A previous column (Voyage to Atlantis) mentioned some songs about places that exist only in fantasy, like The Land of Grey and Pink or the Land of Ooo-Bla-Dee. Generally, the listener doesn’t expect to actually come across such a place in reality, though I suppose someone coming out of, say, Images Night Club in Hemel Hempstead on a Saturday night might think they were in Lipps Inc’s Funky Town. There are, however, some places that exist only in the mind in song but which the listener can sometimes translate into reality.
The song in this column is such an example, Rainbow Valley by the Love Affair from 1968. There are, no doubt, real places somewhere called Rainbow Valley but this song was about an Over the Rainbow sort of place, first released by American soul singer Robert Knight. It was the follow up record to the Love Affair’s Number One, Everlasting Love and, like that hit, the track consisted of session players – driven by the drumming of Clem Cattini and the thundering bass lines of Russ Stableford – with the distinctive vocals of Love Affair’s Steve Ellis, a singer in the Steve Marriot mould. This wasn’t an unusual practice but for some reason the Love Affair were given a particularly hard time by the press over not playing on their records and their career suffered. After a few more smaller hits Ellis, their main asset, left and that was that – though a version of the Love Affair may well be playing in your area next week. The song itself, with its rainbows and cotton candy sky, could have been a bit of schmaltzy pop fluff but somehow is a rather touching yearning for a personal Shangri-La over the next horizon. (There was also a later reggae version by the Heptones). The video accompanying the song at the end of the column, however, is one of those that makes you wonder what on earth was happening in the director’s mind. Even if you assume a kind of wacky surrealism a la Monkees was the aim, it makes no sense whatsoever.
However, the track did have another feature that distinguishes a small number of songs - when the uncredited backing vocals move from being an unnoticed background to being an integral part of the overall effect, in this case the ‘meet me where the rainbow ends’ bit (which I have seen attributed to both members of the Sue and Sunny backing duo and to Carol Brett). An earlier example was the 1961 Number One Joe Meek produced hit, Johnny Remember Me for actor/singer John Leyton, with ghostly background vocals from a session singer (Lissa Gray) adding to the atmospheric effect. John Leyton might now be best recognised for his part in the Great Escape film that appears on TV with monotonous regularity but he had an interesting little run of hits in the early 60’s, mainly written by a rather quirky songwriter Geoff Goddard who shared Joe Meek’s interest in séances and spiritualism ,adding an eerie quality to many of his songs (Another Goddard-penned hit for John Leyton, the grammatically correct Son This Is She, had the narrator's dead dad giving advice from The Beyond on his choice of partner. "A voice from above said, 'Son, this is she.'" ). Johnny Remember Me, too, has some pleasing links with previous columns:
1)It was recorded at Joe Meek’s studios on Holloway Road, mentioned in the Holloway Road column
2) One of the musicians on the track was Chas Hodges of Chas 'n Dave, who has drifted in and out of columns in this meander down the by-ways of British pop history
3) About the same time as I had my memorable conversation with Christine McVie as Fleetwood Mac tried to find their way to Reading University (Wild West End column), Geoff Goddard was working in the University coffee bar and catering department. It is perhaps not too fanciful to imagine he might have served Fleetwood Mac tea and a plate of chips when they got to their destination. Indeed the twists and turns of time.
Another example was the winceable 1975 Paul Anka hit, You’re Having My Baby, in which the nameless female singer (actually Odia Coates) assures him that, yes indeed, she is having his baby. Still, it did win him two awards: the ‘Keep Her In Her Place’ award and the ‘Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year’ award. Or there is this 1966 Billy Stewart version of Ol’ Man River, a perfect example of lead and background vocals merging into a whole greater than the parts. In the then uncredited backing were not only soul outfit the Dells but also, providing a backdrop, the soaring and incomparable voice of a young Minnie Riperton.
Why Rainbow Valley features in a blog on real places is because of a recent trip to the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire borders. There have been songs actually about this area. Spirogyra, a progressive folk outfit from the early 70’s did a song The Forest of Dean:” In The Valley of Wye ,looking up at Symond’s Yat, we first noticed the sky , wondering, in the Valley of Wye” .There was also another prog folk group from the same era, Decameron, whose main man, Johnny Coppin, went on to record a number of songs about the area, including this track This Night The Stars, a poem by Forest of Dean poet Leonard Clark put to music.
Yet neither of these came to mind on the trip .It had been raining and the view from the top of Symonds Yat was initially shrouded in thick mist. Then for a brief time it cleared and the view that was spread out below like a tapestry appeared piece by piece like a photo developing in a darkroom. The rainbow that appeared as the mist dispersed wasn’t captured in the picture above but as it arked over the Wye Valley, with the river cutting its way through the woods and patchwork of fields, a song from years ago came to mind; Rainbow Valley. And for those few moments, before the mist crept back and shrouded the view once again, it seemed a perfect fit.