The Embrooks interview Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope

1.     Your first band The Sidekicks supported the WHO in Hendon in 1965. Any recollection of other memorable nights when you played as Kaleidoscope or Fairfield Parlour?

One of our most memorable gigs was on the 5th April of that year when we supported The Who at the Lakesider Club, Hendon. Needless to say, they blew us off stage. They`d just had their first hit after changing their name from the High Numbers, `Can`t Explain`, a slice of raw Mod in-yer-face pop. We had a friend whose name was Janet Payne; she was convinced it was her song. Daltrey borrowed my tambourine before going on stage. Bastard smashed it to bits and then walked off with it. Townsend was just becoming notorious for stabbing his Rickenbackers into his speaker stacks. It was a violent, riveting act; you couldn`t take your eyes off them. Later, in the dressing room we stood open-mouthed as Townsend packed away his many Rickenbacker skeletons. Keith Moon, who was a dervish on stage, destroying his kit whilst still managing to play, wandered off wearing what would become his characteristic Cheshire-cat grin. You`ll see from the gig list that later that year we supported, though not so memorably, Fluer de Lys, The Ivy League and Dave Dee.

Of course, if you are asking about memorable gigs then the Isle of Wight Festival of 1970 has to be one of the best – although not for particularly good reasons. Those of you who know the band`s history will recall the problems we had before our performance with the compere Ricky Farr slashing our set virtually in half before we even got on stage.

2.     What kind of records could you buy in the 60s in Woolies in Rayners Lane? Were there any other record shops in the area or that you’d like to stop by?

The first record I bought was `Handyman` by Jimmy Jones in December 1959 – yes, in Woolies. The only place one could buy records in those days. A long time ago….

3.     When you played in London also with Eddy and Dan in 2015, you mentioned some nice anecdotes about song writing with Eddy while you all shared a flat in West London. Do you mind sharing those memories again?

We were In the Room of Percussion. Ed`s bedroom at the top of three flights of narrow, shadowed stairs. June had seen a ghost. We`d messed with a oija-board: there was a Welsh couple living in the loft. They were two hundred years old and dead. Ed had a huge Chinese paper shade inside of which he`d fitted a blue 40watt bulb. The mystic light that permeated with difficulty every corner of the small room was almost breathable: it got inside you; we levitated together. We also drank the cheapest gut-rot Bull`s Blood and this probably had more to answer for than the writer-brothers bonding.

I would give Ed batches of lyrics. I wrote all the time and so Ed would get a dozen sheets of neatly typed lyrics. Over a period of weeks he would sift through what must have mostly been dross to find the ones he could work with. I`d get a call: «I`ve got some songs. Bring some Blood.» We`d start the evening with a Chinese meal at a local restaurant. The crab and sweet corn soup was so delicious we`d have quite happily had a couple of bowls of that and left. And the lychees. We would go back to Ed`s parents` house. Mr.P would be in his tiny room where time literally stood still. «Hulloooo, Peeete!!» An impressive, tall man with a chiselled, Slavic face, Mr.P wore glasses with a magnifier over one lens. This served to make one eye huge and all-seeing. The spirits came out. Tiny glasses of fire. In the kitchen Mrs.P would be working at the table, dwarfed by a mountain of trousers. The needle would be flying. «Oh, you boys…!» she would grumble affectionately, shaking her tiny head in mock dispair. Lovely people — gone forever — but living for eternity in the minds of those who remember them. And Fred, the old black Spaniel: overweight, over-sexed and over here. Well, over there, actually, pushing up daisies in paradise.

