Much more than 2-Hit Wonder British pop rockers!
‘I Live For The Sun: Complete Recordings 1966-76’ by Vanity Fare (RPM Retro D960, 2 CD set, 2015)
Best remembered for their international smashes, ‘Early In The Morning’ (UK #8, US #12) and ‘Hitchin’ A Ride’ (UK #16, US #5), both released in 1969, the UK group Vanity Fare was much more than a pop band with two million-selling singles. Thanks to John Reed and RPM Records all the tracks released by the band between 1966 and 1976 have been compiled on this 2 CD set, supplemented by pre-Vanity Fare tracks released as The Sages and solo single sides by vocalist Trevor Brice . A total of 47 tracks of bright, sparkling 60s British pop rock sounding better than ever.
Vanity Fare consisted of a core trio: vocalist Brice, guitarist Tony Goulden and bassist Tony Jarrett, who had previously performed and recorded as The Avengers. The band had several drummers but the kit was manned by Dick Alix during their heyday. Brice was described as “Britain’s answer to Frankie Valli” by one commentator and indeed, Brice’s vocals do bring Valli to mind, especially on early singles like ‘In Her Lonely Room’ and ‘I Live For The Sun’, the band’s debut which made #20 on the UK charts with its light, breezy pop rock filled with gorgeous vocals. But Vanity Fare was quite different from Valli’s Four Seasons musically.
Vanity Fare’s sound evolved over time as the band’s music changed with the times, both lyrically and instrumentally. From the Four Seasons sound, Vanity Fare evolved to Beach Boys’ (who they later opened for) style harmony on performances such as ‘Waiting For The Nightfall’ (the b-side to ‘Highway Of Dreams’) which also features a driving beat, bass and drums thumping in lockstep and a gorgeous piano interlude, played by Nicky Hopkins, about a minute and a half in. The song features a great hook and has a very 60s vibe. The band’s cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Younger Girl’ features jangling lead guitar, delicate vocals and driving beat while remaining mostly loyal to the original. Likewise, a cover of The Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” builds from gentle acoustic guitar and vocals to flashes of electric lead guitar and pounding drums, creating its own “wall of sound”. Running more than four minutes and released only as an album track, it is evidence indeed of a band learning its chops.
The band’s fourth single ‘Early In The Morning’ was the game changer. Its harpsichord intro, played by recent group addition, keyboard player Barry Landeman, previously with Kinsington Lodge, is immediately identifiable. The bouncing beat gives way to a restrained guitar break before returning to acoustic guitar, harpsichord, bass and drums all while maintaining a delicate feel. The song, an international smash, was coupled with another keyboard and acoustic guitar driven tune featuring a harpsichord break, ‘You Made Me Love You’. Landeman’s addition certainly achieved the goal of filling out the band’s sound as further evidenced by Vanity Fare’s follow up, the infectious smash ‘Hitchin’ A Ride’ whose intro is as memorable as its predecessor’s. The bouncing piano and accompanying electric piano plus Brice’s gorgeous vocals are absolutely perfect on this light hearted gem which became especially popular among the California hitchhiking crowd. The back to back smash hits led to European and even a limited US tour among other rewards but the quest for another hit would prove elusive.
While the band would have no more smash hits their sound continued to evolve and some very impressive comparisons come to mind. Cases in point, both ‘Megowd (Something Tells Me)’ with its organ and electric piano, and ‘On Your Own’ with its organ, fuzz guitar and bass solo bring Traffic (and Steve Winwood) to mind and are indicative of the heavier direction the band was headed. ‘On Your Own’ seems an obvious a-side choice. Instrumentally it was the band’s strongest effort yet and was the omen of things to come, but it was relegated to a b-side.
The band’s b-sides became increasingly interesting as the band was given more freedom in their recording. The band felt they better expressed themselves with the original material contained on the bottom side of singles. Two 1971 b-sides, both originals, are particularly interesting. ‘Stand’ opens with a Doobie Brothers inspired guitar intro and features the first evidence of a wah wah pedal being employed by the group as well as an inspired percussion and piano interlude. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ features wah wah guitar and organ interplay as well as the ever present gorgeous vocals of Trevor Brice. The song has a percussion and bass break at the 2 minute mark before the guitar and organ return, this time the lead guitar wailing. A classic 3 minute rocker indeed, the single failed to chart at home or abroad.
The remainder of the collection is a mixture of mid-tempo pop rock tunes such as ‘At The End Of The Pier’ and ‘Making For The Sun’ and heavy rocking guitar driven rockers such as ‘Take It, Shake It, Break My Heart’ and ‘Fast Running Out Of The World’ as the band chased that ever elusive next hit. Though there were personnel and sound changes, throughout this document of the musical life of Vanity Fare several things are constants: first, the incredible vocal range of vocalist Trevor Brice; second, the quality of the songs released by the band; third, the ever evolving sound of the band.
‘I Live For The Sun’ is the absolute last word on Vanity Fare 1966-1976. The a- and b-sides of all 15 of the band’s recordings during the period are included as well as LP-only cuts. The collection features remastering by Simon Murphy and a 16-page color booklet with an essay by Andy Davis, complete track annotations as well as photos and other memorabilia, making this indeed the ultimate Vanity Fare collection. This set is essential to fans and collectors of 1960s and 1970s harmony pop rock especially and to fans of pop and rock of the period in general. Thanks again to RPM Records, UK for truly living up to its motto of “By Collectors For Collectors”!
Review made by Kevin Rathert/2015
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