Blossom Toes – We Are Ever So Clean
28 January 2022
Remastered 3CD set featuring UK psychedelic act Blossom Toes’ debut album, a live disc taped during August 1967 at a gig in Stockholm, plus a collection of demos and BBC recordings from 1967/1968. Ian Canty tips them for the top half a century too late…
Before Blossom Toes, there were The Ingoes. Before The Ingoes, there were three young Shadows’ fans Brian Godding, Alan Kensley and Brian Belshaw, who formed a band called The Gravediggers in 1962. They were more than an idea than a musical unit to begin with, as only Hensley possessed an instrument. Soon his guitar was joined by Godding’s and Belshaw picked up a bass. Their first drummer Fred Love completed the line up, but he was replaced Colin Martin, with Eddy Lynch coming in on lead guitar, displacing Hensley. They also changed their name to The Ingoes. By this time the quartet were now far more in the thrall of The Yardbirds rather than Hank Marvin’s boys.
Such was their desire to emulate The Yardbirds, they sought out manager Giogio Gomelsky, who also ran The Crawdaddy Club, hoping that with his guidance they would achieve the same success as their heroes. At first he expressed a negative view of The Ingoes’ talents, but their persistence with him eventually found them backing Sonny Boy Williamson at The Crawdaddy. They had gradually ground Gomelsky down and he offered to take up their management on the first day of 1965. It came with a stipulation though: in the midst of cutting their first demos, Giorgio wanted to replace Lynch. The band weren’t happy, but gave in and Jim Cregan entered the scene, from the wonderfully named The Dissatisfied Blues Band from Hove.
At first it appeared that Gomelsky was grooming the band to appeal more to mainland Europe. They played some with gigs in France and their first single was an Italian version of The Beatles’ Help, Se Non Mi Auti Tu, released on Ricordi International label in 1965. An EP Dansez Le Monkiss, mostly made up of covers, came out during the next year and Kevin Westlake replaced Martin behind the traps in 1967.
In the same year The Ingoes set about recording their debut album at Chappell Studios in Bond Street for Gomelsky’s Marmalade imprint, with Giorgio himself in the producer’s chair. It seems the latter move was to prove both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, he gave the band freedom to create, but also Giorgio brought in session musicians to embellish The Ingoes’ work and also to finish the LP on time and in budget. In addition Paragon, GG’s own agency, decided that the band needed a name change and they were dubbed Blossom Toes whether they liked it or not. Under this new moniker they contributed music to Eric Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse, one of his Six Moral Tales, with the connection coming about because star Haydée Politoff was going out with Brian Belshaw.
The album We Are Ever So Clean emerged in the autumn of 1967, trailed a month earlier by the single What On Earth/Mrs Murphy’s Budgerigar. Neither record sold that well, but the LP has over the years gained recognition for its humour, melodies and madness. At the time the music press were quick to cast it as another Sgt Pepper wannabe, but the truth was Blossom Toes hadn’t even heard that record in its entirety at the time of recording. They were more obviously influenced by the first flush of psychedelia, which in ’67 was directing a large chuck of UK popular music.
We Are Ever So Clean ensues with the warped fade-in of Look At Me, I’m You. The r&b roots of the rhythm are gently nudged towards a menacing kind of freaky, before breaking down into a voice and guitar chill section. There is almost too much happening and then the horn section comes in! One number in and everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown, but the overall effect is endearing. I’ll Be Late For Tea shapes up as a more straightforward but very elegant psych pop offering and The Remarkable Saga Of Dog has a chanted intro giving away to the nonsense lyric, which is delivered atop enticing music. That’s the thing about We Are Ever So Clean – it is full of bright, attractive tunes that make sure the strangeness doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Then we come to Telegram Tuesday, which seems to draw its influence more from The Who’s art pop than The Beatles. Love Is was later used as the flipside to the second Blossom Toes single I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and is prefaced by one of the odd in-character spots. Much slower than what has gone before, it then ambles dramatically in stately folk pop fashion. Strings are much in presence here, with What Is It For? having a Goons like intro before it sparks forth with a lush production job. Drummer Kevin Westlake’s People Of The Royal Parks ended the first side of the vinyl edition of the LP. It’s one of the lesser track on the album, we find ourselves hearing the music hall/orchestral psychedelia crossover mode that was all the rage in 1967. Aptly it concludes with shrieking, insane laughter.
Both sides of the band’s debut single begin side two of We Are Ever So Clean. What On Earth was possibly a touch too strange for the pop mainstream, but for me it is gem of pop sike and includes the album’s title as part of its lyrical thrust. The flip Mrs Murphy’s Budgerigar has less weirdness, but plenty of novelty appeal and a charming trumpet part. Perhaps it would have made a more successful A-side? A busy I Will Bring You This And That breezes through complete with a cool refrain and Mister Watchmaker, prefaced by another bit of nonsense, is beautifully put together. It tags a gentle lilt to the kind of lowkey character study that marked UK psych. Then Jim Cregan’s When The Alarm Clock Rings sets out like a blissed out Byrds, powering itself along with a driving momentum.
