Thursday, August 11, 2022

Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera - Long Nights Of Summer, The Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera Anthology

After supporting Pink Floyd, the band known as The Five Proud Walkers were inspired to change their sound and became Velvet Opera and then Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera. After signing a record deal with CBS Records subsidiary Direction Records they released the single “Flames”, followed by their stellar eponymous debut, which ended up being their only album.  Interestingly “Flames”, which was also on the CBS sampler The Rock Machine Turns You On, was included in live sets from many young bands at that time including Led Zeppelin, who performed it in their first live show (Robert Plant also performed the song in 1999/2000 with his band Priory Of Brion).  While they didn’t get the recognition they deserved at that time, over the years they have become highly regarded.  Long Nights Of Summer is a great new three CD box set that gives them their just due with both the stereo and US promo-only mono versions of the album, singles, outtakes, demos and numerous tracks from BBC sessions (many never before released).  Also included is the album Ride A Hustler’s Dream, which was released by a new lineup under the name Velvet Opera after frontman Dave Terry (aka Elmer Gantry) and guitarist Colin Foster left the band.  Joining remaining members bassist John Ford and drummer Richard Hudson (also on sitar and tablas) were guitarist/vocalist Paul Brett and vocalist/guitarist Johnny Joyce.   

Disc one starts with the stereo version of their eponymous release and the track “Intro”, which is just that, a minute long ragged, funky R&B rocker with Gantry introducing the members of the band.  Exploding with fuzzed out guitars, “Mother Writes” is a catchy rocker with a hint of psychedelia reminiscent of The Who.  The psychedelia continues with “Mary Jane”, a dreamy, laid-back track that pulses with a throbbing bass and nice keys running underneath.  The next three tracks find them radically shifting direction. “I Was Cool” is a raw, jazzy blues cover of an Oscar Brown Jr tune that has a cool, almost campy, vibe, while the instrumental “Walter Sly Meets Bill Bailey” is a massively impressive instrumental that throws out everything from prog and jazz to psychedelia and freakbeat and “Air” is a hypnotic, middle eastern, psychedelic tune driven by Richard Hudson’s sitar playing.  “Looking For A Happy Life” is a bouncy pop tune that sounds like you would expect a song with that title to sound, and their aforementioned debut single “Flames” is a hard driving track with a bit of a soul groove and some blistering guitar.  Next up are a couple more gorgeous pop tunes with “What’s The Point Of Leaving”, which has a bit of a baroque pop vibe, and “Long Nights Of Summer”, a sixties melodic pop tune complemented with a string arrangement that will have you questioning how it wasn’t a huge hit.  “Dream Starts” is pure psychedelia that is at times a bit reminiscent of The Beatles as it’s spinning and swirling with Gantry’s vocals fed through a Leslie speaker and complemented with horns, piano and even some kazoo.  “Reactions Of A Young Man”, an interesting tune detailing a schoolboy’s attempt to end his relationship with a married woman, is a very musically layered track that at times is a bit reminiscent of early The Moody Blues.  Closing the album is “Now She’s Gone”, another brilliant psychedelic cut, but with a darker edge.  Disc one also contains twelve bonus tracks starting with the single version of “Flames” and it’s b-side “Salisbury Plain”, a spacey psych tune.  The single version of “Mary Jane” is missing the spritely piano of the album version and is a bit darker, while it’s b-side “Dreamy” is a more laid-back psychedelic tune with Hudson on sitar again.  Next up is the single “Volcano”, which was written by the songwriting team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley and was recorded the way the band wanted and not the way they had written it.  It ended up being a decent raucous, straight-ahead rock tune, but still didn’t please the band and the songwriters were unhappy with it as well.  It’s lack of success was a contributing factor to Gantry eventually leaving the band. Ironically the flipside “A Quick B” was written by the band and is a bluesy rocker that really works.  “Talk of the Devil” was written by Eric Woolfson, who would later co-create The Alan Parsons Project, and was the title recording for a 1967 movie short.  Recorded under the pseudonym The Illusion Of Happiness, it’s a really strong moody rocker with a hint of blues and folk.  Next up are three studio out-takes from ’67 and ’68.  “And I Remember” was written by early band member Jimmy Horowitz when they were still the Five Proud Walkers and is a catchy pop tune with a hint of soul and psychedelia, while “To Be With You” is a high energy rocker with some really interesting guitar work.  Before he decided he didn’t like it “The Painter” was briefly a contender for an Elmer Gantry solo single.  It’s an upbeat tune with horns and strings, but I can’t say I disagree with him as it’s a bit schlocky.  Closing out the first disc are demos of “Salisbury Plain” and “Flames” that were taken from what is believed to be the sole surviving acetate and give an interesting look at the beginnings of these two cuts. 

