Various Artists – Fab Gear The British Beat Explosion And Its Aftershocks 1963 – 1967
Released 27th April 2018
Huge boxset of rare Beat music treasures from the 1960s, with big names like the Kinks, Searchers and the Tremeloes rubbing shoulders with genuine rarities like the meddyEVILS, Angelina and the Doc Thomas Group. 185 tracks in all of Beat goodness… Ian Canty shakes and shimmies in a white polo-neck pullover, vainly trying to dig the scene…..
Fab Gear was a phrase introduced to the nation by the Beatles, part of their unique lexicon which helped to drive a generation gap between the young and old and kick the “swinging 60s” off. Setting aside the actual music for a moment, theirs was an all-pervading effect on most of the youth of Britain in the 1960s. They talked differently and the look was a neater step away from the leather clad Rockers. In fact the uniformity of the Fabs’ image made it difficult to tell them apart. Older folk struggled to make sense of it all.
Back to the music. Although they initially took their cues from 1950’s music like Rock & Roll and Blues, they melded it into something that seemed new and fresh, more in time with the rapid changes of the new decade. The Beatles musical set-up with an in-built songwriting team might not seem it now, but was revolutionary at the time. Before then, you had Cliff being backed by the Shadows, who were great but very much in the background. The song words generally still came from outside writers operating in Denmark Street, London’s Tin Pan Alley. This change had immense impact, as all over the country kids felt emboldened to set their own feelings to music.
The Fabs phenomenal success even had those who never saw themselves as previously as “musical” throwing themselves into the “Beat” craze, as it became known. Beat being the new mix the Beatles came up with (originally Merseybeat in a tribute to their hometown, but as the fad spread nationwide it became truncated), honed in the hard slog of their sojourns in Hamburg. The seat of your pants DIY spirit of Skiffle had started them off, then they added the tenderness of Folk. All of this was underpinned by their smoother version of the raw US Rock & Roll of the 50s and their ever-jaunty demeanour.
As time went on Beat became a catch-all term used to describe to any new Pop Music that emerged in the UK – it is this moment that Fab Gear seeks to capture, tracking the original Beat merchants and their descendents as the various other waves like the Blues Boom, US Soul, Psych and Garage washed in to take things in a different direction. In its purest form Beat had an energetic and driving backbeat, wild guitar breaks (which germinated gradually into the guitar overload of Freakbeat), harmonic vocals and an overall irrepressible upbeat attitude. The handle finally went out of fashion towards the end of the 60s and when it got superseded by Mod and Psychedelia as the buzzwords. By that time, only an old fuddy duddy would have used the phrase.
Though a pivotal time in the development of the UK pop scene, the music of Beat has mostly been undervalued in deference to what happened later on. Fab Gear looks to set the record straight, building on a previous series entitled Beat Beat Beat released over a decade ago. Things didn’t stay still for long in the 60s and Fab Gear reflects these constant changes. As such, it has a broad brief – acts that were never really Psychedelic, Blues Boomers or even “Freakbeat”, but contained elements of some or all feature, along with more than a few that would have not really considered themselves as “Beat groups” in the more narrow definition of today at all, but existed in the timeframe making spirited Pop Music.
Now as we’re looking at 185 tracks here in total it isn’t possible to go through them one by one. I can only give a flavour really, the delight is in the detail, to subvert a cliché. Well-known acts like the Kinks rub shoulders with obscure bands, Beat being the Year Zero for all. Fab Gear runs in more or less chronological order from the early post-Beatles stirrings to the dawn of the Psychedelic era, capturing some thrilling Pop moments, extraordinary over-night sensations and near misses.
So disc one starts us off in the relatively innocent days of 1963, when Beat in its initial form was emerging and the phrase ensconced itself in the national lingo as the buzzword. The folk update of Chad and Jeremy’s Yesterday’s Gone, which kicks off this compilation, gives us a very mild introduction to Beat, one which is immediately taken a stage further by Carter-Lewis & The Southerners on Someboday Told My Girl. This track features what was to become a benchmark of the style, some wigged-out guitar soloing. A Band Of Angles, who featured future Manfred Mann vocalist Mike D’Abo, capture the thrill of pure Beat and its roots in raucous Rock & Roll on Me (even though top session men played on the disc rather than the band). The spacey Round And Round By The Mike Cotton Sound might even pre-empt the Psychedelia of the Summer Of Love a bit as is suggested in the sleeve notes, but there is also a hint of the Joe Meeks about the other worldly atmosphere evoked.
