This highly-sought-after album, recorded in 1967 and released the following year, has every reason to be regarded as a lost classic. It's also very much a product of its time - a free-thinking era in British culture during which enlightened experimentation was the norm. Roger McGough and Mike McGear (the adopted name of Paul McCartney's brother), with John Gorman, had since 1962 made up Liverpool's "comic-poetry" group The Scaffold, whose almost criminally banal ditty Thank U Very Much had quite by chance stormed the pop charts in 1967. Suddenly they were "pop people"! But they were keen to not just sing silly songs, but also to reflect the other facets of their performing character - notably Mike's songs and Roger's serious poetic word imagery - and so approached brother Paul, who offered them use of a small studio at Beatles' publisher Dick James' offices. The resultant album, Mike recalls, came together in a totally unplanned way and evolved quite naturally, and he and Paul just invited along friends and "anyone our kid knew" to lend a hand. For obvious contractual reasons, this assortment of luminaries (who included Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Dave Mason, Spencer Davis, John Mayall, Zoot Money, Graham Nash and Paul Samwell-Smith) couldn't be credited as contributors, but were referred to under the heading of "people on a train"! Friends just joined in when necessary, and even when it wasn't necessary - and they all had a good time, enhancing not overshadowing the material. In the spirit of the age, it was cool to be spontaneous, for "anything went" in this joyous pot-pourri of music and poetry.
The astounding stylistic diversity of the whole album was representative too: psychedelic rock (So Much) and "happening" (Ex-Art Student) - both tracks audibly featuring Mr. Hendrix burning of the midnight lamp - through whimsical pop romantic balladry (Yellow Book), the deliciously insignificant (Ivor Cultler-esque) Please Don't Run Too Fast and cheerily chaotic sing-song with a strange Soft Machine-style improvised interlude casually tossed in (Basement Flat), There's hints of late-Beatles free-for-all at several points, a slightly disturbing Bonzos/Zappa humour to Living Room and House In My Head, and a rather Goonish air to the satirical Little Bit Of Heaven. And an early version of the later Scaffold hit Do You Remember?, with Paul vamping it up on the piano. A restless passage of almost aimless piano doodling introduces Roger's priceless Comeclose And Sleepnow. And a whole ten minutes is taken up with what might best be described as an accompanied reading by Roger of a narrative of poems from his Summer With Monika sequence, where Andy Roberts and a number of other musicians kindof comment on, and seriously complement the words, while also recalling (sometimes fondly, sometimes jokily) tunes like Anji and Moanin'; this both reflected and prefigured the Liverpool Scene excursions of Andy with Adrian Henri. Brilliant, and brilliantly inventive.
You'd think perhaps that such a disparate menu might produce a wilfully controversial and unpalatable album, but in truth it's a very consistent, if at times challenging listening experience. It's all knitted together by the sound of waves breaking on the shore, but this device seems to have the opposite effect to that intended (I find it something of a distraction); that aside, McGough & McGear is a vital, viable and very much listenable, experience.
Incidentally, this brilliantly remastered expanded edition of the LP presents both stereo and mono mixes of the entire album. There are many significant differences, not least the incorporation of some "zeitgeist" studio effects like phasing (Basement Flat) and some refreshing niceties of balance that achieve a different perspective to the shifts between words and music. And presentation-wise, this reissue couldn't be bettered, with reproduction of original album artwork, including Hunter Davies' sleeve note, and a superb booklet essay incorporating Mike's own reminiscences. McGough & McGear is a curio, yes - but a classic too.
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