The Battered Ornaments

The Battered Ornaments were an English jazz-rock/psych band that released two albums on Harvest in 1969, the first with singer/poet Pete Brown, who later cut two albums with Piblokto! He also wrote lyrics for Jack Bruce during and after Cream. The Ornaments also included guitarist Chris Spedding, who fronted the band after Brown’s departure.

Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments Members: Pete Brown (vocals), Pete Bailey (percussion), Charlie Hart (keyboards), Nisar Ahmed Khan [aka George Khan] (saxophone), Roger “Butch” Potter (bass), Chris Spedding (guitar, vocals), Rob Tait (drums)

Battered Ornaments Members: Nisar Ahmed Khan [aka George Khan] (reeds), Chris Spedding (guitar, lead vocals), Pete Bailey (percussion), Butch Potter (bass), Bob Tail (drums)


Background

Pete Brown formed the Battered Ornaments in late 1968 after the breakup of Cream. He would record one album with the Ornaments, the 1969 release A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark, before tensions with guitarist Chris Spedding prompted his departure.

Brown started as a poet with a string of spoken-word performances during the early 1960s. Mid-decade, he put his words to song in the First Real Poetry Band, which featured bassist Binky McKenzie, percussionist Pete Bailey, and guitarist John McLaughlin.

His lyrics caught the attention of the blues-rock powertrio Cream. After an abortive attempt to write a piece with the band’s drummer, Ginger Baker, ideas clicked between Brown and Cream bassist Jack Bruce. They co-wrote numerous songs for the band, including “I Feel Free,” “SWLABR,” “White Room,” “As You Said,” and “Politician.” With input from guitarist Eric Clapton, they wrote the 1967 hit “Sunshine of Your Love.” Along with the trio’s producer, Felix Pappalardi (later bassist of Mountain), Brown was an honorary additional member of Cream.

For the Battered Ornaments, Brown enlisted Spedding, bassist Roger “Butch” Potter, drummer Rob Tait, keyboardist Charlie Hart, reedist Nisar Ahmed Khan (Anglicized as George Khan on certain releases), and percussionist Pete Bailey.

Khan recently played on jazz titles by the Peter Lemer Quintet (Local Colour) and Mike Westbrook Concert Band (Release). Tait recorded just prior in The Owl, one of the pop-psych projects of producer Pierre Tubbs.

As the Battered Ornaments got underway, Brown wrote all the lyrics on Songs for a Tailor, the debut solo album by Jack Bruce, recorded April–May 1969 with Spedding on guitar. That album also features drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, the masterminds of brass-rockers Colosseum. Heckstall-Smith — an earlier collaborator of Bruce and Baker in the Graham Bond Organization — would co-produce the first Battered Ornaments album.


A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark

As Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments, the band debuted with the March 1969 Parlophone single “The Week Looked Good On Paper” (b/w “Morning Call”). Brown sole-composed the aside, exclusive to this release, and co-wrote the flipside with Spedding. The band’s dynamic range is evident on “The Week,” which veers between lucid sung parts and swelling instrumental passages. That and the brisk b-side display Spedding’s unique fretwork (scaly and scribbly) and Tait’s lightning virtuosity.

The band’s only album under the Brown iteration is the June 1969 Harvest release A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark. Along with titles by Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, The Fourth Way, Ike & Tina Turner, the Edgar Broughton Band, and namesakes Barclay James Harvest, this was in the inaugural group of releases on the fledgling EMI sublabel.

At over 55 minutes, A Meal contains eight tracks. It features four songs written alone by Brown, including the opening pair “Dark Lady” and “The Old Man,” plus two Brown/Spedding co-writes (“Station Song,” “Morning Call”). One track, “Rainy Taxi Girl,” is co-credited to Brown and Graham Layden, who was briefly a member. The two side-closers, “Politician” — a Bruce/Brown composition first heard on Wheels of Fire — and “Travelling Blues (Or the New Used Jew’s Dues Blues),” exceed 12 minutes.

In addition to vocals, Brown plays trumpet across side one and the talking drum — a West African hourglass-shaped percussion — on “Sandcastle.” Heckstall-Smith, who co-produced the album with Andrew King (Forest, Third Ear Band), adds tenor sax on “Dark Lady” and “Travelling Blues.” On “Station Song,” Spedding plays the Portuguese chitarra, a teardrop-shaped acoustic guitar.

Musically, A Meal combines prior Bruce/Brown song experiments with the fuller arrangements of reed-tinged, blues-based contemporaries Colosseum and Blodwyn Pig. “Dark Lady” rattles with a modulating fuzz riff that breaks midway for a percussive organ-cum-sax sequence. On “The Old Man,” Spedding’s springy slide-slinging colors an ominous backdrop; midway, oozing fuzz ushers a Baker-esque drumroll that floods and recoils. “Morning Call” gallops amid lightning snare, plucked chords, and scaly refrains. A terse gruffness pervades “Rainy Taxi Girl” through its staccato, angular chorus and flute-lined, martial mid-section. Brown sings in a gritty low-range, phrased like Bruce but similar in tone to Dave Cousins of the Strawbs.

