Saturday, July 12, 2008

Splinter Take Us To Costafine Town, With A Little Help From A Beatle

‘Costafine Town’ wasn’t one of those hits of the mid 70s that I recall from that time. Well, in fairness I was a wee lad and unless the song appeared on an episode of Countdown that my big sister was watching I often didn’t get to know about it. Of course the radio was another option to discover these treasures but often times when the radio was on I was preoccupied with matchbox cars and toy soldiers, so my subconscious received a lot of mixed messages, most of which it struggled to decipher.

So ‘Costafine Town’ remained one of those undiscovered classics until I unearthed it almost 30 years later. The nostalgic ballad was performed by the British duo called Splinter, which comprised singer/songwriters Bob Purvis and Bill Elliott. There was a bit of Gallagher and Lyle about the duo (their sublime harmonies mainly), but there was also a bit of Badfinger about them as well, which wasn’t at all surprising given that both artists emerged from the periphery of the Beatles universe. Like Badfinger, Splinter’s co-founder Bill Elliott had been signed earlier to the Beatles’ Apple label as part of the Elastic Oz Band. He’d contributed to the John Lennon track ‘Do The Oz’ and was an active advocate of the underground ‘Oz’ magazine in England.

After joining forces with fellow singer/songwriter Bob Purvis, with whom Elliott had worked with previously, the duo came to the attention ex-Beatle George Harrison through their mutual connection with Beatles roadie Mal Evans. Harrison was starting up his own recording label Dark Horse Records, post the Apple debacle and Splinter was the first artist he signed up in 1973, soon after starting work on their debut album. Almost 18 months of honing their sound in the studio saw ‘The Place I Love’ released late in ‘74. The album was not only produced by Beatle George, but he played on most of the tracks as well, also recruiting the likes of bassist Klaus Voorman, drummer Jim Keltner (later to play with Traveling Wilburys) and organist Billy Preston to add to the late Beatles ‘Apple era’ feel on the record.

The first single lifted from ‘The Place I Love’ was ‘Costafine Town’. It performed very well in both Britain (#17) and Australia (#16), and also managed a brief appearance on the U.S. charts (#77). Harrison performed bass on the track (that little fact surprised me), which when I listened to it over and over again nearly 30 years later, had strong echoes of several Billy Joel tracks in the sense that it was a very emotive song that evoked a strong sense of longing and nostalgia - a popular theme in many Joel songs. Incidentally, Harrison adopted a variety of pseudonyms to reflect his album credits, including Hari Georgeson and P. Roducer.

There was enough promise in the warm reception that Splinter received initially to suggest that they may go on to have a steady presence on the charts long term. They released their second album ‘Harder To Live’ in 1975 but it failed to yield any major hits, the only charting single being ‘Half Way There’ (OZ#85). Harrison’s involvement on the album was substantially less than Splinter’s debut, and there’s little doubt that the overall quality suffered as a result. Other musicians such as Tom Scott and Chris Spedding were brought in to help fill the void. The ballad ‘Lonely Man’ was another featured album track and was used in the film ‘Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs’, Harrison’s first foray into motion picture production - pre Hand Made Films.

Splinter’s swan song album for the Dark Horse label was 1977’s ‘Two Man Band’ (not of the ‘Up There Cazaly’ variety). They compromised some of their earlier folk based sound in an attempt to capture the adult contemporary sound but somehow the mix just didn’t suit the duo’s sound - the soft rock thing didn’t do their song writing justice.

Splinter left the Dark Horse roster but did continue to perform together until 1984 when they finally called it a day. During the last few years they were together they did record two more albums of material, 1979’s ‘Streets At Night’ (released in Japan only) and their self titled 1980 effort which only earned a release in England and Japan (Splinter actually had a solid profile in Japan during this period).

Following Splinter’s split both Bill Elliott and Bob Purvis largely withdrew from the music scene. Purvis re-emerged during the 90s to work as a composer/performer in support of the British Cancer Council and briefly launched the duo Splinter 2 in 1999. Elliott retired completely from performing and now resides with his family in Portugal.

None of Splinter’s albums have ever seen the light of day on official CD release, mainly due to their original contractual ties with Harrison’s Dark Horse label and the complications that arose via the fallout between Harrison and the parent label A&M Records. The recordings are currently owned by the Harrison Estate so here’s hoping at some point they’ll be officially released.
In lieu of that, enjoy this vinyl rip of the classic ‘Costafine Town’:LINK REMOVED

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