Today, we’re looking at two new releases from Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records imprint from Shape of the Rain and Neil Innes!
Keith Riley, Len Riley, Brian Wood, and Ian “Tag” Waggett came together under the very 1960s name of Shape of the Rain after having exhausted other monikers including The Gear and The Reaction. Under their new psychedelic handle, the group came to the attention of Joe Cocker’s manager David McPhie. Initially, the foursome found it difficult to get club gigs precisely because of their originality; they had very few covers in their set. But 1968 and 1969 saw them support Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd, and in 1970, they earned a deal with the U.K. office of RCA’s new “underground” Neon label. The match of Shape of the Rain to Neon wasn’t an ideal one; Shape of the Rain were heavily influenced in style and songcraft by The Beatles, and their brand of proto power-pop didn’t sit well on the roster. Now, Grapefruit has expanded their lone album Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett in a definitive 3-CD slipcased edition.
Under its unwieldy title, Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett revealed a band that should have held their own on the charts next to such other prominent Fab disciples such as Badfinger. Producers Tony Hall and Eric Hine allowed the band-penned songs to speak for themselves in mostly unadorned fashion, although echo and tape effects were sprinkled throughout. Hine sat in on electric piano for a few tracks.
The group’s distinctive sound emerged from their use of both 12-string and pedal steel guitars played by Keith Riley and his cousin Brian Wood, respectively. Len Riley handled bass with Tag Waggett on drums. The leadoff single and opening track “Woman” adorned its pop melody with crunchy, hard-rock guitar licks and Beatle-esque harmonies. Elsewhere, the LP reflected the group’s range of influences from the jangly Byrds-style folk-rock of “Patterns” to the Bee Gees-evoking ballad “Wasting My Time.” The acoustic “Castles” was a delicate piece belonging to another era altogether and “Dusty Road” a lovely slice of country-pop with a McCartney lilt and a slight psychedelic bent. The rocking “Broken Man” encompassed two mini-songs, “Every One a Gem” and “After Collapsing at Kingsley’s.”
Grapefruit’s reissue adds a whopping 15 bonus tracks to the original album on CD 1, including the bright, catchy non-LP single “My Friend John” and the premiere of 14 post-album demos from Keith Riley assisted by Brian Wood and synth player David Brookfield. Many of these are striking, indeed, and show Keith maturing as a songwriter while remaining rooted in the late ’60s melodic pop sound. The haunting “The Very First Clown,” the George Harrison-styled “You’re the One,” the gorgeous and wistful if all too short “From Me and From You,” and beautiful, harmony-flecked “We Can Make It Right” and “Lady of My Dreams” all leave no doubt that a sophomore album would have been more focused and even stronger than the first.
RCA didn’t renew the band’s contract and the proposed second album never materialized. In 2001, the Background label issued a CD also entitled Shape of the Rain, collecting odds and ends from between 1966 and 1973. (Though dropped by their label, the band initially pressed on, recording in various studios and playing such venues as The Marquee and Liverpool’s Cavern. They also supported artists from Elton John to the earliest incarnations of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.) Three unissued tracks, including demos of RRW&W‘s “Yes” and “Dusty Road” have been appended to this solid collection of material originally produced by Steve Lillywhite, Geoff Emerick, and others.
The third and final disc premieres 14 previously unheard live recordings, giving a taste of Shape of the Rain on the concert stage. Most of the tracks are culled from Alfreton Hall, Derbyshire (1970) and Manchester University (1973) shows in which very few songs from the album were still on the setlist; only “Woman” has made the cut here. By the time of the Manchester gig, Len Riley had departed the lineup. The resulting band was a bit edgier while still retaining their keen sense of songcraft. Pete Dolan took his place. The set concludes with “Hello 503” from a 1968 live acetate in poor sound quality; it’s been included for historical purposes only.
The slipcased set has a 24-page color booklet with reissue producer David Wells’ excellent liner notes. Oli Hemingway has remastered. Each album is housed in a paper sleeve, with the original RCA Neon album in a gatefold sleeve. (The essay tells us that the cover was shot on the set of the film adaptation of Oliver!, of all places.)
Grapefruit has also turned its attention to the late comedian-songwriter-satirist Neil Innes, best known for his work with Monty Python and as part of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and The Rutles. Innes came into his own as a writer with the Bonzo Dog Band, even winning a prestigious Ivor Novello Award in 1969 for Best Novelty Song with the top five U.K. hit “I’m the Urban Spaceman.” Upon their disbanding in 1970, he joined the Bonzos’ bassist Dennis Cowan, guitarist Roger McKew, and future King Crimson bassist Ian Wallace in the short-lived band The World. He also played live dates with GRIMMS, an offbeat hybrid of the Bonzos and The Scaffold featuring the latter’s Michael McGear and Roger McGough. Amidst all this activity and more – including an album by The Group (a.k.a. Arthur Mullard, Bill Tidy, and Monty Python members Michael Palin and Terry Jones) and a Python tour – Innes decided to record a solo album which he would also produce and write himself. Now, 1973’s How Sweet to Be an Idiot has been expanded with ten bonus single sides on one disc.
