Titus Groan

Titus Groan was an English jam-rock band that released a self-titled album and a standalone single on Dawn in 1970.

Members: Stuart Cowell (keyboards, guitar, vocals), John Lee (bass), Tony Priestland (saxophone, flute, oboe), Jim Toomey (drums)


Background

Titus Groan formed in late 1969 when guitarist Stuart Cowell and drummer Jim Toomey teamed with bassist John Lee and reedist Tony Priestland.

Cowell and Toomey cut two 1967 singles in the pop-psych combo Jon with singer Jon Ledingham (later Jonathan Kelly). They also played in the Warren Davis Monday Band, a Bill Wyman-produced R&B septet that also featured a young (pre-Velvet Opera) Paul Brett. Most recently, Cowell played on the 1969 blues-rock one-off Sweet Pain with Dick Heckstall-Smith.

Titus Groan took their name from the 1946 gothic/fantasy fiction novel, the first in the five-book Gormenghast series by English author Mervyn Peake. A contemporary post-psych band, Fuchsia, took their name from one of the main character’s in Peake’s novel. Along with Quiet World, Trader Horne, and Demon Fuzz, Titus Groan were among the first group of signings to Dawn, the underground division of Pye Records.


The Album

In November 1970, Titus Groan issued their self-titled album simultaneously with a maxi-single comprised of three non-album tracks: the Dylan cover “Open the Door Homer,” Cowell’s “Woman of the World,” and the group-composed “Liverpool,” all produced by Pye Studios tech Barry Murray, best known for his production of Dawn’s breakout act, Mungo Jerry.

Side one of Titus Groan contains two songs, the Cowell/Priestland cut “It Wasn’t for You” and the nearly 12-minute, group-written suite “Hall of Bright Carvings,” divided into four parts: “Theme,” “In the Dusty High-Vaulted Hall,” “The Burning,” and “Theme.” The piece is based on contents from Peake’s novel. Side two contains three medium-length songs: Lee’s “I Can’t Change,” the group-composed “It’s All Up With Us,” and Priestland’s “Fuchsia.”

Original vinyl copies of Titus Groan are housed in a gatefold sleeve with a black/orange cover that depicts an anthropomorphic rooster in a goblin-faced loincloth playing a human-headed bagpipe. It was designed by one Sue Baws. The innerfold shows the four members feasting at a round table, photographed by Paul Shave, also credited with visuals on albums by Atomic Rooster, John Kongos, Jackie McAuley, Gravy Train, and Metro. The album was joint-engineered by Howard Barrow (The Kinks, Donovan, Fleetwood Mac, Blonde On Blonde) and Bryan Stott (Rare Bird, Fields, Bee Gees, Tony Hazzard).


The Songs

“It Wasn’t for You” is a percussive blues-funk jam in Cm with sizzling guitar lines, crisp bass inserts, tight/loose drum fills, and alternating slow/strong passages.

A distinct oboe/cymbal figure heralds “Hall of Bright Carvings,” a layered epic of churning riffs, flute interludes, and windmill ensemblic passages, underpinned with rapidfire bass runs. Toomey’s stop/start tom-rolls pace the barren, chanted chorus. Cowell cuts loose in the “Burning” sequence amid Priestland’s fluid sax riffs. A storm-sounded shift in cadence signals a cymbal-laden face-off between scratchy chords and stately oboe. The opening themes recapitulate with sharpened focus during the final two minutes.

“Liverpool” opens with a brisk strum in D, overtaken by throbbing bass, rippling organ, and a bobbing vocal chant. The rapid pace tenses near the chorus line, surrounded with airy harmonies. Cowell unleashes twangy, upward scales in the middle. The song climaxes with booming, echoey drums fills, rattling percussion, swelling organ, and trebly bass runs.

“I Can’t Change” delivers a windy flute melody over a high-speed chordal churn. Its melodramatic minor-keys set the tone for poignant vocals over brisk, urgent verses and a vulnerable, naked chorus. The pounding, primitivistic middle is flanked with backward cymbals and right/left (channel) melodic inserts.

With its grand sax entrance, “It’s All Up With Us” rolls with simmering bass, thick organ, and full harmonies against a mid-tempo chordal backdrop. It accelerates toward the climax with chugging guitar, steaming reeds, and locomotive precision.

The psych-tinged “Fuchsia” piles on crunchy, driving riffs and thick, airy harmonies. It breaks pace only for a jerky, flute-accented bridge. Toomey’s full-channel, multi-textured drumming bombards the final stretch.

“Woman of the World” is a humble folk-pop number with rounded harmonies, moved along with crisp acoustic strumming, wavy bass accents, and melodic oboe lines.


Later Activity

Priestland played on 1970/71 albums by Andy Leigh (Magician) and Colin Young’s Development ‎(In the Beginning). Cowell joined Paul Brett’s Sage, playing on their 1971/72 Dawn releases Jubilation Foundry and Schizophrenia. Toomey partook in the 1974 one-off Dragonfly with future members of Bliss Band and Violinski. Later that decade, he drummed in The Tourists, which spawned Eurythmics.

Titus Groan was first reissued on a 1989 CD by UK archivists See for Miles. That and all subsequent pressings (on Breathless, Esoteric, Orange, Belle Antique, Strange Days, etc.) include the three maxi-single songs as bonus tracks.


Discography:
  • Titus Groan (1970)
  • “Open the Door Homer” / “Woman of the World” / “Liverpool” (1970)

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