On the 6th of November, 1967 a radio session was recorded for the BBC that remains one of the most exceptional engagements of the era, a session so remarkable in its character, circumstance and quality that had it been completely lost, its disappearance would have been one of the major deprivations of our psychedelic period heritage. Here we have a session; captured on tape for the BBC's newest flagship alternative music programme Top Gear and recorded by a combine who themselves (well in name at least) were a new group without a recording contract, that managed to quite magnificently envelope many of the prevailing styles of the period into one completely cohesive whole. I cannot think of many other BBC sessions whose selections are so rich in their multifariousness yet managed to bond together so perfectly, and the confident dexterity with which the quartet tackle driving mod beat, plenteously cover and transform a Simon and Garfunkel tune and unveil one of British psychedelic pop's most defining jewels along the way is astounding. And the actuality that these nascent Beeb recordings were made by a band that are recognized for virtually introducing genuine hard rock to the British Top Ten merely add to their fascination and singularity
The Gun story begins with the ongoing activities of the Knack, who were formed by Paul Curtis (Gurvitz) in 1963 and had began life as the Londoners, soon finding prestigious work as Gene Vincent's regular backing group. After a 45 released exclusively in Germany on the Star Club label the Londoners became the Knack in 1965 and after being spotted by Larry Page were signed with Decca in Britain, who released two singles by the quartet later that year. That pair of discs are amongst the most interesting and meritous artifacts of British beat, combining spirited covers of the Kinks' 'Who'll Be The Next In Line' and Jackie DeShannon's 'It's Love Baby' with similarly accomplished renderings of 'Time, Time, Time' and 'She Ain't No Good', both of which were similarly impressed onto vinyl by the Clique for Pye that same year. Incidentally Paul's father Sam Curtis (Gurvitz being Paul's real family name though he used the surname Curtis until the early 70's and his father used the name Curtis after his divorce from Paul and Adrian's mother), was a roadie for the Kinks. These Decca 45s however - both of which were produced by ex Shadow Tony Meehan - made little impression commercially, the band left the label and in early 1966 the Knack had transferred to Pye's Piccadilly outlet. Despite continued apathy the company went on to o issue three Knack records during 1966 which like their predecessors alloyed musical quality and interesting material - 'Stop (Before You Get Me Going)' for example was written by famed future psychster 'Big Boy Pete' Miller and the groups bent for bright American pop was displayed by versions of 'Did You Ever Have To Make Your Mind', "Younger Girl' and best of all, a superb take on Mann and Weil's 'Take Your Love'.
Never particularly fraught with personnel shifts the Knack had nevertheless gone through a few changes during their lifespan and by early 1967, only the band's long term lynchpins-rhythm guitar player and found member Paul Curtis and lead guitarist Brian Morris (both of whom shared lead vocal duties) - remained from the group's inception. Bassist Gearie Kenworthy had joined the Knack from the Limeys (after an earlier spell in the Parlophone recording act the Druids) in mid 1966 and around the time of the band's final single in February 1967, Topper Clay was superseded by ex Transylvanians drummer Brian 'Louie' Farrell (who'd also played in Adrian's Wall with Paul's brother Adrian).
After being dropped by Piccadilly the Knack returned to Germany where they had long been a popular draw, and it was in the Fatherland that they'd previously encountered the organist who would eventually join them. Tim Mycroft had played for a considerable time in a band called Thursday's Child; subsequently the two groups had become friends and remained in contact. The departure of Brian Morris from the Knack (he went onto reunite with Topper Clay in New York Public Library) coincided with Paul Curtis' plans to progress and broaden the band's musical range, and Tim was contacted and asked whether he would join the group. Thus in mid 1967 the Knack - now comprising Paul Curtis, Louie Farrell, Tim Mycroft and Gearie Kenworthy - began to establish themselves amongst the clique of London's psychedelic groups and in June they played the infamous UFO club alongside Tomorrow and Dead Sea Fruit, as well as securing a Thursday night residency at the Speakeasy. Before however they returned to entertain UFO audiences for a second time at the Roadhouse for September's 'UFO Festival', Paul did a spot of moonlighting.
In the summer of '67 musician come record producer/manager Howard Condor had engineered the recording of a single called 'Reflections of Charles Brown', which had been written by Rod Lynton and released a few months earlier in more upbeat form by his band Sweet Feeling. Conder envisaged a revised "Charles Brown' had hit potential and he recruited the Fleur De Lys to record a fresh version and indeed the resultant 45 - issued on Columbia under the moniker of Rupert's People in July - garnered considerable interest and airplay. The Fleurs however pulled out, leaving Howard to hurriedly piece together a new band around Fleur's singer Chris Andrews, the only member of the group who'd agreed to remain on board. To accompany him Howard found Tony Dangerfield, ex MerseyBeat John Banks and Adrian Curtis and in August Rupert's People expanded with the addition of John Tout and then Adrian's brother Paul, who replaced a now errant Chris Andrews as lead vocalist (Chris would soon reappear in Playground and record a number of solo 45s as Tim Andrews). The venture however collapsed after a few gigs and no recording leaving Howard Conder to persuade Sweet Feeling to become Rupert's People and Paul Curtis to resume his ambitions with the Knack. Besides a little publicity the 'bogus' Rupert's did little to further the careers of those involved, but positively for Paul at least (and decades later for Shapes and Sounds Volume Two!) it introduced him to a song called 'Hold On'.