We`d pass a dozen or so of Ed`s many sisters as we climbed the stairs to his room. Once inside Ed would become a nervous wreck, worried about revealing his creations. We`d sit on the bed and Ed` would eventually play me the new songs, accompanying himself on guitar or on the piano that we`d manhandled up to his room on his birthday. Ed had a good voice and would set the standard for many songs that would later become my vocal responsibility. It was thrilling to hear a lyric that I`d written weeks or months before taking on musical flesh and bone and turning into a song. I was rarely disappointed. Now the real drinking would begin. I once came round with my head stuck between the bed and the wall. All I could hear was a distant, uncontrollable laughter. Sometimes we`d walk the cool streets just to try to sober up. We stood before a statue of Jesus outside a local church, but ran away in terror when we saw it move. It was on one such night, probably slightly later in the year, that we first heard John`s, `Lucy in the sky with diamonds.` We stood in the two AM darkness clutching a transistor tuned to Luxembourg as John`s disembodied, magic voice drifted from the radio like so much star-dust. A revelation, a revolution. By this time our own writing had changed.

My parents had a book on their shelf called, `Flight from Ashiya,` and this gave me the inspiration for that lyric about a group of people in a plane about to crash. As I realised that we no longer had to write about love all the time, the new style lyrics also inspired Ed to move away from the accepted song structures. Everything was becoming more complex, more interesting. Obviously we were influenced by everything around us, but I refute the charge that we were climbing on a bandwagon. No creative person who lived through those times could remain unaffected by the music, the clothes, the drug culture, A Clockwork Orange, the moon landings, the assassination of Kennedy, black and white television, the challenge to religion, Vietnam, Ohio, Paris, Manson, the Beatles, Ready Steady Go, Harold Wilson, cheap booze, cheap foreign holidays and UFOs.

4.     If you have to mention another major influence on Kaleidoscope besides the Beatles, Bee Gees and Donovan what would that be?

At that time in my record collection you would also have found Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – and Bob Dylan, of course. He was my second hero – Buddy Holly the first. No-one on earth could write like Dylan. I worshipped the man. He must have had a big influence on my writing, mainly from the point of view of encouraging me to always try harder, never go for the easy option when it came to a rhyme or a metaphor.

5.     Do you think that Slade were harder than MC5?

I know nothing about MC5 – but I can tell you when we supported Slade they blew us off stage. An amazing live band. So tight.

6.     I heard that Tangerine Dream will be soon re-released from Universal using original mixed down tapes. Do the original multi-track tapes of any of the recordings still exist so that new mixes could be done of any of the material? Is there an album or single that you’d especially like to do that with?

We do have some half inch four track tapes, discovered in the vaults. We are hoping to remix and rebalance these to bring out elements of the sounds and performance that might have been lost in the original released mixes. Very exciting.

7.     The story of Kaleidoscope is one of not so impressive management and issues with records being lost in the post. Which was the most hurtful incident over the years?

I don`t think there was anything that I would call hurtful now. Time is a great healer and anger and frustration has been smoothed of their rough edges as the decades have rolled by. The Royal Albert Hall debacle still stings a bit. We had a great sound check in the afternoon, but when we walked on stage we found that someone had messed with all our mixer settings so we were left scurrying around on our hands and knees trying to reconnect instruments and readjust levels. Dreadful. And our treatment at the IOW festival was unforgivable.

8.     Naively I would have thought that all bands (successful or not) who happened to be living and working in London in 66/67 knew or at least heard of each other. I read that this was not necessarily the case for you guys. Were you not friends or acquainted to any of these other bands, possibly because they were also hanging out in West London? What about July for example?

As I have said many times we lived in our own Kaleidoscope world. Didn`t socialise with other bands. Didn`t go clubbing. We were writing and recording and focusing all our energies on the band. We had never heard of July for instance, never bought a Pink Floyd record.

9.     How did the working relationship with Trembling Bells start and the idea to play Kaleidoscope songs live again?

I`ve done two tours in the US with my fab American band – Rob Bartholemew, Cheryl Lynn Caddick and lanky Christof Chertik – and we also played a festival in Spain.. Here in the UK I have a home-based band – Simon Shaw, Lavinia Blackwall, Mike Hastings, Seb Jonsen and sitar player Graham Gordon. We played in Glasgow in November and then a big gig in London`s Islington Assembly Hall – which was voted `Best Gig of 2013` by Shindig magazine. Very rewarding for me after half a century of neglect!!

