July – Magical Days – Part 2

Jason Barnard of The Strange Brew Podcast continues to speak to British psychedelic rock legends July:

When did you rename yourselves July and how did you decide on the name?

 

Peter: We used to meet up before July was formed into a full fledged band at Jon Field’s place. I guess we used to listen to music and talk about what we were going to do and names came up. I don’t know why we were discussing names. I suggested August as a name that flowed for me. For some reason the guys didn’t like August so I then said what about July Fields using Jon Field as part of that and it ended up as July. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know what it’s about I really don’t know.

You played gigs at key underground clubs such as the Middle Earth and The Roundhouse plus legendary venues like the Marquee and the Royal Albert Hall. What were your gigs like and who did you play alongside?

 

Tom: I don’t think we ever did a bad gig. We always went down very very well.

What was the atmosphere like?

 

Tom: It was always brilliant.

Alan: I think it was professional because we rehearsed all the time. We weren’t going to be a band the goes on half cocked. We put in a lot of effort and it showed and shows now.

Have you got any stories about the places you played like the Marquee and the Royal Albert Hall?

 

Alan: Yeah, we played at the Roundhouse with another up and coming band at the time called Pink Floyd. After we finished our second set we were just about to pack our gear up and the DJ come MC came over and said “Guys, do you mind going on again and doing another set?” So we said “Why” and he said “The audience don’t like the band that’s out there at the moment” that happened to be Pink Floyd so we said “Yeah, why not!” and we went back on and played another three quarter of an hour set. Floyd got pulled off and I don’t think they got paid.

Chris: Never heard of again!

Alan: Marquee was with Joe Cocker. That was a good gig, nice intimate place. Very small stage. So small that all of his backing singers had to sing from off stage in the dressing room along where we were just getting ready to go on.

Tom: And these little girlies burst into song! The Albert Hall- that was with a whole bunch of people.

Alan: There  was about a dozen other bands including Family, Spooky Tooth, Jethro Tull, Yes, Alan Price and Georgie Fame, Julie Felix, Roy Harper…

July, Royal Albert Hall Poster, 1968

Were you on friendly terms with other bands and do you have any important memories of the time?

 

Tom: People used to come up and ask to play with us. Noel Redding and Keith Moon. Ronnie Wood liked us. Yeah, we never got on badly with any other bands.

Alan: When you’re playing regularly with people like that it’s like work mates.

Tom: Yeah, so you’d bump into them. Like if you were a plumber and you bumped into another plumber at lunch you’d stop and have a chat with him.

Didn’t you play with Status Quo somewhere?

Alan: We did, at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield.

Tom: We played football with them. Well I didn’t because I didn’t like football but the rest of the band played with them. The Tomcats beat Status Quo at football. Both outside in the car park and in the dressing room! (laughs)

How did you get to be managed by Spencer Davis and did this lead to your record deal with Major Minor?

 

Alan: We just happened to fall into that one I think.

Tom: I’ve got no recollection of how we managed to be. Scots John Martin, the promoter, was running the Spencer Davis management. I don’t think that Spencer Davis gave a shite whether we were on his label or not, really. That would have led to the Major Minor deal. We just weren’t interested in all that. That was one of the things that went wrong; we weren’t interested in the business. We just expected the “manager” to do all that and make us rich and famous! We never had the right manager.

Alan: We had faith in people, perhaps we shouldn’t have done.

Who produced the LP and where was it recorded? There’s a lot going on production wise, did the tracks evolve in the studio?

Tom: No, we only had two days to do the whole thing, Saturday and Sunday. We were hustled into the studio, set up, played through everything and thrown out again almost immediately. So we didn’t have anything to do with the so-called production.

Alan: The least amount of money spent on us the better as far as that management were concerned. They were very tight with their money.

Who produced it?

Tom: A guy called Tommy Scott.

Were you happy with it?

 

Tom: No.

Alan: Not in the slightest.

Tom, was it true you had a rotten cold that affected your singing voice?

 

Tom: Yes, I’ve still got it now! It sounded like crap but the remastered version is really good and I like it again now.

