CAMERA OBSCURA #3
by Mark S. Tucker
This PSF column is named not after Nico's LP nor the several indie bands who claimed the sobriquet but after my 50-issue samizdat from the ‘80's (some of which were issued as cassettes), titled for the actual camera obscura precursor to photography. I merely twisted the parlance to mean "focus on the obscure."
HARUMI Harumi (1968 / Verve Forecast)
In my callow free-ranging youth, I remember running across Harumi in some murky half-assed bookstore on the outskirts of Hollywood, grabbing it because it was a 2-LP gig, was cheap, had psychedelic artwork, and seemed exotic enough to be worth checking out. Anticipation ran high. When I got back home and threw it on the record player, all that changed. “What the fuck???” was the first reaction. The second was to put it aside for years, then listen to it again, have the same reaction, and store the damn thing once more. In fact, the only reason this two-fer is making it into this Camera Obscura column is because it’s one of those items we Baby Boomers are now tending to get nostalgic about, mooning over the relic as a remnant of how goofy and pretentious The Great Hippie Era could be.
There’s a complete black-out of data on this shebang, and I’m pretty sure I know why: it’s most likely a side product of studio jazz musicians, who (way back when) were putting out as side work anything psychedelic that could be sold to stoned longhairs hungering for “trippy” materials to ear-glom over a hazed-out weekend. Back in the '60's and '70's, jazzbos were heavily involved in sessioneering for rockers (think Rascals) and understood there was more money to be had in pulling the hippies in along with all the coffee shop hep cats, jazz’s natural prey.
In fact, I doubt there was even a Harumi. For one, it’s a woman’s name in Japan, and our Harumi here is definitely male (is it politically correct to say that in our LGBTQ-sensitive age?), though the appellation could just be a lark. Whomever Harumi was, he was a half-assed singer backed by fairly accomplished musicians. The first of the two LP's is a collection of middle-of-the-road rock compositions while the other features two side-long ‘freak-outs,’ “Twice-Told Tales of the Pomegranite Forest” and “Samurai Memories.” The latter is what most listeners get behind, kind of an Amon Duul II-ish improv thing with “Harumi” speaking his native tongue as a jazz-rock groove progresses for 19:15. It’s chee-zee enuff to have made it into a Swedish Erotica porn loop while sufficiently stable to be genuinely interesting, perhaps the kind of rock-jazz-prog thing for those who also thought Nik Racevik (a.k.a. 'Pascal' and etc.) was the bee’s knees, and he was interesting in a loopy amateur sorta way.
“Pomegranite Forest,” on the other hand, is pure bullshit- Harumi and another guy sitting around, faking profound insights and dawning revelations (heeeeey!, they’re zennies!), sounding like they might be stoned but probably aren’t, rambling on about nothing, not singing, just trying to wax philosophical from junior high school as the musicians mail in their contributions. The first LP’s short compositions vary in quality, the second also, but "Samurai" is definitely of interest. No one’s going to stop the presses lauding Harumi as Great Lost Vinyl Bullion ‘cause it ain’t. It is, however, worth checking out, front to back. If nothing else, it'll hand you a laff... but it just might also pique your Oddity Button.
WORLD OF OZ World of Oz (1969/Deram)
An early and still prime entry in the pop-prog catalogue, though almost no one knows about it, is this 1968 masterpiece of Bee Gees-oriented orchestral rock. The Deram label, in view of the Moody Blues’ immense 1967 success with Days of Future Passed, of course wanted another big charter and signed these lads on, hoping for the best, even to the point of appointing David Anstey - who created the timeless Future Passed cover - the liner chores. Despite the group cognomen, the music and lyrics don't really have all that much to do with L. Frank Baum’s famed creation but do base themselves in fablery, fairy tales, and other fantasy modes to bring across love songs loaded up with poignancy and whimsy.
Anstey’s art depicts a quartet, though a sextet figuration has been identified by Wiki and others: Christopher Robin (vocals/guitar), Tony Clarkson (bass), David 'Kube' Kubinec (guitar/organ), David Reay (drums), Geoff Nicholls (organ), Rob Moore (drums). I’ve no clue if ‘Christopher Robin’ is the gent’s real name or if it’s taken from the Pooh books, but Chris had a VERY Bee Gees tone to his larynx... and, sorry, I dig all the band's work up to and including Main Course but couldn't tell Robin from Barry from Jehosaphat if a mauser was put to my head - I just dig the gents, I'm not creaming my jeans over 'em - so you’ll have to determine whom he most sounds like on your own. No less than four singles were issued, and “Muffin Man” made its way to the Top 10 in America and across the Atlantic, though I never heard it on Los Angeles air. What I did hear back in the day was “King Croesus,” and it knocked me into bliss, so I rushed out and nabbed the 45.
