SEEKERS, CATS AND CONVERSATIONS

When looking back at a year in pop, there’s a strong pull to pick out the gems, the keepers, the game-changers. All well and good, but such a focus ignores what the record buying public actually forked out for. Recall how The Beatles crowning achievement “Strawberry Fields” b/w “Penny Lane” was kept from the UK #1 spot by melodramatic hit “Release Me” by middle-of-the-road balladeer Engelbert Humperdink. The year was 1967. Today, as part of Vinyl Connection’s series on that fertile year, we look as a trio of LPs all rooted in the folk-pop tradition.

By the time Seen In Green was released, The Seekers had accumulated a string of hits across the globe. Formed in Melbourne in 1962, the quartet achieved great success in their home country as well as the UK and US—both vastly bigger markets. Ask anyone of a certain age throughout the English-speaking world and they’ll happily give you a verse or two of “Morningtown Ride” or the chorus of “Georgy Girl”.

Seen In Green was their last album before Judith Durham decided to seek a solo career (pause for groans) and the group disbanded (for a while). Despite having one of the best psychedelic covers of the entire year, Seen In Green was really a folk-pop record with a few nice orchestral touches here and there.

One song where this works really well is the Bruce Woodley/Tom Paxton penned “Angeline is always Friday” while “Chase a Rainbow (Follow your Dream)” (another Woodley song) has nicely scored “Penny Lane” brass. Elsewhere, the Paul Simon/Bruce Woodley song “Cloudy” (Bruce got around, didn’t he?) is a pleasant pop song, though not in the same class as “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” which The Seekers also cover on this LP. “Can’t Make Up My Mind” is a rather fine dream-pop confection with subtle strings and an arrangement that tips its boater towards psychedelia without ever getting all paisley or wild or anything. Overall, a pleasant slice of mid-60s folk pop…with a great cover.

*

Steven Demetre Georgiou was just seventeen years old when he released his first album in early 1967 under the first of his adopted names, Cat Stevens. Later that year, having turned eighteen but mired in legal wrangles and management discord, Cat recorded New Masters.

Despite having the writer’s terrific version of “The First Cut is the Deepest”—sold to PP Arnold for thirty pounds (!) and a massive hit for her and later, for Rod Stewart—New Masters is a pedestrian collection of pleasant pop songs with unspectacular arrangements. Highlights are the aforementioned “First Cut” (which really is a great song, no matter what you think of either Cat or Rod), bouncy opening number “Kitty”, and “Moonstone”. This last is much more robust than “Moonshadow” yet hints at where Cat Stevens was heading. Like David Bowie’s debut LP from the same year, this album is for serious fans and the sixties-obsessed only.

A brief aside before we more on. I’ve shared a little about the Australian World Record Club previously, noting how their in-house design team produced new covers for overseas releases. Vinyl Connection’s copy of New Masters is, in fact, the WRC version, seen here next to the original.

Just a couple of months younger than Steven Georgiou, Ian David McGeachy shared things other than year of birth and an early start on the London folk scene. He also changed his name for cosmetic reasons–to John Martyn–and released his first album around the time of his eighteenth birthday. An early signing on Island Records (and its first white solo artist) his debut was London Conversation, released in 1967 (though a number of sources list 1968).

London Conversation sees Martyn alone with his acoustic guitar, performing folk and blues influenced songs with an appealing naivety. Yet the voice—still unravaged by time and whiskey—is strong and textured. A sapling rather than a gnarled oak, but true and engaging none-the-less. Also clear are the young guitarist’s instrumental chops. His guitar playing shows blues and English folk influences; one can hear Bert Jansch in numbers like “Ballad of an elder woman” and the title track.

There are a number of originals, most of which are solid rather than exceptional. I like “Run Honey run” which has a certain minor key poignancy, and “London conversation” itself—a terrific song. Where we hear something of young John stretching out is in the only song boasting instrumentation other than voice and six-string. “Rolling home” has flute, dulcimer and a drone-like flow as the singer wanders towards his rest, perhaps with a generous volume of Taj Mahal Indian Lager under his belt.

