Friday, 23 May 2014

Peter Howell

Alice Through the Looking Glass (1968) ...

How do you like your English psychedelic whimsy ... ?  This started as a village hall production in Ditchling Surrey, for which Peter Howell (of Radiophonic Workshop) and John Ferdinando produced a soundtrack ...

Dance To The Talking Flower ... 

John Ferdinando . He was the co-writer for all four known psych folk releases. He wrote the music for Ithaca and cooperated in the other releases.

Peter Howell, writer for Alice Trough The Looking Glass and for Tomorrow Come Someday had two periods in his music. The first period were the psych folk releases (-so little were being made!-) of Alice Trough The Looking Glass, Tomorrow Come Someday, Agincourt and Ithaca. Followed by his work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where he released a few solo albums and had several appearances. Most know appearance there is his contribution on "Dr. 'Who - The Music" with several tracks.

Alice Through The Looking Glass, made both by and for a tiny village community and with no intention or reaching a wider audience may welt be a unique document.

Our story begins (and pretty much ends) in the late 1960's in the small Sussex village of Ditchling, just a few miles from the sprawling seaside resort of Brighton, Two Ditchling residents, Peter Howell and John Ferdinando, had played in a variety of local groups (the Tudor Mood, Merlin's Spell, The Four Musketeers, etc) since the mid-Sixties. However, a change of emphasis occurred around 1967 when Howell acquired a Philips tape recorder initially as a means to demo material for the group's consideration. Howell and Ferdinando quickly became more interested in the tape deck as an instrument of creativity rather than for mere reproduction purposes, and the equipment began to exert a greater fascination for both men than the dubious pleasures of playing live with a group of limited ability and horizons. Howell end Ferdinando slowly retreated into the subterranean world of makeshift home studies, writing songs whilst improvising and experimenting with various aspects of recording techniques including bouncing tracks, tape loops and echo.

Had the duo been conducting their modest experiments from some anonymous bedsit in the heart of the city, their backroom activities would doubtlessly have passed unnoticed. In a small village community like Ditchling, however, where everybody not only knew everyone else but also their business, their dabblings became common knowledge. Thus it was that, in late 1968. they were approached by a local amateur dramatics group called the Ditchling Players to provide a musical backdrop for a stage version of Alice through the Looking Glass. The duo eagerly set to work, using Lewis Carroll's surreal verse as the bedrock for the project, although to a certain extent they were restricted by the need tot much of the music to be of ah incidental nature.

Whilst neither man would claim to be a musical technocrat, both were capable of playing a wide variety of instruments with enough proficiency to create a pleasingly varied canvas, with flageolets, glockenspiels and mandolins coalescing with more familiar late 1960s pop instruments such as organ and an assortment of guitars. Having established their broad musical template, the duo then added a bewildering variety of studio trickery - backward tapes, sound effects, distorted vocals etc - to create a uniquely English hybrid of folk and pastoral psychedelia.

The results of their endeavours met with a favourable response when unveiled at the play's rehearsals, in fact, feedback was so positive that the duo decided to press a limited edition vinyl album as souvenirs for participants and audience alike. Howell and Ferdinando edited together the songs and incidental music with extracts of dialogue from the stage production, strengthening the project with three tracks ("The Walrus And the Carpenter", "Through Looking Glass

Wood" and "Whose dream") that had been excluded from the show as surplus to requirements. Fifty copies of the album were pressed in January 1969 by a London pressing plant called SNP, who specialised in religious recordings. These quickly sold out, and the duo optimistically pressed up another 20-30 copies. As can be seen from this reissue, the sleeve artwork utilised a sketch by Sir John Tenniel (the original Alice", illustrator) of Alice encountering Tweedledee and Tweedledum, although whether this image was chosen to represent Howell and Ferdinando must remain open to conjecture!

Those who have played and sung on the Howell/Ferdinando canon of 5 Albums

Peter Howell - acoustic & classical guitars, mandolin;

piano & organ; recorder; percussion

John Ferdinando - vocals & vocalizes; electric, acoustic &

bass guitars; auto harp

Lee Menelaus - Vocals

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