FRIENDS: COMPLETE RECORDINGS (1969-1973) Arrival (3CD Set)
Hi Guys and welcome to another year of Smart Sounds reviewing the best new re- releases of the 60’s & 70’s. I’m delighted to start the year with this cracking 3CD set, i have been looking forward to receiving this since i had the Press Release a couple of months back. I still have my well played vinyl single of ‘Friends’ in one of those old carry cases where it’s lived since 1970. This new release is very welcome as it’s been difficult (and expensive) to find any of this superb band’s material on CD (or download). This 3CD set expands on the 2CD set released back in 2012 on the excellent but sadly now defunct RPM label. This compilation brings together their 2 albums, one for Decca and one for CBS on the first 2 CD’s, whilst the bonus 3rd CD captures the band in several BBC sessions performed during their tenure at Decca and never before previously released. Also included is a rare Japanese only released single in Jon (So In Love). A little history….the band had its roots in Liverpool in the early 60’s as a four piece named The Excelles, their name being taken as a conjunction of 2 very popular American band’s of the time, The Exciters & The Shirelles. They, like so many others at the time, played local gigs covering Tamla Motown and Soul material becoming popular and appearing at the city’s premier club The Cavern. Despite early appearances on Radio Luxembourg and trips to the likes of The Star Club in Hamburg (following in The Beatles footsteps) mainstream success was still a way off. As the 60’s progressed there were line-up changes with the most significant of these being a young girl who worked in the Record Department of NEMS (Brian Epstein’s Store) by the name of Dyan Birch, who was to become the main lead vocalist and the possessor of the voice we all associate with the band. Realising if they were going to make it big they would have to make the move to London, in 1969 this they did where they signed up with music entrepreneur Tony Hall who added 3 further musicians to their line-up and duly signed them to Decca Records. It’s worth mentioning here that one of the newly added musicians was keyboard player Tony O’Malley who you may have seen several times locally in Hastings over the years playing on The Stade in the Old Town. In fact Tony was the only musician to remain with the band for their whole existence. Their debut single was released in November 1969. ‘Friends’ was a cover of illustrious musician Terry Reid’s composition from his eponymous album released earlier that year. It wasn’t an immediate hit and the new 7 piece band were somewhat dismayed at Decca’s seemingly lukewarm promotional activity on their behalf. They then discovered it had been banned from airplay by the BBC.As it turned out some idiot at the Beeb (it was full of them then) misheard the line ‘all sitting round taking Port after dinner’ as taking POT after dinner! with that error swiftly rectified by the band, by January 1970 the single had made the Top 10 peaking at number 8. I was blown away when i first heard it way back then, The vocal, lead and harmonies were/are stunning backed up by fine musicianship. Arrival really stood out amongst a sea of disposable pop (albeit some of it great) which was 1970 in general. Their follow up single the equally ambitious and sublime ‘I Will Survive’ (not the Gloria Gaynor one!) was issued in May and climbed to No 16 by mid June. I was and remain a big fan of the band’s work, but a very frustrated one! Why? Because professionally i couldn’t promote them as neither ‘Friend’s or ‘I Will Survive’ were records i could use doing my live DJ gigs. They weren’t ‘dance’ records and neither did they suit a slow end of night ‘smoochy’ slow closer, they were just in a different class. Unfortunately, i was yet to do radio at this point, if i had had a show then, i would have plugged the band as much as possible. However, after a year and a fine album for Decca (DIsc1) the band terminated their connection with Tony Hall and upped sticks to new management and a new album in 1972 with their new label CBS (Disc 2). Now normally i would pick out tracks from both albums and quote their titles, but in this instance i don’t think doing that would mean much to many reading this. Let me assure though that Arrival’s blend of superb vocals and superior musicianship are well represented accurately by the previously mentioned singles, unlike some bands, If you enjoyed them, then these albums will more than satisfy you. The overall fusion of Gospel/Jazz/Blues/Rock all overlaid with those superlative vocal arrangements makes for a great listening experience. But don’t take my word for it. no less an artist than the late great Dusty Springfield was quoted as saying if she ever returned to singing in a group it would be Arrival’s sound they would try to emulate. Overall there are 43 tracks to savour in this new compilation and as previously stated they are laid out logically and chronologically mapping the bands career. Disc2 contains a Jimmy Webb song (Let My Life Be Your Love Song) which was in fact their debut single release for their new label. It’s a wonderful track and probably one of their very finest (i admit to being a huge Jimmy Webb fan) but it didn’t do anything chartwise, indeed no further singles did, and apparently the band, especially Dyan were not overly happy with Jimmy’s song as a single, they would have preferred to have tried a different sound to that which they had become known for. During 1972 they gigged extensively with the likes of Thin Lizzy, Taste etc but In the end result by 1973 whether they had stuck with their established sound or chosen a new direction became irrelevant as interest and gigs began drying up and gradually the band lost heart and just petered out with some members going on to become new band Kokomo, a successful soul band, whilst other ex members formed the Olympic Runners or became session musicians. I’ve thought long and hard about why Arrival were not the hugely successful band they should have been. I believe personally it was all down to timing. 1970 was the year when pop and rock separated and embarked on different paths and Arrival were difficult to ‘pigeonhole’ as the media loves to do. In short they weren’t ‘heavy’ in the rock sense and in my opinion were far classier than any ‘pop’ band. If there’s such a thing as being too classy at the wrong time, then this was Arrival’s fate. Strawberry Records are to be congratulated on making this new release available, as i said at the start it’s a cracker. I have only one small niggle, the accompanying booklet and repro card sleeves for each album are great, it would have been perfect however if they were housed in a clamshell or digipack instead of the rather flimsy cardboard outer cover, but hey, that’s a minor price to pay. But taken overall what a great start to this year’s releases. I’m happy to conclude with the fact that all the band members are still with us, with the exception sadly of Dyan who passed away in late 2020 and to whom this release is quite rightly dedicated. Enjoy.
Til next time…………..Colin
Mick O’Dowd… Didn’t realise they had so much in their catalogue! I thought they were a one-hit wonder and disappeared!
Peter Houghton… I’ve got there Album
Colin Bell… Pete, A man of taste!, just so you know Peter this release has really good sound quality, not always the case with re-issues, but better than my own original vinyl