Visions Of Childhood
by Mick Capewell
KALEIDOSCOPE, n. An optical instrument which exhibits an endless variety of coloured figures.
KALEIDOSCOPE, English 1960s pop group in the psychedelic style who exhibited an endless variety of aural textures and ideas.
A large building, brilliantly white, stands tall and commanding before a square, equally impressive in size and comprising paving slabs of comparable radiant hue. The square is transiently populated by a stream of diverse characters, each with their own purpose and none seeming to be out of place. Gentlemen extravagantly doff their hats in salute of demure young ladies. Youths navigate their bicycles along precarious routes.Urchins dash hither and thither; their mischief to perform. Music abounds, though the venerable bandstand is empty; the source today being the moderately sized fun-fair that holds court in a nearby park. The stalls are somewhat shabby and thus blend in particularly well with the faded dinginess of the rows of small shops and houses that skulk in the shadows of the luminous edifice. A curious, intangible malevolence resides in this veiled underworld. To some, this place is evil incarnate. They are the transparent ones, attracted to the noise, the openess, the irradiance of the bustling square. Their worst fears reside but a few yards away in the malignant, opaque places where uncertainty and unspeakable forces hold sway.......
Whenever I listen to "Tangerine Dream", the debut album by Kaleidoscope, in my mind's eye I always see a vision of the scene that I have described above. I listen to the album quite often because it is a masterpiece of 1960s pop music, and I love 1960s pop music. There is a unique atmosphere present in this collection of songs. A slightly musty, Edwardian, English country garden type of atmosphere. It's as if these songs were written when the British Empire was at it's zenith and then buried in a time capsule, to be re-discovered just in time for the "psychedelic" era. There are songs of adventurers, songs of genteel longing, songs of inspired fantasy, songs of everyday domestic life, songs of brightness, songs of darkness, songs of tragedy, songs of life and songs of death. Lots of death. Unavoidable death. Malignant, opaque, unspeakable death. Yet a lustrous splendour masks the morbidity with a cheerful, kaleidoscopic cloak, greatly enhanced by a wonderfully uplifting closing track.
Before we proceed further let's meet the group members, all constant fixtures throughout their career; reminiscent of a mythological four headed beast -- four faces with but one focus :
Eddy Pumer : Lead Guitarist,
keyboards and composer of all the music.
Peter's vintage sleeve notes speak to us as if they are being viewed through a kaleidoscopic time-warp. What are these songs about?
"The collective subject of our songs is simple, life and people. We have written our songs about you. Happy people, sad people, lovely people and a few confused people. We have written of the children, of the king and his queen, and we have also included a few words about ourselves, about our lives, about our loves and about our dreams."
The album begins with a short invitation. "Relax your eyes -- for after all, we can but share these minutes". This line, we later discover, has been lifted from "Dive Into Yesterday", another of the album's songs. The quavering vocal is backed by a muted guitar repeating a two note phrase which is, as it turns out, a less urgent rendering of the staccato introductory riff to the "proper" opening track.
KALEIDOSCOPE (A few reflected thoughts on the rush and rush of everyday people, intermingled with the ever changing lights. Broken glass, coloured days.) The somewhat hesitant opening invitation is immediately blown away in a headlong, breathless rush of piano, pounding guitars and drums and hyper-ventilating vocals. A brief pause to quote the "All Things Bright and Beautiful" melody and then we're off again. The energy and enthusiasm as infectious as a happiness spreading virus.
PLEASE EXCUSE MY FACE (A small love story) After the whirlwind of the opening song, the album soon settles down with this gorgeous ballad. Peter's vocals upfront and intimate, strangely feminine yet never effeminate.
DIVE INTO YESTERDAY (An escape. A dream relived in a magical cave. "Relax your eyes, for after all, we can but share these minutes...") A classic song. The frantic guitar strums give way to a loping rhythm which carries along Peter's characteristically precise vocals as he intones his remarkable lyrics. You can find anything that you want to find within these lyrics. A sagacity rarely found in pop songs, or just alliterative, though undeniably colourful, nonsense? Whatever, the tempo changes the contrasting vocal tones (alternately excited and earnestly pleading), the vertiginous swooning repititions of the title line, all conglomerate into a memorable whole that remains one of the towering accomplishments of British psychedelic music.
MR. SMALL, THE WATCH REPAIRER MAN (A true story, written a long time ago about a real person) The real person this song was based on was apparently Eddy's father, although the lonely fate of Mr. Small is surely fiction! In the classic tradition of 1960s British pop songs this is a microcosm of life in a small town, somewhere in the middle of everywhere. Quirky but ultimately very sad. It's starting to dawn on the listener that this is a varied album by a versatile and talented group. The best, however, is still to come.
