Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Timebox - Gone Is The Sad Man

Example Timebox
Future Rutle John Halsey (2nd from left), Mike Patto (center)
Peter "Ollie" Halsall (2nd from right)
British Psychedelia.. two words guaranteed to conjure up the image of bucktoothed UnionJack-ass Austin Powers, gallivanting around in the Life Magazine approximation of Carnaby Street gear, spouting focus-grouped catch phrases like a schizophrenic parakeet in search of its next biscuit. Needless to say (though I’m going to say it anyway) the psychedelic music that came out of the UK between 1966 and 1970 was sporadically brilliant, usually above average and always interesting (often more so than its US contemporaries). The fact that the music is known largely through the later works of its proponents (i.e. those players that went on to produce mountains of humorless, though lucrative progressive rock) is a shame. Aside from a few notable exceptions (Pink Floyd mostly) it is a genre in which most of the gold to be mined is hidden on hard to find (sometimes unspeakably rare) 45s, hoarded by the anal-retentive collector class (of which I proudly count myself a charter member). The fact that many of these gems have been reissued hardly matters because in most cases the only people buying these compilations are the aforementioned record collectors and the tenderfoot in their ranks. A brief primer for the uninitiated would have to include a definition of “freakbeat”, that being the transitional sounds created on the cusp of true psychedelia by bands that had yet to fully break with their rock/beat roots. Truth be told nobody called it freakbeat then (1965-1967) and precious few do now, but enough people that know what they’re talking about felt the need to draw that particular line in the sand so we’ll let it be. It doesn’t help that the definition of psychedelic (in relation to music) is extremely flexible. You had bands like Tintern Abbey, who’s single 45 ‘Beeside’ b/w ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ is not only the ne plus ultra of mind bending sounds but is so rare that copies have changed hands for prices in excess of one thousand British pounds, and that my friends is not chicken feed. You also had groups like the Herd (featuring an embryonic Peter Frampton) who were basically a pop band with psychedelic tints. Its gets complicated when you pick up a copy of New Musical Express from 1968 and realize that these bands were shooting for the same slice of the Top 10 (and shopping at the same tailor). The cold hard fact is that Tintern Abbey, while brilliant were far too weird to ever grab the attention of the teen set. The Herd on the other hand had teen idol Frampton ("The Face of 1968") at the helm and the quality songwriting team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikely feeding them hits. To compare British and American psychedelic music, is often (with apologies to Syd Barrett) an exercise in ‘Apples and Oranges’. Where American psychedelia is stoned and often dark, UK psyche is wistful and sometimes twee (occasionally insufferably so). British psyche has at it’s roots classical music of the Romantic and modern eras, the Music Hall, and the literature of writers like Lewis Carroll, Lord Dunsany and JRR Tolkien, all tied together in the framing device of Beatles-inspired mid-60’s rock music. The British approach to psychedelia was much more “pop” based than its American counterpart, often resulting in perfect 3 minute singles (no Fillmore West-ian hour-long navel gazing here mate). I mention these bands to give the reader some idea of the wide variety of artists dipping into some part of the psychedelic spectrum in the UK at the time. Their differences illustrate the gap that often separates credibility and popularity, obscurity and fame, and the varying degrees of quality in between. The band Timebox falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Recording 8 45’s for the Picadilly, Pye and Deram labels between 1967 and 1969, Timebox were one of the more interesting bands of the day. They featured the multi-talented Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall on guitar and vibes respectively (both sang) and covered a wide range of material from Cal Tjader’s ‘Soul Sauce’, to US soul tunes like The Rascals ‘Come On Up’ , The Four Seasons 'Beggin'' and Bunny Sigler’s ‘Girl Don’t Make Me Wait’. The vibes gave their records a jazzy texture which they often carried on stage with them. Aside from their soul and jazz inflected recordings, Timebox laid down some outstanding psyche-pop records, the best of which ‘Gone Is the Sad Man’ appeared as the b-side to ‘Girl Don’t Make Me Wait’ in 1968. ‘Gone is the Sad Man’, co written by Patto and Halsall is just about a perfect example of UK psyche. It balances a dreamy texture (Halsall’s vibes help this a lot) with a biting guitar lead, a classic melody and vocal harmonies with enough phasing for the heads in the room. The influence of the Beatles is strong (as it was in probably 80% of all pop records in 1968). The tune manages to be sunny without resorting to treacle and psychedelic without wearing its “far-out-ness” on its sleeve. It’s just a great pop record, the kind of 45 I can listen to over and over again. Following the demise of Timebox, Patto and Halsall went to form the group Patto, and drummer Jon Halsey took the Beatles vibe to the next level, appearing as drummer Barry Wom in the Rutles.


Blogger Liz Boyle said...

Thank you, Larry for the info.

I was doing show prep for my mid day radio show on RadioFreePhonix.com. I was googling Time Box and came up with your cool site.

Check us out sometime, we're a fully staffed (I've got 20 years in Phoenix terrestrial radio) free form, underground rock radio station.

6/22/2006 01:07:00 PM  

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