Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Herd - Sunshine Cottage/Miss Jones 7

The Herd
Sunshine Cottage/Miss Jones 7

Released 1968 on Fontana TF957
Reviewed by Andfurthermoreagain, 06/07/2011ce

A prime example of an act caught struggling between public image and ambition, unrecognised (and unrealised) potential and missed opportunities, ‘teen-idol’ quartet The Herd released this wonderful coupling of dreamy British pop psychedelia and choogling mod-rock in 1968 to fall pretty much on deaf or uninterested ears.
You see, despite the (then) very young Peter Frampton’s (Face of ‘68 no less) pretty boy heart-throb appeal – the rest of the band weren’t exactly pit-bulls either – and despite a clutch of questionably manufactured psychsploitation hit singles issued by Fontana previously (including the ridiculously over-the-top kitchensinkerama plunked-bassline session-player pomposity of ‘From The Underworld’, ‘Paradise Lost’ and the cod-reggae bubblegum of ‘I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die’) what you have to understand is that Frampton and chums really wanted to be like The Who, The Action or The Kinks but particularly The Small Faces.
So, confidently eschewing the Tin-Pan Alley songwriter team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley (composers of said ‘hits’ as well as several ghastly numbers for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch) and having already contributed a few of their own songs to a patchy, label informed debut album they promptly set out to achieve something of the artistic credibility afforded to their fellow rock contemporaries (and in one fell swoop managed to pull off the unthinkable by actually out-writing those winsome Howard/Blaikley tunes) with this, their first self-penned, stand-alone gem of a single.
Commencing with a sustained fuzz-tone note and pop-art estate-agent banter “reasonable price, excellent view”, over intricate, baroque Kinks guitar flourishes, the wonderfully elegiac melody and boy-child harmonies of ‘Sunshine Cottage’ soon reveal this particularly desirable property to be in fact, a safe haven of necessity “whenever I’m down, I stop hanging around”. As they go on to instruct, finding your way to this home offers a miniature utopia of innocence “in the sunshine where no-one can tell you what you have to do” which locates it far more in the escapist territory of ‘Itchycoo Park’, Traffic’s psychedelic city slicker pastoralisms or even Ray Davies’ equally ignored Village Green. Obviously, it’s not as ‘nod and wink’ drug coded as ‘Itchycoo’ and I doubt the reference to ‘sunshine’ here is the same as Donovan’s but you never know, stranger things have happened.
Alas, and as with many such cases in the late sixties, the track, despite being a delightful and addictive slice of pop-psych, adorned with blissful harmonies (which at times, particularly during the thrilling climax, place it in the same league as The Zombies breathtaking ‘Hung Up On A Dream’) and shimmering guitar, fell flat on its arse saleswise, chartwise and was ultimately a disheartening failure, particularly in achieving its aim of suggesting that the developing Frampton/Bown song-writing team could ever hope to reach the comparative Marriot/Lane partnership’s lofty heights of reverence. Essentially and even though hook laden and seemingly simple in its charm, ‘Sunshine Cottage’ proved to be too complex for The Herd’s allocated teenage audience (ridiculous when you consider the over-complicated production heaped on ‘From The Underworld’), yet way too pop (and possibly a little too late in 1968, the year of rock and revolution) for the progressive, underground scene and this despite their clear allegiances to the much admired Faces (in fact, Steve Marriot petitioned his colleagues to invite Frampton - in his opinion, the better guitarist – to join The Small Faces as a way of bolstering their live sound and raising Marriot’s flagging confidence in his own ability). Perhaps bass player Gary Taylor’s odd sub-Scott-baritone vocals (“taking your time, you can relax, sit in the sun”) during each wistful breakdown proved a little grating for the oh-so-hip crowd but they sort of forgivably and begrudgingly belong there (trademark group touches and all that) yet if the song had been at least one tenth as good as it actually is, would have completely killed it!.
Clearly the teen-idol tag had become a creative albatross and the failure of this single turned out to be a decisive, crushing blow and following a couple more decent but half-hearted, self-written singles, the core of the band disintegrated with Peter Frampton finally joining the equally disillusioned and increasingly reactionary Marriot in Humble Pie. Luckily, this fateful move simultaneously fulfilled both their wishes – in (by then moustachioed) Marriot’s case, to work with Frampton and in his case to work with a Small Face (albeit ex-Small Face) and garner a little rock credibility shortly before he discovered Vocoders and ‘came alive’ (as it were) within the American 70s MOR arena market that would finally embrace him.
So, if ‘Sunshine Cottage’ was admittedly a little too pretty and naive for some ears, its strident b-side ‘Miss Jones’ actually makes the full leap from pop tweeness to successfully emulating The Small Faces’ prodigious adult-child boogie rockisms. In fact it’s so Small Facesesque that, if flipped to the a-side, it might have at least done The Herd the spurious favour of being classed as wannabe Faces also-rans rather than simply inconsiderable teenyboppers, motorway-services-compilation* and golden greats radio fodder (I once had a comp of theirs where Mike ‘Relax’ Read had written the sleevenotes – see it’s this sort of misguided shit I’m on about). Small Faces comparisons of that kind, even if derogatory, would have at least been a back handed compliment – this as I said, was what they really wanted to be about - and something in the way of elevating their status as aspiring breakaway artists if not damning their endeavours with faint praise.
