The legendary Peter Daltrey has very kindly answered a few questions for this interview via e-mail. As you'd expect his answers are illuminating, insightful and above all else honest.
You can read plenty more in his books (available from http://www.chelsearecords.co.uk/ ), and also in the lovely Kaleidoscope vinyl reissues from Sunbeam.
On with the interview!
The Active Listener : Looking back, how do you rate the Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour material?
TAL : Did you feel more comfortable with folkier material ("Bless the Executioner" etc. ) or the more psychedelic Kaleidoscope material ( "Further reflections...." etc)?
PD : Let me start by admitting that I listen to very little music – and certainly not my own. After developing hearing problems I have to protect my ears. But listening to music on headphones with the volume up was a pleasure in days gone by. Close your eyes with a pair of good quality headphones clamped to yer lugholes and you can lose yourself in the music and – if you have average hearing – can discern nuances of the production that are often lost when listening through a wide speaker system. When producing and mixing it is rather fun to place instruments, sound effects and flourishes in various areas of the stereo field knowing that someone listening on headphones will really appreciate these details.
Back to your question. I love all the various styles of our music – and there were many varied and colourful styles. Everything from the crazy smash `n grab of `Music,` the swirling aural rainbow of `Faintly Blowing` to the delicacy of `Dear Nellie Goodrich` and the mysterious `Poem.`
Your use of the word `comfortable` is interesting. To look at the converse side of that coin: there are tracks that I could admit to being uncomfortable with such as `Balloon` and `In my box` and some from my own albums, early songs composed without much craft at that stage. I`m an old geezer now so listening back to songs that I wrote that are just plain silly, blatantly juvenile leaves me cold.
But I am proud – if I`m allowed such an immodest word – of many of the band`s songs and a few of my own. It is comforting to look back from this lofty peak of accumulated years and find that my youth was not misspent.
TAL : Was "The Sky Children" inspired by children's literature or Edward Lear?
PD : The band was on holiday in Devon in the summer of `66. Each morning we would walk a few miles out to a castle at Durlston Head that over-looked the sea. We would climb down to the rocky shore and walk back to Swanage. Being a miserable solitary kinda guy I would slow down so that I could walk at the back on my own.
This particular morning some words began insinuating themselves in my reverie. Lots of words. A lyric. But the verses kept piling up so it became difficult to remember them. I didn`t have a pen and paper with me. When we eventually got back to our digs I splurged out the words onto paper, editing them later. That is how the lyric of `The Sky Children` came to be written. What inspired them I`ll never know. I had never even heard of Tolkien and only vaguely knew of Edward Lear but of course, as a child I had grown up with English fairytales and the Brothers Grimm.
More than anything I would say that the song simply came from a moment in time, blooming almost totally formed from that beautiful summer`s morning, walking along that beach with my close friends, the sky a perfect blue, the sea crashing ashore to my right, the seagulls circling above. One of those moment`s in one`s life when you pause, look around and find yourself amazed at the world, perfectly content – knowing that you will remember that moment for the rest of your life.
It happened to me again a few years ago when I was swimming with a friend in an icy lake in the middle of a dense forest in Norway. We both stopped and listened to the pristine silence, and breathed in the pine-rich forest air and tacitly knew this was one of those moments. He died a couple of years later – but the memory of that moment is now very special.
TAL : You played with some legendary acts in the mid to late sixties. Who made a big impression and why?
PD : The only band that made an impression was The Who and that only because we had never seen a band perform that way, smashing their instruments at the end of their performance. It was awe-inspiring to be that close to an iconic band – and then share a dressing room with them later and watch as Townsend dumped the remains of his Rickenbacker in its case.
Can`t say we were actually impressed with the other acts with whom we played like Caravan, the Fluer de Lys, Them, Brian Auger, Simon Dupree, the Blossom Toes. But Slade did blow us off stage with a stunningly tight performance.
Of course, at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival we played with the real greats of popular music – but because we were somewhat traumatised by our own experiences at the event I can`t recall seeing a single act.
TAL : Legend has it that Kaleidoscope's "drug" of choice was cider. Would you care to elaborate?
PD : Steve and I experimented with pills but it frightened the life out of me once my heart rate reached 180bpm. We never went further than that, although there was plenty of grass around. We used to rehearse in a school hall in Acton where Ed and Dan lived. Right across the road was a grotty pub. If we had a few pennies to rub together we`d indulge in halves of cider or shandy – but that was not often as we were mostly broke.
Luckily none of us was inclined to over-indulge in anything. That often wrecked bands through drug or alcohol misuse. We were so focused on our music that distractions were kept at bay.
