How do you describe that rare sense of wonder that makes you sit up straight as a candle and listen? At least, that is how I felt when putting on “Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73”.
A new compilation curated by David Wells is always cause for celebration, but although this one covers 1967-73 there is, thankfully, no mention of psychedelia. Instead, this is about a pop genre that may or may not have been accidentally invented by McCartney when he had the idea to use a string quartet for ‘Yesterday’. Legend has it that British baroque pop was born in that moment. But even though it was there right in front of everyone, the world didn’t notice.
And that is easy to understand. There is little if any testosterone. Voices have an unshakable air of naivety. The pace is slow and the atmosphere is generally very intimate. Bedroom pop played by made-up chamber orchestras.
And I love it.
In fact, some of what is on here belongs to the standard by which I find myself measuring music: Mike Batt, Honeybus, Fickle Pickle, 10cc (represented here as Festival, one of their many Strawberry Studios incarnations, but nevertheless), Tony Hazzard, Stackridge, to name some of them.
British baroque pop isn’t exactly exhaustively compiled. The only other officially licensed compilation, ‘Tea & Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1967-1974’ was recently spotted for €150 on Discogs but isn’t available at any price anywhere as I write this.
You can still buy the ‘Ripples’ compilation series but then you have to apply your own quality control as it collects soft pop in general. You would then be better served by the unofficial, yet trail-blazing Fading Yellow compilation series, now up to 16 volumes.
But now this release gives you a choice, which is really David Wells meets Fading Yellow, without necessarily crossing paths. Partly this is due to the fact that we to an extent have David Wells compiling David Wells compilations here. So from his previous labels Tenth Planet and Wooden Hill, we find artists such as John Pantry, Howell and Ferdinando, Angel Pavement, Forever Amber and Five Steps Beyond that at least I would never have heard otherwise.
As an example, when ‘The Upside Down World Of John Pantry’ was first released on Tenth Planet back in 1999 it forever changed my world of pop music. There was something pensively dramatic yet well-arranged and catchy to Pantry’s music that struck a deep chord in me.
And then there are artists like Bill Fay, Clifford T. Ward, The Alan Bown!, West Coast Consortium, Billy Nicholls and The Freedom who were slightly more known – but where David Wells added a whole new dimension by compiling their back stories. If you don’t have their David Wells compilations, you are missing essential pieces of the very fabric of pop music.
And it is all here represented here. Incredible stuff. But even though I have collected all of the above, there were still a full 19 tracks that I had no clue about. I can only listen in awe and be grateful to David Wells for again leading me down new paths of discovery. As a result, I have in fact already bought three LPs and a couple of singles on Discogs.
Finally, a minor complaint. I am afraid that a lot these tracks actually come from vinyl records and not from master tapes, yet this crucial information is nowhere to be found. For example, the Mike Batt track “I See Wonderful Things In You” seems to be very close in sound quality to the single I already own, so I assume it is unfortunately not from a master tape. But if the master tapes really exist, I would so much want a compilation of Batt’s late 60s singles. Could there be outtakes?? I would so love to hear them in that case!
Speaking of Mike Batt, his protégée (or alter ego??) Vaughan Thomas put out a long string of singles and a great self-titled LP all in the time frame for this compilation. It is all baroque pop to the gills, and not including a single track or even a mention of Vaughan Thomas here is the one decision Davide Wells made that I don’t understand.
Please David, if anyone can also give us the definitive late 60s Mike Batt and early 70s Vaughan Thomas story, it is you!!