SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing The Idle Race: The Birthday Party, 2CD Expanded Digipak Edition

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY  (2CD Expanded Edition) by The Idle Race
From out of the midlands in the mid 60’s came what was to become ‘brumbeat’ Birmingham’s answer to its northerly neighbour ‘merseybeat’.

Birmingham was a very fertile scene with literally hundreds of ‘beat group’s. as we called them in those days, sounds really quaint now. The Idle Race evolved out of one such very popular band ‘Mike Sheridan & The Night Riders’, one member at that time being Roy Wood who left to join The Move. To fill his place guitarist Johnny Mann was recruited from Carl Wayne & the Vikings (Carl also to become a Move member) but after abruptly quitting the band were once again without a lead guitarist. An advertisement was placed in the Birmingham Evening Mail and the successful applicant was an 18 year prodigy in the shape of Jeff Lynne. A single was recorded ‘It’s Only A Dog’ a cover of a Kingsmen song which disappeared without trace. Jeff was then promoted to lead vocalist and songwriter and the band signed to Liberty Records. Roy Wood offered them a new song (Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree, too good to turn down the band duly recorded it for their debut single in September 1967, but it was shelved when The Move recorded it themselves (as the ‘b’ side to Flowers In The Rain’). So step forward Jeff with what would be their first single ‘Imposters of Life’s Magazine’ a glorious slice of proto psyche complete with varispeed guitar, strange riff’s time signatures and indeed lyrics. In hindsight now it sounds like an outtake from Sgt.Pepper, in fact ive always felt Jeff was, and is, heavily influenced by Beatlesque melodies albeit with his very own genius take. Despite ‘Imposter’s’ being well received, much airplay and heavy support from one Kenny Everett it didn’t trouble the charts. The follow up single in March 1968 whilst again not a hit is the song for which the band is arguably best remembered ‘Skeleton & The Roundabout’ another Lynne composition was insanely catchy, quirky pop psyche and again showed off Jeff’s lyrical talents to the full. Along with Ray Davies and leaving aside Lennon/McCartney, I believe Jeff is a national treasure of ‘Englishness’ in his tales of pastoral and baroque themes.This new expanded album release celebrates his craft to the full, if you love the art pop of 67/68 of artist’s like Nirvana, World of Oz etc this is for you. There are so many strong tracks that you can hear the nascent ELO in there. ‘The Birthday’ and ‘I Like My Toys’ are two prime examples, the latter was played to death by the aforementioned Everett. The original album had 13 tracks, this release has the full 13 track mono album plus 9 bonus tracks on disc 1 whilst disc 2 contains the stereo version of the album (plus 1 bonus track). Amongst those bonus tracks are some gems like the previously mentioned ‘Lemon Tree’ and the ultra commercial ‘Knocking Nails Into My House’ (should have been a hit single). So 40 tracks to enjoy and a splendid 24 page booklet full of period pictures, sleeve covers and articles. Grapefruit Records have again excelled themselves with this release. Enjoy.

For more information go to: https://www.cherryred.co.uk

In closing, i’d just like to send all my best wishes to all my fellow SMART members, stay safe and well and if we all have to stay in at least we can listen to that album we’ve been meaning to get re-connected with!

Til next time……………………….Colin

Mick O’Dowd… Great album and a precursor to ELO. Had the original album on vinyl.

Colin Norton… Totally agree with Mick! This album is an absolute gem! I still have the original vinyl but must admit that its almost worn out. Stay safe guys!

Ray Harper… What a fantastic posting. Thank you.

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