • Anonymous

    Great, thanks! had never heard of these guys before

  • Len Liechti

    You’re welcome. That’s what the Storm is all about . . .

  • rad. You dudes are amazing.

  • Liberty

    Very nice! Thanks for turning me on (again) to some great obscure music!

  • Stephen Reid

    A fine review. I remember SE&L in their ’74 heyday – a fine live band, giving a wholehearted performance even for a student audience numbering in the tens (“We usually come on stage with smoke-bombs and dry ice – but we gave it a miss tonight!”), but Len, you surely can’t prefer Tony Poole on the 12-string to McGuinn!.

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