Various Artists: Good As Gold
5CD | DL
Released 25 June 2021
Subtitled Artefacts Of The Apple Era (1967-1975), this is a new 5CD set featuring artists who recorded for The Beatles’ label or at their studios. Among that number were Mike McGear, The Fire, Fanny, Mortimer, John Howard, Badfinger and The Misunderstood. Ian Canty spits out the pips through his gold teeth…
One feels I should perhaps whisper this here. For a band that was seen as the absolute anthesis of punk, The Beatles actually accomplished a fair amount of the things promised by the new wave. Chiefly amongst them, they used money raised by their success to form their own label Apple, which eventually had an exclusive studio facility. Apple was open to signing up many new and exciting bands in a way the staid major labels of the time weren’t. This provided a home for a whole host of bands and singers who may have otherwise struggled for exposure, plus they were given the natural “push” that came with being part of The Fab Four’s organisation. Though Apple would in time become a millstone around The Beatles’ collective necks, the label’s archive is populated with a number of excellent and interesting items. A good many of them are included here on this new Good As Gold compilation set.
There’s a great deal to get through here, so we will cut to the chase and get on with the inspection of the first part of Good As Gold, which looks at sessions and singles that slipped through the net and were left unissued at the time. The first disc opens up here with the exquisitely conceived Lullaby by Grapefruit. On the same disc, they also give us a lovely Just One More Try, which shows that this band had all the tools to make it in the 1960s, but it just wouldn’t happen for them. Then come three very pretty offerings of stately orchestrated pop sike from the youthful voice of Timon, aka Joe Strummer’s mate Tymon Dogg. The pick of the trio for me is the rolling piano drift of And Now She Say’s She’s Young.
Things turn a little heavier on Contact’s frantic Lovers From The Sky, which comes complete with an Eastern vibe and real energy. A second version of the same song closes this disc. After hearing the vim they imbue this number with, their other tune here is a real disappointment. For some reason, someone thought it was a good idea to use sped up chipmunk voices on what potentially could have been a decent psych/folk outing called Midsummer Night’s Scene. Less silly and as a result better are Drew And Dy (Pete Dymond and Keith Drewett), who take things in the folk-rock/pop direction on Dedicated To Love and follow that up with the freewheeling sound of Taurus The Bull.
Brute Force’s The King Of Fuh has gone down in history as one of the great “lost” singles, due to its single entendre lyrical nature. It is endearingly daft and cheeky though and the proposed flipside Nobody Knows is a nice psych-pop rocker with garage band keys. Fellow Americans Mortimer were victims of the Allen Klein takeover and their recordings for Apple subsequently languished in the vaults until 2017. Their You Don’t Say You Love Me is upbeat and uplifting, a swinging harmony pop tune with oodles of appeal. A more acoustic Mortimer tune On Our Way Home and the aforementioned, much lighter, Lovers From The Sky (Version) by Grapefruit close out disc one.
The music-box, near bubblegum sound of Brum’s The U (Don’t) No Who’s An Apple A Day (Mix 2) kicks off the second disc on a feelgood high. There are tonnes of great 1960’s vibes all over this platter. The two sides of The Fire’s cracking Father’s Name Is Dad/Treacle Toffee World single are pretty well-known these days, but still most excellent and the chilled Dear Delilah restates Grapefruit’s strengths. The demo of this song, cut by George Alexander the band’s main songwriter, is the first track on disc three of Good As Gold.
Listen To The Sky by obscure London outfit Sands comes over as a forgotten psychedelic epic with a great guitar sound, but is then suddenly cut in half by war sirens and some savage riffing. Ex-John’s Children/future Radio Star Andy Ellison shows on Fools From Upper Eden that when he wasn’t taking his own particular daredevil approach to stagecraft, he could really deliver vocally on what is a fast-moving charmer of a melody with a nice dose of organ frills into the bargain.
Ways And Means hailed from the Kent hinterlands and here provide a good version of Grapefruit’s Breaking Up A Dream and Denis Couldry And The Next Collection build convincingly to a rave-up chorus on I Am Nearly There. An early sighting of Second Hand finds them in a less full-on mode than Death May Be Your Santa Claus on the poppy A Fairy Tale and it’s followed by the cool flow of Sailing by Joker, a Penge-based foursome. Turquoise, who were near-neighbours of The Kinks, thoroughly entertain in a Small Faces-type way on Sister Saxophone and also donate the beautiful Saynia.
A breezy Forgive And Forget by Rawlings And Huckstep is a delightful groove and the mysterious Peter Cooper’s sizzling mod/freakbeat number Evil Loving Woman shows a potential that sadly came to nought. A real shame as the track is pure gold. It is immediately followed by The Misunderstood’s magnificent Children Of The Sun and the fact it stands up well in such company should tell you a lot. There’s wealth to enjoy on this disc which ends with another Grapefruit ace in a very cool dance tune Deep Water and Apple mainstay Jackie Lomax’s subtle r&b Home Is In My Head.