Opening disc two is the US promo only mono version of their debut.  According to the liner notes, the stereo version that was released was a fold-up of the mono mix instead of the mono mix being a fold-down of the stereo mix which was the norm (this is explained in much greater detail in the CD booklet for those that are interested).  In my opinion these mono recordings have a little more punch and clarity than the stereo recordings.  Following the album are fifteen tracks taken from five various BBC Sessions.  Alongside great renditions of many of their songs, a few of which as to be expected show up multiple times (“Flames” and “Mary Jane” appear three times), are outstanding covers of Country Joe and the Fish’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag”, which is a loose bluesy rocker with some outstanding guitar work, a ripping version of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” and two hard-driving takes on Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”.

Disc three starts off with the Velvet Opera disc Ride A Hustler’s Dream, which opens with the minute long acoustic title track that has a bit of a Dylan vibe.  Next up is a killer raw blues cover of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” that really showcases Paul Brett’s guitar work, followed by “Money By”, a nice laid-back tune with a psychedelic groove and a hint of The Byrds, and another cover with their foot-stomping, acoustic take on the traditional folk song “Black Jack Davy”.  “Raise The Light” is an interesting sounding track with a laid-back psychedelic vibe that alternates Brett’s wah wah guitar with some really nice acoustic guitar.  Over the next three tracks the band really shows some diversity.  Hudson once again showcases his impressive sitar and tabla playing on the mellow middle eastern sounds of “Raga”, while “Anna Dance Square” sounds like something from a funky square dance, and “Depression” is a quirky, almost Country and Western track.  “Don’t You Realise” is a bluesy freakbeat rocker with more of Brett’s outstanding guitar work that is at times reminiscent of Hendrix, and starting with a child’s spoken word intro, “Warm Day In July” is a beautiful folk tune comprised primarily of vocals, acoustic guitar and flute.  Closing track is a blistering slightly proggy instrumental cover of “Eleanor Rigby” that’s expanded with solos that really allow everyone to show their virtuosity.  Rounding out disc three are seven more bonus tracks starting off with single versions of “Anna Dance Square” and “Don’t You Realise”.  In early 1970 the band called it a day and Ford and Hudson joined The Strawbs.  Later that year, original guitarist Colin Forster started Velvet Opera back up with a new band consisting of vocalist Dave MacTavish (Tintern Abbey), bassist Colin Bass drummer Mike Fincher, who recorded one single before breaking up.   While the a-side, “She Keeps Giving Me These Feelings” has a really strong vocal performance and some nice acoustic guitar, the song itself is a fairly generic pop song.  The flipside “There’s A Hole In My Pocket” is a bluesy rocker that’s a little bit better, but still misses the mark.  Closing out the disc are three more BBC Sessions recordings.  First up are two from the Ride A Hustler’s Dream lineup with “Statesboro Blues” and “Water Wheel”, a really pretty acoustic folk tune that was never recorded.  The sound quality here isn’t the best, but they are definitely nice additions to the collection.  Lastly is “She Keeps Giving Me These Feelings” from the MacTavish fronted version of the band.  Rounded out with a very comprehensive thirty-two page booklet detailing the band’s history, I highly recommended this great sounding, very comprehensive look into Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera.


Friday, August 05, 2022

Interview with Hvnted

I recently had the chance to talk to LA band Hvnted about their really solid eponymous debut EP, and along the way we also discussed the LA Rock Collective, a recent membership change, Nirvana covers, the pandemic and more.  

