The Sorrows: Pink, Purple, Yellow And Red – album review
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The Sorrows: Pink, Purple, Yellow And RedThe Sorrows: Pink, Purple, Yellow And Red – album review

(Grapefruit Records)

4CD | DL

Out now

Subtitled The Complete Sorrows, this 4CD set includes the Coventry freakbeat band’s singles and Take A Heart and Old Songs, New Songs albums, plus many rare bonus items. The rarities include a collaboration for a film soundtrack with the legendary Ennio Morricone, single sides by spin-off outfits The Eggy and Renegade, some unreleased Joe Meek recordings from 1964, a 1969 demo album that only originally existed as an acetate recording and some live tracks recorded at a reunion date in 1980… Ian Canty lets all his sorrows go…

I remember reading once somewhere that The Troggs were the only UK band that really merited the garage punk tag that became common currency after the release of Nuggets in 1972. Now I bow to no-one with regard to admiration of Andover’s greatest sons, but Coventry’s The Sorrows must have at least have run them a close second in the British garage stakes. A mass of line up changes with the hit version splintering before 1966 was out, didn’t help them make progress, but the brutal beat music they came up with is still a joy to behold even all these years on. This new set collects their singles and albums including the belated Old Songs, New Songs LP that appeared at the fag end of the swinging sixties, plus a plethora of rare cuts.

Two Tone was still well over a decade away in the early 1960s, but just like in most cities or towns all over the country, beat music took a firm hold on Coventry’s youth. By 1963 the first line up of The Sorrows came together. Guitarists Terry Jukes and Phil “Pip” Whitcher plus bass player Phil Packham united with the towering figure of singer Don Fardon and Scottish drummer Bruce Finlay completed the quintet.

Apparently Whitcher’s mum inspired the name when observing their dour countenances, she pronounced them “a sorrowful bunch”. The Sorrows did the hard graft like many beat bands, with a gruelling tour of Germany, before they came on the radar of maverick producer Joe Meek. Though his star was very much in a downward spiral by 1964, the chance to record with Meek still represented real progress to the fledgling outfit.

Only a fairly naff version of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes has been previously issued from these Meek sessions, but Grapefruit have turned up a further four items which appear at the end of disc one here. The audibly abundant swagger of The Sorrows’ version of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Don’t Start Me Talkin’ impressed me the most. After the Meek recordings came to naught Pye Records’ John Schroeder, a member of the Sounds Orchestral outfit, took an instant shine to the band and signed them up to Pye’s Piccadilly offshoot.

The first CD of this set compiles the band’s singles as well as those early Joe Meek sessions mentioned above. As a way of getting things started on the good foot, this disc ensues with their excellent debut single, the self-penned punky r&b pounder I Don’t Wanna Be Free. They got to play this tune on Ready, Steady Go! and Top Of The Pops, but bafflingly this couldn’t push it towards the charts. Jukes bailed at this point, taking his Donald Duck impression that starts I Don’t Wanna Be Free’s flipside Come With Me with him. He was replaced by Wesley “Wez” Prince, who provides a lot of input and detailed information in the accompanying sleeve notes.

Baby, a tough and hyperactive stop/start number, had the speed freak blues of Teenage Letter on its reverse (also recorded by The Count Bishops a decade later). Even so it couldn’t make the breakthrough for the band. Luckily Schroeder met songwriter Miki Dallon in a boozer one day and he provided The Sorrows with Take A Heart. They took the song and made it into a truly great single that played on the band’s strengths of a mighty percussive sound, freaky guitar mayhem and Fardon’s mean and moody delivery. This finally saw The Sorrows reach the UK Top 30, but they would sadly only have a brief time in the mainstream spotlight.

Despite the follow up You’ve Got What I Want being another prime Dallon offering given a meaty rendering by the band and coming with a storming b side in No, No No, it made little headway. The fine, meag-cool freakbeat of Gonna Find Me A Cave would have made a good single too, but along with the perfectly good I Take What I Want and Whitcher/Fardon composition Baby All The Time it never saw release at the time.

The Take A Heart album that begins disc two of Pink, Purple, Yellow And Red might have been thrown together in a hurry to cash in on the single’s success, but even so it is pretty much the state of the art as far as 1965 British punky r&b goes. Simply a hugely enjoyable record with the band sounding as wild as it gets and Fardon in great voice. There are a couple of slower numbers, but The Sorrows really thrive here in the sullen high energy stakes. The single sides all shine, She’s Got The Action has surf-style echoing drums amongst its busy r&b attack and their version of garage chestnut Cara-Lin is perfect.

The lighter tone of Let The Live Live single feels a bit of a let down from what went before and the band were now clearly on a slippery slope chasing fame. A fierce and catchy Let Me In perhaps should have arrested this decline, but this was the end of the line for this version of The Sorrows. Fardon either quit, was ousted or a bit of both and Packham also left the band at the same time. Undeterred by the upheavals Whitcher, Finlay and Price continued, with the latter switching to bass. Ironically at this point their success on the European mainland started to take off, so the trio sought to bolster things by bringing in Coventry youngster Roger Lomas on guitar.

