Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Voyage Du Homage

Greetings & Hail Voyagers!
As promised to Joe Ross, of the Green Pajamas, back on June 5th, we’re prepared to answer his (fantastic) “Turn The Table” question, to wit:

10. Turn the tables, if you'd like, and ask me a question.

Joe: Hmmm. Do you consider parodies of psych pop to be legit? Such as, Spinal Tap's "Listen To The Flower People" or the above mentioned Dukes Of Stratosphere? Even "Satanic Majesty's Request" was kind of tongue in cheek in its day but it’s still one of my faves.

OK, Joe! Here we go, sailing on a “Voyage Du Homage”…

Before we begin I think it sufficiently important to stabilize our footing as regards our subject by grounding all concerned with a few definitions:

1. Caricature - 1 : exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics 2 : a representation especially in literature or art that has the qualities of caricature 3 : a distortion so gross as to seem like caricature
(synonyms caricature, burlesque, parody, travesty mean a comic or grotesque imitation. caricature implies ludicrous exaggeration of the characteristic features of a subject (caricatures of politicians in cartoons). burlesque implies mockery especially through giving a serious or lofty subject a frivolous treatment (a nightclub burlesque of a trial in court). parody applies especially to treatment of a trivial or ludicrous subject in the exactly imitated style of a well-known author or work (a witty parody of a popular novel). travesty implies that the subject remains unchanged but that the style is extravagant or absurd (this production is a travesty of the opera). )

2. Homage 2 a: expression of high regard : respect —often used with pay b: something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another : tribute

Now that’s settled I’ll restate I am rather obsessed with the existence of these bands who’ve seen fit to create alter egos and allow themselves the space to follow a Muse who’s been whispering for some time in their ears:” Heed me!” Let’s investigate some who did.

For our purposes Year One is 1984, when an album made to look like a 60s Exploito Soundtrack, (a whole ‘nother kettle o’ fish!), hit the shelves. Featuring a headless shot of several gals & guys groovin’, Naz Nomad & the Nightmares’ Give Daddy The Knife Cindy introduced the world to Sphinx Svenson, Mr. Nomad, and Nick Detroit. Though only two of the 12 tracks are originals the album certainly pays homage to a brand of music from the classic First Era of Psychedelia & Garage. We now know it was the alter egos of The Damned.

Fast forward a mere few months to April Fool’s Day, 1985, and an EP with a mind-blowing cover appears called 25 O’Clock by The Dukes of Stratosphear, complete with magnificent names: Sir John Johns, the Red Curtain, E.I.E.I. Owens, and Lord Cornelius Plum!
Their story has been told by far better writers than I but a few basic nuggets of trivia:
Andy Partridge of XTC had been hired to produce an album by Mary Margaret O’Hara, and had called John Leckie to engineer the project. After a suggestion by Andy that they actually rehearse he was fired, as was Leckie for being too close to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. With two weeks time on their hands Andy asked Leckie if he fancied “making a psychedelic record?” As Andy is quoted as saying, in a recent Shindig! article, (Vol.2, Issue 4-May-June 2008):

It was a case of let’s have some fun and say thank you in music to the bands who made our schooldays so psychedelically interesting.

The ep is replete with homages to the bands and music that had first attracted them to learn how to make music of their own. Stylistically brilliant and unlike anything else being made at the time, exceptions made for the burgeoning, but short-lived “Paisley Underground” scene. A trainspotter’s wet dream, to be sure. You could play “spot the influence” all day and the depths to which one could plumb for such references in the tracks would be limited only by one’s own broad knowledge of their antecedents.

1987 saw the second release by the band, called Psonic Psunspot with equally brilliant cover art, a visual cue and part of the lingua franca of the genre followers. Later in the same year a compilation combining both the ep and the lp was released, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball.

In the midst of all this enters one Phil Smee, creator of the Bam Caruso label. Begun around 1984, Phil is responsible for the smashingly brilliant Rubble series. For our story though we’re concerned with 1986 and the volume known as Rubble 9: From The House Of Lords. I was unaware of its existence until a few years ago and once I’d heard it the damned thing kept me up nights, trying to figure out who I might be able to contact which was in any way connected with the making of, or knew those who were! (My e-mail folders attest to this obsession.) Through various and sundry leads and trails, dead ends and cul-de-sacs, I was lead to Nick Haeffner. Strewn among all these now-familiar-to-me “fake” band names Nick is shown rather prominently on several of the band pic’s on the back sleeve of this volume. Here’s my communication with Nick:

valis: I write in hopes you might consider taking a moment's time to solve some
questions I have regarding a Bam Caruso release you appeared on, dating from 1986: "The House of Lords". (Also known as "Rubble No. 9", until a subsequent #9 usurped the name/volume.)
I know you play guitar on: "Colliding Minds", "I'm not your stepping stone", "Workshop of my mind" (by The Black Atlas), "Living Colours", "The Last Mile" and on the Beatles cover "Dear Prudence". (The guitar work on "Colliding Minds" and my personal favorite track-"Workshop Of Your Mind" is brilliant!)

