Peter Daltrey of UK Psyche Icons Kaleidoscope, took some time out of his busy creative day to answer some of our questions prior to the Band’s first London show in 40 odd years in Isington in November 2013 (get your tickets fast folks they are flying)…
01 Tell us about your early Mod years in the early 1960s?
After a short spell as a rocker with full leather gear and slicked-back hair I became a Mod. Some guys went for chubby Vespas, but I always preferred the sleek Italian lines of the Lambretta. Fashions changed monthly, weekly: one minute everyone had chrome bars and carriers front and back, then just on the front, then the back, then no bars, but with chromed side panels. I had my panels sprayed racing green with a big white number on. We wore USA Army parkas and Pork Pie hats, loafers and short, dyed slacks. Then Fred Perry shirts with close-cropped hair. It was a nightmare trying to keep up.
02 You were known as The Sidekicks, then The Key before eventually forming as Kaleidoscope?
We had played our first gig at a nurses’ party at Fulham Hospital on the 26th June 1960 something, but the next day we had our first public booking playing for kids at the Cinema: Saturday Morning Pictures; a British institution. I remembered it fondly myself: off to the cinema via De La Mura’s to watch cartoons and space serials and the Lone Ranger, yelling and chewing and punching. We got a gig playing in the interval. We set up in front of the stage at the ABC cinema in Edgware, north of London. The kids didn’t shut up for a minute. But we got a taste of what it was like playing in front of an audience.
By August we had gained enough confidence to book ourselves into Central Sound Studios, 6 Denmark Street in London. We recorded ‘House of the rising sun,’ ‘Mona,’ ‘Hi Heel Sneakers’ and our very first self-penned composition, ‘Drivin’ around.’ We wanted some songs of our own; we wanted to rise above being just a covers band. Ed and I just fell into writing without anyone ever discussing it: Ed wrote the music and I wrote the words. Terrible bloody songs to begin with! But we had all gradually become ambitious, driven on by the encouragement of friends and family. Around this time we had a name change to The Key.
As The Key we played many of our own songs in a set. We were quite creative on stage. We used to have a cute girl in a mini skirt sitting on stage with us. She sat there reading a book of poetry throughout our set. Ed and I would eat an apple during one number. Probably meant to be very symbolic and mysterious but just made it difficult to sing with a mouthful of apple mush. And then during our finale number – the explosive and now long lost ‘Face’ – I bit on a plastic blood capsule and collapsed on stage just as the last chords were fading. It caused a right old riot and we were chased out of the building by the gig organizers who had called an ambulance, completely fooled by my Oscar-wiining on-stage death and they felt pretty silly having to explain their donkey-brained mistake. We were pushing at invisible boundaries.
03 What other bands did you admire and how did you hear them and their music?
We were Beatle nuts, simple as that. The Beatles were our musical gods. It’s been said so many times but the Sixties really was a magical time in many areas, music and fashion in particular, but also film and photography.
We measured everything we did against the Beatles. We had our own style but we were attempting to always achieve their standards. They set the bar for so many bands. I also liked Donovan, Leonard Cohen – Dylan, of course. He was my ultimate hero at the time along with the man who invented great pop music, Buddy Holly.
04 What was the nightlife and live circuit like in those heady days?
We were so focused on our own band on our own quest that we didn’t go to gigs or clubs. We were obsessed with only one band, Kaleidoscope.
06 What shaped your song-craft?
The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ changed everything. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was the catalyst. I was never entirely happy as the lyricist writing endless soppy love songs. The Beatles showed us all the way, followed closely at the time by the Bee Gees who wrote amazingly weird songs like ‘Lemons Never Forget’ and the flawless ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941.’ It didn’t kick start me into writing songs like ‘The Murder of Lewis Tollani’ and ‘Dive into Yesterday,’ as I used to assume; I have since found out that ‘Horizontal’ came out after we were writing such songs – but it did show we were heading in the same direction. But don’t forget that Psychedelia was very short-lived. It lasted not much more that eighteen months. It was that truly magical period between late ’66 to early ’68. Fortunately for us this was the time we hit gold, securing our first recording contract with a major label, Philips/Fontana, and getting all the time we needed in a professional studio.
