Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Tintern Abbey - Vacuum Cleaner/Beeside

Tintern Abbey
Vacuum Cleaner/Beeside


Released 1967 on Deram
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 30/05/2007ce


Tintern Abbey were:
David MacTavish-Lead Vocals
Stuart Mackay-Bass Guitar
Don Smith-Lead Guitar
John Dalton-Drums
(post 45 members include Paul Brett-Guitar, Colin Forster-Guitar & John "Willie" Wilson-Drums.)

Tintern Abbey's lone 45 for Deram has approached legendary status among UK Psychedelia collectors down through the years, and it seems their legend grows a little bit with every passing year. But it wasn't always that way, in fact prior to their 1981 inclusion on "Chocolate Soup For Diabetics Volume One" they were just just one of the forgotten groups that for the most part played third or fourth draw in the London Underground scene hangouts such as Blaise's, UFO & Middle Earth. They were probably only remembered by friends and family members. But boy! what a record they left the world to document their existence.

Tintern Abbey were formed in late 1966, evolving out of a short lived group called The Sect, which included bassist Stuart Mackay. During 1967 Mackay crossed paths with the mysterious David Cuell MacTavish, who was known for writing his own poetry ala Jim Morrison. The fledgling Tintern Abbey (which also contained guitarist Don Smith & drummer John Dalton) came under the watch of underground scenemaker Nigel Samuel (who funded hip newspaper "International Times" & also had his own label "Underground Impresarios".) Samuel was looking for new talent and took a liking to the young Tintern Abbey. The group were fitted with new Mod Threads from Carnaby Street and duly packed off to rural Cornwall to write songs and rehearse, or to use the popular slang of the day "get it together in a country cottage MAN!) It was during their stay in Cornwall that MacTavish aquired a pet bird which became an unofficial group member. When they left Cornwall the bird came with them and even accompanied the group onstage. One of the very rare photos of Tintern Abbey onstage actually shows the bird perched on top of MacTavish's head! WOW! what a gimmick!

When it came to recording their debut 45, the group grabbed a couple of their original creations and banged them out in a flash on Decca's new "progressive" label Deram. It was actually "Beeside" which was chosen as the A-side (not that it mattered because neither side got any airplay.) "Beeside" begins with a spooky piano section that gently shifts into the first verse, aided by backwards cymbals and trippy guitar phrases. I have no idea what MacTavish is singing about, but he is certainly convincing! Towards the song's midsection it slows down to a crawl while MacTavish recites some very odd poetry, in the background is a muted trumpet and a kinda morse code beeping sound (that brings to mind Red Krayola's "Hurricane Fighter Plane") then it's back into the song proper which fades in a haze of real mystery, leaving the listener wondering what planet these guys beamed down from.

"Vacuum Cleaner" is the more famous song of the two and it's not hard to see why as it is much more uptempo and direct. That being said "Vacuum Cleaner" is still a creepy little number that really sounds totally unique. Lyrically it seems to be about not fitting in with the hip underground scene and expressing the desire to leave terra firma. The guitar solo by Don Smith during the song's midsection is astonishing!, it sounds like it is being played underwater! High marks also go to John Dalton's jazz-like drumming. Both sides of this 45 are truly original and totally mind-blowing! I think this group could have been every bit as good as Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, they had a true original in singer David MacTavish who gives off the same vibes to me as Syd Barrett.

It has been said that Tintern Abbey had recorded an album that remains unreleased, that rumor is sadly untrue. The group did demo a second 45 "Nightfall" b/w "How Do I Feel Today" that was never issued (though I do remember an ad offering a CD single of it by guitarist Paul Brett in the late 90's) but sadly I was never able to get one. Tintern Abbey managed to last until 1969, then slowly faded into obscurity. David MacTavish did resurface in 1970 with Velvet Opera, and also fronted Big Bertha and Smokestack Crumble & Armada. He then disappeared into a cloud of smoke but not before making sure his pet bird was taken care of in a bird sanctuary. On a personal note MacTavish is one of my all time heroes, right up there with Dan Wigley of The Desperate Bicycles!


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