BREAD LOVE & DREAMS:
Availability of their rare debut coincides with founder’s death
The name might at first suggest California ’67 flower-power or compatriot mainstreamers who hit on the first word for their moniker. But the truth is a bit different. Based on an Italian mid-50s ‘romantic comedy’ film (Pane, amore e fantasia), a Glaswegian-educated singer-songwriter met a female folk duo at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and ‘decided to record some demos together. We thought they sound good so we kept going’. For the first time all three of their albums are available at the same time.
This almost-unique configuration—not often a chap in a band is the odd one out, gender-speaking rather than other criteria—gelled from the off. After he did his set, Angie & Carolyn (as they were known then) played and their manager asked him if he wanted to join their demo session. They immediately realised that their musical styles were intertwined and shared. Bread Love & Dreams are often compared to the Incredible String Band, probably because of locale (though the Shindig special on ISB for example ignored them), or Dr. Strangely Strange but their quirkiness is less strident and potent though beauty is a key element of all three groups. They’re more like a collage of Loudest Whisper, Mark Fry, Roger Rodier, Wooden Horse, Trader Horne with a smattering of Pentangle. Even Pearls Before Swine for those seeking beyond the Atlantic.
David McNiven (vocals, guitar, flute, clarinet, harmonica), Angie Rew (vocals, guitar, African and European percussion), and Carolyn Davis (vocals, guitar) were fired up by a mutually creative spark. Rew told Seasons They Change (2010) that the early days were intense, rehearsing and gigging all the time anywhere they could, including an incredible eight shows per night for a fortnight in two clubs in snowy Cologne. A Turkish bouncer ‘adopted’ the girls and carried them with their guitars and amps under each arm between clubs. It’s often said that the debut was recorded in London, but in fact was taped in Edinburgh then Ray Horricks, a producer and A&R rep for Decca who saw them at the Fringe in ’68, took the tapes to London to add and mix early the next year. McNiven went there soon after to collect their advance for three albums: the princely sum of ten quid.
The eponymous Bread Love & Dreams appeared in October 1969, mostly songs that McNiven and Rew/Davis wrote prior to meeting. Always hard to find, it is now available via Talking Elephant (TECD195); Wikipedia, who should know better, lists an infamous Korean bootlegger as an official CD release. A dozen songs, filling all available vinyl space, ooze the period. One might dispute the placing of the opener (the album starts and leaves up- tempo) about binge-drinking and its hangover (Switch Out The Sun): ‘Yesterday I hit the bottle and today it hit me back’, but finger-picking and close harmonies are a good introduction. Virgin Kiss is more ISB style, the only track, with bongos about a magical moment with the poetically-named Isidora. Bass and strings add to the feel. The first sung by Rew, The Least Said, is about the ending of a relationship, and less directly on Until She Needs You (with McNiven’s backing vocals over violin/cello) also from the female perspective’s ‘reincarnations’, the only time across three LPs that they border on saccharine.
Jansch-style guitar and voice, with McNiven’s deep-toned yearning (perhaps he is the lyric’s Stranger) ‘down the estuary of Time’, are supplemented by wordless harmony for the longest track at near-six minutes (Falling Over Backwards). There is a Trees-like feel with harp instead of glockenspiel and Bridget St. John nature trope to Lady Of The Night, while side one closer Main Street is an almost jazzy group composition displaying harmonica and kazoo solos: reminds of the Rakes or Mungo Jerry sans new-fangled electric. Bass and bells open Artificial Light that nothing can replace the real thing. Its vocal style, over organ, suggests that maybe Melanie or Mary Hopkins with Apple clout could have put it in the charts.
Harp trills, choir-like vocals and unusual percussion adorn Mirrors that strums to Dylanesque lyrics (‘Turn around Stranger…’) about a war veteran returning to the aftermath of his country. It recalls the breadth of Beau or the late Mike Hart about human experiences. Poet’s Song is sometimes maligned in reviews as pretentious or where sensitivity hits overload, but it doesn’t strike this listener that way. Doesn’t the female vocal mitigate? It’s actually modest, note the title’s apostrophe; a rare acoustic solo over the strumming plus flute illustrate where the poet muses. Reviewers also mention the Scottish humour of The Yellow-Bellied Redback, maybe, I’m no expert, the pace is upped with bongos and percussive-like harmonies mentioning non-Scottish Chelsea, Hampstead or ‘any place with dusty hedges’ before the curious engineered ending. The closer 95 Octane Gravy is rollicking blues with barrel-house piano and harmonica. A consistently wide spectrum draws one in until the close: some call it a recipe for prog, the
permutations are endless.
