Monday 26 July 2010

Brian Poole & Pinkerton's Assorted Colours (1967)


It was a ‘Pop Festival’ at Burton Constable Hall’, it was
June 1967, the year of Flower-Power, ‘Sergeant Pepper’,
Hippies, Peace & Love… and it was headlined by

Shrapnels of broken glass. A pool of spilt beer on cobblestones. And what looks like blood. Why the hell am I here…? Later this year – 22nd August 1967, Burton Constable Hall hosts a more impressive line-up, the Pretty Things, Chicken Shack, and Third Ear Band. A year later, 21st June 1968 there’s even an anniversary ‘Midsummer Night Dream’ with Geno Washington’s Ram-Jam Band, the Move, Marmalade, Family and Spooky Tooth. And I have to be here, this night. Even now it’s hard to work out exactly how it happened, how it all went so wrong. A guy at Tech college. Can’t even recall his name. Might have been Patrick Dent, who first turned me on to Bob Dylan, but probably it wasn’t. He’d seen the event advertised in the ‘Hull Daily Mail’ and thought it’d be a great opportunity for checking out the talent… as in, nubile Free-Loving Hippie-Nookie. Me? living in Humberside is like living at world’s end, everything exciting happens somewhere else, way behind the horizon, and well, this seems like it might be a better way of spending the evening than sat watching life in b-&-w on TV. By then I’d got a car, bought for £250. A blue mini with a white roof. Burton Constable is an imposing Elizabethan pile with a lake and 1.2-square k’s of sheep-grazed grounds near an obscure hamlet called Skirlaugh. Out of Hull via the Saltend roundabout where the chemical plant flares blaze out over the dark Humber, through sleeping villages nine miles vaguely north-east. Once there, headliners perform in the white-washed interior of large Palladian outbuilding that had once been used for the estate’s livestock. One downbill group impresses with some strobe-theatricals, ripping up sheets of newspaper in jerky fast-frame bursts of sequential light. But I forget the name. Another does a pretty keen cover of the Who’s “I’m A Boy”.

Then some local guys, in a quite amiable way, assume we are Mods, and invite us to a ruck that’ll get us all in the papers. Well, I was wearing my ball-tight hipster pants with vertical stripes, pointed-toe Cuban-heel boots with three buckles on the outer side of each, and a mustard pvc jacket. With CND button. We spend the rest of the evening either trying to gawp the groups (they were still called groups, not yet bands), and ducking the thuggish inbred locals.

Infuriatingly, there’s neither logic nor reason to hit singles. There’s no great cosmic arbitrator to determine that worthy records achieve the chart pre-eminence they deserve. It’s random, all down to consumer whim, exposure to a catchy chorus on the correct radio or TV-slot at the right moment. A pretty face in a fan-mag. Occasionally, when a neglected overlooked Soul classic is selected for a TV-ad campaign or for inclusion in a movie-sequence it achieves retroactive hit-status, as with Jackie Wilson, Erma Franklin or Nina Simone. But surely it baffles, affronts, bewilders and confounds all sense of the essential moral order of the universe when Ken Dodd and Englebert Humperdinck get no.1’s while the Who and the Yardbirds never do. And why did Creation or Idle Race never sniff the Top Twenty when Brian Poole & The Tremeloes and Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours do? There’s no justification. There’s no sense or reason to it. It just happens. It’s a contradiction of familiar mystery that where other, far superior records fail, Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours inexplicably notch up a hit single with the vapid “Mirror Mirror” (no.8, 19th February 1966). A song based around the pantomime ‘who is the fairest of them all’, he looks into the mirror and ‘I see your pretty face’. Heavy-rotation on pirate station ‘Radio City’ – which happened to be owned by their manager Reginald Calvert, doesn’t hurt. For ‘Top Of The Pops’ they contrive a forgettable visual front by adopting different coloured suits, with lead voice Tony Newman in dayglo pink. He plays an autoharp, the instrument of choice that John Sebastian wields to infinitely more creditable effect with Lovin’ Spoonful. Despite radio support, they barely scrape the fifty with a follow-up, “Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me Baby” (no.50, 21st April 1966). This night they also do one called “Magic Rockin’ Horse”. Yet more inexplicably, following its failure, they later reconfigure into Flying Machine with future Radio 1 DJ Stuart Colman on bass, and score a one-off American hit with Macauley-&-Stephens “Smile A Little Smile For Me” (US no.5, 18th October 1969). So, one-hit wonders, with different hits, on both sides of the Atlantic.