TAL : I'm a pretty big Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour fan, but until recently hadn't heard about "I Luv Wight" - could you tell us a little bit about this?
PD : We were contracted to play at the 1970 IOW festival. The Foulk brothers also commissioned us to write and record that year`s theme song. The agreement stipulated that the song would be played at least once between every act over the weekend. With that in mind big things were predicted for the single, a Number One chart position assured.
Ed and I wrote, `Let the world wash in` and we recorded it. Philips was very excited and printed up thousands of copies, each in a souvenir picture sleeve. If everyone going to the island bought a copy as a momento of the event we had our first hit on our hands.
For some incomprehensible reason our manager decided to cover our identity with the twee name I Luv Wight. It was to be a great mystery: Who is this band? This was irrelevant once the compare, Rikki Farr, played the song once, trashed it – and tossed the single into the crowd never to be seen – or more importantly, heard – again.
There followed two days of angry recriminations as our manager gamely fought our corner. It was agreed that Ed and I could jump up on stage on the final Sunday evening between major acts and perform the song acoustically. But Rikki Farr and Jeff Dexter were having none of it and simply ignored us.
What happened to the many thousands of copies of this great single...? Binned – never to be seen or heard again. Pity as I consider the song to be one of the finest that Ed and I ever wrote. Written to order and delivered on time. A song that has, in my humble opinion, stood the test of time.
TAL : What was behind the name change to Fairfield Parlour?
PD : We had struggled as Kaleidoscope against the odds. Fought every step of the way against the insurmountable wall of Fontana`s incompetence. Their distribution department was next thing to useless. We had turntable hits that failed to actually sell because the bloody records weren`t in the bloody shops!
But the music we had made was very much of its time. That time was the florescent summer of 1967 – a truly magical few months of total artistic freedom when all the various genres knew no boundaries. Everything was possible no matter how outlandish and colourful.
But that time had run its course. It was difficult to define but the mood was changing. The Paris riots, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Something in the air. And music lost much of its innocence.
In my lyrics I was making a conscious effort to eliminate all traces of elves and fairies and the blatantly purple passages. New songs had more maturity and depth of feeling simply because we were growing up and becoming less naïve. We`d been through the bloody mill backwards and some of that trauma and stress and frustration rubbed off. I was looking back in songs such as the totally autobiographical `Aries` and others such as `The Drummer Boy of Shiloh` and `Emily.`
When our manager took the reins he advised us to turn our backs on all that had gone before, start afresh with a new name, a new sound – and a new determination to succeed. We raised our chins and prepared for the new musical battle ahead.
TAL : Why was "The White Faced Lady" eventually released under the Kaleidoscope moniker rather than Fairfield Parlour?
PD : Many years had passed. And during that passage of time when we thought we`d been forgotten in fact our star was rising. New generations were discovering our music. But our newly polished reputation was based mainly on our Kaleidoscope catalogue of work. It made sense to concentrate on the Kaleidoscope name – so although `White-Faced Lady` had been recorded during the dying days of Fairfield Parlour it emerged from the ashes under the Kaleidoscope banner.
TAL : Do you think that you'd have stuck with music throughout the seventies if it'd been financially viable for you to do so, or were you ready for other things at that point?
PD : We were broke, We had lost our contact at Vertigo as he moved to RCA. But he said he couldn`t give us a contract there as they wanted nothing to do with his previous acts.
Plans had been made for us to do some dates at USAF bases in Germany, but I`d had enough I threw in the towel, got married, escaped to the country and never looked back. I didn`t listen to music for another twenty years. I was not only too busy bringing up a family, I simply wasn`t interested. The pain of our lost battle was still raw. I simply moved on.
TAL : What coaxed you back into recording in the late nineties?
PD : The fact that we`d been rediscovered, exhumed from the past! With the release of `White-Faced Lady` there was a lot of talk about getting back together but it was so much hot air. Once I realised that, I knew that to continue in music I would have to relearn my craft. I embraced the technological advances that had been made in the recording industry, built up my own very modest home studio – and learnt how to write songs on my own. The learning curve for all of this was like climbing Everest in a pair of worn out wellies. But I got there in the end from shear determination.
TAL : You've been fairly prolific since re-entering the industry. You still seem driven although presumably your motivations and expectations have changed since the late sixties?
