Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Healthy Slice Of Mayan Quiche, Vikings, and Psychedelic Heaven Popol Ace and Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera

Reflecting is important and beginning anew even more important after an end to something comes about. The end of a 21 year and longer relationship came about earlier this week unexpectedly and shockingly when a tried and tested best friend became an enemy that I will never have anything to do with again. I will not go into detail as I don't wish to waste my time or the time of anyone reading this, but when a lie is told to demonically suit the selfish interests that can demolish the person on the receiving end and then more lies follow once the accusation flies and gets out in the open I will firmly state that downright lying can hurt as much as a sharp physical wound. This time the lies about my own person and who I am made me so angry that I will no longer consider this fool a friend of mine, but a sycophantic disease carrying loser who is dead and gone in my life. No more long drives to see him. No more phone calls. No more connections. I'm really mad.
    It happens to all of us and what I suggest you do is just to calmly withdraw and go find something or someone you know you can trust. Some people will always be there to bring you up when you fall down. Whilst I am not enamored of every bloke in the Rifles Regiment of Britain I love quite a few of them as I do my wonderful German soldier mate Hans and talking with soldiers and listening to great music has really been a help to me and I fancy myself a kind of musical warrior/soldier myself who isn't a soldier. That's the way it's always gonna be. You keep up the fight and you don't give it up because people tell you you're worthless or "weak minded" or whatever their bullshit happens to be. I don't particularly feel comfortable on the telephone until I can ease into a conversation. I can be an idiot at first, but then if the talking starts I become more relaxed, more willing to discuss things at length. One thing I'll discuss here is that music is the key to my happiness and tends to be something very inspirational sans any religious connotations. So now that this bridge is yet another one decimated, rotted, and destroyed I simply went to that old fashioned remedy of music and thank Heavens I have a loving mother and father who put up with me and my always changeable moods from both a great person to a totally vexing one.
     We all have faults. No one is perfect. However, if you get the best of people together in a band magic can really be pulled off and miracles too. That's where Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera come in. I would go right out and say that their one album under that name and with Dave Terry who is Elmer Gantry at the front is probably not just a once in a lifetime masterpiece, but the best British psychedelic rock album ever made. I have been loving them since I was 16 and a half and found a British original for $15 in the basement of a porn shop disguised as a record store in darkest Poughkepsie NY.
                  -From Triumph To Disaster and Back To Making The Hurt Heal-
     That basement had a lot of amazing records and went to Hell when I made the fatal error of telling an arch rival record dealer of its existence. Sure enough I go back and it was all picked over except for the rarest Klaatu record in 95. In 1997 it was a nightmare and a memory so painful that I will NEVER DISCUSS IT. I was a horrible person then, but as horrible as I was I paid in full for the bad behavior and destructive lifestyle I was leading at the start of my 20s. I'd been done wrong by life and took it out on the people who cared about me and I won't be doing any more of that. My life had been written off by me when I was 21, but at 22/23/24 I made a best friend in a man named Ras from Denmark which is a country of mainly wonderful people except for one horrifically nasty and pathologically lying record dealer I know not the name of nor do I care. Ras worked in a great store sadly long since out of business in Manhattan called Second Coming and Ras provided me with a healing experience as did the store's inventory. I also made best friends with a Siberian acquaintance turned great supporter of me who I wish very well in whatever he does now so many years later. This was before the days of the Internet and I marvel at how different the world was then, how less selfish and cold everything/everyone seemed. I wouldn't have imagined that Popol Vuh Norway/Popol Ace (Same band) could be true in their condemnations of most people as being self-loving egotistical bastards and as for the songs they wrote about love I was just beginning to learn of that emotion's true meaning. As time has gone on I have been in love many times, but first loves tend to come into view when I listen to the two albums I'm discussing here.
              -Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera Welcome To The Brilliant Show-
        Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera were the first British band to totally knock me out and blow my mind into fragments reassembling it to see that the British and Europeans beat the shit out of the American psych I was mainly into. Not all American psych is useless or inferior, but most of it is what I started with not what would rule as majestic and powerful over time. I've heard some people start with British and European stuff and then they bite into American "garage psych" and that changes their tune. Poor losers and fools is all I can say as I went through the opposite musical metamorphosis. I started off with American bands. I started with garage rock and garage psych and when I heard Kak for the first time the garage was a dusty old cobwebbed place full of nothing. As soon as The Zombies and Kak had blown my mind something had to come along that I could actually call my own and not just dream about having the way I dreamed then of having an original of Kak. Kak may well be the best American album, but unfortunately I've had it 3 times now and the pressing is really as poor as can be. Another problem with American records. Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera came along just when I least expected it and I was hit really between the eyes with a big revelation when I heard it. In America it came out on Epic the same label as Kak and suffered from an almost as bad pressing job so go for the much rarer much more expensive British pressing which also looks a whole lot nicer. I had certainly never heard anything as varied and different, as exotic, as quintessentially English as Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera and I still get a magical "room full of sun filtering in" warm vibe when I hear the album.
