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A Conversation with Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope UK

Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope UK
23 September 2020

I interviewed Peter Daltrey for Issue 74 of Big Takeover Magazine. That was over 6 years ago. I also interviewed the sadly passed Eddie Pumer, the band’s guitarist and songwriter. I stupidly took down both interviews as I was harshly criticized by a fan for not interviewing Danny, the band’s drummer. That was an oversight on my part. I thought given the news that Eddie is gone from us, and Peter’s heartbreaking post on Facebook, that I would bring these interviews back. They were conducted by email and the good old postal service, and Eddie was sick at the time, so I wasn’t even sure I would get to communicate with him. Peter did a great interview, and there are lots of fun stories herein. Thanks to Joe Viglione, as always, and my friend Jack Rabid.

What are your earliest musical memories, such as the first musical event you attended?

PETER: My mate Les and I used to go to see the rock shows that toured Britain, appearing at the cinema chains. You’d see five or six acts on the same bill. Each would do their hit and a couple of other songs and then scuttle off stage to make way for the next latest sensation. My memory fails me. I would love to recall the acts I saw, but they’ve vanished into some dingy corner of my soggy cerebellum.
 
I know we saw people like Chuck Berry, Del Shannon, Dion, and I can’t forget two acts in particular: Gene Vincent and Billy Fury. An electric, palpable hum of expectation preceded Vincent’s appearance. He was announced to a blacked out theatre; we all cheered and then we heard this scraping sound. Then the spots came on and there was Gene with his trademark crooked-man pose hanging onto the mic stand: “Be bop alloola, she’s ah my baby…” What a cool guy. Greasy quiff, chiselled craggy white face, baby blue satin shirt, tight black pants, and a shimmering metal brace holding his leg together. Vincent had been in the car the night Eddie Cochran got mashed. Old Gene, he busted his leg good ‘n proper. So now he had to drag it around like some death trophy, a constant reminder of the night the Grim Reaper took the great Cochran up the three steps to heaven.
 
The night we saw Billy Fury is engraved in gold lame on my brain. Again, a rumbling hush of anticipation. The announcement, the plush red curtains pull back, the band kicks in – and there is this glimmering dazzling blindingly handsome creature: Billy Fury. He’s wearing a bronze silk Italian suit that ripples like holy water. He’s better looking than Jesus. He sneers like an angel. The girls are dying. The boys are open-mouthed, not believing what they’re seeing. His perfectly unkempt golden quiff. The devil glint of his eyes. His genuine rock voice: cool, broken, aching. And his very tight trousers! My God! What’s that!? The management pulled the curtain on him. After what must have been a heated discussion in the wings the show started again — with Fury slightly less furious in the pants department. What a night.
 
What was the first instrument you picked up?
 
PETER: My first instrument was a cheap guitar from Woolworth’s. I could play the first seven notes of “Tom Dooley” and that was it. I used to hang around the youth club trying to look cool with this cardboard guitar that I couldn’t play strung round my neck on a red cord. It didn’t impress anyone because as soon as I was asked to play something the game was up. Seven notes of “Tom Dooley” ain’t going to get you the girls. The greatest regret of my life is that I can’t play the bloody guitar.
 
I took up the keyboard when we became Fairfield Parlour. We wanted to augment our sound with additional instruments. Ed could play virtually anything. Dan bought a marimba, a sort of ethnic wooden xylophone. Steve brought in his recorder and then took up the flute. And I bought an antique harmonium in Chelsea. You had to pump away at a couple of pedals to push air through the bellows. It had a great sound but was out of tune so could only be used sparingly. I eventually bought an electric clavinet. Let me say here that I don’t consider myself a musician. I can vamp out some simple chords. With synthesized sounds, I can play a bass line, pick out a melody, add string parts and mess around with sax, flute and accordion overdubs. But I couldn’t sit down and play you a song. Well, not unless it’s “Tom Dooley”! But with modern computer programs, it’s possible to build a track from scratch simply by playing the parts on a single keyboard. Building it layer by layer. This is how I record my solo albums. I play everything, but a step at a time.
 
Was anyone in your family a musician?
 
PETER: My older brother is a very good acoustic guitar player – as well as being a remarkable painter. His hero was Julian Bream, not Chuck Berry!
 
Where did you and Eddie first meet? What about Steve and Dan?
 
