|Flight From Ashiya||Fontana 863 single|
|(Further Reflections) In The Room Of Percussion||Tangerine Dream|
|The Sky Children||Tangerine Dream|
|A Dream For Julie||Fontana 895 single|
|Jenny Artichoke||Fontana 964 single|
|Faintly Blowing||Faintly Blowing|
|Black Fjord||Faintly Blowing|
|Aries||From Home To Home|
|The Glorious House Of Arthur||From Home To Home|
Contributor: Rob Morgan
When I started buying records in my teens during the early 80s there wasn’t the wealth of information that is available now. My father had a 120 magazine part work called The History Of Rock which was my bible a lot of the time, but there were glaring omissions. My brother had some books – album guides and histories – published by Rolling Stone which were good, though strewn with errors and some rather harsh judgements and very US-centric. I also read Record Collector to find information about the more esoteric acts, and during the mid 80s they would produce lists of rare records, and these peculiar looking LPs by Kaleidoscope would appear, selling for hundreds of pounds. The record covers looked peculiar – one LP looked like a bunch of regency fops in front of a wall of tin foil, the other LP was a mist swirling Victorian vision, lutes and milk maids in a forest scene. What the hell? And this band Kaleidoscope didn’t get a mention in any of these books. Who were they? Where did they come from? Did they sound like they looked? Could the music match up to the price tag?
The first time I heard them was when I purchased Illusions From The Crackling Void – a compilation on Bam Caruso Records – during the spring of 1988. I was starting to explore psychedelia and wanted to move beyond the obvious stuff, beyond Love and The Byrds and Pink Floyd and Tomorrow. I had seen an article in Record Collector about Bam Caruso, the St Albans label specialising in psych reissues, and all the bands seemed unknown but intriguing. Illusions… was only £2.99 for sixteen tracks, a bargain, so I took a chance and that LP opened up a world I’d never seen. Freakbeat by The Poets and The Eyes, gentle baroque pop from The Left Banke and Montage, proto country rock from Hearts and Flowers, and some wonderful psychedelia from Timebox, Wimple Winch, The Aquarian Age and – yes – Kaleidoscope. A Dream For Julie kicked off side two of the LP and it really did kick off. After a short intro of echoing piano, there is a huge clang of guitars and bass and drums, then harmonies, odd words, and more jangling guitars. It sounded like so many layered guitars piled on top of each other, it made no sense but the melodies were sharp and gorgeous. It sounded unique, not like anyone else on the album, or any of the other psych pop I knew. I wanted to know more about this band, I wanted to hear more of this band.
Luckily, an enterprising record label Five Hours Back reissued both Kaleidoscope LPs that year and I bought them both from FON Records in Sheffield at the same time my brother bought four Bam Caruso Rubbles compilations. We were both exploring the music at the same time, sending each other tapes of our newest discoveries, writing letters to each other with new information. He didn’t like Kaleidoscope – he thought they were twee – but I loved that aspect of them, which would set me up nicely to discover the twee world of Sarah Records two years later (but that’s another story). Still, information on the band was hard to find. In 1990 my brother bought an issue of the magazine Bucketful Of Brains which had an interview with Kaleidoscope and a history of the band. Suddenly I had more information – and there were two new albums as well. From Home To Home by Fairfield Parlour was the same band under a different name, originally issued by the prog label Vertigo in 1970, and there was White Faced Lady, an unreleased double concept album originally recorded in 1971. I realised that I had nearly bought the Fairfield Parlour album in the mid 80s when I saw an original Vertigo swirl labelled copy in a second hand shop. Still there wasn’t that much information available, but as Kaleidoscope’s sixties and early seventies work was reissued for the CD age in the 21st Century, their remarkable tale emerged, and how they seemed to be the unluckiest band of the era.
