❉ Huw Thomas reviews the final word on the UK psych legends.
“Jason Crest released five singles; all are full-fat psych pop concoctions with a credible yet commercial sound. None charted and Jason Crest later found a wider audience nudged into the spotlight on compilations of British psychedelia, tracks like Turquoise Tandem Cycle and Black Mass are now considered classics of the genre.”
There are scores of worthy British bands from the psychedelic era who never achieved a commercial breakthrough, but Jason Crest’s failure is surely one of the most puzzling. A popular live act in their native Kent, the quintet – Terry Clarke, Terry Dobson, Ron Fowler, Roger Siggery and Derek Smallcombe – signed to Philips in 1967. The band, then known as The Good Thing Brigade, had impressed A&R man Fritz Fryer (formerly of the Four Pennies) with their wealth of strong original material penned by Clarke and Dobson.
Following a name-change to Jason Crest, they released five singles between January 1968 and August 1969; all are full-fat psych pop concoctions with a credible yet commercial sound. None charted and the prospect of an album was seemingly never entertained with any seriousness. Jason Crest found a wider audience too late; nudged into the spotlight by appearances on compilations of British psychedelia, tracks like Turquoise Tandem Cycle and Black Mass are now considered classics of the genre. A new 2CD release from Cherry Red, A Place In The Sun – The Complete Jason Crest is a comprehensive assembly of all of the band’s recorded work including two radio sessions never before released on CD.
Jason Crest’s first single release was Turquoise Tandem Cycle b/w Good Life, issued on 5 January 1968. The woozy A-side opens this new set’s first disc. It’s a solid and slow-moving block of floating organ and impenetrable lyrics that owes a great deal to A Whiter Shade of Pale. It is, however, a compelling record in its own right, though the rhythm is sabotaged somewhat by the liberal dollop of slapback echo slathered on Roger Siggery’s drums.
The melancholic Teagarden Lane and the hazy Patricia’s Dream follow, both heavily phased and phantom-like examples of psychedelia at its most enchanting. These are stately, magical songs. It beggars belief that the former went unreleased during the band’s existence and the latter was buried as a B-side to the band’s faithful cover of the Move’s (Here We Go Round The) Lemon Tree.
The first disc continues strongly with A Place In The Sun, originally released as the band’s final single on 22 August 1969. It’s a dynamic piece boasting spooky harmonies and prominent Mellotron work that evokes the Moody Blues. If Jason Crest sound hymnal on A Place In The Sun, they sound satanic on its B-side. The occult-inspired Black Mass is certainly the most distinctive of their recordings. Utterly demented vocals are backed by Gregorian chants while backwards drums, guitar and piano link hands with their forwards selves. Understandably, Black Mass has become the band’s most legendary song.
Less revered is the band’s penultimate A-side Waterloo Road, which is quite fairly described as “an irredeemably lifeless song” in the liner notes. It recalls David Bowie’s 1967 debut album but despite a commercial Penny Lane-type rhythm, this jolly boys’ outing hits a dull note. Waterloo Road is immediately followed by Good Life, the B-side to Turquoise Tandem Cycle.
It’s a better crack at a jaunty sing-along; one might presume the Small Faces’ Lazy Sunday was a direct influence, but Good Life predated it by some months. The first disc is rounded out by acetate recordings. Both King of the Castle and the Bee Gees-esque Charge of the Light Brigade are undoubtably catchy songs and there’s a creative rejig of You Really Got a Hold On Me.
The second disc is derived from two sessions – an audition tape Jason Crest made to assess their suitability for live radio broadcasts in 1968, and a radio session proper from October 1969. Never before released on CD, these recordings are a revealing look at the band without any icing from producer Fritz Fryer. They sound harder here than on their studio sessions, and give a good idea of their live act.
Covers includes solid takes on classics like A Hazy Shade of Winter, California Dreaming and Come Together, but the best is a frenzied reimagining of Paint It Black which sees the band strip the song of its raga rock stylings and create something quite phenomenal. Particular praise must go to organist Terry Dobson, who displays outstanding versatility on all of these recordings. These two sessions make abundantly clear just how accomplished Jason Crest were.
It is, however, tracks like Turquoise Tandem Cycle, Teagarden Lane, Patricia’s Dream, A Place In The Sun and Black Mass that listeners will return to most. These standouts all appear early in the running order, and that’s the only real fault I have with this collection. This new set is an update on Wooden Hill’s Collected Works of Jason Crest (1998) and the first disc retains the sequencing of that release, which is non-chronological and somewhat front-loaded.
In his liner notes, David Wells charts the band’s arc and makes a good case for A Place In The Sun’s lyric being a reflection of the band’s disenchantment with Philips, but the running order here acts against any such reading. It severs the band’s A-sides and B-sides and lumps musically similar tracks together in a way that discourages analysis. Nevertheless, this set offers a three-dimensional look at a brilliant but unlucky band. Though Jason Crest never recorded a studio album, the wealth of excellent material here will satisfy the appetites of any ardent fan of UK psychedelia.
❉ ‘A Place In The Sun: The Complete Jason Crest’ (CRSEG078D) released 25 September 2020 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Huw Thomas is a musician and writer from Radnorshire, Wales. His special interests include Northern Irish band Cruella De Ville, Cardiacs, Back to the Egg and Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt. He tweets as @huwareyou.