Writing on the Wall

Writing On the Wall was a Scottish post-psych band that released a standalone single and the album The Power of the Picts on Middle Earth in 1969. Four years later, the band released a one-off single on Pye.

Members: Jake Scott (bass, vocals), Jimmy Hush (drums), William “Bill” Scott (keyboards), Linnie Paterson (lead vocals, 1968-70), Willy Finlayson (guitar, vocals, 1968-69, 1973), Robert “Smiggy” Smith (guitar, 1969-70), Alby Greenhalgh (winds, ?-1973)


Inception

They formed in 1967 in Edinburgh as The Jury, a soul-psych group comprised of singer Linnie Paterson, guitarist Willy Finlayson, drummer Jimmy Hush, bassist Jake Scott, and keyboardist William “Bill” Scott. Their early set was a mix of covers (“Peter Gunn”) and group-written originals (“Words and Music”) in an organ-drenched Animals vein.

In early 1968, they changed their name to Writing on the Wall and moved to London. They played the Middle Earth Club, a converted cellar on King Street that featured the day’s leading psych acts: The Bonzo Dog Band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Deviants, July, The Move, Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things, Soft Machine, Tomorrow, and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

That fall, they did a session for the 12/8/68 broadcast of the BBC Radio One music program Top Gear hosted by John Peel. Their set comprised five numbers: the band originals “Taskers Successor,” “Shadow of Man,” “Profile of a Door,” “Felicity Jane,” and the Small Faces‘ “Sha La La La La Le.” After police raids forced Middle Earth’s closure, club and band manager Brian Waldman signed Writing On the Wall to his new Middle Earth label.


1969: The Power of the Picts

Writing On the Wall made their vinyl debut with the non-album single “Child On a Crossing” (b/w “Lucifer’s Corpus”), released in October 1969 on Middle Earth.

  • “Child On a Crossing” (3:36): Heavy mid-tempo psych. Icy, striking organ; distorted riffage; pounding four-down rhythm; deep-voiced singing; down-spiraling progression. Written by German-born Scottish composer, guitarist, and arranger Robert “Smiggy” Smith.
  • “Lucifer Corpus” (5:41): Slow/fast horror epic. Rhythm-less, open-cadence verses; brisk, drum-pummeled chorus with demonic vocals (Brown-like); mono-key break (A minor) with shrill, cascading organ runs; biting guitar solo with stinging fuzztone. Written by Donald Cameron, who also wrote for soul-rock singer Tam White, another Middle Earth artist.

Their album, The Power of the Picts, appeared the following month on Middle Earth (UK), Astor (Australia), and Disques Vogue (France). It features nine songs in the 3–6-minute range, including the Scott/Scott “Shadow of Man,” the group-written “Ladybird,” the traditional “Aries,” and the Smiggy-penned opener “It Came On a Sunday.

Finlayson and the Scott’s co-wrote three numbers: “Mrs. Cooper’s Pie,” “Bogeyman,” and “Hill of Dreams.” Jake Scott and Finlayson wrote “Taskers Successor,” a bass-heavy freakbeat cut with soaring vocals and rippling organ sustains. The closing track, “Virginia Waters,” is a co-write between Dada guitarist Pete Gage (later Vinegar Joe) and soul singer Kenny Bernard, who originated the song as a 1968 CBS–Direction b-side with Cats Pyjamas.

The Power of the Picts and the preceding single were produced by arranger/conductor Dave Howson, who also produced the album and single for fellow Middle Earth signees Arcadium. The original release of Picts (cat# MDLS 303) directly followed Arcadium’s Breathe Awhile  (cat# MDLS 302). Along with A Handeful of Pleasant Delites  by the folk duo Wooden O (#301) and the self-titled release by Tam White (#304), these were the label’s only albums in its two-year existence.

Garrod & Lofthouse printed the textured cover art, which shows a pixelated xerox of a skull pic. The five band members cavort above its right eye socket.

“Ladybird” appears on Progressive Music, a 1969 compilation on the German Mode Serie label with cuts by Arcadium, Blonde On Blonde, Man, Pesky Gee!, Velvett Fogg, and Woody Kern.


Later Activity

Writing On the Wall continued as a popular live act with Smiggy in lieu of Finlayson. However, Waldman kept them contract-bound despite the collapse of his label. In early 1972, Paterson and Smiggy quite over musical differences. Hush and the Scott’s reinstated Finlayson and continued as a four-piece. They demoed new material at their shared Victorian house on Burghley Road in West London.

In 1973, Writing On the Wall landed a deal with Pye Records that yielded one single, “Man of Renown” (b/w “Buffalo”), both J. Scott/Finlayson compositions. The a-side was produced by Don Lawson and Biddu. The b-side (4:20) was extracted from a longer composition (6:54).

That December, Writing On the Wall headed to Wales to make a new album. The plan got thwarted by the theft of their equipment, which left the cash-strapped band no other choice but to call it a day.


After Writing On the Wall

Linnie Paterson joined fellow Scots Beggars Opera for their 1973 fourth album Get Your Dog Off Me.

Willy Finlayson surfaced in country rockers Meal Ticket, which issued three 1977/78 albums on EMI/Logo. He also played in pub rockers Eggs Over Easy. During the mid-1980s, he cut two solo synthpop singles on PRT, produced by Peter Bardens.

Robert “Smiggy” Smith did a brief stint in Cliff Bennett’s Rebellion and joined Scottish popsters Blue for their 1974 release Life In the Navy. As an engineer, he worked on 1976/77 albums by Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, Starsky & Hutch actor David Soul, American hard-rockers Yesterday & Today, Australian rustic-rockers The Dingoes, and the pre-Perry Journey (Next).


Reissues and Archival Releases

The Power of the Picts was first reissued on CD in 1992 on Repetoire (Germany), which re-pressed the disc thrice more through 2000. During the noughties, the disc reappeared on CD and LP on Arkama (Italy) and Alkinous Ltd (Russia). Most reissues add both sides of the 1969 Middle Earth single as bonus tracks.

Four discs of archival material have surfaced since the band’s 25th anniversary:

  • Rarities From the Middle Earth(Audio Archives, 1994) — 1969 recordings, half-live/half-studio, including two songs that made Picts, both songs from the ’69 single, two versions of the early favorite “Felicity Jane,” and two pre-LP numbers (“Flight of Mind,” “Profile On a Door”).
  • Cracks In the Illusion of Life: A History of Writing On the Wall(Tenth Planet, 1995) — Two live numbers by The Jury (1967) and assorted live and demo recordings, including “Tripsy Lady,” “Man of Renown,” “Fishers of Men,” and the full “Buffalo.”
  • Burghley Road ‎(Tenth Planet, 1996) — 1972/73-era demos from the four-piece lineup, including the seven-minute “Dream Yourself a Hero.”
  • The Rockfield Sessions ‎(Shadoks Music, 2015) — Seven tracks recorded in Wales for their intended second album, including the seven-minute “Bellyful of Rock.” The album captures Writing On the Wall in hard-rock/boogie mold, ala Sassafras.

In 2007, UK archivists Ork Records issued The Power of the Picts as a two-CD set with a second disc titled Buffalo, which collects material from the Tenth Planet releases. Belle Antique (Japan) reissued the double-disc in 2021.


Discography:

  • The Power of the Picts (1969)
  • “Child On a Crossing” / “Lucifer’s Corpus” (1969)
  • “Man of Renown” / “Buffalo” (1973)

Sources:

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