Nirvana was an English orchestral-pop duo comprised of Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos. They debuted with the 1967 rock opera, The Story of Simon Simopath, recorded with the four-piece Nirvana Ensemble. After their 1968 psych hit “Rainbow Chaser,” they released All of Us and the string-laden opus . Campbell-Lyons continued the name for the 1971/72 albums Local Anaesthetic and Songs of Love and Praise.
Members: Patrick Campbell-Lyons (rhythm guitar, vocals), Alex Spyropoulos (keyboards, guitar, 1967-71, 1985-present), Ray Singer (guitar, vocals, 1967-68), Brian Henderson (bass, 1967-68), Sylvia Schuster (cello, 1967-68), Michael Coe (French horn, 1967-68), Peter Kester (drums, 1967-68)
Nirvana stemmed from a songwriting partnership between Irish singer and guitarist Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Greek keyboardist Alex Spyropoulos.
Campbell-Lyons (b. 1943, Lismore, Ireland) settled in West London at the outset of the beat era. He joined The Second Thoughts, an R&B/beat sextet with future record producer Chris Thomas, Thunderclap Newman drummer Speedy Keen, and the team behind Jade Warrior, musicians Jon Field and Tony Duhig. During a year-long residency in Sweden, they cut four songs that later appeared on the archival EP Seventh Son.
In 1966, Campbell-Lyons and Thomas cut two singles as Hat and Tie: “California Jazz Club U.S.A.” and “Bread to Spend,” both on President Records.
In early 1967, Campbell-Lyons teamed with Spyropoulos (b. 1941, Athens, Greece). They conceived Nirvana as a vehicle for their orchestral-pop vision. To complete the sound, they assembled the Nirvana Ensemble, a four-piece backing band comprised of guitarist Ray Singer, bassist Brian Henderson, cellist Sylvia A. Schuster, and violist Michael Coe, who also played French horn. The Indo-Brit duo Sue & Sunny sang backing vocals.
Island Records co-founder Chris Blackwell included Nirvana in a round of signings (Art, Traffic) designed to connect his label — long associated with Caribbean music — with the new psychedelic underground.
Nirvana released their first two singles in the summer of 1967. For the first, they teamed with Muff Winwood (Spencer Davis Group) and Island’s in-house producer Jimmy Miller.
June 14, 1967
A. “Tiny Goddess” (3:36) A slow number marked by harpsichord and booming timpani with stings that slither (verse) and strike (bridge) over a maudlin four-note descent (F–Em–Dm–C). Written by Campbell-Lyons, Spyropoulos, and Singer.
B. “I Believe In Magic” (3:25) Trippy midtempo song with pizzicato strings and a two-chord piano pattern (Dm–G) with an angular vocal melody that hits an augmented third (tritone) over G (C#). Alarming chorus line (“I got something I keep to myself”) over a stately, closed-cadence cello structure (C–Am–Dm–G) and tantalizing refrain (“and I’m not going to tell you what it is”) over sparkling chimes.
September 22, 1967
A. “Pentecost Hotel” (3:10) Ballad with sweet harp/string verses and swelling chorus. Produced by Blackwell; arranged by Syd Dale. Both sides written by Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos.
B. “Feelin’ Shattered” (2:22) Jolly piano/vocal ragtime/cabaret cut. Produced by Campbell-Lyons; arranged by Spyropoulos.
“Tiny Goddess” marked the production debut of Muff Winwood, who worked on subsequent Nirvana singles and later produced albums by Patto (self-titled), Sparks (Kimono My House, Propaganda), Deaf School (2nd Honeymoon), Burlesque, and the Fabulous Poodles.
1967: The Story of Simon Simopath
Nirvana released their debut album, The Story of Simon Simopath, in October 1967 on Island (UK), Fontana (Germany), and Canada (Stone Records). It contains 10 originals by Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos, all linked by a plot concerning the titular character. The album averages 12 minutes per side (subtitled Act One and Act Two), each with five songs in the 2–3 minute range.
