Nirvana and the ‘Black Flower’ confusion


Despite being the first act signed to Island Records and the first act to ever do a rock opera album, the original Nirvana has always been a rather obscure band. And that is a shame as what the Nirvana duo comprising Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos accomplished was every bit as exciting as what that other band from Seattle did in a different genre later on.

‘Black Flower’ would probably also qualify as the original Nirvana’s most obscure album. Recorded over just three short days in between March and June 1969, it was originally intended as their third album on Island. Instead only a small number of copies appeared in 1969 on more or less instantly folding American label Metromedia, after the Island contract had been abruptly cancelled. A small number of copies were also released in Italy and Brazil, and in 1970 on Pye in the UK.

But the confusion doesn’t end there. It appears that one of Alex’s cousins gave Nirvana money to remix the tapes on the condition that they dedicated the album to his son Markos who had a terminal disease. Although the original Metromedia release appears to have no visible title at all, the dedication to Markos III appears on the back sleeve just above the band name. However, on the Pye release, the record labels have ‘Dedicated to Markos III’  printed on them. Hence the album has been called variously ‘Dedicated to Markos III’ or simply ‘Markos III’ across various reissues over the years, although the initial reissue on Edsel in 1993 actually had the title down as ‘Black Flower’.

All this confusion hides the fact that the music on this album is quite grand and rather unique. More continental (Francophile, even) than its 1969 peers in the UK, it has a cinematic sheen and combines sweeping orchestral arrangements with some quite dramatic and well-written pop songs. It also benefits from being less naive than Nirvana’s earlier material.

Now that Esoteric Records are releasing the definite version of the album, remastered from the original tapes, I am immediately swept away by the album’s big and cool late 60s sound and the swooning melodicism on display. Although some of the more heavily orchestrated passages become a bit muddled, probably due to too many mix-downs on the master, the overall quality of this remaster is astonishingly crisp and engaging.

But at the same time, this release opens up a new layer of confusion about the album. Although it has been remastered from what is referred to as the “original tapes”, what we get is most likely the remixed version released on Metromedia. Because although Patrick Campbell-Lyons is quoted in the liner notes as saying the split with Island Records boss Chris Blackwell was amicable and that he respects the way Chris dumped them, the searing lyrics on ‘Christopher Lucifer’ must certainly be about the record company boss:

“His name was Christopher

Like in the bible, believe it or not

They call him Lucifer because he gambled

You’ll never never never never understand oh oh oh

Such a sad sad state of affairs

When you have to fake it

But you’ve always got to make the first step

If you want to break it”

I would not hold it likely that this track was on the original Island Records tape. So where was it recorded and what was on the Island Records master tape? An earlier version with different lyrics? Or maybe a completely different song, such as ‘Taxi’ (included here for the first time from an acetate)?

The confusion surrounding the ‘Black Flower’ album might never be fully cleared. But if you listen to it now, you will find that the lingering mystery adds to the charm rather than detracts from it. I most definitely recommend you to check it out.


And if you get bitten by the Nirvana bug, you might want to know that Patrick Campbell-Lyons put out a rather intriguing solo album last year, titled ‘You’re A Cloud, I’m A Comet’. Housed in an incredibly cheap-looking sleeve featuring a host of baguettes flying over a nature picture, it was more or less doomed to obscurity on release. Although I bought it then, it has taken me some time to get to the point that I think it is something of a nugget. Patrick’s song writing skills are in good form and the arrangements are really nice, albeit not as over the top as back in the day. His voice is considerably more rickety than it was half a century ago, but the fragility of it somehow lends more portent to the lyrical content.

He also reunites with Alex Spyropoulos who plays the heavily featured piano on ‘I Found A House’. A beautiful track.

Free Dracula soundtrack


I had no idea that tomorrow is World Dracula Day, in celebration of the date of the first publication of Bram Stoker’s book. 

To be honest, the only vampires that give me the creeps are the current onslaught of ticks, the horrid and parasitic arachnids. But the bats that circle around in the air over our front yard at night, I think are beautiful, if anything.

Nevertheless, Karda Estra have decided to celebrate this event by making the ‘Voivode Dracula’ album available for free on Bandcamp for a few days. And if you don’t already own it, then you simply must download it. Don’t continue reading this text, just hit the link and go.

But if your eyes are still lingering here, then I would say that this is modern classical music for the hauntology or goth fan. Like most of Karda Estra’s music, it is meticulously composed and very ambitious. On the one hand dramatic and emotionally intense, on the other, soaring and almost glacial.

It is very easy to conjure up black and white horror movies images while listening, yet simultaneously this music is quite modern.

The perfect soundtrack when reading any horror novel, not only Dracula. And it goes quite well with deep space SF too, actually.

Now, hit the link and download the album, really!

Music with a halo effect

Happy Endings

‘Happy Endings’ is literally an album that aims to take an optimistic look at death. And there’s certainly a lot worth dying for here (morbid pun intended). 