I know the band has existed in one form or another for six or seven years.  Can you give me a little band history? 

The band was formed by Will Swanson who later found the other members via shows, social media, friends, etc.  Jack was actually a middle school/high school friend of Will’s.  He was a grade below him and learned to play bass just for the band. Seamus was found when he was playing the same show as one of Will’s other bands. Will had run out into the audience for some crowd interaction but didn't have enough time to get back to the stage so he actually used Seamus as a mic stand. 
You have recorded with American Hi-Fi frontman Stacy Jones and former Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson, and then you also recorded with producer Bruce Robb at his legendary Cherokee Studios.  How have you managed to end up working with such big names? (on a side note, I stumbled across a box set of music from The Robbs a few years ago, and they were a sadly underappreciated band)
Yeah!! The Robbs! That's so cool. Bruce used to tell us stories all the time about his time in The Robbs. We think these opportunities start just like how we did. Music pulls all kinds of people together. Meeting Keith, Bruce, and Stacy was seriously a blessing to us. We wouldn't be who we are today without them. We remember grinding out the perfect take over and over again with these guys in their studios and it made us better musicians overall because of it. 

How does your songwriting process tend to work?
The songwriting process is actually pretty open. Typically, one of us comes in with a song idea or some half-written song.  Normally it tends to be Will who brings in songs and we all end up working on them that way. As for how the songs are written from a technical standpoint, usually, the chords of the song come first followed by a melody. Lyrics don't happen until the very end. 

I saw pop punk come up a few times in reference to you, and while there are definitely times where that could apply, overall I don’t think that really fits.  Opener “Killing Me” is a great example.  That’s just a good straight-ahead, hard driving rock song.  What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah! Y’know it's one if those things where we almost wanna say listeners can call us whatever genre they want. We do a lot of different stuff and our sound tends to change quite a bit in the sense of our songs but not our overall style. Typically we like to generally categorize ourselves as just “rock.” That's what we really are at our core.  We just want to make music that we love playing and people love hearing.  

Another favorite of mine is “Otherside”.  I hear a little MCR and to me there’s something about the sound of it that really sets it apart from the others.  Can you tell me a little about that song?
"Otherside" has always held a special place in the band's heart. We think it's just because of how different the sound and overall vibe of the song is. That song is really our “chaotic break before the storm.” "Otherside" tends to be a fan favorite! People ask for it a lot. 

I noticed that Declan is no longer listed as a member of the band and in a recent live video on YouTube you had a guitarist named Chris playing with you.  What the story with that? 
Ah yes! Ok so, Declan O’Raidy was the original guitarist of Hvnted. He's a great guy and a great guitarist.  It's very rare to find a guitarist who plays to the song with such natural instinct as he does. He wanted to pursue another career opportunity and decided to depart from Hvnted. We are all on good terms though! He's a great guy and has always been a great friend to us.  The guitarist who's been playing with us for our recent shows is Chris Marshall. Somehow Hvnted ends up finding the nicest yet most rock kinda people for the band. Chris is really nice, really polite, super kind. But he looks like he could break me in half by just flexing his bicep. He's got the whole tattooed guitarist thing with the muscles going on and he's pretty insane when it comes to guitar playing.  Will actually found him off an Instagram hashtag and he has just seemed to be the right fit so far. 

In the video I saw it seems like his guitar work brings a different energy to the songs.  Would you agree?
This is something that we've all been thinking and have been really excited about. Will always says “It's kinda crazy how one guitarist brings such an energy and new sound that it makes this feel like a completely new band.” Chris just makes the songs feel heavier and almost pushes us towards a more “Nu Metal” direction.

You are involved in the LA Rock Collective. Can you tell me about that?

The LA Rock Collective is something that has been such a huge help to us and many other bands. What LARC does for bands is really something that we've been asking for for a long time. LARC gets all these local bands or bands who are touring in town and throws us all together for a show with the commitment of bringing out as many people as you can and sticking around for everyone's set even if you aren't even playing that night. I'd say the feeling I get from LARC is “Stronger Together.” Really helpful people.  We are actually playing a LARC pretty soon. If you wanna come just check us out on Instagram for the date and see what its all about @hvntedband. 
What kind of effect did the pandemic have on the band?