Anyhow, and seeking to avoid faint praise myself, ‘Miss Jones’ is a sublime belter, whose sheer exuberance and evidence of genuine musical ability (both sides mercifully free of session players) manages to save it from being merely the sum of its many similarities to Marriot and co – again, this is what they intended so who are we to criticise?. Would it be fair to dismiss this effort in terms of originality when clearly Frampton considered his Beckenham soul-boy mod roots to be similar to those of his soon-to-be band mate (who also knew a thing or two about trying to shake the teen-idol tag), not to mention his other close friend, one David Jones (aka Bowie)? Mid-late 60s contemporary musicality was all about coveting, copping and re-appropriating the necessary vibe – like Townshend ripping The Kinks on ‘I Can’t Explain’ to secure Shel Talmy’s interest, like McCartney ripping Brian Wilson or Harrison ripping the Byrds. To put down ‘Miss Jones’ as a pale imitation would arguably be as relevant as suggesting ‘Penny Lane’ is simply a Liverpudlian acid-tinted parochial rewrite of ‘California Girls’ (which melodically it is!). ‘Miss Jones’ is simply a statement of artistic intent – an apparent musical gambit that says “look we’re trying to mature here, so listen to this instead” and aurally clothed in a blatant contemporary reference point that ought to have been far more persuasive than the throwaway manufactured dross they were known for.
So, yes, all the major late-period Small Faces elements are firmly intact, from the proto-Zep riff at the beginning, the powerhouse (and decidedly un-Herd) drumming and Andy Bown’s casually chugging Fender Rhodes. The only things actually missing are Marriot’s raucous yelp ** (or even Lane’s gypsy-soul plaintiveness) and the fact that the record centre is blue Fontana and not (as it may as well be) lilac Immediate. I suppose one other sonic aspect you might expect from such a deliberate Small Faces homage would be a swirling McLagen B3 solo. Instead Bown merely holds down the same electric piano chords for the whole break before Frampton weighs in with a searing (but slightly buried) two bar guitar sting that sounds uncannily (maybe knowingly) like the licks during the intro of ‘Tin Soldier’. The lack of organ ‘solo’ is either a crafty move to build tension leading up to Frampton’s bit or more likely a lack of skill or confidence on young Bown’s part.*** There’s even a false ending coda thrown in for appropriate measure in a clever nod to that rather popular attention grabbing trick utilised by their mighty contemporaries (see just about everyone in 1966-68).
Still, music aside, the lyrical aspect of ‘Miss Jones’ is also significant as the group desperately attempted to embrace a more adult orientated approach. Essentially it’s a string of sex-comedy (Carry On.., Confessions Of... etc) innuendo sang from the point of view of an office boss who declares, “I like to get merry with my secretary”, explains her ‘duties’ and delivers the final payoff by issuing a rather lairy warning that her predecessor “didn’t have the knack so I gave her the sack”. In the hands of anyone older (see McCartney’s similar and much later ‘Temporary Secretary’) such Richard Asquithisms**** would certainly come across as questionable, dodgy and fuck-right-off misogynistic but given the group’s combined age as probably not much more than that of the average executive director at the time it sounds more tea-boy fantasist than disrespectfully filthy. They would apply a similarly raunchy approach (if not conceptually) to a subsequent b-side ‘Beauty Queen’, another ‘uncharacteristic’ rocker and blatant exercise in trying to convince their peers (and critics) that they weren’t actually the nice-boys from next door but sexually promiscuous ruffians. It didn’t work of course but ho hum, they tried.
Yet, when all’s said about ‘Miss Jones’, rather than being a simple or cynical Small Faces rewrite, it is (along with its shimmering a-side) ample proof that The Herd had been unfairly written off as orchestrated pop-types and that indeed, given time and space (and possibly a year earlier) to express themselves, may well have seen them placed alongside a more worthy set of contemporaries than DDDBM&T, Herman’s Hermits et al. In fact, if Marriot’s intentions of poaching Frampton were as strong as suggested then he must have pricked an eager ear to this recording as it appears for all intents to be the ultimate and wilful audition on the young guitarist’s behalf.
If sublime pop-psych is your bag then you could do a lot worse than track down a copy. Both tracks are nearly always featured on most cheap Herd CDs too, though likely due to a paucity of recorded material during the band’s very short lifespan, probably only because they have to. It’s sad that even within context of the band’s discography, the single seems to be regarded as a minor post-‘Underworld’ footnote or curiosity rather than the bold artistic achievement it ought to be.
Of course, this double barrelled shot at relevance isn’t perfect by any means but its 100% going-for-broke attitude makes it one hell of a defiant statement by a bunch of young, frustrated musicians trying to claw their way out of teen-mag pop-adolescence and better than ‘Natural Born Bugie/Boogie’? Yeah, I reckon so!

