Friday 5 February 2010

News, Views and Music Issue 53 (Intro)

February 5:    ♫ Hello and welcome to another issue of Alan’s Album Archives’ Monkeynuts Newsletter News, Views and Music. It’s a special edition this week to commemorate the life of sixth Moody Blue Tony Clarke (see the news item below for more details) and the band with which he changed the rules of record producing in the 1960s. Back when the band were poised on the threshold of a Deram Dream it was Tony’s belief and pioneering spirit who took production to new heights and we celebrate everything they achieved together with a review of the band’s third album, below. I’m shocked to say there’s been hardly any news about Tony’s passing at all in the press, aside from Mike Pinder’s very moving statement released through his newsletter, so as ever at the AAA we feel it is our duty to redress the balance (it’s all a question of balance you see!) and give one of the greatest producers of all time a proper send off. Normal service will be resumed in our next newsletter – provisionally given a date of Feb 20th – but until then here’s our tribute to all things Moody and Blue. And if you’ve yet to hear the band, despite the plugging we keep giving them in these pages, then remember the seven wonders of the world are the original seven Moodies albums laid before your feet, full of far-off lands and distant shores, so many many many new friends to meet... Oh and before we go, a little note for you – with this issue we’ve finally passed the 10 billion word count...


♫ CSN News: The Stills/Hendrix sessions, a set that’s been promised a couple of times already so far, has now been given a release date at last set for the end of 2010. The mainly unreleased sessions are set to include several jam sessions between the two friends as well as the unreleased song ‘White Nigger’ (available on YouTube) and the released collaboration ‘Old Times Good Times’ (which appeared on the album ‘Stephen Stills’ just a fortnight after Hendrix’s death). It looks like 2010 will be a busy year for Hendrix fans – the Stills set is the third set of unreleased tracks to be issued this year by the guitarist’s estate; the first, ‘Fan Pack’, is out now and includes selected live recordings, a t-shirt and a plectrum.

♫ Hollies News: There’s a whole load of rare and vintage Hollies tracks that have suddenly arrived on YouTube this month including BBC session tapes of That’s How Strong My Love Is and I Take What I Want (and an attempted interview with bassist Eric Haydock with the other Hollies butting in which speaks volumes about their relationship circa 1965; when oh when are these and the other Hollies sessions going to come out?), a fantastic half hour concert from Croatia in 1968 which is among the last things Graham Nash ever did with the band, hardly a surprise given how many jokes he’s sticking into the act here and the ultra-rare recordings ‘Maureen’ (written for Bobby Elliott’s wife) and ‘Hillsborough’ (a rare Tony Hicks vocal recorded in tribute for the footballing tragedy).    

♫ Moody Blues News: It is our sad duty to report that ‘Sixth Moody Blue’, producer Tony Clarke, has died suddenly at the age of 68 on January 4th. Although Tony started his career as a bassist both on stage and as a session musician, became a successful songwriter and promoter for Decca Records and eventually went on to produce several artists of the 1960s and 70s, it is for his pioneering eight-album stint as the Moodies producer that he made his mark. The first person to see the promise in the ‘second’ era of the Moody Blues line-up, it was arguably his drive and commitment that saw the band have a second lease of life at all in 1967 and without his diplomacy, inventiveness and bravery the Moodies’ story might well have ended soon after the ‘Go Now’ single in 1965.

Unusually for the late 1960s, Tony was a contemporary of the band he produced rather than an elder statesmen several years older than the rest and it was his youth as well as his knowledge that enabled him to stay so tuned into the band’s new sounds back in the days when nobody else was brave enough to take a chance on it. Born in 1942, he is only a few months older than most of the second line-up of Moodies but had already made quite a name for himself before meeting the band, both as a bassist in various skiffle bands in the 1950s and after he signed to Decca as a record promoter in 1963. His first big breakthrough success, though, came as a songwriter when ‘Our Song’ (not to be confused with The Moodies’ ‘My Song’) became a hit for singers Malcolm Roberts and Jack Jones, among others. Surprisingly, Clarke never followed up this early success and never even placed songs with the groups he produced – a rare event indeed in the 1960s when even non-writing producers desperately tried to get their songs on the back of successful singles (such as Shel Talmy who endlessly re-wrote and arranged ‘standards’ to make money). Eventually he got promotion from Decca to being a full-time producer in 1965, at the age of just 24, scoring a top 10 hit with his very first single: ‘Mirror Mirror’ by Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours which was released that year. He later scored his only non-Moody #1 hit single with The Equals’ release ‘Baby Come Back’ in 1968, as well as perhaps his most famous non-Moodies song, the first version of Fire’s classic psychedelic nugget ‘My Father’s Name Was Dad’, in 1967 (subsequently copied by Paul McCartney who became their producer for the final version).

