Grapefruit box sets tease further British 70s treasures

How many British sub-genres to rock and pop would you say came and went in the handful of years from the mid 60s to 1973? Baroque pop, heavy psych, psychedelia, psychedelic pop, underground, popsike, singer-songwriter, female vocal folk and folk-pop, just to name a few?

If you know and care about these distinctions, I would call you a certified nerd. And in that case, at least one specific 3CD clamshell box in the series of such boxes offered up by the Cherry Red sub-label Grapefruit certainly has your name on it.

Or you might be a different kind of nerd, who, just like me, simply want all of the stuff from that era because you think most of what was made there and then is most often great, but at least always interesting to hear. Like me, you then probably appreciate the talk of sub-genres as a story-telling device, but in your heart you really just want to hear all of it.

But in both of these cases, you have been served well by two decades of increasingly barrel-scraping reissues and you might already have it all. Could this be a bit of challenge even for pop archeologist David Wells who is heading up Grapefruit?

At least I am feeling the pinch as we now get a look at avant-pop and art rock on a three-CD collection titled Lullabies For Catatonics as well as an examination of progressive pop on a ditto collection called New Moon’s In The Sky. Both collections contain an incredible amount of great music, but to put it bluntly: I have all but a few tracks on these boxes already. And regardless of what kind of nerd you are, if you are in the market for this, I suspect you might have most of it too.

But here’s the thing. The few tracks I hadn’t heard before here are truly special – and they also tantalisingly point to hidden treasures yet to be unearthed.

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There are in fact only three tracks I previously didn’t have on Lullabies For Catatonics. But what they lack in numbers they certainly make up for in substance! First of all, there is As You Like It, a band that rose from the ashes of Tales Of Justine and here contribute the lovely and very tuneful ‘No More Sunshine Till May’.

This track really makes you want to hear more from them, and it turns out you might well do just that at some unspecified point in the future. More exactly, they recorded a full album 1972 at the R.G. Jones studio in Morden – from which the present track is taken. But then they recorded another full album at Chalk Farm. Incredibly, neither of the albums were ever released, due to commercially trickery and subsequent failure by their manager. Given that a track appears here, I assume that Grapefruit have obtained the rights and could release both albums rather than just tease us with a track like this! Wow!

And as if finding one full set of hen’s teeth wasn’t enough, a similarly unbelievable story unfolds with the folky yet progressive sounds on ‘The Machine Grinds On’ by Gnome Sweet Gnome. Yes, that band name might sound like a garden variety joke, but the music here certainly is for real, and imbued with exactly that playful whimsy I just can’t get enough of. Again, there is potentially lots more where that came from: We are offhandedly told that Gnome Sweet Gnome recorded “a couple of albums” that only made it to acetate stage, while the liners tease us with a sound amalgamating early 70s Genesis with Canterbury scene acts like Caravan. OK. So I would pay an arm and a leg to hear those albums, not just this one song!

In all honesty, the third previously unreleased track here, ‘Can I See You?’ by former Donovan backing-band Open Road is every bit as amazing, with its moody mellotron and soft string backing. And once again, the inclusion of the track here teases more treasures to come. Because although the first Open Road album, ‘Windy Daze’ from 1971 was indeed released and is a pretty decent album, nothing there is even half as good as this, which comes from their second, fully completed but never released second album. 

So again, wow!!

Please, please David Wells, release all these albums now that you obviously have access to them!! I am counting to at least five full albums that have not yet seen any release in any shape or form in the intervening (close to) half century. That is a sub-genre in its own right, worthy of its own box set! 

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Although the New Moon’s In The Sky box doubles the number of tracks I did not have before from three to six even though it just focuses on the year 1970, they struggle to live up fully to the by now extremely highly set expectations. But that’s not to say the sky is empty here, maybe it is more that the moon doesn’t shine as brightly as the stars on the previous box.

For starters, four of the tracks, from Bill Oddie (of the Goodies fame, no less!), Love Street, The Iron Maiden and Canticle, are from singles and as such might not point to further treasures. But, as often is the case, there’s more if you scratch the surface. And – no, it is not because the Iron Maiden here have any relation to the metal spectacle that came later. Instead, this bunch came from Essex and were actually called Bum; a name deemed too offensive and thus changed to Iron Maden for their sole single that went nowhere. A real bummer that, because it turns out they recorded a whole album that never got beyond acetate stage!

And then there is Love Street, whose cover for the Israeli release of their single here serves as cover picture for the whole box set. It turns out they as well made an unreleased 1970 LP that I would very much like to hear, although it seems to contain a fair share of cover versions.