Virgin Kiss b/w Switch Out The Sun was put out in August 1969 as a single (Decca F12958). They must have been sniggering as the title alone would have caused fusspot Auntie Beeb palpitations (we’ll hear more about Decca soon). It was the same month as Open Mind’s Magic Potion on Philips, Junior’s Eyes, Dr Strangely Strange’s first LP—all near lost until the CD era—plus Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking riding their crest to #12 in the charts. BL&D’s LP was issued in mono (red label) as well as the more common blue Decca label for stereo, with a light blue variant for America on the London subsidiary. Gigs with Tyrannosaurus Rex, Magna Carta, and Thunderclap Newman using The Who’s titanic PA still saw poor sales, so Davis left partly to write a solo album that seems unreleased, a contribution to Looking Glass (1972), and classical music projects.
One of the first foreign groups allowed in Franco’s Spain, censor-in-tow, they performed the premiere of their new album at a church in Antwerp in 1970; they’d taken 200 copies of it on sale or return and scuffles broke out before all were sold. Heavily featured on Belgian radio added to their substantial following there. Like ISB they worked with a theatre troupe, Traverse, forging new material that would appear on the third album.
Decca issued the duo’s The Strange Tale of Captain Shannon and the Hunchback from Gigha in November 1970. Although the band wanted it to be a double, it was split into separate releases. Horricks, who worked with the Human Beast—McNiven contributed clarinet and lyrics to their only album—and Davy Graham, produced again with engineer Derek Varnals. Pentangle’s Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums) were added with Allan Trajan on keys for the slightly-shorter-length nine titles that are uniformly of the period. In spite of being only a hired-gun, Thompson took the songs home each evening to work on them before each session. Davis returned to guest her high-pitched Purple Hazy Melancholy about lost first love and future hope. In spite of its more eye-catching hippy-swirl cover (German Decca preferred a head-shot of long-haired McNiven alone) and warm if stilted reviews (‘It has a basic tranquillity which is as commended as the obvious musicianship’ Record Mirror) sales again eluded them.
Harmonica and stranger-focused, still-pithy lyrics open about a girl of the era (‘She put out the sun…and tasted the opium sweet’ Hymn For Sylvia) set in the Ace Café in Neasden circa 1966, while Masquerade bowls in with electric guitar and swirling harmonies for a fictional ballad about a homicidal car thief. Sucking On A Cigarette modernises a Scottish 16th century sonnet with a free-wheeling middle section of horns, He Who Knows About All is amusingly about the bloke-we’ve-all-met who claims to know the secrets of the universe irrespective of what one tries to intersperse. Psych-style guitar and fuzz bass add to the menace.
Lewis Carroll is visited (The Lobster Quadrille) for sing-along zoological whimsy then into the catchy, jubilant Butterfly Land from Angie Rew’s childhood in Mexico with her diplomat father. It’s a colourful nature tapestry for a shared trip among the Aztec ruins, although the terrible poverty, unalleviated by the Church, remained in her memory when writing it ten years later. Her light love ballad Sing Me A Song is also very much of the time yet a stark contrast. The title track’s resonant cello sets the scene for McNiven’s recalling a clay-pipe-smoking mariner’s tales a-tumbling about the ‘sea-mist where sea and heavens kissed’, a wounded bird, flowers, woods and a hunchback in a cave on the Scottish island Gigha (pron. Giya). Its seven minutes point to the follow-up’s first side, ending with waves and crunching beach gravel for an LP building on the sure structure of the debut.
Very early sampled and looped vocals mixed with wide instrumentation including sax (by the uncredited Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum), horns, strings, sprinkles of organ, harp, flute, bongos, boogie, birds’ song, and footsteps recorded on Dover beach take us on a wonderful journey. At times ethereal and contemplative, at others seeking a place in their era, like its forerunner the album is more than just an interesting experiment during one summer week in 1970 at Decca’s West Hampstead studio. The band weren’t allowed to attend mixing sessions, only comment on the acetates until all agreed, and almost no time for overdubbing except David’s Fender Strat on one track and some tabla by Angie.
Neither album is intended as a concept piece: their range stimulates divergent thoughts for each listener. Originally conceived as a double, at which Decca baulked in spite of ISB’s success with Wee Tam and the Big Huge, the rest of the sessions were released as Amaryllis in July 1971 (both are on CD via Sunbeam). An early working title was Mother Earth (‘about the earth being destroyed but something positive emerges from the calamity’, the development of the earth as a microcosm of the stages of human life), but was changed because an American band had that name so was borrowed from the first name of their fellow-actress Amaryllis Garnett. It grew out of McNiven’s and Rew’s work in theatre after they married and honeymooned on Gigha that was privately-owned until 2002.
