Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cassettes and Magazines

Make sure to get our very first cassette release. It will be shipped from England. Album is fuzzed out, lo-fi punk rock and roll filled 17 minutes of beautifully crafted one man band style tracks. Also great news about the physical edition of magazine, which has some delay, due the error pressing plant did with CD. It will get shipped out to all next week. So thanks for supporting us and cheers to many more releases, issue and stay psychedelic!!!!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sleepy John interview with Tom Williams

Sleepy John formed in Lewiston, Idaho back in the late '60s and recorded some really great material, which never officially came out until Rich Haupt of Rockadelic Records and later Roger Maglio of Gear Fab Records released an their album. Sleepy John is best described as heavy blues rock with Hammond organ. Their name is reflecting legendary blues figure Sleepy John Estes. The material was apparently recorded in one of the band member's basement, which add's a nice underground sloppy raw feel to their music.
Thanks to Roger Maglio we came in contact with the original member, which will tell us the whole story of this long forgotten and newly discovered band, which was recently also featured on Guerssen Records from Spain.
Formed in Lewiston, Idaho, the original band line-up came together in 1969 and featured the talents of lead singer/keyboardist David Lee, lead guitarist Frank Trowbridge, bassist Jim Bartlett, and drummer Tom Williams, who we are in contact with.

To begin with, when and where were you born and was music a big part of life in the Williams household?

I was born in Lewiston, Idaho in 1948 and I have two older sisters. I am the only musician in the family. 

Was there any major events that turned your life around and you began learning an instrument?

My father was a railroad man but started a roller skating business during the Great Depression to have something to fall back on in case he lost his railroad job. Eventually the family built a roller rink which hosted all kinds of events from skating to car shows, professional wrestling, and rock and roll concerts. A few of the groups that played there in the ‘50s were: The Four Nights, Little Richard’s band (without Little Richard) and Gene Vincent. So these musicians along with all the ‘Top 40’ songs of the 1950s that were used for skating music are probably what really hooked me.  By then I was already drumming on anything I could make into a drum.

At what age did each of you begin playing music and what were the first instruments that you played?

I first began drumming when I got a toy drum for Christmas around 1950. Next I began playing drums in the school band in fourth grade. I continued with band, orchestra and symphony orchestra through my junior year in high school. Dave and Frank each began at very early ages as well. Dave’s father owned a piano and organ store and Frank’s folks were popular Country musicians in Southern Idaho.  His mother who played pedal steel was a huge influence on Frank.  His folks also had a radio show they did with Box Car Willie.

How old were you when you joined your first bands?  What were the names of the bands and what role did you play in them?

I think I was fourteen. Dave and I formed our first band the summer of ’63. We called it the Lounj Men.  It consisted of guitar, bass, organ sax and drums.  We wore gold blazer jackets with Beatle Boots and played mostly instrumental songs by groups like The Ventures.
Dave’s family moved to Boise the following summer where he met Frank. The rest of the Lounj Men stayed together and added an additional guitar. We changed our name to The London Company, built a p a system so we could do vocals and started playing mostly British pop. One day our bass player comes to rehearsal with a brand new Rolling Stones album. This changed us for life. Being Idaho boys this was our first real introduction to the blues. We then continued to do covers but modeled our band after The Stones, Yardbirds, Them and throw in a little Frank Zappa just for kicks. London Company continued until the end of the school year, 1967.
Meanwhile Dave and Frank followed a very similar route in Boise with two very talented bands, The Wondering Kind and Destiny.
Later that summer in Lewiston I joined The Village Music Wagon which was a kind of a top 40 band with a San Francisco rock influence. This is where I met bass player, Jim Bartlett. The VMW band broke up in 1968.

Did any of those bands release a single or recorded any material?

"Free" did a studio recording of three or four originals but nothing ever came of it. The Sleepy John recordings were never intended for release. They were only used to promote the band.

What would you say influenced you?

My early drum influences were guys like Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Sandy Nelson. This was when I only had a snare drum. I improvised a lot. Early ‘60s NorthWestrock bands introducedvery hard driving drums which really distinguished the NW from other regions of the country. In the later ‘60s it was probably Charlie Watts, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Moon.

What's the story behind formation of Sleepy John? How did you guys come together? Did you know each other from before, were you classmates in school maybe?

After Village Music Wagon broke up Jim and I found guitarist Clark Osterson, whose heavy Clapton and Page influence took us into our Hendrix and Cream three piece excursion and we began writing originals. We first called the band "Free" and then changed it to "Valhalla". We moved the band to Seattle in the summer of ’69 where we ran into Dave and Frank staying at the same boarding house we were staying at. Dave got a gig with a band called Silver Bike and Frank was not playing but had a job in a tire shop.  While we were in Seattle Clark decided that he would leave "Valhalla" as soon as we returned to Lewiston. Jim and I asked Frank if he would join us and so in December he moved to Lewiston and surprise, Dave came with him and Sleepy John was formed.

How did the practice session look  for members of Sleepy John?

We had a rehearsal building near the Snake River with no houses around so we did not have to restrain ourselves at all. 

Were you part of the local scene back then? Were there any good bands, you would like to mention?

Yes, Sleepy John was definitely a part of the local Lewiston, Idaho scene before relocating 100 mile north to Spokane, Washington. Lewiston had a very strong music scene for a small town. There were many fine area bands. Another notable group of the day to come from Lewiston was Stone Garden, who has also had releases on Gear Fab and Rockadelic Records. Founding member of Stone Garden, Paul Speer, was also our audio engineer on both Sleepy John recording sessions. (Interview with Stone Garden can be found here)

Who were some of the artists you shared the stage with? What are some gigs that stand out?

Some of the groups my bands have opened for are The Zombies, Moby Grape, Bad Finger and most notably, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The Zappa concert was probably the most notable of all. It was at the Spokane Coliseum and I got to spend some time alone with Frank Zappa in the dressing room right before the show. By the way The Mothers rehearsal was amazing!

The Bards, Bazarak and Sleepy John Outside the Go Go (1970)

What can you tell us about material you recorded? Where did you record it, what gear and instruments did you use?

There are two sessions of originals; the first one was in the spring of 1970, recorded in the basement of Jim Bartlett’s parent’s house in Lewiston. The second session was recorded at our Sleepy John house in Spokane in the summer of 1970. As I had mentioned, Paul Speer recorded both sessions for us using a two track reel to reel tape recorder. On both sessions it was all live with the drums either behind hanging blankets or in a separate room with the door closed and one recording microphone in the middle of the room.  he only effect used on the recording equipment was a homemade reverb unit, basically a long spring in a box. Instruments used were, 1969 Gibson ES 150 guitar with (we think) a Fender Super Reverb amp, Hammond M-1 organ with a Leslie speaker, Gibson EBbass guitar with an Ampeg amp, Slingerlanddrums with double 20” bass drums, a set of congas and a cow bell.

How did the songwriting process look like? Was this something spontaneous coming out of jams or planned process?

Jim and I, as well as Dave and Frank, came to Sleepy John with a fair amount of original material. The first days were basically high energy jams where we just got real familiar with each other and a distinct sound began to develop. Once we had the introductions out of the way we began writing and arranging. We hit it very hard until we had enough material to start playing gigs. Most of our song began with an idea, maybe a riff or some lyrics one of us would bring to rehearsal then we would jam on it to develop feel and dynamics, then we would put together a rough arrangement and go out and play it and let it mature.

In what time span did you recorded material featured and now reissued on Guerssen Records. Rockadelic only included 8 tracks, but you recorded a lot more, which can be found now on this new reissue.

On the Guerssen release, River, Al Capa Strong, Searching for the World, Seasons, You Say and Dragons were recorded in Lewiston in the spring of 1970 with Jim Bartlett on bass and sharing vocal duties. Nothing, and Trying to Fly were recorded in Spokane that summer with John (Bosco) Jackson on bass. There is a cd that was released in 2004 on the Gear Fab label which I believe has all the songs on it from both sessions.

Where were the recordings archived for so many years and how did Rich Haupt of Rockadelic Records approached you?

I think a few of us had copies on cassettes that we had all stuck away in boxes and forgotten about. There were a few floating around and I guess one just happened to get into the right hands and eventually to Rockadelic Records. If I remember right, a rock historian and fan in Seattle named John Berg is the one who introduced Rich to Sleepy John and was instrumental in pushing that project forward.

