wendy and bonnie

Wendy and Bonnie

While the focus on 1969 has all been about the demise of the Beatles, the birth of rock, the end of the hippy dream, the arguable birth of punk and key note recorded moments from Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Captain Beefheart and Genesis – yes dear folks – indeed Genesis you really should re-acquaint yourselves with ‘from Genesis to revelation’ and ponder long and hard how a creative force who recorded such would by and large be the same collective who committed aural atrocity with ‘invisible touch’ – a deeply painful and pointless release that even now fills me with disturbed dread when I pass by it in record shops. However lest not we forget the arrival that year of two key releases that annoyingly always seem to be overlooked by various ’respected’ musical scribes when putting together lists of essential records for purchase – and believe you me there have been a fair few this year already given that this is the 40th anniversary of that golden key stone era in rock ‘n’ pop’s rich lineage. Here we are talking Bee Gees’ ‘Odessa’ {- which has just been re-mastered, spruced up and expanded to a killer 3 CD set as part of an ongoing (40th anniversary) re-release schedule – hopefully we still be around to witness ‘cucumber castle’ and (our favourite edging both ‘1st‘ and ‘Odessa‘) ‘Trafalgar’ (those thinking I’ve taken leave of my senses would do well to check out the Rodriguez like ‘lion in winter’ and the bitter sweet ‘walking back to Waterloo’) which should see the light of day next year and the year after respectively} and Wendy and Bonnie’s ‘Genesis’.

I can clearly remember the exact moment (the dates a little scatty but the place I’m certain) when I was introduced to the sound of Wendy and Bonnie. It must have been sometime in the very early part of this decade (nb it was 2001). The occasion – a visit to the much loved Probe records in Liverpool – wherein both Bob and Rob where holding forte that day spotting me from behind the safe confines of their counter and greeting me with a impish smile more reminiscent of schoolboys with japery on their mind. One engaged in warm convivial conversation while the other slipped onto the store’s sound system with all the deftness and slight of hand of a magician a disc whose origin and detail I couldn’t immediately make out. Then in silence the three of us stood and took in the sounds drifting from the speakers. Now obviously at this point I was, I suspect, expected to immediately identify said track as Wendy and Bonnie’s ’I realised you’ and in doing so reveal the extent of my unquestionable depth of knowledge into all things obscure and 60’s. Alas I failed – not quite pitifully – I did muster a brief murmur of ’is it the Free Design?’ to which momentarily they appeared impressed before quickly re-engaging with reality and sniggering amongst themselves. Was it Stereolab, no it couldn’t be, it seemed to natural and lacking in Gane and Co’s over elaborate lushness – I was at this point still going through my Stereolab phase, loving the albums (’Cobra phases’ and ’sound dust’) that the snobbish ’Lab purists and the ’I saw them first’ merchants absolutely hated. Of course I had heard of Wendy and Bonnie but had never heard Wendy and Bonnie. This was in the days when the only way to source rare out of print tracks was via tape / CD swaps, word of mouth, radio broadcasts – Peel et al, car boots, thrift stores or via re-issues by vault trawling imprints. The internet was still in its relative infancy, downloads, you tube, torrent, I tunes and whatever other applications you care you mention were still awaiting release from the confines of their creators minds eye into reality. Kids – believe me when I say you have it so easy these days.

The CD in question was a limited CD issue of Wendy and Bonnie’s ‘Genesis’ full length put out by those rather nice people over at Sundazed. Pricey but perfect. Untouched, untainted, un-mastered and a truly remarkable lost gem from an age of innocence and incense. All that I’d read and heard about this recording didn’t prepare me for the listening experience I was about to embark upon. How had this release lapsed into relative obscurity to become a much sought after item among record collectors and soft psyche obsessives. Read on.

Fast forward several years on and now blessed with having both sisters on board Sundazed – who in recent times have been spinning our heads with some excellent re-issues – (try the recent expanded Dennis Wilson set ’pacific ocean blue’ and perhaps the ongoing vault pinching and re-press programme featuring the Byrds for starters) have clearly upped the stakes and increased their kudos credits with this frankly jaw dropping triple vinyl archive. The last defining word on the ’genesis’ saga and a timely excavation given that this year marks its 40th anniversary. The set also available as a double disc CD package – but be honest you want nay desire the full on vinyl package – is accompanied by detailed liner notes provided by producer Irwin Chusid. Inside the beautiful gatefold packaging you’ll find housed the three discs. The set replicates the 2001 issue – the story goes that Sundazed got in touch with Wendy and Bonnie Flower with a view to getting a possible vinyl package licensed, call it fortuitous timing but the Flowers’ parents were in the process of moving home and had unearthed a treasure trove of cassettes and masters to which the sisters were slowly trawling through. When Sundazed where alerted to this fact moves where made to incorporate these recordings into a once and for all complete audio archive. So not only do you get the original album mix for ’genesis’ along with the handful of demos that accompanied its 2001 issue but you are treated three sides of previously unreleased and unheard demos and live recordings a selection of which feature early skeletal incarnations of tracks planned for a ’genesis’ follow up. In addition a handful of acetates featuring the Crystal Fountain – the late 60’s combo featuring both sisters prior to them being persuaded to go it alone by Cal Tjader, a side serving of nifty covers – Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘we can work it out’, a side brimming of alternate mixes and cuts including an instrumental edit of ’let yourself go another time’ plus a must hear version of ’children laughing’ recorded at a Christmas pageant in ’69 and featuring Pa Flower conducting the Gratton Middle School Band and Miss Burns’ Glee Club in an inspired rewire.

