Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stone Circus - The Stone Circus (1969 us, superb blend of psych pop and experimental acid rock, Fallout edition)



Whether it was more a blessing or a curse to be signed to Bob Shad’s Chicago-based Mainstream Records in the late 1960s is a matter for debate. Though the label issued numerous underground albums that are unlikely to have seen the light of day otherwise (including minor classics by the Bohemian Vendetta, the Art Of Lovin’, the Growing Concern, Ellie Pop, the Jelly Bean Bandits, the Orient Express and others), it had little in the way of national distribution or radio support, and was at best a way-station for the more talented artists on its roster, such as Big Brother & the Holding Company and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes. A classic victim of its approach was Stone Circus.

The band’s leader and chief songwriter was Jonathan Caine (real name Larry Cohen). Born in Montreal in 1948, by the age of 14 he was a guest soloist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and upon graduation from the Quebec Conservatory in 1968, he gravitated towards America’s East Coast. There he hooked up with fellow Montreal natives Ronnie Paige, David Keeler and Mike Burns, as well as guitarist Sonny Haines (a New Yorker who had played with Joey Dee and the Starlighters before recording a few 45s with Canadian act the Footprints). 

The band based themselves in New York, named themselves the Funky Farm and were soon offered the chance to record an album by Shad. The result was a superb blend of melodic psych-pop and experimental acid rock, spanning mellow, catchy pop (What Went Wrong? and Sara Wells), harder-edged rock (Mr. Grey and Inside-Out Man) and out-and-out weirdness (the long closing track, People I One Knew, which opens and closes with unsettling spoken word sections), and bore similarity to contemporary acts such as the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Blues Magoos.

When the LP was released, however, the band was astonished to find their name changed to Stone Circus – and when it failed to sell, they split. Cohen went on to collaborate with Footprints singer Yank Barry on an odd, lavishly packaged double LP entitled Diary Of Mr. Gray (boasting a very close cover of Stone Circus’s Mr. Gray) in the early 70s, before embarking on a career composing music for B-movies. The other members of Stone Circus remain in obscurity, though one hopes they’re aware of the standing their music has belatedly acquired amongst connoisseurs of psychedelia.
Tracks
1. What Went Wrong (Caine) - 2:27
2. Adam’s Lament (Caine) - 2:36
3. Mr. Grey (Caine) - 3:07
4. Blue Funk (Murphy) - 2:36
5. Carnival Of Love (Caine) - 3:01
6. Sara Wells (Murphy) - 3:08
7. Inside-Out Man (Caine, Murphy) - 5:11
8. Camino Real (Caine, Murphy) - 3:33
9. People I Once Knew (Caine) - 7:00

Stone Circus
*Sonny Haines - Lead Guitar
*Ronnie Paige - Lead Vocals
*Jonathan Caine - Organ
*David Keeler - Bass
*Mike Burns - Drums

Free Text

5 comments:

  1. The Stone Circus LP been one of the holy grail to collectors of the legendary Mainstream label, but so little is known about it that the misconceptions have grown along with its monetary value and to become one of the most sought-after major label LPs of the period. Enjoyable from Start to Finish.

    Stone Circus deserves better than Mainstream-really. It has everything of the period, good songs and vocals, fuzz workouts, organ swirls. Man, there were worse-lots worse. These transplanted Canadians went to NYC to seek their fame. Choose the name Funky Farm, got signed by Mainstream/Bob Shad. He changed their name to Stone Circus (not a bad move)and this LP went the way of most of the Mainstream artists. They did release "Mr. Grey" as a single. Perfect song for the times, but with no promotion, nothing happened.

    Stone Circus were more than adequate musically. Lyrics are of the time; questions about life and other people's personalities. Jazzier Doors-y opener "What Went Wrong" reminds of Buffalo Springfield's "Pretty Girl Why" and those Classic Four songs. "Adam's Lament," more instrumental than not, is a downright funky look at the happenings in Eden! Aforementioned "Mr. Grey" fits along side S.F. Sorrow. It features a growl-y fuzz bass and takes off into a Ray Manzarek-like break. "Blue Funk" is one of the best tracks here. Smart lyrically, driving bass, and a dreamy little chorus: "you're a blue funk in a green frame. You're a mad monk with a million saints." Along with "Mr. Grey," "Sara Wells" intriques. Sounding like Strawberry Alarm Clock, with a bit more production, this could have been a hit. "Inside Out Man" is "Nowhere Man" four years later.

    Every album in the 60's had its 7 minutes plus extravaganza-Stone Circus is no exception with closer "People I Once Knew." Winding itself up with a spoken intro, we are then treated to a major fuzz freakout. It has its moments, but imagine the riff from the Byrds "So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star"-only twice as fast. With no nuance or atmosphere, the riff drives you to distraction. The lead and organ breaks are inventive if a little long winded. Arising and descending bass riff break things up creatively. I do believe the more you hear this album, the better it gets. Make to be listened to in the spirit that it was made.

    An obscure bit of psychedelic pop issued briefly on the Mainstream label at the end of the 60s -- one that's got a tighter groove and hipper sound than most of its contemporaries! The Stone Circus may have only left this one album behind in their career -- but it's a plenty great one, and shows the group to be extremely focused and polished, with a sound that's often highly rhythmic, and even a bit funky at times! Before the release of the album, the combo were actually known as The Funky Farm -- which might have something to do with the sound -- and the music here is a tight blend of basslines, snapping drums, organ, and guitar -- with bits of vibes thrown into the mix at a few especially great points in the set done with a bit of fuzz at times -- clever lyrics.

    Thx Marios.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Can't add more than that. Very fine indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a great album Marios.

    Thank you for sharing it with us all here @ Plain & Fancy.

    Michael

    Sunday 8th March 2015 6.58pm GMT

    ReplyDelete
  4. At first I bought this record (the re-issue) as a curiosity. I had heard some of it on you tube and took a chance buying it. But of all the psychedelic novelties I have, this record breaks through to something much greater than novelty. The lyrics truly speak to me. The music transcends the 60's, actually sounds more like 70's music (especially that riff from Inside Out Man). There's a slight cool, artsy, white jazziness to it that reminds one of a precursor to groups like Steely Dan. Mr. Grey is amazing - quite uplifting - as is "Blue Funk"

    ReplyDelete