While Dagenham’s Brian Poole & The Tremeloes were famously the group Decca signed in preference to the Beatles. Already anachronistic, left-to-right gawky to homely, named after Fender’s tremelo-arm effect-lever guitar attachment used by Hank Marvin to give the Shadows their distinctive sound, they were first onto vinyl with a dance-fad single “Twist Little Sister” (in April 1962). Some time later, with “Twist And Shout” grabbing voracious attention on the Beatles first album, they rush out a convenient cover (no.4, 3rd August 1963). LP’s cost a bundle of pocket-money, no-one pretends they actually prefer Brian Poole’s blandly insipid version, but if you really need a low-budget “Twist And Shout” you’d maybe settle for it. It’s not really much of a song. Hardly a song at all. Like “Shout” – which gifts Lulu with her career, it derives from the Isley Brothers stage-routine, built up from spontaneous extemporisations with roots in gospel preacher ‘get up, get on your feet and praise the lord’, secularised into ‘get up, get on your feet and Dance’. For album-track fourteen, the Beatles bring to its nonsense lyric, not only Lennon’s power-vocals, but an intuitive grasp of structured dynamics, building tension to a shattering climax. The Tremeloes simply do it bright, fast and bouncy. With a toe-hold visibility, they follow it with a cover of the Contours “Do You Love Me” (no.1, 5th October 1963), which subsequently charts over a rival Dave Clark Five version. Probably the only time in their careers the DC Five are the credible option! Next, in their polite neat suits and sensible hair, Poole tours with Roy Orbison, who was astute enough to convince them to cover his ‘B’-side “Candy Man” (no.8, 22nd February 1964), published through his Orbisongs, he benefit from the royalties. There are other low-rent hits, including an execrable revival of the Browns’ Catholic prayer “Three Bells” (no.16, 30th January 1965), and a poor cover of the Strangeloves stomping US hit “I Want Candy” (no.25, 22nd July 1965 – which Malcolm McLaren would better-reinvigorate with Bow-Wow-Wow). When Brian split away from the Tremeloes, label-expectation was he’d go on to solo stardom while the group dispersed. It didn’t work out that way. The Tremeloes first wrong-step with a cover of Paul Simon’s “Blessed”, a vehemently satiric anti-religious tract from Simon & Garfunkel’s first electric LP. The Trems didn’t understand it, or know what to do with it, but Simon was a happening writer and CBS considered bandwagon-jumping a cool idea. But they did fall on their feet with a party-cover of another trendy songwriter’s “Here Comes My Baby” – from Cat Stevens (no.4, 4th March 1967). They go on to bigger, if not necessarily better things with a no.1 cover a Four Seasons ‘B’-side, “Silence Is Golden” (no.1, 20th May 1967), among a total of thirteen post-Brian hits… while Brian himself ineptly teams with the Seychelles. Smiling in a ‘please like me’ kind of way, with all the charisma of the high street butcher, a career he later adopts when the Pop bubble bursts. I’ve a feeling he did the vacuous Trems-period hit “Someone Someone” (no.2, 27th June 1964). In the meantime, he’d re-signed to CBS, but “Everything I Touch Turns To Tears” in September 1966, and “That Reminds Me Baby” (March 1967) both fail. Probably he sang those too, although I can’t be sure. More singles for the President label would follow (including “What Do Women Most Desire”). But the world was moving on.

The yard outside was cobbled, with runnels to duct away dubious liquids. A night chill and uneasy with malevolent menace. In a confusion of intentions me and Patrick get separated, he falls foul of our amiable locals and gets his head kicked in a little. I follow shrapnels of broken glass. A pool of spilt beer. And what looks like blood. Full stop. Exclamation mark. We escape back to the mini more or less intact. And accelerate into the night, the Saltend chemical plant flares still blazing out over the dark Humber. Don’t let anyone tell you the sixties were all hedonistic fun fun fun, don’t believe the hype…


Anonymous said...

About this time I vaguely recall an 'all-nighter' at Burton Constable when Free, Soft Machine and various others played while I head banged to the sounds and oil lamps projecting on the walls. I lived in Bridlington at the time and cannot remember how I got there.
Recent request on Radio Humberside for memories of the night but apart from shameful dress of platform cork shoes and cravats and freedom from the 'old folk' at 14 years of age it's a bit of a blur really!

HawaiianShirtRacer said...

I was there. I think it was a pound to get in. The Amazing Blondell introduced themselves as the Vulgar Blondell and told rude jokes and brought LOADS of instruments out of tea chests

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