One of my favourite podcasts is produced by ex-magazine The Word. Every so often ex members of the team gather to publicly shift through rants theories and conspiracies as well as interviewing people who are genuinely interesting.
One of the theories the team has come up with is one that musicians can only really love the music of their childhood. The general idea being that not only is this a formative time in our development but it’s also a period when the budding musician is innocent of all the factors that are part and parcel of their further career. The simple fact is that as soon as anyone starts making music in any focussed way all other music becomes competition, it is there to be dissected, derided or feared because all new music becomes a threat. That’s not always such a terrible thing, Brian Wilson, for example, was spurred on to create something better than the Beatles. The fact remains though that he probably never loved the Beatles in the same way he loved the Four Freshmen.
And so it was in the 70’s after a period of immense creativity, productivity and innovation that artists would look back to the music of their youth for comfort when things got tough and stressful. Bear in mind that in the early 70’s this music was only around 15 years old, Elvis was still alive, Chuck Berry was still something of a God to any aspiring guitarist, on a chronological level this was not old music but things had moved at such a pace in the 60’s that rock and roll had been left behind. David Bowie, one of the younger faces on the scene was to release Pin Ups, his own reworking of the Beat Boom, John Lennon, just that little bit older was going to record his own Rock and Roll album harking back to a few years earlier.
First on the scene in the nostalgia stakes was a group called The Bunch.
The Bunch was the fairly uninspired brainchild of Trevor Lucas one time bass player in psychedelic multicultural rockers the eclection prior to that an Antipodean singer songwriter and more recently guitarist singer of Fotheringay and, significantly, partner of Sandy Denny. Opinions are divided about Lucas, he was either a fairly talentless performer who attached himself to real talent to further his career or he was a genuine guy who put up with Denny for as long as he could before saving himself and their daughter from the impending trainwreck. Whatever the case he was well liked and good at all the smoozing boozing and bullshitting that becomes a part of a musician’s life.Apparently Lucas and Denny used to hold monopoly parties so you can see why they were so well liked.
Lucas had managed to convene a bunch (Ha !) of associates who seemed similarly between jobs in the winter of 71-72. Richard Thompson had left Fairport Convention but had yet to record his first solo album Henry the Human Fly. Holed up in the Manor studio complex over the darkest days of winter he was able to further his acquaintance with singer Linda Peters who had been brought along by her new best friend Sandy Denny. Also present were recently unemployed members of Fotheringay, drummer Gerry Conway and bass player Pat Donaldson . Most of the piano was courtesy of Ian Whiteman previously with top British Psychedelic combo Mighty Baby. Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks also presumably had no commitments over the new year as he was present on about half the tracks. Last but not least was a horn section ‘The Dundee Horns’ who provided a punch to even the most pedestrian tracks.
There used to be a recurring sketch on the British comedy series The Fast Show in which a spoof advert stated something along the lines of ‘if you like peas and you like cheese you’ll love our cheesy peas’. Well I liked Fairport and I liked rock and roll so in theory I should love The Bunch.
I had to purchase the record on spec, there was no way I could hear it played on the radio, it was released in 1972 and by the time I started buying records it was ancient history. At the time it sounded a bit disappointing, it was the cheesypeas effect. Early rock and roll has a charm related to the sound of it’s time, re recording it seldom made it sound better, not that that stopped anyone trying through out the 70’s.
Listening some 46 years later it’s not a bad record, Richard Thompson’s renditions of ‘Crazy Arms’ and ‘Jambalaya’ rock big time thanks to Conway’s drumming. Having said that there is a dip in quality when Lucas sings and Mattacks takes over on drums such as on ‘Dont be Cruel’
Sandy Denny, as might be anticipated provides some highlights notably on the poignant closer ‘learning the game’ and sharing the vocals with Peters on ‘When will I be Loved’. But my absolute favourites are Thompson singing ‘My Girl the Month of May’ a song I’ve never heard anywhere else before or since. The other highlight is Ashley Hutchings covering ‘Nadine’. Hutchings isn’t anywhere else on the record so presumably just popped in for the afternoon. At this point he was deep into his rediscovery of English Music but chooses to cover Berry’s song in an enthusiastic half spoken American accent, bizarre but engaging.
It’s hard to imagine the influence of American rock and roll on this generation of musicians. For a lot of the 70’s it seemed we were always looking over our shoulders. We don’t live like that now, a contemporary band would be unlikely to record an album of britpop or shoegazing classics from 20 years ago we have learned to repackage rather than recreate our past.
And so the Bunch dissembled. Richard Thompson would soon marry Linda Peters, Denny and Lucas would join Fairport Convention, Conway would be the drummer for Cat Stevens and the horn section would head north, possibly to Dundee and become part of the Average White band
Oh, and the Word podcast is available through the Apple app and I Tunes,do give it a listen.