He also contribute next song The Intrepid Balloonists Handbook Volume One. This is the point where the silliness, that had been used sparingly and well on the album thus far, threatens to derail it. You, a Brian Godding number, thankfully brings us back with a good-natured rhythm and real pop appeal. That just leaves the short final Track For Speedy Freaks (Instant Digest LP), which as one might suspect is snippets of the entire album whizzed through in a minute and a half. Those whacky 1960s eh?
Four bonus items come on this disc, beginning with chiming out-take Everybody’s Talking (not the Nilsson number, Brian Godding supplied this tune). The Bob Dylan cover I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight was a post LP single and it’s an easy going, goodtime treatment that could have succeeded but sadly didn’t. Lastly we have a lengthy instrumental version of album track Look At Me, I’m You and what I think is the mono mix without overdubs of I’ll Be Late For Tea. Though tagged an instrumental cut in the packaging, it definitely has vocals.
The studio creations on the album were mostly far too ornate for Blossom Toes to be able to recreate them in a live setting. Faced with this insurmountable truth, the band covered Captain Beefheart’s Electricity, Shawn Phillips’ Woman Mind and beat band standby Smokestack Lightning, plus working their way through a few original songs that were easier to render live. Only one item from the album was included, The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog. The second disc of this set captures a live show played at Philipe’s Club Stockholm on 26th August 1967 where they demonstrated this approach apparently high on LSD, which accounts for the odd stage annoucements.
The percussive attack of Listen To the Silence starts the gig off – the guitars are a bit low in the mix, but that apart the sound is reasonable enough as the band work themselves up towards a clamorous climax. Then comes a loose version of the Beefheart song that includes a bit of Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut near its conclusion. Captain Trips, a group composition based around a blues strut, follows and shows Blossom Toes in full-on jamming setting, before it fades out abruptly. Beginning with drums to the front, Love Us Like We Love You is more or less a basic chant along, with some guitar and bass joining at over a minute in. It had its beginnings when Blossom Toes played at the Love In Festival at Alexandra Palace in the month prior, with drummer Westlake ad-libbing the lyrics to a bunch of unimpressed mod fundamentalists.
At this point we get a good long version of The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog and then Woman Mind, with the latter having plenty of wah wah. After the standard rave up through Smokestack Lightning, the gig section of this set ends with the sunny pop/rock First Love Song. It’s rough at the edges for sure, but what this second disc offers more than anything else is the genuine sound of what experiencing a live performance by a psychedelic rock band in the late 1960s was truly like.
Disc three gathers up the various demos and BBC recordings that Blossom Toes undertook in 1967 and 1968. The first part is a set of three numbers set down I would guess somewhen in the last months of 1967, by which time Kevin Westlake had been replaced by Poli Palmer, who would later join Family. This section starts with the stately pop/rock song with a somewhat unsettling lyrical theme Collects Little Girls. Then come Hometime and Looking Up I’m Looking Back, which are reasonably straight pop tunes that don’t really have much in common with We Are Ever So Clean.
We then jump to 23rd October 1967, when the band did a three song session for the Top Gear radio show. In order to promote the LP, Mister Watchmaker, What On Earth and The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog from it are present. Starting with Poli’s vibes, Mister Watchmaker is given a louche runout and What On Earth sounds great on this hearing. Blossom Toes were back at Top Gear on 25th March 1968, where besides a brief Jim Cregan interview with Brian Matthew, they played both sides of the I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight single, which was released in the same month. They add a touch of Bonzos’ mayhem and country guitar to the A-side which makes it something different to the 45 version. Love Is benefits from a sensitive treatment too.
The final piece of this set is a group of seven demos of Brian Godding’s songs, which although not dated presumably come from spring 1968. All three tracks from the earlier demo get re-done here, with an unnamed pianist featuring strongly on Collects Little Girls. Backstreet is quite like a hazy Kinks’ song from the same timeframe and Ever Since A Memory is lovely, if showing a band some way off The Ingoes’ initial hope to jump about and make a lot of noise. Going Home uses strings and flute to set the mood of the song well, with the voice cracking near the top of its register. The disc comes to an end with the self-confessed nursery rhyme-themed Penny And The Pennies. On the whole disc three paints a picture of a far mellower band than on the LP. To tie up The Blossom Toes’ story, after the album and first two singles didn’t sell the band recorded the rockier follow-up If Only For A Moment in 1969, before splitting up for good the following year.
This set is enhanced by a sleeve note that has informative, sometimes contrasting, insights from band members Brian Godding and Jim Cregan. We Are Ever So Clear still comes over as an enchanting, one of a kind listen that doesn’t really resemble much else. The gig is nice to have for completeness if perhaps inessential, but the demos and BBC material are valuable in pointing where Blossom Toes were heading in the future. This all helps to give one a full picture of the band in 1967 and 1968 who, with a great deal of help, managed to create something special that stood out even in the “anything goes” world of the psychedelic 60s.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here