String Driven Thing

String Driven Thing was a British folk-rock band, originally formed in Scotland as a harmony combo by the husband/wife team Chris and Pauline Adams. In 1972, they moved to London and added violinist Graham Smith. After the 1973 release The Machine That Cried, the Adams departed. Smith led a new lineup through two further albums with singer Kim Beacon. In 1977, Smith joined Van Der Graaf.

Members: Chris Adams (guitar, vocals, 1969-73), Pauline Adams (vocals, percussion, 1969-73), John Mannion (guitar, bass, percussion, 1969-72), Colin Wilson (bass, guitar, banjo, 1971-73), Graham Smith (violin, viola, 1971-75), Billy Fairley (drums, 1973), Kim Beacon (vocals, 1974-75), Alun Roberts (guitar, banjo, vocals, 1974-75), James Exell (bass, 1974-75), Colin Fairley (drums, percussion, 1974-75)


Inception

String Driven Thing formed in Glasgow in 1967 as a harmony pop trio when guitarist/singer Chris Adams and his singing percussionist wife Pauline teamed with guitarist, bassist, and percussionist John Mannion. Over the next two years, they made their name on the local folk club circuit. In 1970, they signed with Concord, a newly established label with a small roster of folk-pop talent (Lovelace Green, Stavely Makepeace).


1970: String Driven Thing

The trio released their self-titled album in 1970 on Concord (UK). It contains 12 Chris Adams originals, including “July Morning,” “Magic Garden,” “City Man,” and “Another Night In This City.” All tracks are in the 2–3-minute range apart from the lengthier album closer “One Of the Lonely People.”

String Driven Thing was produced by John A.B. Read and engineered by Freddie Packham, a technical hand on titles by The Easybeats and Mike Cooper. The album’s arranger, Phil Dennys, also worked on 1970 recordings by Jade, Harvey Andrews, and Hardin & York. Sessions took place at Central Sound Studios, London.

The original release of String Driven Thing (cat# CON-S 1001) was the first of only two albums on the Concord label, which otherwise issued singles during its five-year existence. In 1971, the album appeared in Germany on Vogue Schallplatten.

Concord, Vogue, and Astor (Australia) issued one single from the album, “Another Night In This Old City” (b/w “Say What You Like”).

On July 18, 1970, String Driven Thing performed at the First Scottish Blues and Progressive Festival at Caledonian Football Park in Inverness. The Saturday event also featured sets by Savoy Brown, Taste, If, Black Widow, Brinsley Schwarz, and Atomic Rooster.


1972: String Driven Thing

In 1972, String Driven Thing moved to London, where they embraced folk rock and added guitarist/bassist Colin Wilson and classically trained violinist Graham Smith. Soon after, Mannion left the band over musical differences.

String Driven Thing signed with Charisma and released their second self-titled album in October 1972. The album features five songs per side, nine written solely by Chris Adams, including “Circus,” “Easy To Be Free,” “Jack Diamond,” “Very Last Blue Yodell,” and “Regent St. Incident.” The second track, “Fairground,” is an Adams/Adams co-write.

String Driven Thing was recorded at I.B.C. Studios, London, with Shel Talmy, the famed beat-era producer (The Kinks, The Who, The Creation, Manfred Mann) who recently worked with Axiom, Pentangle, and Rumplestiltskin. The album was engineered by Damon Lyon-Shaw (Cressida, Bee Gees, Status Quo, Laurie Styvers) and Hugh Jones (David Ackles, Lesley Duncan, Matthew Fisher, Return to Forever).

The costumed banquet gatefold cover was designed by Hipgnosis, the post-psych graphics firm that also did the band’s subsequent three covers. The front shows a big tray of pasta surrounded by five subjects in a red-lit lounge. The revelers include a red-haired ebony lady and a flamboyantly attired violinist (chrome dome, hoop earrings, satin bolero jacket, striped clown pants). The back shows further revelers at an adjacent table, including two retro ritzy ladies (one in white face) and a midget concertinist sailor. The inner-spread features a b&w photo of the four band members in the same setting.

Charisma issued “Circus” as a single in the UK and US, backed with “Hooked On the Road.” In Canada, Buddah Records paired the a-side with “My Real Hero.” In 1973, “Fairground” appeared as a Japanese 7″ on Mooncrest.

“Eddie,” a non-album a-side, appeared in November 1972 (UK only).