This may be a bit of a difficult task, but can you please comment each song?

I’ll take a stab at it. When the other guys read this part of the interview I hope they’ll forgive any mistakes I have made. We all remember things a little differently so here it goes.

"River" was written by Dave and arranged by the band. It was always well received and we kind of used it as a hook at the start of our live sets to engage the audiences which allowed us to throw in some of our more off the wall songs. Lewiston session.

A Capa Strong
This was a jam tune Jim and I played in 3 piece Valhalla band. It was inspired by a group called The Collectors, from Vancouver, BC. It really evolved with Sleepy John. The lyrics are fantasy or dream-like and were written and sang by Jim Bartlett. Lewiston session.

Written by Dave, Nothing was a song about nothing, a pretty song with nice dynamics. Spokane session.

Another fantasy song about Nights in armor slaying dragons, written and sang by Dave. I always thought it would make a good sound track for a short, kids animation. Lewiston session.

Prelude to a Dream
"Prelude to a Dream" was a group effort again, a jam with a nice jazzy feel. It was another tune we liked to throw in as a bit of a break for the audience as well as us. Lewiston session.

This song, or I should probably say ‘work’, written by Dave and group arranged, was like a ‘Rock Symphony’ telling a story (I’m not sure what the story is) with many movements each different in rhythm and mood but always coming back to a common theme. It ends with a huge crescendo. This was probably our longest arrangement at nine minutes and thirty seconds long. Lewiston session.

Losing My Plow
This was written by Frank in Seattle as he sat in his apartment playing to the rhythm of his Frigidaire refrigerator. Itis reminiscent of the radio show his folks hosted in Southern Idaho in the '60s. The barnyard noises in the intro and the applause was all just us making noise in the microphones. We put it in our set following one of our ‘heavier’ tunes and if people weren’t paying attention before, they were now. Lewiston session.

Hard Workin' Woman
Dave and Frank co-wrote this one. It was our attempt at a more commercial song. It had a nice driving feel to it, not too long and the lyrics were easy to relate to and understand, a good dance tune. Spokane session.

I Just Happen to Be (In Love With You)
I think Jim and Dave and Frank wrote this one, again something different.  Lewiston session.

 Monday Blues
We thought we needed a ‘slow blues’ song. Dave wrote some lyrics and we just jammed it out, simple. Lewiston session.

You Say
Written by Dave and group arranged, "You Say" was a study in redundancy. We’d take a catchy riff or two and see how many times we could repeat it and not loose count. This is a cool, driving song with some nice changes and a really good set or show ender. Lewiston session.

Trying to Fly
This was one of my favorites from the Spokane days, although this recording doesn’t do it justice. This was written by Dave and Frank and started to point us in a bit of a new direction. Spokane session.

Blue Sky
Another nice jazzy tune, lyrics by Dave and group arranged. Spokane session.

Idaho was a mecca for hard core Country and Western music in the 60s. "Cowboy" was our spoof on Country Music, with lyrics like “catchin’ all the long-hairs and run ‘em out of town”. This was always a crowd pleaser. Lewiston session.

Searching For the World
"Searching  for the World was another jam song that eventually had an arrangement to it. This song really moves!  It is very driving, with some really nice solos, breaks and riffs. Very representative of early Sleepy John.  Lewiston session

What's your opinion about counterculture of the '60s, '70s?

Looking back today is different than looking back 20 or 30 years ago. Today, with so much chronicled and so many books and documentaries about the culture of the '60s and early '70s it is hard for anyone to say this was not a very important time in our global evolution. I am proud to have been a small part of the music scene and to have a vinyl record that is finding not only new legs as a historical document, but new fans who appreciate the music.

Were you influenced in any way you can remember by hallucinogens?

Speaking only for myself, no, I don’t remember.

What happened after the band disbanded? This was around 1972, right?

Yes, that’s right. I actually left the band in ’71 and moved home to Lewiston where I went back to college, managed my folks business and got married. The band continued on with a new drummer and remained a popular band throughout the region for the next year. Frank put together a group called "Blind Willie" with a couple other Southern Idaho friends and pretty much carried on where "Sleepy John" left off only as more of a strong original band with a country rock feel, eventually with three guitars and powerful song writing and four part vocals.
Dave came back to college in Lewiston. Shortly after that Dave and I were called to Seattle to join a 1950’s show band, The Unholy Rollers. That band was a very successful show band featuring fast paced music and comedy with strong musicianship, vocals, choreography. We toured the US and Canada constantly for five or six years. Frank eventually joined and our Sleepy John recording engineer, Paul Speer, even did a few tours with us. 

Dave Lee, Lawson Hill, Bosco (John Jackson), Dave Lesher and Frank Trowbridge. Not pictured is Tom Williams

Are you still in contact with other members and what currently occupies your life?

Yes. We stay in contact and see each other at least once a year. In 2010 we put together a Lewiston, Sleepy John reunion concert and included all the bands we could that played in Lewiston during the 1960s. It was two days of amazing fun, playing and visiting with old friends we had not seen in many, many years.

I have been married to a super woman now for 34 years and we have one wonderful daughter and live on a small farm outside of Seattle. I retired a few years ago and have begun playing drums again after nearly thirty years in a number of local groups. I stay quite busy!

Thank you for taking your time. Would you like to share anything else with It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine readers?

Klemen, I would like to thank you for your interest in Sleepy John and wanting to share our story with your readers. We are honored. This was a magical time that still lives on for us thanks in large to Rich Haupt, Roger Maglio, Guerssen Records and to you and many other folks around the world. I am amazed!

Also, just to let everyone know, Jim, Bosco, Frank, Dave and I are all still involved in music in some way and doing very well.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright

Frankie And The Witch Fingers interview with Dylan Sizemore, Alex Bulli and Glenn Brigman

I really don’t like to make comparisons when it comes to bands that I enjoy, there’s always something different and unique, at least in my eyes, about what I’m listening to.  I do not enjoy derivative bands much.  So, while Frankie And The Witch Fingers may sound like Ty Segall started a new band with Jay Reatard and they got Charlie Mootheart to join in on the fun, they’re really just a ridiculously talented lo-fi garage rock outfit in my eyes and I couldn’t mean that as a greater compliment.  From the moment you start the titular title track on their debut album, Sidewalk, you can hear a deep appreciation for late 60’s and early 70’s psychedelia, refined and captured in the same emphatic and impulsive way, while dragging tricks and sounds from the last fifty years along for the ride.  While Frankie And The Witch Fingers seem to incorporate a few more dissonant sounds and breaks, think 13th Floor Elevators or The Velvet Underground, to really spice up the sound and add a level of dissonance to the tightly crafted garage pop melodies, that just seem to melt out of your speakers.  Reverberation and fuzz dosed guitars shimmer and undulate in the songs, while echoed vocals float above the instruments, blending in and out of fits of distortion and rave-ups.  The bass and drums are like calm pounding waves, powerful enough to chip away at a mountain with out raising an un-needed racket while doing so.  Tracks slowly build moment and break into amazing walls of sound and distortion, before fading back into the shadows to reveal the skeletal melody of the song again to let you take it all back in one more time before you’re done.  My favorite tracks are when they just hit the gas though, pounding riffs and thundering bass twisting together like a Porsche hitting a lamp post at a hundred and eighty miles an hour, taking your mind along for the ride!  Sidewalk has only been released as an extremely limited cassette tape at this point, but word is that might be changing sometime soon but either Frankie And The Witch Fingers is prepping for the release of their second full-length album before the end of the year.  I would usually have held off talking to them until the album release but I have to admit, these tunes really got into my head!  I couldn’t find a way to buy a tape, hell, I couldn’t even find out who put it out, and I was hoping to score a copy.  While I was chatting with these guys though, I just couldn’t help but do an interview; listen to Sidewalk and tell me you wouldn’t have done the same!  What follows is a glimpse at a band that in my opinion is on the brink of really bringing the heat.  These dudes are just serious enough about what they do to make amazing music and they have enough fun making it, you can hear it through your speakers on every track.  After a recent relocation from Indiana to California, I have no doubt you’re gonna be hearing a lot about Frankie And The Witch Fingers before long.  In the meantime, get a head start and check out the story so far below, and for the love of all that’s holy – click the Bandcamp link and take in some of the best garage rock you’re gonna hear this side of 1969!