PD : I am driven. I simply can`t stop. Look, let`s be blunt here. I ain`t got much time left. I don`t wish to be melodramatic but time is of the essence. There are simply not enough hours in the day. I never stop. I am currently writing my seventh book, I have photographic projects on the go – and live work that needs planning. For the moment musical recording projects are confined to the back burner. Although the reason for this is mainly the fact that I am currently many months into a dreaded dry period.
I have no expectations. I simply do what I have to do. If you are a creative person you can never turn off... Even if no-one was interested I would still write and record. A last gasp grope for immortality...? Hmm.. Probably.
TAL : A lot of people have unfortunately missed your solo and recent collaborative recordings - can you guide us through what you consider some of the highlights, both from a personal and critical viewpoint?
PD : I have released many solo albums. But the collaborative work has proven very satisfying. My three albums with Damien Youth have been the high point for me. Particularly our album, `Tattoo.` If I never recorded again I could climb in my box feeling that in that one album we had contributed significantly to the world of music. (http://rocketgirl.co.uk/label/artist/peter_daltrey)
Whilst I have enjoyed the challenges of writing and recording on my own, the magic that springs from a sympathetic collaboration simply can`t be matched. Damien and I gelled from the start. We instinctively knew where we were going with our songs even with the thrashing Atlantic between us.
I regard Damien as a lost genius of American music. Listen to his masterpiece, `Broke Heart Singer` and tell me that is not one of the greatest songs you have ever heard in your life. I listen to it at least once a week and am transported afresh by its beauty each time.
If anyone is interested in sampling my solo output they could do no better than trying my two `Best of...` collections, `Candy` – available through www.chelsearecords.co.uk – and `King of Thieves` – available through www.gragroup.com
I have also collaborated with Arjen Lucassen on his concept album, `Into the Electric Castle` writing and performing the narration throughout.
But my latest project with new-psyche US band Asteroid#4 is something of which I am very proud.
TAL : "The Journey" is great. How did this collaboration come about and how were the Asteroid #4 to work with?
PD : Damien acted as the matchmaker, suggesting the band and I link up with a view to working together in some capacity. We exchanged musical ideas, discussing where we saw the project leading – and very quickly we were writing together. As with Damien, the band would send me files of their musical tracks and I would then work out a melody line and start writing lyrics to fit. I would record a scratch vocal and punt it back across the pond. If they were happy we moved on to the next. Soon we had an album`s worth of material.
The band then finished their music tracks – but that left us with only rough vocals. All this coincided with me being invited to California in autumn 2011. So whilst there I linked up with the band and we went into Rob Bartholemew`s LA studio and cut the lead vocals over a couple of days.
The band were great, a really nice bunch of guys. We all hit it off immediately. Although I still cannot understand why a group of such talented young musicians would want to dig up an old bloke like me to work with. I`m not being disingenuous it really does amaze me.
TAL : Was there a conscious effort to give the album a more psychedelic sound, or was this just a natural extension of working with the Asteroid #4?
PD : Nothing was forced at any point. The overall sound of the album evolved organically from their rough tracks to my home-recorded vocals, from their wonderful final recordings to the laying down of the lead vocals with their stunning harmonies and then on to the mixing.
It was a musical marriage made in heaven as far as I`m concerned. `The Journey` is one of my most satisfying projects. It is soon to be released on vinyl and CD through Joe Foster`s Poppydisc Records.
I would love to write a follow-up album with the band but perhaps that is somewhat presumptuous of me. They are a talented group and have already recorded a new album and moved on. I`m just so grateful that they involved me in just one episode of their career.
TAL : What songs are you most proud of writing and why?
PD : OK. If you insist in me confronting my `pride`... There are a few that I hear and wonder where the song came from and how I managed to nail it:
`A Linden Tree in Chelsea`
`Magda Bruer in the Rain`
`Queen of Thieves`
`Song from Jon`
`Pounding on the Door`
To name a few. But don`t let`s go on. I`ll leave it up to others to decide the value of these ephemeral wisps of music and word.
TAL : What can we expect in the future from Peter Daltrey?
PD: I`m still writing the history of the band in various forms across several books. I`m currently working on the definitive collection of lyrics that will include every recorded song that I have written – together with some ultra-rare lyrics of songs Ed and I wrote just at the time of the band`s demise and never recorded. People have been asking for years for a book of lyrics. So here it comes – get yer wallets out!
My other passion outside of music is photography. Prints of my work can be ordered online at http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/peter+daltrey/all
I`m also likely to be playing some UK gigs later this year if current plans materialise.
Hey, Nathan – thanks for your interest in my old band. It`s appreciated.
TAL : Thanks Peter, it's been a pleasure!
You can buy "The Journey" on CD here or on vinyl here.