3 August 2016

The Epics - Travelling Circus/ Henry Long

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

The Epics were an East London based group consisting of Mike Blakley - the brother of Tremeloes member Alan Blakley - on drums and backing vocals, Vic Elmes on lead guitar and lead vocals, Ian Jansen on guitar and Stuart Tann on bass. They had put out two singles on Pye, "There's Just No Pleasing You" and "Just How Wrong You Can Be" before jumping to CBS for this final effort.

The A-side "Travelling Circus" is a very ordinary track which is still commercially available, and can be found on YouTube. Penned by the Trems top team of Blakley and Hawkes, it's a very simple, chipper little ditty which clearly went after the mainstream pop market of its time, but was not especially effective at hitting home.

It's the B-side, "Henry Long", which tends to get psychedelic collectors in a lather. Straight from the "Arnold Layne" lyrical school of local eccentrics behaving in an illegal way, the tale of Long is told through distorted gramophone horn vocals, wobbly banana-fingered piano lines, and mellow guitar riffs. Mr Long, we are informed, was caught out and about with no clothes on, wearing just a top hat, and is now being asked to explain himself in a court of law. "For his mother's sake/ give an absent minded boy a break/ anyone could make the same mistake" sings Elmes forlornly.

The track admittedly sways towards the twee end of British psychedelia, and those of you whose noses get put out of joint by chirpy popsike are going to get tremendously irritated by this one. Still, for my money it's charming and brilliantly silly. Lyrically it's also a damn sight wittier and sharper than the cash-ins surrounding it, to the extent that nobody would have batted their eyelids had a Ray Davies songwriting credit been present.

Shortly after this single was released, The Epics toured Europe and had some small success in Denmark with a cover of Chris Andrews' "Yesterday Man" with their Danish road manager Johan Lind on lead vocals. On returning to the UK they changed their name to Blossom, then Stuart Tann left, only to be replaced by Alan Ross. Their name was changed yet again to The Acid Gallery, and their sole 45 was a cover of Roy Wood's "Dance Around The Maypole", which remains a psychedelic collectible.

Ian Jansen nicked off not long after that single flopped, and further shufflings of the line-up lead to Jeff Christie joining and the band Christie being formed. "Yellow River" was a monster seventies hit, but had so few original members of The Epics involved that regarding it as a continuation of their earlier career would be something of a mistake.

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