Back in the summer of 1988, strange things were happening to my musical taste which was otherwise hell-bent on a C86 indie obsession that wouldn’t let up. However, I had also bought ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and developed an interest in Rubble. The Rubble series of compilations of mid-late 60s obscurities seemed to attract me because of the naiveté of the whole experience, much like the C86 fanzine thing. The lyrics of these 60s tunes could be obscure, the production terrible but certain qualities shone through which appealed to me. The first Rubble album I bought was volume 14, ‘The Magic Rocking Horse’. However, before even getting around to buying a Rubble album, I stumbled across a cheap sampler album from the same label, Bam-Caruso, in Shrewsbury’s dependable but unappealing branch of Our Price. Actually, all branches of Our Price were fairly dependable but unappealing much like the bland suburbs and towns where they could be found. If the shopping was so-so, then the town shall have an Our Price; if the shopping were slightly better then there will be HMV!!!

The sampler in question was called ‘It’s Only a Passing Phaze’ (Ha-ha! ‘Phaze’ not phase! Like, wow, man!!!) and cost but a mere couple of quid. At the time this seemed good value to my tightly funded existence of the time, but on reflection it may have led to countless further vinyl, CD, box sets and now faulty downloads being purchased. It may still be the only place where John’s Children’s version of ‘Hippy Gumbo’ can be found on vinyl even though Bolan did it later with Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not that anyone cares.

The compilation album seems to be a dying art these days as downloading tracks for under a quid means no-one is going to realistically believe that they will want everything on most compilations and so instead they take the pick ‘n’ mix approach presumably as they can no longer have that experience at Woolworths, so people download for nostalgic reasons…well, I am talking about downloading a 1970 album which I heard a track off when I was 16 and now want when I’m 40, so yes! Anyway, compilations used to be significant if they were good – ‘C86’, ‘Pillows and Prayers’, ‘Doing It for the Kids’ or ‘Lonely is an Eyesore’. Often they were rarely attempted by a label but would then be sold for a few years afterwards as an introduction to their wares. Creation Records managed several legendary compilations before they disappeared into Oasis-dullness. These compilations led people, well…me, into exploring more Creation bands, these bands might then have greater sales of their next release and so the compilation had done its job.

If the above model for the Creation compilation is the norm, then presumably each record buyer will easily be able to select their favourite compilations by simply judging how many albums they bought by artists on said compilation. ‘In Love With These Times’ was a Flying Nun label compilation that has meant that I automatically look favourably on independent music that comes from New Zealand, Sub Pop 200 did the same for Seattle and probably inspired more than a million further sales. Though ‘It’s Only a Passing Phaze’ may have had a more limited impact on the wider music world, it directly led to my purchase of 10 albums featuring some of the 15 songs on it. That’s a pretty good ratio. Other comps tended to feature at least a track or two that I already owned but not this one. This one led to my rather strange and anal obsession with late 60s obscurities like ‘Tamaris Khan’ by The Onyx and, most importantly for this piece, ‘When You’re Dead’ by The Ghost.

Now, a little research (err…thanks brumbeat.co.uk) tells us that The Ghost were a Birmingham band set up by a former member of The Velvet Fogg, joined by a local folk singer and the drummer would later end up in Wizzard. All highly fascinating stuff – have I really spent almost 25 years searching for a recording featuring the drummer from ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’? Apparently I have and am now deeply concerned for my mental well-being. Roy Wood of Wizzard once entered a record shop in Shrewsbury where a friend worked, my friend rather pathetically said: “Are you going to be releasing your Christmas single again this year, Roy?” to which Roy Wood replied “F**k off!” and left the shop never to return. Let’s be clear, I sympathise with Roy in this anecdote. Ramble, ramble, ramble…

Right, back on task again, The Ghost track stuck out to me from the rest of the material on the compilation for sounding so other-worldly, in part due to its poor quality mastering, presumably straight from vinyl once their original Gemini label disappeared in a fog of joss sticks. It’s an up-tempo number led by an eerie 3 note Hammond organ motif and almost a Motown drumbeat. Most of the rhythm section is recorded in an inaudible blur and the vocals distort during all the multi-tracked harmonies. Part of the reason for the blurred sound may be the overwhelming hum of a Hammond high in the mix. Essentially, it feels like listening in on a secret recording of witches, albeit witches jamming in a late 60s west coast style. To this day, I cannot decipher more than the odd word from the lyrics – something about “Jonah”? The guitar emerges for a west coast solo but otherwise remains buried with everything else in the mix. The overall effect is hypnotic and slightly bewildering as the listener is left thinking ‘who made this and why?’ or possibly ‘who bought this and why?’ The song begins on an offbeat but at full speed which is maintained and even intensified by the time of the equally sudden ending which causes the song to almost disappear during what should have been its glorious finale. It’s all ominous build which ultimately leads us nowhere. If all prog sounded like this, it would never have been described as boring.

It sounds a little reminiscent of ‘Evil Hoodoo’ by The Seeds, only faster and with the fun and the style taken out. Perhaps ‘Silver Machine’ also sounds similar though recorded slightly later. It seems defiantly anti-commercial and cultish as if a wannabe Manson Family have got it together to record an album in their barn but for some reason set the instruments up outside the barn…in a different field.

‘When You’re Dead’ was the first song from this area of music that I truly loved. Many more were to follow once I’d fully explored the Rubble catalogue which I now have on 2 10CD box sets. The Ghost set me off on a long line of similarly unsuccessful groups from Wimple Winch to Fire and songs as hopelessly ridiculous as ‘Neville Thumbcatch’. However, none really matched The Ghost’s sole single for genuine weirdness then or since.

As I was new to the whole obscure 60s crate digging concept back then, I assumed that The Ghost would be fairly easy to buy. After all, another of their album tracks, ‘The Castle Has Fallen’ turned up on my first Rubble compilation mentioned earlier and purchased in Cirencester. However, at around the same time that I was discovering their old Rubble releases, the Bam-Caruso label seemed to be going through some of the financial problems which many small labels experienced back then when distribution networks would collapse from time to time. The Ghost album which they reissued seemed entirely impossible to get hold of within 6 months of its release though it did reappear on a slightly different label in 1991. Since then nothing seemed to appear on my radar though there was a vinyl reissue in 1999 which I missed before the album reappeared on vinyl from the original Gemini label and CD from Mellotron of Italy. However, my Mexican iTunes version is credited to Tam-Tam Media 2009 and it doesn’t work properly.

I heartily recommend getting hold of the title track but am sad to report that the iTunes version of the whole album seems incomplete as the promising sounding ‘Night of the Warlock’ is cut short and it is possible to detect a classic needle jump on one track. iTunes were most efficient in helping with this problem and did provide a full refund which is appreciated though the album remains as elusive as the horse in The Byrds’ ‘Chestnut Mare’. However, from what I can tell having listened to the album a couple of times, nothing on there comes close to ‘When You’re Dead’ for sounding so of its time and so unique too.

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