*Significantly and cruelly, chiefly as a result of The Herd’s regrettably perceived place in pop history, ‘Sunshine Cottage’ is seemingly conspicuous by its absence from pretty much every collection of 60s UK pop-psych, including the Rubble series (which features many examples of similar but less impressive material) and even anthologies of Fontana releases (obscure or otherwise). Unfortunately, this situation isn’t likely to be redressed any time soon.

**the lead vocal doesn’t sound like Frampton and is possible Gary Taylor singing in a more conventional register, yet the lack of Marriot vocalisms in such a Faces knock-off is strangely something of a pleasant relief. Marriot, around this time had a habit of turning up on other artists’ records (usually from the Immediate camp) – essentially as guest ‘backing vocalist’ but usually drowning out the actual lead singer to such an extent that you find yourself thinking “Stevie mate, we love you but back off a bit, you’ve got your own fucking band”. For good examples of this effect listen to Billy Nichols’ (admittedly Marriot/Lane penned) ‘Would You Believe’, The Easybeats’ ‘Good Times’, Wyman’s ‘In Another Land’ and Traffic’s ‘Berkshire Poppies’ where the former Artful Dodger dominates proceedings the minute he appears. In hindsight, this now seems not to be an act of egotistical attention seeking but simply evidence of Steve’s increasing discontentment with his own band and desire to hang out at his mates’ recording sessions.

***Andy Bown would later join Status Quo as resident keyboardist and spend the majority of his career being equally un-tested, simply resigned to drab boogie-rock simplicity.

****Glasgow’s Belle & Sebastian would also incorporate this theme into two pun/innuendo laden singles, ‘Legal Man’ (2000) and the role-reversing and rather Zombiesesque ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ (2003), clearly in a similar attempt to detract from their general perception as fey, bookish indie types – in fact ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ gleefully bolsters the concept with its accompanying video featuring drummer Richard Colburn in a blatant 70s style Asquith wig getting up to all sorts of retro y-fronted bawdyness.

Reviews Index