After that, ‘cause the B-side, “Jack”, was just as good, I bought the LP, and not a song here is less than excellent. Perhaps the closest comparative might be The Bee Gees’ same-year Odessa double-release mixed with enough of the Moodies and others to draw in ears from connoisseurs of the prog and pop ilks (would that Eric Carmen coulda written like this!!!). “King Croesus” remains my favorite (mellotron!), though “Like a Tear” comes in a very close second, but, whenever I sit down to listen to World of Oz, I never listen to less than the entire LP. Jonathan King, the discoverer and namer of Genesis, wrote the liner notes, entirely appropriately, and there are elements of the famed Gabriel group throughout (especially the use of flute). If you have any leaning whatsoever towards prog and psych, ya can’t go wrong with this one, trust me.
And I haven’t Clue One about what later happened to the individuals, save that Kubinec formed the first Mainhorse, titled 'Mainhorse Airlines', with Patrick Moraz, which became just ‘Mainhorse’ under Pat’s hand... minus Kubinec. I also have Kubinec’s solo Some Things Never Change, not a bad LP (has a rather impressive line-up, incl. John Cale and Chris Spedding), “Just Another Lone Ranger” the stand-out, and know the guy’s a cult figure in Europe. Whatever the reason for that, however, escapes me save perhaps for his involvement in this LP and other ventures in his proggier daze...er, ‘days.’
KENSINGTON MARKET Avenue Road (1968 / Warners – 7 Arts), Aardvark (1969 / Warners – 7 Arts)
Though now completely unknown, Kensington Market was one of the first Canadian rock bands to fully develop a sound to the side of the Anglo-Amero markets and included a couple of guys – John Mills-Cockell and Eugene Martynec - who would become popular, the latter of whom achieved a fairly durable place in the North 40 annals. Bernie Finkelstein managed the group and was able to convince Warners to sign ‘em, thus Felix Pappalardi was very providentially brought in to produce both releases, which overflow with trademark Pappalardi-isms.
As Felix had done with Cream, a plethora of Romanticisms were injected into Kensington Market’s already troubadoric wont. Mountain’s future hetman was classically trained and knew his way around songsmithing as well as pulling things together, so the combo benefitted mightily through his presence. Felix was coming into his more than ample powers, having tackled not only Cream and The Youngbloods but also the obscure Bo Grumpus. Avenue Road was his fourth production gig before moving on to Cream’s drop-dead classic Wheels of Fire.
I suppose the overall tone of KM’s work would be best described as a combo of madrigal (Canada’s a subject of the Crown, after all) mixed with rock with Ang-Am folk with Americana, which is not solely the province of the U.S.: we share the continent with all the ridiculously talented Canucks, y’all. The prevalent mood is mellifluous and wistful, and the orchestrations (by Pappalardi) are often exquisite. “Colour Her Sunshine” displays a good deal of soul beyond that, and there are progressive tendencies throughout the repertoire, in “Phoebe” strongly so.
Aardvark’s “Help Me” stars Mills-Cockell’s Moog, and is a distinctively quirky one-off, the only such cut written by the band. Aardvark boasts a way cool front-cover diorama of the noted creature backed by a cartoon painting on the reverse, the two pieces by Bruce Meek. Both LP's hold up EXTREMELY well even these nearly 50 years later and will captivate the sophisticated listener as well as the yeoman... just so long as you’re not a member of Kiss Army or a Ted Nugent or Cannibal Corpse devotee. The albums have been re-released on CD (often pricey; CD's go in and out of print), and the vinyl’s also available at Amazon and such. Are they worth laying hold of? Oh hell yes! But forget gorging the collector market beyond its already bloated place in the sun- hit YouTube instead or record ‘em from a friendly vinyl fanatic’s collection, then use the coin you saved to buy some champagne or cognac. They're that kind of albums.
Also see Camera Obscura 1
Camera Obscura 2
Camera Obscura 4
Camera Obscura 5
Camera Obscura 6
Camera Obscura 7
Camera Obscura 8
Camera Obscura 9
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|