IT WAS ONE of the most memorable hit singles of the late 1960s, an hypnotic, walking bass led swirl through an unreleased Bob Dylan song, that seemingly confirmed in the public eye all that the critics had been saying for a year or more – that, in an age already awash with “supergroups,” the combination of singer Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and his Trinity was poised to become the most singularly innovative union of them all.
That it didn’t work out like that was down to an appallingly ill-starred mish-mash of poor management, bad planning and a record company that really didn’t know what it was doing… or what it had. But still, the two albums across which the Driscoll-Auger Trinity was able to shine remain among the most imposing legacies that the late 1960s could have left, a point that Auger himself was reminded of when he set about reissuing this portion of his catalog a couple of years ago.
Both of the Driscoll-fired Auger Trinity’s albums, 1967’s Open and 1969’s double Streetnoise, have been remastered and reissued, together with a compilation, The Mod Years, that rounds up each of the band’s UK singles, plus the rare French-only ‘I Am A Lonesome Hobo’ 45. Other material – a double album’s worth of BBC sessions, and half a DVD-full of television appearances – still resides in Auger’s archive, however, including a gaggle of numbers unrecorded in any other arena. But the music that we do have is sufficient to tell us one thing. The course of both Psychedelia and Jazz Rock would have been very different and a lot less exciting without it.
Neither Driscoll nor Auger were unknowns when they first pooled their resources; Auger himself had been around since the early 1960s, playing the London jazz club circuit as it slowly morphed into R&B, and leading his eponymous Trinity through that transition with blazing obstinacy – in 1964, Melody Maker readers voted him the year’s most promising new star.
Driscoll had risen more recently, working as a secretary in manager Giorgio Gomelsky’s office, where she answered the Yardbirds’ fan mail, among other duties. But she both looked and sounded like a star, an astonishingly beautiful, and heartstoppingly photogenic 17-year-old, and Gomelsky was adamant that she should fill that potential.
Auger and Driscoll came together in early 1965, as members of Steampacket, a self-contained touring revue show that also featured Long John Baldry and the young Rod Stewart. Dynamic on stage, Steampacket should have been enormous, but with three sets of management stroking the performers’ ego, and four different record labels demanding their pound of flesh, the group was doomed from the outset. There was rarely any agreement, there was no common consensus, no-one was willing to give an inch of ground and, by early 1966, “the whole thing was [falling] on its arse,” as Auger puts it.
Steampacket finally broke up in mid-1966, following a three-week residency in San Tropez; returning home, Auger decided to strip back down to basics and form a new Trinity. “The idea was, I really wanted to do this jazz rock bridge. Having come up through the jazz world, but having put together a band like the Steampacket and played over a wide variety of material, I realized that the two scenes were very separate, so I decided to try and make a band that would allow both sides to appreciate the other and bridge between the two things, using current rock and R&B rhythms, then overlaying them with jazz changes and soloing.”
The original Trinity of Clive Thacker (drums), Roger Sutton (bass) and guitarist Vic Briggs lasted just a couple of months in early 1967, before Briggs departed for the New Animals, and was replaced by Gary Boyle. This line-up, too, was to be very shortlived, recording just one single, ‘Tiger’ (with ace sessionman Clem Cattini depping for Thacker), before Dave Ambrose replaced bassist Sutton.
Driscoll reappeared on the scene through the auspices of George Webb, the band’s agent.
Auger continues, “I had a call from George saying that Julie wanted to participate in the Trinity… so I thought ‘good idea,’ because it gave us a shot at a great vocalist and leaned a little bit more into the rock world, and it was obviously a very winning formula.”
Regular gigging through mid-late 1967 saw the augmented Trinity establish a firm underground following and, when manager Gomelsky got his Marmalade label up and running that summer (the first release was the Roaring 60s’ lament for the soon to be outlawed offshore radio network, ‘We Love The Pirate Stations’), the Brian Auger Trinity featuring Julie Driscoll were an obvious early recruit. Their debut single, ‘Save Me (Parts One and Two)’ duly appeared alongside the Trinity’s own ‘Red Beans and Rice’ 45 that autumn.