His destiny was secured, however, in 1966 when he met with the remnants of what used to be The Moody Blues following the departure of lead singer and guitarist Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick. Frustrated by several surprise flops following the worldwide  success of ‘Go Now’, the band were reduced to playing measly cabaret dates for low pay and watching Decca get more and more disinterested over their lack of progress. The band had, however, turned a corner that year – first by recruiting guitarist Justin Hayward (who had applied for a job in Eric Burdon’s New Animals only to find it filled, with Eric passing on the young guitarist’s details to his friend  and Moody Mike Pinder) and then by adding John Lodge as the new bassist. Both of these new members were keen and hungry writers, more than ready to replace Denny Laine as Pinder’s new writing partners and existing member Ray Thomas was coming up with his own material to fill up the band’s stage show too. Excited by the new twist in the band’s sound and getting as interested into psychedelia as many other bands and record collectors were in the mid-60s, they came up with a new stage show set which would start at sunrise and carry on until sunrise, taking in all of the key hours of the day.

Decca, characteristically, hated the idea at first and the only use they could find for the Moodies was as guinea pigs for their new ‘Deram’ spin-off label. A new stereo-friendly subsidiary, this was infamous as the label that wanted to be a cross between the worlds of classical music and rock and roll, and the Moodies were duly hired to re-create Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ in a more popular format, with segues between the two. Luckily for us, the band hated the idea and pleaded with their new producer Tony Clarke – who had been told to work with the group – to forget the Dvorak idea and record their new stage show instead. Despite being at the tender age of 25 and having to go very much against the grain of record company officials breathing down his neck, Tony recognised the promise in the band’s new material and agreed to the recording and release of the album that became ‘Days Of Future Passed’.

The album was an immediate hit on release in 1967, not least thanks to the wondrous single ‘Nights In White Satin’ which half-related to the ‘classical crossover’ idea by featuring orchestration from arranger Peter Knight. The mix of the old and the new was a major breakthrough not only for the band and label but for 1960s music as a whole and although not his idea to merge the two together, the band couldn’t have got their project started had Tony Clarke not had that huge leap of faith in 1966.

Thereafter the band’s hits kept coming, especially in an album sense, where the band remain one of the few groups to have six consecutive top five albums, each of which stayed on the charts for several months each. The band kept challenging themselves and stretching their music too in all sorts of ways: once the band had become Decca’s best selling act after the Rolling Stones, they famously rented two studios during recording time – one to use normally and the other to fill with every available instrument, classical or rock, so that one of the band could tinker away and work up an arrangement if they fancied a certain sound. Plus no other band mastered the unwieldy instrument ‘The Mellotron’ quite as comprehensively as the Moodies did in this period – a pain to tune, taking several hours to get short passages right, most bands abandoned it after one or two recordings or simply used it for a sound effects (a la The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ album). This would all have been a nightmare for any producer, never mind one as young and as early in his career as Tony, but thanks to his role as peacemaker and linchpin of the band’s sound all five Moodies continued to work together in harmony for an impressive six year period, always pushing the envelope of everything possible in the late 60s/early 70s.

When the band eventually split in early 1973 after a long and aggravating world tour, Tony continued to produce solo albums by the band, including the much-loved ‘Blue Jays’ album reuniting Justin and John with Peter Knight. They eventually got back together again in 1978 with ‘Octave’, a patchy album that nevertheless successfully re-created the band’s sound for a new audience and added a couple of more contemporary-sounding tracks for good measure. However, this became the final Moodies album to feature not only Mike Pinder, who had moved to America and started a new life in the interim of the band’s break-up, but Tony Clarke.

