I already whetted your whistle with a juicy little aperitif about a crazy experience that opened up my musical obsessions and now I'm sure you'd like to know just what is so special about these two bands: The Parlour Band and their later incarnation A Band Called O/O/The O Band.
-The Parlour Band-
The Parlour Band formed in the early 1970s in Jersey in the Channel Islands when keyboards man/lead singer Peter Filleul (pronounced FILL YOU) was looking for an outlet for some songs he was writing. Most of these songs were in a gentle melodic folkrock pop style with progressive leanings which makes it an interesting thing that for these songs the band was formed when he joined forces with a local hard rock band. The line up settled around Filleul, "Wah-Wah" Guitarist/vocalist Pix, guitarist/vocalist Craig Anders, Bass playing brother of Craig Mark who also on this one album sang harmony vocals, and drummer Jerry Robbins. They started adapting their different musical approaches and were very much a progressive band minus the pretentiousness that was making for a lot of dire music in Mainland England at that time. To further set them apart Pete's compositions had strong late 60s pop psych influences and the band's driving instrumental sound based on layers and layers of richness led to a brilliant unique music that may have been hard to produce live, but sure was impressive when they made their sole long player IS A FRIEND?.
A complete polar opposite practically to The O Band The Parlour Band had one very bad thing in common- a rather strange and none-too-fitting-of-the-music name. The O Band actually sounds good even if it was meant to give the band no name at all but the letter O and a zero, but The Parlour Band was a name wrong enough to seal the fate of the group. Still some dealers use the word "folk" with this album and I can't help but think that's the fault of their name. Certainly lazy Canterbury legends Caravan who were at an artistic peak in 1972 must have wondered about this strange little band who were opening for them...
Deram, label of Caravan, Honeybus, World Of Oz, Mellow Candle, and some other legends, signed The Parlour Band and during Christmas of 1971 the group went into the studio and commenced work on what would turn out to be perhaps the highest level progressive pop psych record ever. Peter Filleul made tasteful use of a Fender Rhodes and added to that organ, acoustic piano, and at the end of the album a mellotron. The songs definitely sound like jamming and experimenting with fresh new ideas was at a high and you shouldn't believe all you hear about this record- it ain't as soft as a lot of dealers say it is. In fact, the opening track "Forgotten Dreams" is an all out rocker with heavy bashing organ and just as heavy guitars forming a complex monolithic backdrop for some very appealing smooth melodic vocals. The next two tracks "Pretty Haired Girl" and "Spring's Sweet Comfort" are full of beautiful melodies, soaring vocals, and a softer sound that manages to not be quite introspective or quite out front. These songs let you relax and turn on to a melodic band with a rich tapestry of sounds coming from multilayered dreamy guitars, vocals, and keyboards. Camel might be a good point of reference or Fantasy of Paint A Picture and Beyond The Beyond fame, but there's something unique about The Parlour Band. Instead of completely drifting off to it your attention is always on how the songs have a moving flow to them occasionally interrupted by some quiet intensity that would make Danny Kirwan period Fleetwood Mac the closest comparison. "Early Morning Eyes" has always reminded me of a very strange paring indeed- Uriah Heep meets Fairport Convention! You probably won't even see where I'm coming from or will you? Again the vocals soar and are fresh, translucent, and very good with Filleul's crystal clear lead topped by amazing harmonies. Pix plays a consistently heavy guitar throughout the bouncy number not letting it drift at an easy pace too often- instead that easy pace is split wide open by unexpected moments of intensity.
The Parlour Band for a band together almost less than a year play like seasoned professionals. They would be just as tight and disciplined when they became The O Band and it seems a pity that they didn't get to be like a British Toto as star players on sessions later on. They really could have spiced up any number of bands and artists who needed spicing up.
"Follow Me" is the track that ends Side One and it's probably one of the mellowest tracks here- leaning towards a kind of pop psych/folkrock sound that is very 1960s British sounding with American Westcoast influences. Despite the very British nature of much of the material on offer this band were always big on the vibrations coming from across the Atlantic. The most shocking moment on the album is saved for the first track on Side Two the unrepresentatively menacing "Evening." Pix takes his first ever recorded lead vocal and steals the song. When playing this to everyone back in high school and since the majestic Freddie Mercury is who comes to mind with everyone as a comparison. Not bad for a first ever recorded lead vocal! We'd see later on how superb a voice Pix has, but this is his one moment for his crystal larynx to shine on The Parlour Band. The lyrics are dark, abstract, full of imagery that is in stark contrast to other images in the song, and military percussion drives along the storming guitar/organ passages. This song is though very different from the rest of the album a song that fits perfectly as the contrasting styles of music between hard and soft rock are at a creative peak on "Evening." The hardest song on the album is followed by the softest- the lovely floating ballad "Don't Be Sad." Sweet but not icky sweet vocals, dreamy Fender Rhodes, and flowing gentle guitars dominate this very nice track which like much of the album should have been a single, but to my knowledge no singles were tapped from the record!