The songs follow the odyssey of Simon, a boy who wishes to grow wings and fly. His sister tells him that when he falls in love, his wish will come true (“Wings of Love”). At school, he withdraws into his fantasy and disengages from his peers (“Lonely Boy”). He enters adulthood with the same obsession. Unfulfilled, he suffers a nervous breakdown and gets institutionalized. Despite the claims of others in the hospital (“We Can Help You”), no one can. Once out, he applies for an intergalactic test and gets chosen to be a “Supersonic Jockey.” Happy to realize his dream, he feels like a king “In the Courtyard of Stars.”
While in space, Simon befriends Cedric the Centaur and finds that “He Was Just the One” to keep him company. Cedric leads Simon to a nirvana where the young man encounters the “Pentecost Hotel,” where he meets the lovely Magdelena. Smitten and elated, as he “Had Never Found a Love Like This Before,” he drinks the wine of eternal living. They wed before the Minister of Dreams, who says “Take This Hand” and proclaims them King and Queen of the lost paradise. It all happens in a remote, far-off place in a distant time (“1999”).
The Story of Simon Simopath is one of the earliest pop albums where all the songs are tied to a central plot, predating concept albums and “rock operas” by the Moody Blues (Days of Future Passed), The Twilights (Once Upon a Twilight…), Small Faces (Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake), The Pretty Things (SF Sorrow), The Who (Tommy), and The Kinks (Arthur).
Blackwell produced The Story of Simon Simopath just prior to his work on Supernatural Fairy Tales. The engineer, Brian Humphries, earned his first credit on this release. He subsequently worked on Traffic and the 1968/69 Kinks concept albums We Are the Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur. Dale arranged the strings, played by the Nirvana Ensemble.
The Story of Simon Simopath sports a cartoon-style sleeve illustration by graphic designer David Browning. It shows Simon with head wings flying through space. Typographic ribbons with the name and title wind in and out of planet Earth. Below, Cedric the Centaur stands in the nirvana before the Pentecost Hotel.
On the back cover, Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos stand among the Nirvana Ensemble, effectively misrepresenting Nirvana as a six-piece band. In Australia, the album appeared as Pentecost Hotel on Festival Records with the six-piece group photo on the front cover.
1968: All of Us
In March 1968, Nirvana released their third single, the psychedelic “Rainbow Chaser,” one of the first recordings with phasing from start to finish. It topped the Danish Singles Chart. The b-side, “Flashbulb,” is an uptempo piano boogie number forwarded by a throbbing bassline.
Nirvana mimed “Rainbow Chaser” on French television with Salvador Dalí, who splashed black paint on the members and their instruments. As sessions continued for their second album, Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos dispensed with the Nirvana Ensemble, citing touring costs.
Their second album, All of Us, appeared in August 1968 on Island (UK), Festival (Australia), Fontana (South Africa), and Bell Records (US). It opens with “Rainbow Chaser” and contains 11 further Campbell-Lyons/Spyropoulos originals, including “You Can Try It,” “St. John’s Wood Affair,” and “Frankie the Great.” Also included is their debut a-side from the prior year, “Tiny Goddess,” despite its ties to the Magdelena sequence in the Simon Simopath story.
Side two opens with “The Girl In the Park,” a jaunty cut issued the same month as Nirvana’s fourth single, backed with the non-album “C Side In Ocho Rios,” an instrumental version of “In the Courtyard of the Stars.”
In November, Island lifted “The Touchables (All of Us)” as the album’s third single: titled “All of Us (The Touchables).” The song bookends the 1968 20th Century Fox release Original Motion Picture Sound Track Album “The Touchables”, which also has cuts by Ferris Wheel and
- The Story of Simon Simopath (1967)
- All of Us (1968)
- To Markos III [aka Black Flower] (1970)
- Local Anaesthetic (1971)
- Songs of Love and Praise (1972)
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