Of all the accomplishments of which a musician can be proudest... particularly one who is working within fields that, shall we say, might otherwise have had their heyday back in some distant past... perhaps the greatest is when a musician from the original era arises Henry Higgins like and proclaims...
“By Jove, I think he’s got it.”
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s worth paying attention to. Which is why fans of the Fire, late sixties purveyors of “My Father’s Name Is Dad” (among other treats) pricked up their ear when Dave Lambert suggested pointing their ears towards the mythically-named Mordecai Smyth. A name that not many had ever even heard of, at the time.
But among that “not many” was another legendary hero. Mark Wirtz, creator of the Teenage Opera that was excerpted for a Keith West hit (“grocer Jack, grocer Jack...” you know the one); who produced a small sack full of our favorite psych-era legends; whose ears helped bend Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle” into such deliriously delicious shape.
He too became a Mordecai Smyth fan, and Smyth himself is still astonished. “Let’s face it, it’s not every day you get an ex- Abbey Road producer praise your work! That meant a lot to me.”
There again, it's not every day that you put on a record that was made this centuyry, and find yourself transporting back to an age when super-cali-psychedelic-expeditious yoyos were trampolining round your ears every day, and you were actually afraid to stay at home at night in case you missed granny taking another trip in the nightclub down the road. But if you did, here's Mordecai Smyth to fill you in on what you missed. As you’ll already know if you’ve picked up any of the records that bear his sonic imprimatur. An EP that pairs him with Icarus Peel. Another called Dial M For Mordecai. And an album that was so aptly titled Sticky Tape and Rust, that the CD was actually packaged in the stuff. Real sticky tape, real rust. Sensible collectors keep it sealed in a vault somewhere, and get their kicks off the vinyl pressing.
What else? Well, meander over to his Bandcamp page, and this is what it says:
“Imagine that the subconscious were a village. If so, the collective subconscious of Mordicai Smyth would be a vibrant community. A place where you would love to live. Not conventional, but a virtual 'Stella Street' of eccentric personas. A land where Barrett, Waits, Ayers, Stanshall and Cutler mix with The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles for high tea and the most outrageous blackberry jam sessions “
To which the man himself adds, “I just love music I suppose. I think it would be unfair on your readers if I compiled a list here, as it would be very long. But it may surprise you to hear that current favourites are Sly and the Family Stone, Bobby Womack’s first two albums, Caravan (In the Land of Grey and Pink) Gong (Angel’s Egg) and Cannonball Adderley (Somethin’ Else).”
How can anyone resist?
Plus, he is also credited as the man who convinced the Mega Dodo label that it should actually exist, as opposed to being a vague ambition in the mind of author John Blaney, and anyone following this blog over the last few weeks and actually paying attention to the music we mention will know that that, as Winnie the Pooh would say, is a Good Thing.
“Years ago,” explains Smyth, “I had worked in a record shop with John Blaney. We always got on well and I was always impressed by his knowledge of all kinds of music and also art. We loosely stayed in touch and often met up at record fairs and would ‘chew the fat’ over a coffee....”
A musician by trade but no longer actively gigging, Smyth had recently opened his own studio. “I would give John demos of songs I had been working on. Then, one Christmas, he gave me a present – a one off seven inch single of two of the demos I had given him, with the message: ‘How about recording an album?’ I suppose this was the birth of Mega Dodo!” And the birth of Sticky Tape and Rust, too, replete with that sense-scratching packaging, and eye catching cover art... a set of postcards by graphic novel artist Martin Simmonds, sketching one of the songs on the album.
Because an album isn’t just a collection of songs. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s an entire package - music, art, and anything else that can be crammed in between the covers. And that’s one of the reasons why Mega Dodo is such a fabulous label.
Smyth continues. “John decided ‘Georgina Jones’ should be a single taken from the album... it’s loosely based on Juliette Harmer’s character in an old BBC TV series, Adam Adamant, which I had been watching at the time. I suppose it was the Beeb’s answer to the Avengers, but nowhere near as slick! Also, Emma Peel would have had Georgina Jones for breakfast in terms of wit and fighting capability.....”
Two new songs appear on the b-side, including one - “It Didn’t Happen” - which should probably be compulsory listening to everyone setting out on the rocky road to musical stardom “It’s all about being in a band and not ‘making it’ – all the promises made by people, all the disappointments you face, one after the other.
“Fortunately, I just love music and I’m not particularly interested in fame and fortune (although having a bit more to spend on recording equipment / instruments would be nice!), so I am not bitter, I just keep writing and recording, which are the things I love.”
And which have brought him into the orbit of others who feel the same way. Icarus Peel and Crystal Jacqueline, for example. “We hit it off straight away. Crystal Jacqueline had a single out on the Fruits de Mer label, which I love, and also Icarus played me his own recordings which he releases through his own Psychedandy label. Both also play in the Honey Pot, who have just had a beautiful double pack seven inch also released on Fruits de Mer. A nyway, a little cross fertilization has occurred and Crystal Jacqueline now has a stunning album out on Mega Dodo, while Icarus Peel and I have a ten inch “split” single coming out on Mega Dodo soon. This has been great fun as we both recorded a cover of one another’s songs for inclusion, along with two original compositions each.”
All of which is just the beginning. Future plans! Future plans!!
“Things are a bit messed up at the moment, as Tabitha (my wife, who plays clarinet and sax on my songs) and I have recently moved. This means sound-proofing and then sound treating two rooms for recording and practicing. This is being done at the moment, and I hope to be up and running again in a couple of months.
“In the meantime, I have a Dictaphone which I use to record basic ideas on. This can be anything from singing a melody to strumming a guitar or blowing a sax (for her sins, Tabitha is teaching me!) The plan is to have an album ready for release by the end of next year. I want to create some exciting new sounds and perhaps flirt with the old Canterbury Sound a bit, as I love the bands who came out of that scene.
I went to college in Canterbury, so I think I’m allowed (the same one as Steve Hillage – not at the same time though!). I also think some form of tribute to the late Kevin Ayers would be appropriate – along with the late Syd Barrett, another artist whose music I find reaches me deep down. All my heroes are dying out. But they have left us with a fine musical legacy. Actually, I find the thought of people playing my songs when I have gone quite comforting – to have left a little bit of myself in the grooves of some records!
“On a less morose note, I have some new musicians in mind to play on the album along with Tabitha and myself. Also, perhaps a special guest or two – time to twist a few arms I think…! So, hopefully, full steam ahead once the studio is rebuilt and we can make music to tickle the hairs in your ears!”
And let’s face it. We all need some of that.