Saturday, 21 November 2020

"The Complete de Wolfe Sessions" by THE ELECTRIC BANANA [The Pretty Things under a pseudonym] – Including Six UK Library Music Albums from 1967, 1968, 1969 (two), 1973 and 1978 on the Music de Wolfe label – featuring Richard Taylor, Phil May, John Povey, John Alder and Alan (Wally) Waller of The Pretty Things (September 2019 UK Grapefruit Records 3CD Clamshell Mini Box Set of Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Free Love..."

Imagine you're a hip and happening dapper dude filmmaker walking down the King's Road in 1967 London with an afghan coat in one hand and a lysergic tablet in the other. You've just left the Tangerine Tandem Purple Ship Bicycles Bar with your copy of Oz that contains a fascinating article on the use of macrobiotic yoghurt in Himalayan yacks. 

But before that, you engaged in a very disturbing A/B-Button payphone phonecall to your moneyman (i.e. Producer). He has broken the bad news. If you want actual groovy cool music originals from the hipster bands of the Swinging Sixties in your film about nubiles mating with aliens from the planet EggNog at the Stonehenge Summer Solstice - the cost is prohibitive man. Drat - you think. You pop that tab from your right hand into your mouth and wallah! Suddenly, the fog of the hassling man has dissipated and all has become translucently and metaphysically clear baby. I need Library Music...

When I worked as the Rarities buyer in Reckless Records in Islington and Soho - the three big Library Music makers - KPM, Chappell and Music de Wolfe - would present themselves in collections at your counter in the form of albums with the same artwork - just different catalogue numbers. You would have song titles on the back sleeves like "Love Dance And Sing" or "A Thousand Ages From The Sun" - and have no earthly idea who was playing on what LP – or which one of these samey-looking buggers was worth the dosh. 

The dark arts of Library Music always elicited two reactions amongst collectors in my experience - frenzy or a yawn. There were those who adored the Psych and Film Music instrumentals you could stumble upon hidden inside these obscure LPs that turned up like musical thieves in the night in secondhand record shops. But there were also those who had forked out £20 for an LP that contained only insipid incidental interludes – none of which were interesting or cool (burned once, never again). And that’s where this superbly done 3CD Clamshell Mini Box set comes a bopping in.

Our Psych-rocking heroes moonlighting in the latter part of the 60ts as 'The Electric Banana' turned out to be none other than members of The Pretty Things (a quick perusal of the DW/LP credits beneath the titles showed that the songs were written by Richard Taylor, Phil May, John Povey and Alan Waller). A 60ts supergroup in their own right, but also an integral part of that underground scene which had its toes in eclectic films and TV programs - these records have always been touch stones for fans of the PT's. And they are rare in original form. 

The moniker 'The Electric Banana' never did get out an album on a major label, but as this box shows, managed six LPs on the British Library music label Music de Wolfe in 1967, 1968, 1969 (two), 1973 and 1978. And typically, Grapefruit Records of the UK have done a stunning job of shining a torch on a very dimly lit part of the counterculture. To the goose, the street girls, the orphan ladies and oodles of free love...

UK released Friday, 27 September 2019 - "The Complete de Wolfe Sessions" by THE ELECTRIC BANANA on Grapefruit Records CRSEGBOX058 (Barcode 5013929185807) is a 3CD Clamshell Mini Box Set that plays out as follows: 

CD1 (61:51 minutes):
1. Walking Down The Street [Side 1]
2. If I Needed Somebody 
3. Free Love 
4. 'Cause I'm A Man 
5. Danger Signs 
6. Walking Down The Street (Instrumental) [Side 2]
7. If I Needed Somebody (Instrumental)
8. Free Love (Instrumental)
9. 'Cause I'm A Man (Instrumental)
10. Danger Signs (Instrumental)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the UK Library Music album "Electric Banana" released 1967 on Music de Wolfe DW/LP 3040 in Mono - credited to ELECTRIC BANANA with TILSLEY ORCHESTRAL 

11. I See You [Side 1] 
12. Street Girl 
13. Grey Skies 
14. I Love You
15. Love Dance And Sing
16. A Thousand Ages From The Sun 
17. I See You (Instrumental) [Side 2]
18. Street Girl (Instrumental) 
19. Grey Skies (Instrumental) 
20. I Love You (Instrumental) 
21. Love Dance And Sing (Instrumental)
22. A Thousand Ages From The Sun (Instrumental)
Tracks 11 to 22 are the album "More Electric Banana" UK released 1968 on Music de Wolfe DW/LP 3069 in Mono