“This time” is another original that drinks from the John Renbourn/Bert Jansch well to pleasing effect; I enjoy the changes of pace and rhythm in this one. A competent cover of Dylan’s “Don’t think twice” closes out the album.

London Conversation can be confidently recommended as a solid sixties folk album and though it would not be the place to launch John Martyn explorations (that would be Solid Air—a stone classic), it is deserves an honourable mention in the 1967 roll call.

 

22 comments

  1. John Martyn’s debut from 1967 – this album is like a snapshot, frozen in time, of a lost moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And a moment found, when listening to the album. But as you say, only a moment as Martyn moved on and explored his own take on folk-rock.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The John Martyn cover has always been striking for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s good, isn’t it? Guess he enjoyed conversing with chimney pots.

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      1. I’d buy it for the cover alone, as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not familiar with any of these. John Martyn is someone I’ve only recently started listening to despite having had ample opportunity to delve into his discography over the years. Still trying to make it past Solid Air, which, as you point out, is a stone cold classic.

    Never really took to Cat Stevens. Never really considered his stuff to be anything more than expertly crafted.

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    1. If you like Martyn’s Echoplex guitar sound, check out the CD of ‘Live at Leeds’ (which has a bonus disc version that’s good value, ‘Live at Leeds and More’). Of the earlier stuff, I like ‘Bless the Weather’ too, while ‘Grace and Danger’ is regarded highly by ‘those who know’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cheers for the recommends, Bruce – duly added to the list.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooooh, good stuff. Nice 50th year look back, Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Michael. As we are almost half-way through the year but well under 50% of the VC 1967 holding, I guess there’ll be more!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely love Seen in Green!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hooray for a vote for the Seekers! I was surprised what a solid soft-pop-folk album ‘Seen in Green’ was, listening again.

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  6. You planted a thought, and after singing some Seekers to Z on the walk back from the market, I started to think about the diversity of albums in ’67. In the ‘Blue’ corner we have the above and I’m reckon that Sam Rivers’ Dimensions and Extensions deserves to be in the ‘Red’ corner. Trouble is, there are so many corners in ’67 that it’s looking like some crazy all in wrestling cage fight.

    Thanks.
    DD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. So far we’ve covered around 18 albums from 1967 here, but barely scratched the surface really. Although I have a couple of Sam Rivers, the one you mention is not amongst them, so it is unlikely to enter the VC cage.

      Hope Z enjoyed some Aussie pop history with ‘DD sings the Seekers’.

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  7. Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane as a double A side – that’s got to be among the strongest singles ever, even if it didn’t hit the elusive #1!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too true. It’s an unfair world.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m with J., not failiar with any of these specific records. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very, very good point you make about only reviewing the historically important cuts – like imagining the UK charts were full of great punk records in 1977, or the US charts full of barn-storming proto-rockclassics in ’69 – they weren’t, it was just all the same old dross.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Joe, and thanks for supporting that ‘take’. Part of the reason for this series on ’67 (and it could apply to any year of course) was to show the diversity, much of which gets lost in time.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ll have to give John a go. I’ll get around to bracket time for both him and Bert. I jumped on the Cat train after this one and enjoyed the ride until he disappeared. Heard of the Seekers but I remember another band The New Seekers. So CB got confused.

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  11. Favorite fact from this post: I’d had NO idea Cat Stevens wrote “The First Cut Is The Deepest”; I’d always considered Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow’s versions just *meh*, but LOVE Stevens’ own rendition. Thank you. (Stevens’ later albums, “Teaser and the Firecat” and “Tea for the Tillerman” were in frequent rotation during my university years.) John Martyn (and his chimney pots) are new to me. My second favorite fact from this post: I never knew The Seekers were Aussies…thought they were British! My sister had a 45 of Georgy Girl that I always loved; I enjoyed dipping into some cuts from Seen In Green.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always happy to augment life’s rich pageant with important facts. 😉

      I like Cat’s version too.

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