Not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, Graham Day – now part of the line-up of The Senior Service – explained his caution towards organs:
“You get an organ player in to jump up and play the instrumentals and eventually, before you realise it, they’re in the bloody band, playing over all your other songs… If you don’t have it in the first place, then it sounds all right… I’ve not done it since [The Solar Flares].”
And so it seems almost inevitable that the latest project with which he involved himself sees the organ take centre stage. Where most bands have a vocalist occupying the lime light, The Senior Service have a Hammond organ.
Medway music has a fine – possibly even noble – tradition of attaching great significance to the instrumental. The Milkshakes had them. The Prisoners had them. So did The Daggermen. The vocal-less James Taylor Quartet was – and remains – devoted to the medium. And the various spin offs and permutations derived from collaborations of members from all the above have prized the word-less tune: The Masonics, Thee Headcoats, The Buff Medways, Mickey and the Salty Seadogs, The Galileo 7, Graham Day and the Gaolers. They’ve all had ’em.
The Senior Service and their debut album Girl in the Glass Case is a more than welcome addition to the micro-genre and to the seemingly endless list of bands that have risen from the ashes of the triumvirate of The Prisoners, Milkshakes and Daggermen.
And to trace the origins and influences of this record you could do worse than look back to the fallout from the demise of The Prisoners. In the wake of that band’s decline and fall, Jamie Taylor and Allan Crockford (both ex-Prisoners) teamed up with Jamie’s brother David and Wolf Howard to form the organ led instrumental act The James Taylor quartet. In the case of Taylor Jnr. and Wolf Howard, this meant bringing The Daggermen to an end, leaving the only other member of that band, Jonny Barker, behind.
So The James Taylor Quartet was, perhaps (at least within the context of talking about The Senior Service), as significant for who wasn’t in it as who was. It didn’t feature The Prisoners’ guitarist and singer, Graham Day. And it didn’t feature The Daggermen’s Bassist, Jonny Barker (who had, incidentally, wanted to play organ for that band – until someone pointed out that – at that point at least – he couldn’t actually play the instrument).
Meanwhile, the people who were in that band used the 365 days that 1987 had allotted them to knock out a couple of instrumental albums: Mission Impossible (a mix of film theme covers – for example the title tune and standout track ‘Blow Up’ -and original pieces) and The Money Spyder (a record themed around the concept of being a soundtrack to a film that never was).
Following the release of those two records The James Taylor Quartet had a radical overhaul in its line-up; the only remaining member was the eponymous organ player – leaving something of a sour end for the involvement of Allan Crockford, David Taylor and Wolf Howard.
Ancient history as this may seem, the events surrounding the demise of The Prisoners and The Daggermen, the formation of the James Taylor Quartet and the release of that bands first couple of albums cast a long shadow over this release of The Girl in the Glass Case.
It’s almost as if The Senior Service are a James Taylor Quartet Mk. II, albeit minus James Taylor. Or, to be more precise, a James Taylor Quartet Redux.
Where the JTQ post-Crockford, Taylor Junior and Howard shied away from the original 60s motion picture soundtrack vibe of their original ethos towards a more funky sound, The Senior Service are returning that original vision of swinging scores to imaginary films.
The record makes no bones about its influences. The effect that the likes of Booker T and the MGs, Dick Dale and a whole back catalogue of 60s and 70s TV and movie themes and soundtracks have had on the band is so obvious it barely needs stating. But let’s state it anyway.
It’s a brilliant record, infused with a relentless energy that comes as no surprise when you consider the line-up of Graham Day (guitar), Jonny Barker (organ), Darryl Hartley (bass) and Wolf Howard (drums – and only person to appear on the intersect of the JTQ-Senior Service Venn diagram).
It starts on fine swirling, whirling form with ‘Snake Charmer’ driven by a heavy bass line and flashes of organ-ic colour.
The pace continues with tunes like ‘Caballo sin Nombre ‘, a suitably Iberian tinged track – aided and abetted by the presence of a trumpet – with more than a nod to ‘Miserlou’. The trumpet returns to give a High Noon flavour to the proceedings later in ‘Five Beans in the Wheel’.
‘Depth Charge’, released as a single prior to the emergence of the record, swarms around your brain with little in the way of remorse and ‘The Intruder’ races around at an impressive lick as if it were aboard a particularly nifty little scooter.
The title track, complete with bossa nova rhythms familiar to anyone who has ever owned a Casio keyboard (although they’re obviously better present here) is a more leisurely affair with the welcome addition of Graham Day’s sitar to provide a bit of oriental exoticism to the proceedings, while ‘Abandoned’ recalls both Booker T and the MGs’ ‘Time is Tight’ and, at its feistiest, The Nice’s take on ‘America’.
‘Into the Tunnel’ provides one of the album’s many cinematic moments: a brooding theme to a 60s spy film that never got made. If you close your eyes tightly enough you can see the stylised animation: all secret agents and clandestine meetings, playing out over the detained clanking piano.
And then there’s ‘Sons of the Desert’, originally intended as the band’s name, which could also be mistaken as a theme tune; its chiming melody providing much in the way of mystery and hints of skulduggery.
The record’s finale, ‘Bees’ is a laid back affair, built around the most basic of arpeggio ostinatos with chilled organ sounds building up around it. It’s a beautiful come-down of a tune, following the joyride that precedes it; perfect music to watch the sun rise to.
It was almost inevitable that an album created by four musicians with such a fine pedigree would court perfection with such ease. But, irrespective of the complicated, intertwining histories concerning its creators, The Girl in the Glass Case can happily stand on its own as an excellent piece of instrumental craftsmanship.
Who needed lyrics and vocalists anyway?
- You can buy The Girl in the Glass Case from their label Damaged Goods or the usual suspects of Amazon and iTunes.
- Find out my about the bands of Graham Day, Johnny Barker, Wolf Howard and Darryl Hartley (along with plenty of other Medway music acts) in Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway, published by Cultured Llama.