What has me baffled is the intentions and origin of this release. Specifically, was this a Phil Smee idea? The artists on the album were also part of the larger B C family, e.g., Paul Roland, etc. Who came up with the band names..? Who actually wrote the songs..? Was this a play off of the XTC lark of the Dukes of Stratosphear..? Was it a lot of fun participating..?

Nick: Glad to hear that you have enjoyed the House of Lords album. It was a while
ago now so I'll see what I can remember!

As I recall, the album was the brainchild of Phil Smee and Cally (Martin)
Calloman, former drummer in my old band, The Tea Set and one-time Bam Caruso
mainstay). Phil and Cally came up with most of the band names, I believe.
The tracks were a mixture of cover versions and originals. The orginals
were: The Wedding: Summer Evening (written by Cally) and Colliding Minds by
The Sugar Battle (written by Phil Smee). Paul Roland and the Attractions
also wrote their own tracks. The rest were cover versions. I'm not sure who
did the original version of Workshop of My Mind or Living Colours but they
are covers. To be honest, I can't remember whether this came before or after
the Dukes of Stratosfear but I don't think it had much to do with that
project. I think it was mostly Cally's idea.

It was a lot of fun to do and I guess that still comes through on the album!

The volume has since been stricken from the “Official Canon” of Rubble volumes, now called “Psychedelic Wilderness”, more in line with the 60s psychedelic nuggets of the companion volumes. I absolutely love this volume and still hold out hopes of speaking with Phil Smee or Cally Calloman!

Nick Haeffner reenters our story two years later, in 1988, when an ep by The Remayns is released. The cover features four band members, all of which are Nick.
Of the band, Nick told me: “The Remayns were me and Cally - so, yes, another fictitious band!
The projects were just for fun, out of love for the music - I don't think Iever made a cent from them!”

Hold on to your seat friends, we’re jumping forward 10 years now! 1998…..enter:

Fraternal Order of the All and their album, Greetings From Planet Love!
The album is a side-project, one-off (so far) by Andrew Gold, most remembered for his mid-'70s hits "Lonely Boy" and "Thank You for Being a Friend." What ups the ante by an order of magnitude on this project is the involvement of Graham Gouldman. Gouldman, known more through his being in 10cc, is the man who penned ”Heart Full Of Soul” and ”For Your Love” for The Yardbirds, as well as a string of hits for The Hollies, Ohio Express, Herman’s Hermits, and so on and on and on…
Of the album, the AMG reviewer Cub Koda (RIP) says:
“…successfully nails all the sounds and cosmic junk that came with these kind of albums back during those heady times, and if the music wasn't so darn good on here, you'd declare this record just a nostalgic joke that works, but it is so much more than merely that; it's a tucked-away little gem that deserves a much wider audience.”

One year later and Walter Ghoul’s Lavender Brigade appears, like a psilocybe in the midst of Granny’s Tea Party! This one still rewards repeated listens for me, just as when I came to it through contacting the man behind it all: Damien Youth!

AMG reviewer Richie Untergeberger says:

“Although the back cover lists and pictures three bandmembers — Julian Star, Oliver Crumb, and Biff — in fact, all of the music was played and written by Damien Youth and Zane Armstrong. The sleeve of their LP Walter Ghoul's Lavender Brigade... Is Coming signifies that this is an archival release of a lost band active from 1967-1970 (all the tracks are dated with years from that span). In fact, however, this was recorded shortly before its 1999 release date. In effect, Walter Ghoul's Lavender Brigade are to Damien Youth and Zane Armstrong what the Dukes of Stratosphear were to XTC: a fictitious alter ego under which to indulge their love for classic British psychedelia.

