375) Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera — “Reactions of a Young Man”
The opera ain’t over till the fat Elmer sings! This “proto-prog” (https://recordcollectormag.com/reviews/album/elmer-gantrys-velvet-opera) “brilliant ballad” (https://psychedelicized.com/playlist/e/elmer-gantrys-velvet-opera/) came from the Opera’s ’68 “minor masterpiece” of an album. (https://recordcollectormag.com/reviews/album/elmer-gantrys-velvet-opera) The album, and especially “Reactions”, sounds as if it was written yesterday. The song is so wise, and it sort of sounds like Supertramp.
As Jan Zarebski recounts, the band “emerged from R&B/soul act The Five Proud Walkers after experiencing a conversion to psych following a support slot beneath [the church of] Pink Floyd. Well… who wouldn’t? Their upbeat blend of the new scene with the primal beats of their earlier work got them noticed.” (https://recordcollectormag.com/reviews/album/elmer-gantrys-velvet-opera) Marmalade Skies adds that “[t]he band began to get quite a following and played clubs and university gigs all over the country and at London venues like the Marquee and 100 club and Electric garden. They would also occasionally play at the Speakeasy where Jimi Hendrix would jam with them . . . . (http://www.marmalade-skies.co.uk/elmer.htm)
Zarebski goes on:
The urgent, brilliant Flames, which they cut as their first single, became a cult hit, and a fledgling Led Zeppelin incorporated the song into their act. Unfortunately, that was as close as [they] got to the big time, but their debut remains a rather superb slice of British psych-pop. . . . Reactions Of A Young Man . . . illustrate[s] the eclecticism and talent on show, but it’s the group’s more general mastery of melody and rhythm that marks this album out. Rather like The Zombies and, more obviously, The Beatles, [they] found a tune wherever they looked, and the results stand up with much of the period because of that.https://recordcollectormag.com/reviews/album/elmer-gantrys-velvet-opera
Why didn’t they make it big? Jo-Ann Greene says that:
Although labeled a psychedelic band in their day, the Opera never sat comfortably in that strawberry field, partially because of the diversity of their sound, but also due to the simple fact they were just too far ahead of their time even for the psyched-out crowd. In fact, [the band] continued to sound thoroughly modern for decades, while their myriad musical meanderings took them down wayward byways that later became stylistic highways — at least in their native U.K. So it’s no surprise then, that this band would have slotted perfectly into the Britpop scene, or going back further in time, into the R&B-drenched mod scene.https://www.allmusic.com/artist/elmer-gantrys-velvet-opera-mn0000131151/biography)
Iván Melgar Morey agrees:
ELMER GANTRY’S VELVET OPERA, a very long name for a short living British band formed in 1967 during the peak of British Psychedelia, but despite their formation era, they were one of the most advanced bands from their era, blended with great respect R&B, Jazz Psychedelia a la early Pink Floyd and a touch of The Nice style . . . . Despite being a very good and incredibly advanced album for their era, never reached the popularity deserved, because it was too hard and eclectic for the average listener, but still remains as one of the most powerful and elaborate albums from the pre King Crimson Progressive Rock era.http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=2503
Ih, and where did that name come from? Marmalade Skies clears it up:
Velvet Opera was chosen initially, which was amended to Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera within days after Dave [Terry] turned up to a session wearing a long black cape and a preachers hat and had to endure some piss-taking from the rest of the band (Elmer Gantry was the fictional hero of a Sinclair Lewis novel and 1960 film about a preacher). . . .http://www.marmalade-skies.co.uk/elmer.htm
“Your husband knows that you’ve been keeping me. The bond you wish to make can never be. The age between us is illogical. Don’t ask for love, that is impossible. You thought that you could give me everything. Try as you might to stop my wandering. The changing time makes my position clear. Unlock this cage of gold, I’m leaving here. I’m going home, I’m going home. Gonna ride my bicycle there. You can offer the world to me, but I really don’t care. Think of your first love, how it used to be. Your motives still remain a mystery. If you destroy his life because of me, you’ll find you’ve won a hollow victory. Yes, I’m going home, I’m going home. Gonna ride my bicycle there. You can offer the world to me, but I really don’t care. ‘Cause I’m going home, I’m going home. Gonna ride my bicycle there. . . .”
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