What do you think works best and is there anything you would like to improve retrospectively?

Alan: It’s a good bunch of songs, a few that I might not have recorded. It was the more commercial stuff that the so-called management decided that they wanted in there. We didn’t have a lot of say so. There were a lot of things we could have done better. It wasn’t to our standards I don’t think. We recorded two other numbers Dandelion Seeds and The Way ourselves that turned out twice as good as those recorded at the studio.

Tom: They’re on the Cherry Red record as extra tracks. They’re good.

Peter: It’s the difference between having musicians and having people that are really up for the band and recording and producing the stuff and having someone who happens to be there and a technician that’s really not into the music. And I think that’s what went wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the content that’s there that I can see. It’s just the way it was engineered and Cherry Red did a good job in pulling something out of it. It was just badly produced.

I’ve heard that not many copies of the album were pressed, is this true?

 

Alan: We don’t know. They didn’t inform us of anything, sales, where it was going, not a dicky-bird.

Dandelion Seeds and My Clown is one of the pivotal singles from the era. Did its release precede the LP and why do you think it didn’t enjoy chart success it merited?

Tom: It didn’t get promoted. The record label went bankrupt within a few weeks of the album coming out. Did they release the singles first? They probably did. My Clown came out first, probably within six weeks.

Alan: They handed them to a few DJs. One went to John Peel- he liked it very much. Alan Freeman, Annie Nightingale she liked it and that was it. They played it but no follow up.

Tom: They were more interested in getting their arses out of trouble rather than promoting the record. But a bit short sighted of them because if they had promoted us they wouldn’t have gone bankrupt!

 

You released a final single Hello, Who’s There/The Way in 1968. The a-side has a kind of Lazy Sunday pop sound. Was this a conscious decision to widen your appeal?

 

Alan: Not on our behalf, it was the production.

Tom: They wanted a Small Faces type number. It was mentioned in one of the meetings as the Small Faces had just done “Wouldn’t it nice to get on with the neighbours..” We probably semi-unconsciously…. Hello Who’s There was probably a little bit influenced by that in order for the record company to promote it.

Chris: Definitely influenced by that, down to the cockney voices.

Major Minor folded soon after- did this lead to the band’s split?

 

All: Yeah.

You then embarked on your own successful projects. Do you think your experiences in July were important building blocks for your work in the seventies?

 

Tom: Yeah, in the seventies the reason I started Virgin and the Manor was because I just wanted a studio to write songs in. So I was trying to get Richard to build me a studio. I didn’t give a shit about Virgin Records to start with until we found Mike Oldfield. I was still committed to being in the music business.

Peter: I stumbled into making guitars and writing for the music press.

Alan: I went into photography. I think I was shattered by the amount of disappointment we had with all the different  management. It was sapping as well.

Chris: I carried on for a while.

Tom: You played drums on Dick Barton didn’t you?

Chris: With Elton John yeah.

Tom: You played with Elton John and I mean that in the best possible way! (laughs)

After July split, Tom is recording two of the original band, Tony Duhig & Jon Field, in their new life as 'Jade Warrior'.

The cult status of July was building over that period of time and you were getting a lot of fans.  Were you aware over these years?

 

All: No.

Alan: Not until the internet started.

In 1995 the Record Collector feature came out. What happened then?

Alan: John Reed contacted us and said “Can you come down for an interview?” It was just me and then he did a separate one for you, Tom. We thought it was the start of everything again but nothing came of it.

Tom and Alan: We didn’t follow it up.

Alan: He contacted us because our records were starting to fetch a couple of hundred quid.

Tom: Yeah, that’s what happened first of all. The original Major Minor vinyl discs started to become collectors’ items. I started to take notice when they started to reach £800. I looked through my record collection to see if I had any!

Alan: Bam Caruso and the Essex label re-released them before the internet too. They did sell in America and in other places.

There was also last year’s fantastic cover of Dandelion Seeds by US indie stars The Lemonheads. After all these years, how does it feel now that you are getting the recognition you deserve?

Tom: It’s wonderful. It’s our JR Hartley moment!

Alan: It’s not just that, it’s been covered twice with My Clown.