07 What were your thoughts on the emerging UK psych scene at that time, the girls, cars, fashion, clubs and drugs?
By now Carnaby Street had properly erupted in a florid flush of boutiques with loud music and mini skirts and Mary Quant rippoffs and lace shirts and high-heeled boots for men and see-through dresses and it was spend spend spend! Teenagers had money and they were going to spend it. Records. Clothes. Alcohol. Cigarettes. Drugs. Holidays in Spain. Hairdos. Cheap food. Magazines. The tide was turning. The old school grey drab Fifties establishment was drowning. We were going to change the world. And we had our own leaders, thank you very much: John, Paul, George and Ringo.
08 What kind of pressures, challenges and expectations did signing for Fontana and the music industry at large provide for young bands like yourselves?
On the 24th February 1967 we had our first recording session as Kaleidoscope at Philips’ Stanhope Place Studio just a giant leap for mankind from Marble Arch. Although nervous, entering this mysterious, subterranean dimly-lit cavern, we knew that we could not allow anything to go wrong. We recorded ‘Holiday Maker’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ Unlike every recording session we’d ever had before – in egg-box dives – we were not disappointed with the results. In fact we were stunned by the clarity of the results, fascinated by the recording process and pleased to find that the engineers were friendly and co-operative. The actual recording process was taken out of our hands and was something of a mystery: we did what we were told in terms of levels and retakes. The arrangements were down to us, although Dick did have some input via carefully phrased suggestions. We were always willing to listen and incorporate inventive ideas. But all the songs went into the studio fully-formed. We never wrote in the studio like some bands. Our songs were very carefully written, rewritten, arranged and polished long before recording sessions. Dick produced, obviously aware of the beating of our novice hearts, allowing us time to settle down, to accustom ourselves to the cathedral studio. In fact, the studio was so enormous that when we set up our equipment we only occupied a small area, but this was how we preferred it – reminiscent, perhaps, of our nights rehearsing at the school hall in Acton not so long before.
09 You released 6 singles for Fontana in a short period of time, were you happy with them as a collection or set of work?
We always approached singles in a different frame of mind to writing for albums. In fact most of our singles never appeared on our albums. I’m very happy with the singles – but still frustrated that we came so close to chart success but never close enough. The songs were finely honed to be radio-friendly. Both ‘Jenny Artichoke’ and ‘Bordeaux Rose’ came so close to providing us a hit record. Both were what we referred to in those radio-dominated times as ‘turntable hits’.
Our career was scuppered by our own record company whose distribution was so lousy it was legendary in the business – a fact unbeknown to us upon signing our contract with them.
10 You also released 2 seminal LPs around this time, what was that studio experience like and the entire writing and production process?
They were magical days in the huge Number One studio at Stanhope Place. Our second home. Dick was always willing to open his door to Ed and I. He was always asking us for new songs. In the studio itself he took subtle control but always allowed our creativity to rule the sessions from the studio floor. We often recorded all afternoon and long into the evening.
The entire writing and production process…?! I’ll have to bow out of that one. There’s only twenty-four hours in the day and I ain’t getting any younger. Suffice to say it was exciting, exhilarating and rewarding.
11 This set you on the way to being well known in the ‘Swinging London’ period, how had the clubs, culture and scene evolved in this short period?
No idea. We never went to clubs. We were far too busy gigging and writing. The ‘scene’ in any era is often vacuous – and then and now holds no attraction for me. Sorry – were you hoping for ultra-colourful anecdotes of swinging London….? * (Editor – yes but the truth is more rewarding by far!)
12 Jagger and McCartney were big fans, your lyrics were evocative and painted pretty and vivid milestones?
Jagger and Pauly… Were they really? I doubt it. Probably something an interviewer said to heighten interest in his piece.
