Although they were the finest Scottish band of the 1960s, the Poets' output from 1964-67 was limited to just a half-dozen singles. But like some other U.K. bands of the era who somehow never got the opportunity to even record an album -- the Birds and the Action leap to mind -- their discography was slim but unforgettable. Like the Zombies, they excelled at moody, melodic ballads, anguished and tormented in their lovelorn pathos. Yet the group wholly escaped sappiness due to both the intensity of the performances and the brilliance of the musical arrangements. Clanging 12-string guitars that sounded as though they had been recorded in mountain caves; crisp, rattling needle-in-the-red percussion; chunky speaker-shredding six-string bass; ghostly backup vocal harmonies, like voices being chased through a deserted castle: all were to the fore on mid-1960s 45 tracks like "Now We're Thru," "Some Things I Can't Forget," "I Am So Blue," "I Love Her Still," and "Call Again." Once in a while they threw in some blasting hard mod rock as evidence of their versatility, particularly on "That's the Way It's Gotta Be" -- which boasts one of the best opening bass riffs recorded by anyone, anywhere -- and their eccentric cover of Marvin Gaye's "Baby Don't You Do It."
Much of the credit for the brilliance of the Glasgow band's singles can be shared by their first manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham. Far more famous for managing and producing the Rolling Stones, Oldham arguably made the early Poets singles his most creative work on record, as the group's odd, fragile material allowed for more inventive studio treatments than was possible with the Stones' entrenched blues-R&B-based format. The Poets were certainly the most talented act in Oldham's management/production stable other than the Stones, and despite only minimal chart success with their first few singles, they seemed set to scale greater heights as one of the first acts on Oldham's Immediate label. It didn't happen, somehow, as Oldham -- distracted by conflicts with the Stones and other business headaches -- withdrew from the band's affairs. He even left the production reins for "Baby Don't You Do It" in the hands of Paul Raven, later to become Gary Glitter.
Shortly after that single, George Gallacher, who was essential to the Poets as their lead singer and most crucial songwriter, left the band. The Poets did carry on for one more brilliant single in 1967, the mod-soul-psychedelic tour de force "Wooden Spoon," and altered lineups continued to play live through the early 1970s. The magic, however, had left with Gallacher. Even on the "Wooden Spoon" single, not one member remained from the lineup that had first recorded for Andrew Oldham in 1964. Gallacher, still living in Glasgow, was interviewed by email in late 1999 and 2000.
One of the things that made the Poets different from other bands in Scotland was that you were writing your own material right from the start, although most bands weren't doing so in 1963. Were you deliberately doing this so that you would sound more original than other bands of the time?
Re the use of original material from the start, I can honestly say that there was never a concious decision made on that,we just did it. you know, we were unaware of it being unusual enough as to be unique; we never even got as far as saying "why not?" Thoughts of such a distiction between ourselves and others never occured to us. Yeah there was a lot of material, some lost and some recorded on very primitive equipment, recordings which I found about eighteen months ago, thanks to our old bass player, John Dawson [this material is now on the Dynavox CD Scotland' #1 Group]. They are quirky indeed, I'd forgotten just how quirky. The sounds all there, percussion and everything ; pretty advanced considering that they were written not long after we formed. I'm listening to the Beatles' Anthology and I've got to say the stuff compares favourably with their early efforts. The tape's rough, taken from old demos transferred to reel to reel via an old record player through a ribbon mike and so on, but it's all there. I was surprised at the quality of the songs and the playing for a band which had only been formed about a year earlier; some unusual stuff, different in that the 12-strings hadn't come into use then, but nevertheless a very distinctive sound and potentially very commercial. According to [John Dawson], the stuff was turned down by Mickie Most and E.M.I. on our first trip to London some six months before we met Andrew ( I remember E.M.I.'s rejection).
What attracted the band to using 12-string guitars, which still weren't that common in rock in 1963 and 1964?
