Help Yourself - Beware the Shadow

Help Yourself
Beware the Shadow

Released 1972 on United Artists
Reviewed by Valve, 12/04/2005ce

This is a Man thing. That is, I came to Help Yourself via MAN, or “The godfathers of welsh acid space rock” as we now know them. In 1972 I bought Man’s ‘Live at the Padget Rooms, Penarth’ - ’cos it was cheap. SO cheap in fact, that I got the ‘Greasy Truckers Party’ double containing Man’s epic funkathon ‘Spunk Rock’ at the same time (£2.48 the lot - just affordable to a paperboy doing two rounds). The first track on ‘Padget Rooms’ - ‘Many are called but few get up’ had a sound so new to me that I remember describing it at the time as being “like Indian music”, not that I’d heard a lot of Indian music by then but my frames of reference for this beautiful, ringing raga with it’s jagged riffing and shamanic wailing were limited, sufficed to say that the twin-guitared psychedelic jamming, rapid scatter fire percussion and Johnny-one-note bassing was another world from the strictly blues rooted fare I was used to. The back cover proclaimed this item to be “For Man fans only”. I had a copy - ergo - I’m a Man fan, so naturally their next studio album released a month later, ‘Be good to yourself at least once a day’ (featuring an entirely different line-up of course - There appears to have been, if not a revolving drumstool, a trapdoor under every member of Man that could be activated at any moment), was snapped up upon release - I had a Saturday job in a fish shop by then, I was flush. And... I’m getting there... it was somewhere in the midst of the lavish ‘Be good to yourself’ packaging, in amongst the fold out map of beer, aggro and Tom Jones Wales and the Pete Frame ZigZag style family jungle doodling and the thanks to everybody who knows us ©Rotring penned sleeve acknowledgments that I found reference to “Help Your Self - the most boreing group in the world” (sic). I took this to mean, “If you like us you’ll fucking LOVE these”... which of course it did.

The handwritten sleeve notes were by Deke Leonard who, not actually in Man at the time (One of those trapdoors), was an honourary Help Yourselfer and would later use various band members on his Iceberg solo projects. Man and Help Yourself had first buddied up in the summer of 1971 when, along with Leicester band Gypsy, they’d played a handful of dates on the Swiss “All Good Clean Fun” tour organised by United Artist’s head of A&R, Andrew Lauder to open up that lucrative Swiss market(?) and promote the UA compilation album of the same name which the three of them had appeared on along with Brinsley Schwarz, Hawkwind, Groundhogs, War, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Canned Heat, Amon Duul II etc. Man would commemorate those heady days on the song ‘All Good Clean Fun’ on 1971’s ‘Do you like it here now, Are you settling in alright?’ LP with the druggy namedropping lyric: “The trip's just begun, we've broken the ice, it's all good clean fun, Don't move away, don't change your name, we'll soon find the way, Ace, it was high when money was low, the Gypsy knows why, Nobody else is so boring, just Help Yourself, Sounds in the night, the rustle of skins, the outlook is bright, I'll tell you why, we're nearing the end, we're getting so high”. Look, enough with the boring tag already! Help Yourself would get around to returning the compliments on 1974’s ‘Man we’re glad we know you’ off their fourth album - “Good clean fun has passed away and gone, But we’re glad to feel that we have met someone, With a little bit of funk and soul...” Hey, Well spotted with the funk and soul boys - That’s what set these groups apart from their heavy friends. These cats had it going on! And incestuous? That ain’t the half of it - Apart from Deke’s occasional membership of Help Yourself, Malcolm Morley and Ken Whaley of the Helps would in turn join the Man band for the ‘Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics’ period, Malcolm’s songwriting contributions helping to make that LP the most critically acclaimed studio release of their career.

So... Back to 1972 and hot on the heels of Deke’s “recommendation” a half-page ad appeared in Sounds displaying the artwork for Help Yourself’s third album ‘Beware the Shadow’ - Annie Hutchings’ gorgeous children's storybook/hippy illustration of the Helps, all patched denim and tousled locks, along with a smattering of pixies on toadstools, looking wistfully upon a lush scene of picturesquely gnarled trees and blue remembered hills. She’d obviously used the first album sleeve (designed by Jeff Powell) as a template, replacing it’s licorice allsorted figures and wobbling winking blancmanges with a more back-to-the-country feel. The one disquieting note is provided by the gun and bullet belt trailing out of a holdall at the band’s feet but is it a reference to the Brinsleys ‘Silver Pistol’ design (another Jeff Powell cover confection) or an homage to the guntoting persona of the beloved Quicksilver Messenger Service, or, and its hard to tell with the slightly queasy perspective, is Richard Treece’s bumper booted foot ON the offending item - signifying Peace maaaan? Who knows? I bought ‘Beware the Shadow’ without hearing a note. My faith was rewarded - big time! Everybody liked Man and Hawkwind, I wanted something for My self - Help your self!

