Dedicated to the memory of Micheal Condello who committed suicide back in the mid 90s. May your music live on and may we forgive your foolish act of desperation.
Dedicated in a happier light to all my mates both from back in my younger years to all the new ones I have today and continue to receive support from.
Special thanks to my good friends and record gurus Bill "Pennies" Pacquin and Jerome Tomko- boy it's been a long ride we've had together and we're still together- God Bless.
My story here takes place both now in 2012 and back 20 years ago in 1992 when I was turned on to 2 long standing brilliant records that captured my heart, body, mind, soul, and imagination back then defining over the years who I am. I have not lost sight of the dream I had when I was 16-19. I still believe in the philosophy of the 1960s counterculture. I merely have matured to see things broader and in a new light. Back in 1991 I was only listening to Frank Zappa. That was about it. I hadn't even begun to find a semblance of who I really was, but Zappa though he closed many doors at that time for me may have in time opened some by my seeing the 2 sides he had to his personality. Zappa's cynical, nasty, and self-loving philosophy that everything that wasn't him sucked out was unfortunately the same belief I held when I was 15 years old. Zappa also had a belief that music could cleanse the soul and enlighten people through sounds, vibrations, and compositions that would form a backdrop tapestry for their lives while they experienced his friendly, giving, generous side in concert. It is the latter side of Zappa, the latter belief that I still hold. My hatred of anything not Frank Zappa with very few exceptions back then was really through fear. Bill Pennies was trying to turn me on to psychedelic rock and progressive rock meeting with indifference or just all-out insulting what he loved from me. Bill had belief in me, though. He had a resilient belief in my intelligence and saw that I just needed nurturing. When he first tried with The Parlour Band he didn't succeed. He would in time win that battle and make me a lifelong lover of all things The Parlour Band AND The O Band (Also known as A Band Called O). When he first tried with Graffiti he also didn't succeed. I hated the album as it scared me like The Parlour Band had- both conjuring images of The Moody Blues. Bill could see I was a fairly timid, self-serious, and not with it kid then, but come the end of 1991 how things would change. Are you ready?
My whole personality started going through an upheaval in December 1991 and Bill finally won me over forever with the Swedish band Blond. Blond I gave a chance to. I let their music into my heart. I basked for hours in the warm glow of that beautiful album from a cold climate. It's a masterpiece of solid rock, psych, and dramatic pop that still has few equals. Were it not for Blond we wouldn't have had Abba- they broke through first with the international hit "Six White Horses," Abba following suit a few years later. I will skip over the trip to California, but that was a very important event for me. I have already documented it, though, so on to later on. In the August before my sophomore year at high school nobody was a better friend to me than Bill. I was taking every suggestion he had and he held the distinguished position of my mentor with my own growth taking off in a huge way to help. On a second attempt to get me into Graffiti he won straight away. I put the album on the turntable and fell in love with it. I called him up to tell him how much I loved it and he was really glad that he was making a lot of long leaps forward with me. It was in my sophomore year that I made all my best friends for the duration of high school adding and subtracting along the way. I no longer went after any kids who looked like or claimed to be "hippies". I stopped wearing insecure feelings on my sleeve abandoning them for confidence that was not ill-founded. I had lost big time as a Freshman trusting anyone way too much who pretended to be a hippy. Soon all that would change. Come that wonderful period of September 1992 to March 1993 I had the happiest time of my whole life. I was a winner. I was a musical encyclopedia, Bill was making lots of great suggestions, I had a group of kids who loved me to make all the white trash Grunge kids something I could combat more freely, and I had music taking me to new highs. During 1992 I discovered through Bill Graffiti and Condello and through my own accord much more. That I still love the madcapped multicoloured 1960s sounds today really shows something about strength through music, form, and melody.
So on to the banquet of sound! Graffiti were the revelation that came first. Hearing them again just now I'm overjoyed. I can see things in them that I couldn't see then- echoes of other groups along the way that came later. No one has figured out where in the States Graffiti are from, but it has been agreed they were probably an East Coast outfit. They only made one album back in 1969 I believe, but it still resonates with a lot of power today. Clearly influenced by the British Mod bands (The Who, The Hollies, The Beatles, and lighter, breezier acts) and the early progressive inclinations of The Moody Blues they played a kind of highly adventurous transitory poppsych into progressive rock sound with most songs strung together by interludes. Multi vocal harmonies twist around scorching virtuoso guitar work, psyched out sound effects, and adventurous songs with lead vocalist Tony Taylor sounding uncannily like The Moodies' Justin Hayward. There are influences from The Beach Boys in the harmony work and complex arrangements, but that is where any sunshine pop ambitions end. Graffiti are firmly an intellectual band who don't sing much about flowery sunshiny California girls. Their sound is characterized by a dark, plaintive quality no better demonstrated than in the outstanding tracks "Father Protector" and the two part suite "(1) The Capture Of Me (2) Life Blood" which open the album. Also proof of their daring originality is "New Life" and the shocking rest of Side Two that follows it where conventional structures are thrown out the window. There is poppsych, hard rock, progressive rock, jazz influences, classical ambitions, art rock, bluesy pop all thrown together in a way that works brilliantly. The only misstep is the one commercial number "Jingle Jangle Woman" and with a title like that need I add anything? They probably were forced into it as it sounds like a joke that falls flat on its face. The rest of the album is pretty astonishing. Most of the songs are written by bass guitarist/keyboard player Steve Benderoth with George (Aka Jorge) Stunz (Lead guitar), Jon ST John (Rhythm guitar), and