CD2 (77:35 minutes):
1. Alexander [Side 1]
2. It'll Never Be Me 
3. Eagle's Son 
4. Blow Your Mind
5. What's Good For The Goose
6. Rave Up 
7. Alexander (Instrumental) [Side 2]
8. It'll Never Be Me (Instrumental)
9. Eagle's Son (Instrumental)
10. Blow Your Mind (Instrumental)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Even More Electric Banana" - released 1969 in the UK on Music de Wolfe DW/LP 3123 in Mono [NOTE: see also Track 11, CD3]

11. Sweet Orphan Lady [Side 1]
12. I Could Not Believe My Eyes
13. Good Times 
14. Walk Away 
15. The Loser 
16. Easily Done 
17. Sweet Orphan Lady (Instrumental) [Side 2]
18. I Could Not Believe My Eyes (Instrumental)
19. Good Times (Instrumental)
20. Walk Away (Instrumental)
21. The Loser (Instrumental)
22. Easily Done (Instrumental)
Tracks 11 to 22 are the album "Hot Licks" - released 1973 in the UK on Music de Wolfe DW/LP 3284 in Stereo

CD3 (46:28 minutes):
1. Do My Stuff [Side 1]
2. Take Me Home 
3. James Marshall 
4. Maze Song 
5. Whiskey Song 
6. Do My Stuff (Instrumental) [Side 2]
7. Take Me Home (Instrumental)
8. James Marshall (Instrumental)
9. Maze Song (Instrumental)
10. Whiskey Song (Instrumental)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "The Return On The Electric Banana" - released 1978 in the UK on Music de Wolfe DW/LP 3381

11. The Dark Theme (Instrumental) 
Track 11 is from the album "Even More Electric Banana" - released 1969 in the UK on Music de Wolfe DW/LP 3123 in Mono [NOTE: see Tracks 1 to 10 on CD2 for the rest of the album]

These Clamshell Mini Box Sets always feel classy to the touch while three individual card sleeves do their back-and-front best to picture the five albums artwork in varying ways. DAVID WELLS has done the serious sleuthing liner notes to unravel the secrets for the 30-page booklet. Packed with period photos and snaps - you get stills from TV programs like Dr. Who, Monique, Edna The Inebriate Woman, Private Eye, The Sweeney and Dawn Of The Dead - all of whom used Electric Banana music. There is also a wonderful collage page of publicity stuff for the April 1969 movie "What's Good For The Goose" with Norman Wisdom and Sally Geeson - one that shows the band in period clobber looking very right on. The distinctive 'Pop Sound' LP artwork is there too as are repro's of those rare orange and white Music de Wolfe LP labels. 

Sound – the very essence of these recordings is Mono Grunge – so those looking for Abbey Road type Stereo magnificence and perfection should collect theirs at the kiosk now and leave. Not surprisingly there are no audio transfer credits, but the remastered sound is uniformly excellent even given the limitations of these late 60ts recordings. It feels like your eavesdropping on The Small Faces having an extra curricular or in the case of Side 2 of the LPs where you got instrumental versions of the five or six sung-songs on Side A – it feels like you’re listening to backing tracks by The Kinks or The Who - in all their hooky gonzo-bashing power. 

In fact even though the lyrics on Side 1 of the debut about "Street Girls" waiting for customers under the lamplight and self-centred men who sleep all day and come home late at night in "'Cause I'm A Man" are actually way better than most Sixties observations by other bands (excluding The Kinks) – it's the instrumentals and their naked backbeats that have always intrigued me. Striped of the loaded so-60ts references and words, you lock into the mostly guitar-driven Rock-Psych groove they got and I love that (Mods have always had a thing for their Small Faces sound too). And of course no commercially released LP would ever do this configuration – so the song/instrumental side-by-side dynamic was exclusive to Library Music LPs. 
People stare as they pass you by, knowing somehow that you've seen the promised land, says our likely lad in "Walking Down The Street" - whilst the Pretty Things cheeky bugger singer wants to forego foreplay down-payments directed at a woman's affection altogether and go directly to the free love bit in, well "Free Love". 

By the time you get to the genuinely improved excellence of album two, John Povey and Peter Reno have begun to contribute to the songs (alongside Phil May, Richard Taylor and Allan Waller) – examples being the superb Who-meets-The Charlatans vibe of "Grey Skies" and the "...give your soul to the free... " mantra of "Love Dance And Sing" – a song that eloquently sums up the very essence of breaking down emotional barriers – the stuff that indeed make the Sixties swing. And on it goes to the last LP that features a token PT presence but not a lot of anything else. 

For sure if you are a Pretty Things aficionado then "The Complete de Wolfe Sessions" is a must-own. But it also a way for others to get a crack at side projects – fringe listening that still stands up – songs and their instrumental counterparts. 
"Loving you was my first mistake..." our hero worries in "Danger Signs" – missing out on this will be our mistake now...

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