Instead, Tony continued to produce records by other artists including the short-lived Providence, Clannad, Rick Wakeman, session expert Nicky Hopkins’ only solo record and The Four Tops, who worked with Tony on a whole album full of Moodies songs including the minor hit single ‘Simple Game’ in 1972. He had been retired for a few years at the time of his death, reasons for which have not yet been announced, but had found time to meet up with his old Moody mates Mike and Ray  just before his death (he was helping out with an album by Mike Pinder’s three sons in 2008). As Mike released in a message to those signed up to his newsletter (such as me – it’s well worth subscribing too): “Tony was a calm and collected man with musical talents and great ideas. We soon realized that Tony was playing an equal part in our recordings. He was the right man to complete our recording team. We really were a team and Tony was the captain of our ship. The creative channels were open and we shared our musical ideas and much laughter.” Although he hasn’t been part of the band’s sound in 30-odd years, he will still be dearly missed by fans the world over.

5) The Day We Meet Again (‘Octave’ 1978): Part of the Moodies’ success came from the fact that they could be epic and detailed all at the same time. Justin’s very Moodies-ish song about lost loves breaking up safe in the knowledge that they are bound to get back together one day brings out the best in Tony Clarke’s sound, which swells from a tiny delicate opening to a huge swell of desperation and need. While the band’s performance is sublime, effortlessly updating their sound after a six-year recording break, a great deal of this song’s success owes itself to Tony’s ability to bring out the small and the huge together in the same space.

4) Melancholy Man (‘A Question Of Balance’, 1970): Long considered to be the Moodies’ ‘rock and roll’ LP, one designed deliberately to be easy to re-create on stage, Mike Pinder still managed to throw-in this curve ball of a song, which is among the band’s most elaborate. A moody (excuse the pun) slab of melancholia, this song reeks of loneliness and despair but somehow never goes over the top (well, not if you’re a true Moodies fan, anyway!) A masterstroke of an arrangement adds the band’s vocals in one by one, dispelling the atmosphere of gloom whilst making it just that little bit more eerie.  

3) One More Time To Live (‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ 1971): I’ve long considered Tony’s best productions to be those inspired by the pen of John Lodge. John comes up with both the most simple and quiet and also the most epic of the band’s songs – the perfect mix for a producer who likes showing off his ability to handle dynamic ranges. This song melds both parts together, with a delightful beautiful opening phrase that gives way to a torrential downpour of grim reality checks, thanks to a killer orchestral arrangement and a multi-tracked Moodies choir separated into high and squeaky and deep and God-like. Magical stuff.

2) The Best Way To Travel (‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ 1968): Stop-start riff: check! Seconds worth of silence after each and every verse and chorus: check! Weird squeaking little synthesiser bleeps that sounds like your record player has packed up and sprung a leak: naturally. Yes, all the things that could and did give a ‘normal’ producer apoplexy in 1968 are here in force – and Tony Clarke just takes them all in his stride, creating a minor masterpiece out of all the unusual and ground-breaking ideas the band can give him.

1) House Of Four Doors (‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ 1968): A four part-epic, lasting 15 minutes thanks to a Ray Thomas song stuck somewhere in the middle, representing nothing less than the history of man from the beginnings of time to the present day, represented through their respective choices of music, naturally. Any other producer would have run a mile – not that any other band except the Moodies would ever have been likely to have come up with the idea in the first place! Instead, this sprawling over-ambitious mass of ideas becomes...quite a sweet little song, never quite going where you expect and never boring you with the journey. Which is exactly the sort of thing Tony Clarke did best.

♫ Pink Floyd News: Syd Barrett’s first album, ‘The Madcap Laughs’ turns 40 years old this month. Although we don’t usually recommend other publishers on this list, it is worth mentioning that Mojo Magazine have a lengthy feature about the making of the album – including an interview with producer and colleague David Gilmour – as well as a CD featuring new interpretations of every song on the album, although only Field Music’s sprightly take on the gloomy ‘Terrapin’ and Captain Sensible’s version of ‘Octopus’ (in which a mad mad song sounds almost conventional) really offers anything new.