Re your point about the original sound
i.e. pre-dating Andrew's [Oldham's] involvement, apparently there were
no 12-string guitars, but what there was, was the two guitars having
1st and 2nd strings tuned the same, thereby creating a semi-12 string
Add this to the minor melodies and there is the seminal Poets' sound,so
credit to [guitarist ]Hume [Paton] for that innovation. (Andrew made it easier by buying two twelve strings for us.)
And another thing that made the Poets' material stand out was how so many of the original songs were slow, moody ballads.
On your point about the slow songs: our set was in fact mainly a raucous affair (the excerpt from a live gig around '64 which should appear on the promised CD may show just how raucous), comprising largely of up-tempo rhythm and blues, although punctuated liberally with our own "miserable" material. This was a format we maintained throughout my time with the band. The much respected literary and music critic Brian Morton said on a recent documentary, "unlike all others of the 500 bands in Glasgow at the time, whom people went to dance to, one went to a Poets gig to listen."
By way of diversion. we were in London
early 1963 trying to interest E.M.I. in us [they weren't] and on an
I went a walking on my own through the West End. Strolling along Oxford
St I saw a queue outside doorway 100. I asked someone why and was told
that there was a band playing. I asked what kind of music and the guy
"rhythm and blues," so ÎIjoined the queue. My real interest was
suss out what equipment English bands were using and curiosity about
standards they were playing to. Anyway I made my way downstairs and as
I hit the floor I was hit myself with the most astounding noise I had
heard; it blew me away -it was the brilliant Pretty Things, they were
best live band I have ever heard, before or since; I was metaphorically
and literally stunned. They did much the same set of blues standards as
we did, but jesus! The power and the playing was astonishing. The great
thing was, that about a year later we joined them on tour, sometimes
each other on stage-tremendous! by coincidence, I had had some minor
out with the other Poets and travelled with the Pretty Things in the
god-awful van you could imagine, in the worst winter Britain had
in living memory--with no windscreen! Man
it was worth every frozen second of the most horrendous bout of flu I ever caught.
What did Andrew Oldham think of your early material, and how did you feel about signing on with him as your manager/producer?
The songs pre-Andrew were melancholia and then some, like that pathetic B-side of "Now We're Thru" ["There Are Some"]--embarrassing--but there were also some interesting blues-based things that should be on the CD. At the audition I remember poor Hume asking Andrew if he wanted to hear us do some Stones numbers and me saying "fuck the Stones, he wants to hear our stuff," of which "Now We're Thru" was one. On Andrew signing us? My excitement was the chance to record in a professional studio with someone who knew what he was doing, because all that was available in Scotland at the time was the BBC studios, manned by engineers and producers who hadn't a clue about what sound was about and where experimentation was out of the question. Calvinism still reigned musically as well as culturally, so Andrew as the anti-christ suited me.
What the creative process of writing the Poets' material like?
A process is an apt description I think, at least in our case. I mean if we're talking about the finished product that is a Poets track, then I suppose it was arrived at through a process of contributions from all members of the band and the producer--Andrew. If however we're talking about the basic melody and lyric, then I'm 100% wholly to blame. Most of the time I would go to Hume (he was a clever guy, who, like George Harrison, played within hiis limits) and [guitarist] Tony [Myles] with a melody and they would work the chords around it. Then we would modify it here and there and once we were happy with that, we would play it to the others, who would add their bit and so on.
The interesting thing about us was, that virtually all the songs after "Now We're Thru" were done in the studio, I mean from start to finish and Andrew relished this. It was a kind of "tabla rasa" on which he could do his thing; the freshness, the immediacy fired him, and he had infinite patience with us. The thing for Andrew was the fact that our stuff had no precedence. Like it wasn't blues or rock 'n' roll based, it came from nothing he had experience of, so it was a challenge to him every time. Although he produced fabulous stuff for the early Stones, the fact that their material was derivative i.e. very blues influenced, meant that there was a kind of predictability about the finished tracks. With us there was no such thing and he got off on that. When I look back, the time he spent with us in the studio was incredible and there was talk--perhaps exaggerated-- that the stones were none too pleased about this.
