Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974.

Label: Ace Records.

Release Date: ‘31st’ January 2020.

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, music in Britain was changing, with rock becoming and harder and heavier as groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath emerged and went on to become three of the most successful bands of the seventies. Meanwhile, some psychedelic groups turned their back on the genre and returning to their bluesy roots, while others became pioneers of progressive rock. However, not everyone was willing to turn their back on psychedelia.

There were still many British musicians and groups who were influenced by psychedelia, especially the homegrown variety of the genre. Its melancholy sound conjured up visions of Victoriana, and the pastoral sound of genteel village life in rural England as well as the simple pleasures of suburban living. Essentially British and specifically English psychedelia harked back to Britain’s past, which was romanticised and perceived as idyllic. It was a much more innocent and simpler time, and very different to Britain during the psychedelic era. So was the music.

A number of factors influenced the inimitable British psychedelic sound. Just like their American counterparts, British musicians questioned the establishment. This led to some musicians retreating to the countryside and their new rural idylls influenced the pastoral sound of their music. Others remained in the city, but tried to imagine the countryside in their music which often, became part of an Arcadian fantasy world. However, the countryside was just one of factors that influenced the  British psychedelic sound. 

This included travel. By then, a number of musicians had travelled to countries like India, Morocco and traversed Europe. The music they heard often influenced the music they went on to make. So did classical and jazz music. Some musicians embraced and dabbled with LSD which also  influenced the music they made. These factors influenced the  British psychedelic sound while others didn’t.

Many British musicians distrusted the nascent technology that emerged during the  psychedelic era, and also rejected much of American culture. Instead, British musicians looked to their own culture for inspiration. 

Meanwhile, musicians deployed an eclectic selection of instruments to create the British psychedelic sound. This included everything from the cello, woodwind and harpsichord to a variety of African instruments and the Mellotron. These instruments provided the backdrop the wistful melodies that were part of the British psychedelic sound. However,  by the late-sixties psychedelia was no longer as popular as it had been. Many critics thought it was the end of an era.

That wasn’t the case, and like so many other genres of music, including blues and jazz, British psychedelia had to evolve to stay relevant. There were still many musicians  who wanted to continue to create music using the same instruments and wistful melodies and they became pioneers of a new sub-genre of pop, the English Baroque sound.

At the forefront of this new musical movement were some of the psychedelic groups who were joined by the new breed of singer-songwriter. They pioneered the English Baroque which was celebrated on the CD compilation  Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974. It was  compiled by writer and Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley and released fifteen years ago, and nowadays, is a collector’s item that changes hands for anything between £50 to £100. However, most people are holding on to their copies of Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974 which is why Ace Records have released a new and improved version of the compilation.

Originally, Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974 was only ever released on CD. However, the new and improved version, which will be released by Ace Records on CD and vinyl on the ‘31st’ January 2020. It features Lora Findlay’s artwork which has been given a makeover. That isn’t the only difference between the original and new version of Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974.

The new version includes several tracks that haven’t been released before. The CD version of Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974 features twenty-two tracks and includes everyone from Ray Brooks, The Honeybus, Mike Batt,  Colin Blunstone, Nirvana, Les Payne, Clifford T. Ward, The Bliss and Matthew Bones. 

Opening the  Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-197 compilation is Pictures by Ray Brooks. It was released by Polydor in 1972, and epitomises the English baroque pop sound which by then, had grown in popularity. With sweeping, swirling and cinematic lyrics Ray Brooks paints Pictures on a track that sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

For me the highlight of the compilation is  The Honeybus’ classic I Can’t Let Maggie Go. It was written and produced by Pete Dello and released by  Deram in 1968, reaching number eight in the UK. Since then, this beautiful heart-wrenching English baroque pop classic has been a favourite of many music lovers and even the opening bars are enough to bring memories flooding back.

One of the rarest tracks on the compilation is Alice a gothic tale by Jon Plum. It was released in 1969, on SNB, but failed to find the audience it deserved. Some fifty-one years later makes a welcome return and hopefully, will be appreciated by a new generation of discerning music lovers. 

Another English baroque pop classic is Colin Blunstone’s Say You Don’t Mind, which was released by Epic in 1972 and reached the top twenty. This beautiful and truly memorable track belatedly launched  Colin Blunstone’s  career.  It features a soul-baring vocal, while a  cello is at the heart of this minimalist  chamber pop arrangement. 

Mary Jane was released by Erasmus Chorum on Chapter One in 1972, on the B-Side of their EP. It features a string led arrangement which also includes a melancholy organ and piano. They provide the backdrop to what can only be described a heartfelt and emotive  vocal on this English baroque pop hidden gem.

Mention Nirvana and many people think of Kurt Cobain et al. However, for many connoisseurs of British music that isn’t the case. The original Nirvana released six carefully crafted albums between  1967 and 1974. On these albums they  collaborated with top musicians, arrangers and producers. The result were albums which although released to critical acclaim, weren’t hugely successful. This includes their 1971 album Songs Of Love and Praise, which was released on Phillips. Please Believe Me is one of the album’s highlights, and a tantalising reminder of the original Nirvana, whose music is well worth discovering.

Many people will remember Justin Hayward’s cover of Forever Autumn on Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds in 1979. However, this wasn’t a new track. It was penned by Gary Vigrass and Paul Osborne who were at the time part of Jeff Wayne’s team who wrote advertising jingles. Forever Autumn was originally used for a Lego advert, and was then released as a single. Vigrass and Osborne’s single was produced by Jeff Wayne, and gave the pair a major hit in Japan, and a minor hit in America. Sadly, this beautiful, wistful song failed to chart in Britain, and is another of the hidden gems on the compilation.

By the time Les Payne released I Can’t Help To Feel The Love via RCA, in 1974, he was a staff writer at Chappell Music. Sadly, the single flopped and commercial success continued to elude the talented singer-songwriter. Proof of that is Very Well, a string driven anti-war song which was tucked away on the B-Side.

Clifford T. Ward’s best known and most successful single was Gaye, which reached number eight in the UK and sold over a million copies and features on his classic album Home Thoughts. However, there’s much more to Clifford T. Ward than one song. His sophomore single was Coathanger a reflective and melodic track from his 1972 debut album Singer-Songwriter. It’s another of Clifford T. Ward’s finest albums and is the perfect introduction to a hugely talented singer-songwriter who deserved to be a huge star.

David McIvor covered Peter Green’s Closing My Eyes in 1969. The single was released on Warner Bros and produced by Fleetwood Mac’s manager Clifford Davis. He’s responsible for the dramatic arrangement as David McIvor lays bare his soul.

Closing Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974 is Two Sugars by Matthew Bones. This was the B-Side to his  1971 single I Am The Pixi. Of the two sides, Two Sugars an observational song that sounds as if it’s been inspired by The Kinks is by far the best.

The reissue of Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974 on and vinyl by Ace Records ‘31st’ January 2020 is a welcome. Nowadays, the original compilation is now a sought after rarity which is beyond the budget of most record buyers. Thankfully, soon, that will no longer be the case.

For the forthcoming reissue Lora Findlay’s artwork has been given a makeover and new tracks have been added to the new and improved version of Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974. It features everything from English baroque classics, contributions from familiar faces, hidden gem, hit singles, oft-overlooked songs and little known B-Sides. They’re part of  Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974 which is a lovingly curated compilation which makes a welcome return fifteen years after its initial release, and for newcomers to the genre is the perfect primer.

Tea and Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1968-1974.

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