Just What You Want - Just What You'll Get
The Gospel According To John's Children
As told by Richard Mason (October 1997)
Do you remember when popular music was fun? No, nor do I, and who cares anyway? Like John Beverley, I was too busy playing with my Action Man. Of course, I recall all too well the heady delights of the great pop music of the '60s and '70s. What we had to put up with in those days! Paul and Barry Ryan! Wayne Fontana! Vince Hill! Acker Bilk! Petula Clark! Ken Dodd! Matt Monro! Englebert Humperdinck! Kenny Ball And His Jazzmen! New World! Tony Christie! The Seekers! The New Seekers! And so on. It was shit then and it's shit now. Blessed as I am with total and impeccable 100% recall of the charts since I was only this high, you can take it from me that, contrary to popular belief, groups like Beatles, Stones, T.Rex, Who, Kinks, Slade et al actually had hardly any hits to speak of. Which meant the real class acts never got a look in at all. True icons of pop like John's Children are nowadays relegated to a condescending historical footnote, something along the lines of 'Oh, didn't Marc Bolan used to be in them for about a week? They were the worst group ever (their manager said so and he should know - after all, he managed the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton!) and all their records that weren't withdrawn before they were even released were banned, especially that one "Desdemona" which Bolan wrote in 15 seconds about some bird showing her knickers?' That's them all right!
Granted, there are those who'll assure you that John's Children invented punk rock, what with their violent behaviour on stage and frivolous songs. (Don't let Screaming Jay Hawkins hear you say things like that if you ever want to taste another birthday cake!) Then again, there are them as would have you believe they encapsulated the very essence of the anarchic counter-culture of the 1960s, given as they wore to calling their records things like "Orgasm" and "Not The Sort Of Girl You Take To Bed", out-Whoing The Who in the onstage antics department (and getting thrown off The Who's '67 German tour as a result) and posing naked for photos except for a few daisies covering their bollocks. Perhaps they only merit a mention nowadays because of Bolan; how many groups can you name that had someone in the ranks who went on to be both famous and dead? (The Crickets? The Flowers Of Romance? Johnny & The Moondogs?) Maybe they only really appeal to that pitiful legion of warped individuals, the record collectors, whose idea of fun is to stay home of an evening drooling over over their moronically rare promo-only copy of whatever, happy and secure in the knowledge that at least no other fucker can get their grubby musicological mits on it and commit the ultimate heresy of actually playing it!
Maybe not. I like John's Children. I like them a lot. Reason being they did some great songs (with and without Bolan) and made a fine upstanding racket. Guitars and drums are thrashed within an inch of their lives; vocals are intoned with, one might hazard a guess, a grin on the face of the protagonist. Lyrics are generally disrespectful and crazed with no pretension towards any parallels with the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, thank fuck. Musically, it's eccentric, loud, irreverent and to the point, too sharp and angular for period psychedelia, too bizarre and disrespectful to fit in anywhere else. There are a few nice tunes, but the group thoughtfully never allow them to dominate the general mayhem. Musicianship is not as bad as some would have you believe. They sound as if they can actually play but would rather enjoy themselves, which is no mean feat.
When Bolan joined the group, he had never played electric guitar before and there is a primitive, appealing "kid with a new toy' feel about the guitar playing on the records he appears on that contrasts starkly with the sloppy Chuck Berry-isms he churns out by the bucketful on the T.Rex recordings. Andy Ellison's singing is fey, feisty, mostly in tune and absurdly English; a radio-friendly take of "Desdemona"reveals him pronouncing the 'roll' in 'rock'n'roll' more like 'rairl'! At a BBC radio session version of Derek Martin's R'n'B stalwart 'Daddy Rolling Stone', he's at it again! Not only this, but the lyric so obviously grates against his cultured palate that halfway through he relinquishes the conventional vocal role altogether and resorts to grunts and shouts that evoke some kind of martial arts ceremony. To their credit, the other group members catch on fast and lock hard into a complimentary rhythm that sees out the song, its origins long since forgotten in the joyous heat of the moment.
In these days of empty digital proficiency and good old-fashioned musical snobbery where it's all been done to death and recycled one more time with a jolly little backbeat underneath for those who can't see the trees for the garden furniture, I personally find John's Children a breath of stale air, a product of an era that remains for the most part misunderstood, either cloyingly romanticised or short-sightedly vilified, but which refuses to go away and be quiet on its own in a corner with a good book. Needless to say, they've been incorporated into the ongoing never-ending '60s revival industry and if you're so inclined you should by now be able to obtain copies of two CDs entitled Smashed! Blocked! and Petals And Flowers respectively that not only constitute a virtual Complete Works Of but also include informative sleevenotes with reminiscent contributions by surviving group members including Andy Ellison. These CDs are out on New Millenium Communications with serial numbers PILOT 12 and PILOT 18 respectively.
There are also various articles that give you all the finer points of historical detail I either don't know or can't be asked to write about here; Vernon Joynson's excellent book THE TAPESTRY OF DELIGHTS subtitled "The Comprehensive Guide To British Music Of The Beat, R & B, Psychedelic And Progressive Eras 1963-1976" is one such source. (If you don't want to read it, find someone you dislike a lot and drop it on their foot. It weighs almost 2 kilos; not bad for a paperback.) The other major source of information has to be the all-knowing Brian Hogg's sleeve note to the compliation entitled "Midsummer Night's Scene" which came out on the Bam-Caruso label in 1987 (KIRI 095 vinyl, MARI 095 CD). Unfortunately, like all releases on that label, it's long since deleted and almost as hard to find now as some of the originals. (Yes, I've got a copy.) But what the hell - isn't that just what the whole John's Children business is really all about?
NOTE: there's also YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME, a book by Simon Napier-Bell (a grade A asshole referred to in the book by Keith Moon as 'Simon Napier-Bollocks') who was JC's manager. Publisher is New English Library in 1982, ISBN 0450055043. It's a hilarious read.
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS||WRITE US|