Listening to the tracks today, notwithstanding the brilliant sound, there is a kind of cleaness of line, an nclutteredness about it, that amazes me. For all that Spector fullness, every instrument is discrete, every thing can be heard on its own. To me this is Andrew. People saw him as a Spector clone, but whereas the bold Phil built layer upon layer of multi-tracking for his "wall of sound," Andrew recorded most of our stuff live. That meant merely: two 12-string guitars, a bass and drums, perhaps augmented with some percussion and in the case of "That's the Way It's Got to Be "a six-string bass. The haunting backing vocals [heard on many Poets tracks] were accomplished on one overdub. While most of the studio time was taken up with the writing and arrangements, the actual recordings were usually done in no more than 2 or 3 takes, no tricks. We could reproduce it easily on stage. Anyways, all that distilled angst, I don't know how the punters put up with it. It's just as well we remained a minor group; think of the kids that were saved from jumping off bridges.
There were plenty of interesting percussive sounds on the Poets' singles, like the rippling and rattling effects on "I Am So Blue" and "I'll Cry With the Moon," and the tambourines that were mixed so high on "Some Things I Can't Forget" and "Now We're Thru."
As you will hear from the old recordings, we were already using primitive percussion, but Andrew took it to another level by bringing in professionals and also knowing just where it would work. Yeah, tambourines aplenty on "Now We're Thru" and "Some Things I Can't Forget." On "I Am So Blue" it's claves and on "I'll Cry with the Moon" things called skulls--three hollow block type things of varying pitch.
Do you see any similarities with some of the Poets' tracks and some of the early murky and somber ballads the Rolling Stones did and that Andrew also produced, like "Tell Me" and "Heart of Stone"?
Where their productions sound cluttered, y'know, you mention the word "murky," our's sound "clean," so I never made any comparisons, although I agree that the big "fat" sound is there. "I'll Cry with the Moon"--at least the guitar solo--is reminiscent of "Tell Me"--I wonder?
There were a few tracks you did, particularly "That's the Way It's Gonna Be" and "Baby Don't You Do It," where you actually rocked pretty hard and had a lot of R&B influence. Why wasn't there more such stuff recorded by the band?
Our hard rockin' side was a victim of the nature of the songs we wrote! No, there wasn't a lot of original material lying around, because we tended to write only when inspired in the studio.
To me, an interesting mark of the Poets' original songs is the contrast between bridge and verse, where a minor-keyed verse was set off by a much more uplifting bridge. Not many other groups of the time did this well; the Zombies and to a lesser extent the Beatles did it too. Was this something you were conscious of when you were structuring the songs.
No, I didn't consciously match bridge and verse, and strangely I was listening to McCartney the other night and Sting tonight talking about just what triggers the creative notion and how songs progress-- nd they just didn't know. For composers of classical music I would imagine that after the initial inspiration there are certain rules and a logical progression which takes them in some sort of predictable direction, but for those of us ignorant of the technicalities then I just don't know. Perhaps there is something a priori about the thing. McCartney mentioned that he just woke up with "Yesterday" completed ; melody, lyrics, the lot!
Now I have some pretty specific questions about unusual sounds on the Poets singles. The bass, on "That's the Way It's Gonna Be?" Fraser Watson (who joined the Poets in 1965) told me that he thinks it was the model for the Spencer Davis Group's "Keep on Runnin'," which was a #1 hit a little after that.
The bass on "That's the Way It's Got to Be" was Andrew's idea to give it more drive ; I don't think it inflluenced the Spencer Davis song.
I read once that you used a session drummer on "There Are Some." Did you use session musicians on any other songs?
"There Are Some" was the only time we used a session drummer--a guy called Andy White who had replaced Ringo on one version of "Love Me Do." Horrendous stuff, all those meaningless rolls on the snare, but then again it's a meaningless song.
Hume recalls Jimmy Page playing on a
called "Knowing You" and complementing Hume on the lick he was playing.
The track still exists on some Decca master somewhere, and must have
some serious potential as there was sheet music produced, which Hume
has. John the bassist says that it was John Paul Jones who
played that six-string on "That's the Way."
Is that weird, wobbly guitar sound on "I Love Her Still" produced by a Leslie speaker?
