Rainbow Ffolly – “Spectromorphic Iridescence: The Complete Ffolly” (2019) review
Rainbow Ffolly – Spectromorphic Iridescence: The Complete Ffolly (Grapefruit, 2019)
Among the many bands to have albums released by EMI in 1968 none may have had a stranger back story than Rainbow Ffolly, whose “Sallie Fforth” hit record shops the first week of May. EMI, home to The Beatles, among others, was one of the most respected labels of the day, with “The Beatles” better known as the “White Album” being perhaps the best known LP issued on the label that year. January, 2019, more than fifty years after its original release sees “Sallies Fforth” reissued on Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records imprint as part of its three disc box set “Spectromorphic Iridescence” containing the complete works of Rainbow Fflolly.
First formed under the moniker Force Four, by 1967 brothers John and Richard Dunsterville, on lead and rhythm guitar respectively, along with bassist Roger Newell and drummer Stewart Osborn had rechristened themselves Rainbow Ffolly, as John Dunsterville was reading a book on names with impact that suggested using colours and misspellings. Rainbow included all colours and the double F in Folly meant fun, and so in April or May of that year the quartet entered Jackson Recording Studio run by brothers Malcolm and John Jackson and laid down their first two tracks, “Come On Go” and “Sun Sing.” The former was a rather restrained number featuring John Dunsterville’s Chet Atkins style guitar work, while the latter was a harder,edged psychedelic number. The Jackson Brothers were sufficiently impressed to request the band return in a week or so with a dozen songs of different styles, which the Jacksons would record and see if they could get a recording deal for the band, and do this cost free. With John Dunsterville being a prolific writer capable of penning that many new tunes within the time restraint it seemed a no brainer that Rainbow Ffolly accept the offer. Thinking these would be demo recordings of song ideas Dunsterville did not craft the songs, in fact he said “he spent no time on them whatsoever, they just happened.” The band returned to the studio and by the end of 1967 the LP was recorded. The Jacksons decided to link the songs with the aid of various jingles and sound effects to form their “sound package.” Without the knowledge of the band the Jacksons shopped the LP and the first label they offered the recordings to, EMI, took them up on the offer, but on the condition that the album be taken as was, with no re-recording. The group was frustrated by what they considered sketches being released, not fully realized paintings, but having no contract at all, everything being done on a handshake with band members having never heard of “artistic control” the release of “Sallies Fforth” came in the first week of May, 1968. The best the band could do was take control of the album artwork which was filled with inside jokes like codes for birthdays, eye colour and instrument played of members without including their names. To add insult to injury, the album itself garnered rather good reviews while the artwork was panned by all the major publications of the day such as New Music Express, Melody Maker and Record Mirror.
However, when taken in proper context, “Sallies Fforth” stands as an accurate documentation of the works of a band of eccentric musicians who were much more closely related to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band than true psychedelic bands of the day on EMI such as Tomorrow and Pink Floyd. In fairness to the band, it is in this light that the musical output of Rainbow Ffolly must be, and is examined in this review. “Spectromorphic Iridescence” is the final word on the band, containing the mono and stereo mixes of “Sallies Fforth” as well as the band’s lone single, early demos and outtakes from the Jackson Studio sessions, unreleased recordings done for broadcast on Radio One, radio jingles recorded for a hospital, the 2016 reunion LP “Follow Up!” recorded by John Dunsterville, Alan Stewart and Stewart Osborn, and all ancillary recordings related to the reunion album. But, let us begin at the beginning.