The kind of fast R&B that would fuel the coming Blues boom can be heard on the speedy shuffle of Don’t Lie To Me by Four + One, a band which would eventually mutate into Tomorrow (we catch up with them again on disc three, this time as the In-Crowd, by then stirring Soul and Freakbeat into their fine You’re On Your Own). Angelina’s Wishing My Life Away is a total revelation, sad and beautiful Beat Folk Rock with some great vocals by the artist otherwise known as Jacqueline Mumford. There is a touch of Ska in Migil 5’s Seven Lonely Days, showing that Beat was always a fluid, ever-changing entity, with the Sheffields’ hard-hitting and soulful Plenty Of Love having an element of the Blues rave-up about it.
Skipping onto disc 2, we’re firmly in 1965, when the Fab Four’s Rubber Soul would signal a sea change, a move towards more esoteric sounds. Though Beat would continue to prosper during this year, the clock was running fast. The influence of US Soul and the Blues Boom, which would verge on being a harder, more authentic version of what Beat originally was, would both show their hands. Also bands other than the Beatles gathered admirers, particular influential were the Kinks and the Pop majesty of Manchester’s Hollies and the Zombies from St Albans.
From the US, the Beach Boys vocal prowess would also come to be aped by many bands who searched for something to season their Beat backbone with. Even with these new developments, the Shadows’ cool guitar sound wasn’t totally taboo, recalled to neat effect on the Midnights’ Only Two Can Play. The aforementioned Joe Meek wasn’t about to give up as his early 60s productions winners were usurped by these long-haired newcomers, with Don’t Break My Heart And Run Away by Bobby Rio and the Valentines possessing some of his echo trickery and tinkling piano (the Syndicats of Crawdaddy Simone fame, who also were produced by Joe, show up on disc three with the jangly, phased wonder On The Horizon).
Fairground organ and an infectious dance groove enliven the Pros and Cons’ breakneck and exciting Whirlybird (Part One) and the Epics alternate between standard perky beat and Mod guitar heroics on My Little Girl. This is immediately followed by the Lemmings, who were led by Martin Murray having just quit chart-toppers the Honeycombs. Their effort of the same name as that previous track (it isn’t just thrown together this!) is bright Folk Pop with a nice spiky guitar line running through it. The drifting, delightfully smooth Jazz Soul of Mod heroes the Riot Squad showed how much had changed by 1965 and West London’s Quiet Five successfully marry a Beat Pop tune to some wild and nicely discordinate guitar on Honeysuckle Rose.
The Sorrows from Coventry are one of the better known outfits on disc three and they are represented by their hit Take A Heart. Ok, maybe this one isn’t obscure, but it’s still a bloody brilliant bit of mean and moody Punk R&B. Alan Price may be a bit of a incongruous figure to have on a Beat comp, as he was more tied into the Blues with the Animals, but along with his Set he provides a beauty in Any Day Now.
Mod duo the Truth tote an unusual click-clack rhythm and big band arrangement that plays against the Blues power of Come On Home pretty well, everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the production, very busy and breathless, but good nonetheless. This is followed by the classic Stingray theme by the Tornados, possibly Joe Meek’s last great record and the oddly named meddyEVILS provide a textbook late-in-the-day Beat ballad in Find Somebody To Love. I reviewed the Tomcats handy compilation a while back and their Spanish language Pena Penita Pena is a joy to hear again, a classy R&B rumble. This disc ends with three tracks from the cash-in pseudo-live album Liverpool Today Live At The Cavern, with the cool Nobody But You by Earl Preston’s Realms being probably the pick.
By the time we hit 1966 on disc four, anyone playing the kind of straight Beat style that was all the rage two years previously would have been classed as hopelessly out of date. Thus the tracks we hear here are all touched by other influences. A strong Soul contingent is headed up by a young David Bowie and the Lower Third, his And I Say To Myself perhaps an early hint of what was to come a decade later on Young Americans. Arthur Brown’s time in the spotlight was soon to come, but he follows in similar fashion (his big voice could always could handle a Soul dancer) with You Don’t Know being enlivened immeasurably by some spooky sounding organ courtesy of accompanying group the Diamonds.