I don’t know how long you all have been around or anything but I just heard about you guys not long ago at all.  What’s the lineup in the band at this point?  Is this the original lineup or have there been any changes since the band started in those regards?

Glenn:  The current lineup is Dylan Sizemore on guitar and vocals, Josh Menashe on lead guitar, Alex Bulli on bass and me (Glenn Brigman) on drums.  The band started as a two-piece of Dylan and myself but that was a pretty short phase, we decided to switch to the full band setup pretty quickly.

Are any of you in any other active bands or do you have any side projects going on at this point?  Have you released any music with anyone else in the past?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dylan:  Glenn, Josh and I also play in the band Triptides, but on different instruments.  We’ve put out a lot of releases on various labels over the years.  The first Frankie album was put out on tape by Nice Legs records out of Washington.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

Dylan:  We’re all in our early twenties.  Glenn’s from Atlanta, Josh is from San Diego, Bulli is from Springfield, Illinois and I’m from Lexington, Kentucky.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or where you very involved in the scene or anything?  Do you feel like that scene played a large role in shaping your musical tastes or in the way that you perform at this point?

Glenn:  We all came from pretty different scenes.  All of them we’re rock and roll based, but each with its own version.  I think the fact that we all saw music growing up gave us the opportunity to understand music performance and how to be an active member of a musical community, going to shows, playing shows, collecting records and all that good stuff.

What about your home when you were growing up?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or maybe just extremely interested or involved in music when you were a kid?

Glenn:  My dad played the piano and made me take piano lessons, which got me into music pretty early.  Alex Bulli’s dad was a guitarist in several different groups and is an authority on the Gibson SG.  Dylan’s dad played him Black Sabbath in the crib.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

Dylan:  When I was a kid a camp counselor gave me In Utero by Nirvana and I got pretty obsessed with it.

Glenn:  My friend’s dad took us to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at a race track in South Carolina.

Alex:  Apparently, I hated music for the first year or so of my life, until I heard my parents listening to the Rolling Stones “Prodigal Son” and it totally changed everything.

If you were to pick a moment that changed everything for you and opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music, what would it be?

Dylan:  Seeing the OBN III’s at Magnetic South.  I was in an enlightened mood that night.

Glenn:  I got my first multi-track recorder in high school and I’ve never looked at music the same way since.

Alex:  Seeing a band called The Gunga Dins play a local VFW hall when I was in seventh grade.  I’d never seen a crowd of people that stoked about anything, let alone hearing four people play in a dimly lit room.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?  What brought that decision about for you?

Dylan:  I started making up my own songs as soon as I figured out how to make noise on a guitar.

Glenn:  At the end of high school, I stopped trying to learn covers and started making up my own songs.  When I was younger I was a bit of a classic rock purist, but when I started getting into newer music was when I decided to take a shot at songwriting; kind of realized that good music was still happening and got excited about making my own stuff.

Alex:  The first day that I ever picked up a guitar, my sister, best friend and I recorded a five-song tape straight onto this crappy old boombox I had laying around.  We had a song about this cold war era poster in my basement that said “Russians Are Coming”.  Luckily things have gone uphill from there.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you originally get it?

Dylan:  I got a drum set for Christmas when I was nine.

Glenn:  My family always had a piano in the house, so I grew up on that.  I eventually got a knock off Stratocaster when I was around thirteen.

Alex:  Luckily, my parents were always in bands, so we had a room full of guitars and amps when I was growing up.  They would show me instruments throughout my childhood, but I finally picked up his old Strat and seriously tried to play it one afternoon when I was about eleven.

How did you all meet and when would that have been?

Glenn:  I met Josh Menashe in 2009 when we were both freshmen at Indiana University.  Alex Bulli lived with this dude Alex Barrett, who had lived in the same dorm as Josh.  From 2011 to 2013 we played together in a band called Prince Moondog, formed with Barrett on guitar and vocals until he moved to New York City.  A few months before he moved I began jamming and recording with Dylan, so when we wanted to expand to a full band it was pretty easy to get Josh and Bulli on board in basically the same arrangement with Dylan instead of Barrett.

When and what led to the formation of Frankie and the Witch Fingers?

Dylan:  I was playing guitar and singing for a group called Dead Beach, but we had different schedules and I was writing a lot of new material faster than we could keep up with it as a band.  Glenn moves at a quick pace, both in recording and writing, so it worked out a bit better.

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

Dylan:  “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to” – Spacemen 3.

The name is great, man.  Seriously memorable, and yet like somehow exotic or something.  What does the name Frankie and the Witch Fingers mean or refer to?  Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it?  Were there any close seconds that you almost went with you can recall at this point?

Dylan:  The name refers to my cat, Frankie.  I was hanging out with my old roommate Josh Wold, staring at a wall, and in the room we had both a green and red light on.  Josh and Frankie were both playing with shadows and it appeared to look like the fingers of a witch.  It was weird and it stuck with me.

Where’s Frankie and the Witch Fingers located at right now?

Glenn:  We’ve been in Bloomington, Indiana for our entire existence up until this point.  In a month or so Josh, Bulli and I will be moving to Los Angeles and Dylan is going to make it out there soon after.

How would you describe the local music scene where you’re currently located?

Dylan:  Vast.

Alex:  Yeah, it’s pretty crazy how many people with totally different musical tastes can be in this super tightly knit local scene.  Bloomington is tight.

Do you feel very involved in the local scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows or anything?

Glenn:  We all go out to shows pretty frequently.  A lot of our friends are musicians, so there’s been no shortage of musical events, whether it’s a house show or a bar show or a pagan music festival.  Dylan, Bulli and I are going to see Apache Dropout tonight for their album release.

Are you involved in recording or releasing any music?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about that here?

Glenn:  I’ve been recording different bands in my room over the last three years including Triptides, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, Prince Moondog, Stephen Burns, Ivory Wave, Bloody Mess and Jerome and the Psychics.

Alex:  Yeah, we all kind of bring our own talents to the recording/mixing table.  Glenn has a portable studio we call Sun Pavilion, and a lot of our hangout sessions revolve around checking out the tracks we’ve been working on lately.

In your opinion, has the local scene played an integral role in the formation, history, sound or evolution of Frankie and the Witch Fingers or do you think that you all could be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of where you were at or what you were surrounded by?

Dylan:  I think our influences have nothing to do with Bloomington, but the fact that we’ve been able to play awesome shows with our friends is definitely cool.

Glenn:  I think it’s cool just being surrounded by people making music on a regular basis.

Alex:  Bloomington is definitely a place that lets us be ourselves and make the music we want to, but I think we all have our own ideas about music that would come out wherever we lived.

I can hear a lot of different influences rumbling around in the belly of the sound but it’s hard to put my finger on all of them.  Who are some of your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Dylan:  Chocolate Watchband, 13th Floor Elevators, Velvet Underground, July, Os Mutantes, The Beatles, David Bowie, Morgen, The Misunderstood, Thee Oh Sees and anything that expands your hearing.

Glenn:  The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Troggs, Syd Barrett, Can, The Zombies, The Kinks, Tomorrow, Cleaners From Venus, Marc Bolan, Spacemen 3, Ariel Pink, Gene Clark, Hawkwind, Love, Strawberry Alarm Clock, White Fence, Neil Young, and Clear Light.

Alex:  I’m really into Chad VanGaalen, Protomartyr, Parquet Courts, Courtney Barnett, and Radioactivity right now.  I also dig a lot of Simon and Garfunkel and Armede Ardoin stuff.  I think we all come together in terms of 60’s/70’s stuff, but we’re always down to listen to whatever the rest of us have dug out of the crates that week.

Speaking of sounds, how would you describe your sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before in your own words?

Dylan:  Inter-dimensional Cat Traveling.

What’s the songwriting process with Frankie and the Witch Fingers like?  Is there someone who usually comes to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea to work out with the rest of you?  Or do you all get together for practice and just kind of kick ideas back and forth and toss stuff out until you find something that works and then polish it from there?

Glenn:  Dylan comes up with the tracks and brings them over to jam.  Usually, we end up playing drums and guitar for a while, and then record it and the let Josh and Alex overdub their parts.  More recently, we’ve all been jamming out the songs together for a bit and then recording them live as a full band, though.  Dylan always writes the lyrics but everyone helps with the arrangements, harmonies and other production elements.  I usually overdub some organ if a song calls for it.