FLIGHT FROM ASHIYA (A group of people who have lived separate lives, suddenly thrown together in tragedy. One thought joins them). The dramatic thud of a "treated" piano chord followed by a spiralling, descending guitar and wordless vocal sounds herald the arrival of what is probably Kaleidoscope's most famous song. This was issued as their debut single a few months prior to the album's appearance. Chart success proved elusive despite a healthy amount of radio airplay. I find it quite remarkable that the BBC were so enthusiastic in their support of the song given that the chorus contains the line "One minute HIGH....the next minute low". There was obviously no question that the song concerned a crashing aeroplane rather than artificial stimulants! The thrumming bass-line accentuates the monotony of long haul flights, although boredom wouldn't have been a problem in those far off pioneering days of under-powered, unreliable machines. Peter's queasy lyrics (Visions of Childhood rush past my eyes...) evoke the uncertainty and sense of danger. The intended destination is never mentioned and likewise the ultimate fate of the passengers is left to the imagination. It's tempting to recall "The Lost Horizon" and conclude that the survivors made it to Shangri La but, as the title of the song was taken from an unread paperback book, any and all conclusions are valid.
THE MURDER OF LEWIS TOLLANI (I believe that everyone is capable of murder, perhaps this could have been mine.) In the night something stirs, the creaking and groaning of the guitar cuts the treacle-thick air. The twist in this pulse-quickening tale is that the killer didn't mean to kill the unfortunate Mr. Tollani--which surely means that this cannot be classed as murder--if we can believe all that we hear! A wonderfully constructed song, alternating between hold-your-breath creepiness and adrenalin fuelled flight.
(FURTHER REFLECTIONS) IN THE ROOM OF PERCUSSION (Too personal to explain. I'm sorry). No explainations needed! This is yet another classic track. A chamber of horrors with grotesque image piled onto grotesque image. Peter's vocals a resigned commentary, reflecting the inevitability of the depressing course of events that confronts the listener. Dan's thunderous drum fills jangle all nerves unaffected by the prevailing sense of disquiet. "My God! The Spiders Are Everywhere". Incredible!
DEAR NELLIE GOODRICH (A musical letter that someone is writing now, that someone else is sending now and that another Nellie Goodrich somewhere is reading. Please take some notice). From one extreme to the other! This is the most overt love song on the record. In fact it is probably one of only two songs on the album that could be classed as being love songs in the traditional sense (the other being "Please Excuse My Face"). A nervous, formal declaration of love, although once again a sinister element could be read into the lines "I have watched you from the afar, you pass my house each day, The dreams that I dream are always about you". This doubt has already been dispelled by the seemingly sincere "Please don't be offended, I mean you no harm, sure as the sun shines above". In any case, the vocal is so pure, the arrangement so artful, the melody so enchanting, that surely no girl could resist this heartfelt petition.
HOLIDAYMAKER (Words and music from the coastline of England. A comment. We all know the story). In many ways this is the odd track out on this album. The sound is different. The vocal sound is immature--none of the clipped syllables and soaring modulation that proliferate on other tracks. A "John Entwhistle" brass section gives the song the feel of a "Who" out-take". It's no surprise to discover that this song was recorded several months prior to the rest of the material. It has the sound of 1966 rather than 1967. This is no criticism of the song itself which is a fairly commercial effort with a catchy enough chorus. A re-recorded version, with the group more experienced in the studio and more in tune with their creative direction would undoubtedly have shown immense improvement.
A LESSON PERHAPS.....THE SKY CHILDREN (A fairytale dream. A wish. Please listen to the pictures). Grouped together in the sleeve-notes but on the record these two tracks are most definitely apart. The former is a spoken "Drama" featuring a disaffected King of the forest, his long suffering Queen and a fly! This could be embarrassing in less-skilled hands but Peter's recitation is wryly amusing while Eddy contributes an effective lute-like guitar part. "The Sky Children" is another matter entirely. My favourite Kaleidoscope track of all. Almost eight minutes of music that once heard is never forgotten. Eddy, Steve and Danny lock together in an egoless display of teamwork, the like of which is rarely heard in pop/rock music. This leaves Peter with freedom to deliver his torrent of words, and deliver he certainly does, with an astonishing vocal performance of intimate beauty. The lyrics--inspired by the view from a cliff-top in Swanage--are full of stunning imagery and child-like (but never childish) wonder. Let your mind fly along with the children, dream their dreams with them, discover the part of yourself that remains child-like (it's in all of us somewhere).
That is the end of "Tangerine Dream". Overshadowed by the over-hyped releases of more established bands, the album was a critical success but didn't make the album charts. However, it's reputation grew steadily with the passing of the years. When the album was finally re-issued in 1987 after a long period as one of the most sought after collectors items, enough copies were sold for "Tangerine Dream" to enter the indie chart. A new generation were beginning to discover the delights of the 60s and the popularity of Kaleidoscope and their records continues to grow to this day. If you haven't heard this album, please try your best to ensure that you do so. Your life may not be changed, but it will certainly be enriched by the experience. The tall, brilliant white building will continue to dominate all it surveys for a long while yet, I'm certain.