Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Fenmen - Sunstroke (1961-1967)





The Fenmen made just four rare singles under their own name in 1964-1966, but were notable players in the British Invasion on a couple of counts. At the beginning of their recording career, they operated as the backup group in Bern Elliot & the Fenmen, who had U.K. hits in 1963 and 1964 with covers of "Money" and "New Orleans." Not long after their final single, two of their members became key components of the psychedelic lineup of the Pretty Things. Their meager recording legacy as a self-contained outfit shows them to be a good vocal harmony group strongly influenced by American stars the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, though they didn't start to record original material until shortly before they broke up. 


The Fenmen formed in early 1962 in a suburb in Kent, England, the act originally getting billed as Bern Elliot & the Fenmen. With Elliot as frontman, they had a number 14 British hit in late 1963 with the oft-covered "Money," and a smaller one with their follow-up, a version of Gary "U.S." Bonds' "New Orleans." They also did an EP and a couple live tracks on the compilation At the Cavern, their recorded repertoire dominated by covers of American rock and soul songs. 

Elliot and the Fenmen separated in 1964, leaving the Fenmen to develop a different style heavily derivative of American pop/rock vocal harmony outfits. A couple flop Fenmen singles for Decca in 1964 and 1965 found the Four Seasons flavor especially strong, including a cover of the Seasons' smash "Rag Doll." The move to CBS for a couple of singles in 1966 was no more successful, including a cover of the Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'" and, more impressively, the Wally Waller composition "Rejected," which showed the emergence of a more original style building off the group's vocal harmony base. 

The Fenmen ended, however, at the beginning of 1967, when rhythm guitarist/singer Waller reconnected with childhood friend Phil May, lead singer of the Pretty Things. After the two wrote "The Sun" together, May invited Waller to join the Pretty Things, with Fenmen drummer/singer John Povey also joining the Pretty Things lineup. "The Sun" would appear on the Pretties' 1967 album Emotions, and Waller and Povey would be an important part of the band's transition from an R&B-oriented group to a far more psychedelic one in the late '60s and early '70s. The Fenmen's two Decca singles can be found on the Bern Elliot & the Fenmen CD compilation The Beat Years, while three of the four tracks they released on CBS (as well as some BBC sessions and unreleased recordings) are on the Fenmen compilation Sunstroke.





Bern Elliott - Vocal
Alan Judge - Lead/Vocal
John Povey - Drums/Vocal
Wally Allan (Alan Wally Waller) - Vocal/Guitar b. 9.4.1944, in Barnehurst, Kent
Eric Willmer - bass guitar








The Fenmen are known mostly for backing Bern Elliot, who had a couple of hits in the U.K. near the beginning of the British Invasion, and for two of their members (Wally Waller and Jon Povey) joining the Pretty Things as that group evolved into a psychedelic outfit. The Fenmen did do some recording on their own in the mid-'60s, however, and this CD compiles some of their most worthwhile odds and ends, as well as seven 2009 recordings done by Waller and Povey especially for this project. The ten '60s tracks on this 17-song CD are naturally the ones that will attract the most interest, including three from rare 1966 singles; three from a June 28, 1966 BBC radio session; two January 1965 studio outtakes; and two from a March 1963 acetate backing Elliot. Those checking out this compilation because of the Pretty Things connection might be surprised to find the Fenmen a quite poppy and vocal harmony-oriented outfit, influenced by the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons at least as much as British Invasion groups. Covers of the Beach Boys' "The Warmth of the Sun," and "California Dreamin'" make those influences obvious. But they're put to more impressive effect on the 1966 Waller-composed single "Rejected," an intricate and moody number that's by far the best recording the Fenmen managed on their own. Though the 1963 demo acetate covers of "Mashed Potatoes" and "Do You Love Me" by Bern Elliot & the Fenmen suffer from rough sound quality, they're exuberantly and surprisingly infectious versions of these oft-covered American soul-rock classics. The seven new recordings undertaken by Waller and Povey for this CD have a gentler, folkier, and more nostalgic tone than the '60s material, and include a reworking of the first song Waller wrote with the Pretty Things' Phil May, "The Sun" (which appeared on the Pretties' 1967 album Emotions). The package includes extensive track-by-track notes by Waller and Povey, along with numerous vintage pictures.
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