At the Islington gig Ed and Dan joined us on stage for a couple of numbers. I`m sure they enjoyed the experience and it was wonderful for me to have me old muckers up there on the boards with me. I was smiling like a cheesy Cheshire cat. So it`s Glasgow, Spain, Nottingham and then one final gig in London on 11th November. The end of an era. The satisfying closing of a musical circle…

10.  How was the experience of recording for Philips, and dealing with a producer who may or may not have understood your sound? Were you happy with the finished recordings?

On the 24th February 1967 we had our first recording session as Kaleidoscope at Philips` Stanhope Place studio just a giant leap for mankind from Marble Arch. Although nervous, entering this mysterious, subterranean dimly-lit cavern, we knew that we could not allow anything to go wrong. We recorded `Holiday Maker` and `Kaleidoscope.` Unlike every recording session we`d ever had before — in egg-box dives — we were not disappointed with the results. In fact we were stunned by the clarity of the results, fascinated by the recording process and pleased to find that the engineers were friendly and co-operative. Dick produced, obviously aware of the beating of our novice hearts, allowing us time to settle down, to accustom ourselves to the cathedral studio. A memorable day indeed. We experienced for the very first time that dream-like state as we stepped from the cocoon-twilight of the studio into the outside world — like travellers returning from a voyage of discovery. You blink and find yourself back in the real world where life goes on. Difficult to explain; you should have been there.

Although there was much going on behind the scenes, our next recording session wasn`t until the end of April. Dick wanted to hear some new songs. We played him, `The Murder of Lewis Tollani,` but he balked slightly at this unusual offering. We spent the day recording, `Mr.Small, the watch-repairer man,` a song about Ed`s dad who mended watches in a tiny workroom under the stairs at their house in Acton. We also recorded, `Move,` a song that always went down well on stage, but did not transfer so well to tape. This was our first indication that our louder, heavier songs would have difficulty finding their way onto our albums. Although crowd-pleasers, the recording process had trouble accommodating the high decibels of a simulated live performance. No doubt different today, but back then the engineers were always suggesting tactfully that we might like to try it again at a lower level; this killed the dynamics of the song.

11.  The “swinging” 60s thing seems to have really only existed in London—what was your experience of playing outside of London from 1967 onwards?

We were living through magical times. We knew these were special years. We knew we were shrugging off the monochrome post-war de-mob suit of not many colours — this was going to be our time. Fashion was exploding. Ed and I used to work just behind Carnaby Street. We used to go down to Fleggy Bill`s cafe. There was only one boutique — and we didn`t really know what that word meant. It sold weird underwear for its homosexual clientele; no such word as `gay` back then in the dark ages. Within nine months Carnaby Street was transformed by an influx of little shops selling exotic clothes. Then the buzz began. People flocked to the area. We dressed in outlandish costumes. There was music pounding out of the shops. What!? Music playing in shops!? It had never happened before. People looned about in the street just listening to the music, jigging about, preening themselves, hoping to be spotted by David Bailey — and then they started smoking smelly cigarettes and as you walked down the street you thought there was a bonfire of allotment cuttings somewhere. It all happened so fast. 

I was the band dandy. Granny Takes a Trip was the craziest shop in the whole of the Kings Road, changing its mad window every couple of months; one minute the whole shop front was painted black with not a single word indicating it was Granny`s; the next there was a huge American car frozen mid-crash in the window. The Kensington and Chelsea Antique Markets were also favourite haunts. My girlfriend loved the Thirties dresses and I went all Victorian the first time I tried on a black frock coat.

But it was different outside of London. People were not so brave in the Midlands and the North. Waltzing about in fancy dress in some of those mill towns and gritty cities would have been asking for trouble.

12.  It seems as though you were largely overlooked/underrated in the 60s, and are now held in very high regard, at least on an ‘underground’ level; does belated success sweeten the bitterness/disappointment of commercial failure ‘back in the day’?

It is very satisfying for me to know that all that effort, all that stress, all that disappointment was somehow worth it. I get emails from fans of all ages from all over the world who tell me they love the band and our music. That`s all we ever really wanted: for people to enjoy our music.