Peter Daltrey – The Kaleidoscope Years

Kaleidoscope have been called the world’s favourite lost band. No psychedelic list is ever complete without them because of their two stunning albums in the late sixties: “Tangerine Dream” and “Faintly Blowing,” plus the peerless single “Flight from Ashiya”. They metamorphosed into Fairfield Parlour in the seventies repeating this feat for two more great albums “From Home To Home” and “White Faced Lady”.

Jason Barnard speaks to their lead singer Peter Daltrey to uncover the story of this truly legendary psychedelic group and his prolific solo career. 

Kaleidoscope (used with kind permission from http://www.chelsearecords.co.uk)

Peter, it’s great to hear from you. Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour are in the pantheon of UK psych greats.

Yeah, but we only realised this not long ago. Unfortunately, you guys weren’t around when we were. That’s the problem. We had a following at the time and we did have sales. We had tons of airplay and great reviews but it didn’t actually go anywhere. It didn’t result in any major success but it is of course very satisfying that decades down the line people like yourself, of a younger generation, appreciate the music, because that’s what we did it for. For people to enjoy it and the fact that people say to me, like you just did, that you appreciate the band and the music is very rewarding.

Kaleidoscope have had various incarnations over the years, the first being The Sidekicks. Wasn’t it that you formed the group while you were working with Eddie Pumer at ABC?

I was working at ABC television in probably ’63 and The Beatles were really beginning to take hold. We all worshipped them. I worked in the post room with a load of guys we all had a real laugh. It was just behind Oxford Circus and we used to have to take all the film cans down into Soho to the various processors down there. We had a quite a ball. We were only young chaps. And then, the story goes, one of the guys I worked with, Eddie Pumer, said one day “Would you like to be in my band?” I was rather taken aback because I had no idea he was in a band for a start and wasn’t quite sure why he was asking me although we were getting on together. But he said “Come and be in the band” and I said “I can’t play anything, I don’t know an instrument.” He said “That’s alright. You can be the singer.” (laughs) So I just fell into that.

The Sidekicks first gig, June 1964, left to right, Peter Daltrey, Danny Bridgman, Eddy Pumer, Steve Clark (used with kind permission from http://www.chelsearecords.co.uk)

The guys used to rehearse at a school hall in Acton and he said “Why don’t you come along?”. So I jumped on my Lambretta and zoomed over there after work one night, very nervous about it, not having done anything like that before. Obviously like a lot of teenagers, you would fantasise about being a pop singer but not too seriously. I got to the hall and had their equipment set up in one of the school classrooms. I said “What shall we do?” and they said “We play a lot of rhythm and blues standards. Anything you know?” I said, not particularly. They said “What about Johnny B Goode” I said “Yeah. I’ve heard of that.” Somebody had the lyrics written out. We launched into it and off we went. It was immediately great fun and the guys were nice. You know they weren’t loud or brash sort of people. We hit it off in a funny sort of way immediately. We became The Sidekicks. We used to play youth clubs and back rooms of pubs just doing covers of early Stones and other R’n’B standards.

You supported The Who?

Yeah. The Welsh Harp at Hendon. That was quite an experience because they were just up and coming. They had just had, or were just about to have “I Can’t Explain”. They were a lot more loutish than we were. We were quieter chaps but The Who came from a slightly rougher background. I distinctly remember going into the dressing room behind the stage. There were all these guitar cases laid open and each one contained the carcass of a bashed in Rickenbacker, its neck broken and all the bits hanging off. Townshend had just started this thing on stage where he stabbed his speaker stack with his guitars and smash ‘em up. Where they got the money from for replacements I have no idea. We all looked open mouthed at these fantastic guitars smashed to pieces in these boxes and he was very proud of them. He stood back and opened each case to reveal the thing in bits and pieces.

The Who creating havoc at another gig
The Who creating havoc at another gig

They went on and did an absolutely amazing show. It’s burnt on my mind. I’d never seen them before and haven’t seen them since but to catch them at that time when they were up and coming and doing this wild act – we’d never seen anything like that before. It was amazing. We hadn’t long got out of Cliff Richard and The Shadows were they did silly dance steps on stage and here were four guys creating absolute havoc and chaos. Moon kicked his drums over. It was a very violent act and very unique, very original, quite awe inspiring.