The title track filled one side for 22 minutes, but rather like ISB or Amazing Blondel is an amalgam of shorter songs into one vision. Rew’s Brother John mesmerises from the same landscape as Butterfly Land, the desolate beauty of a Mexican hermit’s shelter beside a tiny chapel, orange trees, and a neglected gravestone. Time’s The Thief (McNiven’s teen attempt to win a place at RADA) opens side two’s four songs, which recall the debut with embellishments, while My Stair-Cupboard At 3 AM is their only melody nodding to the West Coast ethos of this review’s first sentence. Its lyrics about isolation and paranoia are by the poet Lindsay Levy, set as an experiment to a jolly tune. The closer, Circle Of Night, was penned for label -mates Human Beast—their drummer John Ramsay was added for gigs in BL&D’s last stages. Like Mick Softley, McNiven had just returned hitch-hiking from Barcelona, where he briefly joined a band and learned Flamenco licks occasionally heard here. They continued to expand ideas and instruments but the album, in spite of some seeing it as their best, sold even less than before, so they called it a day a year or so later after touring Scandinavia, France, Spain, Belgium and Holland to wide acclaim.
Decca retained copyright of all the songs but lost interest by the third album, in spite of it being performed at Edinburgh’s Royal Court Theatre. Too few copies had been pressed only in the UK despite strong European interest due to touring and, with botched marketing t’boot, the album went unnoticed in spite of its messy eye-catching cover. It’s odd they weren’t on Decca’s more appropriate Deram to tour with East of Eden, White Plains or even Ten Years After. A similar fate at the hands of Decca, the label who declined the Beatles (ironically ’lest we forget, soon to be criticised for being liked by teenagers’ parents!), was suffered by Mellow Candle (‘evasive promotion’) and it’s now believed Amaryllis was a tax scam by the label. Huge batches were dispatched to Ceylon—when they were returned unsold (few inhabitants of pre-Sri Lanka had record players or even electricity of course) the band were expected to reimburse the label £19,999, 19s 11pence, against their first royalty statement of £20,000!! McNiven and Rew briefly joined an obscure Scottish rock band, then a Fringe Award First with the Wildcat theatre group in 1981 (who issued an LP that year with Rew) led to TV music contracts while his wife worked in theatre. In this century he taught music to children with special needs, like Nick Pickett after his turning his back on the biz due to Reprise’s disrespect of the artist.
Born in Dennistoun in 1945 and schooled in Glasgow, David McNiven’s first instrument was a banjo from his grandmother on which he immediately started writing. The only child’s parents worked in offices, and one played the piano the other the bagpipes. Playing clarinet and saxophone at school, he busked with the actor Bill Patterson (they met again later in the 7:84 theatre company which the latter co-founded). Playing in numerous rock and R&B bands—even a soul band on organ which he had to lug to gigs himself—the songwriter became increasingly influenced by Dylan, Cohen, Jansch, Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy, and also the ISB whom he often watched locally at a time when folk clubbers preferred songs they knew and sing along to! Just before Bread Love and Dreams he studied drama too while working as a bingo caller and bus conductor, and took a week off from factory work to see if he could get a deal or residency in the capital when he met the two girls as mentioned earlier.
He later wrote theme music for over twenty T.V. series including Rab C. Nesbitt (which he also appeared in), Naked Video, Ben Elton’s Happy Families (with the Halle Orchestra) as well as for Robbie Coltrane and Stephen Fry, also writing for BBC Scotland and theatre companies including Emma Thompson’s at the Fringe. Bread Love & Dreams reformed in 2008 on Angie McNiven’s 60th birthday. Espers turned up on their doorstep with backstage passes for their Edinburgh gig, while Time’s The Thief from Amaryllis was covered by Midlake as an influence.
Sadly David McNiven passed away in December at the age of 70 in Broughton, survived by his second wife Angie Rew and their children. The second album was a tad more mystical and the third New Age before that term became denigrated, but the debut shouldn’t be overlooked by current focus on the later albums because it holds up very well as a timeless effort that still fascinates today. ‘The first, like their career, is a study in glimpses of unfulfilled promise and underappreciated talent…Enjoy it if you come across it’, wrote Clem the guitarist of Nazareth. He adds that its effect differs according to what season it is heard in, a fair and rarely expressed truth for albums that are more talked about than listened to.
Multi-instrumental and fine harmony balances the heart-felt, sometimes emotive lyrics to develop more complex themes and structures. Melancholy, insights, gaiety and frivolity in equal measure, their charm and occasional whimsy blend well with interspersed realism. Angie believes there is a lot of imagery in their songs: ‘You can see the places, see the people very clearly’ because so pictorial and visual. Perhaps, tentatively in hindsight, their undue neglect can be put down to always being a year or two out of synch with the prevailing moods, in the frothy near-wake rather than the swim, but this doesn’t detract at all. From the outset they ‘extended the scope,’ one liner note says, ‘of what was a fairly narrow and traditional folk style’ into acid-folk and folk rock, a good reflection of what could be done with imagination and breadth of styles and instruments. They never disappoint decades later, no small achievement in this clamorous and deluged age, and the solid platform of the debut via Talking Elephant Records is a welcome glimpse into a period that still influences musicians today.
- Brian R, Banks
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