- by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:1968-05-10 Label: Major Minor
All that glitters, is not gold. But on occasion, you stumble upon a rich vein. For collectors of rare vinyl, July’s sole, 1968 release is the Psychedelic motherlode. Don’t be scared off by the cover art. Without a doubt, July has one of the worst album covers since Nick Drake’s, Pink Moon. However, any comparison ends there. If you’re a fan of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, Pretty Things or the more obscure likes of Blossom Toes, July are right up your alley. While many on the London swinging 60’s scene dipped their hands into the psychedelic cookie jar, not every album dragged out of obscurity is to be hailed as a masterpiece. On that front, July fares better than most. While the likes of John’s Children verged on incompetence, July are up there with Small Faces and The Creation in terms of proficiency and talent. Front man, Tom Newman later went on to produce of Mike Oldfield’s, Tubular Bells among other things.
In terms of their history, July reads like something out of Spinal Tap. They started out as a skiffle group, moved to R & B and when fashion dictated, went all, ‘Listen To The Flower People’. What sets them apart however, is a touch of skepticism and a sound that’s decidedly more demonic than their contemporaries. Despite the bells, sitars and whistles, ‘My Clown,’ ‘Dandelion Seeds’ and ‘The Way’ are spooky fare, with a touch of darkness. ‘Jolly Mary’ by contrast, is the most cliched and risible this genre has to offer. Furthermore, if Syd Barrett were alive he could sue July for royalties based on the likes of ‘To Be Free’. The vocals and melody sound like they were lifted straight from Barrett’s, ‘Octopus’. Despite all that, there is something damnably irresistible at work here. Especially, in tracks like, ‘Move On Sweet Flower’. When it breaks into spoken word, “I see a fish swimming free of the slime,” it’s hard not to crack a nostalgic smile. And nostalgia is a lot of what July has to offer.
‘Crying is For Writers’ is a killer title for a song that owes much to the Kinks’ Ray Davies. For what it lacks in Davies’ lyrical prowess, it makes up for with atmosphere and some crunchy fuzzy guitar. Elsewhere, ‘I See’ sounds like something out of Arthur Lee’s Love. If it all comes off a little superficial, it is. But sometimes, depth is overrated. Especially, if you know your audience is tripping on acid. For all it’s highs and lows, the album culminates in, ‘A Bird Lived’. A song so twee, Beatlesque and contrived you want to punch it.
While an uneven bag, July has enough going for it to commend it as a desirably collectable artifact from it’s era. It’s the kind of thing Andy Partridge and XTC parodied so beautifully with Dukes of Stratosphear. Despite sounding a somewhat calculated, what truly sets July apart from the pack, is its cynicism. Where innocents and posers dove headfirst into the Psyche scene with gusto, July seemed to take a step back, ever so slyly mocking it all.
While a classic of its era, I hesitate to call, July an out an out masterpiece. Some tracks are great, while others are studied and artificial. If it’s obscure, Psyche masterpieces you’re after, I’ll point you first to Nick Garrie’s brilliant and sumptuously orchestrated, The Nightmare of JB Stanislas. While, July has not been awarded the accolades of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, it is a cut above much of the bric-a-brac that tends to get touted and reissued by collector’s labels like Radioactive and Sundazed. Truly, a cult classic.
Kevin: You know your stuff! Nice review. And don't forget, July gave us Tony Duhig and Jon Field of Jade Warrior! Tom Newman's Faerie Symphony is pretty great, too.