What about recording?  I think most musicians can appreciate the end result of all the time and effort that goes into the recording of the stuff when you’re holding that finished product in your hands, but getting to that point, getting stuff recorded and especially sounding the way that you want it to as a band, can be extremely difficult to say the least.  What’s it like recording for Frankie and the Witch Fingers?

Dylan:  I usually just go over to Glenn and Josh’s house and a few hours later there’s a cassette tape full of eight tracks of music.

In 2013 you all released your first material that I’m aware of, the eleven track Sidewalk.  I know that’s available on your Bandcamp digitally but was that ever physically released at all?  If so, can you tell us about that?  What was the recording of the material for Sidewalk like?  When was that material recorded and who recorded it?  Where was that at?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was the recording of that material a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?

Dylan:  So far there are only 40 Sidewalk cassettes floating around, but we’re supposed to have a new batch soon.  The tape came along in a very organic way.  I saw Glenn at a show and he said, “You should come over and record some tracks”.  The next day we had the title track “Sidewalk” fully recorded.  A couple of weeks later we had the whole tape.  They were just supposed to be demos we dumped off of the Tascam 488.  It was super fun, and I haven’t stopped hanging and recording with them since.

You all followed up the Sidewalk release by contributing a track, “Revival”, to the Stroll-On Records 4-Way Split 7”.  Was that written and recorded specifically for the single or was it left over from the earlier session(s) for Sidewalk?  If it was recorded for the single, can you tell us about that?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Glenn:  “Revival” is part of a new record that will be coming out on Permanent Records later this year.  I recorded it with help from Josh Menashe in my bedroom onto a Tascam 488 last fall.  It features a 12-string electric that’s actually a knock-off Rickenbacker and a Farfisa Compact Duo.

When I was talking with you all not long ago you happened to mention that you have an upcoming full-length.  Do you all have a tentative title or anything at this point?  Is the material recorded and do you have any idea who’s going to be putting it out or when that will be?  What can our readers expect from the debut full-length?   Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for the upcoming album?

Dylan:  The new album is called Frankie and the Witch Fingers, coming soon on Permanent Records.  Expect to ebb, flow and connect with the fuzzy liquid tissues of non-reality.

Does Frankie and the Witch Fingers have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a single, a song on a compilation or a demo that I don’t know about?

Dylan:  We have a track called “Diamonds” out on a Headdress Records compilation tape.

With the completely insane international postage rate increases that just don’t seem to be letting up, where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up your stuff?

Dylan:  Until we’ve released our new stuff domestically, Stroll On Records’ shop is the place to go.

What about our international and overseas readers?

Dylan:  Stroll On ships worldwide!

And where would the best place for keep up on the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases from Frankie and the Witch Fingers at?

Glenn:  Right now all we have is Bandcamp and a Facebook page, so probably Facebook.

Alex:  Eventually, we’ll get something a little more cohesive together.

Are there any major plans or goals that you all are looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or in 2015?

Dylan:  We’re hoping to do a west coast tour to support the release of our upcoming LP.

Alex:  Yeah, should be announcing a lot of stuff in the coming months!

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring? Do you enjoy touring?  What’s life like on the road for Frankie and the Witch Fingers?

Dylan:  Glenn, Josh and I have gone on tour as Triptides, so we know what to expect and Bulli was actually the Triptides tour manager for a while.  We listen to a lot of music and enjoy seeing new things together.

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of 2014?

Glenn:  Tryin’ to get a West Coast tour rolling, stay tuned for updates.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?

Dylan:  We got to play with Night Beats last year and Holy Wave recently, they’re killer!

Glenn:  We got to meet Temples when Triptides played with them last fall, really good dudes and amazing musicians.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Dylan:  Thee Oh Sees, they seem like cool people.

Glenn:  Hawkwind

Alex:  Ty Segall Band or Thee Oh Sees, definitely.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

Dylan:  We played a pagan music festival in the woods of southern Indiana.  It got pretty weird; in a good way.

Alex:  Yeah, that was a wild night!  We ended up having this crazy bonding experience with some of our best friends in a tent weathering the Central Indiana storm of the century, and then playing around 1AM; very good vibes.

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent, stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, covers and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey with your art?  Do you have anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that kind of thing?

Glenn:  Dylan does a lot of the artwork for the flyers, posters and cover art.

Dylan:  We would love to collaborate with some visual artists soon.

With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, can you talk a little bit about why?

Dylan:  Gatefold double LP 180g vinyl, ‘cuz they’re tight.

Glenn:  LPs are just more rewarding on a sensory level, tactile, aural, visual and sometimes they even smell weird.

Alex:  LP, definitely.  There’s something so personal about literally holding the sound waves that a group of people made together.  There’s something to be said for digital music in terms of convenience, or streaming for checking out a ton of new bands every day, but if I want to actually experience a piece of music I always spring for the vinyl.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so, can you tell us a bit about it?

Dylan:  I buy tapes and records.

Glenn:  I have a pretty large record collection with a focus on 60’s psych and Brazilian music.
Alex:  I have a decent collection of more modern LPs, and my parents have an insane catalogue of 50’s to 70’s discs that I break into/borrow from whenever I’m at home.  I dig on punk and vintage cassettes too.

I grew up around an awesome collection of music, I was encouraged to enjoy it and on top of that my dad would always pick me up random music that I was interested in from the local shops.  I would kick back with a set of headphones, read the liner notes, stare at the cover and just let the whole thing carry me off on this trip.  It was magical and I gained a pretty deep appreciation for physically released music from a young age.  Having something physical to hold in my hands and experience along with the music always made fro a more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music and if so, can you talk a little bit about it?

Glenn:  Right there with you dude!  I remember bringing home Revolver and getting lost in the revolutions.

Alex:  I love how natural listening to a physical release is.  You can just sit back with a living room full of your best friends and get lost in a record.  No one gets up to search for something on Spotify, or skips a track.  You get to have a real experience with the people around you, which is kind of hard to do anymore.

Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way right now.  Digital music is just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion though.  When you combine it with the internet, that’s when you have something really crazy on your hands.  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by, it’s allowed for an unparalleled level of communication between bands and their fans and it’s eradicated geographic boundaries and limitations that have crippled bands in the past.  On the other hand though, illegal download is running rampant and while people may hear more music these days they’re not always interested in paying for it.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Glenn + Dylan:  Download whatever you can get your hands on.  Fuck it.

Alex:  Definitely.  I wouldn’t be nearly as in to music if I hadn’t downloaded thousands of records over the years.  I’ve also noticed that I buy a lot more records when I’m downloading and streaming a lot more.  Digital music is great for expanding your sonic palette, but makes it easier for listeners to become apathetic about artists.  People really just need to become more analytical about their consumption patterns, and support the art that they enjoy.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s not enough time to listen to all the sweet stuff that’s out there right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of?

Dylan:  Full Sun, Harpooner, Pnature Walk, and The Sands.

Alex:  Mike Adams.

Glenn:  Apache Dropout.

What about nationally and internationally?

Glenn:  Nationally, Stephen Burns, Kuroma, Prince Moondog, and The Mutations.  Internationally, Boogarins, Proto Idiot, Jerome and the Psychics, Aline, Zen Mantra, Orval Carlos Sibelius, and Klaus Johann Grobe.

Alex:  Nationally, Frankie Cosmos and Joanna Gruesome.

Thanks so much fro doing this interview!  It was awesome learning so much about the band and while I image this took a while to get done; hopefully it was cool thinking about everything you’ve managed to accomplish and everything you’ve got planned for the future!  I’m done with the questions but before we call it a day I’d like to open the floor up to you all for a second.  Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?

Glenn + Dylan + Alex:  Thanks for hitting us up for the interview and keep your eyes out for our new record later this year!

