Jan Dukes de Grey was an English symphonic-folk/rock combo that released the album Sorcerers on Decca in 1969, followed by the popular Mice and Rats in the Loft on Transatlantic in 1971. After five years of playing under alternate names, group leader Derek Noy recorded an album’s worth of material, later issued on the Cherry Tree CD Strange Terrain.
Members: Derek Noy (vocals, guitar, percussion, bass, organ, piano, keyboards, celeste, glockenspiel, [zeldaphone] instrument, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, flute, saxophone, violin, violoncello, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin), Mick Bairstow (flute, clarinet, saxophone, chanter, percussion, guitar, hunting horn, vocals, 1968-73), Dennis Conlon (drums, percussion, vocals, 1969-73)
They formed as a duo in December 1968 in Leeds when multi-instrumentalists Derek Noy (21) and Mick Bairstow (18) took a mutual interest in the psychedelic folk of the Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Noy came from a string of semi-pro groups, including the 11-piece soul act Buster Somers Express. He’d already launched a solo acoustic act at the local clubs when he teamed with Bairstow. A prolific writer, he wrote approximately 80 songs within the first 18 months of their partnership. He invented the name “Jan Dukes de Grey” at random during a brainstorm.
They played the Yorkshire clubs and art labs before heading to London, where they opened for Steamhammer at the Farx Club on June 1, 1969. Their breakthrough came that October when they opened for The Nice at the New Marquee in Leeds, where they got their first coverage in the Yorkshire Evening Post by a young Mark Knopfer (later of Dire Straits).
Decca included Jan Dukes de Grey in a handful of acts (Galliard, Ashkan, Bulldog Breed, Pacific Drift) assigned to the label’s post-psych Nova series. Sessions for their first album occurred over a three-day period with Decca’s newly hired producer, David Hitchcock.
Jan Dukes de Grey released their debut album, Sorcerers, in January 1970 on Decca Nova. It features 18 numbers composed by Noy, who plays 6- and 12-string guitar, tabla, bass, organ, celesta, piano, bongos, and chanter (the pipe of a bagpipe). Bairstow plays clarinet, flute, cymbal, bells, bongos, chanter, tenor saxophone, trumpet, congas, and tabla.
Hitchcock, who played celesta and sang with the pair, claimed that Noy brought a tent into the studio and used its ambience to enhance his guitar solos. (Noy denied any memory of the tent, but described David as “a great guy [who] put up with my little eccentricities extremely well.” ) Hitchcock also produced 1970–72 albums by Satisfaction, Fuchsia, and Mellow Candle (Swaddling Songs). Most famously, he worked on the breakthrough recordings of Genesis (Foxtrot), Caravan (In the Land of Grey and Pink), and Camel (Mirage).
Sorcerers was engineered by 18-year old Peter Rynston, a technical hand on contemporary Decca/Deram releases by Kathe Green and Room (Pre-Flight). Rynston, also credited with “rain and thunder” effects, worked concurrently with Hitchcock on the second East of Eden release (Snafu) and the singular albums by Aardvark and Black Cat Bones.
Sorcerers also marked the debut of illustrator Dave Dragon, who designed the cover: a cluster of frogs, dogs, owls, bats, and skulls against a bright red backdrop; dripping lime bubble-letters overhead. Dragon would later do cover visuals for Leaf Hound, Shanghai, Wire, The Cure (Three Imaginary Boys), the Berlin Blondes, XTC (Skylarking), Soft Machine, Ethel the Frog, UB40, Gillan, and Microdisney (39 Minutes).
The back cover shows in-studio shots of Noy and Bairstow, presented as film reels amid the hand-written credits. They were captured by photographer David Wedgbury, also credited on 1970/71 Deram releases by Hunter Muskett (Every Time You Move), Pacific Drift (Feelin’ Free), Egg (Egg), T2 (It’ll All Work Out In Boomland), Trapeze, Walrus, and ARC (… At This).
“Sorcerers” appears on the label comp Nova Sampler with cuts by Bill Fay, Sunforest, the Elastic Band, and several aforementioned labelmates.
Trio, Concerts, Transatlantic
Between the recording sessions and release of Sorcerers, Jan Dukes de Grey became a three-piece with drummer Dennis Conlon, who brought a rock base to their sound. Their first gig as a trio occurred on November 7, 1969, when they opened for Pink Floyd at Waltham Forest Technical College.
