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Sunday, 3 August 2008

Written in granite: Nevertheless

Eclection was a lamentably short-lived affair. Just one album, a few singles drawn from it (with just one non-LP 'b' side) and one single recorded after it with a substantially different sound and line-up. The line-up itself was an odd one: although they're often thought of as a "British folk-rock band" this is inaccurate even in purely factual terms given that only the drummer, Gerry Conway, was British. Two of the original band were Australians, singer Kerrilee Male and bassist Trevor Lucas. Then the two main songwriters were a Canadian called Michael Rosen and a Norwegian son of a Russian prince called Georg Hultgreen. Exotic enough for you? Conway and Lucas later appeared in Sandy Denny's post-Fairport Convention band Fotheringay and indeed both later ended up in Fairport for Rising For The Moon, by which time confusingly Fairport actually had more original Fotheringay members (three) than Fairport ones. Lucas was also married to the divine Ms Denny.

The important thing, though, is that the one LP Eclection did make is a thing of extraordinary beauty. It dates from 1968, which puts it on the "before" side of the line in the sand drawn by Fairport's epochal Liege & Lief. As a result it is very much in thrall to American folk-rock, which had had the idea of setting folkier ideas and melodies to a beat a while earlier and by this time was indulging in all sorts of experimentation with the form. So anyone hearing the Eclection album is probably going to start by making comparisons with West Coast combos using male-female vocal harmonies, such as the Mamas and Papas, the Jefferson Airplane, etc. And those comparisons are certainly valid. However there's far more to it than that: personally I've always felt that while the Ms&Ps made fantastic singles, their albums tended to be padded out with filler, standards and the like. The Eclection album features one of my all-time favourite singles, Nevertheless, a song of soaring beauty, wonderful interwoven vocal lines and harmonies and a beautiful string arrangement. It still sends shivers up and down my spine. But the whole album is very strong and musically it's very adventurous. Interestingly, it seems that the idea for the strings – which are one of the elements that lift the album out of the ordinary, came because the band were managed by Ossie Byrne, another Australian whose more famous charges included everyone's favourite Antipodean Mancunians, the Bee Gees, whose own early albums are packed by baroque stylings of this kind. Apparently one of the reasons for Male's departure from the band was that she felt her vocals were underused – and she certainly had a point; she's got a fantastic voice and yet a lot of the time it's only used as a supporting instrument or for harmonies. Admittedly some of these harmonies are among the most spine-tingling moments on the record, particularly on the opening pairing of In Her Mind and the aforementioned Nevertheless, one of the most perfect openings to any album I can think of.

The album came out on Elektra and it's also possible that this may have contributed to its lack of impact, given that Elektra was always a very US-based affair, their only other major UK signing being the Incredible String Band who, whatever you say about them, were definitely very, very British indeed. Joe Boyd's fascinating memoir White Bicycles gives an account of Elektra's UK operation around this time.

The album has been reissued on CD by the American Collector's Choice label and is fairly easy to get hold of. The non-LP 'b' side Mark Time was included on a compilation of rare tracks from Elektra singles called, imaginatively, Great Lost Elektra Singles (good to see their marketing department working so hard...) and one side of the post-album single, a cover of Kaleidoscope's Please (Mark Two) – that's the American Kaleidoscope, not the British psychedelic group who later evolved into the wonderful Fairfield Parlour – was on the Forever Changing boxed set of Elektra recordings, but is rather disappointing, bearing little relation to earlier glories. That boxed set also quite rightly includes Nevertheless which I think I'm going to listen to once more now, it really is utterly gorgeous...


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