You recorded loads of demos in that period. What seems mark you out between a lot of other bands of this time is that you tentatively started to write your own material.

From the start we were very ambitious. We were around at a time when The Beatles were proving any four guys could get together if they had determination and an ounce of talent they could do something. Obviously they had more than an ounce but we suspected that we might have an ounce or two. Not big headed about it, not in a vain way but certainly ambitious in craving some sort of success in what we did. But we were doing covers and R’n’B. There was nowhere to go with that. We used to go to all these cheap recording studios and bash out these demos on cheap equipment and that what came out on the Kaleidoscope “The Sidekicks Sessions”.

Kaleidoscope, The Sidekicks Sessions, 1964-1967 CD, Alchemy, 2003

It was pretty embarrassing most of that stuff. I only agree to have it put out because I knew that there would be people like yourself who would be interested and that’s fair enough. I don’t mind that. I don’t listen to it myself. The best one on there which still gives me a bit of a buzz is “I’m Looking for a Woman” which is a really good little track. That beats along quite well.

Some of the others demonstrate how poor we were at the time and how dire the studio reproduction was. We quickly realised at this time we weren’t going to go anywhere playing old Mose Allison and Rolling Stones numbers. Eddie and I for some reason, I suppose it was The Beatles, started to write songs. I was the singer, Ed was the guitarist so he wrote the music, I wrote the words. “Drivin’ Around” was the first song we wrote. That’s on the CD. 

Your material started to change. “Holiday Maker” is on there isn’t it?

That’s right. That’s interesting because we did a demo of that in one of these cheap studios and the guy that owned the studio pricked up his ears because it’s a good catchy little song.  He said “I wouldn’t mind publishing that. I wouldn’t mind putting that out.” Like a lot of devious guys in the music business then and now, you’ve got to be careful with some of them. All they are trying to do is grab copyrights. I think we steered clear of that guy but it was clear from that start on that particular song that it was pretty catchy.

The Beatles and “Revolver” were influential.

Certainly “Revolver”. I love Sgt Pepper, of course it’s a wonderful album. It’s unique, it can never be repeated. But it does rather shadow “Revolver”. If you go through their back catalogue, even their first albums were tremendous. Certainly the song writing from the start was remarkable. You had this clear distinction between McCartney and Lennon and we tended to lean one way or the other. I was always a Lennon fan to be honest. His voice was outstanding on those early tracks. “Eight Days A Week”, the melody and production, the ringing guitars, the Lennon vocals were absolutely spot on.

The Beatles, Revolver LP, Parlophone, 1966

 You signed to Philips/Fontana through publishing links.

It was “Holiday Maker” again. When the band were sending these demos of to record companies they were either disappearing in a pile, lost, or just being returned. We weren’t getting anywhere then somebody I was working with said “Why don’t you try contacting a publisher rather than a record company?”. I hadn’t thought of that. We looked in the book and there was a company called Flamingo Music and it just happened to be round the corner from the Philips office. We didn’t know that at the time. We rang this guy and said “Can we come in and play you some songs?” he said “No, send some demos in.” The demos again, were returned. He said well alright then, “Why don’t you come in, at lunchtime and play me a couple of songs while I’m having a sandwich and we’ll have a look.” So Ed and I went up here and played him a few songs and he said “Yeah, not bad but come back in six months when you’ve learnt your trade a bit more and learn how to write songs.” So we left the office really dejected and we thought it was another brush off.

The Sidekicks became The Key in 1966 (used with kind permission from http://www.chelsearecords.co.uk)

We went down other avenues which amounted to nothing and six months down the line I said to Ed “You know, why don’t we go back and see that guy and see if he was brushing us off and see if he wanted us to come back.” So we went and banged on his door again and he said “Oh, no, no” and we said “We’ve got new songs and took on board what you said.” He said “OK, come on in.” We played him some stuff and then we played him “Holiday Maker.” He picked up the phone and we though “Oh, what’s he doing? We’ve played him a decent songs and he’s not even saying, he’s picking up the phone.” He said “No, no just sit still.” He said to someone on the phone “I want you to come over straight away.” Within ten minutes in walks this long thin guy in black clothes. It turns out to be Dick Leahy, one of the up and coming producers at Fontana. The music publisher said “Play him that song again, Holiday Maker.” We played it and Dick said “Do you want a recording contract.”

The sound of records is clear and crisp, like The Beatles’ recordings, while some of your contemporaries like The Yardbirds and the Stones have a duller murkier sound.

It’s got to be down to a couple of things really. The main one would be the studio itself and the second one would be the producer and the engineer. They’ve got pet ways of doing sessions and setting things up and some are going to be brighter than others I suppose. Certainly the first two Kaleidoscope albums, “Tangerine Dream” and “Faintly Blowing” have just been reissued on Sunbeam Records. They’re both on vinyl and I’ve had emails from people saying they sound sparkling new. There’s no loss of clarity whatsoever in any of the tracks and that’s what really appeals to them.

You’ve said that “New York Mining Disaster” by The Bee Gees influenced “The Murder of Lewis Tollini” and “Flight from Ashiya”.

Yes, I did say that. I’ve just put out a book called Tambourine Days and I was researching that and I’ve always said that, The Bee Gees “New York Mining Disaster” was a very big influence on the writing of a lot of our early stuff on that album. But in fact I think when I looked up “New York Mining Disaster” it came out in ‘67 but Lewis Tollini had been written before that. I always credited Horizontal but that came out after “Tangerine Dream”. Those songs were written in ‘66 after we heard Revolver. However, The Bee Gees were remarkable, it’s Robin’s voice I love the most.

Kaleidoscope, “Flight from Ashiya”
Kaleidoscope, “Flight from Ashiya” (used with kind permission from http://www.chelsearecords.co.uk)

“Flight from Ashiya” was your first single.

Ed and I by this time were writing a lot. We were now recording and had an outlet for our songs. We were really pushing the boundaries. We were really trying very hard. Our system was that I used to write the words first and pass them to Ed and he would come up with a tune. We’d then knock it out together and give it to the other guys. Songs can begin anywhere with a bit of melody, a word or overheard phrase.

“Flight from Ashiya” was actually a novel from the late fifties or early sixties, it was also filmed. I think we had the book at home at my parents’ house. I think I must have seen the title on the spine of the book and for some reason it appealed to me and I created this little story about a plane crash. That was a perfect case in point where we were writing so much that Dick Leahy would ring us in the day and say “You guys got anything to do?” as he was always eager to hear us. We’d go up to the office. We sat in his office and played “Flight from Ashiya” and he just freaked out. At the time he and the publisher were assuming “Holiday Maker” was going to be the A-side because it was such a catchy little pop song. But as soon as we played “Flight from Ashiya” he said “No, this has got to be the A-side.”

Flight from Ashiya, novel
Flight from Ashiya, novel

Not only were songwriters and groups trying to catch up with The Beatles, the producers were doing the same. Dick was on the ball, he was really keen and that he might have some kudos coming from success of that particular song. So it got flipped, “Flight from Ashiya” the A-side and “Holiday Maker” the B-side, much to the chagrin of the publisher. 

In retrospect I suppose, “Holiday Maker” for the first single might just have been the better choice as it might have got us initial radio play, and then hit them with “Flight from Ashiya”. As it was, “Flight from Ashiya” came out, people loved it, it got good reviews, the radio stations played it. But at this point we realised that the record company we were with had terrible distribution. We were getting letters from people all round the country saying “We love your stuff, we got get it. It’s never in the shop.” A kid with five shillings in his pocket, if it’s not there, will buy something else.

There’s that great clip on YouTube with you guys miming to it. That isn’t Serge Gainsbourg in the corner is it?

[tubepress video=ee9w_7UYeiM]

Yeah (laughs), Serge Gainsbourg at the keyboards. We went over just for the day. It was absolute chaos, the French had no idea how to organise anything. We were stood on set for four hours and every now and then they’d expect us to turn to them and mime to our song. That’s why my response to the French interviewer is a bit terse as by that time we’d been stood around for three hours. 

A few months later you released “Tangerine Dream”. It got good reviews at the time but a few years back in Q Magazine ranked it as one of the greatest psychedelic albums. It’s above “Are You Experienced?”, “The Who Sell Out” and “Odessey and Oracle”.

That’s great but it’s bitter sweet. Where was everybody at the time? Was it just that there was so much competition. There was no promotion from Fontana and they couldn’t get the vinyl in the shops. “Flight from Ashiya”, they printed up 10,000 picture sleeves, that was unheard of for a new band. They obviously had faith in it but didn’t get it into the shops. The same thing happened with “Tangerine Dream”.

Kaleidoscope, Tangerine Dream LP, Fontana, 1967

“Jenny Artichoke” was a single after the album. That should obviously have been a massive hit.

“Jenny Artichoke” should have been a top ten hit. It was played to death on the radio. We heard people singing it in the streets. It’s a bit of light hearted fun. Alright now, you listen to it today it all sounds a bit silly. But you take it back and put it in context with what was going on at the time, it was perfect.

Kaleidoscope, Jenny Artichoke, Fontana promo

I think it’s got a slight similarity to the Outkast track “Hey Ya!” that was a number one hit a few years back. I think it sold a million.

Thanks for that Jason! (laughs)

Did you say it was influenced by “Jennifer Juniper”?

Only that I was a tremendous fan of Donovan. I still love his early stuff. You can hear little bits of his vocal delivery in some of mine. His pronunciation and certainly his song writing was a great influence. He was very much of the time. To be honest I don’t think he gets a lot of the credit now that he should. “Sunshine Superman”, that’s a great track. His most wonderful album is “Fairytale”; there are some absolutely exquisite songs on there. He was a big influence on me, “Jennifer Juniper”, “Jenny Artichoke”. It’s in the same ballpark. But ours sunk without trace when others thought it would be a massive hit. That was the story we would see repeated a couple more times.

There was a strange Spanish cover of it on the Philips label a few years after.

I’m surprised it wasn’t covered more and was perhaps it was a European hit because it had all the hallmarks of something like that. Their version was a bit naff really!

[tubepress video=fDcGdgjIx7E]

You did loads of BBC radio sessions at the time that were released on the “Please Listen To The Pictures” CD. But you’ve got mixed views?

I don’t like live recordings particularly. For me I’m a studio guy and as a songwriter and musician I want it presented in best way. Although we had a great time on stage it was in the studio where I really found myself. I love studio recordings because they’re polished. You get as close to perfection as you can. On stage you do your best to reproduce that. Live recordings can be pretty rough.

The BBC in those days were really antiquated, they still had Bakelite knobs and white coats for the engineers. I don’t like the recordings but agreed to put them out as people would like to hear them. I’m glad people enjoy them but I don’t listen to them. You might notice that as the BBC engineers were lazy they said “Just bring in a backing tape” and we’d take it in. I’d sing a vocal over it and we’d go home. On some of them they’re note perfect to the record, that’s because it is the record.

Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour, Please Listen To The Pictures CD, Circle Records, 2003

The Fairfield Parlour stuff is my favourite bit.

We were a bit more proficient as musicians at the time, playing more instruments. So those recordings might stand out more than the Kaleidoscope ones perhaps.

Backtracking to “Faintly Blowing” which was your second album, I particularly like “Snapdragon”. What’s your favourite track?

I like “Tom Bitz”, “Snapdragon”, “If You So Wish”, “Black Fjord”, “Music” of course is fun. It’s interesting that you like “Snapdragon” because now I’m doing some live work that is the number that I open up with on stage and it always goes down very well.

Kaleidoscope, Faintly Blowing LP, Fontana, 1969

That was released in the psych era, April ‘69. That’s quite late.

We had been writing and recording in the months before it came out and of course musical styles were changing. Yeah, maybe caught us out a little but you have “If You So Wish” and “Black Fjord”. Of the two albums I do like “Faintly Blowing”. It does demonstrate that we had matured as songwriters. A good range of songs, they’re not all in one style. 

To discover the second part of this Peter Daltrey interview and explore the Fairfield Parlour and solo years just click here: 

http://thestrangebrew.co.uk/articles/peter-daltrey-fairfield-parlour-solo