Looking back it’s easy for new generations to ridicule the style and lyrical content of music from way back then. It was a colourful burst of fashion in music. And as we all know fashion comes and goes swiftly. Fortunately for us it is also true that there is nothing new in this world and fashion styles always return. Psychedelia is again enjoying a substantial revival — and it is great to have caught that wave.
We were certainly not writing to appeal to the druggy crowd. At this point we had very little experience of drugs having dabbled frighteningly in the early Sixties’ purple heart period and being put off pills for life. Younger people look back and think there were drugs and free love available on every street corner. Nope. We weren’t particularly interested in the former and the latter didn’t come up and offer itself to us. Besides, we had total tunnel vision: we lived for our music. Nothing was going to make us waver from our righteous path.
13 Your sense of harmony and melody and ability to create memorable tunes meant that your horizons were moving constantly?
‘Faintly Blowing’ showed our maturing as writers and musicians. It also showed that the record company were still fully in support, willing to invest a lot of money in studio time and orchestral arrangements. Yes, of course, we were looking for a hit record. Dick Leahy wanted to release ‘If you so wish’ as a single — possibly as a double A-side with ‘Black Fjord’ but he lost his sense of direction and went for the more immediately commercial ‘Jenny Artichoke.’ Although ‘Jenny’ was a massive radio hit being played constantly on our one radio station at the BBC, it failed to sell for the same old reason: poor distribution. With hindsight that single should have been followed by the ‘If you so wish’/‘Black Fjord’ single. If Philips/Fontana had then got there act together properly with better distribution and promotion, we would have had a hit that would have really stood the test of time, more likely to endure than ‘Jenny.’
As writers Ed and I were always seeking the perfect song and this inevitably lead to us improving over time. We were always pushing ourselves further.
14 What was the final straw for Kaleidoscope and how did you evolve into Fairfield Parlour?
We then changed our name to Fairfield Parlour after we shrugged off our Psychedelic colours and embraced the progressive folk sound that was fast approaching. We didn’t feel the name Kaleidoscope was appropriate for our new sound and image. In retrospect I guess it was maybe a bit of a mistake. We should have stuck to our guns, proud of our name. But at the time it still seemed the right thing to do.
We had fallen out with the suits at Fontana/Philips because we had failed to produce a hit single. These were executives that thought, at first, they had the new Beatles. They gave us an ultimatum: record the songs of some hit writers -Tin Pan Alley hacks – or your days with us are numbered. We went into the studio under protest and attempted to record two songs that had been scraped from the bottom of a bucket that a publisher was chucking out. The sessions – fortunately – were a disaster!
The Radio 1 DJ, David Symonds had noticed our slightly rudderless ship passing through his studio on numerous occasions and now approached us with a proposition: Let me manage you and get you away from this blindfolded record company. We jumped at the chance to try something new. Ed and I were writing differently. Gone were the battalions in baby blue and in came the lonely old spinsters cutting up pictures of wedding dresses and photos of Marlon Brando. A name change was therefore suggested.
As Fairfield Parlour Farm – yep, we dropped the ‘Farm’ bit in the cold light of the next morning – we, or rather our shiny new manager, approached Fontana and demanded a new contract where we would record independently of the studio and simply lease the tapes to the company, retaining copyright. They agreed, but suggested we climb aboard their new label, Vertigo. Which would best suit our more progressive music, that being the way musical fashion was heading after the short-lived Psychedelic flower withered and died.
15 This period saw you invited to enter into the world of film with the ‘Eye Witness’ soundtrack which housed the new bright young thing Mark Lester?
An up and coming Director offered us the job of writing and recording the theme song and incidental music for a feature film, ‘Eye Witness.’ From the depression and dejection of just six months previous, we were now on a high, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of our former selves. 1970 was clearly going to be an outstanding year!
