It is a story as old as pop music. A brilliant debut single by an unknown group. Both sides demonstrate a wealth of talent and original ideas. Those who manage to hear it discover a group of great promise. The record, however, is not a hit. The record company does not promote it, so it gets little radio airplay. And the group is never heard of again. Farewell, then, groups like The Apostolic Intervention, proteges of The Small Faces. And their contemporaries, Our Plastic Dream.
Two astonishing sides on a 45 r.p.m single that sums up psychedelia on its ‘A’ side with a dynamism that eclipses even The Move’s I Can Hear The Grass Grow, while the ‘B’ side is as weird an excursion into flower power as any made in the ‘Summer Of Love’.
The story for this writer began on John Peel’s now legendary “Perfumed Garden” radio show on the pirate Radio London during the summer of 1967. John had complete freedom to play amazing records such as Hyacinth Threads by The Orange Bicycle and The Zodiac by Cosmic Sounds. The most astounding record to my ears was an advance copy of A Little Bit of Shangrila by Our Plastic Dream. A great name for a psychedelic band, though John thought it “unfortunate” the first time he played the record. However, he loved the record, which he had not heard before playing it: “Yes, well, there’s certainly something going on there!” He played it on subsequent nights and told us what little he knew about the band (“Pierre formed the group from friends a few months ago”).
The name of the group mixed surrealism and implied cynicism. ‘Plastic’ was then a fashionable term. John Peel played Jefferson Airplane’s Plastic Fantastic Lover on the same show and also the first LP by the Velvet Underground, who were part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multi-media platform. Above all, the use of the word ‘our’ gave the group’s name a sense of mystery, hinting at a cohesion of purpose that was very intriguing. This would not have mattered, had not the record itself been astonishing. It seemed to take the best elements of the early Pink Floyd singles and run even further with them. And yet…there would be one short review in the New Musical Express, one play on Radio Luxembourg at 1 a.m., no BBC airplay, no advertising or interviews, and a swift return to anonymity. They would not be heard from again until 1999. Who were these mysterious talents?
Scrutiny of the actual single reveals the names of Peter Richard as Producer, R. James as writer of the ‘A’ side, and Pierre Tubbs as writer of the ‘B’ side Encapsulated Marigold. Only the name of Pierre Tubbs was known to music fans, as the producer of Roy Harper’s first LP Sophisticated Beggar. Pierre agreed to answer my questions about Our Plastic Dream after their two tracks were reissued on an LP of psychedelic music by Bam Caruso Records. (Kieron Tyler later fleshed out details of Pierre’s background in an excellent CD booklet in 1999 and I will not duplicate the information here but direct you to that at the end.)
Pierre Tubbs would become a producer and song writer (and much else besides) with over thirty million record sales to his credit. He was lead singer with Our Plastic Dream. He produced their single, under the pseudonym Peter Richard. He also wrote both sides, explaining: “Riley James is Pierre Tubbs.” To quote from his c.v.: “Pierre has been involved in nearly every branch of the entertainment business. From management to scriptwriting, writing hit songs, contract negotiation, building studios, designing over 1000 album covers, photography, writing hundreds of TV commercials, operating a small but very successful publishing company for 18 years to date, owning and operating a 24-track studio, arranging, print co-ordination, advertising (MIPA), directing videos, producing records etc.”
Pierre’s career began at the age of thirteen, playing acoustic guitar in coffee bars. Discovering electricity, he formed a number of groups in which he played lead guitar and sang, including The Cosmos, The Chances and Nightshift. Nightshift included a fledgling Jeff Beck on rhythm guitar!
Pierre toured in Europe and up and down the M1. He also started writing songs and soon scored a Top 40 hit in Britain with I’ve Been Crying by Denny Mitchell and the Soundsations. Pierre then joined Britain’s first ever independent label, Strike Records, and while there wrote songs for many artists, including Dave Dee’s Here’s A Heart, The Pretty Things’ Come See Me and songs for Eddie Floyd, Jimmy Powell and J.J. Jackson (scoring a number 1 in the U.S.A.). He also discovered Roy Harper and Carl Douglas, signed them to Strike and produced them. He recorded Roy Harper’s first LP at his home studio, which he described as a “garden shed” in Great Bookham, Surrey. Pierre was still performing live on an occasional basis and in 1966 formed a group from friends that would mutate into Our Plastic Dream.
Pierre was again lead singer but Bob Moore played lead guitar. Paul Bedwell was on bass and Julian Ferrari played drums. Julian was also in a group called The A-Jaes but Bob and Paul had not played in any bands before. They called themselves The Jeeps. In accordance with this, they adopted a group uniform, which can be seen in this photograph (described by Pierre as “very silly”), which was taken in August 1966.
The light grey uniforms are indeed reminiscent of the military uniform worn by Elvis Presley in the jeep scenes of the film G.I. Blues. Some might also point to the fashion for uniforms exemplified by contemporary bands like John’s Children.