String Driven Thing opened for labelmates Genesis at Leicester University on December 1, 1972. Two weeks later, the two acts played a double-bill at the Philharmonic Hall in New York City.

“Regent Street Incident” appears on the 1973 label comp Charisma Disturbance, a two-LP set with cuts by Alan Hull, Audience, Bell + Arc, Bo Hansson, Capability Brown, Clifford T. Ward, Genesis (“Return of the Giant Hogweed“), Lindisfarne, The Nice, Peter Hammill, Rare Bird, and Van Der Graaf Generator.


1973: The Machine That Cried

In February 1973, String Driven Thing reentered I.B.C. with a fifth member, drummer Billy “The Kid” Fairley. The resulting album, The Machine That Cried, appeared in August 1973 on Charisma (US, North America, Japan). It contains eight Chris Adams compositions, including “Heartfeeder,” “To See You,” “Night Club,” and the title track. Chris co-wrote a song apiece with Smith (“Sold Down the River”) and Pauline (“People On the Street”).

Talmy produced The Machine That Cried with engineers Lyon-Shaw and Jones, who respectively worked that year on breakthrough albums by Golden Earring (Moontan) and Return to Forever (Light As a Feather). Wilson was deputized by bassist Bill Hatje on three tracks, including “Heartfeeder,” which also features guest cellist Clare Sealey. Additional sessions took place at Advision studios during the early summer of 1973.

UK copies sport a Hipgnosis gatefold sleeve with a b&w inner-spread band photo, taken in a low-ceiling interior with a violin-wielding Smith seated Indian style, sideways to the camera, in his trademark white robe. In the US, The Machine That Cried was issued in a single sleeve with a title margin and a standard medium shot of String Driven Thing (back).

The album’s UK release was accompanied by the non-album a-side “Are You a Rock and Roller,” issued as a double-sided promo. It also appeared as a proper single, backed with the album track “Night Club,” a Dylanesque number with lyrics inspired by the cover image of their prior album. Another non-album a-side, “It’s a Game,” appeared in September 1973 (b/w “Rock and Roller”).

Time constraints forced the exclusion of “River Of Sleep,” an 11-minute suite in three parts (“The Sowee,” “Search In Time,” “Going Down”), originally intended as the closing track of The Machine That Cried. The original album contained only the two-minute final section, “Going Down.”

In 1991, the album was issued on CD by German archivists Repertoire Records with the entirety of the suite, also included on subsequent reissues. In 1996, UK specialists Ozit-Morpheus Records took the Repertoire tracklist and added three additional cuts: “It’s a Game” and the outtakes “If Only the Good” and “Part of the City.”

“It’s a Game” and “Are You a Rock and Roller” appear on The Famous Charisma Label 5th Anniversary, a 1974 rarities comp with non-album cuts by Van Der Graaf Generator (“Theme One,” “W”), Genesis (“Twilight Alehouse,” “Happy the Man”), Capability Brown (“Wake Up Little Sister,” “Wind Fall”), and Audience (“Indian Summer”). “It’s a Game” also appears on 22 Electrifying Hits, a 1974 K-Tell comp with tracks by Cliff Richard, Stealers Wheel (“Star“), Nazareth, Prelude, Focus, and the American R&B acts Love Unlimited, Barry White, Billy Paul, The Isley Brothers, and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

In March 1974, “To See You” appeared on the back of a new non-album a-side, “I’ll Sing One for You.”


1974: New Lineup, Please Mind Your Head

During the making of The Machine That Cried, Chris Adams coped with depression and a collapsed lung. In early 1974, Wilson yielded to Hatje and Billy Fairley cleared out for ex-Beggars Opera drummer Colin Fairley (no relation). Soon afterwards, the road-weary Adams couple quit the band and returned to Glasgow. This left String Driven Thing with no original members and only one tenured player, Smith, who passed time with appearances on 1974 albums by Greenslade (Spyglass Guest) and Australian singer/songwriter Gary Shearston.

On the brink of collapse, Charisma urged Smith and Colin Fairley to keep String Driven Thing afloat with three new recommendations: singer Kim Beacon, guitarist Alun Roberts, and bassist James Exell. Beacon sang for a time in Scottish folksters Northwind but didn’t appear on their one album.

