Ch. 49. Olwen, Rock Jingles & the Free Press
Two years later, the CD release of ‘Let’s…’ was followed by ‘The Dream of Olwen’ for which we held a release party at the Café 322, Sierra Madre on August 7th, 2010. Earlier in the year we’d arranged to take some pictures at El Matador Beach, Malibu for the album cover which would reinforce the oceanic theme of the title song.
At moonrise across a golden sea.
Softly, the waves make melody,
To echo my song of memory…”
The lyrics were written by Winifred May who was better known by her pen name of Patience Strong. She wrote more than one hundred songs the most famous being the English words for ‘Jealousy’, Danish violinist and composer, Jacob Gade’s ; ‘Jalousie’ Tango’. The song was later recorded by many artists including Frankie Lane, Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn, and, more recently in the ‘60s, Billy Fury.
Charles Williams, who wrote ‘The Dream of Olwen’, was a composer of light orchestral music in the 1940s and 50s and, during the 50s, became well known for film scores such as ‘Thursday’s Child’, ‘The Way to The Stars’, ‘Carnival’, ‘The Apartment’ and ‘While I Live’, which featured the song, ‘The Dream of Olwen’.
Finally, since the album contained no instrumentation other than piano, we decided to have a photo for the back cover taken with Gary Fukushima, the pianist/arranger, and me posing by a grand piano and, with the help of Sue McCloud Gibson, we were able to accomplish this at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena using their magnificent Steinway. Eternal thanks to Sue for setting this up for us.
The album was recorded at Nolan Shaheed’s Studio in Pasadena and mastered by Peter Doell at Universal Mastering Studios in Hollywood.
The 2008 financial crisis really affected the gig situation with venues taking various measures to cut their costs. In times like these, one of the first expenses to be cut was live music. Some venues reduced entertainment to a solo pianist, others used streaming services and a few just cut entertainment out completely. Together with many other artists and ensembles, and after having built up a regular schedule of work, we lost many of our regular venues and, those that we did continue working for in many cases, renegotiated our rate, i.e. ‘reduced it’!
Of course, losing a venue wasn’t always due to market circumstances or, market forces beyond our control. In fact, on one occasion, the loss of a regular gig was entirely our own fault, or more precisely, MY fault! Jax Bar & Grill in Glendale was a bar/restaurant where we were listed on the regular performers’ roster. Some years earlier after we’d established ourselves at the venue, I’d received a call from the agent’s booker who I’d come to know over a period of months. She asked me on that call where I was from, presumably because of my accent. When I told her I was Scottish she sounded disappointed and explained that she thought I was from Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day was approaching, and she needed an Irish act for that night. I didn’t know what to suggest and she clearly had no idea and so, out of desperation, asked me if we couldn’t play anything Irish, assuring me that no one in the bar would be any the wiser. This wasn’t after all, an Irish Pub. I should probably also mention, of course, that this was a jazz gig and since we were essentially a jazz group, to say an Irish jig might be considered as a little out in left field for our repertoire, would most certainly be regarded as an understatement. Well, anyway, thanks to the prolific recorded output of Val Doonican, we had no difficulty in coming up with daft songs to include in our once-a-year ceilidh. To clarify, that’s a bit of an exaggeration since we were obliged to play at least one Irish tune on St. Patrick’s Day and that’s exactly what we did. One tune only, and usually a very silly one such as ‘Delaney’s Donkey’, ‘Rafferty’s Motor Car’, ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’ or the like. The St. Patrick’s Day gig became a regular feature of our performances at Jax Bar. Then one day – and I swear I hadn’t had a drink! – I mixed up the lyric of one song with the melody of another. I should explain that all of these songs are jigs in 1/2 time and in my defense could be easily confused one with another. Well, it was a train wreck! I’ll spare you the painful details. In hindsight, obviously, I should have halted the music, re-synchronized my brain, and repeated it from the top. That was the last gig we did at Jax, of any musical genre.
Another situation, this time on a more positive note, took place at another of our regular venues, The Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, another jazz gig where we played in the hotel bar. One evening during a set, a young couple approached us, and the young lady asked me if we could play the Phil Collins hit, ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, as they were celebrating a wedding anniversary or birthday, I don’t now remember which. I told her it wasn’t something we normally played but that we’d give it go. I walked over to Gary at the piano and quietly sang the melody in his ear. Not surprisingly, he had the chord sequence in a couple of minutes, and we performed the number. At the break, the couple came over to us to thank us, and as we were talking, I asked them if they knew who had recorded the original hit version of the song. They were really surprised to hear that it wasn’t Phil Collins, and flabbergasted when I told them that the song was forty years old and had been a hit for Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders in the early 60s. Another thing I remember about that exchange was their amusement at the band’s name who, not surprisingly, they hadn’t heard of. We didn’t get around to the song’s writers which is probably just as well as they likely wouldn’t have heard of Carol Bayer Sager or the guy who co-wrote it, who was a member of the cartoon group, The Archies.
