Folk, Funk and Beyond-The Arrangements Of John Cameron.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Release Date: ‘26th’ May 2023.

John Cameron came to prominence in 1966 after he arranged Donovan’s Sunshine Superman. The arrangement was a fusion of jazz, folk and proto-psychedelia, and when the single was released, it topped the US Billboard 100 and launched John Cameron’s career as an arranger.

By then, John Cameron was only twenty-two. He was born in Woodford, Essex, on ‘22nd’ April 1944 into a musical family. His mother played piano at the Canadian Club during the war and his father ran and organised bands after joining the RAF. This continued after the war.

Growing up, music all around John Cameron. His love of music was encouraged by his parents. When they had parties everyone joined in. This included their son. His father had taught him various standards on the piano and when his time came, he would play Guy Mitchell’s Singing The Blues. However, this was just the start.

By the time he was twelve, John Cameron was playing Neil Sedaka’s I Go Ape at various holiday camps. Then when was fourteen, he graduated to playing pubs in Croydon and earning five pounds a week. This was part of his musical apprenticeship.

In the mid-sixties, John Cameron started studying history at Cambridge University. However, most evenings he was playing gigs at jazz clubs and US Air Force bases and found himself rubbing shoulders with Annie and Ronnie Ross, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Kathy Stobart. Their repertoire during memorable shows included everything from covers of compositions by Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus to barnstorming R&B.

Meanwhile, John Cameron’s social circle at Cambridge University included Germain Greer, Clive James and Eric idle who he cowrote songs with. By then, music was his passion and midway through his second year he switched and did his finals in music.

This meant studying composition for a year. By then, John Cameron was also Vice-President of the Footlights and was doing cabaret with Eric Idle. This included at The Place Upstairs at The Royal Theatre in London.

By then, John Cameron became part of the Peter Cook scene. However, it was always music that he was more interested in.

After University, he headed to London, where his Cambridge connections proved useful. This led to John Cameron recording the album Cover Lover, which has been described as: “esoteric jazz satire.” After that, he was introduced to David Frost at the supper club Take One in St Martin’s Lane and started doing solo cabaret. That was how he got his big break.

The house band at Take One was a quintet, featuring Art Ellison, Bill La Sage, Ronnie Ross, Tony Carr and Spike Heatley. He happened to mention that folk singer Donovan was looking for an arranger and was John Cameron interested? He was.

Accompanied by Spike Heatley, John Cameron made his way to see Donovan’s new manager Ashley Kozac. At his apartment, the twenty-two year old arranger  and showcased his ideas for a couple of numbers. This included a track called Sunshine Superman. Little did anyone realise this song would launch two careers, Donovan’s and John Cameron’s.

For Donovan this was a fresh start. He had split with his first manger Geoff Stephens who was replaced by Ashley Kozac.  Mickie Most had taken over production duties and would work with arranger John Cameron.

The first single they worked on was Sunshine Superman which benefited from John Cameron’s groundbreaking and unique fusion of jazz, folk and proto-psychedelia. When the single was released in 1966 it reached number two in the UK and topped the US Billboard 100 chart. Soon, Donovan and John Cameron’s stars were in the ascendancy.

Before long, John Cameron was in demand as an arranger. He became one of the best and most successful during the sixties and seventies. However, he’s much more than an arranger.

There’s many strings to John Cameron’s bow. He’s successful songwriter and has written hits for Cilla Black, Johnny Johnson and Bandwagon. He has also written for film and TV.

His first film score was for Kes, which was directed by Ken Loach. The film was released to critical acclaim in 1969 was the start of John Cameron’s career writing film scores.

After that, he wrote over forty film scores in the seventies. This included Touch Of Class which was released in 1973 and starred Glenda Jackson and George Segal. Right through to the eighties he continued to write film scores. However, by then he had branched out.

This included writing, arranging and recording library music for KPM. These recordings feature on KPM classics including Voices In Harmony and Afro Rock. Despite working on albums of library music John Cameron wanted to do more production work.

John Cameron started off by producing psych duo The Picadilly Line in 1967. This was just the start of his production career.

Soon, he was producing Vic Lewis, His Orchestra and Singers as well as The John Cameron Orchestra. He even produced Are You Ready For Love by future TV presenter Gloria Hunniford, and singles by Tim Hollier and Frog. Later, he went on to produce artists like Bonnie Tyler, Madeline Bell and the Soho Jets. However, by the early eighties he switched his attention to theatre.

This came when started work on Les Miserables. Little did he realise that he would spend twenty-three years working on the production.

Despite that, John Cameron continued to work as an arranger in the nineties and record new music. The legendary arranger is now seventy-nine and is still working and his lifelong love affair with music continues.

incredibly, no label has released a compilation of John Cameron’s arrangements. That, however, is about to change. Ace Records will release Folk, Funk and Beyond-The Arrangements Of John Cameron on ‘26th’ May 2023. This new compilation has been compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley. It’s the followup to his hugely successful compilations of arrangements by Thom Bell  and Norman Whitfield.

