Week of July 7, 2002

Titus Groan


Stuart Cowell - keyboards, guitar, vocals
John Lee - bass
Tony Priestland - sax, flute, oboe
Jim Toomey - drums


Titus Groan (Dawn DNLS 3012) 1970
Reissued as "Titus Groan… Plus" (See For Miles SEE 260/SEE CD 260, 1989) containing three tracks from their single.

Titus Groan, the book, formed the first part of Mervin Peake's imaginative, haunting "Gormenghast" trilogy, one of post-war Britain's finest literary achievements.

Titus Groan, the group, arrived some 20+ years after its first publication, and embraced, in music, some of the novel's gothic atmosphere while adding their own slice of English progressive rock.

By 1970, at least two divisions of underground music had emerged. One included the likes of Family, the Pretty Things and Traffic; groups whose pedigree stretched back into beat and rhythm'n'blues. In their wake came a succession of newer bands whose histories were neither as long nor as detailed but who welcomed the new music as an opportunity to stretch.

In common with several labelmates, Titus Groan first came to prominence at the Hollywood Pop Festival of the weekend beginning May 23rd 1970. Here, the Red Bus Company, a London Agency, masterminded three days of "love, peace and music" on a site near Newcastle Under Lyme with a bill which included Ginger Baker's Airforce and the British concert debut of the Grateful Dead. The happening, however, is better recalled as the launching pad for Mungo Jerry, whose brand of goodtime skiffle was apparently received with wild enthusiasm; so much so that it carried their subsequent single into the charts. From there it soared to No.1 and became a multi-million seller, in turn providing their record label, Dawn, with its biggest success, a fact which was something of a paradox, as it was set up by Pye as an "alternative" outlet, on par with Harvest, Vertigo and RCA's Neon.

Mungo Jerry were handled by Red Bus, as were several of the acts who appeared over the three days including Mike Cooper, Demon Fuzz and Titus Groan, all of whom were either already signed to Dawn, or would be in the post-"Summertime" euphoria. Indeed, the first, most immediate plan was to compile a double set, "Live At Hollywood", which was to feature part of the live sets from each of these groups and Loudmouth (?), but was cancelled, possibly, when permission for inclusion by non-Dawn acts, such as Family, wasn't forthcoming.

Instead they began recording, and in October that year, Dawn announced a major release package with albums and/or maxi-singles by Demon Fuzz, Comus and Heron, as well as the collection in question here, Titus Groan. However, as an added bonus, we've also included the three tracks which made up the Groan's only single, none of which has previously been on an LP. The top-side was "Open The Door, Homer", a Bob Dylan song also known as "Open The Door, Richard", which the Groans may have picked up from the "Great White Wonder" bootleg. They do a nice folksy-cum-rock interpretation, emphasising the chorus in the hope of the hit it deserved to be, while anticipating the kind of feel the group Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint would find on the same kind of interpretation (on their own album, "Lo And Behold"). "Woman Of The World" continued an acoustic-mixed-with-rock perspective, sounding close to something Lindisfarne might have come up with, but the real meat of the single was "Liverpool", a driving slab of pseudo-R&B with a horn and organ passage mirroring that of the Graham Bond Organisation and some "S.F. Sorrow"-styled vocal harmonies thrown in for good measure. It provided the perfect taster for what was one of Dawn's most exciting and eclectic albums.

"Titus Groan" was released the same month as their maxi-single. Consisting of a mere five tracks, it was abundantly clear that the group intended to continue the progressive aspects found on "Liverpool". They were extremely powerful instrumentally, Stuart Cowell's guitar and keyboard work combined perfectly with Tony Priestland's sax, flute, oboe and assorted woodwind, creating, and indeed suggesting, the mock-medieval textures also found in Jethro Tull (albeit, heavier), while John Lee and Jim Toomey provided the supportive bass and drums, particularly on the album's epic, "Hall Of Bright Carvings". Taking its title from the opening chapter of the novel which gave the band its name, it's here Titus Groan come closest to their inspiration as they wage a way through an ambitious, multi-part composition. The repeated theme adds a continuity as the piece shifts in mood, embracing a further Peake reference, "The Burning" on the way. The second side doesn't slouch either, Lee and Priestland offer contrasts on "It Can't Change" and "Fuschia", while "It's All Up With Us" is a collective offering. "An interesting, listening format... effective in live performances... a promising first album" - such remarks contained in the relevant 'NME' album review can only be echoed here.

The reference to an in-concert prowess was indeed pertinent. The Red Bus Company had undertaken an ambitious project to promote, not only "Titus Groan", but the other corresponding Dawn releases. Between November 3rd and 26th, Demon Fuzz, Heron, Comus and the Groan played at ten venues, including the Marquee, for the princely sum of one penny. Dubbed, unsurprisingly, A Penny Concert, it was an ambitious promotion, not just fiscally, but musically, and offered a remarkable sweep of styles; the Afro-rock of the 8-piece Fuzz, Heron's warm country/folk and the imaginative multi-layered rock of the other two participants. Not only that, but it made Decca's "Nova Evening" at the London Lyceum, which showcased their new progressive acts, seem positively expensive. They charged a whole six shillings.

The collective project officially ended on January 3rd 1971 when the four groups performed in-concert on Radio 1. Sadly, however, it was to mark an end to more than this cooperative atmosphere. Of the four, Heron managed to maintain something of a profile, (hear for yourself on SEECD242) but the remaining trio found the going in the New Year somewhat tougher. Titus Groan just seemed to slip from the tentative prominence they'd achieved, despite the obvious potential of the music enclosed here. Of the four members, Jim Toomey cropped up in several groups, and drummed in one of Larry Wallis' post-Pink Fairies exploits, while the rest, unfortunately, appeared to keep up a less active profile. It was an unfortunate and undeserved demise, its suddenness belied the individuality and imagination on offer here.

Dinnes Cruickshank
Taken from the CD reissue of "Titus Groan": "Titus Groan… Plus", See For Miles, SEE CD 260, 1989

Back to Alex's Home Page