The new lineup’s first of two albums, Please Mind Your Head, appeared in November 1974 on Charisma (UK, Canada, Netherlands, Australia) and 20th Century Records (US). It features nine songs, including four Exell/Roberts co-writes: “Overdrive,” “Man of Means,” “Black Eyed Queen,” and “Keep On Moving.” The album also has two Colin Fairley numbers (“Josephine,” “Mrs. O’Reilly”) and a song apiece by Smith (“Timpani for the Devil”) and Beacon (“Without You”).

The six-minute closing track, “To Know You Is To Love You,” is a song by Syreeta, originally found on her 1972 self-titled album, co-written with her producer and partner Stevie Wonder.

Please Mind Your Head was co-produced between the band and one A.D. Munt. Sessions took place at Escape Studios with engineer Tony Taverner, who also worked on 1974/75 albums by Fruupp, Kursaal Flyers, Nazareth, and Zzebra. Robert plays banjo on select passages. Two tracks (“Overdrive” and “Mrs. O’Reilly”) feature backing vocals by Graham White and ex-Capability Brown singer Kenny Rowe. Additional guests include pianist Harry MacDonald (Krazy Kat), saxophonist Alan Skidmore, and harpist/bagpipe player Cuddly Juddley.

The cover of Please Mind Your Head was an early credit for graphic artist Peter Christopherson, who joined Hipgnosis that year. It shows two tennis players with heads switched and ajar; the foreground subject’s racket appears to work as a mirror when held aface. Visually, the cover has similarities with another Hipgnosis credit, Headroom, the 1973 solo album by erstwhile Hollies singer Allan Clarke. Christopherson subsequently designed the burning handshake cover to Pink Floyd‘s 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

Please Mind Your Head spawned two singles: “Mrs. O’Reilly” (b/w “Keep On Moving”) and “Overdrive” (b/w “Timpani for the Devil”).


1975: Keep Yer ‘And on It

During April–May 1975, String Driven Thing toured the Northeast US as the opening act for Lou Reed. That summer, both acts were billed for the Reading Rock Festival, a three-day event (August 22–24) with sets by Babe Ruth, Caravan, Climax Blues Band, Dr. Feelgood, Hawkwind, Joan Armatrading, Judas Priest, Kokomo, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robin Trower, Soft Machine, UFO, Wally, and Wishbone Ash. String Driven Thing performed on the second day (Saturday the 23rd) along with Snafu, Thin Lizzy, and headliners Yes and Supertramp. (Reed and another slated third-day act, Richard & Linda Thompson, were no-shows.)

String Driven Thing released their final album, Keep Yer ‘And on It, in late 1975 on Charisma (UK, Netherlands, Canada) and 20th Century (US). This too features nine songs with four Exell/Roberts co-writes: “Call Out for Mercy,” “Chains (I Wanna Be Just Like Stan Bowles),” “Part of It,” and “Stand Back In Amazement.” The album also includes two Excell solo compositions (“But I Do,” “Ways of a Woman”), one Excell/Fairley co-write (“Starving In the Tropics”), and the Beacon number “Old Friends.” Side one wraps with the Beatles cover “Things We Said Today.”

Keep Yer ‘And on It was recorded at Island’s Basing St. Studios with producer and engineer Andy Johns (Free, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople), who also worked that year on Anvil Chorus, the second album by the Heavy Metal Kids (billed temporarily as The Kids). Juddley appears once again on harmonica. Select passages feature pianist Peter Wood (Al Stewart, Jonathan Kelly, Sutherland Brothers, Starry Eyed & Laughing).

The album’s cover image — a squeezed close-up tube spout in the grip of a hand — was taken by Hipgnosis photographer Howard Bartrop (Wish You Were Here, How Dare You!) with graphics by Colin Elgie (Scheherazade and Other Stories, Year of the Cat). The rear image repeats the photo with a fish-eyed view of the band in lieu of the spout. The band are posed in an alley with a head-shaven Smith kneeling foreground.

Keep Yer ‘And on It yielded one single: “But I Do” (b/w “Stand Back In Amazement”). Soon after the album’s release, Smith left the band, which welcomed keyboardist Derek Beauchemin in its final months.

String Driven Thing’s final release was the June 1976 single “Cruel to Fool,” an Excell/Roberts composition backed with C. Fairley’s “Josephine.” Shel Talmy returned as producer, having recently worked with Chris White, Kristine Sparkle, and Velvet Glove. In the US, 20th Century issued the single with a different b-side, the Excell–Roberts–Beacon co-write “Sail Away.” Fairley’s departure signaled the band’s end.