Disc three of Good As Gold looks at Apple’s publishing arm. Gallagher And Lyle were on the road to becoming an established songwriting team at the time of recording In Your Wonderful, which drifts along dreamily and their Technicolour Dream is also presentable enough. Leicester’s Legay trot along nicely on The Fantastic Story Of The Steam Driven Banana, a classic piece of sunshine pop imagination and Focal Point, discovered by Brian Epstein shortly before his death, make good use of a string section on an authentic blast of flower power that is Love You Forever. They also have a fine, more rockin’ psych tune in Sycamore Syd and their Never Never has a nice touch of mystery buried in its busy momentum.
Turquoise return with the driving piano pop of Flying Machine and though there’s not a lot about Promise in the detailed booklet that comes with this set, their enigmatic Not Sarah is a great slice of big production pop. Coconut Mushroom were natives of Portsmouth and came to Apple’s notice by winning a competition sponsored by the company. They rattle on pleasantly on their first offering Mirror, but better was to come as Without Her is their dizzy psych-pop triumph. The Perishers ably add a touch of garage organ to a good bit of very infectious mod soul called How Does It Feel. They were never to actually record for Apple and judging from the wholehearted performance here, it was certainly the label’s loss.
This part of Good As Gold ends with The Misunderstood’s spirited demo of I Unseen, Turquoise, also in demo mode but more restrained, if still jolly enough on Woodstock and The Cups, who provide the neat and catchy title track to this set.
The penultimate disc shifts focus to concentrate on the products of Apple’s 3 Savile Row Studio, which eventually opened its doors in late 1971 after the work of “Magic Alex” was deemed lacking. Geoff Emerick from Abbey Road Studios was called in to do a salvage job, but by the time it was ready to use, The Beatles themselves were history. Anyway, we start here with a tough blues-rocker Ain’t That Peculiar by L.A.’s Fanny, who were kicking arse years before punk. Later on, they take The Fabs own Hey Bulldog to the cleaners too.
Linda Lewis was near the start of a long and successful singing career when she cut Spring Song and Play Around at Savile Row. Both are utterly enchanting, with the former a work of breezy beauty. Mind your lug ‘oles as Stealers Wheel turn up with their biggie Stuck In The Middle With You and Canadian Michael Pagliaro’s You Ain’t Easy is sprinkled with power-pop gold dust. It’s pleasing that Contact return on this disc with the funky They’re All Coming On and Tim Hardin cuts a great version of Badfinger’s Perfection.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band obviously felt at home Savile Row, they recorded at the studio a lot and were at their peak at the time of the theatrical and dramatic Next and their brilliantly put together and anthemic The Faith Healer. Fairfield Ski, an obscure group from Birmingham, give us a prog-pop masterclass over the 10 minute running time of Would You Mind/The Writer, going across the gamut from perky pop to out-there oddness.
The great John Howard is caught early in his career with the brilliant and truly touching Kid In A Big World and years before The Freshies and Frank Sidebottom, Chris Sievey and his brother came down to London and staged a sit-in at Apple HQ, resulting in a recording session. He is represented here by a brief guitar and vocal interlude called Watercolour View. The disc works to its conclusion fittingly with Macca’s brother Mike McGear giving us a poppy banjo-led Let’s Turn The Radio On and Blowin’ In The Bay, another catchy gem. It is left to Badfinger to bring down the curtain with their perfect mix of tough rock and tunes from heaven Lay Me Down.
As we arrive at the final disc we find 23 offerings cut at Apple’s demo studio. Thus the sound is often a little rough here, with Jackie Lomax’s Is This What You Want perhaps suffering the most. But the lower quality audio can’t stop Focal Point’s stirring psych tune Miss Sinclair making a mark. Jack Hollingshead is represented by six demos that were meant to entice “name” groups to cover the songs. It never happened, but his Carnaby King is smart and playful folk-pop and his lissom and beguiling Belinda Be Good shows real talent.
Apparently, ex-Four Pennies’ member Lionel Morton was vital to these demo sessions. A look at his photo in the booklet identified him to me as one of the presenters on the “Young Nation” section of Nationwide that was my first look at The Sex Pistols in 1976. Before all that he worked with future Design singer Barry Alexander (the son of cricket commentator Brian Johnston) extensively, even donating handclaps to the very good Love You Nicola. Barry’s Emily Jane is a wistful and lovely 60s ballad and his Fairy-tale Princess an imaginative acoustic strum.
Grapefruit’s George Alexander was no relation to Barry, he was actually born Alexander Young, the elder brother of AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm. He crops up here with a cool demo of Grapefruit’s Lullaby. A couple of Drew and Dy songs, a folkie Tales Of Two Cities and Dedicated To Love, plus Focal Point’s gentle mystery ‘Cept Me comprise the finale to what is more of an interesting than essential disc, but it is all very tuneful and good to have for completion’s sake.
Good As Gold is really a wonderful box of delights that has been expertly compiled and anointed. You don’t have to be an admirer of The Beatles to enjoy it. Hell, if you’re just a fan of 1960’s and 1970’s pop music in general, well, you should really be in heaven here. Even the most steadfast disbeliever may even feel they have to tip the old hat to The Fab Four for at least bankrolling all this greatness. This set is stuffed full of high quality, seldom heard material, which could well leave you wondering how on earth Grapefruit, John Howard, The Fire, The Misunderstood etc missed out on the big time. A collection to love and treasure.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here