Disc one opens with the thirteen tracks comprising “Sallie Fforth” in its stereo mix. “She’s Alright” is an acid pop type number with vocals reminiscent of The Beatles, a theme that was employed nicely on several tracks by the band. Following its humorous intro including a female speaking in French the band enters with jangling guitars and the light hearted tune includes a nice guitar solo and luscious vocal harmonies. “I’m So Happy” reflects the band’s love of British musical hall tradition, employing gentle country style guitar and within its cabaret influenced lyrics are a reference to “Itchycoo Park” a hit by The Small Faces. “Montgolfier ‘67” is based around medieval lute music, celebrated the 185th anniversary of the Montgolfier brothers first public demonstration of their hot air balloon and features a folk rock intro and more gorgeous vocal harmonies mixed with the band’s unique brand of humor, this time including references to giraffes. With “Drive My Car” the band took a Beatles title and wrote something completely different around it. The track is heavier while retaining gorgeous vocal harmonies and the ever present element of humor. The track was also released as the a-side of the band’s sole single, hitting record shops about a month after “Sallies Fforth.” “Goodbye” is a winsome McCartneyesque ballad with gentle guitar intro and vocals reminiscent of Ruby & The Romantics hit single “Our Day Will Come.” “Hey You” opens with sound effects of a thundershower and ping pong match before settling into a fuzz laden guitar track with a legitimately psychedelic edge. “Sun Sing” is another psychedelic rocker with lots of fuzz and a tasty guitar solo. “Sun And Sand” is a bit of acid pop in the style of South African singer Miriam Makeba and with its Beatlesque vocals is a good indication of the talent the band possessed and the potential of their music. “Labour Exchange” is a tongue in cheek number referencing unemployment offices, with its heavy bass and drums hinting at the rock sensibilities of the band and includes another nice guitar solo. “They’m” reflects the band’s love of good time music a la The Lovin’ Spoonful. “No” arose from the guitar/bass battle between John Dunsterville and Alan Thomas and has flashes of heaviness with horns added for texture even as the beat roars. “Sighing Game” is a gentle pop rocker with nicely echoed vocals and gorgeous harmonies. The album closer “Come On Go” begins with a humorous reference to acne treatment before settling into a country style melody with John Dunsterville displaying the influence Chet Atkins played in his guitar work. The bonus tracks begin with the single version of “Drive My Car” and its non-LP b-side “Go Girl” which features primitive phasing with John Dunsterville singing into a hair dryer hose, evidence of the group’s creativity, which coupled with beautiful vocal harmonies, results in a very nice pop tune A demo version of “Sun Sing” features a lovely guitar intro and is a mixture of The Beatles and The Bonzos, featuring humor and heaviness with John Dunsterville supplying another tasty guitar solo. A demo take of “Come And Go” features jangling 12-string guitar supplemented by delightful percussion in the form of tambourine with an organ interlude complementing more gorgeous vocals which taken together are further indications of what Rainbow Fflolly was capable of and leaves one wondering what “Sallies Fforth” would have sounded like had the band been given an opportunity to flesh out the recordings released on the album. The disc closes with a cover of the Beatles’ classic “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” with Rainbow Fflolly’s version featuring a recorder intro, piano interlude, impressive changing beats and more of the band’s vocal harmonies and humor. An impressive closer for the disc reminding the listener of the possibilities contained in the performances of Rainbow Ffollly…
Disc two contains the mono version of “Sallies Fforth” as well as no less than twenty five bonus tracks, thirteen of which are radio jingles done for a hospital located near the home base of the band which opened just prior to the release of Rainbow Ffolly’s album. The radio jingles are short takes reworking famous tunes, the most creative and humorous of the lot being a redo of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” which in the hands of the band morphs into “What A Wonderful Ward” and is definitely good for a smile. The real highlights of the disc are seven home demos recorded throughout 1968 and five tunes recorded for the Dave Cash Show and Radio One Club in December, 1968, but were never aired and have remained unreleased until this box set. Ten of the twelve cuts are covers but serve as examples of what Rainbow Ffolly was capable of and what fans