A Meal was originally housed in a gatefold sleeve with a comic-panel innerfold titled “A Battered Odyssey.” It depicts a swashbuckling Brown summoning each band member from a perilous situation with a call of “Oy”: George (Arctic sleigh-ride), Chris (boxing ring), Butch (deep-sea diving), Charlie (lone pilot), and Rob (garroted). The final panel shows the band playing in disbelief before a tuned-out crowd. All visuals, including the deep-orange cover art, were illustrated by Mal Dean, who would also design the two Piblokto! covers.

At 43 characters, A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark was the first of two lengthy titles employed by Brown, who exceeded the count with the 1970 Piblokto! debut Things May Come and Things May Go, but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever.

Select CD reissues of A Meal contain two bonus tracks, “High Sorrow” and “Raining Pins and Needles,” that were actually recorded by Piblokto! during the Things May Come sessions, co-written by Brown and his partner in that band, guitarist Jim Mullen. More appropriately, these same two songs have also been appended to CD pressings of Things May Come.

Between the two Battered Ornament albums, Spedding played on the 1969 CBS release Our Point of View by the Frank Ricotti Quartet. Despite it being an instrumental jazz album, Brown is the credited co-writer (along with Spedding) of the opening track “Late Into the Night.”


Mantle-Piece

In the summer of 1969, the Battered Ornaments recorded a second album, Mantle-Piece. Before its release, Brown quit due to conflicts with Spedding. (By some accounts, Brown was actually sacked from the band he’d founded.) Spedding erased Brown’s vocals from the Mantle-Piece tapes and sang the songs himself. The finished album appeared that November on Harvest.

Mantle-Piece features nine songs, including four Brown/Spedding co-writes: “Then I Must Go,” “Twisted Track,” “My Love’s Gone Far Away,” and the sung (by Spedding) version of “Late Into the Night.” Potter helped the pair on “Take Me Now” and co-wrote “Smoke Rings” with Spedding. The album also includes self-composed songs by Brown (“The Crosswords and the Safety Pins”), Spedding (“Sunshades”), and Khan (“Staggered”).

Despite the frontal shakeup, Mantle-Piece is a continuation of its predecessor. “Smoke Rings” engulfs the speakers with rapid-fire snare-spray and scratchy, fluid fretwork that oozes upward as the vocals clear. “Staggered” is underpinned with a guttural, organ-overlaid bassline, flanked with matching fuzztones; it soon breaks for a spiraling reed descent and, later, an ostinato sprayed with noodly steel-guitar. The boldly sung “Take Me Now” holds shape with crisp bass, selective drumrolls, spicy reeds, and brisk acoustic chords amid stop/start verses. In France, “Take Me Now” and “Staggered” were paired on 7″.

King produced the album at EMI Studios with engineer Peter Bown (not to be confused with Pete Brown), who’d notched technical credits on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Tomorrow. The Mantle-Piece innerfold presents the Battered Ornaments as a five-piece with Spedding at the fore. (Hart, who didn’t take part, would later surface in Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance.) The front and back-cover show airbound microcephalic marble heads, conceived by designer Eddie O’Neill.

The Battered Ornaments barely outlasted the loss of its founder, who resurfaced months later (along with Tait) fronting Pete Brown & Piblokto!, which issued two albums and a standalone single on Harvest in 1970. The first of those, Things May Come, includes Piblokto! versions of the Mantle-Piece tracks “Then I Must Go” and “My Love’s Gone Far Away.” Post-Piblokto!, Brown cut a 1972 collaborative album with Graham Bond and continued as Bruce’s lyricist.


Post-Battered Ornaments

Spedding, a relative newcomer at the Ornaments’ inception, cut the 1970 solo albums Backwood Progression and Songs Without Words. He also launched a highly prolific session career, playing on 1970/71 albums by Lesley Duncan (Sing Children Sing), Linda Lewis, Bob Downes, Michael Gibbs, Neil Ardley, Kenny Young, Mike D’Abo, Linda Hoyle (Pieces of Me), Julie Driscoll, Harry Nilsson, Tony Hazzard, Jack Bruce (Harmony Row), and Elton John. Concurrently, he served as a member of Ian Carr’s Nucleus (We’ll Talk About It Later).

In 1973, Spedding formed Sharks with ex-Free bassist Andy Fraser for a two-album stint (Fraser left after the first). During the second half of the ’70s, Spedding served as a backing regular for Bryan Ferry, John Cale, and David Essex. In 1976/77, he offered in-studio support and industry contacts to emerging talent on the punk/new wave scene, including The Sex Pistols, The Vibrators, and Chrissie Hynde.

Khan cut a 1970 album in The People Band (with Tait) and then appeared (with Potter) on albums by the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and Solid Gold Cadillac. Later in the decade, Khan played on albums by Robert Wyatt, Arthur Brown, and Annette Peacock. In 1977, he formed the jazz-rock combo Mirage with guitarist Brian Godding (Blossom Toes, Magma).

Tait joined Brown for the two Piblokto! albums. He also played on the debut solo albums by Kevin Ayers and ex-Dada vocalist Paul Korda (with Spedding). Tait then did stints in Bell + Arc, Vinegar Joe, Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, and Gong. In 1982, he reunited with Brown on the album Party In the Rain, a collaboration between Brown and pianist Ian Lynn.


Discography:

  • A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark (1969)
  • Mantle-Piece (1969)

Sources:

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