Actor David Hemmings was afforded pop star-like status after his
dashing turn in '60s pop culture flick BLOW UP, so it's appropriate
that he took time out from the day job to make an album with members of
The Byrds. Released in 1967, HAPPENS is a nine-track folk rock album by
the talented actor.
I recommend this album to all who loved the Byrds in their psychedelic era.
Hemmings; boy opera star, young British character actor, star of the
iconic 1960's movies "Blow Up" and "Barbarella", film and TV director
and producer, and latterly again a character actor and star in such
films as "Gladiator" "Gangs Of New York" and the elegaic British movie
"Last Orders". An impressive resume for any man, one might think, but
there's more, he made a record too! But not the usual
actor-makes-an-album camp artifact ....oh no....our David was quite
serious. In fact, "Happens!" was actually produced in Los Angeles by
none other than Byrds manager and producer Jim Dickson, AND features The Byrds as well as a session crew (led by legendary bassist James Bond Jnr.)
drawn from Dickson's years producing folk and jazz for the World
Pacific label. The fact that it was done somewhat in a rush due to
David's film commitments actually worked in it's favour as the
Columbia-rejected and otherwise unheard Gene Clark song "Back Street
Mirror" opens the album with a full-on gorgeous orchestral Folk Rock
Largely improvised collaborations with The Byrds and Mr.
Bond's crack crew of jazzers follow, allowing David to express his love
of folk music against a background of prime Byrds at their Raga Rock
peak, and the cream of LA's jazz fraternity! David's friend, Monkees
songwriter Bill Martin provides a couple of songs, and we are on course
for an album of rare beauty.
This is an unknown and hidden gem indeed!
is an unexpected gem from the Sixties. Certainly, David Hemmings was
very well known but not as a singer. He starred in a number of classic
films from the era, most notably Blow Up where he portrayed a
photographer apparently uncovering a murder. The singing side of him
remained relatively unknown and the re-release of the album on CD must
come as a bit of a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one. Having made
his name in the UK, David Hemmings headed off to LA where he met up
with a number of the Byrds as well as their producer Jim Dickson. The
seemingly unusual collaboration produced this album.
In keeping with the Byrds connection, the opening track Back Street Mirror is a Gene Clark song
that was written and recorded subsequent to his departure from the
group. However, it was never released and David Hemmings recorded his
vocals over the existing backing track. This is really something to
thank David Hemmings for, otherwise this Gene Clark song would have
Reason to Believe is the Tim Hardin
classic and Hemmings' version stands up with the best of them. The
guitar style of this track reminds the listener of the Incredible
String Band, a likeness that appears in later tracks.
Good King James starts with some clearly recognisable Roger McGuinn guitar. Like many of the other tracks, this was improvised in the studio. This was done in one take! Bell Birds
is an old song but the lyrics had "disappeared" over time so the new
lyrics are from Hemmings. Like Good King James, the following track Talkin' LA
another studio improvisation where McGuinn and Hillmann provide the
backing to Hemmings' semi-spoken vocals. The backing track is less
free-form and this allows Hemmings to improvise with his thoughts about
Los Angeles. He had recently moved to the area and seems happy. As he
says, "this is where it all happens."
Anathea is another
traditional folk song where David Hemmings lays down a beautiful vocal
on tops of the Byrds' backing. While some of the tracks feature spoken,
improvised vocals Hemmings shows here that he has a fine singing voice.
After the Rain is another beautiful song.
Another improvisation is War's Mystery
which has the unmistakable Roger McGuinn guitar sound but with the
addition of Indian instruments it has the air of a Robin Williamson
song, even if the lyric subject is quite different. The track is a long
improvisation. This is more than just a curio from a 1960s actor.
Hemmings shows that not only does he has a fine singing voice but also
that he can improvise his lyrics on top of a backing track. You could
say that it is folk-rap! The album stands up on its own and the fact
that Hemmings is an actor is quickly forgotten. The album is easily
accessible to fans of the Byrds or the Incredible String Band and will be of interest to others with more of a leaning towards folk psychedelia.
Thanks Justin Thyme for this