The first time I became aware of this album I was outside the Liverpool Stadium, where I saw a lad with long hair and a velvet jacket carrying it under his arm. Whenever there was a concert on there, a line from the front door would wind around the building – if you got there early enough you could get a better seat inside. There was a cobbled street that led up to the Stadium called Bixteth Street and there were always people milling around and chatting, waiting for the doors to open from early afternoon. My friends and I went there all the time and saw lots of different bands. It’s where I saw CAN, Hawkwind, Argent, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Alquin, Deep Purple, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Be Bop Deluxe – and the list goes on and on. At some point I need to write a piece just on the Liverpool Stadium experience – not now. It was demolished in 1987.
The odd thing about the lad in the velvet jacket with the long hair was that this album didn’t sound like he looked. I’m not sure whether he knew that, or whether his ears were simply way ahead of his dress sense, but Kings Of Oblivion was inbewteen genres. It was the band’s third album and was really a proto punk record with guitar solos but well recorded and truly from the underground. It had a different lead singer/guitarist to the first two albums, only the rhythm section of Russell Hunter and Duncan Sanderson remained.
A short history: Russell Hunter and Duncan Sanderson had been in The Deviants along with Canadian guitarist/vocalist Paul Rudolph, (who later showed up on Eno and Hawkwind records). The band had been a vehicle for underground writer Mick Farren until they found themselves abandoned on a disastrous US tour, where they fired Farren and returned to London and hooked up with ex Pretty Things and Tommorrow drummer Twink to form Pink Fairies. They made Never Never Land in 1971, (another record that defies categorization), and after Twink left, the chaotic, What A Bunch OF Sweeties in 1972. Before that record was released, Rudolph left replaced by another lead singer/guitarist Mick Wayne, who they fired before finally settling on Larry Wallis on guitar and vocals for the recording of this album.
The album was allegedly named after a line in the song, The Bewlay Brothers from Bowie’s Hunky Dory, ” Oh, and we were gone, kings of oblivion, we were so turned on, the mind-warp pavilion”. The stiking artwork by Edward Barker was a play on the kitsch flying ducks ornaments that many people had on the wall in their houses, but replaced by flying pink pigs in sunglasses. The idiom ‘And pigs might fly’ means that you think there is no chance at all of something happening – and that might be exactly how they felt. The freaky pig seemed to be identified with the band. A similar idea was the logo for a bootleg label of the day, that I’m sure that anyone in their teens in the seventies will remember. The Swingin’ Pig, Trademark of Quality, with their white covers and colour paper photo-copied information sheets that wrapped around the cover and was often incorrect – I have a few of those records in the archive. (They always had great titles and I guess that is another piece for the future). Kings Of Oblivion also had an insert with the three band members in their favourite indulgence. Wallis in a casino, Sanders0n lying on a bar top in a brothel and Hunter with an alcohol drip.
It begins with City Kids and right away you can hear that it doesn’t fit anywhere, it’s pre punk, post rock, not prog, not glam, catchy but uncommercial, jamming but not muso jamming, attitude in the vocals but not sneering. Great guitar sound, it’s street freaks, leather jackets and Afghan coats mixed up, like the lad outside the Stadium. It has guitar solos but it’s songs. A total miss with the public. Energetic but not as raw as the Stooges but closer to that than anything English. It’s like music made by a gang. City Kids was covered by Motorhead with whom Larry Wallis played for a short while.
I Wish I Was A Girl, the second track has one my all time favourire melodic bass lines that I always play when I’m playing bass. The track starts with a long guitar solo, the vocal doesn’t come in for over a minute. This makes me realise that the other genre it misses is the Thin Lizzy/UFO, NWOBHM (that’s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), although it was little before that scene too. Wallis was the guitarist in UFO for six months but never made an album with them. It’s just more underground than that scene and really – the song is called I Wish I Was A Girl – they had no hope. It’s an anti-macho song about getting away from the violence, that’s all. These out of it freaks were actually sensitive lads. Copius amounts of drink and who knows what drugs, but they were like renegade hippies. They were one of Ladbroke Grove scene’s free music bands, along with Hawkwind playing ‘outside’ festivals instead of at them. Giving the music to the people whenever they could, they weren’t in for the money, they were in it for the good times, the girls, the inebriation, the playing, just being in a band. They’d probably love the internet! This track is nearly ten minutes long but it’s not self indulgent, even with all the soloing, it’s just R’n’R.
There’s just three songs on side one and only seven songs on the whole record: When The Fun Begin’s, a lyric written by Mick Farren with sirens and chunky riffs, and that unique skill that the Fairies had – they were R’n’R, but somehow they floated. The Doors had that thing too, it’s something in the rhythm section that allows the music to drift off into the ether while still being anchored. Chromium Plating opens side two with rumbling drum rolls that remind me of a R’n’R Only Ones. (Another band who suffered at the hands of pigeonholing having a new wave sound with a lead guitarist) – it’s a four minute pop freak out. Raceway is an instrumental that sounds like Detroit if it had surf! Just so musical and edgy, speedy, reverb, fast paced with relentless drums and bass and more solos, but the solos are never there to impress, they are there to express. R’n’R in the old fashioned way – it wasn’t about the skill, it was about the will. Chambermaid, a dumb romp, boys on the bus song, sounds like something they wrote down the pub. The album finishes with the seven minute Street Urchin, sounding more like an American song but with that English take on American music that sets it apart.
Their history is so convoluted that I would have to write a book about them to tell the story again – so if you are interested, best go look at a couple of the links below and that will take you through it. Kings Of Oblivion is just another R’n’R album by a band that were part of a scene and who broke up without having much impact on anyone at all. But it encapsulates everything punk meant without the safety pins and was real in an unfashionable way and consequently doomed to obscurity. Luckily I was there to discover it then, and although I never saw them live, I got to feel what it was all about first hand and know it meant something, even though they fell through the cracks. I knew velvet jackets weren’t all bad.