The Ultimate Fop-Pop Explosion

When I hit the astroturf I knew it was serious. By the time I got to Battersea the next morning, my ankle resembled the Graf Zeppelin and each gear change felt like an angle grinder slicing through my leg. Only another 400 or so miles to Paris. I left A’s Beetle in a side street, hopped to a bus stop and headed straight for casualty, where a brusque Indian doctor told me what I already knew – no weight on it for two weeks, chew these and collect a pair of crutches from reception.

It was R’s first film part and it wasn’t going well. When she phoned to see if I fancied coming over for a few days, I said ‘I dunno, I suppose I could’’ hinting at a mass of unspecified, but urgent, fun keeping me in London. R and me was never really on or off, just a drawn out mess. Only problem was – I’d sort of, more or less, kinda decided that she was the one for me – so, once I’d stopped punching the air, it was inevitable that I’d arrange to borrow A’s car and aim for Dover. With hindsight, I wish I’d skipped the game of five-a-side the night before. And there was always the cash flow issue, best summed up as ‘no money, no prospect of money’.

I’d been listening to the Rubble series pretty much non-stop since they flopped out of Bam Caruso’s creaky distribution channel between about 1986 and 1988. Dave Henderson’s Underground magazine (remember that?) for some unknown reason sent me two or three through the post – maybe I was supposed to review them, I dunno, I never asked. Anyway, the dozen or so Rubbles albums that I owned made more of an impression than virtually anyone since the Pistols, opening a window to a hidden world of mid and late-sixties strange pop and psych oddities – the likes of The Chances Are, The Plague and The Cherry Smash had been heroes since the first spin. Bam Caruso never seemed to be able to keep all the titles available at once, and some had always been virtually impossible to get hold of, so a near-complete set was worth a few bob, even in the early 90’s. And so, standing at the Charing Cross travel office with a fifty quid note in my hand and a packet of frozen sweetcorn gaffer-taped to my ankle, I tried hard not to think of my beloved Rubbles sitting in the racks at Reckless in Berwick Street.

C90 Go! is a series of articles, each one about a mixtape, written in the time it takes to listen to that tape (or CD). Once the tape is finished the writer is allowed to edit for sense, flow, grammar and factual accuracy, but is not allowed to add anything substantive to their piece. That’s the only rule. The writer can talk about as many or as few of the tracks on the CD as s/he wants, and can write about them in any way they like. If you want to do a C90 Go! piece yourself, write to Tom.

There were twenty vinyl Rubbles, actually twenty-one if you count both versions of Rubble 9 – a Nederbeat compilation replaced the original 9 at some point. May I suggest, if someone ever decides to extend the series that the great Arthur Brennan is drafted in to compile them? The Ultimate Fop Pop Explosion is as good as just about any of them. So what’s the theme? It’s mainly a collection of soft and chamber-psych that’s so 1968. 1968 – the last year of rock’s childhood, the year to make your decision for Brit-psychers – to jump headlong into pop, or to learn some twiddly time-sigs and go prog? The Ultimate Fop Pop Explosion is definitely pop – in fact in places, it’s closer to Ripples than Rubble – more sunshine pop than beer-stained kaftans. Like all great compilations it starts with a killer 1-2-3 combination. First up – The Turnstyle’s ‘Riding A Wave’ which is the best track here – a beautifully arranged ecstatic rush (‘My mind says it’s happy/and I’m riding a wave’) with amazing strings and angry fuzz guitar. Two minutes and forty-eight seconds later and we’re headlong into Grapefruit’s ‘Elevator’, punchy, soaring pop-psych with a West Coast tinge. Next up – The Golden Earrings, who were a classy Nederbeat combo in the late 60’s before their rather more rockist 1970’s incarnation as Golden Earring. ‘The Sound of The Screaming Day’ doesn’t even hint at the gruff boogie of ‘Radar Love’, instead a haunting intro (‘Listen, listen, oh listen…’) gives way to a soaring chorus with brass and flute.

Nirvana’s chamber psych is OK, but merely a pleasant interlude before the camp bubble-beat of Herman’s Hermits’ ‘The London Look’. I always liked Herman’s Hermits, but this is a revelation – a David Axelrod-style harpsichord and backbeat intro leads into an exquisite period chorus (‘See the country vicars/and the city slickers’) which suggests the band as a 1960’s World Of Twist – celebrating the scene (Everybody groovin’/everybody movin’/they’ve all got the London Look’), basking in the lights.