There are only two properly hitherto unreleased tracks on New Moon’s In The Sky, and in fact both of the acts have appeared with other unreleased tracks on other Grapefruit compilation boxes , so it seems that David Wells is portioning them out across releases in order to always have something unique for the nerdiest collector. More specifically then, the Regime who appears here with ‘Mr and Mrs Franklin’ were also on Come Join My Orchestra with the lovely ‘Dear Amanda’; and Lifeblud who had ‘Waxing Of The Moon’ on Strangers In The Room now appear here with the beautiful, baroque pop sounding ‘Bridge’.

Are there even more pop nuggets from these two bands just sitting on the shelf in the Grapefruit offices, awaiting future box set releases?

How nerdy and how much of a completist are you? If you have read this far, I think you already know the answer, and will want these boxes regardless! 

But I urge you to also let Grapefruit know that you’d really want to see a box with all those unreleased albums only teased and hinted at in these two releases. In a recent interview I did on behalf of Swedish mag Mono (in Swedish only, see link below), David Wells explained the reason for his focus on box sets: “The problem is that single CDs now have the feel of a monthly music magazine giveaway. With a box as well, you have scope within to put in a massive booklet. So it is a more collector friendly format, and it gives me space to expand really on certain bands.”

Well, half a dozen hitherto unknown albums form the early 70 would certainly tick all those boxes! I promise that I will buy a copy regardless of the price of such a set and even splurge on a second copy just to support the cause!


POPARKEOLOG DAVID WELLS ÖPPNAR DÖRREN TILL EN NY VÄRLD

 

14 thoughts on “Grapefruit box sets tease further British 70s treasures”

  1. Hi Michael,
    Really great for you to mention the Regime again! No one would be more pleased than me to see an album by the Regime released but, realistically, who on earth would buy it? Even when the band was in its gigging prime (1967-68) we were not that well known even locally. We never came near to having anything released because we never approached a record company to even try! I find it hard to fault David’s decision commercially to include the tracks in compilations where we can ride on the fame of better known bands. In any case, Cherry Red is not holding the rest of the Regime material on its shelves: David has simply approached me when he wanted individual tracks and the two recordings are licensed on an individual basis. It is a non-exclusive licence and I retain ownership of the tracks. I am delighted that David saw enough merit in at least two of the recordings to want to release them on one of his brilliant compilations. Apart from my family, Lenny Helsing and a few long standing friends, no one in the world would have bought “ Come join my orchestra” for the Regime track. I thank (and praise) David for what he does and the vision he shows in bringing to light some unknowns who might never have been known to exist but for him. Nevertheless, if David wants more Regime, he knows he only has to ask!
    Love the blog, by the way.
    Best wishes,
    Graham

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    1. Hi Graham,
      Thank you so much for your comments. I really LOVE those Regime tracks, so hearing from you is indeed a pleasant surprise! I am truly honoured.
      I absolutely agree with you about David Wells, he does an incredible job in digging up high quality material from the late 60s and early 70s. I have all the Tenth Planet / Wooden Hill stuff he put out, and what he is doing with Grapefruit is also quite important.
      I do understand that putting out a full Regime album wouldn’t necessarily bother the hit charts, and David has a very good understanding of what is commercially viable so trusting him is probably a good thing. Personally, I would definitely buy a Regime album, and I think there are at least a few other collectors like me.
      However, David focuses on physical releases (for Grapefruit, he is doing CDs only it seems). There is always the option to do a digital release though. I buy a lot of new music on bandcamp.com, which you may have noticed if you have read other articles on my blog. A lot of that doesn’t sell enough to cover the costs for a physical release, and particularly so if a label is involved. But if you yourself were to release something on Bandcamp, most of the revenue would go back straight to you, so you might be able to finance a release that way.
      I am sure that Lenny would cover such a release in Shindig!, just as I would certainly cover it in my blog. I am certain that there are a few other people like me who would write about it as well, so it would get at least some attention.
      In other words, if you have enough original material to actually put out a whole album’s worth, how about doing a digital release on Bandcamp? It might well lead to David becoming interested in doing a CD release later on!

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      1. Thanks very much for this advice, Michael, it is much appreciated. I’ve decided to give Bandcamp a try and the Regime’s album “The End of Something (1970)” is now available. This features all of the tracks on the acetate we made in 1970 in their the correct running order and, of course, includes “Dear Amanda” and “Mr and Mrs Franklin” in their original context.

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  2. Hi Graham,
    That is great news indeed! I bought the album right away (of course!!) and will be listening over the next few days!
    Just out of curiosity, I see that Josie (Pt 2) comes before Josie (Pt 1), but that is the correct running order, then?