The atmosphere that Crayola Lectern (formerly known as Chris Anderson) creates is quite singular; the sound is layered and dense in a way that sometimes fuses individual instruments, creating a halo effect that obfuscates distinctions between what is electric or acoustic and what is digital or analogue. The effect is striking and the closest I can come in comparison is ‘Mr & Mrs Smith and Mr Drake’ made by the titular persons as a side project from the Cardiacs. Or maybe ‘Rock Bottom’ by Robert Wyatt.

Musically as well, although ‘Happy Endings’ does not always sound like those two references, they are the most relevant I can think of. Slightly wobbly keyboards play a central role. Vocals are fragile yet simultaneously treated almost like instruments. There is a feeling of ebb and flow, and the mood is melancholic without any trace of aggression.

The songs are not in a hurry to open up for the listener, but gradually seep under your skin; although there are some great melodies, the focus is rather on a state of listening.

The Cardiacs connection also extends to the musicians, as Jon Poole (keyboards), Bob Leith (drums) and Bic Hayes (guitar) are all on the record. They also played on Crayola Lectern’s 2013 debut album ‘The fall and rise of…’ which was one of my favourite albums that year. Importantly, it is also the only album from that year that still lives on my iPhone.

And ‘Happy Endings’ is very much cut from the same cloth: Although there are five years between the albums, I could almost imagine them having been recorded simultaneously. While that might not be the case, the album was at least recorded quite some time ago. I first heard a pre-release version of it back in 2016 and as far as I can tell, it is the same mix that is now being released. Not that it matters, as this is an album that isn’t connected to, or bothered with, current musical trends. Instead, ‘Happy Endings’ quite matter-of-factly creates its own time and space, and dares the listener to enter.

Not catering to trends poses its own issues, and maybe finding a sympathetic label is one of them. Luckily, Onomatopoeia Records (with William D Drake among others on their roster) have now stepped up to the challenge. Let us hope we do not have to wait another five years for the next album!

File under: Essential

Jack Ellister is genuinely psychedelic

Telegraph Hill

Jack Ellister – or Jacek Janiszewski – is normally associated with the Fruits de Mer label for which he has made a couple of albums and singles. Fruits de Mer is a label mainly focused on releasing cover versions of psychedelic music from the original era made by contemporary artists. Ellister’s debut album was however all originals – although very much in classic psychedelic style. Rough sounding, energetic and inspired, it is a great album. Since then though, his output has been all covers.

Much of the stuff Fruits de Mer puts out is quite a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really lend itself to repeated listening. If I am going to listen to that stuff, I simply rather go to the originals.

For that reason, I haven’t been listening all that much to Jack Ellister the last two years. Until now, that is, because all of a sudden he is back with a CDr of originals, called ‘Telegraph Hill.’ 

Although the focus is on a solitary voice with acoustic guitar, there are also drums, bongos, cymbals and weird electronic sounds.

The tone here is much more subdued and forsaken than the early Pink Floyd feel of the debut album, but it still has very much of that rough-edged charm and individuality.

The whole thing is very short, 9 tracks clocking in at just 21 minutes, and the overall impression is that these are demos, sketches that might eventually be turned into something more substantial. But maybe they won’t be and that is fine, as what is here is rather magical as it is. ‘Telegraph Hill’ honestly feels more genuinely psychedelic than 99% of the stuff others put out under that flag at the moment.

As far as I know, Jack has only made a hundred copies. My copy is number 52 and I just got it a couple of days ago, so chances are that a few still are left. 

I would sincerely recommend you to get in touch with him and get a copy before it is too late. You can find Jack here for example:

Kassin – still wild and wide-eyed


What I love about so many Brazilian MPB veterans is that they still care about being progressively artistic, where European and American veterans usually just retire with a folky acoustic guitar. Take Marcos Valle’s brilliant comeback in recent years, for example.

Alexandre Kassin is of a younger generation, he’s 44, but he will make these albums for another 30 years, just like Veloso, Gilberto, Jobim. His recently released new album ‘Relax’ tells exactly this story: natural, epic and thrilling MPB, still wild and wide-eyed, still playful with the inherited sophistication, still reaching for the sky when it comes to chords, melodies and careful, nerdy arrangements.

Videotapemusic expands his Tokyo exotica


Tokyo’s Videotapemusic has a new shimmering summer album out, ‘Souvenir’ – sort of like a super-soft and cozily semi-sampled yet edgy update of Haruomi Hosono’s wonderful exotica between 1973 and 1985. I think this guy started out pretty much alone but has expanded his recording circle of friends – this time it is almost like a session from Hosono’s heyday with a group of really great musicians. There are even steel pans and a steel guitar, horns and Carribean percussion, embedded in the electronics.

The strange Sam Buck–Jackie Leven connection


Sam Buck might have been pidgeon-holed as bro-country, but please forget that. Or, well, there are certainly more than traces left on his new 6 song E.P. “Bordeline”, but that only makes it weirder and better – because this certainly is some strange beast of a gay record. Yes, I forgot to mention that part – the actual pidgeon-hole genre is ‘gay bro-country’.

Which of course makes it conceptually better.

But what makes ‘Borderline’ so good – for me – is that as soon as I here that voice, and that phrasing, and those raw lyrics and big, long, howling melodies, I think of… Jackie Leven and Doll By Doll.

