IN AN AGE awash with supergroups, the 1960s combination of singer Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and his Trinity was poised to become the most singularly innovative union of them all.
It didn’t work out like that. An ill-starred mish-mash of management, bad planning and a record company that didn’t know what it was doing – or what it had – all played a role. But the two albums from the Driscoll-Auger Trinity remain among the most imposing legacies of the late 1960s.
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 TV appearances – remains in Auger’s archive, including a gaggle of numbers unrecorded in any other arena. The music that we do have is sufficient to tell us that psychedelia and jazz rock would have been very different and less exciting without it.
Auger and Driscoll first came together in early 1965, as members of Steampacket, a self-contained touring revue show that also featured Long John Baldry and a young Rod Stewart. Auger had been around since the early 1960s, where he led Trinity and played the London jazz club circuit as it morphed into R&B. Driscoll had worked as a secretary in manager Giorgio Gomelsky’s office, where she answered the Yardbirds’ fan mail, among other duties. But the 17-year-old both looked and sounded like a star, and Gomelsky was adamant that she fulfill that potential.
Dynamic on stage, Steampacket should have been enormous, but complicated with three sets of management and four different record labels, the group was doomed from the outset. By early 1966, “the whole thing was [falling] on its arse,” as Auger puts it.
The group broke up a few months later, and 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,” he said.
The original Trinity of Clive Thacker (drums), Roger Sutton (bass) and Vic Briggs (guitar) lasted just a couple of months in early 1967 before Briggs left for the New Animals and Gary Boyle replaced him. This short-lived lineup recorded just one single, ‘Tiger’, before Dave Ambrose replaced Sutton.
Driscoll reappeared on the scene through the auspices of George Webb, the band’s agent.
“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,” Auger said.
The augmented Trinity established a firm underground following with regular gigs through late 1967. When Gomelsky got his Marmalade label up and running, the Brian Auger Trinity featuring Julie Driscoll was an obvious early recruit.
Trinity had completed its debut album in just six hours. The band took over Chappell Studios for a day, recruited a group of friends to supply some atmosphere and tore through their live set. The best of the ensuing recordings – five songs featuring Driscoll, five starring the band alone – were slapped side-by-side onto the disc, and it was slated for release in mid-November 1967.
“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.”
A new Trinity single, ‘Black Cat’, proved popular enough for Auger to record a new Italian-language vocal for release. But it was ‘Save Me’ that mapped out the group’s immediate future; it stepped into the breach left by the album’s non-appearance and become an immediate hit in France.
A wonderful relic of this triumph circulates on the Internet today, a peculiar video shot for use in the Scorpitone video jukeboxes of the day that features the band vamping it up amid the statuary in a garden.
Although the French visit was a success, it also offered the band a taste of how life was going to shape up over the next couple of years.
“It was so strange,” Auger recalls. “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.”
By this time, Open finally was in the stores, and the band turned to it for their follow-up single, a majestic take on Donovan’s ‘Season of The Witch’. They also took time off in Paris to visit the Pigalle Studio, where they cut the next single, a spooky version of Dylan’s ‘I Am A Lonesome Hobo’. By early spring, Trinity had three French hits to its 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 British media began paying serious attention Trinity at the annual MIDEM conference in France. 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.”
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 re-recording 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 Wheel’s On Fire’. We went with ‘Wheel’s On Fire’.”
Creating a new arrangement for the song was tough. “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 done in early April, 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 outtake ‘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 U.K. charts. In a year that saw the Top 20 explode with eccentricity, ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ stands out as one of the most distinctive. ‘Wheel’ rolled to #5 on the BBC’s listing, and Open, after six months of near-dormancy, leapt 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 suddenly were the hottest band in the land. Driscoll’s photograph was everywhere as Flower Power’s first bona fide sex symbol.
The band was scarcely off the screens throughout the summer. The group logged its first Top Of The Pops appearance on June 6; two weeks later, on Beat Club, the band recorded the performance that today is familiar from so many video and DVD compilations. On Aug. 4, the band commenced what was intended as seven weeks’ worth of appearances on David Frost’s Frost On Sunday show; a dispute between Gomelski and the show’s host saw the run end after two weeks.
The band also took a cameo role in the movie Popdown, 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 in her own movie debut. The film was cut to under an hour in length before it reached the cinemas; Auger doesn’t even remember making it.
More memorable were appearances on the TV special Frankie Howard Meets The Bee Gees. French TV was so impressed that it commissioned a similar effort from director Jean Paul Averty to pair 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.”
Julie Driscoll selected David Ackles’ ‘Road To Cairo’ as the band’s follow-up single, and, like ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, their interpretation was debuted during a David Symonds radio session in September.
