Tony, Caro & John: All on the First Day
Tapete Records – 24 November 2017
There are obscure albums, lost albums and ultra-rare albums, and then there is All on the First Day by Tony, Caro & John. An extreme-DIY effort – the album’s first release in 1972 was limited to only 100 copies on which the trio spray-painted with artwork themselves and distributed their efforts through small theatres and London flats, which is where you could enjoy their psych-folk happenings in person.
Nowadays any fool with a laptop and pro-tools can knock up a set of tracks in their bedroom and have it streaming across the world without changing the sheets. Of course, it was much trickier in the early 1970s, with the band recording on John’s 2-track.
Their inspiration for the ‘anyone can do it’ approach was the Incredible String Band, who on the surface looked like an ‘amature’ outfit, but let’s not forget they played Woodstock, had a song recorded by Judy Collins, were produced by Joe Boyd and signed to Elektra Records…
In fact, as Tony has acknowledged, if they had waited a few more years, they probably would have been a punk-folk rather than a psyche-folk outfit. In fact, the sound and approach has much more in common with John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett – future punk oddballs, but whose first single (Gypsy/Misty Mountain) also debuted in 1972.
Lead singer and principal songwriter Tony Doré sounds like a less-polished Al Stewart and his songwriting is more akin to early Tyrannosaurus Rex and David Bowie than the Incredible String Band, Forest or Dr Strangely Strange. The writing is free-flowing and whimsical, and the tunes are more poppy and Beatlesque (Lennonesque, specifically) than folky.
Nevertheless, there is much to admire. The standout track, There Are No Greater Heroes was featured on Grapefruit’s superb 2015 3-CD compilation Dust On The Nettles: A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72 – and they were right to single out the track for wider appreciation. It sounds like a great lost early Bowie single, and I’m sure that Tony Visconti could have polished it into a hit. Perhaps persuading Tony to have another quick tune of his guitar would have helped…
There are other minor gems: All On The First Day has an epic sweep and a compelling electric guitar accompaniment, Apocalypso is closest to Otway and Barrett with strummed acoustic accompanied by some dirty fuzz guitar. Caroline ‘Caro’ Clark offers some very 60s folk backing vocals throughout and takes the lead on the charming Waltz For A Spaniel, another highlight.
But the album does have it’s less-appealing moments. Don’t Sing This Song is meant to be a rebuff to all those sing-with-me songwriters and crowd-pleasing performers. It should be amusing, but it comes across as a bit try-hard. As a novelty song, it quickly wears off.
The instrumental Snugglyug is a kind of free-form jazz exploration with John Clark on bass who co-wrote it. It’s not as proficient as a Pentangle workout or as barmy as Beefheart and His Magic Band. Not sure I enjoy their new direction…
Of course, it’s not as obscure as it once was, this is at least the third CD-reissue across the world. But it’s a welcome release, and it seems to have spurred the on-off band back into action with a new album promised and tour dates in the spring next year. And I hope to catch them at the OTO Club in London in March. Because, although the album is variable, it has an undeniable charm throughout, and an admirable ambition that’s hard not to enjoy.