This Euro success was experienced by other British 1960s bands like The Primitives and The Rokes, who as the saying goes couldn’t get arrested in Blighty. Because of these favourable conditions The Sorrows based themselves in Italy for a time. They were particularly popular in that country and Germany and as a result they re-recorded some of their songs in German and Italian versions. These are included here towards the end of disc two. Buoyed by these overseas exploits, they released a single in the Italian language Verdo, Rosso, Giallo, Blu (versioned for the English-speaking market as Pink, Purple, Yellow and Red), which dented the lower reaches of the charts in Italy. Verdo, Rosso, Giallo, Blu aka Pink, Purple, Yellow and Red built well on The Sorrows’ well-honed abilities, whilst adding a more modern, psychedelic tinge, but the single failed in the UK.

In the early part of 1967 The Sorrows recorded two tracks for the film soundtrack Come Imparai Amare Le Donne with Ennoi Morricone. They were two versions of the same song Pioggia Sui Tuo Viso, the first orchestrated and the second more in The Sorrows’ usual line of grunge-mod mayhem. Dating from the same era is the groovy Ypotron, from the spy film of the same name. They also put out Zabadak as an Italy-only single, a Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick And Tich song that I can’t think of without seeing Reeves and Mortimer failing to escape from their car.

As things started to lurch downhill again, Lomas dropped out and was replaced by Chuck Fryers. Fryers was a songsmith himself and provided the two surviving songs from a session laid down in the early months of 1968. My Way Of Thinking and Which Way manage to update The Sorrows sound for psychedelic times well, but if I was being ultra-critical the vocals on the former are a bit so-so. It is understandable though, as singer/keyboardist Chris Smith was still pretty new to the band at the time of recording. Despite sounding promising enough, Schroeder couldn’t see the point in continuing with The Sorrows who were now without Whitcher, so he walked.

From the period in the late 1960s when they weren’t part of The Sorrows, Lomas and Whitcher recorded three demo tracks included here. Two of the songs ended up on the wonderful proto-glam You’re Still Mine/Hooky single by Lomas’ band The Eggy single in 1969, which also makes an appearance on disc three of this set. The remaining tune Armchair King is more of a stately pop number. The Whitcher/Lomas combo teamed up again for 70s band Renegade, who provide two attractive hard rock items in A Little Rock & Roll and Revolution that close out disc three.

Back to The Sorrows themselves, the changes of personnel continued apace, but despite this they recorded Italian versions of The Hollies’ recent hit Listen To Me and Manfred Mann’s Each An Every Day as a single. It reached the upper reaches of the Italian charts, so a band that was on its last legs got another shot of adrenalin.

Another Sorrows album was called for in the wake of this success and Old Songs, New Songs arrived in 1969. here they cut a decent version of Traffic’s Dear Mr Fantasy and a cover of The Small Faces’ Rollin’ Over that neatly signposts the way they were going, with their treatment of another Traffic song Heaven Is In Your Mind recalling Marriott’s marvels later recordings. Their own Hey, Hey, Hey is a bright singalong with a great organ sound, something which enriches their cover of Family’s Hey Mr Policeman too. The eastern drones and soul elements of Same Old Road are satisfying and they retrace their r&b roots well on the set closing title track. Overall this is a decent album but may have sounded a little behind the times come the prog rock end of the sixties

The last disc begins with nine numbers from a 1969 acetate only album that was recorded prior to Old Songs, New Songs. Because of these circumstances, the sound quality is understandably not that great. Here The Sorrows do a good New York Mining Disaster 1941 that is a shade tougher than The Bee Gees’ original. Two self-penned songs didn’t make Old Songs, New Songs, with Answer My Questions being bright and agreeable pop/rock and Dogs And Cats is a good tune slightly in the style of The Who.

The final section of Pink, Purple, Yellow And Red is a 1980 eleven song set performed by a reformed Sorrows back in the Coventry stomping grounds during 1980. Here they were a quartet consisting of Packham, Whitcher, Finlay and Price. The sound that is captured of this concert is a bit dicey, fair to good bootleg quality, with the band mainly restrict themselves to rock & roll and blues covers. Certainly what is present is played with a lot of spirit, but it would have be good to hear more of the songs that they recorded back in their 1965/66 heyday. However they do good versions of Let Me In and of course Take A Heart, but this is very much an interesting oddity rather than an essential piece to end with.

One doesn’t have to be too sharp at reading between the lines in the sleeve notes to get the picture that some lasting enmity lingers between the ex-Sorrows and Fardon, well least Fardon and Wez Price at least. The band apparently dedicated the 6ft 7 1/2 inch Shark Fishing Blues r&b jam to Don. Tellingly, when I saw the 2011 version of the band, Fardon was joined by bassist Phil Packham and Roger Lomas’ brother Nigel plus a couple of very talented newcomers, rather than anyone from the post-1966 band.

Pink, Purple, Yellow And Red certainly has most things a Sorrows fan could wish for (and I count myself as one of their number). The 1965/66 recordings are uniformly superb, bar a few sappy ballads and it was surprising and gratifying how well they coped with the constant turnover of band members and changing trends during the late 1960s. There are a host gems to enjoy in the demo material and the whole thing has been put together with Grapefruit’s customary élan. The Sorrows for me were a band who should have been way more successful, they were constantly entertaining and imbued their material with the kind of crunch most could only dream of. A wonderful selection box from one of Freakbeat’s charter members.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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