Again, all agreed that it was another magnificent performance, dense and moody… a sure-fire hit. But once again, there would be problems surrounding the billing on the record label.
“I’d warned Giorgio [Gomelsky] 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,” Brian Auger said. “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. He finished up an hour special on Scandinavian TV, and decided to leave.
“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 says.
Auger 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.”
Other events didn’t help. ‘Road to Cairo’ came out and was bubbling under at about #32. Bookending three weeks of heavy promotion, the band performed the song on Tony Blackburn’s TV show on Nov. 9, and was 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 Nov. 23. But the big one was an appearance on the Eamonn Andrews Show, one of the most prestigious – and influential – entertainment programs on at the 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 backward and disappeared.
“In a way, I thought, given the way things were in the band, it was kind of karma that we all deserved,” Auger says.
The show’s producers offered the band a chance to return the following week, but they had to turn it down. They were off to France to launch a European tour that would also include one night alongside the Fugs, the Mothers, Tim Buckley and Tangerine Dream in Essen; a key performance at the Berlin Jazz Festival, where they were joined onstage by 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 needed to step off the treadmill. Gomelsky 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 notice of his intention to quit, Driscoll delivered the same message. To prepare themselves for what seemed an inevitable split, Trinity set about recording its own 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 Gomelsky 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 the next album before heading off to the U.S. for its first tour.
With no new material prepared, Auger and Driscoll were writing songs in the studio while they were also rehearsing the covers they had earmarked. It was a frenetic period, but drawing on reserves that still astonish Auger today, the band recorded sufficient material for two LPs. Streetnoise was released in April as a double album, 16 songs without a moment of filler.
Outside pressure continued to taunt the band. Gomelsky – producer in name only – became 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’.
“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’,” Auger recalled. “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 done by mid-February. Weeks later, ‘Indian Rope Man’ was the first single, accompanied by the usual promotional appearances – performances on Beat Club, a session for David Symonds and the Tom Jones Show. Amid this activity, the band found itself undertaking one project that is frequently overlooked, but of which Auger remains both proud and a little puzzled. Auger had stayed in touch with Ellis after their meeting at the Berlin Jazz Festival. When Ellis was invited to score Two Moon Zero, he invited Auger to play on the soundtrack, alongside a handpicked band of jazz musicians, including drummer Ronnie Stephenson. Ellis pulled out all his stylistic stops and freakish time signatures on the piece.
“It was a tough one even for the musicians,” Auger says. “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. He did not know that Ellis would 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.”
Before Christmas 1968, the band was summoned to a small studio just off Leicester Square to “audition” for TV producer Jack Good. He was putting together an American TV special for the Monkees and, though Trinity wasn’t 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 men are snatched off the street, taken to the lair of a madman with a psychedelic organ and brainwashed into becoming a rock ‘n’ roll band.
Weeks later, Auger and Driscoll found themselves in California, filming 33 and a Third Monkees Per Revolution, an hour-long TV special that was America’s first exposure to the Trinity. The band was signed to Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary for the U.S., labelmates to Cream and the Bee Gees. 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 East Coast shows included appearances in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York – where they became the only band, bar Jimi Hendrix, ever to receive two encores. Then they winged across to the West Coast to hook up with Led Zeppelin.
No matter how much excitement was welling up around the band, all concerned knew that the Trinity was living on borrowed time. That debt was called in when Gomelsky appeared in the hotel after he had promised not to join up with the tour. Auger and Driscoll confronted him.
“Giorgio was a guy who thought he could talk his way into anything,” Auger said. “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 U.S. charts. The Trinity returned to Britain in shreds.
It was two years before Driscoll was heard from again, when she cut the oddly-titled 1969 album. Auger bade farewell to the Trinity with one final album, Befour, then moved on to Oblivion Express.
In 1978, two years after Driscoll (now working under her married name of Julie Tippetts) followed up 1969 with Sunset Glow, Auger and Driscoll reunited to cut Encore. Across a clutch of originals and dynamic covers of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’ and ‘No Time To Live’, they proved their chemistry was still alive.
Neither recording nor the album promotion went well. 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 never has been another band like Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity. The band seamlessly gathered together the strands of so many musical influences, then wove them into a cohesive and distinctive whole. Driscoll’s pristine voice and Auger’s instinctive playing combined to reach incredible peaks. On record, in concert and in session, Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity remain one of the most startlingly original and uncannily timeless bands Britain has ever produced.
Even the eternally modest Brian Auger permits himself a smile when he’s asked what he thinks the band achieved.
“Well, yes, it was definitely a step in the right direction.”
© Dave Thompson, Goldmine, 24 April 2008