Transformer by David Stoughton

1968

The Elektra 74 series (or just 4, in mono) was a sequence of 100 albums released between 1966 and 1971 and includes seminal works by Tim Buckley, Love and The Doors. It also includes some really obscure records by, amongst others, Crabby Appleton (74067) and David Stoughton (74034) which is sandwiched between “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Judy Collins (74033) and “Wheatstraw Suite” by The Dillards (74035).

Tottenham Hotspur played Marine on Sunday in The F.A. Cup and won 4-0. Marine were 8 divisions below them and their centre forward, Niall Cummins, was described by his team mates as being just like Harry Kane but without his pace, passing ability or shooting. I was reminded of this when reading a description of David Stoughton as being just like Tim Buckley but without his voice or songwriting ability. However, I know where that comparison comes from. There is a certain baroque quality from the arrangements and instrumentation which are quite similar to Tim Buckley’s second album, “Goodbye And Hello”.

It is certainly a very odd album and makes me yearn for the time when record companies were happy to release albums like this. There’s a freshness and, dare I say, freedom of expression on show which reminds me a little of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s fourth album (called “Volume 3: A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil”).

There’s not a huge amount of information available about David Stoughton. He studied mathematics at Harvard and subsequently taught guitar at The Newton School of Music in Cambridge before hearing the “musique concrete” developments associated with John Cage (and used by The Beatles in “A Day In The Life”). He put together a group called The Cambridge Electric Opera Company. David Stoughton is quoted (in the booklet accompanying the box set “Forever Changes – The Golden Age of Elektra Records”), “Newsweek magazine mentioned us in an article as exemplifying the extreme of where modern pop music might be going. With that article in hand and a demo tape, I took off for New York to get a record deal. My technique was awesomely naïve. I would walk in the door and tell whoever was there that I wanted to play something to the head of the company. A few days later I had offers from Columbia, Warner-Reprise, Capitol and others. Nobody turned me down. Finally I appeared at Elektra’s offices and played my tape to Jac Holzman (Head of Elektra). The first song was “The Anecdote of Horatio and Julie”, the most outrageous song. Jac just sat there, expressionless. Then came “The Sun Comes Up Each Day”. Jac heard about four bars and stopped the tape. I thought he was going to tell me I was history. “You’ve got a deal”, he said. “What do you want, money or freedom?”” “Freedom,” I said. “Total control over all aspects of content or production.

What a great question. “What do you want? Money or freedom?”

He only ever released one album. He wrote all the words and music and sang vocals on Side Two of the album with John Nicholls singing the songs on Side One. Devi Klate is a singer about whom I can find no information and she sung on three of the tracks. It is more appropriate to consider this an experimental album rather than a folk album. Certainly, “The Anecdote Of Horatio And Julie” is more like “Revolution 9” than “Blackbird”.

The first track is “The Sun Comes Up Each Day” and features multiple key changes, brass, flute and some rather over dramatic singing from John Nicholls. The Incredible String Band meets Blodwyn Pig.

“The Summer Has No Breeze” starts with trumpet, timpani, flute and Devi Klate’s singing. It’s a bit more gentle and less baroque than the previous track but there’s no hummable tune or structure. There’s a long improvised trumpet solo that reminds me of “Monterey” by Tim Buckley from “Starsailor” (which was released two years later). I like both of these opening tracks; they are very much of their time.

“The Anecdote Of Horatio & Julie” starts with John Nicholls and Devi Klate chanting lyrics about random language and linear thought while a random trumpet and drums play over the top. This segues into Devi Klate singing “Horatio I’m so bored. I could throw myself out a window” to which John Nicholls replies “If you’re so bored, why don’t you throw a glass out of the window”. They then sing these lines together – I was going to say in harmony but that would be stretching things a little far. It is a remarkable eight minute sound collage.

“Saving For A Rainy Day” consists of lots of key changes (if it were me singing, it would simply be called “singing out of tune”) with a predominant trumpet sound played by Peter Chapman.

“Evening Song” again features Devi Klate on lead vocals. This song is the most “folky” on the album and has some nice acoustic guitar work from David Stoughton.

Finally, “I don’t Know If It’s You” lasts for nearly ten minutes is a summary of everything that has gone before. Baroque experimental improvisational folk-pop-rock-jazz in all its glory, including a long percussion solo. I happen to love it. I love the whole album; I love the experimentation; I love the audacity; I love the determined effort to remain uncommercial. Most of all I love the choice that David Stoughton made – he went for freedom over money.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “Transformer by David Stoughton

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