November 9, 2022

Love a bit of slightly dated but gloriously imaginative original psychedelic rock? Then you are going to adore Think Pink

Mention the name ‘Twink’ to music fans over the age of 50 or so, and unfortunately even from that demographic 90% will probably say ‘Twink who?’ Their loss and the other 10%’s gain, however, as drummer, songwriter and singer Twink (or John Alder to use his ‘given name’) represents as much as anyone around at the time the wonderfully free and anarchic spirit of the post-psychedelic ’60s and the early ’70s. A member of Tomorrow, along with future Yes man Steve Howe, Twink first came to the attention of the wider world as drummer with The Pretty Things on their era-defining SF Sorrow album (lest we forget, the first generally acknowledged ‘rock opera’, beating Tommy to the punch). He went on to be a member of the Pink Fairies from their inception until after their debut album Never Never Land, taking part in a number of reformations and reunions over the years. In between those two bands came the 1970 album Think Pink – and what a revelation it remains over 50 years after its release.

The album featured an array of counter-culture guest musicians of the time, including Steve Peregrine Took (Tyrannosaurus Rex) and Mick Farren , as well as Pretty Things alumni John Povey, Vic Unitt and Wally Allen. There’s even a John Lodge on bass, but it isn’t that one! Most significant, however, is the presence on guitar of future Pink Fairies bandmate Paul Rudolph, who scatters most of the tracks here with showers of untrammelled psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics. The first side of the original vinyl especially is an absolute masterclass in what was probably one of the last hurrahs of the true psychedelic rock scene, with five tracks being utterly diverse and yet complementing each other seamlessly. The opening The Coming Of The Other One sets the scene in terms of nightmarish incantation, all backwards sitar, manic percussion and terrifying vocal effects. It gives way to the first ‘song’ proper on the album, a new recording of a track done by Twink along with Took in their Aquarian Age project, namely 10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box. If you have a liking for this sort of powerfully psychedelic rock and have never heard this track, you are in for an absolute treat – oddly distant vocals declaim fascinating lyrics such as ‘Ten tin soldiers, they mime in tune / With three madmen waiting for a full moon / The hounds and the huntsman chased by the fox / Ten thousand words in a cardboard box’, before the hypnotic musical firedance is taken to another level by Rudolph’s wild and untamed guitar work, scattering sparks over the second half of the piece. It’s a stunning track.

After the short interlude of Dawn Of Magic, we hit another great song in the shape of Tiptoe On The Highest Hill. Opening as one of the most conventionally melodic songs on here, in an almost Beatlesque way in places, it again makes way for the entry of the magic guitar, as it builds and builds to a brilliant crescendo. The final track on the first side is the lyric-less Fluid, a percussive mantra driven along by the marvellously named Silver Darling on vocals, as she showers the piece with orgasmic wordless vocals, predating Aphrodites Child with Infinity or Pink Floyd with The Great Gig In The Sky. It could grow repetitive, but it never, ever does, and ends the first half of the album on a high – both musical and chemical, one may safely assume!

Had the album continued to such a standard, it would be a five star lost classic, but the second half is a little weaker – though only enough to take it down to four stars. The longest piece on the album, the oddly named Mexican Grass War, is an acquired taste. Which is to say that some may never acquire it. Another percussive track, this time the whole thing is driven by a martial, militaristic rhythm conjuring up the marching to the peculiar war itself. What sounds disturbingly like a kazoo takes up the topline melody at the beginning, but this is soon taken over by the one-man guitar freakout which is Paul Rudolph again, and it is his contribution which largely saves the track from terminal repetition. For the last minute or so, the tempo doubles to a frantic close, but it’s an odd one for sure. Much more solid ground is the old-school and neatly titled Rock ‘n Roll The Joint, which really is irresistibly infectious. Nonsense, of course, but gloriously fun. Following that is the oddly bouncy, acoustic-guitar-based Suicide, which almost hangs together but just derails itself slightly with the drop down to the more suicidal-sounding chorus. It’s kind of like two songs in one, in the way of A Day In The Life, but not marrying up quite as well. I’ll bypass track nine for the moment to comment on the closer, the beautifully post-psychedelic piece of quasi-philosophical tune-in-turn-on-drop-out manifesto of The Sparrow Is A Sign. It’s a perfect, low key album closer. Before that, however, we must consider the almost indescribable Three Little Piggies. Basically a raucous drunken singalong which surely must have been enormous fun at the time, it makes for a hard listen. The lustily bellowed words tell the sketchy and decidedly odd tale of the three little piggies of the title, and their dissatisfaction with having to say ‘Wee wee wee’ instead of ‘Oink oink oink’ like the larger pigs. Thus they resolve to do as they wish, and defiantly begin saying ‘Oink oink oink’ in defiance of accepted piglet convention. This bafflingly comes with fatal results, as they unaccountably die from this unauthorised oinking. Put bluntly, it’s absolutely terrible, in the sort of ‘special place in hell’ way reserved for the likes of Cream with Mothers Lament or Pink Floyd with Seamus. However, when all is said and done (and smoked), it’s only three minutes out of the album, and it’s so ghastly that it actually makes an entertaining talking point. Which perhaps makes it fit here perfectly!

