The Radio London Fab Forties

Sunday Supplement, 30th July 1967
Nirvana


"Tiny Goddess? What a 'Happening' time!" – Patrick Campbell-Lyons

Newly-formed in 1967, Nirvana was the innovative result of the Irish/Greek musical, spiritual and cultural collaboration of Patrick Campbell-Lyons (right of photo) and Alex Spyropoulos. Their first choice of band name was Birth, which was discarded in favour of Karma. They finally settled on Nirvana, meaning 'final release from karmic bondage' – the end of earthly existence and reincarnation. Tiny Goddess was the first single released on Chris Blackwell's Island label.

Much of the band's history is covered in the interviews and features linked below, but Patrick was kind enough to answer some additional questions for Radio London. He says: "Fans of your Radio London website will love my new book Psychedelic Days (Link below). Mojo gave it a 4-star review and Shindig said it was one of the best books written about the Sixties music scene. In America, where I have been promoting it mostly on the radio and in the press, it has had a wonderful reaction."

Radio London interview by Mary Payne

Mary Payne: Tiny Goddess was chosen as John Peel's Radio London climber for 16th July 1967. We know that the Big L DJs didn't always get to pick their own climbers, but Tiny Goddess sounds very much like something he would have chosen. Did you know Peelie, or any of the other offshore DJs personally?

Patrick Campbell-Lyons: We didn't get to visit any of the offshore stations, but I met John Peel on a couple of occasions – a true original in every sense of the word. I also knew Mike Lennox and Dave Cash and I met Mike Raven a few times. Those pirate radio stations of the sea waves were a rare breed indeed. Thinking about it now has made me very nostalgic and I am not into nostalgia. What I really missed after the demise of those stations was their spirit and originality and the rebellious nature of it all. It was all part of that 'happening' the same as us playing live with Salvador Dali on French TV – too crazy for words! I have tried to capture it in the book and from the reviews and the reaction of the readers, they are taking the trip!

There was a saccharine movie made about the pirates recently ('The Boat that Rocked', aka 'Pirate Radio'–) and I believe it was beyond dreadful and sank without trace - please excuse the pun. It was the brainchild of director Richard Curtis and that says enough for me!

MP: I think the release of Tiny Goddess was a case of unfortunate timing. Picked as John Peel's climber, it was crammed into the overcrowded playlist during Radio London's final few weeks, reaching #24 on the Fab Forty. It would invariably have climbed much higher had the station remained. After the majority of the offshore stations closed on August 14th, there were only the two Carolines and possibly Luxembourg, plus the odd slot in a Light Programme music show, left to play it. Sadly, by the time Radio One arrived on 30th September, Tiny Goddess must have been lost beneath a pile of new releases, all vying for the limited allocation of weekly Beeb 'needle time'.

How much did you feel that the demise of the majority of the pirates affected your record sales?

P C-L: We never thought about those kind of things. When we were in England we heard our music being played a lot and that was success enough for us. We were just so wrapped up in creating new music and songs. Everything else we left to Island Records and our mentor Chris Blackwell, whom we trusted implicitly. Much of that time we spent in Europe, as we became very successful in France, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia. Other artists covered our songs here and there in those countries and Francoise Hardy recorded Tiny Goddess in French, German and English.

MP: Was Pentecost Hotel inspired by a particular place or event?

P C-L: In a kind of subliminal way, yes it was. Imagine Pentecost Hotel as the name of a white sailing ship that takes you to a good place far away called Nirvana Island. I did have a dream in which I saw a ship with the name Pentecost Hotel painted on the side, but it was sailing UNDER the water!

MP: Reviewers love to label music and compare one band to another. I've seen Nirvana's music labelled 'baroque rock'. Did you find you were compared to other bands, such as the similarly-labelled Left Banke, who also used orchestral backing on their singles?

P C-L: We were not very connected in those days – not that we are today either. We were ploughing our own furrow and did what we did in the moment. I had not even heard of Left Banke at that time, as I was more into rhythm and blues before I formed Nirvana. Alex was living in Paris before he came to London and was into Bebop.

A few remarks were made during those days mostly by reviewers or journalists linking us to the influences of classical music, but that was mainly because we had a cello and a french horn in the first group line-up. Someone wrote that we, Procul Harum and the Moody Blues were the 'new sound', along with the American bands that were around at that time. I liked Arthur Lees and Love; Alex liked It's a Beautiful Day.

