Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dead Sea Fruit - Dead Sea Fruit (1967)

Combining the deadpan wit of the Bonzo Dog Band and the social-conscious lyricism of the Kinks, Dead Sea Fruit helped to bring the British Invasion of the 1960s to France. Formed in 1966, the group spent three years based in Paris thrilling French audiences with their hook-laden songs. Although all but two members relocated to Dakar, Senegal, electric bassist/guitarist/vocalist Arthur Marsh, who had replaced founding member Christopher Hall in early 1967, returned to England after three months when club owners demanded that they stick to cover tunes. Dead Sea Fruit reached their apex in 1967, when their tongue-in-jowl single, "Lulu, Put Another Record On," reached the top position on the British music charts. Their self-titled album was released the same year.

Dead Sea Fruit (1967)

It's hard to believe that a talented outfit like Dead Sea Fruit couldn't catch a break in their native UK.  Formed in 1966 the original line up featured keyboardist Si Clifford, multi-instrumentalist Christopher Hall, singer Clive Kennedy, bassist Chris Lansdown, lead guitarist Dave Lashmar, and drummer John Errington-Townsend.  Most English bands looking to make it on the continent headed for Germany, or the Benelux but after losing Hall (he was quickly replaced by Arthur Marsh), these guys decided to relocate to Paris.  As a cover band they became an in-demand staple on the city's club scene, touring throughout France, picking up considerable publicity, including numerous television appearances.

1967 saw the band signed by the French AZ label, making their debut with a four track 7" EP "LouLou (Put Another Records On)"  (AZ catalog number EP-1126).  The title was kind of funny given the song was actually entitled 'Put Another Record On'. 

"LouLou (Put Another Records On" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) LouLou (Put Another Records On)   (Clive Kennedy) - 
2.) Psychiatric Case   (Christopher Hall) - 

(side 2)
1.) Kensington High Street  (John Errington-Townsend) - 
2.) Seeds of Discontent    (Dave Lashmar) - 

In the UK the band was signed by the Polydor-affiliated Camp label releasing 'Put Another Record On' b/w 'Kensington High Street' (catalog number 602 001) as a single.   Without a great deal of promotion the single proved a surprising hit, topping the UK charts.  


The single's English success saw ATCO pick up US distribution rights, though the company was smart enough to flip the single so the 'A' side was 'Kensington High Street' (ATCO catalog number 45-6489).

The single's UK success led Camp management to graciously finance a supporting album.  Released in 1967, "Dead Sea Fruit" the combination of the prim looking cover photo, goofy liner notes, and some of the oddball song titles ('Psychiatric Case', 'Seeds Of Discontent' and 'Mr. Coffee Pot') would have left you with the impression these guys were nothing more than Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band wannabes.  While there were definitely some Bonzo influenced moves, the overall results were far more impressive.  With Lashmar and Kennedy responsible for the majority of material (Townsend and Hall each contributed one song), the album was definitely a product of the times.  

- The album opened up with a glorious slice of Kinks-styled social commentary  'The 8.15 And The 5.45'.  Great stabbing rhythm guitar pattern ...   how come nobody seems to play chords like this anymore?
- Normally vaudevillian styled pop songs leave me cold ('Winchester Cathedral') and while 'Put Another Record On' wasn't something I'd want to hear on a regular basis, it wasn't as bad as most of them.  Curiously, when released as a single the title was modified to 'LouLou (Put Another Records On)'.  The band apparently opened their live shows with this one.
- Original band member Hall's only contribution, 'Psychiatric Case' was also the song that bore the strongest comparison to the Bonzos.  I want bother quoting it here, but the lyrics were pretty amazing.
- Unlike most of the collection, 'Mr. Barman' played it pretty straight; in this case a mildly jazzy ballad.   Surprisingly impressive and a nice platform for Kennedy's voice.
- Gawd only knows if they were serious, or just being smart asses, but 'Matters' found the band appropriating folk-rock for another set of social commentary.  
- Kicked along by Clifford's electric organ, 'Seeds Of Discontent' started out as a blazing slice of gritty garage energy, before abruptly shifting into a waltz, followed by some jazzy scat singing, back to garage mode, etc.   Yeah, weirder than weird, but also well worth hearing and perhaps my favorite song on the album.
- Kicked along by a nice Marsh bass pattern, 'I'll Come with You' started side 2 with a swinging, bluesy number.  
- 'I've Been Away Too Long' found the band playing around with a Caribbean beat.  You wouldn't expect much from the experiment, but the results were actually pretty entertaining.  Not exactly rock and roll, but kinda' cool.
- 'Mr. Coffee Pot' was interesting for the psych-influenced backing track.  Coupled with the left-alone-again lyric it was one of the album highlights.
- 'Kennedy's 'Time Waits For No One' was another first-rate rocker.  Kicked along by Townsend's killer drums and nice electric keyboards this one should have been tapped as a single.  It was far better than 'Put Another Record On'.  Shame it didn't happen. 
- And now for a slice of English music hall ...  yeah 'I Should Have Guessed' sounded like a "White Album" throwaway.  Yech.
- Every time I heard 'Kensington High Street' it remind me of another band.  The comparison was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn't make the connection.  And then one day I was listening to an oldies station that was playing The Vogues 'Five O'Clock World'.  There it was.  Imagine The Vogues had they been locked in a closet with The Kinks for a week and you'll get a feel for the song.  Fantastic slice of pop that should have been a massive hit. 

This won't appeal to everyone and I'll readily admit it took awhile to grow on me.  That said, anyone into eclectic mid-1960s English pop (both of you), will want to check it out. 

"Dead Sea Fruit"
(side 1)
1.) The 8.15 And The 5.45   (Dave Lashmar) - 
2.) Put Another Record On   (Clive Kennedy) - 
3.) Psychiatric Case   (Christopher Hall) - 
4.) Mr. Barman   (Clive Kennedy) - 
5.) Matters   (Dave Lashmar) - 
6.) Seeds Of Discontent    (Dave Lashmar) - 

(side 2)
1.) I'll Come With You   (Dave Lashmar) - 
2.) I've Been Away Too Long   (Clive Kennedy) - 
3.) Mr. Coffee Pot   (Dave Lashmar) - 
4.) Time Waits For No One   (Clive Kennedy) - 
5.) I Should Have Guessed   (Clive Kennedy) - 
6.) Kensington High Street   (John Errington-Townsend) - 

1968 saw the release of a final,
 non-LP single:

- 'Love At The Hippiedrome' b/w 'My Naughty Bluebell' (Camp catalog number 602 004)

Frustrated by limited sales and their inability to carve out a unique image, by 1969 the group had effectively called it quits.  Clifford and Kennedy returned to the UK.  Lashmar, Marsh, and Errington-Townsend headed off for Dakar, Senegal where they found themselves back on the club circuit.  Marsh's stay was brief.  Within a couple of months he was back in the UK.

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