From reading the sleeve notes that accompany this new CD of Guy Farrell’s mid and late 60s output you get the impression that he could claim to be a Forrest Gump of the British music scene – never quite managing to achieve a spell with the limelight, but always somewhere in the background. Dylan, Elton John and Paul Simon all have bit parts in his story, but even rubbing shoulders with those 60s legends wasn’t enough to give him the hit he probably craved.
In fact that he managed to release singles on a fairly regular basis from 1964 onwards without ever troubling the charts is a feat in itself. All this without ever writing a song for himself and possessing a voice that while pleasant certainly wasn’t that distinctive.
Yet against all the odds then Darrell still managed to put out some great releases which chart the trajectory of 60s music from R&B pop pounders to cheesy west coast bubblegum with interesting diversions into folk rock, psychedelia and crooner type ballads on the way.
The standout track here is Darrell’s excursion into freakbeaty psych. Evil Woman has been compiled many times before and rightly so! For it boasts a really edgy, yet melodic tune pushed to the margins by some wild stinging guitar. Its status as one off for Darrell is confirmed by its B side, What You Do About That perky DDBM&T style pop fodder.
The other revelation is an outstanding version of the much underrated Paul Simon track Somewhere They Can’t Find Me. Darrell takes Simon’s unlikely take of a quick getaway after a robbery and vamps it up with a groovy Hammond-esque organ and northern soul style riffs.
Its B side is another gem – a great version of the Dylan classic It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, which lacks a bit of the venom of the original but it’s still a wonderful piece of mid 60s folk pop. And while we are on a folk rock tip the version of the Paul Simon song Blessed released a B side in mid 66 is just sublime.
Of Darrell’s early tracks Sorry (I ran all the way Home) is an R&B pounder that ends up sounding very British, then theres his corking version of Stupidity, Solomon Burke’s standard which trumps rivals versions from The Undertakers and others.
As the decade wore on the releases got more poppy and less interesting. The exception though is a jaunty version of Crystal Ball, which was co-written by Stephin “Magnetic Fields’ Merritt’s dad fact fans, which is a tad lighter and poppier than the jazzy baroque pop version of Twice As much, but keeps that gorgeous floating bass line.
Then there’s a couple of very early Elton John covers of which Skyline Pigeon offers hint of what the bespectacled boy would be capable of. The B side Everything is a very pleasant slice of light Brit soul too.
Ultimately then Darrell’s career was very much a mixed bag. Some fantastic singles and B sides but he was arguably never distinctive enough to carve out a niche for himself. Sadly that hit eluded him and he left us a couple of year ago at the pretty young age of 68.
Well, actually that bit about not having a hit isn’t quite true. In a fascinating coda to the story in the early 70s his 66 release I’ve Been Hurt became a staple at Northern Soul clubs leading to its re-release and an appearance on Top Of The Pops. For many Mods it is probably his defining tune, hence giving its name to this compilation, but it has some serious competition too.
If you love mid 60s pop this is well worth a punt.