The story of Kaleidoscope is the story of four friends from North London who formed a band because it was the thing to do in the early Sixties. They were all music fans, growing up through Elvis and Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent, and in their late teens they formed The Sidekicks in ’64, an R&B band. As styles and music progressed they changed to The Key, shedding the R&B covers for original material before settling on the name Kaleidoscope at the start of ’67. After hawking around songs to publishers, they managed to get signed to Fontana Records and started to record their own songs. Singer Peter Daltrey would write the words while guitarist Eddie Pumer would create the music, getting ample support from Steve Clark on bass and Danny Bridgman on drums. They would write and rehearse in Pumer’s parents’ attic, the room itself inspiring a song. Once signed they were a ‘top priority’ act for Fontana, and care was taken in their presentation – singles in full colour sleeves were rare at the time, only Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane had had one – and they were highly promoted on the pirate radio stations. And yet success always alluded them. Their first three singles had plenty of airplay and support from radio and TV too. But nobody could buy the records in the shops. There were problems with distribution – people wanted to buy these records but could never find them, which is why original copies of their LPs became so rare.
But what about the music?
Their debut album Tangerine Dream was issued in November ’67, just as the psychedelic tide was starting to recede. It had that amazing ‘Dandies in a Bacofoil Underworld’ cover which date-stamps it to 1967 and the sleevenotes make the record sound like a concept album, but it isn’t really. Some of the songs are a collection of character sketches – a spurned lover, a watch repairer, a family on holiday – which paint vignettes of small town life and existence. Flight From Ashiya – their debut single – falls into this category; a plane is plummeting to the ground and the passengers wonder what to do. Other songs are less specific, collections of words and images to set scenes – such as (Further Reflections) In The Room Of Percussion, the song inspired by the band’s music room. Drums crash, the song lurches from loud to quiet, strange noises appear and disappear and “My God the spiders are everywhere”. Throughout the album, the musicianship is excellent, the songs sound bright and clean and they sparkle – there are antecedents to their sound (Beatles, Bee Gees) but Kaleidoscope’s sound is their own. However, the album has a dark heart. Four songs conclude with their characters’ death – sometimes sad and alone, sometimes through their own foolishness, sometimes murdered. The album concludes with The Sky Children – an eight minute children’s tale that in the wrong hands could be twee as fuck but is handled gently by the band, their melodic sense on display, and with a bridge of pure wordless melancholy.
A Dream For Julie was their second single, issued around the same time as their debut album, and while it picked up a lot of airplay and support it still didn’t graze the charts – poor distribution again. A third single, Jenny Artichoke, was pure late 60s pop perfection – simple guitar riff, infectious melody, handclaps, chunky guitars, the name Jenny in it (they admitted they were trying to combine Jennifer Eccles and Jennifer Juniper) – what could go wrong? They were all over the radio and TV too – apparently Tony Blackburn introduced them on one show by holding a kaleidoscope in one hand and an artichoke in the other – and yet still it wasn’t a hit. Again, it couldn’t be found in the shops. But Kaleidoscope carried on regardless. The B-side of Jenny Artichoke – Just How Much You Are – featured an arrangement by John Cameron, known for his varied arrangements for Donovan, and he worked on a number of songs for the band’s second album, recorded in ’68 and issued early ’69.
Faintly Blowing was definitely a progression from their debut. There was less twee psychedelia, more of a folk influence on acoustic songs like Poem and Bless The Executioner, there were more story songs – The Feathered Tiger’s dreamscape of a children’s zoo, the shaggy dog story of A Story For Tom Bitz – and there were more progressive elements too. The title track was an ominous love song with droning lead guitar parts, the closer, Music, was a live favourite, a loud freak-out of wildly phased drums, sharp tempo changes, chanted vocals and found sounds, while Black Fjord utilised Cameron’s arrangement skills to paint a sonic picture of a Viking warlord approaching a battle. It’s a wonderful varied album with hardly a bad song on it, and yet again it sold next to nothing. Fontana still wanted hits and the band recorded two poor singles, Do It Again For Jeffrey and Balloon, which were hollow attempts to make the charts, but these were rightly ignored. Fontana dropped the band and they were left to regroup in the summer of 1969.
The sleevenote to Faintly Blowing was written by Radio 1 DJ, David Symonds, who was an avid supporter of the band, playing their records and featuring them in live sessions. He offered the band his services as their manager and together they took control of their career. No longer accountable to a label’s whims, they paid for their own recording sessions and owned their recordings, leasing them to any interested labels. They also changed their name from Kaleidoscope to Fairfield Parlour, even though they were still the same four members. This sort of thing happened a lot at the time; a band saddled with a passé name or image changing their name to turn ‘progressive’ (I’m looking at you, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound aka Gentle Giant). There were new musical flavours too – Clark had learnt the flute, Daltrey the keyboards for that all important mellotron sound – and these influences created Fairfield Parlour’s debut LP From Home To Home. This was another step forward for the band; the songs were more tightly controlled and there were dark hints throughout the album. Opener, Aries, is stunning – a slow trawl through the memories of growing up, before bursting into the doubting chorus, “Hold my hand and tell me where we are”, reflecting the uncertainties of the transition to the seventies. The Glorious House Of Arthur is a tale of Arthurian legend but without the pretension inherent in a lot of prog. Emily is a sad tale of an old spinster embarrassing herself at a wedding, then passing away. Free and Soldier Of The Flesh offer hope and support, and songs like Sunnyside Circus play tempo games with plenty of flute and mellotron – it’s like a poppier Moody Blues. And that’s a good thing. The album was reviewed well and singles, Bordeaux Rose and Just Another Day (featuring two Moodies) were played on the radio but still no chart action came their way.
Their bad luck continued apace. They were commissioned to write a song for the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival, and Let The World Wash In was issued as a single under the name I Luv Wight. Fairfield Parlour were invited to play a live set with the single playing constantly between acts. But the single didn’t get played and the band played an unannounced and truncated set at the start of the festival, so they had no benefit from the exposure. Licking their wounds, they worked up a double concept album, White Faced Lady – a loose story of a naïve lady named Angel who is abused by all those she trusts – family, friends, lovers. Daltrey wrote out the story and the songs were worked in around it. It was vague but it worked, and it contained some great songs – the instant pop of Nursey nursey, the bitter kiss-off of Song From Jon (featuring some fine jamming) and the final songs as Angel’s life shrinks from fame to a lonely bedsit – Long Way Down, The Locket, Picture With Conversation – are sad, sympathetic and can bring a tear to the eye with their little details of a life in retreat. The album’s finale Epitaph: Angel is heartwrenching, moving through solo voice and choir, acoustic guitars, full band, full orchestration and back again in the space of eight minutes. And the lyrics sum up the story and the heroine with grace and power – and indicate that Daltrey may have been writing about Marilyn Monroe. (And isn’t that Elton John on piano on the album? And didn’t he sing about Marilyn on a double album a year or so later? Hmm …) With the album recorded and ready, they found that their contact at Vertigo had moved to RCA, and once at the new label he didn’t have the budget to take on releasing a double album. So the LP was shelved and Fairfield Parlour quietly faded away. The four members still played together but returned to day jobs and real life – their dreams of pop stardom dashed along the way.
Sadly, White Faced Lady isn’t available on Spotify (although you can find the CD at a nice price online) and frankly it’s hard to pick one or two songs from it – the songs are part of the story so it’s difficult to remove them from the tale. Epitaph: Angel though is utterly fantastic. But have some hankies ready.
The scarcity of Kaleidoscope’s original records led to their value growing in proportion to their musical worth during the 80s. The reissues I bought whetted the appetite for more, which is why Kaleidoscope have reissued the albums they have control over – From Home To Home and White Faced Lady – to critical acclaim and finally some decent sales. Since then their Fontana albums have been reissued and repackaged, a collection of their BBC radio sessions came out last year, and even tapes from their days as The Sidekicks are available. These days, Kaleidoscope get the respect their music was due all along.
From last.fm: “There are at least seven artists/bands that have used the name Kaleidoscope: a British psychedelic rock band, an American psychedelic band, an Australian power-pop/rock trio, a Mexican psychedelic hard rock band, a solo artist, an Italian eurodance trio, and an electronic musician.” In the case of the US band, Kaleidoscope, who recorded around the same time as Kaleidoscope UK, you can find their first four psychedelic albums in a boxed set of 3 CDs, and at an even nicer online price of under a fiver.