Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Starry Eyed And Laughing - That Was Now And This Is Then (1974-75 uk, amazing Byrd-ish folk psych rock, 2003 double disc bonus tracks remaster)

The elder statesman of rock historians, Fred Dellar, wrote of the hugely-underrated Starry Eyed And Laughing that they were either 15 years ahead of their time or 10 years too late, by which he meant that with better timing they could have been as big as the Byrds or REM. Certainly, SEAL arrived somewhat late for the first and most popular phase of their chosen genre, country-rock. The two involuntary albatrosses they carried round their necks didn’t help much, either: being cast by the UK rock media as an ersatz Byrds by dint of their prominent Rickenbacker twelve-string jangle and close harmony vocals, and being saddled with the uncultured, back-to-basics Pub Rock image by virtue of working the same London venues as the R’n’B and Chuck Berry-fuelled likes of Dr Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe. Neither association was deserved.

SEAL was initally old school friends Ross McGeeney and Tony Poole from Bedford, who worked the capital’s folk clubs, pubs and subway stations as a guitar/vocal duo in the early 70s, taking their name from a line in Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom and covering the Zim himself, Jackson Browne, Michael Nesmith and other quality singer-songwriters. Late in ’73 they aspired to a stable four-piece line-up with Brighton bassist Iain Whitmore and appropriately-named drummer Mike Wackford, and began working up a set of country-rock originals based around the songwriting of the three frontmen, Poole’s chiming Rickenbacker 330-12, McGeeney’s bend-laden Telecaster and fluid vocal harmonies. These graced the eponymous debut album which appeared on CBS in October ’74 to considerable critical approval. While the Byrds influence could be detected, so could those of various other heroes of the genre “ CSN&Y, Poco, even Moby Grape – and there were yet plenty of original touches. The songwriting may not have been as smoothly adroit as the more sublime compositions of McGuinn or Browne, but still showed an adventurous respect for their West Coast antecedents. Poole’s dexterity on the Rick Twelve was (whisper it low . . .) way ahead of Roger McGuinn’s, and his duels with McGeeney’s fiery Fender made the uptempo cuts sizzle.

The debut’s twelve tracks comprised a classy, energetic, varied set. Lady Came From The South recalls Notorious-era Byrds with flanged 1string, powerhouse percussion and psychedelic overtones, while the joyous boogie Oh What? rocks along on guitar and piano in best Southern Rawk style. All four musicians generate an absolute tour-de-force on Going Down, on which Poole’s licks in particular are incandescent. But despite support from heavy UK touring the album failed to sell in large numbers at home, and didn’t get a release in America at all. CBS nonetheless optioned a follow-up which appeared eleven months later as Thought Talk and which, following the prevailing trend, offered more keyboards, less twelve-string twang and more mature, complex compositions; different, but certainly as accomplished and rewarding as the debut. SEAL then embarked on a brief but well-received US tour, during which McGeeney visited Gene Parsons to have his Tele fitted with a String Bender.

The history becomes sketchy thereafter; at a tour post-mortem meeting McGeeney was summarily fired or resigned (depending on whose account you read) for reasons never made public, and the depleted band fell apart shortly afterwards when their management went bust. Unlike many of their contemporaries, there has been no reformation, though Poole remains active in the genre as producer and record label owner and struts his Rickenbacker along with Whitmore in the rather excellent Falcons. The best way to experience SEAL’s oeuvre thirty-five years on is via the fine 2CD package That Was Now And This Is Then, containing all of both albums, interesting bonus cuts (including their version of Chimes Of Freedom) and snatches of concerts and radio broadcasts.
by Len Liechti, June 28th, 2010 
Disc 1 
1. Going Down (Ross McGeeney) - 3:06
2. Closer To You Now (Ross McGeeney) - 3:51
3. Money Is No Friend Of Mine (Tony Poole) - 3:21
4. Lady Came From The South (Tony Poole) - 3:46
5. Oh' What (Tony Poole) - 3:01
6. See Your Face (Ross McGeeney, Tony Poole) - 3:15
7. Nobody Home (Tony Poole) - 2:40
8. 50/50 (Better Stop Now) (Iain Whitmore) - 3:37
9. Living In London (Ross McGeeney, Tony Poole) - 2:44
10.Never Say Too Late (Iain Whitmore) - 2:59
11.In The Madness (Ross McGeeney) - 2:56
12.Everybody (Ross McGeeney) - 5:45
13.Chimes Of Freedom (Bob Dylan) - 4:51
14.Strangers All Over Again (Tony Poole) - 3:38
15.Meet Me Lord (At The Bottom Of The Hill) (Ross McGeeney, Tony Poole) - 3:14
Tracks 1-12 "Starry Eyed And Laughing" 1974
Bonus Tracks 13-15
Disc 2  
1. Good Love (Ross McGeeney, Tony Poole, Iain Whitmore, Michael Wackford) - 4:52
2. One Foot In The Boat (Tony Poole) - 4:15
3. Since I Lost You (Iain Whitmore) - 4:45
4. Down The Street (Ross McGeeney) - 4:16
5. Fool's Gold (Iain Whitmore) - 4:45
6. Believe (Ross McGeeney) - 5:56
7. Keep It To Yourself (Ross McGeeney, Tony Poole, Iain Whitmore, Michael Wackford) - 3:35
8. Don't Give Me A Hard Time (Ross McGeeney) - 3:45
9. Flames In The Rain (Tony Poole) - 7:02
10.Thought Talk (Iain Whitmore, Tony Poole) - 4:56
11.Song On The Radio (Tony Poole) - 3:28
12.Saturday (Tony Poole) - 3:08
13.Can't Help But Love Her (Tony Poole) - 3:10
Tracks 1-10 from "Thought Talk" 1975
Bonus Tracks 11-13

Starry Eyed And Laughing
*Ross McGeeney - Vocals, 6-string Electric, Acoustic Guitars
*Tony Poole - Vocals, 1string Electric, Acoustic Guitars, Organ, Synthesizer
*Iain Whitmore - Vocals, Bass Guitar, Percussion
*Michael Wackford - Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Glockenspiel, Congas
*Ray Jackson - Mandolin (Disc 1)
*B.J. Cole - Pedal Steel Guitar (Disc 1)
*Russ Ballard - Piano (Disc 1)
*Peter Woods - Harpsichord (Disc 1)
*Pete Zorn - Alto Saxophone (Disc 2)
*Colin Walker - Cello (Disc 2) 
*Dan Loggins - Mouth Harp (Disc 2)
*Jeff Bannister - Organ (Disc 2)
*Frank Riccotti - Vibraphone (Disc 2) 
*Steve Lewis - Bass (Disc 2, Tracks 11-13)
*Nick Bicat - Piano (Disc 2, Tracks 11-13)
*Tony Meehan - Strings Arrangements (Disc 2, Tracks 11-13)
*Flo And Eddie (Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan) - Vocals (Disc 2, Tracks 11-13)