Singer-pianist-guitarist Innes was joined in the studio by guitarist Andy Roberts, drummers Mike Kellie and Gerry Conway, bassist Dave Richards, and lead guitarist-organist Ollie Halsall. Though the title and goofy cover reveal Innes’ propensity for humor, the concept was that the album would be an outlet for his “proper songs,” not his comedy ones. The sound of the LP was very much in the spirit of the day’s rootsy rock, with dashes of country, blues, and Beatles-inspired pop. The boogieing “Momma B,” co-authored with Roger McGough, boasts a couple of tasty Halsall guitar solos, and he shines on organ for the cheeky blues-inspired “Topless A-Go-Go.” A similarly loose and freewheeling spirit pervades “Feel No Shame.” The beguiling “Dream,” with its pounding piano, segues directly into the upbeat chanson pastiche “L’amour Perdu.” A bit of Gallic sing-along flavor also infuses “Song for Yvonne” while “This Love of Yours” sails on a lithe, funky groove. “Singing a Song Is Easy” is persuasive as it showcases Innes’ seemingly effortless knack for a melodic hook.
Best of all is the title track with Innes accompanying himself on stately piano as he delivers the dryly humorous, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Oasis’ 1994 hit “Whatever” bore such similarities to “How Sweet to Be an Idiot” that Innes now receives a co-writing credit on the latter tune. The melody found Innes in Beatles mode, a gift which would serve him well for The Rutles.
Ten bonus single sides have been added, a number of which are much more in the novelty vein than the album proper. These further display Innes’ zany sensibility. The Bonzos’ “Slush” (with maniacal laughing over an instrumental track) b/w “Music from Rawlinson’s End,” another instrumental cut, was released as an Innes solo single, hence its inclusion here. The fun “Re-Cycled Vinyl Blues” quotes everything from “Take Good Care of My Baby” to “White Christmas;” and the tongue-twisting boogie “What Noise Annoys a Noisy Oyster” is paired with “Oo-Chuck-a-Mao-Mao.” Innes sounds a bit like John Lennon on the latter, a tribute to the nonsense syllables one might have heard on the radio. His musical imagination also took him to country (“Lie Down and Be Counted”) and glam rock (“Bandwagon”) avenues.
There’s also the alternate single version of “How Sweet to Be an Idiot” which preceded the LP release. John Anthony produced the track and Richard Hewson arranged its elegant strings and oom-pah brass. Phil Collins and Brian Odgers were on drums and bass, respectively. Innes reportedly disliked Hewson’s arrangement, so he re-recorded it with solo piano for the album. The 45 was backed with “The Age of Desperation,” an exaggerated spoken-word piece over a country-and-western backdrop.
Grapefruit’s reissue has been remastered by Simon Murphy. It’s housed in a digipak and contains a 12-page booklet with Michael Mulligan’s liner notes, full credits, and discography. It’s a wonderful tribute to the eccentric musical delights of Neil Innes.
Look for both releases on May 22 from Amazon. They’re shipping now directly from Cherry Red!
CD 1: The Original Album (RCA Neon LP NE 7, 1971)
- Wasting My Time
- Rockfield Roll
- Dusty Road
- Willowing Trees
- I’ll Be There
- Broken Man: Every One a Gem/After Collapsing at Kingsley’s
Bonus Tracks (all previously unreleased except otherwise noted)
- My Friend John (RCA Victor (U.K.) single 2129, 1971)
- The Very First Clown
- What You Gonna Do Now?
- You’re the One
- From Me and From You
- No Use Cryin’ Again
- Watercolour Sunshine
- Nothin’ You Could Do
- We Can Put It Right
- Lady of My Dreams
- It All Depends on You
- Listen to Your Heart
- Now’s the Time to Start
- Don’t You Know
- Second Time Around
CD 2: Shape of the Rain (a.k.a. The Red Album) (Background CD HBG 123/14, 2001)
- Broken Man (Demo Version)
- I Don’t Need Nobody
- I’ll Be There (Demo Version)
- We’re Not Their Boys
- Hello 503
- I Doubt If I Ever Will
- Willowing Trees (Demo Version)
- Look Around
- Advertising Man
- Go Around and See It
- It’s So Good Here
- Big Black Bird
- Everyone the Fool
- You Just Call
- It’s My Life
Previously unreleased bonus tracks
- Dusty Road (Demo Version)
- Too Many Lies
- Yes (Demo Version)
CD 3: Previously unreleased live recordings 1968-1973
- Willowing Trees
- Passage of Time
- I’ve Been Wrong
- Everyone the Fool
- Vanishing Cottage
- Big Black Bird
- Go Around and See It
- Say It’s Goodbye
- We’re Not Their Boys
- Hello 503
- Momma B
- Immortal Invisible
- Topless A Go-Go
- Feel No Shame
- How Sweet to Be an Idiot
- L’amour Perdu
- Song for Yvonne
- This Love of Ours
- Singing a Song Is Easy
- Slush (United Artists single UP 35358-A, 1972)
- Music from Rawlinson’s End (United Artists single UP 35358-B, 1972)
- How Sweet to Be an Idiot (Single Version) (United Artists single UP 35495-A, 1972)
- The Age of Desperation (United Artists single UP 35495-B, 1972)
- Re-Cycled Vinyl Blues (United Artists single UP 35676-A, 1972)
- Fluff on the Needle (United Artists single UP 35676-B, 1974)
- Lie Down and Be Counted (United Artists single UP 35745-A, 1974)
- Bandwagon (United Artists single UP 35745-B, 1974)
- What Noise Annoys a Noisy Oyster (United Artists single UP 35772-A, 1975)
- Oo-Chuck-a-Mao-Mao (United Artists single UP 35772-A, 1975)