Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Fenmen - Sunstroke (1963)





Essentially the story of The Fenmen after the departure of frontman Bern Elliot, this collection could be a real odds n’ sods assortment appealing to the beat group fanatic, but this isn’t the case at all. Oh, there are all the trainspotter details of BBC recording dates, the unissued acetates and great liner notes on each track by members Wally Waller and Jon Povey, but there’s also some simply outstanding music here, old and new with a lot of replay appeal!

You haven’t really heard The Fenmen until you’ve heard these recordings. Taking on a California harmony sound late in 1964, the quartet impress in their ability to match the Beach Boys and Mamas & Papas on covers of those groups’ hits of the day. This alone would be accomplishment enough for an English act, but with originals in the same league composed by Waller it becomes a story of what might have been. As great as the Pretty Things with Waller and Povey were to be, with recordings as tight as b side “Is This Your Way” on the last Fenmen single, you have to regret that these four guys would never record together again. In a vocal harmony hall-of-fame The Fenmen would be right up there with The Hollies and The Tremeloes. Which isn’t to ignore the playing, as Alan Judge’s lead is totally sharp while in service to the whole, and the rhythm section as solid as any in the land.

Interwoven with the cuts from 1965-66 are new recordings by Waller and Povey (as The Bexley Brothers), and in returning to themes of sun and seasons make a great counterpoint to and conversation with the vintage tracks. Fittingly the title track blurs the lines as being the completion of a 1966 instrumental by Waller. “California Will” is a modern day jewel to stand alongside the previously mentioned “Is This Your Way”. With lead guitar by Dick Taylor and harmony vocals by the two Fenmen this could’ve been the best recording of 2009. Sounding a little like a sunbaked Chris Rhea, Waller is magnificent. To round out the package of seventeen tracks, both sides of the very first but unreleased Bern & Fenmen recording are included. Showing that among beat groups they had no better, “Mashed Potatoes” b/w “Do You Love Me” were recorded March 15, 1963! Again, what might have been … “Do You Love Me” would launch The Tremeloes later in the year. ~  Rebecca Jansen



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