As said previously the repackaged ‘genesis’ holds the rare distinction of being a record that actually exceeds expectations. So many of these expanded releases and re-issues are often appealed on what amounts to faded memories and rose tinted recollections however everything you’ve probably heard about ’genesis’ is true and perhaps understated at that. A perfect crystallisation of the moods and vibes of the time, it truly is deserving of the tag ’lost gem’.


How it laboured into obscurity was the result of bad timing. Signed to the fledging Skye imprint, more associated with the jazz scene, despite scoring an unexpected stateside hit with Lena and Gabor the label ran into financial trouble and went into bankruptcy, further heartache was to ensue when producer / arranger and close confidante of the sisters Gary McFarland died as a result of a heartache brought on by poisoning.

As to the sounds. What can I say. Exquisite. The sweet distillation and fusing of drifting west coast accents and hazily smoked easy listening silkiness peppered with skipping rhythms, mellowing mantras, fluffy follies and lovelorn (sometimes bitter sweet and shy eyed) sugar glazed drills of innocence make this a positively sun bathed timeless confection comparable perhaps of that era to the Mommas and Pappas chiefly. From the breezy purr of ’the paisley window pane’ with its Doors-esque ’light my fire’ inflections and Free Design styled light headedness to the wig flipping and effervescent shimmer toned ’let yourself go another time’ (and of its time – the hip shimmying upbeat paisley pop of ‘its what’s really happening‘) – a pristinely teased slice of demurring kaleidoscopic pop drizzled with some amazing key workouts – and that folks is just the opening brace. Stereolab enthusiasts and I should include here admirers of Musetta (perhaps more so with the ghostly ‘five o’clock in the morning’ – largely a sumptuous slice of interweaving harmony based soft psyche folk bewitchment) should of course retune immediately to both ’I realized you’ and ‘you keep hanging up on my mind’ the latter especially being calibrated in irresistibly airy soft centred Latino dialects and florescent feel good harmonies such as would suggest Wilson and Co on a South American sabbatical. Then there’s the measured lilt of the sophisticated and dreamy and dare we say enchanting ‘by the sea’ – a gorgeously orbiting and twinkling frost tipped love note dimpled with lazy eyed reclines and disarming spectral arrangements that coalesce with such distracting spellbinding allure it as though you‘ve been kissed by an apparition. Throw in some late 60’s smoking fuzzy freak outs melded with subtle strains of delicate jazz treatments for ’the winter is cold’ and utterly entrance with the cosmic lullaby-esque lull of the albums finest moment ’children laughing’ and you wonder how on earth this treasure remained off radar for so long. A truly remarkable debut.

As to the remainder of the set, frankly a positive smorgasbord of delights. Of course without doubt the aforementioned and set parting ’children laughing’ here performed by the Gratton Middle School Band and the Glee Club should be your first port of call – in truth wipes the floor with the Polyphonic Spree. And while the out takes of ’Genesis’ found nuzzling on side three are more than worth a spin they are purely curiosity value only though arguably do give insight into the development of the tracks. That said the alternate version of ’the winter is cold’ on side 4 does have a slightly more fractured and looser edge than the final mix making it somewhat superior, also worth hooking up to is the sparsely arranged ’years’ – apparently the last song recorded by Wendy and Bonnie set to a gorgeously beguiling snow tipped clockwork dynamic and positively fizzing with la la harmonies while ’the ice cream man song’ is a sepia tickled treasure that freewheels in the tail smoke of the Beatles’ ’nowhere man’ and ’fool on the hill’ and will cut you in two with its introspective bitter sweet casting.

A class apart.


Key tracks –

Children laughing
The paisley window pane
By the sea
I realized you

Further Sundazed obsessions on their way….

Moby Grape ‘the place and the time’ (double vinyl set)
The Remains ‘s/t’ 2xlp set
Bettye Lavette ’do your duty’
Bad Seeds ‘I’m a king bee’ 7 inch
The Preachers ‘who do you love’ 7 inch
Fallen Angels ‘who do you love’ 7 inch

March 2009

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