May 16, 2009
ELMER GANTRY'S VELVET OPERA - S/T (DIRECTION/CBS 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve + 8 bonus
Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera picked up on the British psychedelic movement after supporting The Pink Floyd as a soul/blues band called 'The Five Proud Walkers', the lineup was Richard Hudson (Hud) on drums, Colin Forster on lead guitar, Jimmy Horrocks (Horovitz) on organ and flute, John ????? (bass) and Dave Terry on vocals and harmonica. The boys took inspiration from the experience and it wasn't long before the change of both music and image. They gigged for a while playing blues based material,but gradually got interested in more free-form stuff. John ???? was replaced by John Ford and the band searched for a new name. Velvet Opera was chosen initially, which was amended to Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera within days after Dave turned up to a session wearing a long black cape and a preachers hat and had to endure some piss-taking from the rest of the band (Elmer Gantry was the fictional hero of a Sinclair Lewis novel and 1960 film about a preacher). The name stuck and Dave became Elmer. By this time Elmer, influenced by the music of John Cage, was making experimental taped backing sounds and using signal generators on stage in the act. The band began to get quite a following and played clubs and university gigs all over the country and at London venues like the Marquee and 100 club and Electric garden. They would also occasionally play at the Speakeasy where Jimi Hendrix would jam with them, also people like Jeff beck and Eric Burdon. The band had been recorded independantly for a while by Southern Music Publishing, who had their own, four -track, studio in Denmark Street, and it wasn't long before they had secured a record deal with CBS's "Direction" label. The problem was that Southern Music had originally signed them as a bluesy/jazzy band and they were not very keen on trying to get new, more riotous stage act on disc.
The group were persuaded to do more "regular" material. The first recording was the song, written by Elmer, that the band were best known for, 'Flames'. The record was on jukeboxes all over the country and was covered live by bands as diverse as "The Joe Loss Orchestra" and "Led Zeppelin", in fact Jimmy Page recently told Elmer that Flames was the only non-Zep number that they included in their early stage-act (Robert Plant also included it in his 2001-2002 tour). However, for the average radio listener the song was too far ahead of its time and despite live popularity and numerous radio plays the song only managed to achieve number 30 in the charts. Direction did however, take faith in the band to record second and third singles and more importantly a self-titled album. The group's second single, "Mary Jane" was taken off the BBC playlist after they realised that the song was the slang term for Marijuana. The third single, Volcano, was written by Howard & Blakely, who had written hits for Dave Dee etc. After three singles and the album, major success had still not been achieved....[to be continued]