To stretch the parallels with the Dukes of Stratosphear further, Walter Ghoul's Lavender Brigade... Is Coming sounds a lot like something the Dukes of Stratosphear might have cooked up. It's not as good as the Brit-psych it's modeled after, very little revivalist music is, after all. But the songs are reasonably convincing emulations of the lighter side of the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and indeed the lighter side of late-'60s British psychedelia as a whole. The mid-tempo pianos, periodic brass, flowery lyrics, and overall chipper feel also bring to mind the Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles and, much more arcane, the fine cult group Tomorrow. “

I’ve had occasion to speak with Damien several times over the past few years and have found him to be just as much a fan of this genre as we all are, dear readers. Last week I contacted him again to see if he’d sit down to a cup of strange tea and answer a few questions regarding Walter Ghoul’s for the writing of this. He said yes. (I’m certain it was the offer of that tea!)

valis: Can you take us back to the point in time when the decision was made to form Walter Ghoul's Lavender Brigade? Was it your idea alone and then you enlisted Zane (Armstrong), or was it a mutual decision

DY: Initially the idea was mine. I had even attempted it earlier when I was just recording on my own. It was probably the mid 1980s. I had picked up an LP from the import section of a local record shop. The LP was Naz Nomad & The Nightmares. I was totally digging on the fact that, amidst all the synth pop, a label decided to reissue some obscure 60's garage band, It was a few weeks before I found out it was the Damned. Later the same thing happened with the Dukes of Stratosphere's 1st EP.

Being influenced by 60's psych/garage I already had songs just waiting to get the full psych sound treatment. I created a fake band called OLIVER'S LOT. Some of the songs that ended up being Lavender Brigade tracks, were written for Oliver's Lot.

Later, Zane & I met. We were both playing in the same clubs with different bands. We were both record collectors & psych freaks. So we would hook up at his place, play pool on his pool table, drink import beer & listen to 60's Brit Psych. It was only a matter of time before we started writing together & creating WGLB.
valis: Once the decision was made were there albums you revisited from the Classic Fisrt Period of psychedelia? If so, who were they? If not, were you both just going by "muscle memory" of the feelings brought on by that era's musicians?

DY: We didn't really study albums for ideas during the writing & recording process. But the days playing pool & listening to Brit Psych, we certainly revisited our favorite stuff. Frumpy & The Strange Machine was obviously a Barrett/Hitchcock influence... Even though while writing it, I pulled out the first Soft Machine album & tried to create the kind of music I'd expect to hear if I saw that LP cover in a shop.

The Beatles, The Move, The Kinks, The Idle Race, Bonzo Dog Band were all getting heavy rotation during the pool playing days.

Perhaps we should have listened to even MORE psych, because there were a couple of things I know Zane would have changed. It was only after we released the album that we found out EMILY SMALL was already a character from a band called Piccadilly Line. He had probably seen that name in one of his record catalogs & it stuck in his subconscious. He also accidentally lifted bits of a Left Banke song on "When She Comes Around". It's not one of the more popular Banke songs... In fact, I can't even recall which song it is.

valis: How much time transpired between the first album and the Merry X-Mas Elizabeth Kimbal ep?

DY: Not too much. After Twist records sent us copies of the vinyl, we were mad inspired to create more! We could have easily thrown out another album with-in a month but...I was slammed at the time. I was still wrapping up my work with a band called Feather Box. We were creating a new live band called The Strange Machine (With Zane). I was also working with Spider on the Magic Island album as well as trying to get a solo LP together for Blackberry records. So it turned into a year before we compiled enough Lavender Brigade tracks for another release.

By that time, Zane wasn't sure if he wanted to work with Twist any more. So we just compiled the EP & shared it with friends. Later we kept adding tracks to it. Now the "EP" has more songs than the first album :-)

valis: Where does the pseudo-story of the "May 1, 1966" meeting, attributed to Peter Daltrey-a brilliant piece to be sure, come in to the story? As part of the initial release of ...Is Coming ? Or Was it concocted later on?

DY: It was later. I met Peter online & we began writing together. I told him about the Walter Ghoul project & even asked him if he'd like to lay vocals over some psych tracks. Peter wasn't really keen on going backwards. He said something similar to "I'm moving forward so I'm not really looking to be part a toothless psych revival." I remember my heart sank. I mean... Look at the cover of our album! The bald bloke we got to play Walter Ghoul is missing his front teeth. I felt like Aerosmith must have felt when they saw Spinal Tap doing Stonehenge!

Still, there were people writing in the blogosphere about whether or not the Lavender Brigade were really a 60's band. So I asked Peter if he would do the liner notes to our up & coming album. (Merry Xmas Elizabeth Kimball) He was kind enough to write that hilarious little recap of our fake relationship :-) Bless him!

valis: "Hey Mr. Spaceman" seems a Byrds-meets-Nesmith's-Monkees track. "Hourglass" a Move-Idle Race concoction. I know Andy Partridge has basically spilled the beans on virtually every track by the Dukes of Stratosphear in the book Song Stories; the psychedelic antecedents of each. Can you talk about some of your favorite WGLB tracks and their influences...?

