Dear Mr. Time
Dear Mr. Time
The new band's direction would be progressive rock, its goal to develop and record its own material. Dear Mr. Time was born. Under Direct Management (headed by Bryan Reeve, another former ‘John MacIntyre’ member), Dear Mr. Time put their own slant on contemporary classics like ‘Eleanor Ridgy’ and ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ and hit the road.
With the British college circuit, the gateway to prog-rock success, a virtual closed shop to untried provincial groups and managers, the band turned to Europe, where Chris and John had played before with the Shoo String Band. On the back of a mailed demo and a one-off gig in Munich, they stayed on in Germany, knocking on doors, doing whatever gigs came up, and then repeated the process in France, looking up old contacts. The strategy paid off. It was the atmospheric use of instrumentation, including 12 string guitar, glockenspiel, recorder, flute, bowed bass and even an old bellows-operated harmonium that set the band apart.
They quickly gained a following in clubs like the P.N. Club, Munich, and Paris's Golf Druout, becoming one of the most popular British bands playing the northern French circuit that autumn. During their December 1969 tour, gendarmes lined the stage in Lille to keep the crowds back, John Clements remembers. On that same tour, the band appeared on French TV, filmed live at Golf Druout. But it wasn’t all ‘sex, drugs and rock ’n roll’.
“Generally, crashing out in the transit, or in a shared room steeped in athlete's foot and competitive farting was the order of the day,” Chris reveals. “By the time we reached the French Alps that Christmas, our roadie’s feet were so bad, we threw his shoes and socks out of the window. ‘Geronimo,’ he cried in the morning, leaping out after them, only to disappear in eight feet of snow. He hadn’t realized that our digs were on a slope and the snow at the back was a storey deeper than that at the front.
It took us half an hour to dig him out, happily none the worse for wear.” At home, too, the band were gaining ground. Having won the East Anglia heat of that year’s Melody Maker ‘Search’ contest, they were hotly tipped for the grand final at the Lyceum, until their pre-existing management contract ruled them out (participants had to be contract free). “It was a big blow, not least because the top prize was a recording contract, but there was no way we were going to dump Bryan,” says Barry Everitt.* Undaunted, the band added sax player/multi instrumentalist Jim Sturgeon (another ex-Shoo String Band member) to their line up and put together a concept album of their own material, ‘Grandfather’, on Bryan’s domestic Akai tape recorder. The result was good enough to impress Rolling Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller, when Bryan hawked the demo round London.
Miller, who had also worked with Traffic, Family and Spooky Tooth, was already committed months in advance, but introduced Brian to his accountant, Mike Weston, who happened to be setting up his own label, Square Records. Mike numbered Chris Blackwell of Island Records among his clients. The recording would be done at Island’s Basing Street Studios, distribution would be through EMI. It sounded impressive.
The band signed. Recording began with Mike Weston producing and Phil Brown, later to become one of Britain's top sound engineers, working the faders for the first time. However, it soon became apparent that the studio time available was mostly 'downtime' between other acts. Chris recalls, “As mind-blowing as it was to be breathing the ether of Led Zeppelin, Free and Curved Air, it was also very frustrating. Sometimes we waited weeks between sessions and, when we did get time, things were rushed.” “The last track was ‘Light Up A Light’.
We did the whole thing in a morning, including the mix,” John Clements remembers. “I think it was the only song the band had any input on, mix-wise.” Featuring their own music for the first time, Dear Mr. Time returned to the road that autumn, supporting ‘Ginger Baker’s Airforce’ in October and co-headlining at London’s Marquee in November for rock label ‘Vertigo’. “Signing with Vertigo would have been a great move, but our contract with Square was for three years and the album hadn’t even come out yet,” Barry Everitt explains. Originally scheduled for December, it was mid February 1971 before ’Grandfather’ was finally released.
Hearing the finished product for the first time, the band were appalled. "It wasn't how we remembered it at all," says Chris. “It sounded worse than the cheapest budget album, which, at that time, was pretty bad, the vinyl cut was as flat as a pancake, absolutely awful. We were devastated." Nevertheless, the press were predominantly positive.
Music Business Weekly said the band showed a great deal of originality, while the highly influential Melody Maker enthused; “As album conceptions become more ambitious, so standards of judgement become harsher. This one makes it. It’s an album to listen to. The ideas incorporated in the lyrics are imaginative.
The music is carefully stitched into the fibre of the album. Although a large amount of instruments is used, there’s nothing that’s superficial...” Buoyed by such reviews, Square could fairly have been expected to grab the promotional initiative, but no marketing materialised. Even in the band’s local stronghold, record shops were unaware of the album’s release. Not even the band could buy it.
The record contract that had offered so much, had brought only disaster. All faith was lost. Totally disillusioned and contractually hamstrung, Dear Mr. Time disbanded soon after. For the next forty years ‘Grandfather’ would remain a forgotten time capsule.
Chris again: “We got on with our lives. I combined the business side of music with playing, meeting up with John again in ‘Marty Wilde and the Wildcats’, Barry went back to college and then into the fine arts world, Dave into farming and Jim into retail before becoming a watercolour artist, though all three still performed semi-professionally. I never played the record, or spoke about it or the band, and I doubt the others did.” Then, in the new millennium drummer John Clements saw original copies of ‘Grandfather’ selling on ebay for up to £200/$300. Later, pirated CDs appeared, at first from Germany, and then worldwide.
John phoned Chris. Chris tracked down Dave Travis, the current copyright owner of the Square Records catalogue. As luck would have it, Dave had also inherited the original master tapes. Between them, they compiled a presentable package.
Two years of false dawns later, specialist label Wooden Hill/Tenth Planet saw the light and ‘Grandfather’ was officially re-released in February 2010. “The new CD sounds ten times better than the original vinyl,” says singer Barry Everitt. “Whoever remastered it for Wooden Hill did a great job. Oh course with digital technology all our shortcomings and contemporary production tricks are laid bare, but the atmosphere is there.” To cap it all, in 2011 German company Mayfair Music released a special new vinyl edition of ‘Grandfather’. “Talk about full circle,” Chris smiles. As original reviewers had anticipated a second album, their modern counterparts posed the relative question, ‘what if...?’ Barry, Chris and John decided to find out. Chris: “We were pretty rusty.
Barry still sang, but John and I hadn’t played since the 90s, quite literally. The strings on my old, battered acoustic blistered my fingers as I struggled to get back into songwriting. There was also the logistical problem of living counties apart, so working individually was the only way, swopping ideas by email and phone. Actually, most of Barry’s vocals were laid via the internet, direct from his home studio to mine.
Once the songs were there, John brought his kit down to replace my programmed drums, Barry followed to re-sing some of the vocals first hand, and I was left to add the finishing touches. Considering how the whole thing was done, I’m pretty pleased with the result. At the very least the new album, ‘Brontosaurs and Bling’, can claim its place in the record books; it has to be the most long awaited follow up album in history!” Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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