Graham Dalley at the Barn (Hollick & Taylor, 1966)
I would have bought this LP, no matter what its musical content, on the strength of the cover art alone. There’s something both hilarious and sinister about it, almost like an homage to the great Surrealist photo-montages, except that it decorates an LP whose music can only be described as the easiest of easy listening. Is Graham Dalley the head on the platter, as I am led to believe based on perusing the photos on the back, or the great bearded face behind? Why is the severed head so jolly, actually winking at us in spite of its dismembered state and the apple in its mouth? There’s something supremely decadent about it all. I mean, look at the raised eyebrows and sleazy grin of the great bearded face; there’s no way that a person wearing such an expression is up to anything wholesome or tasteful! Perhaps the metal tray is actually a large collar, and the rest of Mr Dalley is on the other side of it, which makes the bearded face’s expression all the more ambiguous. Why is the plattered head's ears stuffed with parsley? So many questions ... Is it making allusions to John the Baptist? Was Graham Dalley convinced that he was merely the herald of an even greater visionary, one whose music was so smooth and eventless that it would bring about world peace and happiness? Is the giant face in the background a rock-and-roll Herod? It's all more Dali than Dalley! (Thanks go to Claudia for that particular observation.)
“Hold on, hold on,” you may interject at this word-in-edgewise point, “Can you please cut the horse-crap for a sec and tell us who the hell Graham Dalley was?” Well, the short answer is that I don’t really know, as the internet, source of all entirely reliable and well-researched facts, is sadly bare of any in relation to Mr Dalley (it does mention singer Alan Hemus, one of the record's two vocalists, but as a comic book illustrator rather than a singer, so I doubt that it’s the same person, and the other vocalist on this recording, "dark-eyed songthrush ... of Old Hongkong [sic]" Renee Barce, has vanished from popular gaze.) Based on the evidence of this record, he was a jobbing bandleader who no doubt shunted his gear around the UK in the 1960s, playing bland, inoffensive versions of popular songs such as ‘Zambezi’, ‘The Folks on the Hill’ and ‘Sayonara’ in middle-of-the-road restaurants, of which The Barn in Birmingham was one (hence the bizarre LP cover; although I suspect that this record, which purports to be a live recording in the Barn, was made in a studio and the sound of happy, toe-tapping diners that bookend each song were edited to fool the gullible). Or, according to the liner notes: “It was a great night out. The food and the wine and the mood and the music; you’re going to store it all away in some sweet corner of life’s memories to hold against less magical moments when you want to recall the rosy glow of friendliness and warmth which is the essence of our fare. At any rate, that’s how we hope you feel.” Hmmm ... Here's the man himself in action:
So if an overwrought version of the Beatles' 'Yesterday' played in that style is your thang, then this album is for you. Good luck finding a copy, though; I got mine in the damp-smelling back room of a tumbledown antique shop for €1, and have no idea where one would find another.
What interests me about this music is that it gives an insight into what people were actually listening to in the 1960s. We tend to have this notion that everyone was grooving to the Beatles and the Stones and - well, whoever is included on The Best Sixties Album In The World Ever! style compilations - whereas in fact the majority of people were probably more comfortable with music like this rather than the caterwaulings of scruffy ruffians like Mick 'n' Keef or The Who ("Isn't that what those mod hooligans listen to before smashing up Brighton?" Their song 'My Generation' was probably aimed at the sort of people who listened to Graham Dalley and his peers). It is sometimes misleading to assume that whatever is popular in our era, especially based on what has lasted the test of time, gives an accurate idea of what was actually listened to in 1966 (or whenever), because society was much more constrictive and conservative than it is now. When you pull out the record sleeves on these LPs, you will often see adverts for other records, usually by people that nobody other than cultural historians will be able to identify. The Inimitable Ronnie Rolande! Mark Wynter! Max Jaffa! Los Zafarinos Ole! Ivy Pete and his Limbomaniacs! But I suppose the (not-terribly-original) point I'm trying to make is: how much of the music that's listened to today will be 2040's Mark Wynter and Graham Dalley? Assuming that there's still a habitable planet at that stage, of course ... And to finish, here's something about as far from Graham Dalley as is probably possible: