19 November 2023

The Nocturnes - Why (Am I Treated So Bad)/ Save The Last Dance For Me


Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

Birmingham's The Nocturnes have featured on numerous psychedelic compilations, but you could be forgiven for wondering why. They could probably be more realistically and fairly defined as a harmony pop group with occasional tinges of Jimmy Webb's influence around the edges; indeed, their sprightly version of his track "Carpet Man" was compiled on the EMI CD "Psychedelia at Abbey Road" where it felt only slightly out of place.

"Why (Am I Treated So Bad)" was their second single after their debut release "I Wish You Would Show Me Your Mind", and is another interesting interpretation. "Why..." was originally written by Roebuck Staples of The Staples Singers in response to an incident at the Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Nine black students attempted to enrol at the school in 1957 and were met with protests and blocked by the National Guard - the song is a response to this incident and in its original incarnation is a gutsy, bluesy, gospel-tinged protest.

The Nocturnes, however, obviously heard some of the gospel elements, noticed a discernible eeriness to them and decided to amp up these aspects. This version opens with a droning organ then introduces vocals which sound as if they've escaped from the mouths of the spectres on "Johnny Remember Me". Thudding, echoing beats occasionally introduce themselves like funeral drums, and the end effect may not be quite what The Staple Singers had in mind - in fact, there's a whole debate to be had here about whether a white Brummie group deviating from Roebuck Staples' intentions is appropriate - but it is startling. It's not exactly the precursor to The Specials "Ghost Town", but it does nonetheless take a politically charged topic and cut it through with a desolate, windblown feel. 

The B-side, on the other hand, is a fairly hollow pedestrian jog through The Drifters classic which sounds as if it may have been recorded in one take. You can't have everything.
The group consisted of Ross Mitchell on drums, Eve Eden (aka Eve Graham) on vocals, Lyn Peters (aka Lyn Paul) on vocals, Ken Taylor on lead guitar and Nicky Waller on vocals and bass. Eve Graham and Lyn Paul later had much more success with The New Seekers - proof if anyone needed it that The Nocturnes really weren't that way out, although Ross Mitchell did eventually depart and was replaced by John Camp, who later joined Renaissance; so that's some psychedelic/prog credibility points we could throw in their direction if we're feeling generous.

They also had two albums out on Columbia, "The Nocturnes" and "Wanted Live", which contain the kind of material you'd expect; that is to say, harmony pop cover versions professionally delivered with an occasional paisley twist. Both can usually be obtained quite cheaply on the second-hand market.

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