experienced seeing the band live. First up is an incendiary cover of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” with screaming lead guitar, booming bass and pounding drums. This track takes away any doubts one might have as to whether Rainbow Ffolly was capable of rocking. A take on The Beatles’ classic Sgt. Pepper track “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is filled with trippy guitar and gorgeous vocal harmonies. In typical fashion the band could not help but mention other Beatles titles during the outro. A soulful pop rendition of “Gimme Some Kind Of Sign” a huge hit for Brook Benton appears as “Gimme Little Sign” with a spoken intro followed by another prime example of the lead and harmony vocals delivered so effortlessly by the band. “I Can’t Let Maggie Go” made popular by The Honeybus, gives the band a chance to show how nicely they could handle a ballad, and includes yet more incredible vocal harmonies. “Sabrosa” finds John Dunsterville in Chet Atkins mode once again as the band delivers a wonderful rendition of this energetic instrumental and features some delicate guitar picking. Pete Seeger’s “Bells Of Rhymney” a hit for The Byrds, another of the band’s major influences, is filled with jangling guitars and lovely vocal harmonies. The final home demo “Bonita” is another instrumental that the band runs through handling the lovely melody effortlessly and makes this listener wish Rainbow Ffolly had been afforded the opportunity to record more instrumentals as they seem to fit the band so well. The tunes recorded for radio broadcast begin with a cover of The Move’s “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” which the band handles with ease, showcasing John Dunsterville laying down some heavy rock guitar and the group reprising their vocal harmony abilities. The band’s cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” is short and sweet, the guitar and vocals again shining. Johnny Nash’s “Hold Me Tight” suits the band perfectly as they again disply the ease with which they could handle ballads, including this reggae style number. A partial take of the band original “I’m So Happy” is a crisp pop number. “She’s Alright” features jangling lead guitar and swirling vocals over the top of a heavier sounding rhythm section, a fine bit of pop rock. It’s truly a shame that record buyers were never afforded the chance to hear these radio recordings as they could have helped prolong the band’s life.
Disc three centers around the reunion album “”Ffollow Up!” released in 2016 by John Dunsterville, Roger Newell and Stewart Osborn, as Richard Dunsterville had relocated to the US and was not available for the recording. The tracks on the album span several decades, “My Love Has Gone” was written in 1965 but was not included on “Sallies Fforth” and features bassist Alan Thomas, having been dedicated to tape while the band was still known as the Force Four. “Noah” was recorded for a second album that didn’t happen, “Cars” was from 1975 when Roger and John were working with keyboardist Rick Wakeman and “Shy Angels” was written in 1976 for the English Rock Ensemble a year after they had parted ways with Wakeman. “Bathers Of The Lost Ark” includes a laugh lifted from “Sallies Fforth.” Furthermore, the artwork for “Ffollow Up” was mostly drawn by John Dunsterville 1969. The style and sound of the band is completely different on the album, as the whimsical element was replaced by serious tunes that display the talent of Rainbow Ffolly hinted at on their 1968 LP. .
“Ffollow Up!” opens with “Single Cell Amoeba” a short, one minute, sound effects number with a nod to“Sallies Fforth.” A 2014 band original “Postcard” is a story about the need to rush to the aid of a distant love if she calls for help, told with a driving beat, bouncing bass line and tasty lead guitar with wah wah added for accentuation. A heavy guitar solo segues into an Eastern influenced sound, the tasty rocker containing few of the signature sound effects found on “Sallies Fforth.” “My Love Has Gone” narrowly missed inclusion on the band’s debut LP, having been written in 1965. The mid-tempo number is dominated by jangling 12-string guitar and vocal harmonies with stinging lead guitar stabbing in and out of the mix, the tune’s heavy bass line and fiery solo soaring over the top before the tempo slows again with the return of jangling 12-string, flute and vocal harmony outro. “White Swan” a 2016 composition by Dunsterville and Newell uses a bowed electric dulcimer to create nostalgic images aided by flute as it tells the story of lost love in a dramatically changing world. “Cars” is a road song describing John Dunsterville and Newell endlessly traveling the world with Rick Wakeman. The song has a sound bringing The Who to mind with its