Rare Bird was an English organ-rock quartet that released two albums on Charisma in 1969 and 1970, followed by three further titles on Polydor between 1972 and 1974. They are best known for the songs “Beautiful Scarlet,” “Sympathy,” the side-long suite “Flight,” and their 1972 maxi-album Epic Forest. Along with contemporaries ELP, Atomic Rooster, Quatermass, and Van der Graaf Generator, they were among the first rock bands with no guitar.
Members: Graham Field (organ, keyboards, 1969-71), Dave Kaffinetti (electric piano, keyboards), Steve Gould (lead vocals, bass), Mark Ashton (drums, vocals, 1969-71), Fred Kelly (drums, 1972-75), Ced Curtis (guitar, 1972-75)
Rare Bird evolved from Lunch, a psych-rock combo formed in 1968 by organist Graham Field (1940–2018) and pianist Dave Kaffinetti. In August 1969, they linked with guitarist/singer Steve Gould, bassist Chris Randall, and drummer Mark Ashton. The first two hailed from the pop-psych band Fruit Machine, which issued three recent singles. Ashton played in Turnstyle, which cut one 1968 Pye single. Gould also cut a 1968 single with the timely named Walham Green East Wapping, Carpet Cleaning Rodent and Boggit Exterminating Association.
Field and Kaffinetti wanted a guitar-free quartet with a singing bassist. Impressed with Gould’s baritone, they reassigned him to bass and dropped Randall from the lineup.
Rare Bird played one of their earliest concerts to a floored crowd at the Mothers’ Club in Birmingham. Weeks later, they had a management agency that linked them with Charisma, a newly formed post-psych label headed by Nice manager Tony Stratton Smith.
1969: Rare Bird
Rare Bird released their self-titled debut album in November 1969 on Charisma (UK). It features nine group-written originals, including “You Went Away,” “Natures Fruit,” “Melanie,” and the lengthier “Iceberg,” “Beautiful Scarlet,” and “God of War.”
Rare Bird was produced at Trident Studios by John Anthony, whose prior credits consisted of two 1969 releases on Mercury: the debut album by Van Der Graaf Generator (The Aerosol Grey Machine) and a one-off single by Smile (“Earth”), the prototype of Queen. The album was engineered by Malcolm Toft, who worked on 1968/69 albums by Aphrodite’s Child, The Nice, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the second self-titled album by David Bowie.
Rare Bird was the inaugural release on Charisma (cat# CAS 1005), followed three months later by the second VDGG album (The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other). The sleeve design, by illustrator Martin Davis, features a colorful “rare bird” (front) and a b&w group shot (back), dwarfed by trees and surrounded by credits. Stratton-Smith wrote the liner notes, stating “Rare Bird are a rare find, innovative, original, deeply musical. They’re one of their own.”
In February 1970, Charisma lifted the ballad “Sympathy” as a single, backed with the non-album “Devil’s High Concern.” The a-side, inspired by Giazotto’s reconstruction of Albinoni’s Adagio, hit the UK Top 30 and reached #1 in Italy and France. By then, Rare Bird appeared internationally on Philips (Europe) and ABC/Probe (North America). In France, Italy, and South Africa, the album was retitled after the hit.
Probe copies, which flip sides one and two, sport a different cover by the in-house team of Henry Epstein and William Duevell, also responsible for 1969/70 cover visuals for Ahmad Jamal and Eddie Holman. It shows a floating turkey mosaic (front) and a medium b&w group shot (back).
“Sympathy” appears on five contemporary Philips comps, including the 1970 French release Pop Power, which also features cuts by Atomic Rooster, Black Sabbath, Colosseum, Ekseption, The Equals, Jethro Tull, and Rod Stewart.
“Beautiful Scarlet” was covered by German rockers Swegas on their 1971 release Child of Light and the following year by Capability Brown on their debut album From Scratch.
1970: As Your Mind Flies By
In August 1970, Rare Bird played the second annual Plumpton Festival, a four-day event at the Plumpton Racecourse, Lewes, with performances by Black Sabbath Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe, Caravan, Cat Stevens, Clark-Hutchinson, Climax Blues Band, Colosseum, Dada, Deep Purple, East of Eden, Every Which Way, Family, Fat Mattress, Fotheringay, Gracious, Groundhogs, Hard Meat, Hardin & York, Incredible String Band, Jackson Heights, Juicy Lucy, Keef Hartley Band, Made in Sweden, Magna Carta, Patto, Peter Green, Quatermass, Steamhammer, Strawbs, T2, Taste, Wishbone Ash, Yes, and Charisma labelmates Audience and Van Der Graaf Generator.
Rare Bird’s second album, As Your Mind Flies By, appeared in September 1970 on Charisma (UK), Philips (Europe), and ABC (North America). Side one features two medium-length band originals, “What You Want to Know” and “I’m Thinking,” which sandwich the shorter numbers “Down On the Floor” and “Hammerhead.” Side two consists of Flight, a 19-minute suite in four parts: “As Your Mind Flies By,” “Vacuum,” “New Yorker,” and “Central Park.”
Rare Bird self-produced the album with engineer Bryan Stott, a technical hand on 1970/71 albums by Titus Groan, the Bee Gees, Tony Hazzard, and Fields (the upcoming project of Graham Field).
Charisma paired “What You Want to Know” and “Hammerhead” onto 7″. In Europe, Philips issued the single with a different sleeve in each territory.
As Your Mind Flies By sports a bright blue gatefold cover with the name in bold sans serif font. The inner-spread shows a runway plane with credits and head shots of each member. This was the first credit for designer John Pasche, later known for more risque and startling visuals on albums by the Rolling Stones, Budgie, Hummingbird (We Can’t Go On Meeting Like This), and assorted acts on the Gull label (Arthur Brown, Judas Priest, If, Seventh Wave).
ABC copies come in a single sleeve with a silhouetted wing-headed man, superimposed with a monochrome face collage (multiplied pics of each member) and the same turkey from the earlier Probe release. Spanish copies include the translation Mientras tu Mente Vaga.
“As Your Mind Flies By,” the lengthy first section of the Flight suite, appears on Charisma Keyboards, a 1974 label comp with cuts by Genesis (“The Fountain of Salmacis“), Van Der Graaf Generator (“White Hammer”), Bo Hansson, The Nice, and Robert John Godfrey.
1971: Lineup Change
In early 1971, Rare Bird got stymied by the departures of Field and Ashton. Encouraged by Robert Fripp, the organist formed Fields with drummer — a recent member of
- Rare Bird (1969)
- As Your Mind Flies By (1970)
- Epic Forest (1972)
- Somebody’s Watching (1973)
- Born Again (1974)
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