(2013)  Frankie and the Witch Fingers – Sidewalk – Digital, ? – Self-Released (?)
(2014)  Frankie and the Witch Fingers/Triptides/The See See/The Young Sinclairs – Stroll On 4-Way Split – 7” – Stroll On Records (Limited to 100 Tricolor and 150 Psychotic-Purple Vinyl copies)
(2014)  Frankie and the Witch Fingers – TBA – (full-length) – Permanent Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quintessentially a cosmic trip

Quintessence © Colin Lourie

Featuring a new interview with Phil Shiva Jones of Quintessence and  
Australian 60s legends The Unknown Blues 

© Dave Codling

In one street in the bohemian centre of probably the most cosmopolitan city of the day, six musicians of five nationalities formed a band dedicated to the celebration of spirituality in music. Only two knew each other before, yet within weeks the most important label’s owner visited their rehearsal under a fish and chip shop and signed a three-album contract with music and cover freedom, culminating in selling out the Royal Albert Hall twice. The period is as easy to guess as the scenario is hard to believe. The story, however, isn’t just a band history—without precursors—but more a way of life reflecting a new era of awareness which endures into the present day.

   The ’60s hit America when close to half of the citizens were under 25 years-old, so a sea-change was probably inevitable there. It soon blossomed abroad as musicians gathered to forge their own style and vision. Ron ‘Raja Ram’ Rothfield, born in Melbourne to Jewish parents, first learned the violin but changed to flute when in Ibiza in ’61, taking a music degree in it before moving to New York four years later. There he studied jazz with Lennie Tristano at a dollar a minute, “which was worth it”, and performed with American guitarist/bassist Richard ‘Shambhu Baba’ Vaughan. In April 1969 they settled in London’s Ladbroke Grove and advertised for musicians with the proviso that they must also live in W10.

    A couple of streets away lived Phil Jones, who as a child sang what he later discovered were African-American spirituals as if from a previous life. First touring in a boys’ choir he became a teenage star in his native Sydney fronting the Unknown Blues on vocals and mouth harp. The school quintet soon got a debut hit single and national press praising their authenticity as Australia’s first blues-rock band. After five singles the soon-to-be-christened Shiva Shankar literally dreamed of finding a master in England, the land of his ancestors (his father had Welsh origins, mother from Irish and French). In 1968 he paid his way there as a singer on a cruise-ship then worked in a picture-frame factory when he saw a Melody Maker ad for a singer. When first meeting the house guru he was greeted with “Good to see you again”.  

    Two hundred replies further resulted in the enrolment of the 16 year-old Allan Mostert (lead guitar; sitar) from Mauritius, Maha Dev (Dave Codling rhythm guitar) from Leeds—who gave up his art teaching job in St. Albans —and a Canadian Jake Milton (drums), said to have been in Junior’s Eyes though eludes their histories; he lived in Shepherd’s Bush but promised to move. Their Oxford Gardens house soon became a meeting-place for 30-40 musicians, poets including Stanley Barr who wrote lyrics and became their manager, artists like Gopala (Maha Dev’s brother-in-law) who lived in the same street and later designed their albums, and a guru who had a life-long influence: Swami Ambikananda (1934-1997). This clairvoyant spiritual teacher guided them in a non-denominational universal faith, though each was on their own path. He bestowed spiritual names based on individual characteristics: Shiva was the patron God of yoga and the arts who lived an ascetic life on Mount Kailash, and both Maha Dev (Maha-great, deva-god) and Shambu were associative names for Shiva.

Shiva and Swami

    It was a vibrant, less self-conscious version of Greenwich Village at the heart of England’s counterculture where lived Hawkwind, Pink Fairies, Skin Alley, Cochise, Quiver, Steamhammer, Third Ear Band, and Tyrannosaurus Rex among others (Shiva sometimes wondered why Bolan never said good morning). Round the corner Mighty Baby’s commune embraced Sufism. The underground scene was the labour ward for nascent progressive music as we know it today. Quintessence (“the fifth substance, apart but derived from the four elements composing the heavenly bodies, latent in all things”) played their first gig (like Hawkwind Zoo) at All Saints Church off Portobello Road thanks to the friendly vicar, where 400 souls crammed in due to word of mouth. A show at the Camden Arts Lab was filmed. Songs destined for the first album were premiered: Giants, Pearl And Bird, Ganga Mai plus the odd Doors track. In June they first appeared on posters (as Shiva and the Quintessence) for Implosion at Camden’s former locomotive depot the Roundhouse, another area embedded in their history. Several early gigs were benefits, for example in aid of Release which helped people on drug charges, and hippydom’s International Times who interviewed them in August ’69. This communal band never forgot these roots.

    The Quintessence sound immediately fused elements from psych-rock, jazz and blues to Indian raga in true progressive style. New Age before coined, it was extended just as the oft-cited Indian connection was but one influence with Japan, Tibet and western music in a free-form collage. The plan was to replicate the sound in listeners’ heads, they said, a mesmerising intoxication not as a projection but identification with the audience seen as participators in the experience, to which each musician contributed and shared ideas. Their many early interviews (Zig Zag, The Times, Time Out etc) focused on this—with the ethos of the Grove from where it stemmed—which they called a mind and body dance, a physical and mental (spiritual) celebration. Never overserious but a joyful buzz whereby time structures and chord modulations frequently shift around a central riff, a spiritual Can that “ebbs and flows, coils, surges and ripples, occasionally with infinite beauty” wrote a reviewer at the time. The wave was certainly fast moving.

    While rehearsing under a fish and chip shop, word reached Island’s Chris Blackwell and Muff Winwood who came to listen. Perhaps they’d seen Raja Ram’s illustrated interview in Time Out when still a counterculture mag. It was July, sixteen weeks into the band’s career: a contract was offered on the spot. When Warners-Reprise—among at least six dorsal-finned labels—also dined the band in veggie restaurants, Island immediately doubled their offer. Fortunately—Reprise was responsible for some great talents leaving the music biz such as Nick Pickett—Quintessence considered Island the place to be, incredibly offering the new act unlimited freedom. The leading NEMS agency soon signed them for the Roundhouse (again), prestigious Speakeasy, Reading Uni with Pink Floyd, and a high-profile free concert at Hyde Park with Soft Machine, Deviants, Edgar Broughton, and Al Stewart, filmed by Jack Moore of the London Arts Lab collective. It was rumoured Jefferson Airplane were lined-up but couldn’t get work visas. Quintessence entered the studio in August during the heady summer of ’69.

Quintessence © Colin Lourie

    That November saw In Blissful Company, a seven-tracker featuring early progressive instrumentals like Midnight Mode’s slowed-down recording of a tamboura. Two months later a debut single Notting Hill Gate c/w Move Into The Light opens with a clear statement (someone dragging on a joint) for a faster more fuzz-laden manifesto than the LP track, like the album’s opener Giants recalling the mythic race in Anglo-Saxon chronicles influential on Tolkien. 

Ganga Mai soon appeared on the first Island sampler. Setting their stall out early, the songs stayed integral (but never the same) throughout their career. The inner sleeve shows the in-house ashram under an ancient tree; their poet-manager stands seventh from the left and the Swami smiles with Shiva. With a glued-in booklet, the first copies had a 50 x 65cm colour poster of Krishna for what was Island’s most expensive cover production.

    An interviewer learned that making music is a spiritual experience, like holy work, described even then as “trance music” decades before the genre appeared. “Our music’s highly improvised and celestial…for example Indian instruments have an amazing subtlety, really on subtle planes”. A concert is not only a giving out but also receiving of energy, a circle is created like feeling completely charged after a switch turns. Euphoric crescendos in a kaleidoscope of sound melt to leave space for reflection, before building up again with another instrument for melodic and dynamic variety in a rare rapport that they sought to transfer to the colder platform of vinyl. It’s not hyperbole to say that the joyous intensity, on good days, produced something close to rapture for audiences. This exaltation is often described by John McLaughlin as “an entering of spirit” which led to his Mahavishnu Orchestra. Communication (“A lot of bullshit is said about the difficulties of communication, but Van Gogh had it harder than any of us have it today”) reaches a point where there ceases to be an audience and a performer wrote Bob Partridge (Time Out Nov. 1969), “a state of being such that the people are the body and the band are the voice of that body. It becomes a celebration. For this reason I believe that sooner or later they must emerge as one of the truly great groups of our time”. Within two years Quintessence was being called the greatest live act on the planet.

