Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Tintern Abbey
Beeside/Vaccuum Cleaner


Released 1967 on Deram
Reviewed by Richard, 30/03/2000ce


(N.B. Road to Damascus time; perhaps it's my shitty typing, but it'd never clicked before that DERAM was an anagram of DREAM. Duh, I hear you chant as one.)

This is my favourite record ever. Hang on, OAR is. No, Prince Jazzbo's WE'LL SEE. Or is it MOULDY OLD MUSIC by Lieutenant Pigeon? Like a cursed defective snowplough, you get the drift. It varies. What do you care? You're here to hear me bang on about Tintern Abbey. Fair play. My pleasure.

Tintern Abbey were a UK 1967 thing. They played UFO and other London night clubs. Who they were etc. is a mystery to me; I'd appreciate enlightenment. There were plans for a second 45, 'Staircase To Nowhere'/'How Do I Feel Today?' (Deram DM 191) which never happened. So this is all we're left with. I don't own it. It's as rare as Daubentonia madagascariensis a.k.a. the aye-aye, a bizarre primate related to lemurs, with which it shares its home, Madagascar. My all time fave animal, case you wondered. You've about as much chance of seeing one now as you have of finding this record. I digress. You can find it on various UK psychedelic compilations; indeed, the RUBBLE series has just been re-issued on CD. Get yer plastic out, go gettem. Groove now, pay later.

'Beeside' opens with piano vamp then a cymbal sound unmatched until Conrad Plank's heyday. Mellotron caresses over a chord progression of such tragic simplicity it's poetic, then a fey vocal bemoaning something/someone being unwilling/unable to take life easy among flora and fauna. The guitar out of Dave Berry's 'The Crying Game' patrols the borders of the song, brooding. A 'la-la' chorus leads you into the eeriest part yet, where piano and mellotron unfurl their tendrils round a subplot about 'a virgin of humble origin/She knew of no sin'. Then it's these bits repeated till the outro, same as the intro. Mystical shit, a classic to boot. But it's mere chaff compared to the flip.

Why 'Vaccuum Cleaner'? Dunno. What I do know is it's got the best drums, bass and guitar of all time; the drumming in particular is beyond words, like Robert Wyatt at his best. The way the kit is circumnavigated after the line 'Now my head is really spinning' is ludicrous. What's it about? 'Pick me up with your sweet dose/Now I'm feeling like a ghost'; this was years before Scooby-Doo. 'No clothes don't buy my soul' is another killer line, so good a group I was in used it as the message in the run-off groove of our debut single. It sounds smooth, surreal and perfectly formed, and that doesn't come close. Neither does Cream with all the bad bits taken out and really good things in their place, but that'll have to suffice. At least now I know why it's called 'Vaccuum Cleaner'; the guitar solo sounds like one, probably a period model, almost certainly going through a Gibson Maestro Fuzztone, red crackle finish. We can only speculate. It's the most ominous and graceful guitar playing I've heard. Even the angelic vocals fuzz and wah like bastards. It was a big hit, only not on this planet, on some far-off star where they know better. Here it might even have cracked three figures, who knows? Whether you've got the original, the version Sean Gregory speeded up for 'Chocolate Soup' or the Rubble volume, you're in possession of a recording that defies description, as you may have noticed. Too bad. Like I said, my favourite record ever, sometimes.


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