Electric Banana: ‘The Complete De Wolfe Sessions’ reviewed

❉ After years out of print, the complete Electric Banana recordings have finally been given the archive treatment they deserve.

Some of our older readers may recall one of We Are Cult’s earliest pieces, an examination of the shady career of library music garage hooligans The Electric Banana – who made a series of highly-prized LPs for DeWolfe in the late 60s. The albums would go on to provide atmos to many a horror or grot movie over the next decade, but the twist was that in reality, the Banana were actually non-library music garage hooligans The Pretty Things, who were moonlighting under the radar from their contract with EMI. It was a secret so poorly kept that enterprising fans resold the original DeWolfe albums at Camden Market.

Sometimes to add to the illusion of the Banana being A Totally Different Band And Not The Pretty Things, Honest; frontman Phil May would step aside and allow bassist Wally Waller or keyboardist/occasional drummer Jon Povey to front the band. In fairness though it was an extremely flimsy wet paper bag of a disguise, especially when the unlovely-looking but eminently recognisable band (notably the lanky, shock-haired Povey) cropped up in person in low-rent Norman Wisdom vehicle What’s Good For The Goose playing in a ‘mod discotheque’, then appeared in another scene where they spray-painted S.F. SORROW in huge letters onto a wall. Reusing I See You from More Electric Banana (1968) as key track on their ’68 masterwork (er… S.F. Sorrow) arguably didn’t help either.

Their poor incognito skills aside, the Pretties used the Banana albums, dashed off in breaks between their murderous schedule of gigging and causing general as a source of cashflow and occasionally to try out ideas. They ended up becoming minor genre classics.

After years out of print, the complete Electric Banana recordings have finally been given the archive treatment they deserve. Okay, so there’s no vinyl (which is a source of some considerable annoyance to your correspondent, who can attest to exactly how bloody hard it is to get hold of the DeWolfe originals, or even the ’90s/00s reissues from Tenth Planet and Guerssen), but Cherry Red offshoot Grapefruit have done a grand job compiling it onto a handsomely-presented and concise 3CD set.

The original trio of albums – Electric Banana (1967), the aforementioned More Electric Banana and Even More Electric Banana (1968) have been reproduced faithfully on the first two CDs, with vocal and crunchy instrumental versions included. After years of these tracks only being available on shonky reissues and illicit blog sites it’s safe to say that they’ve not sounded as crisp and tough as this for ages. The cuts from Even More… are the absolute pick of the set – dark eyed and nasty garage psych with paint-peeling fuzz guitar and psycho organ. Tunes like Alexander (apocalyptic, furious and weirdly based on the writings of Lawrence Durrell) and Eagle’s Son (recorded between S.F. Sorrow sessions) are amongst some of the fiercest acid rock cuts of the era. Without the full benefit of Abbey Road’s Studio 2 and its Pandora’s box of sonic tricks, Even More… makes a virtue of its primitive, banged-out-over-lunchtime recording. The instrumental versions are DEAFENING.

There are also some pleasant surprises to be found on discs 2 & 3, featuring the less-fancied ’70s albums Hot Licks and Return of the Electric Banana – recorded at various points between the band’s numerous mid-’70s implosions. By 1972 the Pretties had largely discarded psychedelia in favour of cock rock. However, they make a pretty good fist of it, aided by the mad skills of Pete Tolson on guitar. There’s a slight return to the moody baroque psych of Parachute on Walk Away, led by Povey on harpsichord and vocal with Tolson blowing the walls off with a white hot solo. Do My Stuff is jangly power-pop goodness and late hard rock material like James Marshall and Maze Song are tough and punchy as they get, and easily a match for the Pretties stuff released officially on Warners and Swan Song at the time.

The sleeve notes from David Wells play up to the conceit that the Banana were a ‘real’ band. There’s not a mention of The Pretty Things to be found anywhere, but there’s enough tongue in cheek allusions to their ‘official’ material to fill a jumbo wordsearch with. The notes also reel off an impressive list of Film and TV appearances for EB tracks. Of course a lot of us Doctor Who nuts spotted It’ll Never Be Me playing at Jo Grant’s engagement party in The Green Death – but Banana appearances in horror flicks and the likes of Minder are listed in quite some detail. Props also to Andy Morten’s excellent design work, riffing nicely on the ‘Banana’ motifs from the original DeWolfe LPs.

This lovingly-compiled collection is essential for fans of The Pretty Things, and library music in general. Well worth a peel.

Electric Banana: ‘The Complete De Wolfe Sessions’ (3CD) released by Grapefruit Records, a division of Cherry Red Records, 27 September 2019. RRP £17.99. Cat. No. CRSEGBOX058.

A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Martin Ruddock has written for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, ‘Shindig! Magazine’, the ‘You And Who’ series and David Bowie charity anthology ‘Me And The Starman’ (Chinbeard Books, 2019).

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