16 Eventually you were invited to play one of the key events of this entire period, The 1970 IOW Festival?
This really was going to be ‘the big one.’ Not only had we secured ourselves a place on the billing for the 1970 Isle of Wight festival – our manager had persuaded the organisers to let us write and record a ‘theme song’ for the festival. We cut a demo of the song, ‘Let the world wash in,’ at the Livingstone Studios in East Barnet. The Foulk Brothers loved it and so we spent two nights at Sound Techniques in Chelsea recording the song. Lennon’s classic, ‘Across the universe’ is a little too obviously the influence for the song, but nonetheless, the resulting track is warm and sincere. It is one of my favourite recordings of the band, featuring a full, well-produced sound, focusing quite correctly on the chorus.
From the 16th to the 20th of August we rehearsed at a pig farm in Woking. Yes, that is right. In the height of a sultry summer we were in a narrow tin-roofed pig hut strutting our stuff. (All right it was a new building that had yet to see a poor porker.) We’d discussed our set, arriving at a list of songs that reflected our more pastoral side, as some of the critics liked to call it. We would play more of our acoustic songs, the ones we often left out of college gigs. We realised from the outset that we were likely to be dwarfed by the physical dimensions of the gig and the stage itself. We would look ridiculous if we went out there in the middle of the day with our heavier material. We all agreed we would be grass- chewing-folk-loving-bucolic-gentle-rockers for the day. But the pre-gig excitement had already permeated the pig hut. This was going to be enormous.
The day after we left Woking, ‘Let the world wash in’ was released. The rest is history as they say – well our nadir, perhaps. You will have to buy a copy of my book, ‘I Luv Wight’ to read the whole sorry saga. Suffice to say the single bombed and our experience of the festival was tainted by the raging politics behind the scenes concerning the fate of the record at the festival itself.
17 What was the come down like post IOW Festival, what happened next?
‘White-Faced Lady’ shelved for two decades. Disillusion, despair, heartbreak – and rebirth…
18 As a Solo Artist you have been very productive indeed, releasing 19 or so LPs on various labels?
I can’t stop writing and recording. A creative person can`t simply turn off the tap – although having said that the bloody tap occasionally turns itself off. Yes, plenty of albums to choose from for those fans of the band who might be tempted to dig into my own body of work.
I have two albums (one with Damien Youth) currently available on GRA Records in America: and a third due for release soon…
And another on Rocketgirl Records, a double CD with Damien Youth:
And a fab collaboration with US Psyche-Masters Asteroid#4 called ‘The Journey’:
If all goes to plan I will be joining Asteroid#4 on stage on the 20th of October to premier a few of these songs:
19 What about your various books and work as an Artist?
I have six books out at the moment – available here, – with a seventh on the writing & recording of ‘The Journey’ album coming shortly. And my continuing passion is photography which currently takes up more of my time than music – although that is about to change…
20 You have a much eagerly anticipated London show coming soon (17th Nov in Islington), that must be a real buzz?
Indeed. I have done a couple of tours of America over the last couple of years but this will be my first show in the UK for over forty years!!! Blimey! Yes, I am really looking forward to playing our back catalogue for those fans who have followed the band for decades and for the new fans who have only just stumbled across us. Faintly Blowing, Lewis Tollani, Snapdragon, The Sky Children etc etc… I have a feeling it will me a memorable evening! Get your tickets here folks!
21 What have you got planned for the future?
A great deal. No time like the present. Strike while the iron is hot. Best foot forward. Nothing ventured etc etc. You get the secret picture.
22 Can you tell us a joke please?
A guy walks into a Bar and takes himself a quiet seat. Before he can even order a beer, the bowl of pretzels in front of him says ‘Hey, you’re a handsome fellow!’ The man tries to ignore the bowl of pretzels, and orders a fine Pilsner beer. The bowl of pretzels then says ‘Ooooh, a Pilsner, great choice. You’re a smart man!’ Starting to freak out, the guy says to the bartender ‘Hey what the hell, this bowl of pretzels keeps saying nice things to me!’ Bartender says ‘Don’t worry about it, the pretzels are complimentary!!!’