Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Tomcats & July - Recordings And Demos

The Tomcats were a London-based quintet (originally named The Thoughts), who, in turn, were formed out of the remnants of a skiffle band called the Playboys. Among those passing through one early line-up of the Tomcats was John "Speedy" Keen, who played drums in the band. The group didn't have any significant success in England, but in 1966 they accepted an offer to perform in Spain with what proved to be their final line-up, which was drawn from a band called Second Thoughts. 

They were a hit in their live performances in Spain and suddenly found an eager audience for their music--the band charted four EPs of material that ranged from covers of contemporary hits ("Paint It Black" etc.) to Spanish language songs. The group returned to England in 1967, and, keeping the same line-up, altered their sound and their name to July. A 1997 CD called The Tomcats from the Essex label collects the best covers from their four Spanish EPs and fills it out with the contents of a 1964-vintage EP by the Second Thoughts.

July started out in the early '60s as an Ealing-based skiffle act working under the name of the Playboys, and then metamorphosed into an R&B outfit known as the Thoughts and then the Tomcats, through which John "Speedy" Keen passed as a drummer. The final Tomcats lineup, which evolved out of an unrecorded band known as the Second Thoughts, found some success in Spain when they went to play a series of gigs in Madrid in 1966. They returned to England in 1968, the group's lineup consisting of Tony Duhig on guitar, John Field on flute and keyboards, Tom Newman on vocals, Alan Jamesplaying bass, and Chris Jackson on drums, and changed they their name to July. The band lasted barely a year, leaving behind one of the most sought-after LPs of the British psychedelic boom (on the Major Minor label in England, and Epic Records in the U.S. and Canada). Their sound was a mix of trippy, lugubrious psychedelic meanderings, eerie, trippy vignettes ("Dandelion Seeds," "My Clown"), and strange, bright electric-acoustic textured tracks ("Friendly Man"), with some dazzling guitar workouts ("Crying Is for Writers") for good measure, all spiced with some elements of world music, courtesy of Tony Duhig (who has since come to regard July as an embarrassing element in his resume). Their first single, "My Clown" b/w "Dandelion Seeds," has come to be considered a classic piece of psychedelia while the album is just plain collectable, despite some shortcomings. The band separated in 1969, with Duhig moving on to Jade Warrior, Newman becoming a well-respected engineer, with Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells to his credit, and bassist Alan James later working with Cat Stevens and Kevin Coyne, among others. Of the various reissues, Bam-Caruso's 1987 Dandelion Seeds is the most accessible, with Essex's The Second of July consisting of previously unissued recordings from 1967.
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