British music mag Mojo has started re-issuing classic books about rock, and I picked up their edition of The Longest Cocktail Party by Richard di Lello. Before going on to be a screenwriter of such shows as Midnight Caller and the film Colours, Richard di Lello was the assistant to Derek Taylor, the Press Officer of Apple Records. When Apple went bust, di Lello decided to write The Longest Cocktail Party as the first ‘insider’s story’ of the end of the Beatles.
I’d actually read the book before, having picked up a cheap paperback copy for a buck in Woolies when I was a kid. I was in Year 8 when I read it. Reading it again, I realised that so many of the shorthand clichés and descriptions in rock journalese that I have been using throughout my life are things I’d pilfered from this book, in particular the off-the-cuff glib witticisms of Derek Taylor. When John Lennon started turning weird, for example, the press was utterly mystified by the behaviour of the formerly loveable moptop. Now he was gallivanting around with an eccentric Asian artist and appearing naked on album covers. Taylor staved off initial press enquiries into Lennon’s behaviour thus: “He was what he was then, he is what he is now, and he will be what he will be when the time comes for him to be whatever it is he’s going to be.”
I remember this quote in particular because I pinched it for an Year 8 English assignment in 1985. We had to devise and market a band, and in this instance, the phrase was uttered by Ricky Clothesmaker ('Ricky' being a diminutive of 'Derek' while a 'clothesmaker' was also known as a 'tailor', of course), who served as publicist to the band Psychedelic Spew.
Created in collaboration with classmates Nick O'Sullivan and Ben Reynolds, Psychedelic Spew were significant for riding the crest of that wave of late 60s ‘Summer of Love’ nostalgia from way out into the ocean. If you recall, that wave didn’t really hit until 1987 (when the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was re-released with the ‘It was twenty years ago today’ campaign, and when the Good Weekend, then an A4 glossy, was adorned with a proofsheet of Sgt Pepper cover photo outtakes.) In 1985 the Doors were starting to get big again; the previous year, they’d sold more records than they had during the entire time they were together. And remember, the Doors were the dags of psychedelia, getting into it when, even for West Coast bands in America, the Summer of Love had well and truly turned, thanks to Charlie Manson and his Family, into an horrific winter of discontent. Indeed, even Oliver Stone’s Platoon’, the first of the big ’80s ’Nam cash-ins featuring ‘music from the period’ soundtracks by the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix, was still a couple of years away. So without even trying, Nick, Ben and I tapped into a major marketing bonanza before it had really hit.
Further details of Psychedelic Spew are sketchy, but I remember bandmembers included Fenderbaker Vox and Sapidus Brown. Fenderbaker Vox seemed to derive his moniker from two sources: his first name is a corrupted amalgamation of Fender and Rickenbacker, two popular makes of electric guitar (probably a mistaken attempt to name Fender's ‘stratocaster’), while his surname was inspired by Bono Vox of U2 (a stage name that roughly translates from the Latin as ‘Good Voice’). That ‘Vox’ was also a popular brand of guitar amplifier favoured by the Beatles (the Marshall stacks, that would have made the band audible above the din of screaming fans, must not have been perfected prior to the end of the Beatles’ live tours in 1966) was probably why his first name was an attempt to name a guitar. As for Sapidus Brown, he was the band’s mysterious fourth member. A shady character, his features were always occluded in band photos and performances, thanks to wide-brim hats and judicious use of lighting. The only other factoid I remember about Psychedelic Spew is that their song ‘Living in Scandinavia with David’ was wrongfully banned for the apparent ‘LSD’ reference in its title; it was clearly just a song about life on the road, having toured Scandinavia with David Bowie in the mid-'70s.
Apart from these memories, sparked by a couple of clever turns of phrase in the book, was the sudden recollection that I still had a copy of one of Psychedelic Spew’s singles, in a picture cover: ‘Across the Spewniverse’, with ‘Spewberry Fields Forever’ on the flip side. It was initially issued with a brown paper bag since, as the story goes, the quality of the music tended to lead to regurgitation. I can’t find the original paper bag. But here are some scans of the artwork.