Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Dancing in the Tractor

It is a common misconception amongst non-historians that national events (like a new king or, even, being invaded) had much of an effect on common village folk in times gone by.  Movement was so limited and communication so slow that years might pass before people in a place like Tickleford would hear that William had Conquered or that the Duke of Normandy had married Eleanor of Aquitane.  It really didn't make a lot of difference to whether the crops thrived that year or if the fish would be jumping in summertime.  There may be a new lord of the manor but "the world looks just the same and history ain't changed and the banners they are flown in the next war" as the 12th century ballad (author unknown) has it.

The same was true of rock and roll.  Elvis made no impression on Tickleford, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran didn't include Tickleford Memorial Hall on their frequent tours of Britain and no-one rated Cliff much at all.

Obviously The Beatles and The Rolling People had more of an impact as television and radio brought their long haired shenanigans to even the most obscure backwater.  Still, the residents of Tickleford felt as connected to Paul McArtrey and the Glimmer Twins as a medieval peasant did to the aforementioned Eleanor.

This all started to change when a real live Pop Group did include Tickleford Memorial Hall on a 1963 tour.  It only happened because the Sixpenny Handley Village Hall had double booked and no-one was going to tell the 6d WI that they couldn't have the hall that evening.  Flailing around for a venue that had nothing booked on a Saturday night the promoter found the Memorial Hall and so Tickleford had one night rocking to the sound of the Barron Knights.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Truth be told it was sparsely attended but it is said that everyone who did go went away afterwards and formed a band.  These included Rick Reid who formed Rainbows Over Wessex, a kind of proto-Wurzels who managed to get a deal with a Decca subsidiary.  Their album Aggro Culture was released late in 1966 featuring the following crowd pleasers: 
Side one: Aggro Culture, Threshing in the Machine, What's Your Beef, Pasture Prime, Harvest for the World (cover)
Side Two: Boozin' at the Bull Bar, Pig Sick, Furrowed Brow, Not Furlong, Hey Wayne Hey Rick (instrumental featuring duelling banjos style work-out between Rick Reid on mandolin and Wayne Cramer on fiddle).
The band are still playing the circuit although it is now the grandchildren of the original line-up who spend every Friday and Saturday evening entertaining the Young Farmers and WI.

Another band who formed following that memorable Barron night was Dancing in the Tractor.  These lads (and one girl) were from the other side of town.  The side who knew where the magic mushrooms were.  Lead guitarist River Cole was quoted as saying
"May 5th 1963,  Barron Knights play Tickleford Hall for the first time, instantly galvanise us into ACTION!"   
In fact, it took a little while for the galvanising to occur; a combination of mushrooms, cider, musical differences, O levels (or, in the case of the drummer Bryan "Sticks" Rix, CSEs), lack of musical ability, lack of musical instruments conspired to keep Dancing in the Tractor at the ideas stage for the next 12 months.  This turned out to be fortuitous.  By the time they started gigging seriously mushrooms, cider, musical differences, an O level education (and, in the case of a drummer, CSEs) and lack of musical ability together with borrowed instruments made the 'Tractors (as they were known to their growing fanbase) darlings of the burgeoning Psychedelic Scene.

Tarantula was their debut album, released on 1st June 1967.  The Tickleford Times compared it favourably with Sgt Pepper, released that same day, suggesting it was the flip side of the twee Establishment fodder the Beatles were offering.

It bombed.

It bombed at the time, selling no more than a few dozen copies but has been rereleased each decade since.  The 2016 vinyl box set version complete with facsimile singles, posters, outtakes and a keychain retailing at £157.99 is the latest.  It bombed.

Will Sergeant of Echo & the Bunnymen" called it a "Lost Psych Classic".  Blur borrowed a riff or two from it.  Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" owes an awful lot to album opener "Can't Get It Out Of My Head"

Side One:  1.  Can't Get It Out Of My Head, 2. Leaf Hound and the Lonely Crowd,  3. Kaleidoscope of Monkeys, 4. Magick Kat's got the Cream, 5. Milk and Honey, Shrooms and Cider, 5. The Modern Art of Being Yourself
Side Two: Purple Haze/Blue Green Daze (Freeform Freekout) 
A footnote to history:  Former Tractors bass player Doris Storm is currently Mayor of Tickleford

cover design by Mick Reid, 1974

Dancing in the Tractor's Tarantula album was rereleased for the first time in 1974 on Cereal Records with sleeve notes by Lenny Kaye.

original cover design by Doris Storm, 1967

Dancing in the Tractor's Tarantula album was rereleased a second time in 1982 on ParlourPhone with sleeve notes by Julian Cope.  Original cover restored.

cover design by a lad in the office who got an Apple Mac as a graduation present, 1997

Dancing in the Tractor's Tarantula album first appeared on CD in 1997 on the Argyle & Southern imprint with sleeve notes by Damon Albarn.  The track order had been unnecessarily shuffled and the single version of "Leaf Hound" used instead of the album version.  Fans felt that the sound quality "sucked" with the drums sounding shonky.

cover design by Right 23, 2004
Dancing in the Tractor's Tarantula album came out again in 2004 with sleeve  notes by Luke Haines. He slagged it mercilessly, except for the original album cover paintings which he said he "quite liked".

cover design by Pitt Rivers

Dancing in the Tractor's Tarantula album had The Works treatment in 2016, with a box set of 3 LPs on purple, blue/green and yellow vinyl, five singles plus paraphernalia including a keychain, a poster designed by someone who knew Haphash's work, a ticket for a gig with Pink Floyd headlining and Dancing in the Tractor supporting (nb, Pink Floyd didn't turn up so the 'Tractors played twice) and a 64 page four-colour book bringing together all the sleeve notes from previous rereleases.

One LP ( the purple album) was the original album restored to its correct running order; the second (the blue/green album) was a collection of outtakes and cover versions and the third (the yellow album) featured forty minutes (across two sides) of Purple Haze/Blue Green Daze/Yellow Phase clipped from a three hour jam.  At the end you can hear singer River Cole quipping "you should hear our version of  Watchtower."

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