PETER: In late ’64, I started work at ABC Television in Hanover Square in London, just a hop, skip, and a flip from Oxford Circus. I worked in the post room. One day a new boy joined our merry crew: Eddie Pumer, tall, thin, blonde, little nose, cheeky grin, and no sense of fashion whatsoever, resplendent in an old bloke’s suedette driving coat with the required fake wool collar. We used to run in and out of Soho, ferrying cans of film back and fore to the distributors. We had lunch at a grotty dive in this back water called Carnaby Street. There was one boutique in the street at that time: a dodgy place selling silk underpants to guys with eyes only for guys. Out of the blue Ed suddenly asks me if I’d like to join his band. His band!? I didn’t even know he had a band! Like an idiot I said yes. What was I getting into? I couldn’t sing — for that was the position he was offering me. I agreed to come along to the band’s next practise session. It was my eighteenth birthday. I rode up on my trusty Lambretta to a grubby school hall in the back streets of Acton Town just west of London.
 
And there was the band: three young guys sat around their few battered boxes of equipment — hope already burning its way irrevocably into their hearts. They didn’t know it yet, but a slow-burning quest of innocent ambition was about to change their lives forever — and my life along with theirs… Ed: the band’s musical rock. Dan: the conscience and confidence of the band. Steve: ever cheerful, happy to tag along in any direction, the butt of all our jokes, his sad destiny already inscribed in The Book. And me: Stood precariously on the edge of a cliff, my heart in my hand, about to step into a future that would never let me forget the past. The Sidekicks.
 
You’ve described your brother listening to Elvis. Was “Angel’s Song: Dear Elvis Presley…” the result of that early influence?
 
PETER: No. The song was written within the creative process that produced the “White-Faced Lady” concept album. A pivotal song in the story of Angel’s troubled childhood.
 
Your band had four name changes. Does each name represent a different musical phase? And do you think the late period switch from Kaleidoscope to Fairfield Parlour confused fans?
 
PETER: The Sidekicks were a covers band, playing Chuck Berry, Mose Allison, Rolling Stones – anything relatively easy for four young guys. We played at parties and weddings, back rooms of pubs, tiny clubs. We had lots of fun. Learning our chops. Learning our craft.
 
The Key was a band pushing at boundaries – mostly those we had erected ourselves. Now we were writing our own songs which formed the bulk of our live set. We were experimental, brash, loud and unafraid.
 
We were creative on stage. We used to have a 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-winning on-stage death and they felt pretty silly having to explain their donkey-brained mistake.
 
Kaleidoscope was a professional group with a five year recording contract with an international record company. Once we got our recording contract and open access to all the wonders of the huge Philips Marble Arch studios, it was natural for us to experiment with arrangements. Brandishing our spanking new Kaleidoscope moniker, we entered the studio with songs like “Dive into Yesterday” and “The Murder of Lewis Tollani” and couldn’t help but produce what was instantly called psychedelia. It was the flavour of the month. 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 Leahy our producer 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.


 
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 used to think they had the new Beatles. Now 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.
 
Yes – fans of Kaleidoscope – if there were any at the time and it certainly didn’t feel like there were – might have been confused by the name change. But we had to move on. We were evolving as musicians and as people. The media mostly knew who we were, but once we started releasing our new music it was accepted that we were virtually a “new” band.
 
When so many other psych bands were so fully entrenched in the drugs of the time, how did you guys manage to veer away from that?
 
We were only interested in three things: the band; the music; our quest for success. As we got deeper into the Sixties, it was obvious that LSD was playing a major part in the creativity of some bands. But we didn’t feel the need. If you want to write about living on a purple cloud suspended somewhere over Trafalgar Square and you needed drugs to do that, fine. I found it reasonably easy to just imagine it and write about it. All those strawberry monkeys and chocolate children munching on pineapple-pears!
 
Some people have addictive natures and one bite of the cherry and they want the whole damn basket. Fortunately for me, I was never inclined to test my own proclivities regarding drugs. And, frankly, I was scared of the bloody stuff. I got stupid on alcohol. On drugs I’d have been unbearable and climbing up imaginary — or real — walls.
 
We attended a party somewhere in deepest darkest Kilburn. Clodagh Rogers was there, that shows you how hip we were! Someone announced that they were baking hash muffins in the kitchen. Although I’ve recently discovered after a couple of decades of illness that I can’t tolerate wheat, I love cakes. Much rather have a big cuppa char and an eccles than a pint of your best, landlord. So I was first in the queue for the warm, aromatic muffins. A couple of hours later — after the lovely Ms. Rogers had issued a curt rebuff of my inept advances — I drove the band home in my yellow mini with the black windows. We actually flew home. The tightly packed car was levitating three feet off the ground. So were they hash muffins or acid cakes? I suspect the latter. Big Lobowski only knows how we were not all turned to strawberry jam on the way home.
 
