[11 January 2010]
In the mid-to-late 1960s, during the height of the mania stemming from the British Invasion, the UK was teeming with psychedelic rock bands of all shapes and sizes, many of whom enjoyed the din of obscurity beneath the gargantuan shadows of such titans as the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Pink Floyd and, of course, the Beatles. A cursory perusal of the blog of any serious record collector, like the sorely missed Blogger site ChrisGoesRocks, will unearth a veritable cornucopia of acts with which only a highly educated student of psychedelia would be aware. Among those bands was Blossom Toes, an acid-pop group signed to famed English rock impresario and Yardbirds/Soft Machine manager Gorgio Gomelsky’s Marmalade Records label. The band did not receive the commercial success enjoyed by their peers in the British Invasion, but released two albums to massive critical acclaim and counted Frank Zappa, with whom the group once jammed (as documented on the recently released double-live compilation Love Bomb: Live 1967-69), amongst their fans.
In December of 1969, Blossom Toes were on their way back from a gig when they suffered a terrible auto accident that didn’t kill anyone in the band, but left the lads shaken up enough to decide to dissolve their union shortly thereafter. While guitarist Jim Cregan went on to join the equally underappreciated UK group Family (who also counted Blind Faith’s Ric Grech amongst its ranks), second Blossom git “Little” Brian Godding and bassist “Big” Brian Belshaw still remained tight, temporarily backing up UK folk chanteuse Julie Driscoll for her 1970 tour. The duo continued to casually jam together after the Driscoll gigs, eventually bringing former Toes drummer Kevin Westlake back into the mix. They rechristened themselves B.B. Blunder, picked up on the heavier, more California-inspired sound the Toes left off on with their 1969 swan song, If Only for a Moment, and took it to new creative heights on their single album, 1971’s Worker’s Playtime.
Recorded at Olympic Studios at the same time that the Stones were laying down Sticky Fingers (Godding claims that Mick Jagger even lent the band a right-handed guitar for the album sessions), Playtime was looser and more AOR-oriented than the Blossom Toes material, featuring guest spots from the likes of Driscoll, electric piano guru Brian Auger, and Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. The songs B.B. Blunder were creating signified a sonic evolution similar to that of the way the Faces emerged from the Small Faces, or the Pretty Things circa Freeway Madness, with one foot in their British rock roots and the other pointing towards the sounds of the Los Angeles canyons, resulting in a warm, freewheeling sound effectively symbolic of the times while signifying something more progressive altogether. At the same time, songs like “Research”, “Seed”, and “Rise” were quintessential ‘71, and would certainly not sound out of place during a WNEW rock block alongside Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” and “Under My Wheels” by Alice Cooper.
In continuation of their reissue campaign focusing on the Blossom Toes catalog, it is only right and natural that Sunbeam Records gives Worker’s Playtime a long overdue makeover. The 2009 version of Worker’s Playtime is a vast upgrade to the tepid 1989 reissue on the Decal label, which retitled the album New Day after one of its key tracks (and one which features slide guitar from Mick Taylor, according to Godding) and rechristened the group Blossom Toes ’70 with the disclaimer “formerly B.B. Blunder” in parentheses. In addition to restoring the album’s original artwork, which parodied the BBC listings guide Radio Times, and accompanying it with assorted visual empherea from the time and newly penned liner notes from Godding and London writer Richard Morton Jack, this updated Playtime also features a killer bonus disc of previously unreleased material. And to be honest with you, the rarities are, quite arguably, much better than what was cleared for the official release. This is particularly true of the bundle of acoustic-based tracks, notably the Roy Harper-esque “When I Was in the Country” and a drastic acid-folk retooling of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”, not to mention the kaleidoscopic, eight-minute electric instrumental jam “Earache” and the Grateful Dead-cum-Grand Funk inspired earth shaker “Waltz”.
Though B.B. Blunder were over before they could begin, breaking up only a year after forming, this singular gem of an album they left in its wake remains one of the great buried treasures of this most robust and creative time for progressive rock music. And thanks to this most definitive version courtesy of Sunbeam, now is a better time than any to discover Worker’s Playtime. For further research on this closet classic, check out this great interview with Brian Godding conducted by Bill Whitten and James Beaudreau of the New York City rock band Grand Mal on the New York Night Train Web site.