There’s no chance in hell Sam Buck ever listened to Doll By Doll. He usually name-drops Miranda Lambert and Thomas Rhett as influences (and throws in the odd Anohni reference). But then he drags in these occasional, messy electronics in the production, some ugly 80’s synth jabbing (it actually reminds me of Tony Visconti’s strange decision to bring in Jesse Harms’ AOR synths on John Hiatt’s ‘All of a Sudden’ in -82), and it all comes out so urgingly honest and beautiful, so relevant, on a messed up existential level… just like Jackie Leven used to do.

(His Bandcamp starts auto-playing track 4, but I suggest you take it from the top, for the maximum Jackie Leven experience.)

Papernut Cambridge: Glam with an outstairs twist


I remember watching the TV series ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ with my parents as a kid back in the 70s. In the parallel nostalgiverse that Papernut Cambridge inhabits, we now get ‘Outstairs Instairs’ instead.

Inevitably, I am transported into a pre-teen room around the year 1974. There are posters of pop stars taken from glossy colour magazines on the walls; Marc Bolan, Elton John, David Essex, Abba, Alvin Stardust… Two of the room’s walls are painted orange, the other two brown. Opposite the bed, there is a desk with a plastic turntable, one of those portable things with the speaker in the lid. It is playing ‘Co-Co,’ an earlier single by the Sweet. A pair of wide-flared jeans hang over the back of a chair, and by the closed door there’s a pair of purple platform shoes.

Is it my room? Maybe, but these images are only half-remembered, and Ian Button’s Papernut Cambridge are not about pastiche. 

Although seemingly radio-friendly, most of ‘Outstairs Instairs’ might never bother the airwaves; the lyrics are too explicit, although not in a way that would get them banned. 

Instead, for example, the refrain on ‘Not Even Steven’ goes: “I remember something Steven said, sometimes the butter is too hard for the bread.” Not really hit material. These songs are too abstruse, and too full of complications. To put it in 70s terms: too much of 10CC’s ‘I’m not in love’ and too little of Ricky Wilde’s ‘I am an astronaut’.

In a sense, this is easy listening made hard.

But just to prove the rule, there are some standout exceptions. Toy-town pop opener ‘Buckminster Fullerene’ could easily have been on Top of the Pops. A band like Paper Lace would have killed for its instantly memorable bubblegum refrain and singing-drummer friendly beat.

The catchy wordplay of ‘Mr Shimshiner’ might not have the same instant hit potential, but is another lovely ditty that should have been on an A-side sometime in the early 70s.

But this is now and not then, and Papernut Cambridge continue to sound like nothing else around. The arrangements are generous and beautifully played, with nice details to discover, from piano embellishments to crying saxes. Although often being labelled ‘psych’ there is honestly nothing psychedelic here. Sometimes, their music is even called ‘power pop’, but there is thankfully no need for extra power to make these songs take flight.

Instead, what we get is soft and slightly introverted glam pop. Classy stuff that you absolutely must hear.

And this time, you just might want to get the analogue version. The LP has an outstairs and an instairs side in the sense that one side plays from the inside and then out whereas the other side plays normally. Nice! 

Sprawling pop adventure from Hull


Despite – or maybe because of – the Gold Needles’ connection to Fruits De Mer Records, I put on their debut album ‘Pearls’ expecting a run-of-the-mill Teenage Fanclub soundalike, all commendable but nothing to write home about. And sure enough, it starts off all twelve-stringily jingle-jangly in Beatles/Byrds territorium.

But then a couple of tracks in, there’s ‘Dreamscape Time’ which begins with analogue synths in an extended, spacey intro, followed by another unexpectedly Pink Floyd sounding guitar intro. The song itself extends the feeling of drama from the dual intros, and I am starting to think this is pretty good.

OK, so all the expected ingredients are here, including snippets from Alice In Wonderland and Nixon talking to the Apollo 11 astronauts. But the Gold Needles manage to scramble the bits and pieces around enough to make it all sound rather fresh and exciting.

A few listens later, I am hooked. The anthemic power pop numbers are interspersed with guitar instrumentals, mostly acoustic West Coast stuff despite bandleader Simon Dowson and his Needles being from Hull. But suddenly there’s one that reminds me of the Spotnicks. 

On one track there’s also a drum machine, and on others the electronics are satisfyingly angular. Yet the overall feel remains very much Badfinger.

The production is slightly grainy in a rather nice way. Not particularly analogue sounding, yet certainly not digitally clean. Rather, it seems to suffer from too many overdubs, something like what a band like the Honeybus had to do given their limited circumstances back in the day. 

Although the instruments are well-played, the sound is muddy in the midrange and a bit hissy in the top. In that sense the sound, if not directly the music, is a bit like that of contemporary American group the Once & Future Band; ambitiously arranged but with some rough edges.

Although balancing on a knife’s edge, the Gold Needles avoid being just derivative. Despite – or maybe because of – the album’s sprawling 18 tracks, ‘Pearls’ is quite an engaging listen. Great stuff, really!