DY: Spot on with Mr. Spaceman. The guitar is very "Last Train To Clarksville". This is one of those songs I wrote in the 80's for Oliver's Lot. (I'm sending you the original track. It may even be better to use than Dr. Langley as my voice was better & I wasn't mixing it with a head cold :)

I'll attempt a song by song for you:

FRUMPY: As mentioned earlier... Barrett of course. But also, GONG! Check out their track "Pretty Miss Titty" from their Magick Brother album. Also Buffalo Billycan by APPLE. Both songs have those staggering rhythmic vocal parts.

HOUSE OF SMALL: I can't really speak for Oliver/Zane. But there's certainly an instrumental part that reminds me of "Knocking Nails Into My House" by The Idle Race. Zane loved that early Pink Floyd organ sound.

GLASS ROOM- Lennon & Slaughter House 5 (the movie) were big influences here. Idle Race & even White Witch's Beatles side of Ron Goedert sneaks in.

WHEN SHE CAME AROUND- This was the song were dear Olly accidentally lifted some Left Banke song. My background vocals (doo doo doo da doo) were pure Davey Jones.

OLD MAN AURTHUR/DRAGONFLY- McCartney & Pete Ham love here. They could write such gorgeous sad melodies. I wanted into that club but my songs always employ drug addicts & mentally ill people. . . Sorry about that. . . We did tiptoe out of the 60's just for a bit. Zane was keen on adding that "Bowie Bewley Brothers" vocal ending. I loved it!

MARY JANE: I have no idea what moved Oliver on this one. It's quirky & mean... So of course... I love it :-)

SITAR SONG: Oliver did this one on his own. He'd just purchased a sitar from a local middle eastern shop. We thought it would be a nice intro piece. I wanted it to have a name, Oliver didn't seem inspired to give it one & I didn't want to name his songs... so...

STOP: Finally! My dream comes true! I get to be Davy Jones! I know I'm a large dark brooding goth king... But underneath it all.. I just wanted to be Davey. The vocal break down in the song, people thought it was a nod to The Beach Boys. Of course, in the 90's it was hip to say Brian Wilson was a big influence.. But really... It was Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack by The NICE. :)

DR. CENTENIAL- I was more of a crooner on parts of this. Probably because Carl Wayne didn't mind crooning with the Move. And this was inspired by Roy Wood. Complete with real Cello & sped up vocal parts. . . And yes... Insanity is back as theme. . . . There may be a little Legendary Pink Dots influence in some of the vocal bits. Thank you Edward.

JULIA- One of Oliver's best songs. The snaky slide guitar was Harrison sounding to me. I think this song was slated to be a Zane solo song, but we bugged him into including it here.

ICE CYCLE RAINBOW- The high "oooo" background vocal is certainly Dave Davies influenced. . . So yeah... Some Kinks & Idle Race sneaking in on parts.

WGLB THEME- This was the 1st song we wrote for the project. We were drunk & Tomorrow, Idle Race & even The Dukes Of Stratosphere were on the mind when doing this. But books on human oddities & carnival paintings were the biggest influence.

INTRO- Another one of Olivers fab little soundscape intros.

BUTTERFLY- Lennon inspired Verse & McCartney inspired bridge/chorus. Early Bee Gees influences as well.

ORDINARY DAY: I thought the keyboard bit sounded a bit Beck. But only Oliver knows what's behind this one. I was doing a little Graham Nash HOLLIES era back-up vocal. It is a catchy bastard of a song!

MRS. WALKER- Influenced by The Kinks & The Idle Race. They both had great anti-war songs. "Some Mother's Son" & "Don't Put Your Boys In The Army Mrs. Ward". My falsettos were Daltrey inspired! Not Roger... But Petey from Kaleidoscope UK :-) And Again... Early Bee Gees on the fade out.

MR. SPACEMAN- This was written as an answer to the Byrds "Mr. Spaceman. " There is a little Paul Revere & The Raiders going on in there as well... Oliver's cartoon space noises force me to visualize a Saturday Morning cartoon video :-) It's certainly the lone American psych sounding song we recorded . . .No?

MERRY X-MAS ELIZABETH KIMBALL- Ahhh...Hobo love song. Aphrodite's Child had a song called "Mr. Kimball"... right? It sounds like Robert Wyatt pops in at the very end for some background harmony... No? :)

HOURGLASS- Another old song from the Oliver's Lot idea. The early version was very Tomorrow influenced. With the little Steve Howe guitar phrasings. Pete Ham The Iveys era on bits... The breakdown there's some Pretty Things influence happening. Some Aphrodite's Child... ?