     Formed in Coventry and going down to London to be an in group on the Swinging scene there Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera comprised Elmer Gantry (Dave Terry real name: Lead vocals, rhythm guitar), John Ford (bass, a few other instruments, vocals), Richard "Hud" Hudson (drums, sitar, vocals), and last but certainly not least Colin Forster (lead guitar). The band played all the most happening discotheques and clubs and were very much a Mod band who got very ambitious when they gained valuable time in the studio. Songs like "Mother Writes," "Dream Starts" with its distorted vocals and Love style brass arrangements, "Air" with sitars aplenty, and the freaky "Reactions Of A Young Man" are Proto Progressive in nature and also can serve as a primer a year earlier of what The Koobas delved into to a certain extent. "Long Nights Of Summer" and "What's The Point Of Leaving" are beautiful melodic pop psych and should have been major hits. You even get an uproarious comedy number in the trad jazz gone to spastic nutso land  full on freak out of Elmer/Dave in his histrionic reworking of Oscar Brown Jr's "But I Was Cool." "Mary Jane" is a druggy song with a strong funky groove to it and great vocals similar to The Koobas and you can really see the variable sounds created here on a one off brilliant masterwork coexist in harmony with each other- important.   
               -The All Important Question Of Music And The Essential Ingredients--
      The lyrics on Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera are far more intelligent than nearly any American record I can think of and a lot of my distaste for American stuff of the lesser variety comes down to bad playing and bad lyrics. Even a band like Graffiti who try so hard for the kind of wide reaching Moody Blues vibe are second rate runners up when you really think about it. Graffiti were plagued by horrendously bad lyrics and this was not uncommon. Just listen to The Litter for Christs Sake this is really lame stuff "Action Woman" and a million and one cover versions trying to be Mod!!!!! The Litter were my number one band in the beginning, but time has not been kind to Distortions or either of their other two albums with the pick of a poor pack going to the Proto Metal Emerge on a real label (Probe). I'm not going to say there aren't American albums that are essential to your collection there are a lot of them, but they tend to be the undervalued ones. I personally prefer American stuff of the more pop psych/melodic psych variety as I feel that's what we do best, but for heavier ones there's a few really good bands who are very much in the minority. The Litter were at least better than the band that talented guitarist Tom "Zippy" Caplan formed Lightning who suffered from horrible vocals and too much Americana.
      Oh geez, God damn The Band for what they did to music! Everything was about cliches when the half Canadians/half Yanks came on the scene with all their nonsense about Dixie and hot chicks. America would have to grow musically before it could become something to take seriously and that happened full on with the advent of Pomp and AOR. Take out Kansas and keep everything else in we mastered AOR/Pomp Rock and bands like Boston, Journey, Styx, Survivor, and New England are some of the best music ever created. Steve Perry is a perfect example of the underdog saving the day. He wasn't particularly handsome, but with a voice made out of gold he delivered and wrote good lyrics too. Steve wasn't happy with stardom and eventually the introverted Journey front man caved under all the pressure and screamed out for his sanity and his private life not to be invaded all the time. Success is a double edged sword to be sure.
                   -The Best Can Sometimes Come Before A Commercial Success-
     Many musicians have been subject to the pressures of record companies and management going back to the 60s and Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera weren't handled properly and also were very young and gullible when they made their big punch out of the window of musical history that would later be completely shattered to fragments by The Koobas and then the British/European progressive onslaught. Two of the four would go onto huge success, but this would come as sidemen in The Strawbs where the material was inferior and so was Dave Cousins. The Strawbs peaked too soon with a young Sandy Denny and try as I might I can't get Dave Cousins and all his overdramatic folky pretentiousness or the demonic folk diva that Denny became in Fairport Convention. If you want folkrock stick with the bands that stress rock or twisted arrangements/vocals over folk. Go buy the first Earth Opera album that is how folk psych/progressive folk should be done. Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera show no signs of what was to come in The Strawbs thankfully and are very much a psychedelic/progressive rock band with the accent on rocking out or more subtle, reflective moods  that predate the wonderful Dog That Bit People. With more of a push and more support in general they may have lasted longer and not become Velvet Opera the band who made Ride A Hustler's Dream which is more folk/blues rock although I should add is pretty good for prog/folk psych too. Nothing good came to these boys. They tried from 1967 on through 1970 and it just wasn't getting heard or praised or anything of that sort which they should have had. I'm not a huge fan of Paul Brett except as a brilliant folk guitar innovator with some nice songs here and there, but even he could rock as he proved on Velvet Opera's new look Ride A Hustler's Dream which isn't anywhere as good as the first album, but it certainly has some great tracks.