Is it this interest that lead you to reform the group and how did you get together?

 

Alan: It was because there was a lot going on out there that we didn’t know about and we thought “Why aren’t we part of this?” July is being liked by a lot of people and they don’t know who we are. There’s also a lot of nonsense written about us too and we thought, let’s put them right. So we contacted everybody from the band and had a meeting.

Tom: Yeah, as soon as we had a meeting we realised we liked each other. We could still play and it sounded good.

Alan: We clicked.

You’ve recorded new material like Magical Days that retains the best elements of the 1960s UK psych music but manages to be current and relevant. How do you think it compares or differs to the songs you made in the late 60s?

 

Tom: I wrote Magical Days a good while ago and it was on a solo album that I did in 1993/4. Pete started writing new custom written stuff for July. But I wasn’t in the right head space to be writing songs again because I’d been writing bits of instrumental music for a long time so I trawled back through what I’d already got. Magical Days came out of that and so did a couple of other songs that we’re working on at the moment. All of my songs have been a bit Sixties anyway. I just found a couple of songs that had the right feel and everybody seemed to like them. I haven’t written anything specific for July in the new incarnation but Pete’s been writing like a demon. Everyone else has started writing, Alan and Chris are writing away so it’s looking really good.

Peter: In the Sixties when the stuff was written and performed it was the Sixties and now it’s exactly the same only its 2010 now. It’s exactly the same attitude and approach to it but it’s just today as opposed to then. There’s nothing special. It’s of the time.

Peter Cook recording for the next album in the studio

Is it easier or harder to write and record today and how does the process differ?

Tom: Because everything’s digital now on some levels it’s a lot easier but there’s also a danger of allowing the technology to take over. One of the good things about the way we recorded back in the Sixties was that because it was on tape there was only a certain amount you can do in terms of editing and fiddling with it so you had to be good and get the feel in the initial recording. A lot of people now fail to recognise that because it’s so easy to make up a loop and sing crap. You’ve got a song but it’s kind of predictable and boring unless you’ve got real people playing it with real feel. That’s one of the things I’m missing. It’s very convenient to do stuff digitally because we can send it to each other and add bits to it. You can construct songs very readily. But at the end of the day what’s becoming apparent to me that once we’ve got all the songs together and arrangements done over the internet, I would really like to go into a studio and record on a live basis, and build them up like the old days and just to see if it’s true and put back in an important factor.

Alan: Do you think it’s lost the live feel?

Tom: Yeah, it can do. Something like Magical Days hasn’t lost the live feel as I never constructed it with a loop and click track. I sewed bits together, it’s loose. As long as you allow it to be lose and don’t Quantise the life out of it there’s a chance it will still have a bit of feel. Whatever overdubs you do should be good loose life overdubs played with feeling.

What are you plans for the future?

 

Peter: We’re going to produce an album and at the same time we’re going to prepare to hit the road late this year/early next year and take it from there.

Tom: Yeah, play the Albert Hall again!

So finally, looking back, what are your proudest achievements and the favourite songs you produced?

 

Tom: Making a son, the one that’s in the band because we wouldn’t have a guitar player if we didn’t do that. Magical Days is pretty high up there, I really like it the way it’s come out.

Peter: Still being here and wanting to do it. My favourite song is going to be the next one I write!

Alan: The Way is one of my favourites, Dandelion Seeds and My Clown as well.

Tom: He’s writing good stuff now. One of them is going to turn out a favourite.

Chris: To appear at the Royal Albert Hall and my favourite song is The Way. But it fluctuates.

Alan: Actually starting to write music now which I never did in the early days. I just didn’t have the feeling for it then but thinking about what Tom, Pete and Chris had written in the past I thought “Get your finger out and start” and that was it really.

The new July, 2009, Suffolk, England.

Special thanks to Alan’s wife for her invaluable help with the interview.

Look out for the imminent Strange Brew Podcast Show which will include interview snippets and pivotal tracks from their career and connected artists.

Further information on the return of this brilliant band can be found on their official Facebook pages:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=140888&id=239366944425#!/pages/JULY/239366944425?ref=ts