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Meet the original Nirvana: A pioneering sixties psychedelic rock duo

In the early 1990s, there were a lot of people who were buzzed by thinking (and talking ad nauseam) about Chaos theory and the odd possibility that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could cause a tornado somewhere in Texas. Where exactly? No one was quite sure. But it all seemed utterly feasible until, that is, one considered the devastating effects of unguarded flatulence on the planet. What lethal twisters could a fart from Tullibody unleash upon Bridlington or even Land’s End?

Though it’s fair to say from small actions strange consequences can occur. For example, when Nirvana released their “ground-breaking,” “seminal,” “high-octane,” and “essential listening” album Nevermind to near global acclaim in 1991, I’d hazard a guess, Kurt Cobain and co. didn’t think they’d find themselves served with a lawsuit over infringement of the name “Nirvana.” But they did.

As it turned out, Nirvana was, in fact, the name of a “psychedelic rock pioneering” duo who had moderate success in the late 1960s with four albums and a few singles before splitting-up in the early seventies and then reforming in 1985.

This Nirvana consisted of Irish musician Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Greek multi-instrumentalist Alex Spyropoulos. The pair met in London’s La Giaconda coffee bar in 1965 (a young David Bowie also frequented the place). They hit it off big time and became almost inseparable over the next few years—spending their time together continuously writing songs, performing, and digging the groovy scene of the capital’s swinging sixties nightlife.

Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos became Nirvana. They were the core around which other sessions musicians did orbit. They signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records who released the band’s science-fiction concept album The Story of Simon Simopath in 1967.

The band at this point was supplemented by Ray Singer (guitar), Michael Coe (French horn and viola), Brian Henderson (bass), Peter Kester, David Preston, and Patrick Shanahan (drums), and Sylvia A. Schuster (cello).

A music press review at the time gave this album four stars and described the LP as “delightful,“tuneful,” “competent,” and “good listening.” While another review asked the prescient question “Nirvana is a rather nice name don’t you think?”
Nirvana—early album reviews 1967-68.
A second album, The Existence of Chance Is Everything and Nothing While the Greatest Achievement Is the Living of Life, and so Say ALL OF US (or simply All of Us) was released the following year. The problem of recreating the album sound in concert meant Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos had to call in extra musicians to play live.

All of Us spawned Nirvana’s biggest hit single “Rainbow Chaser” (#1 in Denmark, #34 in UK)—most recently sampled by teen hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks for their song “Dreamers” in 2012.

After the success of “Rainbow Chaser,” Nirvana were invited to collaborate in a performance with Salvidor Dali on a French television show, Improvisation On A Sunday Afternoon. Campbell-Lyons described what happened in an interview with journalist and writer Francis Wheen for the Observer newspaper in July 1994:

[Nirvana’s] brief was ‘to look and sound as psychedelic as possible’ which, with the aid of a few drugs, they managed with ease. Campbell-Lyons takes up the narrative:

‘We were one of four bands, each in a corner of the room, who were to perform pop, jazz, experimental and North African traditional music all through the show. The cream of Parisian society, artists, models, dancers and writers were used as ‘floaters’ to just wander around the room. On the walls hung gigantic prints of Mao, the late President JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Picasso, and a large wooden cross with Christ wearing a velvet robe. There was also an antique oak table, on which they placed a selection of the most expensive chocolates in beautiful gold boxes, and at the opposite end of the room was a sculpture, in bronze, of a picador. At its base were about 40 glass jars of paint and an assortment of brushes.’

When the show began, at 2pm, there was no sign of Dali. About 20 minutes later, as panic was beginning to set in, he made his entrance – ‘with two beautiful Bengalese tigers on a dual lead and, on each arm, ravishing twin blonde girls of about 18 years of age’. The great man was dressed in a bright red velvet suit, set off with dark red leather riding boots.

For the next two hours, while Nirvana and the other musicians worked through their repertoires, Dali hurled paint round the studio with surrealist abandon. By the end of the broadcast, everyone’s clothes and musical instruments were liberally spattered.

‘That afternoon,’ Campbell-Lyons concludes, ‘was, and still is, the high point of my performing days.’

His record company, Island, was rather less delighted: it wrote to the French TV company demanding damages and costs for cleaning the black paint off Nirvana’s cello.

After such a climax, anything else was bound to be a bit of a comedown.

Though Nirvana had deservedly won some success, unfortunately poor sales saw their deal with Island canceled and their third album To Markos III (which featured the song “Black Flower”) released on Pye Records in 1970.

Two further albums followed Local Anaesthetic (1972) and Songs Of Love And Praise (1973) before Spyropoulos quit the band and Campbell-Lyons continued on his own releasing Me And My Friend (1974). But that wasn’t the end of Nirvana. Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos got back together in 1985, writing songs and touring.

When another Nirvana emerged from Seattle, Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos were “none too pleased when they discovered the existence of Kurt Cobain’s band.”

As Francis Wheen described it in his interview with Campbell-Lyons:

[A] solicitor to the Musicians’ Union despatched a polite letter of protest on their behalf, but to no effect. Deciding that stronger firepower was needed, Campbell-Lyons flew to Los Angeles and hired a West Coast lawyer with the glorious name of Debbi Drooz to fling writs at Cobain and his record company.

After seven months of traipsing through Californian courts, the case was settled. He isn’t allowed to disclose the terms of the deal, but according to other sources Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos were paid $100,000 (minus Drooz’s 30 per cent fee).

Cobain also gave an undertaking not to trespass on their territory by dabbling in psychedelic rock. Not that this was likely to happen anyway.

