Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: McGough & McGear (With special guests)
You know that feeling when you’ve looked over something about 100 times, then you look at it again and something in your brain tells you “look closer” … and you do. You know that feeling? Well, I’ve riffled through my sister’s record collection hundreds of times and I always saw this one record. Today, my brain told me “look closer.” Looking for duet albums to fit our little mini-series going until Valentine’s Day, this is may be more timely as an April Fool’s submission.
So here you go – it’s McGough and McGear, a British psychedelic relic from 1968. To fully enjoy this album, you first need a bit of a history lesson: back in the day, there was a group called The Scaffold – a trio that performed comedy, poetry and music between 1966 and 1971. The group consisted of Roger McGough, a poet who specialized in performing his poetry; John Gorman, a songwriter and singer; and Mike McGear, also a bit of a songwriter and singer. The Scaffold issued a number of albums and singles in their heyday; a couple of their comic songs also climbed to the upper reaches of the United Kingdom Top 40.
So McGough and McGear is a self-titled effort from the late 1960s, minus John Gorman. Neither McGough or McGear were much of a musician, but McGear knew somebody he could call to help with the album: his brother, who happened to be a musician. In fact, McGear’s brother Paul McCartney was an excellent musician. The Beatle apparently produced McGough and McGear, and in turn called on some of his own buddies to play and sing – including Graham Nash, John Mayall, Spencer Davis, Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, Pretty Things drummer Viv Prince, and this guitar player named Hendrix.
The album mixes poetry, comedy and some solid pop-psychedelic rock. McGough usually took the lead on the parts with spoken word poetry, which featured some pretty decent wordplay, while McGear was featured on the rock songs. This type of thing was pretty popular back in swingin’ Sixties England; if you like the Bonzo Dog Band you’ll like the McGough and McGear stuff.
The album kicks off with “So Much In Love,” with some Hendrix guitar work that could have come from “Foxy Lady.” In fact, the other members of Hendrix’s Experience, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding also played on the album, and they likely turn up on this track as well. McGough turns up next with “Little Bit Of Heaven,” which is so British I can’t understand it … but it certainly presages the strange, zany humor that would characterize British acts like Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
On “Ex Art Student,” the album’s extended closer, you can hear the heavy guitar work from Jimi Hendrix and the backing vocals from Graham Nash. This piece of British satire is a virtual catalog of the era’s psychedelic recording excesses: weird stereo with voices on the left and right sides, heavy guitar (and sitar) played by Hendrix, and wordplay that drops some familiar names, like “Epstein” and “Rauschenberg.” (That’s Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, and Robert Rauschenberg, the pop artist.) And in the middle there’s a nice, long sitar-flavored freakout, for those of you who enjoy pharmaceuticals with your music. ” Ex Art Student” is best enjoyed on headphones, if possible.
Of course, McGough and McGear wasn’t a huge seller, and today it’s a bit of a rarity. Although the album was mainly recorded in the summer of 1967, it wasn’t released until the following year. Some believe it was intended for issue on the Beatles’ new Apple label, but in the end it appeared on EMI-Parlophone, which was the Beatles’ regular UK record company.
The Scaffold would go on to record more albums, and by 1974 they had virtually broken up. But they cut a song, “Liverpool Lou,” with help from Paul McCartney and Wings, and that was enough to give the comedy/poetry/whatever trio a bit of a boost. McGear cut a solo album for Warner Bros. in 1974 with help from his brother and after recording a few more singles he would retire from music in the 1980s. Mike then reverted back to his real name (he changed it way back in the early 1960s so it wouldn’t seem he was capitalizing on the McCartney name) and became a noted photographer.