strumming guitar, bounding bass and driving drums which eventually give way to steel and strumming acoustic guitars and gentle percussion flavored with a jazzy guitar interlude. “Sky Angels” features an expansive sound with choral effects and lead guitar sat to stun over solid bass and drums. The vocals are absolutely ethereal and this magnum opus’ fuzz guitar fills the air, complemented by horns guiding the way to an Eastern influenced outro. “Noah” uses the classic Rainbow Ffolly sound in telling the tale of God trying to convince Noah to build an ark. Waterfall and thunderstorm sound effects are perfect as the song gently glides in all its majesty. “Slow Down Zone” is a Simon and Garfunkel type number and lives up to its title with no forcing of any instruments, just the gentle beauty of woodwinds and acoustic guitars with the lead guitar restrained as it bounces from channel to channel. “Countdown” is a psychedelic rocker with its heavy bass driving the tempo over a lead guitar that holds back as it chugs and the drums keep perfect time while the song reminds people to think before they act, with a gorgeous guitar solo playing the song out. “Shoes” is a jazzy blues tune mixing horns and drums with relaxed vocals and a perfectly measured lead guitar. “Is It Over” is another “lost love” song with forlorn vocals joined by a breezy guitar solo and relaxed keyboards. The first of five non-LP tunes “Wot Do They Know” is an uptempo number with driving lead guitar and snarling vocals. The songs’ chorus gives way to an all out guitar and keyboard attack a la Mott The Hoople as the sound rises to a crescendo, before relenting. “Crazy Woman” is a country type tune with gentle guitar, percussion and vocals, a most pleasantly short, minute and a half, ditty. “All We Have Left” opens with growling guitar and machine gun drums, but the vocals are gorgeous as ever on this tasty rocker that is deceptively heavy with its driving drums and gorgeous lead guitar to the fore. “Parcel Of Pigs” is a delightful ditty with restrained guitar and vocals which gives a nod to early Rainbow Ffolly opening with a voice counting in German. “Nonesuch Sweetness” is an uptempo tune, its climbing guitar having a jazzy feel and delivering a tasty solo. The beat is driving but not overplayed, with a keyboard interlude perfectly timed. The disc closes with the last two tunes from “Ffollow Up!” the first “Tour De Force” is an autobiographical story about band manager John Sparrowhawk who sadly the band have lost touch with. It is a country folk flavored acoustic tune, with vocals and a feel reminiscent of “Sallies Fforth.” The track’s mid-tempo beat rises as fiery guitars fill the air, but the tune returns to its relaxed tempo with its folkish outro. “Bather Of The Lost Ark” closes “Follows Up!!” with a return to the irreverent humor of “Sallies Fforth” having been written in 1967, an absolutely perfect ending to an incredibly well realized reunion album. “Ffollow Up!” is evidence sure of the talent within Rainbow Ffolly and proof positive of what the band could have delivered if only given the chance by EMI and the Jackson Brothers. Though it may have come some fifty years later it certainly deserved wider distribution and with only 500 LP’s printed it already fetches $50-$100 per copy, while “Sallies Fforth” will set collectors back $400 or more for original Parlaphone pressings in very good plus condition and near mint or mint minus copies going for considerably more. The hefty price and collectable interest in the band’s original album lead one to wonder what would have happened had the band been able to polish the album up and release it as they envisioned, but that is a matter of pure speculation left to the mind’s of collectors of rare 1960’s recordings that can never be truly answered.
“Spectromorphic Iridescence” and its seventy four tracks come in a tortoise shell box with each disc housed in a mini-LP sleeve with the original artwork. The twenty page full color booklet comes with an essay by David Wells, who compiled and annotated the collection, and is filled with photos of the band and its recordings as well as related memorabilia. Rainbow Ffolly has never sounded better, thanks to the mastering job of Simon Murphy for Another Planet Music. The set will be of great interest to fans and collectors of obscure 1960’s recordings, psychedelic and otherwise, but will also be a wonderful discovery for those not familiar with the 2016 LP “Ffollow Up!” a fine bit of British rock and roll in its own right which has hitherto been nigh on impossible to procure. Many thanks to the folks at Cherry Red Records, UK, for offering this wonderful collection and at a most reasonable cost as icing on the cake.
– Kevin Rathert
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