September 4, 2022

Anyone familiar with the Grapefruit imprint of the Cherry Red group will be aware that they tend to be the specialists in negotiating the rarely-travelled hinterlands of the turn of the ’70s, when things go too far off the beaten track for even Esoteric to venture without a detailed map and some Kendal Mint Cake. Here we are again, deep in Niche Country, where the rock family tree reads ‘Here Be Dragons’ and strange men with wispy beards wave at you from ghostly Vinyl Record Fairs, as we investigate the sole album recorded by the band Misty in 1969. I say ‘recorded’ because, of course, it was never released. Well, I did tell you we were off that beaten track – although the band did exist on vinyl, by virtue of a sole single release in July 1970. Don’t get carried away thinking that there was a forgotten hit here, mind you – because so obscure were these guys that, not only did their album never make it past the acetate stage, but they hardly ever played live either. They did, however, get invited onto regional TV for two 15-minute specials for Border TV, filmed in Carlisle and shown only in the English/Scottish border region – and amazingly, the Grapefruit archivists have even located one of them in the hands of a private collector and included it here. For anyone who might have actually been a fan back in the day, this is the Dead Sea Scrolls. For the rest of us it’s a fascinating document of a band who really, like so many of these forgotten hopefuls, really did deserve better.

L-R In 1969: Steve Bingham, Michael Gelardi, Bill Castle, Barry McCann, Tony Wootton

It should be noted at this point that that TV slot came about in no small part because the band’s manager was none other than Michael Grade, future Controller of the BBC, and now Lord Grade, who at the time owned the talent agency London Management. This connection fitted in well with band organist Michael Gelardi, whose own father was on the board of Trust House Forte. So we’re not exactly in Ramones territory here, but it should also be noted that even this significant amount of influence couldn’t get the album a release, so there really was no hope that the fates were going to smile on Misty. Not that Grade believed that when he issued the astonishing and incomparably inaccurate press release informing the world that ‘Yesterday was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream. Today is Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, Deep Purple. Tomorrow will be: MISTY’. Now, if that was a surreal weather forecast, he might have been right. Otherwise, it ranks alongside ‘The Beatles will never make it – guitar groups are on their way out’ as one of the Great Hopeless Predictions Of The 20th Century. It also didn’t help that he spelt Led Zeppelin incorrectly, but I don’t suppose it would have tipped the balance.

The album itself was recorded independently by the band at the insistence of Grade, before being touted around potential label homes. Prior to the involvement of Grade, the band’s trajectory appeared to be different, as they were a gigging band, whose first manager was an entrepreneur named Henry Hadaway. His credentials are musically impeccable, incidentally, as he later went on to achieve notoriety as the man who produced The Birdie Song in 1981. Maybe ‘impeckable’ might be a better word, but we’ll leave it… Anyhow, future Birdie Hadaway appeared to have pulled off a major success by securing the band an overseas residency at The Acapulco Beach Club. Unfortunately, this misleadingly named club was actually situated in Beirut, which could have set off a few alarm bells. When Grade took over, following their return from three months in downtown Lebanon, he waved his hand dismissively at the idea of the band slogging away on the gig circuit, and instead whisked them into Regent Sound Studios in Denmark Street to record their album which would soon find them fame and fortune without all of that unseemly scrabbling around for it at gigs. This of course, didn’t happen, as Grade was in entirely the wrong arena for his own skills, and Misty ended up as the one and only attempt at London Management looking after a band. There’s a pattern forming here.

The band did manage to get signed to Parlophone in 1970, however, releasing the single Hot Cinnamon, backed with the rather nice Cascades. Hot Cinammon, being a slightly out-of-character upbeat romp, began getting quite a bit of DJ play in soul clubs, but although that seemed as if it might kick-start the sales drive, it completely failed to impress the record-buying public, sank like a stone, and the band got dropped by the label who promptly passed on the album option. Soon after this, they ground to a halt leaving that sole single release as their accumulated legacy. Until now, that is, as we can now hear the 13 tracks of the album (including both sides of the single) as well as four songs from that long-ago TV appearance seen only by obsessives in Carlisle…

And you know what, there is some really rather good stuff on offer. Right away the big snag reveals itself in that, in common with other bands of the era, Misty simply had too many ideas for their own good, and struggled to focus. There is some clear psych-pop stuff which has echoes of a year or so earlier, but this is married to plenty of proto-prog rock ideas, interesting lyrics, and even some classical influences offered by the keyboards. Standouts are the opening classical-psychedelic-prog of Witness For The Resurrection, the bizarrely named Harmonious Blacksmith, A Question Of Trust, John’s Song and perhaps the best of the lot, the superb Animal Farm, which is a concise, lyrically intelligent proto-prog nugget of the highest order. The balance of the sounds is not altogether unlike that which the Moody Blues were mining on their albums of the time, but once again the difference is ‘focus’. The Moody Blues had two big things going for them over Misty, which ultimately may have made all the difference. Firstly, they were very savvy in creating their own quasi-mystical image very early on, via the mind-expanding sleeve designs perfect for chemical/herbal relaxation along with some faux-profound lyrics and Graeme Edge’s deep and meaningless poetry. Hippies and later progheads ate this stuff up, while Misty, despite arguably a more progressive side to their music, were devoid of any of these trappings. Therefore, they would be judged on their songs, and by comparison with Justin Hayward and John Lodge, they simply didn’t have that songwriting inspiration, and irresistible hooks are in short supply here – sure to fatally hole any would-be ‘hip pop’ ambitions below the waterline. To be fair, they were not given the chance to test much of this stuff on the public, but this is where Grade disastrously failed them, with his belief that he had unearthed a new ‘sensation’ and that he merely had to tell the world. The world, predictably, wasn’t listening, particularly as the sensations in question rarely appeared at the club down the road from the World and actually played.

A cautionary tale, then, of what can happen to a talented band (as Misty surely were) when hit by a double whammy of ill-luck and hopeless managerial advice from a Svengali figure splashing about in an entirely unfamiliar paddling pool to his own media-savvy inspiration. Happily, thanks to the Grapefruit Dwarves who have laboured deep in the Mines of Buried Opportunities to unearth this stuff, we can now listen and decide for ourselves whether it’s worth the discovery. With a caveat pointing to the fact that this is a first recording attempt from a band totally unused to the recording studio environment, and without the hard yards playing live to really hone the material, this is really pretty darn good, and a great shame they never got the chance to develop. ‘Play Misty For Me’? – you could do worse…