"Little Goldie" is a song built around jazz chords and a vibe similar to the American band Love- an influence that shines through on much of this album, but an influence probably in the subconcious. The obvious influences though are American bands and British bands of the 60s with early 70s progressive inclinations. "Little Goldie" is again a soft track that brings to mind Todd Rundgren's most melodic early masterpieces as well as Carole King during her Tapestry period- again more American comparisons. The song is full of expert playing and the Anders brothers are superb on this track along with through the whole album. Craig Anders was the virtuoso musician in both bands and this would lead to an increasing rivalry between him and Pix. Pix should not be overlooked as he is a dynamic brilliant guitar player and as with their later recordings the two of them may not have gotten along, but they needed each other. "To Happiness" lets everyone in the band sound great. Pix is raw and punchy, Craig is understated and majestic, Mark Anders plays a great bass line, and the vocals are first
With a perfect album there has to be a perfect closing track. The over 7 minute suite "Home" is it. A song about Northern Ireland and a soldier's departure to the war and then his ebullient return home is the subject matter, but it could be an anthem for a soldier and his loved one in any war. The lyrics are very opaque, understated, and tasteful. They are at complete odds with the pious, pretentious, boring lyrics of worthless bands like Dear Mr. Time and the worst band ever Deep Feeling. While the former wrote a whole album of grim songs about death and the latter made that worse by throwing the blood and guts in this is as far from that as you can get. Sometimes I forget that prog rock can have a soul as much as I love it. "Home" is perfect prog, There's more Queen vibes coming into play, much excellent playing from the group in more of a rhythmical sense, and Peter Filleul's beautiful voice is particularly attractive here. For sophisticated and perfect, brilliant progressive pop psych look no further than IS A FRIEND? as this is the great masterpiece of them all. It's a splendid piece of work- somewhere between Honeybus and Northwind in some ways yet with very much its own sound.
Unfortunately, Deram and parent label Decca showed no interest at all in The Parlour Band. No promotion was undertaken by their label, the tour didn't go so well for either them or Caravan, and no sooner had they made their masterpiece than differences of what direction the band should go in began to show. Filleul had always been at odds with the other members wanting to go for a harder rock sound, but he stayed on and the only replacement made was Derek Ballard taking over from Jerry Robbins on drums. Soon the band really began to have issues with their label and in late 1973 they signed with CBS and with a name change to A Band Called O.
-A Band Called O-
Filleul was pushed into the background whilst Pix took over the band. His more rock oriented vocal approach would serve as a blueprint for the later AOR movement in the States, but far from being a superb debut by this band with a different name the first A Band Called O record was not too impressive overall. The image had changed to tough guys in blue on the front cover and the sound had changed to melodic somewhat harder rock, but the songs just weren't the kind of greatness they'd follow this album up with. It doesn't help to start off with Steve Marriott's low-point in the low Humble Pie done in a horrid version of "Red Light Momma Red Hot." Pix tries too hard to sound sexy, the horn charts are not needed, and the song just like the boring original goes nowhere. There are some good moments on the self-titled first A Band Called O record, but Filleul couldn't adapt to the changes and the rest of the band were still struggling to perfect their new identity. Don't be taken aback by this mediocre record- much, much, much better was to come!
Pete would stay on for one more album and what an album! Despite a horrible, tasteless, and Spinal Tap level trashy laugh riot cover OASIS their second record with the changeover is as classy, professional, rocking, fun, and amazing as the cover is not. Now Pete was hardly writing at all, but he used the synthesizer and his other keyboard arsenal to great effect while Pix and Craig Anders showed they could jam, rock, and weave around each other like nobody's business. The songs are all fantastic. "Amovin'" gets things off to a great start with Pix sounding like a better vocalist than anybody else around. Really, it was Pix's strong, confident, melodic voice that would shape this new band with a new sound along with the expert level playing of all involved. A Band Called O didn't have any more problems with songwriting or performances, but unfortunately for them they were pretty far ahead of their time in a way that would be more shocking than record selling. In fact, they can't be blamed for their poor album sales it's the various labels that should be held accountable. From Deram to CBS to United Artists complete lack of label support would be one key factor to the unraveling that took place. CBS/Epic did nothing to promote an album of what should have been one hit single after another. Remember this was 1975 and as close as "Fine White Wine" sounds to Steve Perry Journey had barely even begun let alone found Steve Perry. The influences are the same- Sam Cooke and a whole lot of melodic voiced soul singers taken into easy, comfortable, melodic solid strong rock. The major differences between Pix and Perry would be that Pix is a bit less strident and his approach also a bit more "Get Down and Get Dirty" if you know what I mean- raunchier perhaps. This album is stunning. Songs like "Sleeping" show a more progressive, spacier, more epic side to the band while much of the rest is made up of rocking tracks that give all of the band members a chance to prove their point. OASIS is an album that belongs in every collection- a milestone.
