When discussing rarely heard rock artists, the “enigma” word has certainly been overused, but British singer-songwriter Trevor Billmuss is truly a mysterious figure. After an album of his tunes was released—and failed to sell—Billmuss vanished. The LP, Family Apology, is now quite obscure. It’s also a stellar example of orchestrated psych-folk, and is worthy of wider exposure.
In September 1970, Family Apology was issued by the UK label, Charisma Records. A single consisting of two songs from the LP also came out at the time. The album was produced by John Anthony (Roxy Music, Van der Graaf Generator, Queen). Anthony was an in-house producer at Charisma, a label that primarily released prog rock records.
Billmuss wrote the thirteen tracks that make up the Family Apology LP. The material is very British, with ornate orchestration and the occasional acoustic guitar. To my ears, he sounds like a cross between Donovan’s flowery acid folk, and the surreal, darkly whimsical work of acid casualty, Syd Barrett. Many of Billmuss’s compositions concern the universal themes of love and heartbreak, but he’ll throw in wonderfully head-scratching lines like, “the crisis of decision ‘bout your nephew’s circumcision was tragic relief” (“September”). The old timey arrangement and British humor heard on the cutting break-up song, “Whoops Amour!,” brings to mind the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and I can totally imagine a young Robyn Hitchcock covering “The Fishing Song,” which includes the lyric, “flippy flappy fishy in the bathroom.” In album opener, “The Ground Song,” Billmuss sings about class, the desire to escape a family so dysfunctional that he’s “dying to do my famous little disappearing act,” and the randomness of existence. The surreal poetry of the first verse will later turn into a rousing refrain.
The ground is in my hand and my hand is in my elbow
And my elbow is in my arm and my arm is in my shoulder
And my shoulder is in my chest and my chest is in my carcass
And my carcass is on my legs which are standing on the ground
Neither Family Apology nor the 45 charted. It seems that a combination of factors contributed to Billmuss’s lack of success: Charisma was chiefly a prog rock label, and probably didn’t know what to do with Billmuss; as great as the LP is, the time for this sort of music had essentially passed.
Wrong place, wrong time.
The gatefold sleeve (click to enlarge).
During this period, Billmuss was frequently paired with progressive rock bands for live gigs, which surely didn’t help matters. In June 1971, a single with a new tune on the A-side was released. It would prove to be Trevor Billmuss’s final record.
I found almost nothing online about the man or his career. My guess is that he was signed by John Anthony, who also did A&R work for Charisma, but that information also proved elusive. Anthony, engineer Robin Geoffrey Cable, and the two session musicians that appear on Family Apology all left the music industry decades ago and couldn’t be located. In The Tapestry of Delights, the author claims to have made contact with Billmuss, writing that the singer-songwriter “moved to America and informs us that today he is a very happy ‘unfamous’ man.”
I did find a photograph of Billmuss in which he looks a bit older than the Family Apology era. In the pic, he’s wearing a button that says “Virginia is for lovers”—cheeky, yes, but perhaps also a clue as to where he settled?
Whatever his rationale for leaving it all behind—which might always be unclear to fans of his lone album—Billmuss did his “little disappearing act” and was gone.
Family Apology has yet to be reissued in any format. As the LP didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it’s now pretty rare, though copies turn up for sale now and then (try Discogs and eBay). A vinyl rip of the record is streaming below.
Here’s the track listing:
1. The Ground Song
2. Reflections on Lady MacBeth
3. The Viennese Carousel
5. Sunday Afternoon in Belgrave Square
6. Hungarian Peasant Girl
7. Epitaph for Matthew
1. Whoops Amour!
2. The Flaming Bossa Nova
3. Casual Friends
4. Pousette Et La Citrouille
5. The Fishing Song
6. Wise Eyes
The image of Trevor Billmuss and an unidentified woman on the back cover of ‘Family Apology.’