    That month they debuted at St. Pancras (Camden) Town Hall, an important venue in their career, in aid of the underground paper Gandalf’s Garden. Their furthest-to-date gig was at Sunderland’s Locarno supporting Free (returning to headline there two months later), then London University for what must have been the last days of psych with Eire Apparent and Octopus. At Hammersmith Town Hall they played with the Radha Krishna Temple riding high on their George Harrison-produced hits.  Many associate them with Quintessence but in fact the relationship wasn’t exactly harmonious. Krishna Consciousness devotees warned fans that they were being led away from spirituality, and would button-hole the musicians backstage to try and claim them for their own. This fundamentalist approach was shared by the Jesus freaks, but the band said they weren’t evangelists, everyone finds their own path, unified but different too for each band member. “God is God, whatever name is used, a universal concept”.

    Swami Ambikananda, who occasionally attended rehearsals and concerts, taught that Krishna and the Hindu pantheon, Christ—as a pre-Church prophet of love and wonderment—Moses, Buddha and other apostles were on the same journey of spiritual enlightenment. The band’s deep respect endures today, Shiva in 2005 describing him as a constant shining spiritual sun, a master of spiritual psychology able to create a mirror effect for one’s self, the good and the bad. Allan Mostert recalls that it was a high just to be in his presence, and remains the most important experience in his life. Swami-ji, as he was known, didn’t conform to any stereotype: he recommended that the group stop smoking, except Maha Dev, “he must smoke!” The guitarist’s father had been a fireman in the war and believed that the son had been a pilot killed in a plane fire before this incarnation. When he smoked in the tour van they all crowded round him!

    In March 1970 Quintessence returned to St. Pancras Hall to record live for Island, a standard policy of the label then, also filmed by Solus Productions who were friends with Jake Milton. BBC 2 expressed interest in a cinema release of the footage. In spite of the band rarely touring on a daily basis—they preferred time to write, practice, meditate and explore other art forms—their rise was still meteoric. Exactly one year after the band-forming ad they supported Creedence Clearwater Revival for two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, also filmed by the BBC. Two weeks later they were invited to play at Montreux, to be aired on Swiss TV; a London show that month may have been filmed by Dutch and German TV. The Montreux programme enthused about “one of the best new bands in Europe today. Individually they sparkle. Collectively they shine…When the year has ended Quintessence will be one of the biggest bands in the world”—not bad for a European debut.

    Early that summer they appeared on successive days at two of the greatest festivals, at Bath (with Fleetwood Mac, Soft Machine etc) and second-billing to Traffic on the final day at the Hollywood (Midlands) Festival that had one of the most stellar bills ever witnessed. This was filmed by Solus for an unfinished Beeb documentary, though they broadcast them at the ubiquitous St.Pancras Hall for BBC2’s Disco Two: Sounds On Saturday. Down the road at the Lyceum a new record attendance was established.    Though audiences wouldn’t notice, festivals created a tricky problem to overcome. At Hollywood they had to follow Black Sabbath, which Allan recalls was near-catastrophic because the negative vibes didn’t help getting into their own mood. Due to come on after Deep Purple—probably at Aachen in 1970—the Black (K)nighters went well over time against etiquette, then Blackmore poured petrol on the stacks requiring the fire brigade and police. Quintessence played 20 minutes before the authorities cut the electricity, but continued with percussion which sent the crowd wild. The organisers convinced the police that the band should continue to allow fans to wind down naturally—so the power was put back on! The absence at such events of sound-checks (Hare krishna was a convenient one) didn’t help either, especially for larger bands. But the Quins played happily with very diverse groups such as the Who more than once, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, and Shakin’ Stevens. It’s rumoured that Pink Floyd avoided playing with them because of their own audience reaction.

    In June Quintessence’s self-titled second album was released with reviews referring to it by the back-cover’s motto: “Be This Dedicated To Our Lord Jesus”. Its lavish multi-colour gatefold, designed by Gopal Das, was split-fronted to open into a triptych as a shrine for candles and incense—if sounds quirky today, one might wonder what purpose was intended for other covers?! The two album sleeves cost Island £2,000, a huge amount then. The opener Jesus Buddha Moses Gauranga leads into one of the most stunning guitar solos of the whole era, a classic acid-swirler building to a head-topping crescendo on Sea Of Immortality live in the studio. It fits well with Burning Bush and storming St. Pancras from that venue capturing their fire (Jesus Buddha…live was put on the double-sampler Bumpers and later a bonus track on Q’s CD). Interspersed with the confident rockers and chants (Maha Mantra was recorded with the ashram choir; video of this recording still exists) were instrumentals combining Indian instruments and electronics, among the most atmospheric ambience yet recorded. Prisms, for instance, was among the pioneer multi-recordings.

    Every title describes what the song is about and intended to achieve. The first two albums highlight the production and tighter arrangements of John Barham, a classically trained composer with several film scores to his credit (Preminger, Jodorowsky) who also worked with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s Wonder Wall and All Things Must Pass projects. He released his own album Jugalbandi (Elektra 1973) with Ashish Khan. His first Quintessence session had to be interrupted when he and the drummer indulged in a more potent than usual hash cake! In a recent interview Barham said he’d bought again all Quintessence’s work on CD. The album was their most successful, reaching #22 during four weeks in the charts.

    Mixing of studio and live exemplified their energetic improvisation; each song had a beginning and end with lyrics and jamming as a bridge. Before a gig they drew straws to see who led certain songs, creating freshness for them and the audience. No two concerts were the same. Raja Ram graphically described it as “like letting a tree grow: you prune it, tend it carefully, cut out the rotten parts, and don’t put too much manure round the bottom!” The collective result was compared to Grateful Dead—Mostert too was linked to Jerry Garcia; both used modal scales—but their repertoire was wider. Flute and bass fused Indian and jazz which, combined with subtle blues or acid guitar and choir-like range of the vocals, sparked a trance-like experience, a truly cosmic trip.

Raja Ram and Shiva in 1969

    Straight from the studio they headlined at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with tour prices (even at civic halls) kept as low as possible, sometimes only 50 pence. After a Dudley Zoo bash in aid of the WWF, they took the same stage as Floyd, Soft Machine, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat and T. Rex in front of 100,000 heads at Kralingen in Holland. Their track Giants exists separately to the festival film Stomping Ground. Rave reviews in Switzerland, France (including a circus event!) and Germany (two T.V. slots) culminated at the Aachen Festival, probably the greatest ever on the European continent, with Traffic,  Deep Purple, If, Free, Floyd, VDGG, Taste, Kraftwerk, Can, Amon Duul, Krokodil and many others. In July a Sounds of the Seventies session was recorded at the Aeolian Hall and aired twice (the same rare accolade repeated a few months later) then at the Paris Hall for Sunday Concert with John Peel (there’s an odd absence from his shows). Origins weren’t forgotten for a free concert outside Wormwood Scrubs prison with Hawkwind and prominent placing on the first Glastonbury Festival attended by 1,500 people when performers were paid the princely sum of 15 quid. Recording then started for their next album.

    In March 1971 Dive Deep was “dedicated to the Divine Mother of the Universe”. With a multi-colour mandala and ecumenical shrine on the reverse, it reached #43. Again Allan Mostert’s sitar and vina highlighted his multi-instrumentalism, a winning formula that this time left out live material for a more meditative approach. The summer saw another shift in approach, coinciding with less touring when Circle Management took over (and later organised a cathedral tour). 

© Jane Stevenson

The band was now able to afford a full P.A. and microphone system which brought new logistics to the six-piece. The guitar volume had been the standard 7-10 max and this needed turning down to a more manageable 1.5-2 volume. The wild guitar was thus removed—by this time Mostert preferred a less distorted sound favoured by the Grateful Dead and The Band anyway—but allowed vocals, flute and hand-percussion to be more clearly heard. Audiences assumed Shiva and Ram were the band-leaders but that was only because they could move around the stage more easily; there was no upstaging. As festival footage shows, sometimes their stagecraft had the drummer centre-front with the guitarists behind. Integral to the free-form style was being able to attune to where the others were taking songs for the collective mix.

    Exploring rock motifs with other styles resulted in extended three-hour shows with twenty-minute encores. A gig with Hare Krishna devotees could be followed by the ashram choir, or Allan on sitar with friends as an opener. I recall this at the Friends (Quaker) Hall in Euston Road when equally split between ragas and electric, with tapestries draped over the amps and light-show by the legendary Barney Bubbles (1942-83) completing the ambience. A school-friend of Allan’s, Ned Bladen, guested on tablas and became a feature when the sound became more percussion-driven, as on Dive Deep and Glastonbury ’71 surrounding the double bass-drum with Jake Milton an underrated master in rhythm patterns. A promo leaflet called it music and lights from the spheres.