And you heard of so many bad trips that for a sensitive soul like your author that was one dark nightmare I decided not to experience.
 
After four decades, which album of the four do you think holds up the best?
 
PETER: I don’t feel that is for me to say. It depends what you mean by “best.” Tangerine Dream is so-called psychedelic. Faintly Blowing is a more rounded offering featuring complex arrangements and string accompaniment. From Home to Home is a more folky, progressive offering with a maturity the previous two albums lacked. And White-Faced Lady is a world away from all that had gone before with a three-thousand word story, vast orchestral arrangements, and a dedication and passion that would have been difficult to repeat if we had had a chance at recording a fifth album.
 
So – I will leave it to others to decide which if any has any kind of musically historical value.
 
As for writing, what inspired your lyrics, literature etc? Besides the Beatles, Donovan, and The Bee Gees, were you influenced by any of the West Coast psych bands?
 
PETER:  I was always a reader after my brother introduced me to the books of Steinbeck which were wonderful. I never read Tolkien; too whimsical for me – you may be surprised to learn. As a child, I had grown up with dark fairy tales, the gothic works of Edgar Allen Poe etc All this must have had an influence on my own writing, but I could not pinpoint a particular author. When the muse hits, one just goes with it. Allowing it to flow where it wants to go.
 
I loved The Byrds, but that was it as far as US bands were concerned. But I did love Dylan and Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and early Paul Simon etc.
 
But 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.
 
Have you published any poetry? For it seems some of the lyrics and your turns of phrase are sometimes poetic.
 
PETER: Like any moody teenager, I wrote tons of poetry. All purple nonsense, of course. Yes – I did have pretensions to be a writer and at the time wrote several novels that did the rounds of London publishers acquiring endless rejection slips in the process. The concise format of the song was the area in which I felt most comfortable.
 
I have just published a book of every recorded lyric I have ever written. So if anyone does find any worth in these fairy stories, ditties, songs of love and loss they might check out the book, “Life Sentence.”
 
Access info on Life Sentence here.
 
Did the other guys Steve and Dan ever try to write songs?
 
PETER: I think they might have, but nothing was recorded. Like many groups, the songwriting naturally fell to just two members in the band. No idea why. Just worked out that way.
 
Did you see an uptick in sales when Bucketfull of Brains reviewed your work in the 80s?
 
PETER: Not that I was aware. Early days of the Internet. Difficult to know.
 
What about after the most recent reissues?
 
PETER: There have been many reissues over the last few decades. All with steady respectable sales. But income for the band itself has never been high. But great to know that our music is still of some listening value to fans old and new. Very rewarding to get emails from teenagers who have just discovered our music and like what they hear. Quite incredible at this great remove from the initial releases a long lifetime ago.
 
Do any of the band’s live performances remain fixed in your mind as being most representative of what the band could do live?
 
PETER: We were a noisy band. Perhaps not on record, but certainly on stage. Tragically, no recording of our live act exists – apart from “Soldier of the Flesh” from our Isle Of Wight Festival appearance in 1970. But listen to “(Love Song)For Annie” or “Diary Song” from White-Faced Lady and both tracks come close to reproducing our live sound. We were very much a live act. Don’t forget that unlike many bands today, we’d paid our dues, we’d been gigging for years before we got our recording contract, we’d dragged ourselves in and out of a hundred dives, worn out plenty of rubber on the pot-holed back roads of England, eaten enough greasy-spoon breakfasts to clog a thousand miles of arteries. To put on an exciting show we had to give it some wellie. Fey little fairy-tales wouldn’t get the punters up on their high-heeled feet. But there were favourites from our albums that we incorporated in our live show: “Snapdragon”, “(Love Song)For Annie”, “Music” and “Faintly Blowing.” It was quite a show. I would give anything to go back in time and stand in the audience at Mothers Club in Birmingham and watch one of our gigs…
 
On stage, the band was a real powerhouse. We blew up countless amplifiers! Dan was a really powerful manic drummer, in stark contrast to his diminutive stature. Steve thumped away happily, adding the all-important bottom end to the music. Ed was a guitar-genius, a master of feedback that he used skilfully and to great effect on stage. Later, I played some keyboards on stage, but I was always happier with a mike in my hand ‘performing’ — ever the frustrated Billy Fury and Gene Vincent fan.
 
But it would be difficult to name just o“ne gig out of so many. Lost mostly in the mists of time, down grey and cobwebbed back alleys of my faulty memory.
 