Opening the compilation is Kes (Front Titles) by John Cameron which he also wrote, arranged and conducted. It features Harold McNair’s flute and along with the Once More With Felix Pictures paints pictures of life in Barnsley, in the late-sixties. Although it’s mostly moody and wistful, there’s a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, things might get better.

The Observation originally featured on Donovan’s fourth album Mellow Yellow. It’s regarded as the finest of his career. It was released in the US in 1967, and featured arrangements by John Cameron while Mickie Most took charge of production. The jazzy arrangement allows the Sunshine Superman to showcase a different side to his vocal. It’s as if he’s drawn inspiration from the beat poets as he delivers the cinematic and cerebral lyrics.

The Piccadilly Line was initially a British psych duo that featured Rod Edwards and Roger Hand. They were augmented by top session musicians including Danny Thompson, Alan Hawkshaw, Herbie Flowers and Harold McNair. In 1967, the duo released the album The Huge World Of Emily Small. It was arranged by John Cameron who co-produced the album Ron Guest. There was a warmth to the music that had a nostalgic, slightly psychedelic sound. One of the highlights of what’s now regarded as a cult classic is How Could You Say You’re Leaving Me?

Prior to joining King Crimson in 1970, Gordon Haskell released his only solo album Sail In My Boat In 1969. It was produced by Jimmy Duncan and featured arrangements by John Cameron. One of his finest arrangements on this sought-after rarity is Boat Trip where tender, impassioned vocal paints pictures against beautiful sweeping strings on this hidden folk gem.

John Cameron wrote and arranged the stunning ballad If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind for Edwards Hands’ 1969 eponymous debut album. It was produced by George Martin and featured many of the members of Picadilly Line who combined pop, rock and psychedelia.

When saxophonist and flautist Harold McNair recorded his Flute and Nut album for RCA, he wrote Barnes Bridge. Just like the rest of the album it was arranged by John Cameron while it was produced by Sandy Robertson. The album was released in 1970 and a year later, Harold McNair passed away aged just thirty-nine. This track is a poignant reminder of a truly talented musician.

For many people, Tony Christie’s Avenues and Alleyways brings back memories of TV drama The Protectors. It was the theme tune to the series  that ran between 1972 and 1974. This iconic single was arranged by John Cameron and written and produced by Peter Callander and Mitch Murray. From the opening bars it’s 1972 again. Instantly, the memories come flooding as the global secret society set out to protect the innocent and catch the guilty.

Half Forgotten Daydreams is a track John Cameron wrote, arranged and recorded for Voices In Harmony. This library music classic was released by KPM in 1973. Lush strings are to the fore as this beautiful wistful arrangement meanders along.

Lesley Duncan released a cover of the Goffin-King composition A Road To Nowhere as a single in 1969. It was arranged by John Cameron and produced by Mickey Keen. The way she delivers the lyrics it’s as if she’s lived and experienced them. It’s a powerful and moving rendition of a song that was also released as a single by Carole King in 1966.

John Cameron was reunited with producer Mickie Most for Hot Chocolate’s single Emma and also worked on the group’s 1974 album Cicero Park. The title-track features on the compilation. It features lyrics full of social comment delivered by Errol Brown and a tough, funky and soulful arrangement where synths and strings add the finishing touches.

Heat Haze was written, arranged and recorded by John Cameron, and featured on Afro Rock, an album of library music released by KPM in 1973. Elements of funk, fusion and psychedelia are combined to create a trippy track on this library music classic.

Closing Folk, Funk and Beyond-The Arrangements Of John Cameron is Always and Forever by Heatwave. It’s a gorgeous ballad that was produced by Barry Blue and arranged, orchestrated and conducted by John Cameron. He plays a big part in what’s without doubt the group’s finest single. This is the perfect way to close the compilation.

John Cameron is, without doubt, one of the finest British arrangers of his generation. Proof of that are the twenty-four tracks on Folk, Funk and Beyond-The Arrangements Of John Cameron. This lovingly curated compilation features twenty-four tracks from the sixties and seventies. It was compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and will be released by Ace Records on ‘26th’ May 2023. It’s a peerless compilation that’s all killer and no filler.

This new compilation features a tantalising taste of John Cameron’s work. For newcomers to his music this could be the start of a voyage of discovery. There’s all his arrangements including the many soundtracks he scored from 1969 onwards. Then there’s his work as a producer and the library music he recorded. Especially for KPM where he features on classics like Voices In Harmony and Afro Rock. They’re a reminder of the multitalented John Cameron a legendary figure in British music whose career began in 1966, and is still going strong fifty-seven years later. A fitting tribute to the great man is Folk, Funk and Beyond-The Arrangements Of John Cameron.

Folk, Funk and Beyond-The Arrangements Of John Cameron.


1 Comment

  1. Great to read a profile on someone so important to the music but not so well known outside the inner circle.

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