The pandemic basically slowed everything wayyy down.  It's crazy that when we write songs, we're typically alone inside our room or lockout. Which is right where the pandemic wanted us to be. But this pandemic killed all motivation. It just kind of put us into this state of looking around and saying “whoa.” I don't think something else like this will happen again in our lifetimes.  I mean we're still feeling the effects of it. 
From what I’ve read the band does a lot of work supporting mental health and depression.  Can you tell me a little about that?
Mental Health is something the band takes pretty seriously. It's something everyone has to keep track of.  No matter how someone appears to be feeling you have to be kind to each other.  You have to make sure you're checking on everyone.  You never know what someone could be holding in. Our EP that we just put out us actually based all around Mental health. It talks about everything from depression to addiction. Mental health has just been a big part of our lives and we want to make sure everyone's doing okay. 

Do you have any plans for a physical release of the EP?
It's definitely something we've thought about... Normally we take a lot of polls on our social media accounts to see what people would want as well as asking people at our shows. What we've seemed to gather is.... 1. Will’s grandmother wants a Hvnted CD.  2. Our fans love vinyl.... vinyls get pretty expensive....

I heard the song “Kaitlyn Delaine” in one of your live videos and read that you have a studio version recorded.  Is there any reason it’s not on the EP and should we expect to hear it at some point?
So what's kinda crazy about this EP is these are songs from like 2 years ago. We rounded up these songs together and thought about which songs belonged together and which needed to be saved for a later date.  "Katelyn Dillane" is definitely one that in fact, will be released at a later date.  It's a newer song and it's one of our favorites.  We have so much material that we're working on every day to get out to you guys. 

You have a couple Nirvana covers up on YouTube and Spotify.  Is there a story behind those?
It was the Anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death a little while ago and we decided to do some of our favorite songs by Nirvana. That's really all that was about. Just wanted to do a little tribute. 

I also read something about a possible covers EP.  Can you elaborate on that?

Ahhh yes... We've talked about this quite a bit. We've thought about covering some 2000’s hits for fun or even just some covers that seem in our genre and putting them together as a collective.  Haven't done it yet though. Haven't even started.  However... I know there's a Hvnted cover of a Neon Trees song laying around somewhere. 

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Well we just put out our self-titled EP so now really it's just tour around and play a ton of shows with all of our friends/fans. As we stated previously though... always stay tuned for new music.  

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

We just wanted to thank you guys for all the support you've given us so far. Be sure to stream Hvnted and show us to all your friends, parents, grandparents, etc. We hope to see you guys soon! PEACE.


Thursday, August 04, 2022

The Swinging Blue Jeans - Feelin’ Better: Anthology (1963-1969)

Initially formed as a skiffle band in 1957, The Swinging Blue Jeans went through numerous personnel changes before shifting their sound in 1962 to become a Merseybeat band.  At that point they signed a deal with HMV and over the next few years released several hit singles including the original “It’s Too Late Now” (UK #30) and their takes on “Hippy Hippy Shake” (UK #2, US #24), “Good Golly Miss Molly” (UK #11, US #43) and “You’re No Good” (UK #3, US #97).  In addition to sounding a lot like the early Merseybeat days of The Beatles, the band followed a similar path early on also having a residency at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club (The Beatles once appeared their as their guests) and playing The Star-Club in Germany.  Feelin’ Better : Anthology (1963-1969) is a great new three CD box set compiling everything the band recorded from 1963 to 1969 and includes a massive 103 tracks.  Along with their only UK album “Blue Jeans A’ Swinging”, which is here in both mono and stereo versions, you will find everything from their Canadian only LP “Don’t Make Me Over”, single and EP tracks, commercial test versions of a few songs and German versions of some of their hits.  Even though they weren’t necessarily breaking any ground, the performances and song selection are top notch (don't miss the cover of Louis Armstrong's "Ol' Man Mose") and the whole collection makes for a really enjoyable listen.  Also included is a great booklet with a new interview with original vocalist and lead guitarist Ray Ennis.