Uncategorized

Bread Love & Dreams

July 17, 2016

Bread Love & Dreams

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.  

www.brianrbanks.eu

– Brian R, Banks
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com//2016

One Comment
  1. Gun Penhoat

    Ah ... Bread, love and dreams ... nostalgia strikes - My (then) husband, Alex Elliot, used to accompany Lindsay Levy (of My stair cupboard at 3 am) on guitar at the poetry readings in the old Traverse Theatre

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *