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Marmalade were formed in 1966 in Scotland. They were one of several successful groups who tried to find chart success with their own more adventurous, slightly psychedelic-flavoured songs, but had to bow to record company pressure and record other peoples' material, using session musicians, in order to find hits. Increasingly frustrated with the situation, in 1969 they changed record labels under a new deal that guaranteed them ultimate musical control over future releases. With regular personnel changes from 1971 onwards and diminishing sales, they disbanded a couple of years later, regrouped with a new line-up in 1976. Despite only one hit single since then, with a fluctuating line-up which has seen all the original members long gone, they have remained a steady draw on the cabaret circuit to this day.
The material on this CD is taken from seven sessions recorded for the old BBC Light Programme and Radio 1 between 1967 and 1969. It reflects broadcasting policy in that, in accordance with an agreement between the Musicians' Union and the BBC, a significant proportion of broadcasting time had to consist of live music and sessions, rather than records. Groups were therefore requested to play a healthy proportion of cover versions of well-known current and recent hits in addition to their own singles, so that listeners (assumed to be mainly housewives and factory workers) would not switch off - as they surely would if their delicate eardrums were assaulted by anything too adventurous or off-the-wall, which was left to Radio 1's resident maverick John Peel.
What we have, therefore, are just four songs, two of which were singles, written by Marmalade's vocalist Dean Ford (under his real name, Thomas McAleese - he took the stage moniker from his heroes Dean Martin and Harrison Ford) and lead guitarist/keyboard player Junior Campbell, a handful of covers that they often played in their live set and did not record on their albums, stripped-down performances of seven of their singles without any help from session musicians, and sixteen covers. There are also a couple of short interviews and a few 'fab, groovy' voice-overs from presenter Brian Matthew - still going strong, bless him, on Saturday morning's 'Sounds of the 60s' more than four decades later. All are presented chronologically in the order in which they were originally broadcast.
Let's take the singles first. 'Can't Stop Now', an almost forgotten mod-soul number, bouncers along energetically, with some neat flourishes on drums, particularly in the closing seconds. 'I See The Rain', a song which was much admired by Jimi Hendrix for its mighty guitar solo, is a slow to mid-tempo psychedelic classic. I suspect the harmony vocals are a tad off-key in places, especially off the chorus, but in a way that adds to the rough-and-ready spontaneity. It's certainly not as good as the studio recording, but a live session is bound to have a few rough edges.
'Lovin' Things' and 'Wait For Me, Mary-Anne', the first two singles to chart for them, don't really suffer that much from the lack of the string arrangements which dominated the better-known studio versions. 'Ba-ba-ba-ba' vocals take the place of the orchestral intros, and part of the group's strength lay in those vocal harmonies, which this time are spot-on. Likewise, on 'their Beatles-penned chart-topper 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da', a few vocal 'do-do-dos' take the place of the horns. On the gorgeous 'Baby Make It Soon', that lovely lead guitar is if anything more prominent than on the single, and those harmonies amply compensate for the absence of strings and brass. Likewise, on 'Reflections Of My Life', the song which proved they could be taken seriously as songwriters and not just lightweight pop puppets, you hardly miss the strings at all.
The two remaining songs written by McAleese and Campbell were both originally B-sides. 'Mess Around' is quite gritty, sounding not unlike The Rolling Stones or The Animals, with Campbell getting a chance to cut loose on his guitar solo. 'Rolling My Thing', is more or less a 12-bar rock'n'roll tune. With the punchy piano, I suspect Jerry Lee Lewis and numbers like 'Whole Lotta Shakin'' were an influence - especially as Ford does quite a good vocal impersonation of Jerry Lee in the ad-libbing near the end. These two doubtless went down a treat live on stage - and well done to the guys for those false endings on the latter song.
That leaves an eclectic batch of covers. None of them really add anything to the originals, and nobody would imagine it otherwise, but they prove that the group could play more or less anything asked of them. There's not much to be gained by describing each one in detail. Suffice to say, the group carry the songs very well with their basic guitars, bass, drums and occasional keyboards line-up, vocal harmonies making up for the absence of strings and brass throughout. There are three Motown songs, namely the Temptations' '(I Know) I'm Losing You', the Supremes' 'Stop! In The Name Of Love', and the Isley Brothers' 'This Old Heart Of Mine'. Northern soul and R'n'B is represented by '60 Minutes Of Your Love', 'Daddy Rolling Stone', 'Seven Days Too Long' and 'Boogaloo Party'. Campbell knew his onions as a hard rock guitarist, as powerful takes on The Who's 'I Can't Explain' and Joe South's 'Hush', usually identified as a Deep Purple song, readily show.
You want pure pop? That's here, in the form of the bubblegum anthem 'Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'' (you might recall an almost heavy metal version by US band Helix from the 1980s, as well as the original by Crazy Elephant), Ray Stevens' 'Mr Business Man', which very daringly for daytime radio in 1968 mentioned the word 'harlot', Blue Mink's 'Melting Pot', and the Bee Gees' early classic 'To Love Somebody'. There's also a sprinkling of folk-rock, in Bob Dylan's 'My Back Pages', which they perform very closely to the jangly guitars and peerless harmonies of the Byrds' retread, in the largely acoustic Crosby, Stills & Nash's 'Judy Blue Eyes', and James Taylor's 'Carolina In My Mind', one of the few songs they recorded later in their career when they were concentrating almost entirely on original material.
All the tracks are in mono. There is a minor amount of hiss if you listen on good quality headphones, but no more than is to be expected from material which was recorded over forty years ago.
Like most Castle and Sanctuary releases of material from this period, no effort has been spared on behalf of the discerning consumer. On a 12-page foldout sheet you will find not only a full track listing with dates of transmission, plus pictures of the group in their natty jackets and flares (by and large they were fairly conventional dressers), but also a very detailed history of the guys and description of the sessions. Sensibly it takes an objective view of the material, admitting that much of the material was fairly slight, but, well, business was business. If BBC radio listeners were happy with cover versions, the group had to give the punters what they and the bosses wanted.
The majority of Marmalade fans will be better served by one of the anthologies of their studio material, and there is a choice of several at reasonable price (but as is often the case, beware of recent, inferior re-recordings - check the small print). This is probably for the diehard fan only. But as a devotee of 60s and 70s music, and as one who always loved the group, I'm extremely pleased to have this in my collection. Four stars might err on the side of generosity for the music, but with the packaging they are well deserved.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]