Yeah, I think the rhythm guitar on "I Love Her Still" was put through a Leslie cabinet.
The Poets went through a lot of lineup changes for a band that only put out a half-dozen singles. How did that affect your sound as time went on?
The drummer, Alan Weir, left first and
there were a few reasons for this. Primarily there was a personality
in as much as, although the same age as the rest of us, his attitude
that of a man of 40: essentially a fun-less, lifeless kind of guy. And
for those in Andrew's office concerned with "les belles images" he also
looked 40. We also convinced ourselves that he was not too good a
and this element needs serious reviewing. Because listening to the old
tapes it is obvious that he was in fact a very good drummer indeed, and
I say this to right a grievous wrong done the man by us in this area.
Myles, the guitarist, was a friend of Alan, and it was inevitable
that he would follow very quickly, as he did. He was a real loss-an
rhythm guitarist with a great knowledge of chord structure. Jim
Alan's replacement, was poached from a great local band called the
who were the proto-Pathfinders who in turn were the proto-White Trash.
was an excellent drummer.
Fraser Watson was and still is a brilliant guitarist who was somewhat curtailed by the Poets' disciplined and relatively simple demands of their second guitarist (he came from a band called Dave and the Arrows and was a precocious talent). Hume recognised Fraser's talent immediately and deferred all the cover tracks on stage to him. Alan's going didn't effect our music, but Fraser's coming did, in that his preference for heavier playing changed our original sound completely. Ironic, really, that such a gifted player should in the context of the original Poets' stuff be less effective than the lesser player Hume-but such is the nature of this thing. After I left, however, he came into his own with the new set up.
How did Paul Raven, later to be known as Gary Glitter, end up producing your "Baby Don't You Do It" single instead of Andrew Oldham?
Acutally Paul Raven blew the recording of "Baby Please Don't Do It." The band had essentially produced it themselves and had done a fantastic mix, until the idiot child that was the future Gary G decided to remix the track after we left the studio, the result being the released version, which paled in comparison to the original mix. Listen to it yourself and compare the thinness of the sound to our other stuff. Fraser and I still have regrets about this interference, because our arrangement and playing is considered by many as the best ever done of the song.
On the In Your Tower compilation CD, which I assume is unauthorized, there are some unreleased songs: "It's So Different Now," "I'll Keep My Pride," and "Never Thought She Would." There's also a slightly longer version of "Baby Don't You Do It." Do you know anything about when and how those were done? There's no information in the liner notes.
Yeah, the In Your Tower thing is unauthorised and gives no credits; strange it is on sale in legitimate stores? "It's So Different Now" and "I'll Keep My Pride" are songs from the Andrew era, in fact the former was the band's choice for a single instead of "Call Again." The version of "Baby Please Don't Do It" on "In Your Tower" is the same track, only we sliced a verse off for the single release. The other track you mention, "Never Thought She Would," must be post-me.
Hume agrees with me that we recorded an abundance of material that was never released ---it is still there in the archives and according to him some great tracks. The lack of an official compilation is simply down to the fact that whoever owns the stuff shouts large bucks at anyone who has ever wanted to put one together.
At the very end of your time in the Poets, you shared lead vocals with your replacement, Andi Mulvey. That lineup never recorded. How did that sound when you were singing together?
There was really nothing in this other than Andy taking over from me. He was a friend of mine who played in a local band called the Spirits, whose main claim to fame was that they replicated our set number for number. When they weren't playing they would follow us around finding out what new numbers we were doing, how we arranged them, etc. You see, as well as doing original stuff , Hume and I would track down what was then fairly arcane material, i.e. obscure blues and soul, and incorporate them into our set, and rearrange them to suit our style and sound. This combination of original material and other exotica was what the critic I mentioned earlier would come to listen to; we had a reputation early on of being very different. Anyway, Andy was ready made to take over and it was a bit of fun for a few weeks before I left.
Why did you leave?