Ironically, Pierre had some connection with John’s Children. They recorded in his ‘garden shed’ and he offered them a song he wrote called Hey You Lolita. Pierre commented: “John’s Children, that’s another story. I invented John’s Children. Hey You Lolita was meant to have been done by John’s Children, but they were such shit the record company asked if it could be done better. We, the Jeeps, did it. We called ourselves The Silence.” Strangely, John’s Children were also originally known as The Silence. Hey You Lolita, now a cult record, was issued by the famous Red Bird label in the U.S.A., the label that offered The Dixie Cups and The Shangrilas, whose name was a possible source of inspiration for the song A Little Bit of Shangrila. The Jeeps played “a few” live gigs but were always on a semi-professional basis only.
1967 brought new musical fashions. Psychedelia and flower power were dominant trends. Pierre went to the now seminal UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road and saw the embryonic psychedelic groups Pink Floyd and Soft Machine playing live. He also got to know Dave Mason of Traffic, whose freaky Hole in My Shoe single was a big hit that summer.
The Jeeps agreed to adapt to the new scene. Pierre thought up the arresting name Our Plastic Dream, which came into play a few months before the release of their single. Unfortunately, they never played any live gigs during that brief incarnation but, thanks to Pierre’s garden shed and his connections with the label that would release it, did make that one classic single.
A Little Bit of Shangrila is among the most psychedelic records ever released, up there with the best of Pink Floyd, Electric Prunes or the American group Jokers Wild, but Pierre denied the impetus behind the record was an attempt to capitalise on the so-called ‘Summer Of Love’: “We were too stoned to notice ‘the Summer Of Love’ – Joke – No, we were not really into psychedelia. I was a little weird.” Just as most of the Pink Floyd never touched LSD, despite the psychedelic nature of their music, Pierre revealed that Our Plastic Dream had no discernible attitude to mind-expanding chemicals: “Other than the odd pack of Senior Service (cigarettes) and a bottle or two of Bells (whisky), no.” (Kieron Tyler reported that Pierre remembered taking LSD just once, with Roy Harper.) Although the group was aiming at the flower power market, because they played no live gigs and their label took no publicity photos, they never sported any floral or way-out clothing like such peers as Tomorrow, The Move and The Dead Sea Fruit.
The group recorded the single at the ‘garden shed’ at Pierre’s parents’ home. Roy Harper described it on a reissue of his first LP: “The original record was virtually made in Pierre’s front-room-cum-garage-cum-henhouse-cum-recording studio. Stains are still to be found round the back of the shed where ‘leaks’ were taken.”
Also on the record is Phillipa Wagstaff. Pierre said wryly: “Phillipa Wagstaff played one note on the piano. She played on the start of Marigold. She wasn’t really part of the group, more a groupie.” They all did backing vocals and the songs were recorded on a two-track Brenell.
Asked to explain the presence of the seagulls at the start of Shangrila (a lovely lyrical touch which builds atmosphere, perhaps an influence on later Pink Floyd whom John Peel said often tuned in to the Perfumed Garden show – “which is nice”, he said), Pierre with his strong sense of humour initially insisted “The seagulls were just passing at the time.” Pressed further, he relented: “I lied. It was a BBC sound effects record.”
Shangrila hits the listener with a shimmering wall of organ sound which is difficult for the listener’s brain to cope with. It has the disconcerting quality of Rick Wright’s most ethereal Farfisa organ work with the early Pink Floyd. The multi-textured quality of the sound might have been an early example of phasing and John Peel was playing The Small Faces’ record Itchycoo Park on the same show, a disc often cited as one of the first examples of phasing on a pop record. However, it was not phasing, Pierre explained: “It was a Vox Continental (which I still have) put through a tremolo on a Hofner amp and compressed.” It appears that the initial takes were used, as Marigold features a rather charming false start, which was accidental.
Shangrila‘s wall of sound gives way to a thumping, aggressive rock song with memorable tune, very competent playing and extreme freak-out lyrics, e.g.
I’ve got a kind of a feeling that I’m gonna
Blow my mind tonight,
Find when the moon is higher than myself
A place where people don’t bite……Shangrila
The ‘B’ side was equally good, revealing the group in more laid-back but equally disconcerting mode. The weirdly-titled Encapsulated Marigold – a perfect flower power artefact – boasts a droning quality the equal of another psychedelic classic, Love by The Virgin Sleep (on Deram Records), and features impressively atmospheric guitar playing behind strange lyrics:
Of my generation
Your plastic flowers are wilting now
(Note again the obsession with plastic.)
The recording found a home on the small GO label, which was distributed by CBS (GO AJ 11411). It was an oddity on a label that usually released soul music. This was largely thanks to the fact that Pierre had produced Jimmy Powell and Carl Douglas for GO and so had some pull with the label. No other labels were ever approached; a pity, as the progressive Deram label for one would have handled its release better. No advertising was undertaken and poor distribution hardly helped the record’s chances of success. The present writer had it on order for many weeks through a record store, which finally despaired of waiting and claimed it was unavailable. I could only get a copy by writing to the Head Office of CBS, which kindly sold one by mail order: hardly the way to get a hit record. GO took the record on a one-off deal but did not sign the group. Pierre recalled: “No, we never signed nuffink!”