Recorded By: Arthur Brennan
Recorded For: Doctor C  

Track Listing

Riding A Wave – The Turnstyle
Elevator – Grapefruit
Sound of The Screaming Day – Golden Earrings
Pentecost Hotel – Nirvana
The London Look – Herman’s Hermits
Lazy Fat People – The Barron Knights
Dogs in Baskets – Geranium Pond
Lavender Popcorn – Scrugg
Sunshine Cottage – The Herd
Tara Tiger Girl – The Casuals
What Are We Doing Here – Blossom Toes
L.S.Bumblebee – Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Dream Starts – Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera
We Are The Moles – The Moles
Tell it to the Laughing Man – John Carter and Russ Alquist
Paternoster Row – Twilight
Glasshouse Green Splinter Red – The Kinsmen
I Lied To Auntie May – The Neat Change
All Our Christmases – The Majority
Brother Lou’s Love Colony – The Colours
Catherine’s Wheel – Denny Laine
Slipping Through My Fingers – The Family Tree
Pirate – The Moon
Marjorine – Tinkerbell’s Fairy Dust
Mythological Sunday – The Flowerpotmen

I can’t recommend the Barron Knights track, but I would not deny it the right to exist. With The Geranium Pond’s ‘Dogs In Basket’s however, I cannot be so lenient – it’s a disgrace. John Kongos’s Scrugg are the Flamin’Groovies of pop-psych – always around, well intentioned, never embarrassing, but not really much good. So it’s a surprise that ‘Lavender Popcorn’ turns out to be their ‘Shake Some Action’, ripping off The Pretty Things ‘Walking through my Dreams’ and about four Beatles songs as it goes. Of course, no Brit-psych compilation is complete without a Move pastiche. Here, The Casuals are perfect – ‘Tara Tiger Girl’ melds Roy Wood-style hooks with panache and they blatantly copy his every vocal mannerism. Bizarrely, Wood worked with them on later singles, although not this one, rather like Paul McCartney writing a song for the Bootleg Beatles.

Despite Arthur’s best efforts things start to go wrong for four or five tracks. I really don’t ever want to hear Pete and Dud’s ‘LS Bumblebee’ again, nor Elmer Gantry’s horrible Leslie-treated vocals. John Carter and Russ Alquist offer, as usual, nothing much and although it’s bearable, The Moles (Simon Dupree’s Big Sound in disguise) should have stayed in their hole. A hair’s breadth away from the Moles in basic sound, but more convincing, is Twilight’s very spooky ‘Paternoster Row’.

And then it gets good again, very good – The Majority’s squinty Mersey-pop version of The Gibb Brothers ‘All Our Christmases’ hits the mark, despite bringing to mind Freddie and The Dreamers, and The Colours entertainingly chuck in driving fuzz-guitar, sitar and tabla. The Family Tree’s ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ is the third absolute classic here (after The Golden Earrings and The Turnstyle) – a magical string arrangement reaches a crescendo over looming horns and loose, shuffling drums. A primitive George Harrison-style solo illuminates the song’s centre. Whoa, hang on – a fourth classic! The Moon’s tale of re-incarnation and revenge, ‘Pirate’ – ‘To my surprise he came back as a beautiful woman’ – is amazing! Piano alternates between soft-rock and barrelhouse with curlicues of lead guitar and soaring falsetto harmonies. ‘I tried to find him to take my revenge/but I died as an old man in Scotland’. Wow!

So – the Ultimate Fop-Pop Explosion perfectly captures the last summer before rock grew up. Before it got serious. I now have all the Rubbles again courtesy of Past and Present’s re-issue program and e-bay. And I did make it to Paris, thanks to strong pain killers and a small bottle of Lamb’s Navy Rum. After a couple of weeks I phoned round the pubs, looking for A to tell him where to find his car, but when I eventually got back the Beetle was still there, bird-shit and parking ticket-encrusted and with a flat battery. A few weeks later we wrote it off by bouncing it off the back of a Volvo and into an East Sussex ditch. The film was never finished – there was never any money – but R and me made it through that summer, and every summer since.

written by Doctor C, February 2003