Jan Dukes de Grey spent the first half of 1970 promoting Sorcerers with support slots to The Who (York Uni.) and Yes (Starlight Ballroom, Boston, UK). That February, they appeared on the Radio One Club show alongside Angel Pavement. At London’s Marquee Club, they played double bills with Audience and Van der Graaf Generator.
On the weekend of May 23-24th, they played the Whitsun Festival at the Plumpton Racecourse alongside Julie Driscoll, King Crimson, Keith Tippet Group, Fairfield Parlour, May Blitz, Black Widow, Chicken Shack, Black Sabbath, Gracious, Roy Harper, Savoy Brown, and Warm Dust.
Before Jan Dukes de Grey recorded a followup, Nova collapsed and Decca cut ties with most of the acts in that series. Noy secured a new deal with Transatlantic Records, a folk and jazz label with a recent influx of post-psych acts (Little Free Rock, Jody Grind, Marsupilami, Stray). They recorded their second album in late 1970 at Tangerine Studios with producer Stuart Taylor and engineer Robin Sylvester.
Mice and Rats in the Loft
Jan Dukes de Grey’s second album, Mice and Rats in the Loft, appeared in 1971 on Transatlantic. Side one consists of the 19-minute epic “Sun Symphonica.” Side two divides into “Call of the Wild” (12:48) and the title track. Noy composed the entire album, which he marketed as rock’s first ballet. (The Scottish Royal Ballet made use of the title track during improvisations.) Noy plays trumpet, trombone, guitar, and Zelda strings. Bairstow plays flute, clarinet, and saxophone.
Mice and Rats in the Loft is one of the earliest technical credits for Taylor, who assisted the early career of Michael d’Albuquerque; and Sylvester, the ex-bassist of rustic-rockers Ora. Taylor also produced the 1971 release First Wind by Ricotti & Albuquerque and the 1973 debut by Greenslade. Sylvester remixed some early solo albums by Rory Gallagher and engineered several aforementioned Deram acts. Together, they worked on the 1972/73 albums by Ora-offhoot Byzantium.
Artist Caroline Browne designed the album cover, which shows mice clustered in the attic of a doll’s house. She also employed fairytale visuals on the 1971 Transatlantic release Those Pleasant Days by folkster Stefan Grossman. Photographer Keith Morris (Gypsy, Steeleye Span, Led Zeppelin, Spirogyra) took the inner-spread and back shots of the group in white tunics.
With most of Transatlantic’s budget earmarked for the making of Mice and Rats in the Loft, little remained for the promotional campaign. Jan Dukes de Grey carried on as a live act.
By 1973, Conlon quit and Bairstow cleared out for guitarist Patrick Dean, a one-time columnist for the Yorkshire Evening Post. With three new members — bassist Danny Lagger, drummer Maurice McElroy, and Derek’s percussionist wife Fiona Noy — they signed to Dawn as Noy’s Band and issued a 1974 update of the Coasters/Searchers hit “Love Potion No. 9” (b/w the Noy original “Eldorado”). They folded in mid-1975 after a showcase at the Penthouse in Scarborough, a haunt for emerging talent (Cockney Rebel, Sailor, Kursaal Flyers, Doctors of Madness).
Derek Noy resurfaced in 1979 under the alias Rip Snorter with the new wave parody single “Standing In a Little ‘Ole” (b/w “Confidentially”). He recorded a third Jan Dukes de Grey album under the working title Strange Terrain. It remained vaulted for three decades.
Conlon branched into acting with roles in the 1987 sex comedies Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and Rita, Sue, and Bob Too. He also appeared on the TV shows Coronation Street and Only Fools and Horses.
Sorcerers and Mice and Rats in the Loft each got reissued on different labels during the early 2000s. In 2009, UK folk archivists Cherry Tree (Hunter Muskett, Zakarrias, Sally Oldfield, Unicorn) combined both albums onto one CD with the Noy’s Band single. In 2010, Cherry Tree issued Strange Terrain for the first time with Jan Dukes and Noy’s outtakes, plus the Snorter single.
- Sorcerers (1969)
- Mice and Rats in the Loft (1971)
- Strange Terrain (2010, recorded 1976–77)
- David Wells: Liner Notes – Sorcerers / Mice And Rats In The Loft. 2009 Cherry Tree reissue.
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