The record’s airplay ceased when ‘Big L’ (Radio London) was closed down by the Government just weeks after John Peel discovered it, but GO went ahead and issued it in August 1967. The label design was an attractive dark green on a white background, but the paper sleeve was plain white, by contrast with the lovely decorative sleeves of companies like Giorgio Gomelsky’s Marmalade label on releases like Julie Driscoll’s This Wheel’s On Fire.
Extraordinary: among the week’s major releases, Our Plastic Dream on a tiny label actually won a minor rave review in the New Musical Express. The paper had raved about earlier releases like Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play, so obviously was not averse to that “psychedelic muzak” (as hippie newspaper International Times dubbed it). NME’s perceptive reviewer noted the record’s power and singularity: “Our Plastic Dream on A Little Bit of Shangrila shimmer, soundwise, then power and grunt through a commended bit of originality.”
Why was it never played on BBC Radio? It came out just too early for the launch of Radio One and, in any case, even if it had been issued by a more powerful label, one suspects the Beeb, which banned The Beatles’ A Day In The Life for being too psychedelic, would have objected to its explicit depiction of mind-altering chemical abuse. Pierre mused: “Perhaps some of the lyrics in Marigold, mutilation, masturbation, were a little too…?”
A solitary play on Radio Luxembourg at 1 a.m. in the morning made no difference and Our Plastic Dream disbanded shortly afterwards when GO itself went into liquidation, scuppering their prospects of a follow-up single. For Pierre, what occasioned the actual break-up was the fact that he got married and that put paid to gigging: “End of many a good man,” he joked. Sadly, none of the group had seen a review or been aware of the airplay on Big L and Luxembourg. Pierre thought they would have been encouraged to continue had they known.
In 1999, a CD compilation of Pierre’s work on Market Square Records included three unreleased tracks by Our Plastic Dream, recorded at the same time as the single tracks. All very interesting, none are as psychedelic as the single itself, but one track Someone Turned The Light Out has a very catchy tune.
Bob Moore got a job as a photo processor. Phillipa Wagstaff continued in the music business and became producer Glyn Johns’ assistant. The subsequent careers of Paul Bedwell and Julian Ferrari are not known. As for Pierre Tubbs, he had not yet begun to fight!
When Strike Records crashed, Pierre moved to United Artists Records, where he first produced the music for the film The Charge Of The Light Brigade, working with an orchestra of 120, a chorus of 80…and Manfred Mann doing the single! He then signed The Average White Band, helped put on the musical Hair and wrote and produced many hits for artists like Francoise Hardy, Nana Mouskouri, Al Matthews, etc. He also designed and art directed over 1000 record ads and covers for artists like Can (Tago Mago etc.), Hawkwind, Bonzo Dog Band, Man, Brinsley Schwartz, Amon Duul II, Shirley Bassey, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, The Flamin’ Groovies, etc. He went on to work in studios all over the world: Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Australia, France, Spain, Germany and Hungary. Indeed, he was the first western producer to work in an Eastern Bloc country.
From working on hundreds of TV commercials for products like Nescafe, Tide and Camay, and a number of films like Slapshot, Rough Cut, The World Is Full Of Married Men, The Berkeley Square Job and The American Way, Pierre constructed a purpose-built 24-track studio, where he developed artists and producers. He was involved with Beat Bashers Revenge, Liddi Dee and D, The Girl Can’t Help It and Chris Kent. He remained active in music publishing and “playing the banjo”.
Our Plastic Dream’s pioneering psychedelia was finally acknowledged in the psychedelic revivalism of the late 1980s. Encapsulated Marigold appeared on the American compilation LP Electric Sugarcube Flashbacks, Volume 4 (Archive International AIP10052) with the following liner note: “The London pop scene’s fascination with flowers in the summer of 1967 led to a lot of fruity byproducts, of which this overlooked one-shot is one of the best. The exact significance of an ‘encapsulated marigold’ remains unrevealed, but the sound and the mood are unmistakably evocative of a scene that blossomed all too briefly.”
We had to wait until 1988 for a full reissue of both sides of the 45, on Bam Caruso’s UK compilation LP The Magic Rocking Horse (Bam Caruso KIRI 106). The compiler described the Dream’s work thus: “Total psychedelia – as played by John Peel on his Perfumed Garden show and (pirate) Radio London. Stupidly rare and one of the few records released on the GO label.” The pleasure in this reissue, apparently from a good vinyl source, was only slightly marred by Pierre’s lament: “I don’t even know how the record company got hold of the tapes, or who they acquired them from. I’m not getting any money as a producer.” This situation was rectified when a CD was released with Pierre’s full involvement in 1999: “Pierre’s Plastic Dream: The Garage Tapes England 1966-1968” (Market Square Records, Buckingham, MSMCD101). A wonderful tribute to a real pioneer, with five tracks by Our Plastic Dream and tracks from other groups of Pierre’s, The Owl, The Jeeps and The Silence.
The final word from Pierre about Our Plastic Dream: “Keep taking the tablets!”