To collectors of rare psychedelia, Tales of Justine is known for one lone single on the HMV label. The band’s lone platter of “Albert” b/w “Monday Morning” came and went in October 1967. Its lead singer, David Daltrey (thought to be a distant cousin of The Who’s Roger) went on to sing the title role on the original concept album of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – no surprise, as Lloyd Webber orchestrated and Rice produced the band’s only single. But Lloyd Webber and Rice also helmed nearly 20 more titles for Daltrey and Tales of Justine, all recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Their complete output was collected late in 2016 by Cherry Red’s Grapefruit imprint on the anthology Petals from a Sunflower: Complete Recordings 1967-1969.
“Albert” introduced Tales of Justine, a.k.a. singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Daltrey, organist/bassist Paul Myerson and drummer Bruce Hurford. This twee but catchy slice of pop-psych welcomed John Paul Jones on bass among its session men playing Lloyd Webber’s bouncy, brassy arrangement. The little ditty about a growing sunflower gave flower power a new meaning, but the B-side was even stronger. Lloyd Webber pulled out all the stops for the more rocking “Monday Morning,” with a sitar solo by Daltrey and a baroque string interlude. Unfortunately, HMV folded soon after the release of the single, scuttling its chances of success. True tragedy struck the band, too, when Bruce Hurford perished in a car crash. Daltrey and Myerson regrouped with Paul Locke in the drummer’s seat, and continued to play live gigs in addition to recording with Lloyd Webber and Rice at Abbey Road.
“Albert” and “Monday Morning” kick off Petals before the collection flashes backward to earlier recordings and demos (including one of “Albert”), and forward to the tracks recorded throughout 1968. Six tracks here are previously unreleased, while the remainder were unreleased at the time and only saw issue in subsequent decades. Daltrey and Tales of Justine’s ambitions are evident on their earliest clutch of demos from August 1967, produced by Rice but lacking his musical partner’s ornate orchestrations. (Paul Myerson’s prominent organ adds much of the color.) These tracks showcase the band in its purest form, clearly inspired by the early Pink Floyd. The bluesy “Evil Woman” (presented twice – once in demo form) boasts a freak-out breakdown; “Sunday School” might be a cross between the Floyd and the Kinks with its surreal portrait of English suburbia. “Music to Watch Us By” marries an attractive melody to a quirky, evocative Daltrey lyric.
Daltrey’s March 1968 demo of “Sitting on a Blunestone,” an Eastern-flavored, hallucinogenic opus, is one of the most striking titles here. September-December 1968 sessions yielded an album’s worth of material for Tales of Justine. Inspired by Mark Wirtz’s sprawling A Teenage Opera, Lloyd Webber’s arrangements became even more elaborate as Daltrey’s songs grew in confidence. “So Happy” is a slice of straight-ahead pop (with a Phil Spector-aping introduction). “Aurora” and “Morpheus” are pop-rock beauties dedicated to the god of dreaming and the goddess of the sun, respectively. These songs, as well as the haunting “Pathway,” aren’t so much theatrical as they are strong showcases of Lloyd Webber’s already-strong ability to musically transport the listener. A more stripped down and guitar-heavy, yet no less spacey, sound characterizes the cosmic pair of “Saturn” and “Jupiter.” One October ’68 cut is an anomaly: a demo of a straightforward ballad “If This is Love.” The pretty tune was intended for comedian/singer Ken Dodd but Daltrey gives his own song his all.
Two previously unreleased David Daltrey solo cuts from April 1969 round out this collection: a busy but rousing cover of the powerful Hair anthem “Easy to Be Hard” and an utterly reinvented rock rendition of The Fleetwoods’ mellow doo-wop oldie, “Come Softly to Me,” replete with a fast tempo and a surf guitar. Daltrey went on to play in Carillon (supporting the likes of Genesis and David Bowie in the 1970s) and revive Tales of Justine.
Petals from a Sunflower is a consistently enjoyable and happily comprehensive look at a group that would be otherwise either be relegated to footnote status in the annals of pop or in the distinguished careers in music and theatre of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It’s all been informatively and copiously annotated by compiler David Wells in the accompanying 16-page booklet, and while no remastering engineer is credited, sound is solid throughout. This rarities-packed collection indeed proves the old adage of “better late than never.”
- Albert (HMV Pop 1614-A, 1967)
- Monday Morning (HMV Pop 1614-B, 1967)
- Eleventh Obsolete Incident (*)
- Sitting on a Blunestone
- Sunday School
- Evil Woman
- Music to Watch Us By
- So Happy
- Something Special
- If This is Love (*)
- Easy to Be Hard – David Daltrey (*)
- Come Softly to Me – David Daltrey (*)
- Obsolete Incident
- Evil Woman (Alternative Version) (*)
- Albert (Demo Version) (*)
- So Much Love to Give You
(*) denotes previously unreleased track
All other tracks first released on Petals from a Sunflower, Tenth Planet TP 034, 1997