-O/The O Band-
Just when it should have been looking up for A Band Called O things got even worse for them. Filleul decided to leave the band and CBS dropped them from their roster. Not about to let either problem deter or discontinue them former Alan Bown Set and session player Jeff Bannister was brought in on keyboards and Jeff's funky approach actually fit in much better than the uncomfortable position that Pete had been placed in. Now changing their moniker to just the letter "O" and signing with United Artists it looked like the band were set to break through in a big way with 1976's near perfect WITHIN REACH. Only one song shouldn't have been on the album- the somewhat distracted and lazy sounding "Lucia Loser" which did get the band into a bit of press trouble with its overtly sexual lyrics, but the rest showed the band on top of their game. The opening track "A Smile Is Diamond" Pix and I immediately clicked on as the peak of their career. This haunting, driving, miraculous, exotic sounding, seductive song is a real diamond itself- a gem of mid 70s melodic progressive rock that features the kind of contrasting and quality of The Parlour Band with Pix fitting into his Steve Perry meets Steve Marriott vocal perfection at the highest level he'd ever reach. I love Journey, I love Steve Perry, but he never could sing Tough. Pix can sing like one Tough guy. Now the image was much darker and a complete change from the friendly Parlour Band. The O Band now were playing melodic strong rock and roll with seamlessly winding around each other jamming guitars, Mark Anders laying down a killer bass, and Derek Ballard a rock solid drummer. Jeff Bannister's two contributions "Long Long Way" and "Paradise Blue" are amazing songs and he fit in perfectly to the group. The liveliness of this record makes you want to get up and dance to it. You feel like partying and having a good time. Finally, The O Band had some real artistic freedom. They even got a tasteful album cover out of it! Their popularity as a knock-you-cold live act was blossoming and it's unbelievable that the end and their final destruction were near in sight. WITHIN REACH is how the band would like to sound. They had found a perfect balance between OASIS and what would come on their last long player THE KNIFE, but again the record label just didn't give a fuck about them.
Drugs and alcohol abuse had always been a problem for Pix especially, but the whole band began to get high all the time when things continued to get worse and worse. They were a professional rock band who should have been huge, but the continuing frustration of apathetic record executives, changing musical times, and Pix going completely off the rails with substance abuse were about to all add up to something that began as a joke and ended up being one of the final nails in their creative coffin. THE KNIFE showed the band to have no control over a very disturbing looking album cover, but Pix had too much control over the title track. He said he was a nonviolent person and he didn't appreciate the way people turned him into some sort of a demon over "The Knife" which would sort of be a centerpiece of the album, but his idea of a joke was most people's idea of an outrage. Pix had tried all kinds of drugs, he was hooked on everything. When I knew him he was still always hitting the alcohol and over half the times we talked he was drunk. Even when drunk, he was a really good person and I know that Pix wasn't as malevolent as the image that "The Knife" would paint of him. When we broke up I was so heartbroken I cried. It was his closed minded power mad wife that ended our friendship for good, but for Pix he'd go off to Spain and wish to forget some of the past, mainly this record. I have to differ from him about THE KNIFE. It just may be their best record of all after the changeover and the whole atmosphere of the record is that The O Band had a lot of fight left in them. They would have enough fuel in their fire to produce an excellent hard edged rock album. They would also record for the first and last time in their career two superb cover versions in Randy California's "Look To The Left Look To The Right," but especially their Hollies/Badfinger take on John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night" is mindblowing. It may look like a band is running out of musical ammunition when they begin an album with two covers, but nothing could be more untrue. As all the original material here proves a kind of grittiness and get down raunchy rock sound mixed with very progressive leanings would make their last album among the best releases of the mid 70s. "I'm Gonna Leave You" is again in that Steve Perry but tougher mode with excellent vocals from Pix, great harmonies, and fine ensemble playing. "Strange Lovin'" is celebratory, let-it-all-hang-out rock with great Gospel inflected backing vocals, and Side One's closer "Back Alley Lightning" may sound a good deal like their favourite band Little Feat, but this is much better.