♫ Happy birthdays to the following AAA stars in possibly the biggest list of the year (January 30th-February 5th): Marty Balin (vocalist with Jefferson Airplane/Starship 1965-69 and 1973-78) who turns 68 on January 30th; Steve Marriott (vocalist and guitarist with The Small Faces 1965-68) who would have been 63 on January 30th; Tommy Duffy (bassist with Lindisfarne mark II 1973-75) who turns 66 on February 1st; Skip Battin (bassist with The Byrds 1969-72) who would have been 76 on February 2nd; Graham Nash (guitarist with The Hollies 1963-69 and CSN various dates 1969-present) who turns 68 on February 2nd; Eric Haydock (bassist with The Hollies 1963-65) who would have been 67 on February 3rd and Dave Davies (guitarist with The Kinks 1964-94) who turns 63 on February 3rd. Anniversaries of events include: The Beatles’ famous Apple Rooftop gig (January 30th 1969); The Beatles begin a tour with Helen Shapiro – by the end of the tour the fab four will be playing their first gigs as headliners (February 2nd 1963); The Beatles – or three of them anyway – officially sign up Allen Klein as their manager (February 3rd 1969); The Who headliner their first gig with a show at London’s Finsbury Park (February 4th 1966); JohnandYoko become John and Yoko after their ‘trial separation’ begins and marks the start of Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ (February 4th 1970); Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner auctions one of his earliest guitars during a month-long auction in San Francisco to help save the whales – one of the earliest conservation charity events (February 4th 1979) and finally, after two years of waiting, Paul Simon’s first post-Garfunkel release, the single ‘Mother And Child Reunion’, goes on sale (February 5th 1972).

In complete contrast, week two (February 6th-12th) doesn’t feature the birthdays of a single AAA member! There are plenty of anniversaries, however, including: the first time that the ‘threetles’ got together for a recording after John Lennon’s death – the event being George Harrison’s tribute single ‘All Those Years Ago’ (recorded surprisingly soon after John’s passing on February 6th 1981, although it won’t be released until November); The Beatles visit America for the first time, an event that changes their history – queue screaming fans at Kennedy airport and a disgruntled Ed Sullivan waiting at the other side of the terminal wondering if he ought to book these long haired Englishman for his show or not. Luckily he does (February 7th 1964); The Kinks have their first ever TV appearance, miming to their flop first single ‘Long Tall Sally’ on Ready Steady Go! (February 7th 1964); George Harrison has his tonsils removed – rumours are that they are bought by a fan and were briefly circulating on Ebay...(February 7th 1965); Stephen Stills becomes the first musician ever to record using digital technology but alas for us the recordings are never released (February 7th 1979); Pink Floyd premiered their expansive and expensive stage show for ‘The Wall’ album 30 years ago this week in Los Angeles (February 7th 1980); The Beatles Fan Club officially folds, 18 months or so after the band breaks up when it becomes clear that they aren’t likely to get back together (February 8th 1972); The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, a date that is still in the top 10 all time viewing figures and still has the lowest recorded crime rate of all time (because all the teenagers were supposedly in front of the television; February 9th 1964); eight years later it’s Wings’ turn to start a whole new career when McCartney’s ad hoc band play their first gig at Nottingham University (February 9th 1972); The Beatles record a staggering 11 tracks (10 are released) during a marathon 14-hour session for first album ‘Please Please Me’ on February 11th 1963; Ringo marries his first wife Maureen Cox, a hairdresser from Liverpool, on February 11th 1965; Ringo’s Magic Christian film, co-starring Peter Sellers with music by Badfinger, receives its premiere on the couple’s 5th anniversary (February 11th 1970) and finally, it’s the anniversary of the infamous ‘Redlands’ bust at Keith Richards’ house (February 12th 1967) – Mick and Keith face a jail sentence for drug use although the press are more interested in the presence of Marianne Faithful naked except for a rug when the police walked in...


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