The album is presented on two discs, in both the original mono and stereo variations, but to these ears the stereo version is the clear listen of choice, as this sort of music cries out for mind-expanding stereo experimentation. The stereo disc also contains the bonus tracks here, which for the most part are absolutely marvellous. The alternate take of Cardboard Box is probably even better than the album version, accentuating the spacey chorus vocals and effectively writing the template for most of Hawkwind’s Hall Of The Mountain Grill album four years later. Even better are the two versions of Fluid, which both dispense with the orgasmic vocal accompaniment but ramp up the instrumental accompaniment. Both are arguably superior to the album cut, but the second alternate take here in particular is absolutely stunning, and may well be the best thing on the whole CD as it, once again, delivers pretty much an entire career plan to Hawkwind and the like, all wrapped up in a bow (pink, of course). The album is certainly boosted as a listening experience by the bonus alternate takes, and how often can you truthfully say that? Put simply, it’s an essential listen, even if you have the original vinyl.

On the other side of the fence, we have the very different listening experience which is the Mr Rainbow album from 1990. A much straighter, rockier affair, it is likely to attract as many listeners as Think Pink might alienate, and vice versa, as truly it represents two very different sides of Twink. It’s essentially composed of reworkings of tracks which he has appeared on throughout his career, from 1960s Tomorrow pieces to solo recordings from the late 1970s, and as one might expect it’s a slightly mixed bag. Featuring a line-up including two musicians who went on to do time in Suzi Quatro’s band (guitarist Robbie Gladwell and drummer Andy Dowding) the album opens with Twink’s own late-’70s solo track Psychedelic Punkeroo, apparently written about Syd Barrett, but coming across as what can only be described as a personal statement of intent. It’s a fine start, sounding exactly like you think it will, but is accompanied by only one more Twink solo remake, the propulsive if slightly repetitive Seize The Time; the rest of the album reaching back further for its targets to get the update treatment. Two old Tomorrow tracks are revisited in the shape of the reggae-tinged title cut and the somewhat twee Three Jolly Little Dwarfs, and they are given a decent modern makeover without really standing out as much more than period pieces. There is much more gold mined when the Pretty Things and Pink Fairies are plundered, with both Baron Saturday and Balloon Burning from SF Sorrow being given a nice modern sheen and coming across well, even divorced from their original conceptual setting. There are four Pink Fairies tracks here; Teenage Rebel is given a good solid rocking treatment, while Wargirl (another ‘deep cut’ from Never Never Land) is, to these ears, a real standout here. I must confess the dreamy, laid-back vibe of the Fairies version has never been a favourite of their output for me, and the more robust, bluesy treatment here hits the spot in a way the original never quite did. The classic The Snake is given a run-through, and while initially disappointing as it lacks the feral, timeless power of the magnificent original, it does hit its stride in a powerful instrumental section. Closing the album proper is, of course, the Pink Fairies ‘anthem’ Do It which, like The Snake, cannot hope to compete with the original’s raw, immediate power – but again, and even more so than the former track, it really gets going in the instrumental jam, and in fact develops the sparse template of the original into something deeper and arguably more substantial. Not exactly better, but certainly a very worthy alternative take. There are three bonus tracks (a Pretty Things cover and two archive cuts from Twink’s early-’60s band The Fairies (non-pink)), but they don’t add too much apart from historical value.

In summing up these two discs, the mileage of the listener will really depend on his or her own preference as to the approach. Love a bit of slightly dated but gloriously imaginative original psychedelic rock? Then you are going to adore Think Pink, but Mr Rainbow may not scratch your itch. Prefer a more refined, polished rock sound? Then it’s vice versa for you. Of course, if you love the Pink Fairies and to a lesser extent the late-’60s Pretty Things, you’re just going to want both of these. There’s much to be gained from both.