Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kaleidoscope & Fairfield Parlour - Please Listen To The Pictures (The BBC Sessions 1967-71)

The saga of Fairfield Parlour, though brief, is confusing because the group was really the same as Kaleidoscope (the British band called Kaleidoscope, not to be confused with the psychedelic band called Kaleidoscope from California who was active in the same era). Around 1970, Kaleidoscope changed their name to Fairfield Parlour, though the music was pretty much the same whimsical, fairy tale-ish blend of harmony pop/rock folk with late-'60s Beatles and Pink Floyd psychedelic flavors. They issued a 1970 LP on Vertigo, From Home to Home, which continued the directions they had staked out in Kaleidoscope, with slightly heavier rock arrangements. Shortly after its release, they worked on a double-LP concept album, White Faced Lady, based on the story of a troubled young woman who becomes a movie star, but descends into tragic death. Plans to join the RCA roster stalled when their contact at the label departed. The album was not issued at the time, though it finally appeared in the '90s. In 2000, the double-CD compilation The Fairfield Parlour Years -- billed, confusingly, as Kaleidoscope -- combined the From Home to Home and White Faced Lady albums, adding bonus tracks from non-LP releases and other sources.

It's rare that bands as obscure as Kaleidoscope -- and Fairfield Parlour, the group Kaleidoscope evolved into -- are honored with a comprehensive CD retrospective of their BBC radio sessions. Despite never having a chart record, however, they did enough radio work to generate this 22-song disc of BBC cuts from 1967-71 (and even this doesn't contain all of it; some BBC performances remain unfound). A little over half of this comes from the era in which they were releasing music as Kaleidoscope (1967-69), and the rest from the time their discs bore the name Fairfield Parlour (1970-71). This material isn't a revelation -- the arrangements are pretty similar (if at times less ornate) than the ones used on their studio releases, and there's just one song that didn't make it on to record back then, the innocuously unmemorable "Jump in My Boat" (from a '69 session). The liner notes even admit that backing tracks supplied by their record company's producer were sometimes used, and off-air recordings of four 1968-69 tracks have pretty abominable fidelity (one of them cutting off before completion), though everything else sounds good. It's a shame about those four off-air recordings, as in some ways they're among the more interesting items here; the version of "Faintly Blowing" was cut more than a year before the release of its studio counterpart, and two April 1969 tracks have the group playing live before an actual audience. Nonetheless, it's a valuable archival release for collectors of the lighter side of British pop-psych, particularly as Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour didn't release tons of material, though the earlier stuff holds up better than the somewhat more mainstream, poppier Fairfield Parlour-era tracks. You can't fault the packaging, which boasts a 16-page booklet crammed with information.

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