I understand Buddy Holly was one of your idols. Can you pinpoint any particular song of yours that reflects this?
 
PETER: Oh, that’s a nice easy question. Sure can: “Dreaming of Holly” on the album Tattoo that I wrote and recorded with Damien Youth.
 
Tattoo
 
I want to write just one song that is half as good as anything that Buddy Holly recorded. He is my musical hero. A brilliant artist cut down literally in his prime. You can listen to any Holly track today and it still sounds as fresh as on the day poor Buddy stood up in the studio and sang his heart out.
 
On White Faced Lady: who did the female backing vocals?
 
PETER:Unfortunately I can’t recall – but, boy, oh, boy – does she have a great voice!
 
On the same album, who was the model for the album cover?
 
PETER: Again, I don’t have the girl’s name. The album was about to be released for the first time and we still didn’t have a cover – so the job of designing and photographing the cover fell to me for some reason. Within days I had to come up with a design, hire the studio, the model, the photographer. And with no one else available to play the part of Jon, I donned me frock coat and stepped into the breach, ready to lay with Angel on that autumnal bed of leaves…. Unfortunately her boyfriend attended the studio session to chaperone his lovely other half.
 
Tell us about your collaborative projects with Damien Youth and Asteroid #4. How did you guys meet? How was the tour under the Kaleidoscope name?
 
PETER: I love collaborating with other artists. Frankly, I need the creative input of other musicians to kickstart me into action these days. The muse is elusive and ephemeral. I do miss those days and nights when songs used to emerge out of the ether. I was a conduit for many, but others required careful crafting. A process of pure mystery and wonder to me.

I’ve recorded three albums with Damien Youth from the USA. We work so well together. I’ve no particular need to work with anyone else. He’s a very talented musician and writer: “Damien Youth on

“MySpace”:www.myspace.com/damienyouth

“Tattoo”, which I wrote and recorded with Damien is one of my own favourites in my solo canon. Our band’s CD, The Morning Set is out on the Global Recording Artists label in the US together with my solo retrospective: King of Thieves:The Best of Peter Daltrey / Vol II

GRA Group 

Damien introduced me to the amazing new-psyche West Coast band Asteroid #4 and we have an album out now on Poppydisc Records.
 
Peter Daltrey and Asteroid #4
 
I love working with such talented and dedicated musicians. We gelled from the start and enjoy writing and recording together. I’m going to give ‘em a kick and hope we can start work on a second album soon. We even managed to play together in London at the fag end of last year, which was another great night.
 
I’ve just recorded a track for a forthcoming Sky Saxon (The Seeds) tribute album. I was asked to record his “Wild Roses.” It was fun. And GRA are just about to release my solo album, “Errinern,” my reflections on the shoah, an album I’ve wanted to make for a long time.
 
Is there any remote possibility Eddie would join you in one of these concerts?
 
I’ve done two tours in the US with my fab American band – Rob Bartholemew, Cheryl Lynn Caddick, and lanky Christof Chertik – and we also played a festival in Spain last year. Here in the UK, I have a home-based band – Simon Shaw, Lavinia Blackwall, Mike Hastings, Adam Stearns, and sitar player Graham Gordon. We played in Glasgow in November and then a big gig in London’s Islington Assembly Hall – which was voted ‘Best Gig of 2013’ by Shindig magazine. Very rewarding for me after half a century of neglect!
 
At the Islington gig, Ed and Dan joined us on stage for a couple of numbers. I’m sure they enjoyed the experience and it was wonderful for me to have me old muckers up there on the boards with me. I was smiling like a cheesy Cheshire cat.
 
In retrospect, do you think if the band launched afresh today that you’d make a much bigger mark? In fact, is the band more popular now than it was back then?
 
PETER: Of course the band is much more popular now than at any time in the past. We fought to make our mark way back then in the Sixties and Seventies but failed through no fault of our own, I feel. Fate conspired with a lousy record company to undermine our efforts at every turn in the musical road.
 
But, hey, ho… All water under Chelsea Bridge. I’m not bitter. I’ve had a great life, have been productive and am immensely proud of my four albums with the band, my own eighteen albums, my seven books and my work with Damien and Asteroid #4. I love working with my new bands – and am at peace with the world. And my new passion is photography, which now occupies much of my remaining time.
 
Would we make a bigger mark if launched today? No. We were very much of our time. A product of our times. Shaped and moulded by the explosion of creativity that made the Sixties in Britain so vital, so exciting. You only get one big chance in life. That was ours.
 
Related Links:
 
Peter Daltrey on Facebook
 
Tambourine Days
 
Fine Art America