McGough & McGear – McGough & McGear
Released 5th February 2016
Double CD reissue of classic Psychedelic offering from two thirds of Scaffold…LTW’s Ian Canty goes for a browse round their Head Shop
Imagine, if you will, that your elder brother suddenly becomes one of the most famous and feted people in the world almost overnight. Though obviously pleased for him, it sets in motion a chain of events that will have a marked effect on you and all those around you for the rest of your life. Though you don’t know it at this point in time, the madness that has been unleashed will almost immediately ensure things are never the same again. Your time as an ordinary person ends and things take another route through opportunities offered that were just a dream a month ago.
How would you react? Strap on a moptop and play some rock n roll (he says, paraphrasing the Stranglers)? Cash in for all you were worth to a Mersey beat (for it is Macca we are talking about here)? Grab as much as you could of what was offered and live it up to the hilt? Hide away from the slightly frightening madness that seemed to appear instantly? Or exploit the opportunities and risk the pitfalls?
Presumably all these options were open to Mike McCartney, younger brother of the Fabs Paul as the Beatles broke big. He had already formed Scaffold, a musical comedy group with John Gorman (the future Tiswas presenter, not Glenn Hoddle’s mini-me soccer management partner) and Roger McGough but the change of name to McGear was an indication that capitalising on his sibling’s fame wasn’t for him. The pitfalls of course include always being “Macca’s brother”, running the risk of always being a footnote, even in this review if we don’t watch it.
So we’ll swiftly draw a veil over that now and concentrate on young Michael and his pal Roger. Scaffold had a reasonably successful career mixing pop, poetry and fundamentally just mucking about, the “highpoint” I suppose being the risible “Lily The Pink” reaching the top of the charts in late 1968. But a few months prior to that, this LP emerged not under the Scaffold name but featuring two out of the three members, quite unlike the jokey hit single that was in the offing, being more a “hip” pop thing.
In 1968 the duo basically threw the Psychedelic kitchen sink at this LP. They called in some of their well-established “heavy” friends including the fab one who has taken up far too much of our time in the bit of writing already, Jimi Hendrix and Graham Nash. One man publicity machine and ace on the Hammond Zoot Money, Spencer Davis and proto-Sid Vicious, Viv Prince from the Pretty Things all helped out. Despite all this high level assistance it sank like a stone, but listening today we can appreciate it for its qualities and not who might have been related to a principal player….
For example, opener “So Much In Love” is a classic 60s pop gem – you can discern a Hendrix like guitar figure in there as well – would have made a lovely hit single particularly the “trumpet solo” sung by one of the duo (my guess is it’s McGear). It’s followed by the quite daft “Little Bit Of Heaven” which sets out the stall for “McGough & McGear”, veering wildly from high end 60s pop to lunacy in one stride.
For the majority what’s on show here highlights McGough’s wordplay set to sparse instrumentation – he already was a highly skilled poet and over the course of these tracks he can be funny, poignant and sad in the space of a couple of lines. “Frinck: A Day In The Life Of and Summer With Monika”, which dominated the first side of the vinyl LP is a remarkable glimpse into the life of a couple through the course of one summer, heart-stopping at times, comic at others. It’s a listening experience you rarely ever have and is quite magnificent.
A wide gamut of sounds is on display, acoustic, spoken word, music hall (on the gentle and most Scaffold-like thing on the whole record “Do You Remember”), mind-melting psych outs, but the LP needs to be judged as a whole – it provokes a mood, assertive in a gentle and carefree fashion. Final track “Ex-Art-Student” starts as mild psych with a marked r ‘n’ b influence (Jimi Hendrix playing on it might have had an influence) before tailing off on an extended sitar excursion. It’s the only note which really dates the entire project, which otherwise just sits in its own unique bubble.
“McGough & McGear” is presented here in a cardboard outer sleeve with an attractive and extensive booklet that includes a new interview with Mike McGear as well as the original sleeve-notes by noted author Hunter Davies. The two CDs are broken down into mono and stereo editions. I went instinctively for the mono first as I’ve always trusted that a bit more than stereo for older stuff. I’m no audiophile, so I can’t tell too much though the stereo version does seem to sound a little clearer.
But the key thing here is that it doesn’t sound particularly dated despite the context. Can something be ”of its time” and yet not “dated”? If it can, this collection is a rare example of it. It’s a fascinating record, one like you seldom if ever hear these days and makes you yearn for days of such experimentation and smart thinking. This has been unheard way too long and deserves some proper attention. Yours for instance.
Mike McGear is on facebook here
All words by Ian Canty whose author profile is here