Friday, June 19, 2009

Kincade's Hit Making Currency

Late ‘72/early ‘73 represents a period on the very periphery of my temporal recall. I have a handful of early memories, but so far as connecting with music from that era, most of my associations come via music that the people around me were listening to at the time. The period itself falls into a bit of a non descript category - post 60s movements, pre glam, punk and disco. A great many singer songwriters emerged during the stylistic void of the first half of the 70s, artists the ilk of Billy Joel, Elton John, Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, and of course David Bowie would prove to be one of the seminal figures in popular music throughout the 70s and beyond. Many of the giants of the 60s era also continued to flourish, the superstars of Motown, beat pop, and hippie factions, now had the opportunity to establish their own voice and style. The early 70s wasn’t so much a period of dormancy in popular music development, but rather one of preparation, laying the foundations that would underpin the explosion of creative innovation and growth that followed.

Some singular pop-rock gems were also spawned during that time, some of which must have registered within the deepest recesses of my museum of recollection, there to remain hidden exhibits, undiscovered until I undertook a conscious effort to discover, or rediscover the music of my youth - in this case my earliest youth. One such long lost treasure sprung back to life in my mind, via its inclusion on a CD compilation called ‘Solid Gold Hits’, part of a mid price series, which I purchased back in 1993. It was an eclectic collection of tracks, spanning late 60s through early 80s, and several of the tracks/artists featured therein have already been covered in previous posts - the likes of Typically Tropical’s ‘Barbados’, Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’, and British Jigsaw’s ‘Skyhigh’. Another golden era nugget that was dusted off and returned to its former lustre via its inclusion on the CD, was ‘Dreams Are Ten A Penny’.

Clocking in at just over two and half minutes, ‘Dreams Are Ten A Penny’ was a finely crafted morsel of pop-rock, featuring an infectious blend of acoustic guitars, thumping drums, and liquid smooth vocal harmonies. The track would have sat comfortably within the pages of a Moody Blues songbook, and the lead vocals had all the hallmarks of one Justin Hayward. But it wasn’t a Moody Blues’ song, and Justin Hayward wasn’t the singer in this rock and roll band. The band was Kincade, and the singer was actually by trade a producer and songwriter, called John Carter.

John Carter was already a veteran of the British music scene by the time he created Kincade. He was born John Shakespeare, and gained his first experience in the late 50s, when he played with a high school skiffle band called LVI, alongside future song writing partner Ken Hawker. Shakespeare and Hawker began writing their own songs, which eventually became their primary focus. With guitars in hand, the duo travelled to London to try their hand as songwriters. Ken Hawker assumed the pseudonym of Ken Lewis, whilst in an apparent move to distance himself from the acclaimed English playwright, Shakespeare adopted the moniker of Carter. They put together the backing band, the Southerners, as a vehicle for their songs, and in 1961 released the single ‘Back On The Scene’. They went through a rotating roster of players in the Southerners, including Jimmy Page for a brief stint. But as Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, the duo couldn’t find their big break. They then recorded under the name The Ivy League (alongside Perry Ford), and scored several major hits during 1965, including ‘Funny How Love Can Be’ (UK#8), and ‘Tossing And Turning’ (UK#3). Carter and Lewis also penned Herman Hermits’ 1965 US#2 hit ‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat?’, Brenda Lee’s 1964 UK#17 ‘Is It True’, and contributed backing vocals on a string of major hits, including the Who’s UK#8 ‘I Can’t Explain’ (1965), and Chris Farlowe’s ‘Out Of Time’ (UK#1-1966). By 1966, Carter had decided to withdraw from the performance side of things with the Ivy League, and singer Tony Burrows was recruited to front the band on tour.

