Friday, January 4, 2013

The Spectrum (Britain) A Band That Time Forgot Now Revealed

As anybody who has paid attention to the music scene knows it is a bitch of a business and one of the most cut-throat in the world. People could ask me "Why Don't You Write About A Band MOST PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT, Ben?" and I'd reply without any jive "Because they made it. It actually worked out for them and that isn't to say I don't love them it's just more fun to write about bands and artists that the industry was unkind to. The only bands that have come close to making it or who have made it big I'd write about would be bands like Sweet, Queen which I've already done, UFO, and Sparks. Sparks are a brilliant band that may never have had the huge hits they deserved, but a great band who have a huge cult following. Those are my kind of bands- even the "Name" bands I'd contemplate get a lot of slamming like Survivor or Foreigner or would have something they were or are up against." That's the truth. I've contemplated writing about the rise and fall musically of Judas Priest too, but since I don't own a single Priest album and just know their music well someone else has probably done it. Maybe not as good as I could do it, but they've probably done it.
                          -A Bit Of A Word Of Introduction About The Spectrum-
    A band like The Spectrum, the band you are about to hear about, spent their career in the constant shadow of bigger bands in England. Whilst they were easily as talented and musically good as similar great bands The Small Faces and The Nice they only hit the #1 position in Spain and Germany and everything planned for them in the UK backfired. They only had one small bit of success in the UK when for a brief period in 1967 or 1968 their song "Portobello Road" got some much deserved airplay without ever being a real hit. The Spectrum are said to have been Britain's answer to The Monkees, a commercially conceived fake band or ploy to make it who were put together and sank without trace. I would have to disagree with such a harsh judgement as sometimes has been made. Listening to the band's one album, typically a compilation of sorts to commemorate their career, this band had a whole lot more to offer than what has been said about them by some music writers who don't know what music is.
            -The Light Is Dark Enough A Classic Brought Back To Me With Love And Care-
       Thanks must go to our wonderful next door neighbors Doreen , Chris, and I'll include their cats Casamier and Luke and their two young girls Bronwyn and Johanna. Doreen has been a friend of the family along with her husband Chris for a very long time and she ordered a M- copy of The Spectrum's one album THE LIGHT IS DARK ENOUGH from England for me for Christmas as her present and I thank her every time I hear The Spectrum. That is one of the nicest things anyone has done for me in a long time. Now it was 13 years ago that I had a clean copy and lost it to a record dealer who is referred to around here by one blunt insult only "The Bastard." I'm not telling you what anything else about him because it would give this disgusting pervert away and he may look at this and do something crazy. I wouldn't put it past him. Since then I lost out on this record twice and then had a beat up copy with an only VG- cover and VG disc. Now thanks to Doreen I have a perfect copy, but a word of warning: The Spectrum came out on the RCA budget line International Camden in the UK and like all RCA pressings from anywhere in the world even in England the sound quality is none too great because of the poor manufacturing of their records. You can have a flawless looking copy like my own and the sound will be a bit murky, but since the music on this album is a bit gloomy/murky that may add to its appeal. The Spectrum started off playing other writer's material. Their album begins with a cover of the popular McCartney standard "O Bla Di O Bla Da" which is given a pretty good treatment with Colin Forsey's raspy voice and some funny harmonies and a high spiritedness far removed from what the band had progressed to on much of the rest of the album- progressive pop psych. By the time of their album the group had gone through significant line up changes with only Tony Atkins, Colin Forsey, and brother Keith Forsey holding the band together. Atkins had switched to bass from lead guitar with Colin on rhythm/very occasional lead guitar and new super organist Peter Wood.
      The Spectrum's one record THE LIGHT IS DARK ENOUGH comes in an appropriately dark looking front cover and not much more than some biographical information on the back. It is clear from looking at it that RCA didn't care very much about the band. The direction The Spectrum were heading in was a very promising one and in fact tracks like "Mr. Jenkins' Brand New Boots," "Mandy," and "Nodnol" ("London" spelled backwards) are pretty damned impressive heavy organ dominated ominous pop psych with definite progressive leanings. The Monkees? Not at all!
   After "O Bla Di O Bla Da" comes "Mr. Jenkins' Brand New Boots" which sounds like The Koobas or Small Faces in an uncharacteristically depressed state of mind. The lyrics are about a rich man who becomes a hobo and this very Dickensian tale is full of sarcastic scorn for English upper class society. The march like tempos in the verses are mixed together with murky organ and Bowie esque vocals for a fascinating story and a fascinating song. Peter Wood's organ is heavy and dark sounding, but he also plays piano and some harpsichord in the song and on the album too. Colin Forsey's voice is very impressive and very, very, very English! In fact, this is one of those records where even if you like it if you aren't English and/or don't have a wide understanding of British culture you probably won't get the point of most of the selections. The fact that two beautiful pastoral rock/pop rock tracks are thrown in at the end of each side together with all the other disparate material won't help you much either. "Nodnol" is about the End Of The Empire/England. The city of London is where the rot sets in and everything crumbles apart and is destroyed at the end of the song. It's not a nice lyric to listen to if you've had a bad day, but the whimsical megaphone voice of "Pearly King Pearly Queen Was The Jovial Scene From A Year Ago" helps with a good contrast.
    This album has always been a big collectable in England, but it really seems that even in England The Spectrum and their one record aren't given the respect they deserve. Labelled with that deadly