MP: I have always been a huge fan of phasing and I find the opening of Rainbow Chaser arresting and unforgettable. Did you write the song with the intention of having the phasing effect through it, or was that the result of experimenting in the studio? Is that first note just a piano and percussion or do I detect other instruments in there? I would be fascinated to hear what the original recording sounded like before the song was phased.

P C-L: Let's call it our 'accidental experiment' What happened on the day we recorded it is described in the book and that is something I will save for the reader. The intro is piano, percussion and some subtle brass.

(Patrick talks extensively about Nirvana's most commercially-successful release Rainbow Chaser in his 'Dave White Presents...' interview (link below) and reveals that the lyrics were missing a second verse. Because of the financial constraints on booking studio time, Patrick failed to get the chance to finish them and he ended up having to sing the same verse twice - MP)

In May 2010, Filter magazine asked Patrick if he found it tiresome to have to keep explaining constantly that Nirvana was the original band of that name and unconnected either to Kurt Cobain or Washington. (The originals took legal action over the subsequent use of the name.) Patrick replied that he and Alex had been making music as Nirvana for the past thirty-eight years.

"Twenty-five years later there was another group called Nirvana who made great music and were very successful," he noted. "They do not exist any more as a group, which is it in a nutshell."

Links:

Nirvana's official website includes some fab monochrome footage of the band working on their music, from which the stills on this page have been taken.

Book Reviews:

Goldmine Review: "Psychedelic Days represents that rarest of beasts, a book about the Swinging ’60s that does seem to remember being there."

Mojo Review "Like the records he created, the singer and guitarist's memoirs capture the allure and excitement of the Sixties era."

Psychedelic Days is available from www.psychedelicdays.com.

Click on the righthand picture
to read the publicity blurb.

 

Record Collector Review: "Campbell-Lyons creates a rounded picture of the mutually supportive open-door atmosphere surrounding the nascent Island label in its pink label days, and his narrative is peppered with fond reminiscences of major and minor characters alike – Speedy Keen and Guy Stevens, Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix.

Filter magazine interview

Dave White presents: Audio download – choose the April 14th programme and Patrick's interview begins around 60 mins in.

Tiny Goddess recordings – Françoise Hardy; Swedish Band The Jackpots

The Time magazine piece 'The Sixties Mind of Patrick Campbell-Lyons' does contain a couple of misremembrances.

Patrick remembers Pentecost Hotel being aired on John Peel's Perfumed Garden. However, the final Perfumed Garden was broadcast on August 14th – five weeks before the Pentecost Hotel release-date of September 22nd. The track that was receiving airplay during Radio London's final weeks was Tiny Goddess and as this had been chosen as John Peel's climber - probably by John himself – it's much more likely to have been the one that he would have featured in his programme.

We know from recordings that no Nirvana tracks were played during the final Perfumed Garden. The only way in which John Peel could have included Pentecost Hotel in a programme prior to August 14th, would have been if he had received a very early pre-release or demo copy. It isn't impossible, but seems unlikely.

What is very likely is that Peelie would have aired Pentecost Hotel on Radio One.

Sorry to disappoint Patrick over his recollection that Rainbow Chaser was the first single to use the phasing effect. The Big Hurt, a US Hot Hundred hit for Toni Fisher in 1959, is generally regarded as the first-known phased (or flanged) recording. Del Shannon covered the song in 1966, complete with phasing, a studio gimmick that was becoming quite popular that year. The alternative term 'flanging' is said to have been coined by John Lennon when the Fab Four used it on their mystical 'Tibetan Book of the Dead' track, 'Tomorrow Never Knows', which closed the Revolver album.

(Right) Patrick today. Click on photo to see enlarged version.

Also in that year, the engineers aboard the Galaxy had latched onto the effect and enjoyed rerecording some of the onboard vinyl in their spare time, enhancing it with phasing. This resulted in Radio London frequently playing its own exclusive version of Herman's Hermits' No Milk Today. The song may not be the most obvious choice for enhancing with phasing, but it works brilliantly.

The famously-phased Small Faces' Itchycoo Park was a late arrival on the Galaxy and selected as Ian Damon's climber in the penultimate Fab Forty, leaping into the final Big L chart on August 6th 1967 at #10.

Rainbow Chaser was released in 1968.