The Trinity had already cut their debut album by then, taking over Chappell Studios for a day, recruiting a group of friends in to supply some atmosphere, and then tearing through their live set. Completed in just six hours, the best of the ensuing recordings – five songs featuring Driscoll, five starring the band alone – were then slapped side-by-side onto disc… the band’s debut album was complete. Now it was simply a matter of waiting for it to be released, in mid-November.
Except, mid-November came and went, and there was no sign of the album. “We were waiting for Open to be released,” recalls Auger. “We had a bunch of gigs, radio sessions lined up, a lot of work that would coincide with the album’s release in November 1967. And Giorgio missed it by about five weeks, so it blew all that stuff away, trying to line it up again was impossible at that time, so we were dead in the water in England.”
Things were brighter on the continent. A new Trinity single, ‘Black Cat’, proved popular enough for Auger to record a new Italian-language vocal, for release in that country. But it was ‘Save Me’ that mapped out the group’s immediate future, stepping into the breach left by the album’s non-appearance, and becoming an immediate hit in France. With the line-up newly trimmed by the departure of Boyle, shortly after Open was recorded, “we went over there in January,” says Auger, “and discovered that ‘Save Me’ was at number one!”
A wonderful relic of this triumph circulates on the internet today, a very peculiar video shot for use in the Scorpitone video jukeboxes of the day, featuring the band vamping it up amid the statuary in a garden. But, though the French visit was a success, it also offered the blokes in the band a taste of how life was going to shape up over the next couple of years.
Auger recalls, “It was so strange. We got to the airport and everybody was chasing after Julie, but a few people who couldn’t keep up with her dropped back and started talking to me, wondering who I was – one of the production team, perhaps? Someone from the record company? This continued during the interviews we had that day, and it was only later, at dinner, that I discovered what was going on. Someone from Polydor [Marmalade’s distributor] came by with copies of the single and it was only credited to Julie. Just Julie’s name on the label and just Julie’s picture on the sleeve. There was no mention of us anywhere on the record, and that was a pattern that was going to repeat itself throughout the year. I think… basically Giorgio had realized that Julie was going to be a big meal ticket for him, and he was going to make that play. It was kind of divide and conquer, which was Giorgio’s strategy, except it ruined a great band.”
Open was finally in the stores by now, and the band turned to it for their follow-up single, a majestic take on Donovan’s ‘Season of The Witch’. They also took advantage of some time off in Paris to visit the Pigalle Studio to cut the single after that, a spooky version of Dylan’s ‘I Am A Lonesome Hobo’. By early spring, the Trinity had three French hits to their name.
“A lot of those tunes that Julie chose, they were kind of enigmas to me, how to turn them around so they sounded like Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity!” Auger admits. “The covers were either things I wanted to do, or stuff that Julie wanted to do. It was difficult for me to choose covers for Julie, because she had her own idea of what she wanted to do, so a lot of that stuff was Julie’s choice. Sometimes it was kind of strange for me, because some of these things… like ‘Season Of The Witch’, if you listen to the Donovan version, it’s much, much faster tempo, and so these things were kind of conundrums, how to arrange them so that they fit into our repertoire, and we give them our own stamp?”
Creative conundrums aside, things were moving with considerable speed. In January, the Trinity attended the annual MIDEM conference in France and it was there, Auger recalls, that the British media began paying serious attention. The band had done nothing at home since the two BBC radio sessions back in November. Now, however, “someone from BBC2 came up and said that if we wanted to appear on any of their music shows, we should let them know. There was suddenly an incredible amount of interest.”
Just days later, on January 15, the band recorded the first of four eventual sessions for DJ Dave Symonds. A concentrated spate of gigging added to their homeland momentum; “and, by the time we were ready with the next single, we were already the hottest thing around.”
That next single was to be an eerie rerecording of another Dylan song, ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’. Then familiar only from the Basement Tapes demo tape that was going the rounds. It was to become one of the most memorable hits of the year, yet Auger recalls that it was selected almost by default. “Giorgio called me up one day and said ‘I have a tape coming from Bob Dylan.’ I asked him where it was and he said ‘bloody Manfred Mann has it’.”
“Well, I thought that was it, by the time they’d finished, there’d have been nothing left, and of course they took ‘Mighty Quinn’; and, by the time we finally got the tape, the only things of any quality were ‘Tears of Rage’ and ‘This Wheels On Fire’. We went with ‘Wheels On Fire’.”
But creating a new arrangement for the song was not going to be easy. “Dylan’s version was simply him singing and playing guitar, with this walking bass going through it. I tried setting a heavy backbeat to it, but it just sounded so wrong, so corny, so I went about it a different way, losing the beat, keeping the walking bass and adding a string line with this horrible great Mellotron which kept running out of tapes in the middle of things.”
The final arrangement was arrived at in early April, too late for inclusion in the band’s April 6 appearance on German TV’s Beat Club, but just in time to be previewed at the band’s next BBC radio session, for Top Gear eight days later. Alongside the album’s ‘Why (Am I Treated So Bad)’, a violent instrumental reworking of the Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’, plus the Open out-take ‘Inside Of Him’ and ‘Calze Rosse’, it was a staggering performance, one that left a lasting impression upon everyone who heard it. Days later, ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ entered the UK charts.
In a year that was to see the Top 20 explode with dynamic eccentricity – Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’ was also imminent – ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ stands out as one of the most distinctive and distinctively haunting singles of all. Number one on the then-all-important NME chart, it rolled to #5 on the BBC’s listing, and in its wake Open, after six months of near-dormancy, leaped into the Top 20, coming to rest at #12.
Madness followed. From a comfortable underground niche somewhere on the fringes of the psychedelic movement, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity were suddenly the hottest band in the land. Driscoll’s photograph was everywhere – Flower Power’s first bona fide sex symbol, the Face of 68… Jools, “a new ultimate in London dollydom,” as writer Nik Cohn put it, “deadpan and strange, very freaked… she made up her eyes to look huge and she moved her shoulders like a cobra nodding. She hardly ever smiled, she froze. The best and sexiest thing in Europe.”
The group’s first Top Of The Pops appearance, on June 6, confirmed Cohn’s observations for the nation; a fortnight later, on Beat Club, they recorded the performance that is today familiar from so many video and DVD compilations. In fact, the band was scarcely off the screens throughout the summer. On August 4, the band commenced what was intended as a full seven week’s worth of appearances on David Frost’s Frost On Sunday show (in the event, a mysterious dispute between Gomelski and the show’s host saw the run curtailed after just two weeks).
They took a cameo role in the movie Popdown, a flash-in-the-pan pop-sploitation flick in which a group of aliens (led by Zoot Money) “pop down” to earth to check out the local music scene. Money’s Dantalion’s Chariot, The Trinity, and Marmalade labelmates Blossom Toes await them, together with a 21-year-old Diane Keen, making her own movie debut. Unfortunately, the film itself made so little impression that, not only was it cut to under an hour in length before it even reached the cinemas, but Auger doesn’t even remember making it.
More memorable were appearances on the TV special Frankie Howard Meets The Bee Gees, and again on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Goodbye Again in the UK. Indeed, French TV was so impressed by the Bee Gees show that it commissioned a similar effort from director Jean Paul Averty, pairing the Bee Gees and the Trinity alone. Idea was shot in color, “an amazingly well put together show,” recalls Auger, “it could almost have been a film.”
It was Driscoll who selected David Ackles’ ‘Road To Cairo’ as the band’s follow-up single and, like ‘Wheel’s On Fire’, their interpretation was debuted during a magical David Symonds radio session in September. Again, all agreed that it was another magnificent performance, dense and moody… a sure-fire hit. “The tune was amazing,” Auger still enthuses. “I liked Julie’s vocal on it. It had a tremendous vibe to it, it was very mysterious and psychedelic.”
But once again, there would be problems surrounding the billing on the record label. Auger: “I’d warned Giorgio that I was really fed up with the way that these records were being released, and to make sure Polydor didn’t do another number on me. So we went to Scandinavia just as the single came out, and when we got there, lo and behold, it was credited to Julie alone again, which completely destroyed any credibility Giorgio had left.”
Auger was furious. “We had an hour special on Scandinavian TV and we finished that up and I went, ‘I think I’m flogging a dead horse here, time to go home’ – which I did immediately afterwards. So I went home and I looked at my contract and saw I was signed to Giorgio Gomelsky Associates which, I then found out, was never registered as a company. My lawyer just shoved the contract back across at me and said ‘that’s null and void,’ so that was that.”
He considered quitting the band on the spot, but chose instead to keep going. “It was perfect. I was able to sit there and bide my time, because I knew I could leave whenever I liked. So I decided to try and make the best of things… I knew we were going to the States soon, and that had always been an ambition of mine, every jazz man’s dream, so I hung around. But really that was the end, that early. It was very strange inside the band, I tried to hunker down and play as good as I could, but things never really improved after that.”
Matters were not improved by events elsewhere around the band. “‘Road To Cairo’ came out, it went into the charts and it was bubbling under, about #32, and we had some TV lined up….” Bookending three weeks of heavy promotion, the band performed the song on Tony Blackburn’s TV show on November 9, and were co-billed (alongside the Alan Price Set) on a special edition of BBC2’s Colour Me Pop, live from the Fairfield Hall in Croydon on November 23. But the big one was an appearance on the Eamonn Andrews Show, one of the most prestigious, and influential, entertainment programmes on at that time.
“I have to laugh when I think of it now. We went on, and Julie was really rude. I’m thinking to myself ‘whoa!’ I really can’t remember exactly what she said, so I won’t try, but it was an attitude of… ‘so what?’ And on top of that, we were just about to start the performance, when they told us – ‘look, we’re really sorry, but the board has broken down.’ They had an 8-track board, and it had completely conked out. So we couldn’t perform, and all anyone saw was Julie being so rude to Eamonn.”
That was it for ‘The Road To Cairo’. “Instead of breaking into the Top 30, it slid backwards and disappeared and, in a way, I thought, given the way things were in the band, it was kind of karma that we all deserved.”
The show’s producers did offer the band a chance to return the following week, but they had to turn it down; they were off to France the next day, to launch a European tour that would also include one night alongside the Fugs, the Mothers, Tim Buckley and the infant Tangerine Dream in Essen; a phenomenal performance at the Berlin Jazz Festival, where they were joined onstage by jazz legend Don Ellis; and a four song showcase on German TV’s Beat Beat Beat.
There, too, an interview caught Driscoll in fractious mood, and it was clear that she desperately needed to step off the treadmill. Gomelsky, however, would hear of no such thing. “Giorgio was just piling things onto our schedule without any concern for whether we had the time or energy to do them,” Auger explains. “We were all exhausted. Julie and I had been on the road continually since Steampacket, and we really needed some time away to recharge our batteries. Julie in particular was suffering. Overnight she had become this enormous superstar and she was having a lot of trouble adjusting to it.”
Less than a month after Auger served warning of his intention of quitting, Driscoll delivered the same message. “Just before Christmas, she announced that she didn’t think she could carry on. The trouble was, she didn’t know when she would be going.”
To prepare themselves for what seemed an inevitable split, the Trinity set about recording their own solo album, an eclectic brew dominated by Auger’s haunting organ and previewed with a single of that radical reworking of the Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’. Definitely What? was released in April 1969 to much applause but few sales, a poor showing that was only exacerbated when Gomelski licensed Auger and Driscoll’s 11 song catalog of Columbia/Parlophone 45s to the budget Music For Pleasure label as Jools & Brian.
Driscoll rejoined the Trinity in the studio in early 1969, with just two weeks in which to record their next album, before heading off to the US for their first tour. With no new material prepared, Auger and Driscoll themselves were writing songs in the studio, at the same time as rehearsing the string of covers they had earmarked, songs by Laura Nyro, Nina Simone, Ritchie Havens and the Doors. “We wanted to do ‘Light My Fire’,” Auger recalls, and that despite him hating it when he first heard it. “It was Jose Feliciano’s version that I liked.”
It was a frenetic period, but drawing on reserves that still astonish Auger today, the band recorded sufficient material for not just one, but two entire LPs. Streetnoise would be released in April as a double album, 16 songs without a moment of filler. Outside pressure continued to taunt the band, however, as Gomelski – the album’s producer in name only – started becoming increasingly intrusive. He fought furiously against including one of Auger’s own greatest compositions, ‘Tropic Of Capricorn’, on the album, and came very close to actually wiping one of Driscoll’s finest ever performances, on a version of Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’.
Auger remembers, “I was listening to the playback of ‘All Blues’ and thinking ‘oh my God, what an incredible vocal, it’s got everything in it,’ and Giorgio came in and said ‘this is shit.’ I looked at him – ‘what?’ But he turned to Eddie Offord, who was the engineer, and said ‘Eddie, roll that back, we’re going to do another take.’ And that was it. I said to Eddie, ‘let me tell you, if you roll that back and erase that track, I’m going to break your arm.’ Eddie didn’t want to run over it anyway, but he was sitting there – ‘well, what am I supposed to do here?’ and then Julie chimed in, and this huge argument broke out between Giorgio and Julie, which ended up with Giorgio in a huff, leaving the studio. Thank goodness!”
The album was complete by mid February and, just weeks later, Marmalade pulled off ‘Indian Rope Man’ as the first single, accompanied by the usual bout of promotional appearances – a couple of performances on Beat Club, one more session for David Symonds, and the Tom Jones Show on February 28.
Amidst of all this activity, the band found themselves undertaking one project that is frequently overlooked, but of which Auger remains both justifiably proud and a little puzzled. Auger had stayed in touch with Don Ellis after their meeting at the Berlin Jazz Festival, and when Ellis was invited to score the latest Hammer Films effort, a self-styled space western titled Moon Two Zero, he invited Auger to play on the soundtrack, alongside a handpicked band of jazz musicians, including drummer Ronnie Stephenson.
The resultant work stands among the most distinctive of all Hammer’s many soundtracks, as Ellis pulled out all of his own stylistic stops and freakish time signatures on the piece. “It was a tough one even for the musicians,” Auger recollects. “One of England’s top trumpet players actually, at one point, packed his trumpet and walked out of the session – ‘I’m not playing this shit.’ What he actually meant was, ‘I can’t play this shit. It’s too weird’.”
The session over, Auger returned to the band; what he did not know was, Ellis would also recruit Driscoll to handle vocals on the title theme, a strangely upbeat piece of pop kitsch in which her voice is buoyed by a backing chorus straight out of the old Pearl & Dean fanfare. “I had no idea. Maybe they dubbed her on afterwards. I never heard that.”
The band’s American concert debut was imminent; in fact, with fortuitous timing, they would be opening in Boston just days after the country received its first ever glimpse of the group via the Monkees’ upcoming television special, 33 and a Third Monkees Per Revolution.
Back before Christmas 1968, the band was summoned to a small studio just off Leicester Square, very early one morning, to “audition” for TV producer Jack Good. He was putting together an American television special for the Monkees and, though the Trinity were unanimously not Monkees fans, Good’s vision and enthusiasm quickly won them over. “We got all the gear in and let rip on some up-tempo tune and when we’d finished, Jack got up and, kind of looking at us all, shouted ‘that was fucking great!’ And we were so stunned, because Jack was – I think he used to be a maths teacher at a public school, very proper, RAF badge on the lapel of his jacket… ‘that was FUCKING GREEAT!’ I remember Julie on the floor with laughter.”
Still jumping around, Good outlined the premise of the TV show, a madcap romp in which four young Americans are snatched off the street and taken to the lair of a madman with a psychedelic organ, and are brainwashed into becoming a rock’n’roll band. “I said that’s a bit heavy, isn’t it? They’ll never agree to that. And Jack was, ‘they’ve already agreed to it. They think its great!’ And the whole thing goes on from there…” Weeks later, Auger and Driscoll found themselves in California, filming 33 and a Third Monkees Per Revolution, an hour long TV special that would also become America’s first exposure to the Trinity, both as characters in the unfolding madness and as performers.
The band was signed to Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary for the US, labelmates to Cream and the Bee Gees, amid some remarkably high hopes. Open was scheduled for an American release the week before the Monkees’ show aired; Streetnoise would follow in May, alongside rival Capitol’s release of the Jools and Brian compilation. In the meantime, a string of shows down the east coast would include appearances in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York – where they became the only band, bar Jimi Hendrix, ever to receive two encores. Then the party winged across to the west coast, to hook up with Led Zeppelin, for their first shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
But no matter how much excitement was welling up around the band, all concerned knew that the Trinity was living on borrowed time – a debt that was called in when Gomelsky, having previously promised not to join up with the tour, suddenly appeared in the hotel.
