The haunting sounds of The Poets.
Last year, I bought a copy of Richie Unterberger's "Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers", a book that profiled 19 varyingly obscure artists from the psychedelic 60s era. Some, like Tim Buckley and The Electric Prunes, I already knew quite well from a musical standpoint, and was more interested in their biographies than finding out anything about their actual music. Others, though, were completely new to me. One of those stood out more than most--Scotland's The Poets, who'd existed from 1964 to 1967 and released only six singles during that time period. Unterberger described their minor-key melodies and reverb-drenched singles in such a way that made them seem fascinating, and the CD included with the book, which featured the Poets track "Some Things I Can't Forget", backed up that description. In the weeks that followed my purchase of the book, I couldn't get enough of that Poets track, which was brilliant but even more frustrating than it could have been, due to its brevity: the song was a mere minute and 46 seconds long! Nonetheless, in that time, vocalist George Gallacher created an evocative atmosphere with his gloomy, plaintive vocals that was further enhanced by Hume Paton's chiming 12-string guitar. But even more than the atmosphere, what caught my attention was Gallacher and Paton's gift for complex and catchy song structure. The chorus would get stuck in my head for entire days, and playing the song could only provide so much relief, considering the fact that it was over almost as soon as it really got going.
Unterberger's book made note of the fact that an official collection of Poets material had never been released, and that unless I was willing to track down a bootleg or pay through the nose for original singles, I'd have a lot of difficulty obtaining their material. Nonetheless, I was able to find one more Poets track--"That's The Way It's Got To Be", the A-side of their second single, was buried halfway through the second of four discs in the "Nuggets II" box set (the one devoted to UK and other non-American-based groups). This song wasn't quite as striking as "Some Things I Can't Forget", but it was close, especially due to its rumbling bass hook, which contrasted nicely with Paton's guitar and Gallacher's vocals.
I didn't really hit the motherlode, though, until I discovered this post on the mp3 blog Lost In Tyme, which devotes itself to presenting full albums by obscure and forgotten groups of the psychedelic era. I check several blogs like this on a regular basis, looking for gems just like this, but I'm often disappointed by albums that are too obscure to have registered on my radar. Either I download them all (at which point I invariably find 80% to be below my standard of quality) or I wait for something I have heard about before to appear (which doesn't actually happen all that often). I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw this post of a comprehensive Poets compilation. I'm not sure how legitimate this compilation is, and it definitely uses some material that I'd consider not worth releasing--in fact, it unfortunately begins with 5 1964 demos that predate the Poets signing with Andrew Loog Oldham. These demos are of such poor quality that the tape seems to have stretched in many places, making them sound like they're phase-shifting almost constantly. I was afraid at first that the whole CD would sound this bad, but soon I made it past the demo tracks and into the material from their singles, at which point the sound quality improved markedly.
It seems that the songs I knew by The Poets were some of their more uptempo tracks--at least, relatively speaking. Not much of their material reaches the tempo of "That's The Way It's Got To Be", and while "Some Things I Can't Forget" is pretty mournful, it is backed by a driving rhythm that keeps things from drifting into the realm of gothic pop. That term is the only one I could justifiably use to describe a song like "I'll Cry At The Moon" (B-side of "That's The Way It's Got To Be") or "I Am So Blue", which was in my opinion a bad choice for the A-side of their third single--its B-side, "I Love Her Still", is a much stronger song. That said, there's plenty of strong material here, and when heard as a unified work rather than in isolated two-song snatches, the way it was originally released, the music of The Poets is strong enough to carry me through the more quiet, downtempo moments. As I said earlier, this is very evocative stuff--listening to it often makes me think of Roger Corman's mid-60s Poe movies, with their foggy, dreary settings. Even though The Poets do use electrical instrumentation (and, in fact, get some of their more essential textures from it), their music sounds like it's come to us from a much earlier era, one brought to life in publicity photos of the band by their black and white Pilgrim-style clothing. It seems ironic that a band with such a stark, gloomy image would come to be associated with the psychedelic era, an irony noted by Gallacher in Unterberger's profile of The Poets. Nonetheless, listening to the music of The Poets, it's obvious why the connection was made. Their dark, haunting pop and chiming, echoing guitars would sound very natural placed alongside things like The Zombies' "Odessey And Oracle" album. And despite the fact that they are far less known, The Poets are every bit as good.
The Poets - That's The Way It's Got To Be
The Poets - Some Things I Can't Forget
The Poets - I Love Her Still
(or you can download the entire album from that Lost In Tyme link above)