16 Nov 2015

The Secrets - Infatuation: Singles and Demos 1966-1968 / The Mickey Finn - Garden of my Mind: The Complete Recordings 1964-1967

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

We've got a couple of new releases today from two of Cherry Red's very fine labels, Grapefruit Records and RPM. Both labels are renowned for digging up excruciatingly rare, and often unreleased gems from the sixties, a well which should be well and truly dry by now, but is miraculously still giving.

First up is "Infatuation: Singles & Demos 1966-1968" by the Secrets, a young UK combo largely relegated to footnotes and factual tidbits that mention Clifford T. Ward's involvement as leader, and the fact that he wrote future UK psych masterpiece "Path Through The Forest" (popularised by The Factory) whilst a member of this group. Little that has been previously written would suggest that further investigation was necessary, yet this packed to the gills 28 track collection is a compelling document of exceptionally well written sixties pop, which on occasion suggests a poppier UK counterpoint to Arthur Lee's early material, minus the political commentary. Ward's vocals are often a dead-ringer for Lee's, and there are similarities in the minor key jangle that can't be shaken off, once noticed.

Psych influences are mild here, but the flavour of the era is inescapible and those with a thing for extremely melodic, well crafted sixties guitar pop will swoon over this collection, which includes both sides of each of their five singles, as well as a raft of unusually worthy demos and studio outtakes, including two quite different takes of Ward's classic "Path Through the Forest", which, despite its legendary status, can't compete with the earworm immediacy of "Keeping My Head Above Water" and "Naughty Boy". Exceptional.

Less consistent, but equally interesting is "Garden of my Mind", the first retrosopective collection from the Mickey Finn, which features the massive title track (a favourite of collectors everywhere), earlier and later singles (one produced by Shel Talmy), and previously unheard demos - 17 tracks in all, apparently everything recorded by the band in its many guises.

The earliest material here (recorded for ska label Blue Beat as Mickey Finn & The Blue Men) is a little uneven, although mod / ska fans will no doubt enjoy. Much more intersting is their R&B/beat period, which the majority of this disc chronicles. It takes a lot to distinguish yourself in this field, but there's no doubting the fact that the Mickey Finn had that star quality, yet somehow failed to crossover into the greater public consciousness, despite some of the toughest performances put to tape in the era, with some wild harmonica moments, and gritty vocals providing the most eyebrow raising moments.

In all fairness there's little else here that sounds like or matches their legendary garage psych single "Garden of My Mind" - there's little out there by anyone that does - but for those interested in tracing the evolution of popular UK music of the sixties from ska, to mod to beat/R&B to garage psych to psych-pop via one pocket sized compendium, this will prove to be a fascinating listen, with above average performances from a band that couldn't quite settle on their own sound, but could have potentially hit big with any of those that they turned their hand to.

The Secrets - Infatuation is available here (UK) (US), and the Mickey Finn's Garden of My Mind is available here (UK) (US).

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