DAVID HEMMINGS - Happens
This is an unexpected gem from the Sixties. Certainly, David Hemmings was very well known but not as a singer. He starred in a number of classic films from the era, most notably "Blow Up" where he portrayed a photographer apparently uncovering a murder. The singing side of him remained relatively unknown. Having made his name in the UK, David Hemmings headed off to LA where he met up with a number of the Byrds as well as their producer Jim Dickson. The seemingly unusual collaboration produced this album. In keeping with the Byrds connection, the opening track "Back Street Mirror" is a Gene Clark song that was written and recorded subsequent to his departure from the group. However, it was never released, and David Hemmings recorded his vocals over the existing backing track. This is really something to thank David Hemmings for, otherwise this Gene Clark song would have remained unreleased. "Reason to Believe" is the Tim Hardin classic, and Hemmings' version stands up with the best of them. The guitar style of this track reminds the listener of the Incredible String Band, a likeness that appears in later tracks. "Good King James" starts with some clearly recognizable Roger McGuinn guitar. Like many of the other tracks, this was improvised in the studio. This was done in one take! "Bell Birds" is an old song but the lyrics had disappeared over time so new lyrics were written by David Hemmings. Like "Good King James", the track "Talkin' LA" is another studio improvisation where McGuinn and Hillman provide the backing to Hemmings' semi-spoken vocals. The backing track is less free-form, and this allows Hemmings to improvise with his thoughts about Los Angeles. He had recently moved to the area and seems happy. "Anathea" is another traditional folk song where Hemmings lays down a beautiful vocal on tops of the Byrds' backing. The song also appeared on the Judy Collins/Jim McGuinn album of 1964. While some of the tracks feature spoken, improvised vocals Hemmings shows here that he has a fine singing voice. "The Soldiers Wind" & "After The Rain" are beautiful songs. Another improvisation is "War's Mystery" which has the unmistakable Roger McGuinn Rickenbacker guitar sound, but with the addition of Indian instruments it has the air of a Robin Williamson song, even if the lyrics are quite different. The track is a long improvisation. This is more than just a curio from a 1960s actor. Hemmings shows that not only does he has a fine singing voice but also that he can improvise his lyrics on top of a backing track. You could say that it is folk-rap! The album stands up on its own and the fact that Hemmings is an actor is quickly forgotten. The album is easily accessible to fans of the Byrds or the Incredible String Band and will be of interest to others with more of a leaning towards folk psychedelia. The rare and strange Clark composition "Back Street Mirror" is worth the price of admission, but it's the McGuinn & Hillman free jazz-psych session playing & backing vocals on their own compositions like "Good King James"; "War's Mystery" & "Talkin' LA", that make this a fully satisfying listen.
The LP was released in the US on MGM Records (4490). The Back cover has a long commentary about David by Liz Smith which includes some great descriptions of his "reptilian eyes", his "brooding look of a dissolute poet", "the tangle of those mind-blown blond locks" and "the glacial intensity of those dissipated blue eyes". He is described from "Blow-Up" as moving "pragmatically through the memory's eye in neon white trousers" and expressing "the super-cool of hedonistic curiosity". He is compared to "fabulous villain leads: Richard III; Robert Louis Stevenson's Mr. Hyde; Jack the Ripper; Lawrence of Arabia; Caligula; Dorian Gray; or Alexander the Great." His screen appeal described as "his mystique of feisty masculinity" and "his baby face, the imperturbable blankness of the cynically alienated hero." All in all, a great write-up!
HAPPENS - Track Listing
SIDE ONE: "Back Street Mirror" (written by Gene Clark, arranged and produced by Leon Russell); "Reason to Believe" (written by Tim Hardin); "Good King James" (David improvised the lyrics, a one take song); "Bell Birds" (old folk song, David wrote the lyrics since he'd forgotten all but a few words of the original he'd heard in his childhood); "Talkin' LA" (seven minute improvised song, all lyrics by Hemmings, Music by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman). SIDE TWO: "Anathea" (Roger McGuinn and Jimmy Bond did the music, David did the lyrics, an old folk song); "After the Rain" (written by Bill Martin who taught it to David on the way to the recording session); "War's Mystery" (another improvised song. Lyrics by Hemmings, McGuinn and Hillman music); "The Soldier Wind" (written by Bill Martin for David). This seldom seen gem is available as a MINT Stereo LP, or a Still Factory Sealed Mono LP.
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