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    1. Hi Michael,
      Thanks very much for being my first sale and supporter! Yes that is the correct running order. I wrote Pt 1 first – hence the title – but when it came to the running order it didn’t work on the first side (tracks 1-7) but fit well on the second. I suppose I could have reversed the titles but Pt 1 is quite stark and reaches a point of resolution so something more ornate can follow. I did give a lot of thought as to how to order the songs before we started recording and “Dear Amanda” should have been the last track. But then I wrote “I’ll carry you with me to my grave” which really sums up the main theme of most of the songs and, since I could not edit the track order, it simply had to go on the end. In retrospect that is exactly the right place but at the time I wasn’t at all sure.

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      1. Hi again Graham,

        Thanks for the reply. Always good to hear the background story 🙂
        Listening to the album now. Very basic production, but I quite like it!!

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  3. Hi Michael,

    There is a very good reason for the basic production.

    The recording sessions took place in my parents’ living room and were made on a domestic “4 track” reel to reel tape recorder. This meant there were 2 parallel tracks going in each direction on the tape. So basically you could record on two tracks but not simultaneously. This was less inconvenient than it might have been since we only had 3 mics available. In almost every case, I recorded the guitars and lead vocal on one track and then put the drums on the second track (with some occasional harmonies from our lead guitarist Mick) and these two tracks could be played back simultaneously to create the final version. It was not possible to alter the relative volume of the tracks, ie they would play back at the volume recorded only. So, when the drums turned out too quiet on “Mr & Mrs Franklin”, there was nothing I could do about it at the time. I didn’t fix this until last year when the newer version of Audacity allowed me to work on the track volumes separately and more recently I was able to transfer the separate channels onto my Tascam and get a proper mix. Because of our way of working, the four of us were never together at any one time. Bob (bass guitar) only attended the initial track sessions where Dave(drums) was not present.

    By the way, it’s fine not to like it!

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  4. Thanks for the compliment, Michael.

    I thought I would set out my appraisal of the album. The central theme of much of the material is the break up of a long standing relationship. This is approached in a variety of ways:
    – Through story (“The end of something”)
    – Through Dorian mode folk (“A thousand changes”)
    – Through country style rock (“It’s better if we say goodbye”)
    – Through poetic style (“I’ll wait”)
    – Directly (“I must know if you love me”, “Then you’re alone”, “The vision/(after parting)”, “Josie Pt 1” , “I’ll carry you with me to my grave”)

    In terms of the sound, the album shows the very primitive equipment of a home demo. The performances reflect that there was no pre-recording rehearsal and the band had not played together for more than six months. Bob (bass guitar) had not heard any of the material in advance of the recording and Dave (drums) was only familiar with a handful of the songs.

    I had always intended that the sound should be very stark and there would have been no harmonies if Mick (lead guitar) had not been left to listen to the initial tracks for a couple of hours while Dave and I went off to try to borrow some cymbals (as his had been stolen after a gig with his college band). Since Mick had been waiting so long I felt I had to let him use the harmony parts he had worked out.

    Musically the sounds are very straight forward although, for guitarists, “Then you’re alone” has some interest with a key change for every line (Bb to B to C# run down back to Bb). “Dear Amanda” is unusual in it’s A-A-B- C- A verse structure with a key change from Em to A and then to D in the bridge sections before returning to Em for the final verse. The only song with a conventional verse-chorus structure is “Mr and Mrs Franklin”.

    “Dear Amanda” was written by stream of consciousness, words and music together straight off and it has the only use of 6th chords on the album, except in the instrumental introduction to “The end of something” which was specifically written to mirror the end of “Dear Amanda”. I would usually play G6 with the E note on either the first or second string but this time used the 6th string to give a low E which somehow gives the chord a more indefinite sound.

    Overall the album comes over as somewhat under-powered and the songs are of variable quality. At their best they do have an emotional honesty but usually need to be listened to a number of times before this fully comes through. It is not some overlooked gem but it has its moments. It is very much late 1960s rather than pointing forward to the 1970s – no doubt reflecting that most of it was written in 1969 and the rest right at the beginning of 1970!

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    1. Hi again Graham,
      It is wonderful to read about how you made the album. Thanks for sharing that! I totally agree with you that the album has its moments; I have listened to it several times already and will continue to play it. As you say it is more 60s leaning rather than pointing towards what would happen in the 1970s, but it has a lot of youthful charm that makes the emotional honesty you mention feel genuine. Very happy to have it and grateful that you put it up on Bandcamp!!

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  5. Thank you for your recommendation to use Bandcamp, Michael – what a great place to discover new (and old!) music. I decided to put some of my recent material there as well as the Regime, although it’s not really an album thematically.

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      1. Well, Michael, that makes you my first sale! The two songs in this collection which are most important to me are “Become my disease” (which expresses exactly how I was feeling at the time) and “A song for Lenny” (which I wrote to express appreciation for all the support and encouragement Lenny Helsing gave me via his YouTube comments and emails). The most recent song is “OCR” which I recorded a few weeks ago.

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