Saturday, 9 February 2013

Harmony Grass - This Is Us (1969)

Harmony Grass were an Essex band whose career began in 1960, originally known as the Cutaways and with the addition on vocals of Tony Thompson, who would change his name to the more showbiz Tony Rivers, became known as Tony Rivers and the Castaways. By 1963 the band were signed to Columbia records and were recording at Abbey Road Studios. Their first three singles are of a standard beat/pop style of the day albeit far superior than a lot of bands that were scoring hits with this formula. The Beach Boys influence was starting to show by their fourth single, especially the b-side "Til We Get Home" I must also mention that the a-side, "She", written by Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones, is a real Who-like, early Power Pop nugget that readers of this blog will definitely dig. Andrew Loog Oldham produced a single for the band released on his own Immediate record label in 1966, a killer version of "Girl Don't Tell Me" which surprisingly sounds more like the Beach Boys than the Beach Boys' own version (listen here and here and you'll see what I mean) and has been on my wants list for some time now.

The band's last single on Columbia was another Beach Boys cover, a self produced and brave attempt at "God Only Knows" which although musically doesn't reach the heights of the Brian Wilson original, the harmonies are spot on. The last single released as Tony Rivers and the Castaways is "I Can Guarantee You Love" (included on Bite It Deep Mix Vol.2) on Polydor records in 1968. Written by Graham Dee and Brian Potter from the Cortinas/Octopus, capturing the summer of love vibe just too late to make an impression on the charts. It is another one of those records that should have been huge but wasn't and my favourite of the Castaways era.

Harmony Grass - 1969
Towards the end of 1968 the band come to the conclusion that a name change was in order. Tony Rivers & The Castaways was sounding dated and they were known as a good live act but not a chart band. The name Harmony Grass was picked and almost instantly the bands luck changed. Now signed to RCA, their first single under the new moniker, "Move In A Little Closer Baby" achieved success in the two things they had been previously lacking: substantial radio play and consequently, a hit record. The line up around this time included Tony Rivers (vocals), Tony Ferguson (lead guitar, vocals), Bill Castle (drums, vocals), Tom Marshall (guitar, piano, vocals), Kenny Rowe (falsetto vocals) and Ray Brown (bass guitar).

The single's success provided the band with the opportunity to record  an LP. "This Is Us" was released in 1969 and showcases the band's penchant for playing harmony driven Beach Boys-esque pop which they had been perfecting on the live circuit for the last five years. The album is the epitome of British Sunshine Pop, mostly written and produced by Rivers with orchestral arrangements by Johnny Arthey. Looking towards the U.S. for inspiration, you can hear influences from the likes of the Turtles on "Move In A Little Closer Baby", the Association on "What A Groovy Day" and "Summer Dreaming", Harpers Bizarre on "Chattanooga Choo Choo", Four Freshmen on the acapella "Tom Dooley" and Arthur Lee's Love on "Mrs Richie". Rivers even manages to tap into Brian Wilson circa 1966 on "I've Seen To Dream" which sounds like a lost song from the Pet Sounds sessions.

Harmony Grass released a further five singles on RCA, each of them melodic pop of the finest order before calling it a day in late 1970. Ferguson and Rowe moved in a heavier direction although still kept the vocal harmonies in Capability Brown and Rivers went on to produce and provide vocals on numerous recordings.  Back in 1999 RPM dedicated a three volume series of CD's compiling the complete recorded works of Tony Rivers. Volume one focussed on The Castaways and Volume two on the Harmony Grass sessions. The third and final volume "Harmony Soul" collects Rivers' work with various projects throughout the seventies like Summer Wine, Indiana, Shine, Hollywood Freeway and the Highly Likely single "Whatever Happened To You?" which was used as the theme to to UK sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?

Check out the official Tony Rivers website here for loads of interesting stories spanning his full career and a full discography. There is also a YouTube channel here which is regularly updated and shows that Tony Rivers still regularly writes and performs and is still the British master of the harmony.

No comments:

Post a Comment