Furious, both Auger and Driscoll confronted him, not only to demand why he’d broken his promise, but also to lay down a litany of every grievance they had built up over the past year and a half.
They were onto a hiding to nothing, of course. As Auger recalls, “Giorgio was a guy who thought he could talk his way into anything. He used to wear us down to the point where we couldn’t argue anymore. You’d be completely mentally exhausted and give in, not because he was right, but because you didn’t have any energy left.” Finally, Driscoll stood and walked out of the room… and out of the band. The Trinity ended there, in the offices of the Premier Talent Agency in New York. Two months later, both Jools and Brian and Streetnoise entered the US charts.
The Trinity returned to Britain in shreds. It would be two years before Driscoll was heard from again, when she cut the oddly-titled 1969 album; Auger, meanwhile, bade farewell to the Trinity with one final album, Befour, then moved onto Oblivion Express, a band destined to become one of the figureheads of jazz rock in the 1970s.
There would also be an Auger-Driscoll reunion. In 1978, two years after Driscoll (now working under her married name of Julie Tippetts) followed up 1969 with Sunset Glow, the pair cut Encore, an album that in many ways represents the follow-up that Streetnoise was never allowed. Across both a clutch of originals, and dynamic covers of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’ and Traffic’s ‘No Time To Live’, they proved that the old alchemy was still in place.
But neither the recording nor the promotion of the album went well and, according to Auger, “by the time it appeared, Warners had just about given up on it. They stuck 30,000 copies out and forgot the whole thing.”
There has never been another band like Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity, and there never will. Never has any band so seamlessly gathered together the strands of so many musical influences, the woven them into such a cohesive and distinctive whole; never has a voice so pristine as Driscoll’s, and playing as instinctive as Auger’s, ever combined in seeking out musical settings that don’t simply display them at their best, but force them to those peaks, in the knowledge that one wrong step, one faltering note, could send the entire edifice crumbling down.
On record – the two albums and a clutch of 45s that surround them; in concert – the mere handful of tapes that now circulate, catching the band in front of an audience; in session – the BBC tapes that escaped the Corporation’s wholesale destruction of its psychedelic heritage, Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity remain one of the most startlingly original, and uncannily timeless bands Britain has ever produced; so much so that even the eternally modest Brian Auger will permit himself a smile when he’s asked what he think the band achieved.
“Well, yes, it was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Julie Driscoll-Brian Auger Trinity
Marmalade 598 004 ‘Save Me’/’part two’ (12/67)
Marmalade 598 006 ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’/’A Kind Of Love In’ (4/68)
Marmalade 598 011 ‘Road To Cairo’/’Shadows Of You’ (9/68)
Marmalade 598 018 ‘Take Me To The Water’/’Indian Rope Man’ (2/69)
Marmalade 421 194 ‘Season Of The Witch’/’part two’ (1968)
Marmalade 421 180 ‘Lonesome Hobo’/’A Kind Of Love In’ (1968)
Marmalade 421 168 ‘Tramp’/’Break It Up’ (1968)
Brian Auger Trinity
598 003 ‘Red Beans And Rice’/’part two’ (11/67)
598 006 ‘I Don’t Know Where You Are’/’A Kind Of Love In’ (3/68)
598 015 ‘What You Gonna Do?’/’Bumpin’ On Sunset’ (10/68)
Julie Driscoll-Brian Auger Trinity
Marmalade 607 002 Open (mono) (12/67)
Marmalade 608 002 Open (stereo) (12/67)
Marmalade 608 005-6 Street Noise (4/69)
Marmalade 608 014 Street Noise (part one) (6/69)
Marmalade 608 105 Street Noise (part two) (6/69)
Brian Auger Trinity
Marmalade 607 003 Definitely What? (mono) (12/68)
Marmalade 608 003 Definitely What? (stereo) (12/68)
© Dave Thompson, Goldmine, July 2007