Help Yourself

TrackAlbum
Alabama LadyBeware The Shadow
American MotherBeware The Shadow
Blown AwayThe Return of Ken Whaley
Candy KaneThe Return of Ken Whaley
The All Electric Fur TrapperStrange Affair
Heaven RowStrange Affair
Movie StarStrange Affair
ReaffirmationBeware The Shadow
Running Down DeepHelp Yourself
Your Eyes Are Looking DownHelp Yourself

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Contributor: Rob Millis

Having written about Man (toppermost #57) and Brinsley Schwarz (toppermost #63), it seems churlish not to write about Help Yourself. The band that were “exactly halfway between the Brinsleys and Man” in many ways.

Musically they were; Man ploughed an acid rock furrow rich in guitar improvisation and quasi-psychedelic extended jams, Brinsley Schwarz wrote American influenced songs, at their lightest akin to The Lovin Spoonful and at their deepest, influenced heavily by The Band. Help Yourself sit halfway there: many a moment not unlike Buffalo Springfield but now and then an extended guitar break takes you to the Fillmore or some suchlike Haight-Ashbury scene hotbed. Both Brinsley Schwarz and Help Yourself backed ex-Eire Apparent singer Ernie Graham on his 1971 solo LP.

Contractually they were; managed by Stiff founder Dave Robinson’s Down Home Productions, as were Brinsley Schwarz, signed to Liberty/United Artists records by Andrew Lauder (like both groups) and packaged off with Man on a tour of Switzerland called “All Good Clean Fun” (it wasn’t; fun, yes – but clean…). And two members ended up in Man, another briefly in Man spinoff The Neutrons and a fourth in Deke Leonard’s Iceberg.

John Eichler and Dave Robinson, after the Brinsleys “Famepushers” debacle, split and concentrated on Down Home Productions, the artist management and production stable. Robinson took the Brinsleys and Eichler took Help Yourself.

Much as the Brinsleys had a frontman-cum-main writer in Nick Lowe, Help Yourself had Malcolm Morley. He wrote and sang, and turned his hand to keyboards or guitar. Richard Treece was the lead guitarist; Ken Whaley, a disciple of Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady was the inventive bassist, and Dave Charles (known latterly for his engineering at Rockfield) was the drummer.

They kicked off with an eponymous LP in 1971 on Liberty. Running Down Deep was the perfect cross between folk and acid rock – sober, melodic choruses and vocals opened out into untrammelled vistas of guitar interplay that would have done Jorma Kaukonen proud. Your Eyes Are Looking Down was rich in country twang and Steve Stills-like vocal phrasing; his Buffalo Springfield foil Neil Young was summoned in influence in Old Man (not just for the title!) with its largely minor/major two chord pedalling like Down By The River.

It didn’t sell and the group weren’t helped by Morley’s chronic depression. Robinson intervened and the blame fell upon Ken Whaley for some reason. He was sacked and Treece demoted to bass, no doubt as the other West Coast influenced musician that stood in the way of (Robinson’s view) of Morley cranking out simple, accessible songs like Robbie Robertson or Tumbleweed-era Elton John. Treece’s guitar role was filled by Jojo Glemser, a friend of Ernie Graham who also was crowbarred in to co-front the enlarged ensemble. Robinson also set them up in a large communal house as he had done with the Brinsleys in Northwood and later Beaconsfield; for Help Yourself it was that great homeland of Led Zeppelin folklore, Headley Grange.

At this juncture the band were packaged with Man and Midlands group Gypsy on the “All Good Clean Fun” tour of Switzerland, named after a UA compilation that featured all three acts plus many others (UK acts like Groundhogs, Eric Burdon, Brinsley Schwarz and Cochise lined up against American acts such as Canned Heat and Sugarloaf plus the heavier tones of Hawkwind and Amon Duul II). Man’s Deke Leonard said Help Yourself sounded like two different bands, not knowing at first that they all but were.

Strange Affair was the not inappropriately titled 1972 second LP. Morley served up Heaven Row, a piece of gospel-influenced rock with piano-led verses and lush vocal harmonies answering his choruses; Graham’s catchy Movie Star was built on layered guitars and harmonies. Ironically, having fired Whaley and made a concerted effort to focus the group away from loose jamming, The All Electric Fur Trapper was the very San Franciscan centrepiece, far more Quicksilver Messenger Service (toppermost #68) than anything on their debut (presumably Treece rattled off those mercurial guitar parts when Robinson had his back turned; it’s him all right).

Graham and Glemser had split to form Clancy before the LP was released, and in fact it was the next line-up pictured on the cover: a return to a four-piece, with Treece back on lead guitar and their former roadie Paul Burton on bass. Morley’s depression had not improved, and (having split from Man) Deke Leonard moved in with the band and between writing his own material, filled in for Morley. The group appeared with both Leonard and Morley on Christmas At The Patti, a live document of a seasonal gig at Swansea’s Patti Pavillion, held by Man and friends.

The Paul Burton-era four-piece recorded Beware The Shadow, released in 1973. The opener, Alabama Lady, was an airy rock and roller with pseudo-pedal steel and wah-wah guitars and was a confident slice of Anglo-Americana. Reaffirmation was another lengthy piece, and the Hot Burrito #2-like highpoint American Mother was co-written by Morley and roadie Sean Tyla, who would soon form Ducks Deluxe – with Ken Whaley!