MAD JOHN- Of course this is a Small Faces cover. It was done for a Twist records Tribute to The Small Faces.. But it never happened.

ALISTAIR- This was originally called Oliver & was written for Oliver's Lot years earlier. Since the song was about a park dwelling child molester... Oliver asked if we could change the name... So he suggested Alistair. It was inspired by Tomorrow's "Grocer Jack". The bridge is very Move inspired.

GROOVY DUDES- This was added on later. This was a song I wrote when I was 13 & started my first band... The Groovy Dudes. Inspired by The Groovy Ghoulies tv cartoon.

FRUMPY (Demo) Added on for the completest.

Keep in mind, we didn't write or record consciously trying to ape these artists.. I'm just listening back & seeing what I catch. But I will say this. For those who think writing in such a manner is simply aping... I would say it is aping, but more. It's a language. When you learn a language you sound similar to your teachers. To the extent people can even place what part of the world you were raised, based on your language & accent.

All of the bands I'm mentioning were the people who taught Zane & I our musical language... So their accents appear here & there. It's what I call sound genetics. As a writer, to this day, music comes to me in 60's psych/pop accents. It's just to avoid getting caught in a niche, I'll sometimes choose to NOT run my voice through a reverb peddle or I'll choose to NOT crank up the fuzzbox on my guitar parts... But even when I don't record it... In my head... I still hear it :)

Get Damien Youth’s entire discography here!

We finish this up, patient readers, with two releases, an ep in 2002 and an lp in 2003, by The Persian Rugs, alter egos of The Hoodoo Gurus. Though I’m of a mind they’re not seeing it my way as an homage, I certainly view it as such!

Thank you Joe, for your patience. Hoping this information proves my abiding affection for the bands who create these loving homages to the First Era Psychedelic Bands! Bless ‘em for doing it!

(For those who'd like to explore the music further, check the comments.)


-valis said...

A sampler Mix of all of the artists mentioned in this effort has been put together, with front & back cover art, and is available here:

No password. Enjoy! -valis

Anonymous said...

Oddly, I was told that I had the "wrong access code" to download this file on Rapidshare....go figure.

The Nick Haeffner/Damien Youth interviews were just outright KILLER!! Geez, what next? Will you be sitting down for sweet chili-hash oil-ice cream sodas with a couple of archangels, penciling your notes on the flip sides of the ten commandments?

When you or I toss a pebble into a pond, it causes a slight disturbance on the surface of the water. Those cats threw their pebbles into the pond and caused invisible, underground tidal waves!!! I get the sense, from reading their replies, that they have NO idea of the impact they've had.


Jim K.

Anonymous said...


You are a true psych historian. Awesome interview! I'm DLing the mix as I type.

-Tony M.

Anonymous said...

An outstanding post, on an outstanding site, by an outstanding chap!

This site gets more interesting every week.

Mr Valis' obvious love for the music which stimulates us all so well is evident in every word he writes.

His captures become more audacious as the weeks pass! I am waiting for him to resurrect Syd and get him interviewed too!

Keep it up my fine friend!

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly conceived as ever, Valis. Yer a credit to Psychedelia. Now, where are those sugar cubes...

Anonymous said...

Your perspective from atop Hilly Fields remains, as ever, startling in its clarity. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Can I share a cup of 'tea' with you mon ami? Fabulous, just fabulous interview, as ever my ghast has been flabbered by the depth of your psych knowledge.


Anonymous said...

Aagh!!!! Cannae get past the freakin' cats when trying to d/l, still nae mind. The post was worth it for the interview alone.


Unknown said...

Thanks all..!

Dead Man said...

I'm really blown away by this. I'll be delving into what you've written and assembled here for some time to come. I haven't listened to all of it yet, but it's apparent that these tracks work on different levels. First, they're great psych, and second, they're sincere homages, making it fun to play the spot-the-influence game. It's clear you put a lot of thought into this compilation.

sammyg123 said...

Thanks for this Valis. Thoroughly enjoyed the tunes and the extensive liner notes that came with it.
Now, tomorrow I'll be driving to the Lake District in England for Summer Solstice. Any ideas what I can listen to on the drive there?

Anonymous said...

Is it Christmas!? It must be. Cause the gifts keep on comin' around here.

Oh, what a beautiful day it is at the Gnome Garden. A tingle with anticipation.

Another beaut.

And, MUCH thanks,