               -The Quiche is Particularly Lovely Made By Vikings! Norway's Popol Vuh/Ace-
     Popol Ace began life in Norway in 1972 on their album debut as Popol Vuh of Norway not the boring German Popol Vuh. If ever a band deserved to be huge worldwide and are progressive rock Gods look no further. Jahn Teigen was such a formidable vocalist that he was the first pick to replace Peter Gabriel in Genesis and it's pretty astonishing he turned them down. Add to that the huge talents of Arne Schulze (guitar), Pete Knutsen (guitar/keyboards), Terje Methi (bass), and Thor Andreassen (drums) who also were great at harmony vocals and this is a band with killer songs, great production work from the whole band as a team, and possibly the best progressive record ever made in Quiche Maya. This album came out under the name Popol Ace as their first release under the new name with a superior cover of the band as Vikings on a Fjord and I would recommend forking out for that version as it is there that you can hear how far they improved from their first album to Quiche Maya.
    The eponymous debut by Popol Vuh (Norway) is a great album and flautist Pjokken Eide adds some nice colourings to the selections, but lyrically and musically it isn't perfect. The two songs on the Popol Ace album speak volumes as to the huge step forward the group made. "Hunchback" was probably together with the amazing closing epic "Medicine" the high point of their debut with great lyrics and very creative musicianship. "All We Have Is The Past" was a lesser track also about mortality, but a little unrealized with a great middle and only OK majority of the song. There were some rough edges and some mistakes that needed to be adjusted, but I would definitely say that you need to get all their albums with Jahn Teigen at the forefront. Popol Vuh/Ace made some major changes between first and second releases and came up with Quiche Maya- an album of staggering beauty, fearsome power, and amazing voyages into the ultimate progressive wonderland.
       Repackaged with all the best songs as Popol Ace's debut it really is something to go out and fork out for.  There are two hard rock/jazzy prog tracks both of which show maturity and forcefulness unmatched in "Queen Of All Queens" about a horrible girl who uses everybody and ends up with not one friend in the world and the equally pissed off lyrically unfathomable "Milk-White Satin-Dressed Departure" about how relationships can be a major turn off for the person left to clean it all up when its over and long since dead. Most of the other songs are experiments in romance which would make the album unique for them as they tended towards more metaphysical matter/fantasy lyrics on their amazing follow up as Stolen From Time. "Dark Nights" is a melodic song about the hard adjustment to the darkness that comes and steals the day, but songs like "Yesterday" and "Between You And Me" are romantically based dramatic progressive symphonic rock at the absolute peak of that kind of music's powers. The lush waves of mellotron recall the wonderful British band Spring and Arne Schulze plays superb guitar that is understated, soaring, and melodic like a dream jam session in 1973 between George Harrison and a very young Michael Schenker.
     Stick with those who love you seems to be the motto of Popol Vuh during this phase of their career and also live for yourself, your dreams, and your ambitions. It's hard to believe in the relationship that ended for me ending at all let alone in such an ugly way, but when people are lied to and the truth comes out there is no way to escape it. Thankfully the week is over and it brought me a lot of great wonderful brilliant music including Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera and Popol Ace. Music is a great thing sometimes and can also be a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing when some nefarious freaks use it as a way of stirring up violence, sickness, deformity, and hate messages, but we all know that's not really music it's just rubbish. I'm staying me. If people can't live with my eccentricities or special desires, my hopes and my dreams then even if I thought I knew them I never knew them and I throw them in the garbage- its an easy thing to end when you can make the simple fact a reality that you never knew that person at all. Be tolerant and don't be shy of following your own visions and fantasies. I hope one day a better less judgmental world becomes something I can have helped to create.

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