Battered by the Ornaments

Pete Brown.

Who?

Well, if like me you were around and listening to music in the late 1960s then you might remember him as the lyricist who wrote with various members of Cream.

I hope he got a good royalties deal because, amongst other songs, he wrote ‘I Feel Free’ and ‘White Room’ with  bassist Jack Bruce and ‘Sunshine of your Love’ with banjoist Eric Clapton.

Anyway, perhaps it was writing for a band that inspired the move, who knows, but our Pete formed his own band in 1968.

Pete Brown and the Battered Ornaments comprised Brown on vocals with Pete Bailey (percussion), Charlie Hart (keyboards), Dick Heckstall Smith (sax), George Kahn (sax), Roger Potter (bass), Chris Spedding (guitar) and Rob Tait (drums).

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Quite a line up, and one which actually delivered on their debut album ‘A Meal you can Shake Hands with in the Dark ‘. Although the music is hard to characterise, it’s actually a pretty early stab at British jazz rock – think Hatfield and the North and National Health – with the added humour of Brown’s lyrics and delivery.

Spedding, Hart, Kahn and Heckstall Smith take some great solos whilst the rest of the band provide a rock solid but flexible accompaniment.

For me, there are four stand out tracks which add up to well over half the album so not too bad a ratio of goodies.

The opener, ‘Dark Lady’ has some great slide guitar from Spedding (he plays a lot of slide throughout the album)  with an explosive solo from Heckstall Smith. Hart plays some lovely Hammond on this which is surprising because although he was hired to play keys, he’s not best known as a keyboard player. Brown supplies singing which is both effective and idiosyncratic.

Cream fans will be interested in Brown’s own 12 minute version of ‘Politician’, which has far more verses than the Cream track, and this features a very funny spoken improvised intro from Brown all about the events that lead up to the events in the song itself – the bit about him kissing his butler on the fly still amuses me greatly, even after over 40 years…oh and the mention of a girl’s ‘flowery khyber’…and the ‘politician’s pinstripes vibrating with neon glow’. There then follows a sax solo – no backing – which sounds like someone being very sick but in a good way and then the song itself. No Clapton riff, but instead a very uptempo 12 bar with great saxes and slide guitar. In fact, I prefer this to Cream’s version.

‘Sandcastle’ has a great bass riff with a faintly Eastern melody, wah slide guitar and flute. No laughs here from Brown but the band really carries this track so no matter.

The other stand out track is a 12 minute 12 bar which shows that the Battered Ornaments could have been a blues band to reckon with. Entitled ‘Travelling Blues (Or The New Used Jew’s Dues Blues) it has great solos again and more clowning from Brown who wants to go to the country (man) where ‘the colours of the cows are cool’.

The other tracks are good, don’t get me wrong, but not up to the high standard of the four described above.

So, what happened next?

Well, they recorded a follow up called ‘Mantelpiece’ and then they got booked to support the Stones at the legendary Hyde Park gig.

Things were looking good!

However, in a move that I believe is without precedent in rock, the band sat down, decided Pete had to go and sacked him!

A bizarre move as it was Pete’s band in the first place…

‘Mantelpiece’ had Pete’s vocals wiped and replaced by Chris Spedding’s and the band was renamed – rather predictably – ‘The Battered Ornaments’.

The Ornaments had zero success – despite playing Hyde Park with the Stones – and Pete went on to form Piblokto, which was OK but not up to the Ornaments’ standard.

Surprisingly, Pete Brown’s still.making music and his recent stuff bears investigation. His recent collaborations with Phil Ryan (ex-Man, ex-Piblokto) are a little too serious for my taste but the band is good and Brown sounds as if he’s taken singing lessons.

Anyway, as ever, Spotify is your friend and you can hear ‘Meal’ (and Piblokto and the recent Brown/Ryan stuff) and judge for yourself.

I think it’s a great little album.

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