With the addition of Tim Mycroft's keyboards, their own light show expertly handled by their genius roadie Reg and the consumption of certain substances quite popular at the time, the Knack were expanding their musical horizons (and consciousnesses) and rapidly developing into a psychedelic pop group. All the elements were now in place for their transformation into the Gun but it was as the Knack that the group continued to play for the next couple of months, rubbing shoulders with the hierarchy of the London underground such as the Floyd, Arthur Brown, Fairport Convention, Tomorrow and Denny Laine's Electric String Band at some of the final UFO gigs. And inspired by their colorful environment and Reg's oil / slide light show Paul wrote a song whose subsequent impression onto acetate would mark the recording debut of the Gun, as well as blossoming into flower one of the superlative crown jewels of British lysergic pop.
Renowned record producer Denny Cordell had seen the Knack and was impressed enough to want to record the band despite no prompting or backing from any record company, though obviously he saw the potential in the quartet and the possibility of a future recording deal. After arranging studio time the group was invited to Olympic studios sometime in October 1967 to do a recording session, with Denny producing and Terry Brown engineering the proceedings. Only one track was taped but what a performance it was and for those who love that particular strand of very English technicolour psychedelic pop practiced by the likes of Kaleidoscope, the Fairytale or Geranium Pond, 'Light On The Wall' is another consummate and quintessential definition of the genre. An ode to hippidom, 'Light On The Wall' delivers the whole package - fey vocals feeding the listener with psychedelic imagery against an ideally accordant musical backdrop, and an orgasmic hallucinogenic and lengthy fade out plays out with the discordant chimes of a musical box. Louie recalls, despite his like for the record, being less than enamored with those chimes at the time and threw the musical box across the studio at the end of the recording! The record is celestial acid pop heaven but would remain in obscurity until its discovery and subsequent release on a compilation album over thirty years later, under the group name of Happy Vegetable. How the acetate came to be labeled as such is still speculative, certainly Tim and Louie professed no knowledge of that name before being told about it in the last few years and Paul himself admits his recollections are even hazier than the record itself! Its vaguely possible Happy Vegetable was a proposed name for the band it it's more like to be the result of some subsequent and probably mischievous tinkering with the acetate label.
Though Beat Instrumental reported the Gun had recorded a new single in its November 1967 issue 'Light On The Wall' was sadly not released, but the song did reach the public at the time when it formed part of the Gun's session for Top Gear. Recorded on the 6th of November and transmitted just under a week later this marvelous session introduced the Gun to the radio listening audience, but annoyingly the version of 'Stop In The Name Of Love' (just imagine them doing that!) was not kept by the Beeb and as far as I know an off air recording doesn't exist. Still we are so glad to offer the rest of session, since two performances were thankfully pressed onto a transcription disc not long after broadcast. The first Gun track on the disc - and similarly the band's opening performance on the first Top Gear broadcast - was a blistering high octane version of 'Hold On', a song that had been premiered on the flipside of Rupert's People's 'Reflections Of Charles Brown' and recorded shortly after by the luscious Sharon Tandy (with Fluer De Lys once again providing the musical backing). Though no version of 'Hold On' ever made the charts the song was picked up by a number of enterprising deejays and was subject to further interpretations by Ipsissimus, Jason Crest and released a second time by Miss Tandy - the Gun's terrific take bears most semblance to the Rupert's rendering though it's handled at an even brisker pace and is arguably even more potent. The final Gun offering on the transcription disc and similarly the last to be aired on Top Gear was a cover of Simon And Garfunkel's 'A Most Peculiar Man' - a most distinguished missive with superb lead and harmony vocals and an awesome instrumental interlude that conveys astonishing power and body without resorting to any obvious pyrotechnics. And wiped by the Beeb but salvaged from an off air reel to reel recording was the third track to be transmitted, and I'm positive no-one is going to complain about another version of 'Light On The Wall'! Slightly revised to become 'The Lights On The Wall' the BBC version - whilst lacking the emphyreal close of the Olympic studios impression - is weightier, slightly decelerated and makes an extremely welcome companion to the former. As enlarged upon earlier it formed part of a truly unique session, especially considering that all the numbers on it were not available on contemporary vinyl release at the time. It was however repeated in December 1967, on a Top Gear that marked the radio debut of Fairport Convention.
