1. I Got The Buzz
2. Train In My Head
3. Sara Crazy Child
4. Love Is All Around
5. Turned To Stone
6. It's Been A Long Time
7. This Is Your Wife
8. Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith
9. Lazy Sunday
10. Joy Rider
11. Oh No (She Wouldn't Swallow)
12. Eleanor Rigby
Barefaced and provocative in their approach, John's Children mobilized their rather casual style of creativity to produce a handful of outstanding mid 60's singles. The best of these were easily the equal of contemporary 45s by the Who and the Kinks and they also represented something new, a moment when psychedelia shook hands with punk, pretty much before either had a name. Their 1960's work still stands up today due to some fine songs, Andy Ellison's insouciant vocals and the instrumental muscle provided by Chris Townson's extrovert drumming, John Hewlett's untutored but powerful bass and the fractured guitar playing of Marc Bolan or Geoff McClelland .
Black and White was recorded in dribs and drabs from the late 90's onward, but it soon dispels any doubts as to whether the spirit of something that was so much of its time and so long ago could successfully be recaptured 35 years or so on, and it actually turns out to be something of a triumph. Andy Ellison sounds as distinctive and as youthful as ever, Chris Townson loses no opportunity to batter his way round his kit and there are some memorable new songs and fine reinterpretations of old ones. "New" members Martin Gordon and Boz Boorer give the band a slightly more contemporary edge whilst staying true to its original spirit, so there are lots of 60's references but a freshness as well. Boorer's guitar sounds whine, reverberate and squeal, providing the perfect textures and breaks for the songs without ever hogging the limelight. Martin Gordon plays some outstanding bass and contributes one of the standout numbers.
Black and White is an album chock full of great singles. All the songs, including the new ones, are short and memorable and have a distinct beginning, middle and end (this line up of John's Children is BIG on endings). As each song finishes, it's almost impossible to resist thinking "that's not enough" and hitting the replay button. Listening to it took me back to the 60's and that wonderful feeling of coming home with a fistful of hot new 45s and wanting to play them to death.
"I Got The Buzz" is the sort of stomping freakbeat that you can imagine Slade might have recorded back when they were the 'N' Betweens with Kim Fowley producing. There's a breathless urgency about the performance, with Ellison singing as if he's on a running machine that is being speeded up as the song draws to a close, whilst Boz Boorer's guitar breaks out like a swarm of angry bees. If this had come out as a rare 45 in the sixties, people would happily be paying £500+ for it now.
"Train In My Head" is a fine, if lyrically obscure Andy Ellison song where Townson and Boorer come into their own again with plenty of reverberating chords and pounding drums, building up to an apocalyptic ending where everything derails at speed and disintegrates in a shower of sparks and rending metal.
"Sara Crazy Child" is a really excellent new version, just as good in its way as the 1967 original with Marc Bolan. There's another stirring mix and mesh of guitars whilst Townson canters round his drums and, as the instrumental ending wheels away into psychedelic reverie, you are reminded momentarily of Dantalion's Chariot.
"Love is All Around" is taken as power pop with a hint of Oasis about it. Ellison's off the cuff vocal delivery offsets the sentimentality of the song to make this a far cry from Wet Wet Wet, and thankfully this has now supplanted their version in my memory.
The classical guitar and rather pastoral sounding orchestral arrangements of the original version of "It's Been a Long Time" are gone, to be replaced by quite a chunky sounding group arrangement which reminded me of the early Move. There's some notable bass playing from Martin Gordon and a striking outro with Gordon's bass notes bending around the guitar melody.
"Joyrider"(a song about sectarian violence) starts with the kind of raunchy, raking chords that put you in mind of the Rolling Stones "Citadel" and has a driving beat, yet another great Ellison vocal and a beautiful ending where the guitar and bass weave and glide over the racing heartbeat of Chris Townson's drums before eventually dying away.
"Eleanor Rigby" is a bizarre kind of punk/ rockabilly version, quite avant-garde and industrial. The nightmarish guitar screech and bustling devil's drive of a bass line give the impression that Eleanor is being frogmarched to hell rather than resting in peace. Strange but fabulous.
My only criticism of the album is that the production sometimes sounds a little cavernous and the bass is occasionally indistinct, but what it lacks in production ideals it more than makes up for in raw energy and feel. Andy Ellison still sounds at the peak of his game as a vocalist and the album has many of his idiosyncratic little vocal touches, like the shouts of "bubba bubba bay-beh" during "I Got the Buzz" and the way he intones "come on and let it show" in various different ways during the repeats at the end of "Love Is All around". It's also a fine testament to the skills of the late Chris Townson, who was one of that very small handful of players who, in addition to being a great drummers, can project a really strong sense of personality and emotion in their playing. As you listen to him giving it all on the tracks here you can tell that he was genuinely moved by the music and the moment, and that spirit just carries you along...and leaves you smiling.