"2nd Rate" and not easy to hear for yourself with it a fairly rare and somewhat pricey 60 to 80 quid on it things did not work out so well for The Spectrum. At the same time that they were ending a horrible band just called "Spectrum" were beginning in musically awful Australia. This band, led by the talentless Mike Rudd, should be avoided at all costs and so should all of their equally obnoxious spin offs. Typically, the Australian band get all the praise! I can't help but think that The Spectrum who made THE LIGHT IS DARK ENOUGH which is a minor masterpiece were also a victim of the changing times and the move towards more indulgent heavier sounds. There's a song with some very of-the-era Satanic lyrics called "Jacqueline" which is full of really rocking keyboards, some scorching fuzz guitar, and strong vocals from Colin which together with tracks like "Mr. Jenkins' Brand New Boots" and the spooky eerie to beautiful and soothing story song "Mandy" would make me call this album a kind of dark version of The Koobas/Swinging London heading right into the early 70s organ dominated progressive pop of some interesting and rewarding bands on both sides of the Atlantic as well as Europe. Music was changing and The Spectrum were changing. They were going from a pop outfit here represented by great "Portobello Road" and the one awful track "Headin' For A Heatwave" (bad soul/pop/lounge rock with horns) into a really creative band with their own identity and their own strong ideas. Even the two songs on here written for them are brilliant if you give them time especially the haunting almost spiritual title track. Had time been more kind to The Spectrum they would have ended up sharing the bill with great bands like Uriah Heep and Genesis and the really great pop rock bands of early 70s England, but sadly 1970 was more of an end for them than a beginning. That really is unfortunate. "Glory" which closes Side One is catchy pastoral pop rock with some Gospel influences and good heartfelt uplifting lyrics and it would have on any other label been hugely promoted and given them a hit.
   The same way that Shy and Grand Prix were left to rot by RCA or American bands would be ignored by that label later on nothing was different in the 60s. For a worldwide mega record company RCA should be ashamed of themselves for what they did. Not only was their promotion campaign for bands ill-advised or non existent they used the cheapest vinyl of any major label in the world. Only a scant few bands would benefit from RCA and the one great band who made it on that label Sweet inked a deal with Capitol in the States and that was a wise decision. Sweet are one of the best bands ever. The Spectrum could have gone onto a career like formerly "The" Sweet, but like the poor job done early on with Sweet by the label made worse they had already been done in by RCA with the "Fuck You" to them of not even putting this record out on the proper label! RCA later wrecked everything for bands like Shape Of The Rain on their progressive imprint Neon and the band Hooky were doomed from the instant they signed to the label and no band ever even filed a lawsuit that I know of against RCA's skullduggery. In the 80s Shy had no luck when they should have been huge and that was typical of RCA. Going back to the 60s they hadn't a clue. One could ask the question why did they even bother to call themselves a professional organization.
         The Spectrum can't lay all the blame on RCA International, though. Maybe they were too dark, too serious to make it at a time when the charts in England had mainly cheerful songs as the top hits. I also do not think that the depressed almost nihilistic Spectrum could have fared too well with their view of crumbling England with The Troubles already getting really nasty in Northern Ireland. "The Light Is Dark Enough" the title track is all choral harmonies and beautiful vocals from Colin Forsey, but its sentiment of darkness being brighter than light can hardly have been a good soundtrack for a British soldier who would have been over there. People needed to be cheered up and not told their Empire and country were doomed. However, most progressive and hard rock bands used the concrete truth of how England was in a Decline and Fall as a whole reason for their lyrical existence. The Spectrum it seems were a band who were firmly late pop psych musically, but more progressive with the organ in their music and their lyrics. "Mandy" begins with a girl going to sleep and is very ominous sounding at the start and then just as the intensity reaches fever pitch it turns into a beautiful song about Mandy riding a perfect white horse across the skies in the dawn and how your most beautiful dream can be a reality. That's what I like to hear. Amongst all the depression some much needed hope. This is a great record. For me it avoids "2nd Rate" and is instead a kind of somewhat flawed masterpiece, but many a 200 pound album isn't as good as this one. Give The Spectrum a chance and give them the praise they deserve. They worked hard for it at the time and made a great record even if it is a compilation/overview of what their career could have turned into had they not been on dreadful RCA. I give this record a pretty high rating and I suggest it over dire progressive albums like Dear Mr. Time's horrible GRANDFATHER and Deep Feeling the less said about them the better! Really dreadful! These bands were just gloom, blood, and doom. That is avoided except for the gloom part by The Spectrum and singing about the decline of your country as an empire is actually a very true and very noble statement. If you can back up the loss of what Victorian and earlier/somewhat later England promised with music that has a lot of heart you've done well.


3 comments:

  1. Sitting here with Colin Forsey- reading your comments! Interesting to hear your perception!!!

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  2. They also perform the end titles to the Britsh tv series "Captain Scarlet" who is a member of The Spectrum organisation.

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  3. A common misconception was that they were formed to be a British Monkees. They had been playing together for years prior to 1967 and their first single that received a lot of radio play 'Samantha's Mine' would have charted had RCA pressed enough copies to make the sales. The b side was a version of a Monkees Song 'Saturdays child' which is probably where the misconception came from.
    Tony Blackburn on radio one lived the band and when they released 'Oh bla di oh bla da' he pushed it heavily until Marmalade released their version and Spectrums were dropped.
    From 2001 to present day I had the great privilege of working with former band member Tony Atkins and we'd share a lot of stories. I loved them from my introduction to them by the late Very Great Barry Gray and I still do. They were my first live concert at the Newport Rugby Club in 1969 and I treasure every musical memory.

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