Southampton’s the Time work some storming fuzz fretwork onto a beguiling tune, with a hint of the Yardbirds’ For You Love, on their great Take A Bit Of Notice. The cumbersomely named Phillip Goodhand-Tait And The Stormville Shakers haven’t got much Beat about them at all to be honest, but as their I’m Gonna Put The Hurt On You is a fine brassy and stomping bit of Soul I won’t quibble. A great “aftershock”. Coming from down in Exeter, the Spartans do a good cover the Who’s Lies with some ringing guitar and drummer Chris Curtis, who had departed archetypal Beat mavens the Searchers, impresses with a quality high energy dance track in Aggravation. Finally the Debonaries’s vocalist Cyril Shane sounds like a prototype Feargal Sharkey on A Love Of Our Own – coming from Northern Ireland as well, did he play an influence on Sharkey’s stylings?
The Tremeloes had parted company with Brian Poole by the time of their Beatles’ cover Good Day Sunshine. It may not be their own song, but this is a masterclass in feel-good Pop and kick-starts disc five in style. Glasgow’s Marmalade are another act that hit the charts and a were brilliant band with a knack for elegant, dreamy compositions. Their It’s All Leading Up To Saturday Night featured here is up to their very high standards. Adrian Gurvitz had solo success and as part of the band Gun, but he’s featured here as part of the Knack (no, not that one!) and their Take Your Love is sparkling example of Beat/Psych Pop.
The Kinks had by now ascended to the importance that their effortless song writing smarts fully deserved and as such are featured in three covers of their material on the spin by the Attraction, Five’s Company and the Doc Thomas Group, with the last outfit (who had links to Mott The Hoople) providing a Country-flecked treatment of Just Can’t Go To Sleep which is narrowly my favourite. This trio is followed by the perfect 60s Pop of the Spectres, whose Hurdy Gurdy Man was written by bassist Alan Lancaster (soon to join Status Quo). There’s some great female vocals from an unknown singer on Marcus Trio’s We Can Make It, Baby and the Athenians’ version of the Paul Revere And The Raiders’ Steppin’ Out retains the snotty Garage Punk feel of the original.
The final disc of Fab Gear deviates from the time-line of the previous platters, consisting of material recorded from 1963 to 1967 but unreleased at the time. Many of the tracks are issued on CD for the first time and some not available at all until now. As such we get a whistle-stop survey of the unknown 60s and a wide variety of styles. There’s a volley of hep sounds taped at the fabled R.G. Studios at Morden (which was tied into the Oak label) and a couple of waxings from the group that would grow to be Psych heroes Leviathan, trading at this early stage as the Mighty Atoms and later Mike Stuart Span, recording Wanderin’ Eye and a great bit of catchy Soul Follow Me respectively. Some of the recordings on this one are a little on the rough side (a number of these only existed on acetates), but the spirit and craft on show is still a joy to behold.
Of particular note to me were the Silence, forerunners of both John’s Children and the Radio Stars, with their sparky, punky Down Down and “real deal” Beat of Five Step Beyond on Heartbreak Love Or Paradise. Barney J Bubbles And The Intro impress with their Soul monster It Must Be Love (nothing to do with the Labi Siffre song) and You’re No Use by the Fadin’ Colours for some reason, possibly the vocals, reminded me of the Ramones. Fittingly we end with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, former employers of one Richard Starkey esquire, who furnish us with some rocking Beat on Lend Me Your Comb.
In conclusion, Fab Gear is another great collection of 60s ephemera, with lots of swell and hard to find music. There have been a lot of Freakbeat, Mod and Psychedelic compilations over the years and while on the whole it is great to have those sort of records around, it is also refreshing to hear bands that “slipped through the cracks so to speak. Presented in a book format with the individual stories of each track and artist, this is just what the doctor order for 1960s nuts and greying moptops, who will benefit greatly from both the intriguing stories and groovy sounds aboard compiled by the ever-knowing boffins of RPM. Bravo!
Buy Fab Gear direct from RPM here.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here