Side Two is a whole different thing altogether. Now times were rapidly becoming bad for a rock band with punk becoming more popular and to trash all the rubbish that was coming out Pix had written a rather naughty, risque lyric for the album's title track and the rest of the band pounced on it with intentions of turning the whole thing into a concept side. This was not what Pix had intended, and I also don't think he had a clue just how far he had gone when he wrote the lyrics to "The Knife." Side Two begins and ends with two Craig Anders masterpieces the moody "Time Seems To Fly" and the heavily progressive King Crimson influenced "Venus Avenue" which features astonishing use of strings. Pix sings his heart out, but under very difficult circumstances. His mother had just died and obnoxiously he had been dragged into the studio by the rest of the band and the co Producer (this brilliant Del Newman) to do the vocals with no time for him to get over his painful loss. Maybe that's why his voice on these two tracks is plaintive and mournful. It's anything but that on "The Knife."
"The Knife" in graphic detail is an over 8 minute account of a wild street boy named Jimmy who has a spoiled rich girlfriend named Nicky and who has just made two very bad mistakes- he's bought a knife and taken Methedrine- otherwise known as Speed. Pix fills you in that Jimmy is sometimes a bit on the tense and "tight kind of brittle" side to make a direct quote and that he has told Nicky that he wants to fuck her. When she takes him home Jimmy is so wasted that he can't get an erection. The music becomes ominous while Pix digs into his best Lou Reed impersonation and does a shocking voice over:
"Well now Jimmy slowly turned his head his mouth was dry his eyes were red/And dreams he never dreamt he'd dream come slithering sniggering obscene/He watched her....."
The music slows and slows down and then settles into a menacing pace while the backing vocals again are Nicky mocking Jimmy right at the wrong moment with "Jimmy Jimmy what's in your head/You told me you wanted it that's what you said yeah yeah/Jimmy Jimmy I thought you were hot what's the matter sweetheart some kind of mental block?" Not wise words.
Then it all explodes with the second and final spoken part from Pix:
"Well she ran her finger down his back until she reached the part he lacked/Hey the King is dead long live the King she said and tried a little head quite useless/And then she sighed in sweet surprise as something hard but cold and sharp now occupied the space between her thighs"
Then comes the heavy breathing and slow build up. Then Pix ominously shouts "Here's Something For You Off The Wrist He Said And Gave The Blade A Twist!" Then the chorus is repeated and all Hell breaks loose again. Jeff Bannister merely makes Pix's concept song stick out like a signpost stating "We Really Want To Get A Lot Of Negative Attention" on "Got To Run" where the violent lyrics continue. "I've Got To Run I've Got To Run/I'll Find A Gun" to "I Take My Hat Off To That Phony Bitch/Her Blood Ran Silver And It's Made Me Rich."
I'm not making any of these lines up. The song "The Knife" does make me laugh it's so over the top and tasteless, but a joke about a guy who goes crazy and rapes his girlfriend with a knife combined with the scary looking cover- it can only spell one thing- it's the end. The crowd's reaction to the song the first time they played it was enough to make Pix miserable, but the ending of The O Band was a dragged out year of misery where everything fell apart and tempers flared about who was to blame for the band's demise. Pix had a horrible time accepting that Punk had killed his dreams. The whole band should have gone on, but they'd in some ways dug their own grave with their last album. It's a great record, an amazing record, but whether you find his joke funny is a whole other matter. I do because I know he's not being completely serious and because it's so stupid, but you have to really just think of things in a different perspective like I do when I play it. It certainly isn't as scary as the album looks. Punk was a lot scarier and it was the death of The O Band. Ironically, their new Heavy Metal image just given a little bit more time would have saved them, but they broke up early in 1978 a near decade's worth of dreams of stardom unfulfilled. Do not ever forgive the record companies for what they did to one of the greatest bands ever to come out during the sometimes exciting sometimes sickening 70s. This band is all that rock and roll should be.
It's sad that it ended on such a hard note for The O Band, but the music never dies and so all I have to do is put their brilliant music as The Parlour Band, A Band Called O, O, and The O Band on to celebrate it and relive some of the happiest times of my life. To the musicians involved in both bands and especially for the brilliance of The Parlour Band many, many, thanks and rock on!