… close to 50 years earlier in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the mid-60s, after I had disposed of my good-as-new Premier Drum kit and when I had bought my acoustic guitar from Pete Seaton’s Music shop in Hope Park Terrace, I started writing songs. Actually, the first things I remember writing were jingles, not for soap powder or Mars Bars but for The Mason Webb Group who I was singing with at the time. Y’see, I thought that now that people had become used to seeing commercials on TV, why wouldn’t they like rock groups singing their own jingles at their gigs? I remember thinking that it was a brilliant idea. It was around the time that Independent TV started in the UK, and for the first time the great British public were seeing TV commercials. Up until that time there was only one channel which was BBC Television, which was commercial-free and paid for by the mandatory TV license. Anyway, jingles were a novelty at the time and so the rest of the guys went along with my hair-brained idea, and we did actually play jingles at gigs, only once or twice as I recall. ’Non-plussed’, I suppose would describe the audience reaction. I don’t think they understood what was happening! To be perfectly honest, I’d completely forgotten about all of this until two or three years ago when, thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with John Nicol, the group’s drummer who reminded me of the commercials when we were reminiscing aboot the auld days! I was also writing songs at the time, but I really don’t remember the group performing any of them.
However, after moving to London, continuing to write songs, and embarking on my new life in male modelling, TV aerials, pop music PR/journalism, West End booze delivery driving, R&B singing in the UK and Germany, blues album recording at IBC London (at the same time The Who were recording their ‘Tommy’ album in the evenings!). I joined jazz/rock-fusion band, ‘Rubber Duck’ and they performed a number of my songs, hugely enhanced with the considerable assistance of lead tenor-player, John Hurt’s brilliant 4-piece horn arrangements. Did I mention that Rubber Duck was 9-piece?
There was a programme on TV last night about the late 60s/early 70s and in particular, US rock festivals and the hippie culture (Funny! I thought that was over by then), the underground press and free newspapers featuring ‘hip’ events and articles that the ‘groovy’ folk would be ‘hip’ to. Jimi Hendrix was seen performing at these concerts which reminded me of the time he wandered alone into the Revolution Club, Bruton Place, London, when I was singing with Rubber Duck, a sort-of semi-pro sober version of Blood, Sweat & Tears
The TV show reference to the underground press of the time reminded me that those papers would turn up in London from time-to-time and I recall collecting a few copies of some of them. In fact, I found a picture of me taken in the late 60s with a copy of ‘Georgia Straight’, one of these publications, in my hand peering longingly at some trendy ‘gear’ in a men’s boutique on the King’s Road, Chelsea. The shot was taken for the album I submitted along with a recording of, I don’t know what, to the Beatles Apple Corps company who were signing artists to their new record label at the time. Another of the pictures has me sitting with a portable antique typewriter on a small table and behind me, scattered all over the walls, pictures, news articles, press releases and scrawled slogans lauding the inestimable talents of the pop group, ‘Grapefruit’, whom Apple had just signed to a recording contract. After all these years I’m guessing that I was portraying a PR guy promoting their new signing. Even more bizarre are the two shots of myself and one Julian Allen, a fellow resident at the New Mansions Youth Hostel in Bayswater, swathed in two white sheets, portraying what in all the world would appear to be some sort of quasi-religious ritual.
Getting back to the underground press, you could tell from the bizarre writings that some of these people were strung out on something, whether it was purple hearts, weed, pot, mushrooms or whatever psychedelic cocktail was de rigueur of the day. Well, anyway, the ads section in one or two of these journals inspired me to write a song, ‘Free Press’, based on the nonsense that I found in the wanted columns. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Rubber Duck ever got around to performing that number although they did play quite a few of the other songs that I wrote back then. However, following the break-up of “The Duck” as we affectionately used to call it, and my joining Paul Abraham’s group, to become known as ‘Listen’, this ensemble eventually did play it a few times at rehearsals and it worked really well but, as far as I recall, we never performed or recorded it. I regret this as it was and I’m sure would have continued to provoke discussion.
I dug out the lyrics and reproduce them here:
Where is, where is, multiply the stillness?
My head’s at the Olly Olly.
Forget your red boots whip and chain.
Flee the clutches of olive drab hawk.
Judy! Judy! I’m not a vegetarian.
Westminster lawyer man, I need help!
Sailor wants a canuk swab.
D’y’ wanna join the league for sexual freedom.
Teeco! Teeco! Cheats underground papers.
Michael please phone or write,
Police farce Sandy (504)
We love you those busted at the fountain.
Go to! Go to! The Greedy Beady.
Who are the Beatitudes?
You haven’t lived ‘til Drimble Wedge.
The vegetation has truly grooved you.
I didn’t base this on any other tune etc. etc., but Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t’ Believe A Word’ gives
a good indication of the tempo.
Line-up from left: rear – John McLean; Roger Jevons.
Front: Cameron Mitchell, me & John Nicol.