Grapefruit and phasing

Richard Curtis (writer of Four Weddings And A Funeral, as well as Blackadder, etc.) is about to release a new effort, The Boat The Rocked, about pirate radio stations. To do this, he has had to assemble a soundtrack culled from the 1960s, and it turns out not to have been that easy. Apparently, The (surviving) Doors were asked for permission to use the opening song from their first album, and agreed, provided they were given a million quid. A million quid! While it is true that young musicians routinely have their wallets emptied before they are filled (does that work as a metaphor? Hmmm, maybe not), it would seem that they have inflated ideas of their worth when they grow older. (They are not alone: I once asked the agency of a well-known cartoonist if I could use a small, pocket cartoon which had once appeared in The Times, illustrating the public uproar which accompanied every census, to adorn an article of mine on the same subject on my web-site. It showed a Dalek saying ‘Enumerate!’ For the privilege of using this on one-eighth of one page, I was offered the chance to pay a sum – for a two-year period only – which was in excess of the cost of the whole web-site being designed and maintained. But perhaps I am under-estimating the worth of creative endeavour. )

Still, one lot – assuming they own any rights – who should be cheering are the members of a short-lived group promoted by The Beatles in 1967/8, before the advent of Apple, but christened Grapefruit (the name of a Yoko Ono book). They produced two very singable singles, the first of them a ‘phased’ affair (inadequate explanation following) called ‘Dear Delilah’, and the second a cover of a Four Seasons song. ‘C’mon Marianne’. Curtis has used this second song in the film, deliberately so, since he liked it, and therefore invented a character called Marianne to go with it. It was a great little record, and they were a great little group (which I saw at Newcastle City Hall, either supporting the Kinks, or – and I think this is right – supporting the re-formed original Animals for a charity concert. Eric Burdon, with long hair and a poncho, where Alan Price wore a dinner jacket, changed the words of the New Orleans bordello song ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ for the occasion: ‘My father was a gambling man/ Down in South Shields‘).

The reason it works as a performance is that the musicians come in one by one. This is such an effective trick, that, while it’s been used a fair number of times, most notably in King Curtis’ ‘Memphis Soul Stew’, it’s surprising it hasn’t been used even more frequently. I can remember playing the record over and over again (as you did, by leaving the record-changing arm up and to one side, I think).

Grapefruit's first album: sweet young phasers

Grapefruit's first album: sweet young phasers

But Grapefruit’s first record ‘Dear Delilah’ appeared in the middle of a brief craze for ‘phasing’. It lasted about a year. Essentially, you recorded the song, and then passed parts of it through a filter (getting technical here) which made the noise, when heard simultaneously with the original, sound as if you had swallowed a dizzy pill (all right, acid). It whooshed. There is an article on it here, which I would like to say I understand, but I’m the wrong kind of nerd. The Small Faces used it on ‘Itchycoo Park’, and Nirvana (not the grunge ones, the British ones) went mad with it on ‘Rainbow Chaser’, a song they were sure would make them great. It didn’t. (But the out-of-court settlement with Cobain and co over the name ‘Nirvana’ did their bank balance a power of good.) Full-throttle phasing was a short craze, but it was fun while it lasted (it still goes on, but the machinery involved is much subtler).

There is an astonishing resurgence in ‘psychedelic’ music in the music press, with weekly re-releases of every crackpot hippy song that utterly failed to make the charts in the late 1960s. I’m sad to say that 95% of it is just as woeful as it was originally, however colourful the covers. Three of Grapefruit are still alive; let’s hope they get something more than a reminder that they existed out of the film, like cash. One of them, John Perry, graduated to a punk band, The Only Ones, who are also generally defined as ‘cult’ (kudos, no sales). Here and there on the internet, he is confused with another John Perry, of similar age, who played with Gringo and Caravan, and whom I saw in both those incarnations.

Which only goes to prove that I know FAR TOO MUCH of these kind of minutiae.

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