After String Driven Thing

Smith played on 1976 albums by Al Stewart (Year of the Cat) and Osibisa (Ojah Awake). In 1977, he played on Over, the sixth solo album by Peter Hammill. Later that year, Smith followed Hammill back into Van Der Graaf Generator, which shortened its name to Van Der Graaf for the album The Quiet Zone, The Pleasure Dome. After their 1978 live double-LP Vital, Smith played on the Hammill solo albums The Future Now and PH7.

Also in 1978, Smith played on Please Don’t Touch!, the first post-Genesis solo album by guitarist Steve Hackett. Between 1981 and 1985, Smith released four solo folk albums from his new base in Iceland.

Colin Fairley became a producer/engineer, starting with technical credits on 1977 albums by America, Split Enz (Dizrythmia), and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Between 1979 and 1984, Fairley worked on albums by Judie Tzuke (Welcome to the Cruise), Japan (Quiet Life, Gentlemen Take Polaroids), The Teardrop Explodes (Wilder), Mick Karn (Titles), Spandau Ballet (Diamond), and Echo & The Bunnymen (Porcupine).

Chris and Pauline Adams released three singles as a duo on Charisma in 1975/76:

  • “If Only the Good Die Young” / “The City at the Night” — B-side features Smith.
  • “Don’t Make Me Fall” / “(Here Comes) the Crunch”
  • “The Crunch” / “Hand the Rock On”

Beacon sang backing vocals on Thin Lizzy’s 1976 release Johnny the Fox. In 1979, he sang lead on A Curious Feeling, the debut solo album by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks. That same year, Beacon made his solo debut with the album Ravenna. That and his 1981 followup, Talking To Myself, were issued on the new wave label Rialto (The Korgis, The Planets, The Regents, Mobiles). Ravenna‘s opening track, “My Blues Have Gone,” was covered in 1983 by Pointer Sister June Pointer.

Beauchemin played on the 1979 French Polydor release The Old Pals Act by singer/songwriter Peter Bennett. The album also features Dougie Thompson, Bob C. Benberg, and John Anthony Helliwell of Supertramp.

Contrary to rumor, Wilson is not the same Colin Wilson who made the 1975 folk rarity Cloudburst.

In 1977, the Bay City Rollers covered “It’s a Game” as the title track to their fifth studio album. As a single, their version made the Top Ten in Australia (#9), Austria (#9), Germany (#4), Ireland (#6), and Switzerland (#6).

Chris Adams and Smith reactivated String Driven Thing several times, starting in 1991. In 2004, they regrouped with Pauline Adams.


Albums:

  • String Driven Thing (1970, Concord)
  • String Driven Thing (1972, Charisma)
  • The Machine That Cried (August 1973, Charisma)
  • Please Mind Your Head (November 1974, Charisma/20th Century)
  • Keep Yer ‘And on It (1975, Charisma/20th Century)

Singles:

  • 1971: “Another Night in This Old City” / “Say What You Like” (both String Driven Thing, Concord)
  • 1972: “Eddie” (non-album) / “Hooked on the Road” (String Driven Thing, Charisma)
  • 1973: “Circus” / “My Real Hero” (both String Driven Thing, Charisma)
  • 1973: “Are You a Rock and Roller” (non-album) / “Night Club” (String Driven Thing, Charisma)
  • 1973: “It’s a Game” / “Are You a Rock and Roller” (both non-album)
  • 1974: “I’ll Sing One for You” (non-album) / “To See You” (The Machine That Cried)
  • 1974: “Mrs. O’Reilly” / “Keep on Moving” (both Please Mind Your Head)
  • 1975: “Overdrive” / “Timpani for the Devil” (both Please Mind Your Head)
  • 1976: “But I Do” / “Stand Back in Amazement” (both Keep Yer ‘And on It)
  • 1976: “Cruel to Fool” / “Josephine” (both non-album, Charisma)
  • 1976: “Cruel to Fool” / “Sail Away” (both non-album, 20th Century)

Sources:

1 thought on “String Driven Thing

  1. Great band I have most of their records and Japanese mini-LP cd’s. Somebody brought The Machine That Cried to Guatemala in 1979 and I fell in love with this band.

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