The Helps on here are: Malcolm Morley - Songwriting, soulsearching, streetsinging, vocals, guitar and keyboards; Richard Treece - Treelike, axe cradling, wah wah peddling guitar genius; Dave Charles - elfin Tim Buckley lookey likey drummer (There was “something of the forest” about all of Help Yourself); and Paul Burton - bedenimed ex-roadie bass player who’d replaced Ken Whaley when the latter had left after the first album to spend at least some of his time, along with Sean Tyler (Help Yourself roadie of whom more later), Martin Belmont (yet another ex-roadie, Brinsleys this time) and initially Magic Michael (but that was never going to last!) trying to get a fledgling Ducks Deluxe off the ground. Ken, an unassuming man, would later slip quietly back into the fold (Please, No fanfare) for the fourth Helps album, ‘The Return of Ken Whaley’! Still makes me chuckle, that. So, on the second album ‘Strange Affair’ the band had started bass player-less whilst managing to incorporate extra guitars and songwriting in the shapes of JoJo Glemser and Ernie Graham. Richard Treece played bass and added his guitar parts later which makes the task of working out who’s playing what a tricky one, although on the stand out track, ‘Excerpts from The All Electric Fur Trapper’ (from an idea by Sean Tyler), I’m saying that JoJo Glemser plays the squelchy xylophonic riff - Because his name sounds like it! (My very own theory of onamatopoeiaism, D’ya like it?) and the snarling beast of a guitar solo that rips across it is unmistakably Treece. Also I’d always assumed that Morley’s six string contributions were limited to the strumming on Help Yourself’s records (being the sensitive songwriter and all) until I heard his 2001 solo release ‘Aliens’ and in particular the track ‘Venus Rising’ whereon Malcolm’s vocally getting about as Lizard King as he’s going to get AND putting out some extremely mean psyche guitar all of his own making.

On ‘Beware’s opening track, ALABAMA LADY. it’s Morley laying down the choppy riff and Treece tottering onto the wah wah peddle and staying there, swaying, and with head, hands and foot squeezing out a continuous stream of bubbling notes for Malcolm’s vocal to bob along on top of. Morley’s accent - deeply americano on everything except the closing track, PASSING THROUGH, where it takes the old trail back to Dublin - twangs like fence wire and cracks like a bull whip, “Wrack me nice ’n’ jane-ley (Rock me nice and gently)” as the band wear their love of things North American on their collective sleeve - Those cowboys and indians in San Francisco, The Quick and The Dead (silver and grateful), Steve Stills in Buffalo Springfield and definitely Neil Young all sound to have exerted an early influence (Hearing Young’s & Danny Whitten’s chattering guitars on ‘Everybody knows this is nowhere’ must have been some sort of epiphany for Treece and Morley). It’s almost too obvious to say that Help Yourself sit on a line connecting fellow americanaphiles, stablemates and labelmates, Brinsley Schwarz and Man, sharing a breezy country soul rootsiness with the former and a penchant for stretching out on marijuana induced space trips with the latter, and possibly a little less obvious to suggest that there’s also a link between Help Yourself’s harder focussed songs, from the ‘Ken Whaley’ set, and the cold eyed stare of the ‘My Aim is True’ album Elvis Costello would make with Marin County’s Clover (another U.S. Liberty/UA act). English scuffle goes so well with American jangle.

REAFFIRMATION is Help Yourself’s magnum opus. If ‘...Fur Trapper’ is their ‘Many are called but few get up’ this 14 minute adventure in sound is definitely their ‘Spunk Rock’, a group composition, although it seems a tad churlish to have left Dave Charles off the credits - something like this could only have come out of some fairly intense collective jamming. But what to hang your jam on? Man tended to kick in with an all conquering twin guitar figure before they took off for the journey into space. Help Yourself do it the Grateful Dead way, putting flesh on the skeleton of a song. Fading in innocuously enough, daydreamlike with dangling piano chords and mellotron used to spacey eerie effect (Is it a mellotron? I’m not too good on keyboard instruments - like Mantovani in a tin shed?) and Malcolm with a lyric mooching around in the doldrums, “...but all they dish you up is shit”, then building the pace with stinging guitars to a plateau of Meters style chicken strutting funk. With the mood lifted everyone’s chilling with an almost rastafarian refrain: “Reeeeeeeeeeeee-affer-may-shun” and soul brother Morley cutting up the same word and scatting around with the syllables. A key shift and Treece’s incessant guitar starts imitating some lurking silver creature, bathing in shimmering iridescent light down at the bottom and then slowly rising, spiralling up and up... and away... and meanwhile... drummer Charles keeps on keeping on with his own approaching-steam-train scenario until the gathering rhythm can be ignored no longer and the rest of the band jump back on board and if the previous section was jammed up jelly tight as it would go, now they REALLY start to shake the house - Bounding melodic rhythm ‘n’ bass and Treece’s acid tongued licks smearing from speaker to speaker. This part of Reaffirmation where the band so to-tally get on the good foot and shimmy their cosmic pixie arses to the max-i-mum is simply the most thrilling, exhilarating, irresistible passage of music made by two guitars, bass and drums you’re ever likely to hear - and once heard you’re gonna want to keep on hearing it. REAFFIRMATION. SAY IT AGAIN!

SHE’S MY GIRL is, exactly as you’d expect from the title, three and a half minutes of steel strung acoustic, mandolin trembling pop single perfection. Only the fact that it was never actually released as a single stopped it from being the summary summery hit it so transparently should have been - Not that you want your favourite band sullied by the mass appreciation that comes with hitsville of course. ‘She’s my girl’ is reminiscent of George Harrison’s ‘Here comes the sun’ with its pattering tabla beats and optimistic disposition and it shines like a little gem framed here by a couple of quirkier items - MOLLY BAKED BEAN: like a condensed version of Pink Floyd’s Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast off Atom Heart Mother worked into a mad little campfire singalong, and Paul Burton’s CALAPSO which also does exactly what it says on the tin.

The track that dominates Side 2 concerns itself with the plight of the native American... “The government says they freed you, The tourist board says they feed you, The cowboys often feel you... AMERICAN MOTHER” and is a Malcolm Morley/Sean Tyler co-composition. Tyler brings a bit of street hustle to the Helps - the shades, the satin jacket and a love of Lou Reed and Jagger & Richards. There’s a story that Sean’s first attempt to get into the Help Yourself setup involved bigging up his muso credentials by showing the band a blurry picture of Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band, pointing at someone obscure on the back row and claiming it to be him. My first encounter with Sean Tyler was a 1973 Ducks Deluxe gig at a pub in South Harrow where a week before we’d sat cross legged nodding gently to the Global Village Trucking Company. Sean steps up to the mike - “Get up offa the floor you fucking hippies and dance!”, stabs a couple of cursory E chords for tuning and proceeds to beat us up with his greazy biker boogie - I think now of Sean sitting at the front of that transit vanguard of pub rockers with attitude (Ian Dury’s Kilburns “Any rough kids in the audience?”, The Winkies, The Feelgoods, Jolting Joe Strummer’s 101’ers and The Hot Rods with Lew Lewis) who started the process of toughening up the punters for the punk rock days ahead. I’m guessing Sean’s input on AMERICAN MOTHER is mainly lyrical with the song painting dirty pictures of just the kind of experiences a travelling musician from little old England would expect to have across the pond. Opening with epic piano chords and wailing siren, hi-tone fuzz tone guitar, the band get into a nice ’n’ sleazy swaggermode with Morley hawking the distractions on offer: “A ’57 Packard, Hooker’s bedroom suite, First class roller coaster, Keeps her off the streets” and drop onto a very sussed downtown blues jive for, “Acid drops on sidewalks, Hot dogs at the fair, Trippers coloured postcards, Wishin’ I was where?”. I s’pose they could just possibly be accused of over eroticising their subject with, “Grab that pony, Teach him with your thighs. Bur-rrn the reservation with your sighs”. Mind you, it’s not ‘Wig-Wam Bam’, is it?

The album closes with PASSING THROUGH, Morley’s beautiful Irish lament (“that my fairther used to sing, when he was young”) with it’s ghostly harmonies and mournful lone wolf howl, “There goes my life, just passing through...” and as the shadow draws across us, they’re gone.

So why weren’t they bigger? The record company and in particular Andrew Lauder were well behind them. They were loved by the alternative press. I suppose they never did enough gigs, promotion not their bag - They didn’t play live at all before the first album and when Malcolm joined Bees Make Honey for a short period after the split, he played more gigs with them and their ‘Music Every night’ pub rocking ethos than he ever did with the Helps.

Anyways, to sum up, this is whats you gots to do. Get ‘Beware the Shadow’ coupled with the ‘Help Yourself’ album on the one BGO CD and while you’re there pick up the ‘Strange Affair’ & ‘The Return of Ken Whaley/Happy Daze’ double (which if nobody gets there before me I’ll be back to take you through, track by wonderful track). There’s also ‘Help Yourself 5’, (abandoned in 1973 and completed in 2002 with the help of an American drummer called Kevin Spacey) on Hux who also do the Malcolm Morley and Plummet Airlines ‘Lost & Found’ CD, similarly salvaged from seventy-six, and his ‘Aliens’ is on Creo. Treece and Whaley are presently to be found pub gigging in psychedelic Walthamstowe E17 and releasing the occasional precious thing under the name The Green Ray. ‘All Good Clean Fun’ is now a 3 CD release on EMI, although of the 39 tracks included only 9 are common to the original 23 track vinyl release. Happily though Help Yourself now get 3 tracks - ‘Street songs’, ‘Reaffirmation’ and ‘Eddie Waring’ - a mighty live jam from Man’s ‘Christmas at the Patti’ ten inch double, featuring Deke Leonard and BJ Cole - and not mentioning Wigan or Hull Kingston Rovers once. For more on the Helps type the words Ptolemaic and Terrascope into a search engine and Senza and Tempo should do you for The Green Ray. Happy trails headhunters...

One more thing. BEWARE THE SHADOW is (and I know you’ll want to know this) a Porky Prime Cut!

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