I have been looking forward to this for weeks ever since Grapefruit Records announced its forthcoming release. My lifelong love of Psychedelia is undiminished since i was first exposed to it at its height in 1967. Ask most people to give an example of psychedelic music and 9 out of 10 will answer ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, particularly if they are of my age group. Nothing wrong with that answer, the landmark Sgt Pepper album is often cited as the epitome of psychedelia, i would only agree in part. After all i don’t think ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ ‘With A Little Help From Mt Friends’ or ‘Fixing A Hole’ really qualify. Different and experimental maybe, psychedelic not. The whole psychedelia movement had its roots in mid 60’s San Francisco, mind expanding drugs like LSD and Mescalin and the musical blending of many genres from rock to folk, with a large dose of ethnic music from India and Arabia. The American psychedelic scene became more orientated towards psychedelic rock with prime bands like The Doors & particularly Love whose ‘Forever Changes’ album released in November 1967 was to my mind the American equivalent of our Sgt Pepper. The British psychedelic scene was a softer more whimsical (in the main) scene. There were bands that jumped on the ‘psychedelic bandwagon’ The Move with ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’ or Traffic with ‘Hole In My Shoe’ songs i truly love, but both were rock bands flirting with psychedelia. For true exponents of the art you have to look elsewhere. When psychedelic compilation albums started to get released years later many of the 100’s of bands that pursued the genre and sank without trace at the time began to be featured and be re-appraised. One of the most tantalising of these bands were Tintern Abbey whose track ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ was often to be found on these compilations, usually wrongly credited as the ‘A’ side of the bands 1967 Deram single. The ‘A’ side was infact ‘Beeside’ a band injoke. In over 40 years its only these 2 tracks that have been available to listen to, i certainly have never heard any of their other work. Its taken decades to finally produce this 2CD that gathers together all the bands work for the first time. It has taken much research, restoration and sound engineering to bring this collection to light. At last the curtain can be drawn back on over 2 hours of sublime music recorded between 1967 and 1968. Tintern Abbey were originally 4 guys, David MacTavish, Stuart Mackay, John Dalton & Don Smith. After they had spent a month in Cornwall in 1967 ‘getting it together’ writing songs and causing some concern amongst the locals (hippies in Bodmin!) they would return to their London base with a 5th member named ‘Thor’, a honey buzzard that Dave MacTavish had rescued that would perch on his shoulder at their gigs. Those gigs were the stuff of legend. Typically they would begin with David sitting cross legged on the stage surrounded by burning incense sticks to the sound of clashing cymbals as the other band members would appear one by one before launching into opener the aforementioned ‘Vacuum Cleaner’. Over the short lifespan of the band, the line-up would change, fallings out and all the usual band scenarios would occur. The brilliantly written booklet by David Wells tells the story in great and fascinating detail. Who knew they would turn down a replacement guitarist who didn’t fit in with the bands vibe….some bloke called David Gilmour, wonder what happened to him…..The printed story is wonderful but we’re here for the music and it doesn’t disappoint, Disc1 kicks off with the compilations title track the 1967 single ‘Beeside’ where we are immediately transported into the other realm that Tintern conjure up, its whimsical with a hint of flanging and phasing whilst the vocals float on top giving rise to an ethereal vibe drawing you in to a more surreal world. Prominent drums lead us into Track 2 and the much compiled and most familiar track ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ which contains a memorable snarling guitar solo about 1m30sec in which is reminiscent of something The Electric Prunes might come up with and its heaven for this reviewer. So i’ve now already exhausted the only 2 tracks i’ve ever heard of the band, is it now going to all be downhill? NO. Track3 is called ‘Snowman’ and is a tour-de-force that’s surreal and almost sinister in feel and weaves complex vocal and musical patterns that build into a crescendo complete with some backward tape looping. ‘Tanya’ track 4 follows on with a foot clearly rooted in the folk camp before the heavy bass line leads it in a more mind bending direction. I knew in my bones this was going to be a treat! By Track 5 ‘Black Jack’ i find myself wondering why the hell these guys didn’t make it into the big league with the likes of The Nice, Floyd etc. I am in danger of reviewing every track and space doesn’t allow, but if by the glorious guitar work that drenches Track 6 ‘Bodmin Blow’ (i think we all get the reference!) you are not fully sucked in and smitten then Tintern Abbey and psychedelia is not for you. Disc1 contains another 12 tracks that features acetate mixes of ‘Beeside’ ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ & ‘Snowman’ that i found fascinating and if you’re into mystic blends of multi ethnic music Track 7 ‘My Prayer’ is going to delight you. Disc2 contains a further 18 tracks that beginning with the opener ‘Nightfall’ show the band, dare i say, becoming a bit ‘poppier’ and although the tracks are still satisfying i can’t help feeling the band is seeking a more commercial direction. John Peel was a fan of the guys and he also mused that maybe they were being cajoled towards the more mainstream. However there is still enough to satisfy the psyche aficionados amongst us. Its not often after 50 years in this business that i still get surprised and delighted by listening to a band that had just a fleeting lifespan and have been represented by just 2 tracks in all that time but Tintern Abbey are just as magical today as they were then. About 15 years back i was driving up to the Forest Of Dean and suddenly the ruins of Tintern Abbey were before me. I stopped, it was the crack of dawn and i had the place to myself as the sun rose and although the band named themselves after the poem written by Wordsworth not the ruins of the abbey, ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ started playing in my head. It was a morning to remember. Enjoy.
Tony Davis… Nice review Colin. I agree with your assessment of Sgt Pepper. I think it’s major influence was to encourage bands to experiment. One of my favourite psych era bands are Moby Grape, much appreciated in the USA but barely known here
Colin Bell… Cheers Tony, yes it’s strange about Moby Grape who were right at the centre of the whole movement, The only track that seems to turn up on the endless psyche compilations is usually ‘Hey Grandma’, especially the UK releases.
Pete Prescott… Fascinating.
Ralph Winser… I don’t think I’d even heard of Tintern Abbey before this review. Colin please May I credit you with once again holding my interest right through this review. And your reviews, musings and writing has always done so where others have lost me after the first couple of sentences. I am always disappointed when a piece you have written comes to an end. As I have to then wait for the next one. My musical knowledge has expanded because of you sir. If and when I get rich I will definitely finance a book for your writings. Love you dude. R
Mick O’Dowd… Fascinating! I know the name Tintern Abbey but not their music. I Agree with Ralph wholeheartedly about the reviews you do.