By Richie Unterberger
The rare, sole, and self-titled album by Eclection was one of the finer overlooked folk-rock recordings of the 1960s, and perhaps the best relatively unknown British folk-rock LP of its time. The band had a great deal going for them: four strong singers, rich multi-part harmonies, strong original material by two composers, deftly textured mixes of electric and acoustic guitars, and tasteful orchestration that gracefully enhanced the soaring bittersweet melodies and male-female vocal blends. They were also one of the few British acts signed to Elektra Records, the hippest American independent label of the era.
None of this translated into high sales or wide renown. Eclection, so full of promise on this 1968 album, had split up by the end of 1969, never having issued another full-length release.
The simple label of "British folk-rock band" applies to Eclection as much as any description could. Upon closer scrutiny, that term fails to capture the complexities of this enigmatic group. For this British band had but one actual British member, the rest of the group hailing from Norway, Australia, and Canada; for that matter, when one of the Australians left, she was replaced by an American. The group are closely connected to the Fairport Convention family tree via the presence of two future members of the band, yet neither of them wrote material or took prominent lead vocal roles on the Eclection album. Despite the Fairport connection, the folk background of some of the members, and the obvious vocal and instrumental folk-rock elements, they didn't think of themselves as folk-rock.
Too, this British album, recorded in London by mostly non-British musicians, sounded more like a product of California than anything else, despite the absence of any Americans on the recording. Tying it all together was the unlikely figure of producer Ossie Byrne, most known for overseeing the first international hits of the Bee Gees. Byrne, of course, was not British either, hailing from Australia.
Eclection was an apt name for a group originating from such disparate regions. Georg Hultgreen, who wrote eight of the eleven songs on the album and handled twelve-string electric and acoustic guitars, was born in Norway. The son of Russian prince Paulo Tjegodiev Sakonski and Finnish sculptress Johanna Kajanus, he moved to Paris just before entering his teens. Shortly afterward he moved with his family to Quebec, where he learned English, and worked as a stained glass window designer before ending up in England. Michael Rosen, who wrote the remaining three songs on the LP and played trumpet in addition to six-string acoustic and electric guitars, came from Canada.
Singer Kerrilee Male, an Australian, had in the mid-1960s sung in Dave's Place Group; that outfit was featured on the Australian folk music television show Dave's Place, featuring ex-Kingston Trio guitarist Dave Guard, who had somehow ended up living in Sydney. Fellow Australian Trevor Lucas had the most on-record experience of any member of Eclection, having released a couple of rare folk albums, as well as contributing to the EP The Folk Attick Presents, singing backup vocals on British folk legend A.L. Lloyd's Leviathan, and appearing on the soundtrack to Far from the Madding Crowd.
Completing the unlikely quintet was their sole British member, drummer Gerry Conway, who was just leaving his teens. Conway had been playing in the group of musical giant Alexis Korner, whose band was famous for helping train numerous future British rock stars, including members of the Rolling Stones, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. If it seems like an unlikely transition from a blues-oriented ensemble such as Korner's to the pop-folk-rock of Eclection, it should be remembered that Korner's band had also given apprenticeships to Danny Thompson and Terry Cox, the rhythm section of one of the most successful British folk-rock groups, Pentangle.
Conway remembers that the other four members of Eclection had already been writing and rehearsing when he was recommended to the band and went to a London apartment to meet them, subsequently joining the lineup. He doesn't characterize their sound as folk-rock, but rather as "progressive." As he observes, "I don't think at the time we were thinking we were in any one vein or another. But as I recall, we were kind of labeled as a progressive rock band. Which was a bit thin on the ground in England when we started."
Elektra had at the time had issued few recordings by British artists, the most notable exception being LPs by the Incredible String Band. "It was pretty unusual for an English band to be on Elektra," concurs Conway. "I think we felt quite sort of chuffed about it." Conway was also chuffed that, as Eclection's manager worked for Elektra, the band was able to rehearse extensively at one of the Elektra warehouses: "I remember racks of records everywhere, especially Blue Note jazz records. I remember asking [him] eventually if I could have some," he laughs. "He gave me some of these, so I was very pleased at all this."
The recording of the actual album at IBC Studios in London, as Conway recalls, was quite straightforward, the songs laid down "just as we rehearsed them. There was no complicated procedure, [though] I'm sure that all the vocal harmonies were kind overdubbed later." As were the crafty orchestral arrangements, done by Phil Dennys, who had undertaken the same task on the early Bee Gees records that Byrne produced. "It was always the exciting part of making albums, to go in later and hear the strings put on the rhythm tracks that we'd done," enthuses Conway. "It was sort of the icing on the cake."
The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn't help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s. If so, says Conway, it was "a happy coincidence," particularly as the band never played in the States.
