Visions In A Plaster Sky
Released 20 October 2017
The Complete Recordings of the Shel Talmy produced Psych Pop outfit from the years 1968 – 1969. This is the first full anthology of the Luton based band, including the tracks that would have made up their debut album and in depth sleeve-notes with contributions from all of the band’s original members, written by Alec Palao…..LTW’s Ian Canty tries a bit of Paisley Pop, but sees a tougher side obscured by ornate orchestration…………………….
Wild Silk were one of those 60s outfits that were unfortunately not allowed to play on their own records, with hardened sessioners like Big Jim Sullivan and Clem Cattini being summoned into lay down the music, while the band itself kicked their heels. They were required for their voices though, because the band had enviable smarts in the field of harmony singing. From the outside view it would seem that they were mere pawns in the hands of producer Shel Talmy, who was coming off the back of huge success with the early recordings of the Kinks, the Who and the Creation. More recently he had helmed a massive hit with the Easybeats, Friday On My Mind, so his stock was high.
School friends William Slaney and Barry Beasley first mooted the idea of the band in the early 60s, with the usual influences of the Beatles and the Shadows being their original inspiration. They went through a number of line-ups and a long running incarnation as the Vivas with guitarist Danny Maidment coming in. A revolving door policy of vocalists was finally arrested when they found singer Allan Davies and the group was complete. Mick Abrahams, a friend of the band, introduced the quartet to Talmy when they were working under the name Tramline. Cutting the single Poor Man (well singing with all the musical work being done by session men and overseen by arranger Keith Mansfield who had recently done the same for Love Affair) under that moniker, the band name had changed to Wild Silk by the time of its release.
Against the better judgement of the band, Talmy supplied most of the material and pushed the band towards the Bubblegum/Flower Power sound that was doing good business in the States. Though not a hit (Vision In A) Plaster Sky was a high watermark for the band, with it being released covertly in the US under the pseudonym “Basil” (even the band appeared to know nothing about this!). Though there were some good efforts afterwards in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Stop Crying and Help Me, they never really managed to make an impact and success remained tantalisingly out of reach for the Wild Silk crew.
Talmy took a step back from the group after Plaster Sky was not a hit and his right hand man Hugh Murphy took over at the boards for Wild Silk. Changing their name to Little Big Horn(!) the material from this time found the band moving in a much heavier direction (Jim Turner had by then been added by then on keyboards). A single, Another Man’s Song emerged in 1970 and but after a self-titled debut album only saw release in Germany a year later, the band split up for good. Their version of the Kinks’ Tired Of Waiting for you sneaked out as a single in 1971 under the pseudonym of Cotton Socks, but with no band to support it, it sank without trace.
On listening to the early recordings of Wild Silk you can kind of understand why Talmy did aim their material towards the US – the dreamy vocals of Davies, Maidment and Beasley appeared they could possibly give the likes of the Beach Boys a run for their money. But on the other hand the later Hugh Murphy-era songs showcase a much more interesting and harder hitting band, actually playing on their own songs and relishing it. In Allan Davies they had a pretty good songwriter too, so the surfeit of outside material was probably not even that necessary.
I have to be honest and say I much preferred the band in their later incarnation. Though there are some fine examples of Psych Pop along the way, there also are some more forgettable items from their Talmy-produced era and this bitty approach to their material left the band without anything much to get hold of in the way of progression. The harmony vocals are out in full force on Jessie, one occasion where the slightly MOR production works and Girl has some nice fuzz guitar battling with the orchestrations. Toymaker, the flip of Plaster Sky, is prime Toytown Psych/Bubblegum, but Break Down Jaunita shows the problems inherent with the methods Talmy used on the band – unnecessary strings superimposed on what would be a punchy Psych contender.
The later tracks bring the wild out of Wild Silk and all of these six songs taped around the time of the name changed are very good indeed. Just A Game, their one single as Little Big Horn, is a much heavier proposition that what had gone before and all the better for it and Fly has some of the natural exuberance that Thin Lizzy made their own half a decade later. At Last I’ve Found Someone To Love, the flip of that Cotton Socks single, is a Soul-tinged belter which showed they hadn’t lost their knack for winning Pop concoctions. Final offering The Man Who Knows is my favourite selection of the whole compilation, stinging guitar lines and excellent vocals allied to a memorable tune. Excellent stuff
Wild Silk seemed like the archetypal 60s band that on having been signed to a big label, found out that just their faces and voices were needed. Though you cannot deny the talents of the session men, this method lost something essential about the band. Something you can can clearly tell is in there on the later tracks where they finally were allowed a go on their instruments. However the earlier concoctions that were made up under their name were often very good distillations of slightly Psychedelic 60s Pop Music. But for me the later tracks are far more intriguing and also give this collection something nice in the way of variety. Wild Silk eventually took back some control on their career and though time was against them by then, they made up for lost time and produced some sterling work.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here