Carter then focussed on song writing and production, and his wife Gill became his part-time lyricist. Over the next couple of years he penned hits for The Music Explosion, ‘Little Bit O’ Soul’ (US#2-1967), and ‘Sunday For Tea’ (US#31-1967) by Peter and Gordon. Carter also provided the vocals on the 1966 hit ‘Winchester Cathedral’ (UK#4/US#1), credited to the New Vaudeville Band, and written by another of Carter’s song writing collaborators, Geoff Stephens. The John Carter career tapestry became ever more intricately woven over the course of the late 60s. Late in 1967, Ken Lewis also left the Ivy League, and returned once more to writing with Carter. The pair penned a song called ‘Let’s Go To San Francisco’, a satirical take on the concept of flower power, and enlisted the services of Ivy League vocalist Tony Burrows to be the voice of the studio only outfit, The Flower Pot Men, who took the credit for the UK#4 hit. During the first half of the 70s, singer Tony Burrows would provide the voice behind a string of hit studio based groups, and would have further success with songwriter/ producer John Carter.

Carter and Lewis founded their own recording label, Sunny Records, a sensible move given their prolific output as writers. During the late 60s, Carter continued to pen songs intended for The Flower Pot Men, but his music took on a chameleonic quality, released under a serious of different guises, including Haystack, and Friends. He then set his sights on the Eurovision Song Contest, and penned the song ‘Knock, Knock Who’s There?’, performed by Mary Hopkin at the 1970 edition of the contest. The song was beaten to #1 at the Eurovision by Dana’s ‘All Kinds Of Everything’, and beaten to #1 on the British charts by the same song. Soon after Carter scored the UK#48 hit ‘Chelsea’, under the moniker of Stamford Bridge.

In 1972, Carter penned the song ‘Dreams Are Ten A Penny’, with lyricist and wife Gill Shakespeare. Carter then recorded the song himself, providing all the vocals and guitar, and released the track via Larry Page’s Penny Farthing label. Though the track somehow managed to elude the British and U.S. charts, the name Kincade burst into the German charts during the second half of 1972 (eventually peaking at #2), and began making inroads into Scandinavia and Holland. As is the tradition with these things, Kincade needed to hit the road for some promotional appearances to support the song. The problem was, Kincade as a band didn’t actually exist at that time, and John Carter remained reluctant to become involved in the performance side of things - as had happened with the Ivy League. Singer John Knowles was recruited to be the public face (and voice) of Kincade, and went on the promotional appearance circuit during late ‘72.

Knowles soon adopted the name of John Kincade, and label owner Larry Page backed him for a solo career. John Kincade the solo singer, scored a handful of hits in Germany over the next couple of years, including the German #18 ‘Shine On Me, Woman’, written by Carter and his wife Shakespeare, and also a minor hit in Australia (#95). But now Kincade the group were once again without a public persona, so in December ‘72 John Carter turned to three former members of progressive rock outfit Octopus, who had previously recorded for the Penny Farthing label. Singer/guitarist Paul Griggs, his younger brother Nigel (bass), and guitarist Rick Williams, took on the Kincade name, and ten days later made their first promotional appearance on the Dutch television show ‘Top Pop’. I’ve no idea if anyone at the time caught on to the fact that the trio had no connection with the song they were miming, but at any rate they continued pushing the single ‘Dreams Are Ten A Penny’, which had subsequently become a #4 hit in Australia. Kincade remained a going concern over the next year or so, with Carter continuing to pen and produce the songs. He played a major role in the recording of Kincade’s only album release, alongside session players. Meanwhile, the Griggs brothers and Williams took care of the touring and promotional side of things, sometimes miming to backing tracks, sometimes providing some live vocals and instrumental accompaniment. Kincade (the group) scored two more minor hits in Germany, ‘Big Hand For Annie’ (#41-1973), and ‘How Can I Fly’ (#35-1974), but the ‘bands’ last promotional appearance was in Germany during December of ’73. By early 1974, John Carter had turned his attentions to another first class studio project - but that’s a story for the next post. Meanwhile, Paul Griggs had moved on to the vocal group Guys n’ Dolls, who scored their first major British hit in early ‘75 with ‘There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving’ (#2). Griggs remained with the group until 1985, and subsequently pursued a fulltime career as a songwriter and music publisher. His younger brother Nigel went on to join a bunch of New Zealanders in a little band called Split Enz - you might have heard of them. Bassist Griggs joined the Enz at the same time as a mercurial nineteen year old guitarist, singer, and budding songwriter, by the name of Neil Finn. The rest of that story is, as they say, well documented history.

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