"It was quite a musical adventure of its day, radically different to other bands that were around," he continues. "The lineup was quite drastically different to what was going in those days, having a sort of electric twelve-string with another electric guitar. Mike played trumpet as well. Kerrilee was a very strong, good singer, always very prominent in things." It was her voice that was the most distinctive in Eclection, recalling the female parts in West Coast harmony folk-rockers like the We Five and the early Jefferson Airplane, as well as the Seekers, though placed in hipper and more ambitious contexts than the We Five or the Seekers. ("Her voice cuts into the brain like a carving knife," wrote Lillian Roxon at the time, in her typically blunt entry for Eclection in her Rock Encyclopedia .) The male-female vocal interactions wove adroit patterns that were sometimes in the mold of the Mamas and the Papas, achieving a classical grandeur on the glorious fade to "Still I Can See" in particular, and a round-like quality on the scat sections of "In Her Mind."
Fairport Convention fans aware of the album primarily due to the participation of bassist Trevor Lucas might be surprised by the relatively subdued role he takes on the record. He had just one lead vocal, on "In the Early Days," and wrote none of the songs. Most of the male lead vocals went to Rosen, though Hultgreen had his own lead feature spot on "Morning of Yesterday." While it might seem logical to view Hultgreen as the prime creative figure of Eclection, as he penned most of their songs -- "George was quite a prolific songwriter, he just wrote all the time" notes Conway -- Gerry nonetheless feels that Lucas "had a strong presence in the group. I think people looked upon him as the leader."
Eclection were a popular live act on the college/university circuit. Conway remembers Rosen's "Nevertheless" -- the obvious choice for a first single, with the California sunshine pop/Mamas and the Papas similarities at their strongest -- getting quite a bit of airplay in Britain, although it didn't chart. Gerry cites another Rosen song, "St. Georg & The Dragon (Up the Night)," as one which went down particularly well with concert audiences. Yet the album -- complete with a gatefold sleeve boasting full lyrics, and a groovy psychedelic cover photo (by Joel Brodsky, noted for his pictures on early Doors sleeves) with mannequins, including some provocatively nude female ones -- did not sell all that well. In the US especially, it's quite a feat to find an original copy in the used bins.
"I loved that group," declares Elektra president and founder Jac Holzman. "They were a fascinating group, a wonderful band, and I thought the records were wonderful. I think our mistake was not bringing them to the States, because they really needed to get out of England. There was too much other stuff competing in England, and in the States, we might have had an easier time. I don't know why we didn't bring 'em. I think, had we got 'em the right venues and gotten them some help with their show, it would have worked."
Another major blow to Eclection's longevity was the departure of Male in late 1968. "Once we started playing live, it was very soon apparent that Kerrilee didn't want to stay with it," says Conway. "I think she decided she didn't want to be in the music world. Once she left, the band slowly but surely changed, with different members leaving. We ended up sort of half a million miles away from what we started with."
Male's replacement was Lucas' friend Dorris Henderson, a black Californian who had moved to England in the mid-1960s. She had already established herself as a noted folk singer, particularly with her first album, 1965's There You Go!, a collaboration with top British guitarist John Renbourn. The new lineup did cut one single, "Please (Mark II)," a soulful cover of a song by the Californian psychedelic band Kaleidoscope. "But as time passed, it was no longer a progressive rock band," feels Conway. "At the end of its days, it was more of a kind of a jazzy, bluesy band." After several personnel changes -- one addition was percussionist/vibist Poli Palmer, formerly in the fine psychedelic cult band Blossom Toes, and later to join Family -- "we just decided, eventually, that we weren't really going anywhere. Not where we wanted to go, anyway."
After about a year of gigging with post-Kerrilee Male lineups, Eclection broke up in late 1969 (though Henderson did head a revamped version of the band in the 1970s). Lucas and Conway formed the rhythm section of Fotheringay, featuring Trevor's girlfriend (and, later, wife) Sandy Denny, who had just established herself as the finest British folk-rock singer as part of Fairport Convention. Fotheringay made a fine folk-rock album in 1970 before Denny left for a solo career. Lucas and Denny would play together again in Fairport Convention in the mid-1970s, though Denny died tragically young in 1978, while Lucas passed away in 1989. Conway's long career took in stints in Jethro Tull and Pentangle, as well as recordings with John Cale, Sandy Denny, Joan Armatrading, the Everly Brothers, Cat Stevens, Richard Thompson, Al Stewart, and many others. He's now, in 2001, the drummer in Fairport Convention, an institution that's still going strong more than thirty years after their formation.
As for the
under the name Georg Kajanus, joined Sailor, who had a couple of Top
British singles in the mid-1970s. An accomplished artist as well as a
he is now, believes Conway, living in Paris. Rosen later played with
early-1970s progressive rockers Mogul Thrash, which also included
Family/King Crimson/Asia member John Wetton. Gerry last saw Michael in
the early 1980s in Canada while touring with Richard Thompson, "and as
far as I know, he was working in his uncle's steel mill." Conway's lost
all contact with Kerrilee Male, whom he believes went back to Australia
after quitting Eclection. "As it started as it finished, I suppose," he
chuckles. "Everybody disappeared back to the four corners of the earth."
-- Richie Unterberger
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