There were a few reasons why I left the band when I did. Andrew was preoccupied with divorcing the Stones and there was very serious money being played for. So ourselves, Marianne [Faithfull], Chris Farlowe, and P.P. Arnold [all managed by Oldham as well] were neglected during this time and it was hardly inspiring. There were rifts in the band developing about what direction we should be going in. My main reason, however, was that Hume's father--a millionaire business man-- started interfering in things, knowing nothing about the game, and objecting to me objecting about his ignorance of music matters. His interference eventually drove Andrew and us apart, and by then I'd had had enough.
Now on the politics of Andrew's set-up, both [Paton and Dawson] say that the Jagger/Andrew rift was less significant on the Poets' failure than the split between Andrew and his partner Tony calder. Tony was the mover-shaker, the doer of deals, the puller of strings and the fixer. The split unfortunately happened round about the second release, when we were asked to choose beween Tony and Andrew-. Unhesitatingly we chose Andrew, a decision which, with hindsight, Hume and John feel was disastrous. However, I have no such doubts. Icould never envisage us working with Tony. The partnership was ressurected with the formation of Immediate, but the impetus was lost by then. I would trust their re-call because that period was crystalliised for them as I was the only one who never stopped playing. The thing was frozen in time for them while I moved on and certain things lost their significance. But there was another reason for us not making it big, and it sounds bizarre now. Bob Crewe, the producer of the Righteous Brothers and the Four Seasons, loved our stuff and offered to take us to the U.S. But we decided instead to go back to Glasgow for a rest--christ it sounds pathetic now!
Why do you feel the Poets didn't become any bigger than they did? They had just the one small hit in the UK, and made no impression at all in the States.
It's difficult to say why the Poets did not become bigger, but I suspect that we just did not appeal to the larger public. I mean, our stuff did not make for easy listening. I think it was as simple as that. Perhaps if "That's the Way It's Got to Be" had been pushed more, then who knows. That was a real disappointment to me. I thought it was a great number, so much better than "Now We're Thru," but we were also unlucky in the politics that were taking place in andrew's set-up.
How do you think the Poets might have evolved if you had been able to stay with the group longer?
I don't know how the music might have evolved, but I certainly wanted to move away from the simple boy/girl love- oriented thing to more political and social things, and I don't think the others were in tune with that, but maybe i'm being unkind here.
So in sum, what do you think set the Poets apart most from other bands of the time?
Simply the uniqueness of sound and material made us stand apart, and that is why Andrew signed us. Certainly in terms of Glasgow and Scotland, we were the only band doing anything original. What was distinctly Scottish was that old Celtic self-pitying doom and gloom in our character and in the music, those minor melodies. There is no irony or humour evident, only that unrelenting misery. Sounds nice!
There is a lovely little maxim from the 19th century art critic John Ruskin that says all about the Poets' stuff -- "it is far more difficult to be simple than to be complicated, far more difficult to sacrifice skill and cease exertion in the proper place, than to expend both indiscriminately."
Do you think the Poets influenced any other groups?
I don't think that we influenced any bands in a big way, but perhaps the odd band here and there, like [the] Thanes, who were into 60's exotica, and prime among their interest is that sound. We keep being credited with being the seminal influence on psychedelic music, but I don't know, I mean all that Calvinistic black and white?
How do you think the Poets might have gone over in the States if you'd been able to play there and get your records heard there?
Ah now the states! So confident was Andrew in us that we actually cut a film here for the Ed Sullivan Show, but then those politics intervened and, well who knows? I always regretted not being born in 50's middle America, all those radio stations, all those opportunities for musicians, all that rock'n'roll. [The rift between Andrew Oldham and Tony Calder] is the main reason for nothing happening a la the film.
What were your favorite Poets recordings?
"That's the Way It's Got to Be"; "It's So Different Now"; "Some Things I Can't Forget"; "I Love Her Still"; and "I'll Keep My Pride."
What did you think of what the Poets did after you left?
After I left it was just another band, albeit a very good one, but honestly nothing original. A jump on the psychedelic bandwagon: heavy guitar, self-indulgence, everyone was doing it (much as I did later on, as you will hear with "The Dead Loss Band"). When I went, so did Andrew.