    Tony Stewart (Sounds Feb. 1971) pointed out that some bands settled into an easy pattern of giving audiences what was expected without variation due to critics’ need to pigeon-hole groups, but Quintessence was an extension of their individual personalities representing the position reached in their own existence, what another scribe described as “the first musicians to dedicate their music to God since Haydn”. It was “a subtle, tasteful blend of most of today’s musical styles”, “a soul-enriching experience quite unforgettable… for those in blissful company, thanks to Quintessence”, not the usual critics’ response to be sure. Concerts were total experiences on several levels but sometimes had quirky side-effects, as when banned from Bristol’s Colston Hall because joss sticks deemed a fire hazard to be confiscated—cigarettes however were allowed. The same happened at London’s Speakeasy club.

    Apart from another BBC2 TV appearance and the Camden Festival that combined music with films, the band rested until the second Glastonbury Festival in June where Freedom appears in the film of the by-now famous event. (They even helped to build its famous pyramid stage.) London Weekend Television filmed them in the studio for their awful-titled God Rock series broadcast in July, one of the band playing a different instrument in protest against having to mime (only the vocals were live). A German tour was followed by the legendary Weeley Festival, whose line-up simply beggars belief, and a Bangladesh benefit at the Oval sports ground with The Who and Faces which turned out to be the mighty Quins’ last festival show. 

    By then Island despaired of a hit and a majority vote of the band rejected their US deal with Bell (Island’s famous Bumpers wasn’t even issued in the US), so switched to RCA in the hope of a first stateside tour. A new single, the non-album Sweet Jesus / You Never Stay The Same (a different mix to the LP) was brought out on the subsidiary Neon in November. 

This was double-edged as Neon never had enough backing for just eleven LPs and a minor hit single in its one year existence. Quintessence were disappointed, Shiva recalls, “not a smart decision on [RCA’s] part”, and certainly deserved more as an international name-band. In December they were recorded by RCA at Exeter University, then headlined a sell-out 6,000-seater Royal Albert Hall for what was to be the high watermark. The ashram choir shared the stage—just as well the venue had its own backstage cook—while in the audience was the ambassador of India and president of RCA, who said he wanted them to play the equivalent Carnegie Hall.

    Early 1972 saw dates in Europe (Zurich was recorded and privately issued), Scandinavia and another Sounds of the Seventies. The same month that the BBC broadcast them at Norwich Cathedral, Self was released in June to critical acclaim. Partly recorded before Dive Deep, some of their finest work opens with Cosmic Surfer (a modern take on God as cosmic dancer), the classic single never issued. Somebody else had the same idea: there exists a two-sided acetate of it b/w Wonders Of The Universe, mysteriously with Apple Corps Ltd on the white and green label. Did someone approach George Harrison before signing the contract to RCA? For the album the guitarist’s favourite solo appears on his composition Vishnu Narain, and Raja Ram experiments with wah-wah pedal for flute. The bassist thought the live second vinyl side was an average gig but the confident energy shows them at their peak (the 14-minute Water Goddess is a retitled Ganga Mai). New Musical Express welcomed their extended live sound at last for “a remarkable album [that] illustrates their strength as songwriters with the studio side,” a fair statement that the label reprinted for a Rolling Stone ad. The album immediately entered at #50 for one week then inexplicably disappeared from the ratings.

    And then a bombshell hit. Without notice, Shiva and Maha Dev were sacked that month when the vocalist was the iconic frontman and guitarist receiving plaudits as one of the country’s unsung aces. It seems ironical that the pair had been the only ones who voted for Island’s US deal when all their contemporaries had deals there, so “we were out in the cold as it were”.  Some were pulling in different directions by then, when increasingly loose jamming required chanting as the rhythm section never established a modus operandi to get out of the occasional cul-de-sac.

    Raja Ram claimed that after two managers there was a £13,000 debt in spite of their hard work, so perhaps it was an attempt to streamline costs (though Shiva never got his keyboards, congas or even microphone back). But they had also received a substantial advance from RCA, by which time Ram had moved out of the Grove to Kensington. His wife Sita took over bookings and the quartet raised their fee for what was described as “more celestial, spacey and musically economical”. When the four-piece turned up at venues they were asked “Where’s the singer?” because there was no official press release. Lined-up to conclude Reading Festival in August, Ten Years After lived up to their name so no time was left for the headliners!

    The new album Indweller was released in December on RCA proper but, for the first time since the debut, failed to chart in spite of a tour in February. Previously sales were steady and good enough to delay recording the next LP, but this changed in the RCA days. The 10 tracks were in the same mode but missed a stand-out track along with the variety and depth of the absent vocalist and guitarist. Ram admitted that the band “staggered on”, Sita sometimes joining on keyboards, until fizzling out somewhere in Germany in 1980. Jake Milton—who stayed on the fringe of the band’s spirituality—formed an avant-garde punk-jazz trio Blurt with his brother Ted, to rave reviews like NME saying they blew Joy Division off-stage. Mixed with existentialist poetry inspired by Bukowski and compared to Beefheart and Waits, they recorded three studio and a live in Berlin for Factory Records.

    Within weeks Phil and Dave formed Kala, named after a manifestation of Shiva, and able to display their own tour bus in the Grove. Phil even appeared in one of Michael Caine’s films when a new friend turned out to be his manager needing a long-haired hippy! Circle Management contacted the guitarist saying that ELO wanted to recruit him but he was already committed to Kala who’d signed to Bradley’s Records, a subsidiary of ATV. Agents, however, were loath to book them because Phil’s absence from Quintessence was misinterpreted as blowing out gigs when in fact due to the mismanagement of Ram. It speaks volumes that, with many friends from the ’60s, the singer hasn’t spoken to him since the day he heard the news.

    Kala issued one eponymous LP and 7” in 1973. Some songs originally earmarked for Quintessence were now in a more structured form Shiva told me: “Kala has tighter arrangements and a stronger rock feel. I wrote songs that could not be performed by Quintessence and that allowed me to use my voice in a different way, tapping into my blues and rock roots”. The sound partly reprised his early years in Australia with a blues and slightly country influence, overlaid with more generally spiritual lyrics. In the late sixties he liked Steve Marriott’s Small Faces, Yardbirds, Zombies, Animals, Hendrix and The Band after buying as a teenager the latest records of Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and Beatles. “The moving into blues and R & B brought me to my style in Quintessence” that’s remained ever since, a breadth shown as a big fan still of Dion, Nat King Cole and Del Shannon among many others, along with early Baroque and also Indian classical music. This eclecticism is a trait of most of the great singers in popular music’s history. Perhaps surprisingly, he no longer has any vinyl or even his own recordings, “things seem to disappear as time goes by”.

    He produced the Kala album at three studios with John Barham, who’d been sidelined from Q’s later albums by Ram. Guests included Carol Grimes and, in unfortunate circumstances, Les Nichols (Methuselah, Pavlov’s Dog, Leo Sayer etc) replaced Codling. For the first time each got their own writing credits since Quintessence had a policy of group compositions irrespective of individual contributions. The writing was on the wall, however, when the label illicitly replaced the LP’s eastern cover with a self-detested promo-image of the singer. After Codling, the band demanded more than their 300 quid a week so, due to a lucky coincidence, were replaced with visiting members from his Unknown Blues for a tour which featured on a live sampler Bradley’s Roadshow with Paul Brett’s Sage and Hunter Muskett, the three bands chosen to launch the label. Recorded at the Marquee in March 1973 and produced by Keith Relf of The Yardbirds and Medicine Head fame, it remained hard to find.  

    Probably unsurprisingly for a label named after a hotelier, policy soon changed to a preference for singles and Shiva to jump aboard the glam bandwagon. He recently told Professor Cornelius, “The thought of putting on a glitter suit and copying the trends of the time was nauseating to me. I just couldn’t go from the creative expression of Quintessence to that… Money and fame weren’t my motivation”. So Bradley’s took the van and equipment back from outside their Blenheim Crescent home in a fit of pique and refused to release him from his contract, forcing him to work in a rural dairy farm without other means of livelihood. The Goodies (who did an asinine anti-Krishna ditty on their Dandelion single) and Sweet Dreams provided the label’s hit-fodder until it ceased in 1977, as unnoticed as their roster in the media during its tenure. In 2010 Hux Records issued The Complete Kala Recordings remastered with two new mixes, unreleased live songs, and an informative booklet of the fine band’s ill-fated brief history.

