By Dave Thompson
BETWEEN 1967 AND 1972, Kaleidoscope were one of the most adventurous, and intriguing, bands on the U.K. psych scene as they morphed into prog, folk and a wealth of other structures. Formed by Peter Daltrey (vocals), Eddy Pumer (guitar), Steve Clark (bass, flute) and Danny Bridgman (drums), the band had already been through a couple of name changes before settling upon Kaleidoscope, and they would undergo one more, to Fairfield Parlour, before breaking up.
Signed initially to Fontana Records before shifting to the label’s prog imprint Vertigo, Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour released some of the most glorious records of the era, three albums and a clutch of glorious 45s — “Flight From Ashiya,” “A Dream for Julie,” “Jenny Artichoke,” “Bordeaux Rose” and “Emily.” They’ve also just been remembered by a new compilation, Sky Children: The Best of Kaleidoscope & Fairfield Parlour.
They are best known, however, as the makers of three of the most collectible albums of the age: Tangerine Dream, Faintly Blowing and From Home to Home. And therein, as Daltrey tells Goldmine, lies a dilemma.
“I saw a copy of Tangerine Dream recently, an original, and it sold for over 2,000 pounds,” he said. “It’s crazy, and it’s of no benefit to the band whatsoever. A lot of the time, you think it’s just an investment for somebody, because they’re never going to play it. Would you play a 2,000 pound record? I’d scratch it. I’d drop the needle on it, and that would be the end of it.”
The album is not alone in its stratospheric value. Faintly Blowing and From Home to Home, too, have been known to attract four-figure sums. But, as Daltrey rightly puts it, “all that indicates is that we sold so bloody few that they are that rare. Records are only that expensive because you didn’t sell any. That’s why they’re fetching the prices they are, not primarily because people love the music, but it’s because they’re so rare because we didn’t sell any.”
And that is one of the marvels of the band’s history. Not once but twice, they hung on the very precipice of a major commercial step forward. And both times, it all fell apart at the last minute.
“ ‘Jenny Artichoke’ was a hit record,” says Daltrey. From the moment he and Pumer played the song to producer Dick Leahy, “there’s no doubt whatsoever that it was going to be big. Ed and I were writing all the time, we never stopped, so we’d ring Dick and say, ‘Oh, we got a couple of new songs,’ and he’d be ‘come in, come in, don’t hang about.’ So we’d jump on the tube up to the office and play him stuff, and he’d invariably like most of it. When we played him ‘Jenny Artichoke,’ he booked the studio for that same night!
“We worked bloody hard on it over a couple of days or more, and when we finished, we all looked at one another and said, ‘Bloody hell, that’s a hit record, and the radio … because it was so limited in those days … they never stopped playing it. You could literally walk down the street and hear window cleaners whistling the thing.
“But the distribution arm of Fontana was absolute rubbish. They never got on board, they never got in tune with anybody else. It was never in the shops, and it didn’t get the sales.”
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice. Daltrey would disagree with that. Two years later, now Fairfield Parlour, the band suffered the same stultifying misfortune with that band’s debut single.
“ ‘Bordeaux Rose’ — we were on Top of the Pops with that when that was virtually the only decent music TV show there was. And, or so we were told, if you appeared on Top of the Pops, you were guaranteed a 10, 11, 12 place jump up the chart, purely from that one appearance. We were in the lower reaches, slumbering around down there. We did the show, and it disappeared the following week.
“There is something wryly ironic about that, but it doesn’t help at the time. You’re eagerly plowing through the music papers the following week, and nothing’s happened, and then you begin to wonder what went wrong. I can laugh about it now, I’ve had a whole life since then, we were only a band for eight years or something, and life’s been great. But you can’t help looking back and thinking what if.”
What if is one thing; what now is another? For years, Kaleidoscope’s memory lurked in the darkest of dark corners. Occasionally, during the 1980s, a bootleg repress of one or other of the albums would reappear within the psychedelic revival of the time, and the same era’s explosion of interest in the Vertigo label saw Fairfield Parlour’s name get mentioned more than it had been.