The chorus of a typical Campbell-Lyons ditty runs thus: ‘He wants to be in love, he wants to be a butterfly/And he is flying high like the birds into the sky . . .’ It’s hard to imagine Kurt Cobain – whose songs have such titles as Rape Me and Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip – wanting to ape that.

Though still peeved at having to share his group’s name – ‘Nirvana means something beautiful, but Cobain was making music out of the sadness and badness of his life’ – Campbell-Lyons has no particular animus against the Seattle band. ‘When I saw Cobain playing an acoustic guitar on MTV I thought he was brilliant. He had lovely chord shapes.

‘In fact,’ he adds, ‘we recorded one of their songs recently – Lithium. With a string quartet.’

After the out of court settlement, the original Nirvana considered recording an album of Nirvana (UK) singing songs by Nirvana (US). Cobain’s tragic suicide put paid to that idea.
See and hear more psychedelic delights from Nirvana, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
02:36 pm
That time Neil from ‘The Young Ones’ released his ‘Heavy Concept Album’

Hippies make the best capitalists. They are the passive-aggressive masters who use their artificial sense of moral superiority to sell you shit you don’t need. You know the kind of shit. Shit, they claim that will save the planet, or feed your soul, or flow in tune with your karmic wholewheat astrological aura, kinda thing.

In a survey I’ve just made up at random, 99.9% of all hippies are capitalist bastards. Take The Young Ones for example. Here was a household consisting of four students from four very different backgrounds. There was a punk called Vyvyan, a radical-leftie-progressive-socialist-Cliff Richard-fan called Rik, a mature student-cum-yuppie-businessman called Mike, and a hippie named Neil. There was also rumored to be a fifth roommate, but we don’t talk about him. Now, you might think out of this small group that the punk or the mature student would go on to make the most money and have say, a pop career that sold literally dozens of records across the world and lasted for days if not weeks. But you’d be wrong. It was, in fact, Neil the hippie who saw the potential in marketing his miserable lentil-stained life and selling it on to an unsuspecting public.

And very, very successful he was at this, too.

It all started, you see, when Neil the hippie (aka the divinely talented actor Nigel Planer) recorded what some might describe as a kind of “novelty record” called “Hole in My Shoe” in 1984. Planer had astutely chosen to cover a song, which in many respects, captured aspects of Neil’s miserabilist, psychedelic personality. The song had originally been a hit for the rock band Traffic in 1967.

Planer used a little help from his friends to record his single. He collaborated with Dave Stewart, a prog rock keyboardist with bands like Uriel, Egg, and National Health, and singer Barbra Gaskin. Stewart, not to be confused with the other Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics, had scored a UK #1 with Gaskin on their cover of “It’s My Party” in 1981. Neil/Nigel’s “Hole in My Shoe” reached #2 on the UK charts. Its success led Planer, Stewart and Gaskin to go one further and record Neil’s Heavy Concept Album.

Neil sings ‘Hole in My Shoe’: Today the 45rpm record, tomorrow the 33⅓.
Neil’s Heavy Concept Album was the most splendid spoof LP since, well, The Rutles in 1978.

This was a concept album that paid homage to the, er, “concept” of a concept album, but didn’t actually have any real concept other than the unifying character of Neil who riffed on a variety of surreal adventures (a trip down a plughole, a meeting with a potato, a movie advert, and reading a poem to his plant) and singing a few classic, beautifully-rendered songs.

The whole album brilliantly parodied the musical form of those trippy conceptual albums released by progressive and psychedelic bands during the sixties and seventies. From the early musings and backward guitars of the Beatles, through Gong (Pip Pyle plays drums on the record), King Crimson, Pink Floyd, the Incredible String Band and a hint of Frank Zappa. The front cover mimicked that of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request album, while the back, in red with liner notes and four images of Neil, copied the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but instead of a guaranteeing a splendid time for all, Neil offered that:

A heavy time is guaranteed for all.

More heavy concepts, after the jump, man…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
01:26 pm
Fuse: Rick Nielsen’s awesome pre-Cheap Trick psychedelic rock band
10:50 am

An early shot of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.
Long before he helped Cheap Trick take over the world by way of Budokan, guitarist Rick Nielsen recorded a record with another Rockford, Illinois band called Fuse. Originally going by the name The Grim Reapers, Nielson was instrumental in convincing another Rockford band Toast and Jam to join forces and Fuse were born from that rock and roll union sometime in 1968.

According to Nielson, he had already secured a record contract at the time Fuse was coming together and they recorded a couple of singles on Smack Records in 1969, “Hound Dog” and “Cruisin for Burgers.” Fuse drummer Chip Greenman recalls that their manager at the time, Ken Adamany, had been pitching the band to different labels hoping to land them a record deal. Later that year—and again according to Greenman—Fuse scored the opening slot for a Fleetwood Mac gig in Chicago. Luckily Mort Hoffman, who was doing A&R for Epic Records was in the audience and told the band that he had to sign them. As all of the members of Fuse had yet to turn 21, their first record contract was signed by their fathers in July of 1969. Awww. Here’s more from Nielson on the early days of Fuse—whose name came about at the insistence of Epic as a requirement in order to finalize their record deal:

The guys we were with were all superior musicians—they’re probably in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now. Tom and I had the stick-to-it-iveness and positive thinking to know what we wanted to do, so we split the band and went off to hang out in England. That Fuse stuff was my finest work. We stand by it and wished Cheap Trick played that well!

Fuse would record their only self-titled album in 1970 and it is full of loud, raucous psychedelically tinged rock with Nielson’s ever present guitar squalls raining down throughout its eight tracks. With influences from The Yardbirds and Cream, there isn’t a single jam on the record that isn’t rock solid.

More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb
10:50 am