    Quintessence’s albums are rarely out-of-print somewhere in the world. A compilation Epitaph For Tomorrow was made by Edsel in 1994, and Island issued Oceans Of Bliss which, incredibly, omitted the stunning Sea Of Immortality. Drop Out released Self and Indweller (1995) as a twofer with one track missing that shouldn’t have been, Sai Baba, which extends their pantheon. In 2009 the consistently excellent Hux—their booklets are essential reading—resuscitated the legendary St. Pancras 1970 concert, i.e. the material left off the second LP. Cosmic Energy has a 20-minute Giants Suite in full-flow plus five early and new songs from the Queen Elizabeth Hall a year later. Released simultaneously was Infinite Love, the rest of the second show from two same-day solo performances. Over 2½ hours of prime Quintessence on a double CD captures them at full tilt with favourites varying in style and length each time. This fine cross-section, which omits Wonders Of The Universe because blighted by an out of tune bass, includes the only recording of Meditations before the Kala LP. Why Island didn’t issue it as a live double to recoup outlay remains a conundrum. “In those days the music press was all-powerful,” recalled Chris Welch, “I earnestly commended the populace to see them [and] flew in the face of prevailing opinion when daring to proclaim they were better live than the Doors”.   

    Their later careers continue to be creative. Raja Ram turned to the electronics of psy-trance and strutting histrionics of Shpongle in Arthur Brown-like flamboyance, where the lasers, smoke and mirrors reflect his personality in interviews as if reverting back to pre-Q Roland. Maha Dev briefly formed Samsara then released a solo album before moving to America and various music projects. After returning home he formed a new Quintessence recapturing the original ethos. Initially auditioning on bass before switching, Allan Mostert’s spontaneous styles avoided cliché yet he’s one of the period’s most underrated guitarists, reflected in the Melody Maker review of the second album: “Its main function will be to elevate the lead guitarist to hero status”. An early Hendrix influence changed when Jake brought the latest Grateful Dead LPs to the house. His subsequent career developed as a vocalist with the ’90s trio Blissticket that evolved from a heavy acid grunge (Brave New World) to a more JJ Cale-feel on Magic Love. Prana (Monsoon Moon, Wirikuta Healing) culminated with Inside World on Burning Shed Records in 2003. The multi-instrumentalist lives today in Spain and as a duo with his wife plays at world music concerts.

    In the ’80s Phil Shiva Shankar Jones almost signed to Elektra for his Room 101 band. In 1995 he moved to New Mexico (which once attracted D.H.Lawrence and Malcolm Lowry for different reasons, and where Shambhu had lived since the ’70s) for a new path as a sound vibration therapist and inner faith minister—with a difference. Since schooldays he had Aboriginal friends and, after England, interest in their unique didgeridoo rekindled, in fact transformed his life he says. Touring America he links the didge with its (and his) spiritual origins as The Yoga of Breath and Sound—the instrument is a logical extension of breath control that underpins all yogic meditation and, of course, fine singing—for workshops at universities, churches, meditation groups, hospitals and alternative health centres. This uniquely personal yet shared creativity recalls Swami Ambikananda’s “Find your purpose in life and fulfil it.” Some of Quintessence still stay true to their beliefs as a process of selection, the fruit of a lifetime’s experience.

     He has worked with Rudra Beauvert, a highly-regarded musician in Switzerland for his electronic projects on a kindred path. In 2003 they issued Shiva Shakti which revisits five Quin classics beginning with the first single and new songs by both composers, merging the inspirational sound of the east with the Euro-rock innovation of the west. Two years later appeared the double CD Cosmic Surfer as Shiva’s Quintessence. Maha Dev returns on guitar and vocals, plus guests from America (Ronnie Levine; Jenny Bird etc.) and Shiva’s son Krishna Jones, who also features in the acclaimed reunion of Unknown Blues. Side one addresses the geo-political climate of global life, a warning message mixing humorous satire with important views on today’s pervasive political/personal delusions when narrow mind-sets fuel destructive, fear-based agendas. Change starts with the individual.

    Insightful tracks (Reptilian Corporate Sign Language, Hollywood Guru Show, Everything Is Weird) highlight truths in clever poetry that would grace any manifesto against today’s conspiracy of alienation. New Age Breadhead may be a side-ways glance to who broke-up the original band. Interspersed with ballads is Didgeridoo Medicine Man, which reminds this reviewer of John Fiddler’s recent work: a simmering boogie beat with meaningful sense-of-life lyrics. CD two returns to the Quins’ song-book from Giants and Ganga Mai to Cosmic Surfer and Hallelujad. Hail Mary and Sun were written for Quintessence but never recorded, the former featured at the Albert Hall and the latter in Kala’s set-list. The chants are some of the best anywhere, pure lifters for listeners seeking genuine inspiration. An excellent compilation, with two new tracks, was issued as Shiva Quintessence’s Only Love Can Save Us (Hux 2011).  

    In 2010 Rudra Beauvert was instrumental in relinking Dave Maha Dev Codling’s new Quintessence with Shiva as guest for a moving 40th anniversary Glastonbury Festival, released as Rebirth (Hux) and once again produced by John Barham. Eight songs, including the first single with added lyrics in a punchier boogie rhythm, are featured with four new studio tracks entitled Sattvic Meditation Suite, where the haunting When Thy Song Flows Through Me sets the scene for Glastonbury Dawn, Sunrise, and Mendocino Bay. Rebirth is a fine revisit to the repertoire of one of the leading bands of the era. The buzz of the occasion can be seen on video at Mooncow and the Inside Out broadcast of November that year when Shiva re-met Dave Codling (with the local BBC station) in Yorkshire after 35 years.

    In 2012 the Unknown Blues reformed for two lauded shows at Australia’s prestigious Byron Bay Bluesfest in front of over 100,000 people. The lead guitarist, Chris Brown, had been in Kala at the Marquee and the friends first played music on the same stage at the age of 15. Literary agents in New York have approached Phil for a book of memoirs, meanwhile he is working on a new album with American guitarist Frank Evans, Rudra Beauvert, and John Barham from the early days that may appear later this year. “We are creating a nice energy together,” the singer says, “with a spiritual coffee house vibe”, so it sounds well worth looking out for.
    Every band story has its highs and lows of course, but history as seen today has unjustly side-lined acts like Quintessence while raising rather ordinary names, in stark contrast to contemporary memories. There was originality in massive doses, so when Cream, Taste, Beatles and Badfinger split no one would even think to clone themselves as Curd, Tasty, Sadfinger or the Bootles ad nauseum. Other names also define the epoch. In 1970-72 Quintessence appeared in the five leading music magazines regularly with no less than three dozen interviews and concert reviews alone, plus Zig Zag, Beat Instrumental and several underground periodicals as well as the infamous News Of The World. The sensation of 1970 euro-debuted at Montreux, sold out the Albert Hall single-handedly, and graced the inaugural Glastonburys, where their return as special guests for the 40th anniversary is a testament to their standing. 

    In hindsight the absence of stateside exposure probably scuttled what could have placed the innovators-never-imitators among the elite, as happened to many bands (Medicine Head, Groundhogs, Edgar Broughton Band, Stray…) just when the initial impetus sought new challenges. It’s said that Jim Morrison owned all their albums on import. The division that greeted Island’s late US offer first showed the cracks, but the label could have issued Cosmic Surfer as a single or a full live album, both of which aided stablemates Free in similar circumstances. These factors—along with the crazy decision to split the band at its zenith, confirmed by their last album—cost Quintessence a global stage along with a career of decades like the Grateful Dead, whom they resembled but with an added original dimension. Due to Shiva, Maha Dev, Rudra Beauvert and also Hux Records, the band with a message continues to enliven generations...surely the essence of music and life.

With grateful thanks to Shiva ( for sharing his invaluable insights, and Rudra for kind assistance and permission regarding his astounding Quintessence archive at .

*Most of the photos has been taken from

Interview made by Brian R. Banks/2014
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