The cosmopolitan seaside resort of Brighton, Sussex – my own birthplace, as it happens – has been a Mecca for the more unbuttoned forms of the performing arts ever since the louche patronage of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Strangely, especially given its nearness to “Swinging” London, it produced only a sparse crop of memorable artists and groups in the halcyon years of pop and rock music. During their brief sojourn as a recording act, the Mike Stuart Span were the only such from Brighton – and that at the height of the sixties beat/psych era when groups were being signed nationwide in hundreds.
Like many of their contemporaries, they launched as a beat group, became a mod-soul outfit, then floated off into psychedelia before gravitating towards progressive rock. Starting around 1963 as the Mighty Atoms, they underwent numerous personnel changes and name-changes, first to the Extremes and then to the Mike Stuart Span – after their vocalist, Stuart Michael Hobday – before landing a contract with EMI Columbia in 1966 under which they released a couple of Stax-ish singles. These both bombed and EMI let the band go. Dumping their keyboards and horn section, the remaining four-piece – Hobday, guitarist Brian Bennett, bassist Roger McCabe and drummer Gary Murphy – recorded an acid-tinged cover of “Rescue Me” and a couple of similarly lysergic originals for Decca, who branded these insufficiently commercial and declined to release them at all. Taking what appeared to be the only remaining path, the band cut, at their own expense, two unashamedly psychedelic originals “Children Of Tomorrow” and “Concerto Of Thoughts” and issued these in 1967 in a run of 500 singles on a small independent label, Jewel. The record received sufficient exposure and critical acclaim to gain them local support slots to Cream and Hendrix, a couple of John Peel sessions, a BBC TV documentary (on struggling rock bands!), a misguided pure-pop single on Fontana and, eventually, an offer to sign to the UK branch of Elektra, under condition that they change their name; this they did yet again, to Leviathan. Two fine guitar-led prog-rock singles on the new label came and went unnoticed in 1969, and sessions for an LP were completed but Elektra head honcho Jak Holzman was dissatisfied with the product. With the prospect of the album’s release fading, the band called it a day and split late in ’69, all but Bennett leaving the music industry. “Children Of Tomorrow” resurfaced as an uber-rarity during the 1980s psych revival. Interest slowly grew and a compilation (officially-sanctioned) of most of the band’s psych/prog-era studio work finally appeared in 1996.
This new collection, Children Of Tomorrow, represents the entire studio output of the band in all its incarnations on all labels apart from about half of the aborted Elektra album, and gives a fascinating insight into a band exploring every avenue to try to make the big-time, with talent to spare but luck totally lacking. The whole story is laid out in the splendid accompanying booklet. Of the music, the early soul-based tracks are solid and energetic if unoriginal, while the Decca efforts are worthy generic acid-pop. From here things improve markedly; both sides of the Jewel single are splendidly druggy stuff, fully deserving of their high rating. But best of all IMHO are the demos the band cut before the Elektra signing and the sides subsequently released as Leviathan singles; the tight arrangements, imperious vocals and wallpaper-stripping guitar work of “World In My Head”, “Second Production”, “Flames”, “Blue Day” and “Remember The Times” suggest that the cancelled album would have been a fine prog-guitar artefact. Allegedly the master tapes still languish in Elektra’s vaults, and Warner has hinted in the past about finally releasing the album in original form. If it ever appears, it will almost certainly have been worth the wait.
“Children of Tomorrow”
Compilation | 2011 | Grapefruit | buy here ]