Whaley wasn’t in the Ducks long, however. Deke Leonard fled the Helps nest having written his first album, Iceberg. He set about forming a band of the same name, and Paul Burton went with him on bass (pretty much the entire cast of Man and Help Yourself had been on hand for recording it). Burton’s decision to leave Help Yourself wasn’t just about the Iceberg offer from Leonard, however – he’d already gone, as a decision had been taken to shift things around a bit. The group would become part of a co-operative with the ex-Bonzo Roger Ruskin Spear, the Flying Aces (ex-Man bassist Martin Ace and his wife George) and whacky Swansea raconteur Vyvyan “Spiv” Morris in a circus/music hall revue called Happy Days. This was too theatrical for Burton, who left and was snapped up by Deke Leonard.

Whaley thus returned to Help Yourself and they recorded the sensibly (if rather awkwardly) titled fourth LP The Return of Ken Whaley! This had some strong moments: Man We’re Glad We Know You was a tip of the hat to their Welsh counterparts, whereas Blown Away ended up in the Man set the following year (you’ll understand why later). Your author’s favourite is Candy Kane – chiming Abbey Road style guitars but yet so American sounding. The first 5,000 copies of the album came in an a pouch sleeve with a second LP included representing the Happy Days project.

Albums were just not selling for Help Yourself and midway through recording a fifth (called simply 5) in August 1973, the band (and Happy Days) knocked in on the head. Martin Ace rejoined his old buddy Deke Leonard and replaced Paul Burton in Iceberg, but still felt the calling of his own project and late in 1973 was replaced…by Ken Whaley…

As it turned out, Man were having one of their frequent reshuffles too, and Christmas 1973 saw the dissolution of their current line-up. Deke Leonard called a halt to Iceberg, went back into the mothership and – having been with Deke – so did Whaley. Completing their line-up for 1974 was Malcolm Morley and the most Help Yourself-like Man band was born (are you following this?). With Leonard and Morley both strong writers, this was to be a leaner Man aiming at getting to the USA (which they did) by more focussed writing in place of the old acid’n’dope jams. But there, I’ve written that story already.

Help Yourself reformed just once, in 1974 for the ZigZag magazine five year anniversary concert. Burton, Whaley and Leonard were present with each member stepping up to do the material he’d been involved with!

Treece, Morley and Whaley did manage to finally finish the fifth Help Yourself album; now released. Morley continues to do low key solo performances and has made a couple of solo albums. Whaley formed a band with Richard Treece called The Archers, later renamed The Green Ray, who released a handful of CDs.

Ken Whaley died in 2013 from lung cancer. “Dancing Ken” as he was known for his almost imp-like movements (it’s true; I saw it! I had a fag outside the Half Moon in Herne Hill with Whaley at a Man gig; he took his leave and didn’t so much walk off as just appear to “magic” his way along the road, half like a leaping gazelle and half like a will-o-the-wisp) was a fantastically original bass player, just like his hero Jack Casady whose signature model bass he was seen toting proudly in his final years. RIP.

 

Footnote:

For fans of “British Americana”, the Ernie Graham 1971 self-titled LP is truly worth a listen. Graham had been in Eire Apparent, a band known mainly for association with Jimi Hendrix (who produced/played on their Track LP Sunrise), and also featuring Henry McCullough on guitar at some point. Dave Robinson had worked for Hendrix and thus met Ernie Graham in the late sixties, signing him to Down Home Productions later (and like Brinsley Schwarz and Help Yourself, got him a deal at Liberty/UA records). The album is a great showcase for Graham’s melodic songs and both the Brinsleys and Help Yourself were drafted in to back him. Well worth hunting down.

Malcolm Morley official website

Help Yourself biography (Wikipedia)

You can find a couple more Help Yourself tracks from Rob’s toppermost on youtube (check the links below). If you’re new to the band (like I was … Ed.) you will want to chase down the LPs.

Reaffirmation
The All Electric Fur Trapper

TopperPost #250

5 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 11, 2014

    [pulls out copy of Will Birch’s No Sleep Til Canvey Island] Yup, they’re in there. I have never listened to these guys. I will right that wrong.

  2. Peter Viney
    Apr 11, 2014

    Fascinating history of a band I knew nothing about, but now I’m drawn in and want to hear. I asked my local vinyl shop today, and they had had nothing for years, but apparently when they do appear in a collection it’s with Head, Hands & Feet albums!

  3. Rob Millis
    Apr 12, 2014

    Keith & Peter: no surprise that the Helps are generally featured in the collection of H,H&F fans, nor that they feature in Will Birch’s tome as they are among that select breed of “Anglo Americana” bands. See also Roger Morris, Cochise, Quiver and the dear old Brinsleys.

  4. Terry Newman
    Apr 12, 2014

    Great piece, as a massive fan of both Man and the Brinsleys these somehow got missed along the way. Bought a double CD (Help Yourself and Beware The Shadow) about 6 months ago which is every bit as good as you describe. A personal favourite is Old Man (from Help Yourself) which has CSN like harmonies combined with some great Neil Young ‘Cortez The Kiler’ guitar.

  5. David Lewis
    Apr 12, 2014

    Eire Apparent: best band name I’ve heard all year.

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