The session was obviously a prestigious one to do but for the Gun it brought forth no immediate record contract, so the group continued to gig - crisscrossing the UK and the continent, with return trips to Germany (For Christmas 1967 as well as engagements in Rome and a French ski resort. Tim Mycroft recalls particularly some memorable moments at London's Speakeasy - and whether it was in the latter stages of the Knack or the emergent Gun is unclear - when the band were playing 'A Day In The Life'. Messrs Lennon and Harrison were in the audience (it was a popular watering hold for the pop elite at the time) and after finishing their rendition a round of drinks bought by the attendant Beatles was given to the band - with Lennon remarking that they couldn't have pulled off as good a live version as that! John Lennon especially was a fairly regular patron of the club and Tim remembers that as 'A Day In The Life' was something of a staple of their live set, John would sit with a drink and wait for them to perform it and then go and have a meal after they'd played it. The group also used to play 'Yesterday' in their stage set, as well as numbers such as Buffalo Springfield's 'What's That Sound' and 'I Put A Spell On You'. The 'Speak' was also the setting for an impromptu jam session between Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, who proceeded to make the expectant mayhem and damage the Gun's amplifiers in the process!
In early 1968 the Gun briefly expanded to a sextet with the recruitment of Paul's brother Adrian on second guitar and lead vocalist Jon Anderson, though Paul is at pains to remember why they needed another frontman considering the wealth of vocal talent inherent within the band. Adrian had recently played very briefly in Felius Andromeda (though after the release of the classic 'Meditations' 45) whilst Jon had had quite a busy career so far, with a considerably long sting with the Warriors. Upon his return from the final Warriors gigs in Germany he'd then enjoyed a fleeting leadership of the emergent Open Mind, at a time when they - like the Gun - were playing some of the Capital's prime psychedelic haunts. He then successfully auditioned for the Gun but his association with our heroes was short lived as his vocal style wasn't really suited to the increasing volume and power of the group's repertoire, and the liaison only lasted a few gigs. It would appear Jon's membership of the band ran concurrent with his solo activities as Hans Christian when two Parlophone singles were released during March - May 1968, though it's difficult to be absolutely certain without trawling through a million Yes sites and accounts. After his time with the Gun her certainly began to figure in the legendary Mabel Greer's Toyshop.
Shortly after Jon's departure Tim Mycroft decided to leave the Gun, a decision in hindsight he regrets but the band was not making a lot of money and he had a wife and child to consider. Gearie Kenworthy departed very soon afterwards and now down to a trio, Paul immediately switched to bass guitar and the threesome embarked on hardening their sound even further. A long awaited record deal with CBS was secured and Louie Farrell and the Curtis brothers scored a massive hit and instant notoriety with 'Race With The Devil' in late 1968. Maybe Top Sounds will have the opportunity and pleasure to chart the Gun's second coming in the future.
Tim Mycroft himself would taste the Top Ten when as part of Sounds Nice he performed on 'Love At First Sight', an instrumental version of 'Je T' aime Moi Non Plus' which was recorded to capitalize on the success of the record after its banning and withdrawal. He remained with EMI for further Sounds Nice releases and 'Shandra', a solo 45 recorded for Parlophone, appeared in 1971 and years after he played in the Barrelhouse Blues Band. In February 1969 Gearie replaced Pete O'Flaherty in Simon Dupree and The Big Sound but seems to have disappeared off the radar since then, though I believe he did move to Spain. Upon the demise of the Gun in 1970 Paul Curtis signed with George Martin and worked with ex Knack Colleague Brian Morris (now Brian Parrish) in a duo, and later played in Three Man Army, The Graeme Edge Band and Baker Gurvitz Army before settling permanently in the USA. Adrian similarly played in these bands and in the early 80s he scored a big hit with 'Classic', and after the Gun split both he and Paul began to use their real surname of Gurvitz. Louie Farrell left the Gun prior to its demise (he was briefly replaced by ex Flies / Please drummer Peter Dunton but future Wings sticksmith Geoff Britton actually got the job) and played with Bulldog Breed, before settling into family life in the early 70s. And let's not forget the Gun's light show wizard Reg, who in a life as colourful as his oil and slides, made a significant contribution as an apprentice for Ever Ready to the development of the long life battery!
So there endeth the fascinating and intriguing tale of the evolution of the Gun, so just imagine its November 1967 - the bells are ringing and people singing, and see those lovely lights that shine so brightly on the wall!
The Acetate (by original quartet)
Radio Sessions (by original quartet)
To purchase albums and more, go to: www.wetworldmusic.com
© Paul Gurvitz 2010. All rights reserved.
Site updated and maintained by Designs by Leander Begay: www.longhouse-media.com