How did that song you recorded with the Pathfinders around 1967, "Dawn," come about?
The Pathfinders had come down to London at my request, because I thought they were a tremendous band. I introduced them to the Shadows' ex-drummer Tony Meehan and as you probably know, he eventually got them a deal with Apple, where, ironically, they suffered the same fate as the Poets. I.e. they fell victim to the politics created by the Lennon/McCartney feud. They were some band! As it happened I was working for United Artists at the time and had access to the Marquee studios, so one day as none of us had much to do we met at the studio and messed about with some ideas. That's all it was, and all that "Dawn" is memorable for, in my opinion, is the keyboard riff, which Ronnie Leahy played. It was just a bit of fun.
What did you do, musically, after the 1960s?
Fraser and I formed a band with Dougie Henderson, the drummer of the final version of the Poets, suitably called the Dead Loss Band, essentially a heavy rock band, very loud and self-indulgent and heavily aligned to far-left politics. Our music reflected the politics of the 70's and early 80's, but we never sought a record deal though there was some interest in us. There is a fair catalogue of this period as I've already mentioned, although all of it was recorded on semi-pro equipment. This band ran in parallel with a fun band we formed called the Dansettes which played rock'n'roll and 60's classics, and more importantly paid the bills and allowed us the luxury of the Dead Loss stuff. The bass player was a guy called Gordon Pitcairn who was eventually replaced by Jackson Clarkin.
So now you're still playing music with Fraser Watson, in the Blues Poets.
I formed the Blues Poets in 1991, which is essentialy the Dead Loss Band with the addition of a brilliant young blues player called Scott McGowan. One of my friends is a guy called James Kelman----Scotland's most renowned author, really the foremost influence on modern Scottish literature. There has been recent interest from Hollywood in one of his novels with the intention of making it into a film. Negotiations are at an early stage, but the first film script has already been written and the producer is coming over to talk about things in early January. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that Kelman is a fan of the current band--the Blues Poets (we have already appeared in a play he wrote, based on our band, in which we played the principal parts and which received great critical acclaim), and he has asked me if the band's music could be used should the film go ahead. There is a CD of the music used in the play, all classic 60's tracks, arranged very differently, to suit the drama.
In 1988 I went to university at the ripe old age of forty-five, graduated in 1992 in philosophy and literature, did nothing for the next five years,and then two years ago I took a post-graduate degree in teaching and that's what i'm doing now; in fact at this moment I'm working with the Kosovar refugees in Glasgow. I married Fraser's sister Anne in 1967, and have two sons, Craig and Fraser, who work as computer programmers.
Is it a surprise to you that there remains a lot of interest in the Poets, much of it among people who were too young to have heard you when you were around, or weren't in the UK?
Yes it is surprising that any interest remains, and I suppose yet again it is that allure of 60's exotica. You were asking earlier what separated us from other bands in scotland. Well, notwithstanding our original material, I must admit that, though we were limited in respect of playing technique (there were many brilliant players at the time in scotland), we left them all standing in terms of playing discipline. We were the tightest band around, rehearsing every day, even though our playing schedule was hectic, sometimes playing three gigs at night at the weekends. This discipline, allied to imaginative versions of standard blues and rock, was our strength.
The plethora of psychedelic
that feature the Poets--and I mean when I was in them-- do somehow
us with being seminal to the genre and I guess it must be the fact that
the music had no antecedent, that it was so different to what was going
around. The greatest compliment that was ever offered was Lennon's
to andrew that "Now We're Thru" was "weird." I associate psychedelia
fun and swirling vivid colours, yet the Poets-as any photo of the time
will show-dressed in stark black and white, the complete and utter
We looked like the old Calvinist preachers who still haunt the more
fringes of the Protestant churches here in Scotland. Miserable looking
bastards who frown on anyone enjoying themselves, and historically
what happened during the Reformation. Music and dance were considered
evil and were banned, and still are in parts of north west Scotland.
that's the point I'm making; the Poets' image was cold, and bleak, just
like the music, and not what I would remotely consider psychedelia to
about. It has always bemused me. Look for yourself at the photos.
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