They began turning up on psych compilations — The 49 Minute Technicolour Dream, The British Psychedelic Trip, The Rubble Collection — and, around the turn of the century, a two-CD collection that paired From Home to Home with the unreleased White Faced Lady concept album that marked the band’s final flourish in 1973. The mid-1990s saw Daltrey alone take a step back into the studio, releasing the English Roses CD, the first of a dozen solo albums released over the next 20 years.
And in the midst of that, in 2011, Kaleidoscope came back.
“Some guy in California decided to invite me back onstage, it gave me a whole second bash at it, and when you’re not reliant on it, no illusions, nothing to prove, you can enjoy it.
“His name was Neil Martinson, out in San Francisco. He was friendly with a lot of local musicians and, out of the blue, he wrote and asked if Kaleidoscope would come over and do some shows. I wrote back and said, ‘I’m sorry, Steve’s passed on and we haven’t played together for a while, so we can’t do it.’
“A couple of months later, he wrote back and asked, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said no because I’d already asked Eddie and Danny, and neither of them were in good health at the time, so they both turned it down. So when Neil called, I said, ‘There’s only me,’ and I thought that would be an end to it. Instead, he said, ‘Well, you come over. I’ve got a band here of really keen Kaleidoscope fans who would love to play with you, and I said, ‘No, no no.’
“But afterwards, my wife asked who was on the phone, and I told her about it and she said if you don’t do it, you’ll regret it forever, and it’s so true. I’d have been kicking myself now if I hadn’t. I was working with fabulous musicians, really enthusiastic guys, they were playing these songs note perfect.”
The first gigs, around California, took place in 201l; two years later, the band played across the country before finishing up at an Austin psych fest and, over the years that followed, Daltrey and a reborn Kaleidoscope continued gigging both in the U.S. and U.K. In fact, there’s a glimpse of one performance, two songs from a London show in 2017, included in the new compilation.
Daltrey admits, “The actual compilation has nothing to do with me whatsoever. That was Roger at the label (Beyond Before) who put it together. It’s a best-of and we’ve never had one before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. From an artist’s point of view, when we made an album, we were very closely involved with the running order, so you gave the right mood of the record all the way through, certainly on From Home to Home, and then obviously White Faced Lady had to be in the order it was. So to see them all splattered across the CD is a bit of a shock. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s what people want when they dip in. It’s aimed at an audience who haven’t got the faintest idea who we are.”
It should change that scenario. Most of both bands’ best is on board, 16 songs plus a 1964 demo from The Sidekicks days, plus another five tracks on the DVD portion of the package. Which, Daltrey agrees, thrills him as much as it will delight the band’s existing fans.
“We didn’t do much television, and the Top of the Pops performance was wiped years ago. But Roger found a French broadcast that we did (October 1967), so you get that, and there’s also three terrible miming ones that we did for Beat Club in Germany (October 1970), and that was another shock to the system when I found out they never actually broadcast it. And then he needed something else, so he put on some fan footage from one of the live shows in 2017.
“My biggest regret was, we actually filmed a promo film for ‘A Dream for Julie’ (Kaleidoscope’s second single, in 1968). People weren’t really doing that for singles being released at the time, but the company obviously wanted to get behind it a bit more, so we made the film. But again, that was never shown, we never saw it, and we can find no trace of it either.”
There’s no point, however, in dwelling on what we didn’t get (“Jenny Artichoke” is missing from the CD as well). From a casual listener’s point of view, Sky Children could have been twice the length and still not outstayed its welcome. From a fan’s point of view, maybe it’s just the first shot in what we really want: remastered reissues of the original albums, a box set with rarities a-flowing — oh, the sky’s the limit if this thing takes off.
Daltrey’s solo career, too, deserves a fresh listen. It’s a decade since we even saw a best-of his lone prolusions (2011’s King of Thieves), and if pulling all that together sounds time-consuming — well, the U.K.’s still in lockdown. What better time to start?
Daltrey laughs. “I keep busy. We did a seven-mile walk today, which was pleasant, and we try to keep active, we don’t sit around drinking or watching TV. I’m always busy on the computer, though, because I do a lot of design work, and I fiddle around with various projects. The lockdown itself is pretty boring, but it can’t be helped.”