Tony Taylor (lead vocals) sometimes pitching in. Fantastic Mod raver type drummer Richie Blakin rounds out the group, but does not compose. "Father Protector" begins with one of the most complicated guitar intros ever- something to rival even Steve Howe in Yes. The classical grandeur of that Spanish inflected guitar moves into a song that is so powerful in feeling and emotion that it truly takes me by storm when I hear it still. Lyrically pretty dark it only offers an escape at the end with the lyrics sounding like Benderoth just had a bad experience with acid or a personality shake up that left him with something very unusual to write. The guitar is mainly played through a wah-wah pedal soaring around the arrangements while Taylor could easily be Justin Hayward in disguise. I'm reminded of The Moody Blues circa In Search Of The Lost Chord or To Our Childrens Childrens Childrens Children. Yes, it cuts that deep and is that good. Like The Moodies the album flows together like a concept, but just what that concept is I still haven't figured out. "The Capture Of Me" is another bitter take on society where he finds himself and loses everyone else. Clearly set at the time as he loses his place in society after growing his hair, that is the only reference here that is dated 1968/1969. Graffiti have a forward moving sound that you have to be in the same room with it to hear, but what a sound they have and what a masterpiece this is. I would only say as the one downside is that the ambitions of the band sometimes are so demanding that they'd need a full orchestra to get this by in the way they envisioned it. This leads to making you think they never performed once live, but that is a trivial downside with an album this impressive. You have to be very wary when buying this album as unless you play it you won't be able to tell that there is a pressing flaw on some copies where the song "Girl On Fire" repeats twice and leaves off "The Capture Of Me" even though it is printed on the cover/disc. You really need to hear "The Capture Of Me" and so you have to play the first side at the beginning of the second track to know if you're getting screwed or not. That it is the only precaution with this one.
Condello were a project split between the songs of the late Micheal Condello who sang lead, played lead guitar, and keyboards and (lead!) bass guitarist/vocalist Ray Trainer. The two collaborated on a few while Bill Spooner (AKA Warren S. Richardson JNR and later in The Tubes) on guitar and Dennis Kenmore on drums rounded out the lineup. While Graffiti may have put me in touch with my intellectual ambitions Condello's music awakened my burgeoning sensuality. It would be painful to go into detail about that, so I won't say much about it as I was closeted in high school and my dreams, desires, and fantasies would have to wait till much later in life to come to the fore. The sliding, fat bottomed bass solos and bizarre structures where the descending bass solos take lead in "All You Need" and "The Other Side Of You" are the two tracks where Condello blow structure to ashes while the rest of the album goes all over the place in another way. Micheal's soft trembling voice has a lilting McCartneyeque quality. There are even some shades of Badfinger before Badfinger here which is a little frightening given the fate of both groups ended in the suicide of the leaders. I would definitely say that Micheal Condello sounds fragile, but he doesn't let that intrude on his superb songwriting which is just like the best psych sound of the mighty July or SGT. Pepper period Beatles and he certainly can blow your mind with his frenzied fuzztone guitar leads. Phase One is an Apt title- there is so much phasing on this record it sounds like if The Small Faces or John Lennon went mad with the effect! Play the put down "Oh No" or the psyched "Dr. Tarr Professor Fether" to someone who doesn't know this and they'll ask you where in England these guys came from! Condello, however, wanted to fool more than a few people so they take a few stabs at other things. "Crystal Clear" by Ray Trainer is a light feathery ballad that begins this album on a soft baroque pop note while "Keep It Inside" is a stark rural rock slow building number very much like Badfinger's "Take It All" in an earlier form. The only dud is the country/gospel Ray Trainer number "He'll Keep Waiting" although Micheal's screaming heavy metal closing track "It Don't Matter" is so harsh it can't be played with every listening regardless of the high voltage power of that track. He all of a sudden screams like a young Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group while Robert Plant would love this and the dual guitar blasts will have you reeling. Now, all the bands/artists I've mentioned came after Condello, but Condello share with all of them a letting loose of a very sensual sound where you can feel the music grabbing at you trying to shake you into action. You want to make out while you're hearing the bizarre "All You Need" or way even trippier prog track "The Other Side Of You-" it's kind of frustrating that you can't. I'd let my mind and I still will let my mind run wild with this one, but that's all I'm gonna tell you as although I am now for the past decade + a proud out of the closet gay that is the furthest I'll go. My privacy is private, especially in a blog anyone can read. I am arch myself. If anyone tries to stand in my way or if I see any kind of intolerance I won't stand for it. Music can't be made by a prejudiced hateful heart and since I've said that numerous times about most heavy metal it needn't be expounded on anymore here. Condello and July aren't equals, July is the best psych record in the world bar none except The Koobas, but they share much in common. Condello is your American July. There are several American bands, in fact many American bands loved the British sound, that sound like July, but there's something higher here- something like a secret partnership between countries and artists exchanging ideas. Condello's Phase One is a warm, friendly record. Mike's fragility, his unsureness of himself don't demolish anything on offer here and rather make him a meatier version of what would turn into the singer songwriter movement of the 1970s. Much of that, in fact most of it is bullshit, but in England the singer songwriter could be a great one man way of demonstrating perfect pop. No one did it better than Clifford T. Ward, but unlike the tragic songs of Clifford Condello is closer to Emitt Rhodes or the also way ahead of the game psych masterpiece by Saint Steven on Probe (another firm favourite). This album may bounce all over the place, it may be very strange, even uncomfortable listening for some, but it's a solid masterpiece and I love it.