Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mike Stuart Span - Timespan (1967-69)

A band with a confusing name and a confusing history, the Mike Stuart Span did manage to record a classic British psychedelic single in 1967, "Children of Tomorrow." With its driving power chords, squealing guitar leads, and haunting harmonies, the song struck a classic midpoint between hard mod-pop and the early psychedelia of UK groups like the Pink Floyd and Tomorrow. The problem was that hardly anyone actually heard the record, as it was pressed in a run of 500 copies on a small independent label. 

The Brighton group had been around since the mid-'60s, and recorded a few other singles for Columbia and Fontana with a much more conventional pop approach. There was actually no one named Mike Stuart in the act, which began to rely much more upon self-penned psychedelic material in 1967. Most of this never got beyond the demo/Peel session stage, though. The band was pressured by management to make an out-and-out pop single in 1968 that flopped, helping to squelch any prospects of the musicians asserting themselves as a significant presence in the British psych/prog scene. 

In the late '60s, the Mike Stuart Span were actually featured in a BBC TV documentary entitled A Year in the Life (Big Deal Group), which charted the band's successes and (more commonly) failures over the course of a year. By the time it aired in September 1969, however, the group had changed their name to Leviathan, signed with Elektra, released a few singles, completed an unreleased album, and broken up. Nothing else they recorded matched the brilliance of "Children of Tomorrow," though most of their original material was infused with the same yearning for some sort of just-past-the-horizon utopia. But they left behind a number of demos that demonstrated a promising ability to wed hard psychedelic guitars with a fair knack for melody and harmony. Interest in the band increased in the '80s when "Children of Tomorrow" was featured on a few psychedelic compilations. An entire album's worth of tracks, culled from singles, demos, and a BBC session, finally saw the light of day in the mid-'90s.

Fifteen tracks from 1967-1969 (some from the very end of that span were recorded when the group were known as "Leviathan"). "Children of Tomorrow" and its B-side are the only two of these items that saw official (and very limited) release; the rest are taken from demos and a 1968 session for John Peel on the BBC. While "Children of Tomorrow" is the unquestioned highlight, much of this is pretty fair pop-psych. It takes a more raucous guitar-based approach than many of their psych contemporaries, only faltering when the band occasionally opts for a hard blues/soul approach. If you like British cult bands of the time such as Tomorrow, or are in the market for psychedelia that dips the usual spacy lyrics and full harmonies in guitars that owe a lot to late-'60s Who and Yardbirds, you'll be satisfied with much of what's on tap here.
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