Review: Keith Altham, NME Dec 1967
Traffic in the city may have come to a stand- still due to the recent rail dispute, but Traffic in the charts is still moving full speed ahead. All four musicians (Chris Wood, Stevie Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason) met me in their manager’s London offices to discuss their first album, Mr Fantasy (Island) released next week, with producer Jimmy Miller.
First topic of conversation proved to be the album sleeve pinned to a notice board, which depicts the group with “Mr. Fantasy”- a weird looking person got up to look like a cross between Coco the clown and an Aztec Warrior – seated before a glowing fire in “the” cottage.
“I don’t like it” said Dave Mason critically, reviewing the photograph. “It hasn’t reproduced as we had hoped.” He was, however, a great deal more pleased with a black and white insert photo inside the album which makes him look like a ventriloquists’ dummy. There is also a curious picture of Stevie Wielding a huge axe.
“It gets very cold in the cottage.” Explained Jimmy, alluding to Stevie’s wood chopping pose. One other interesting feature of the sleeve is that it is claimed the cottage ghost has kindly put in a “ghost” appearance for the photo and what appears to be a face can be seen illuminated by fireglow against the chimney place.
We repaired to manager Chris Blackwell’s office where his stereogram failed miserably to meet Jimmy Miller’s required standards of album reproduction. It was decided to rush round to Jim’s Earl Court flat where there was equipment which met with everyone’s approval except the people who happen to live downstairs. A notice to this effect is pinned lovingly to the wall as you go in the door.
Jimmy pulled all the curtains- as it was mid- day –“for atmosphere” and fell into an armchair where he jerked convulsively and punctuated the musical passages of various instruments by jerking his arms, legs and head. Dave Mason kindly provided additional information for my notes.
Side 1 begins with heaven Is In Your Mind and Stevie sings while pianos pound and drums thump and Chris Wood wails on sax. And while some are writing material which could only be classified as “music to be confused to” the Traffic provide food for thought or simply something to dance to, and Dave Mason observes that there is fluff on the stylus!
Berkshire Poppies has a fascinating lyric, written by that fascinating lyricist Jim Capaldi, and features Jimmy Miller on “burp,” Steve Marriott on weather forecast and some 25 assorted people on vocal. The whole number has an almost raucous hurdy- gurdy quality about it.
Interspersed with motor horns, a piano deliberately out of tune and singing about “Waiting for Christmas that’s made in Japan” It might sound too chaotic to be musical but it is, musical that is!
House For Everyone is another short excursion through Dave Mason’s mind and provides some truth for anyone looking for it. For those that are not, there is a pretty oboe quartet featured and Stevie plays bass on this with Chris on flute.
No Face No Name And No Number is a beautiful sad song. Perceptive lyric from Mr Capaldi. Sensitive vocal by Mr Winwood. Imaginative meletron by Mr.Mason. A potential single.
Dear Mr Fantasy is probably the finest track of its kind since Mr Tambourine- man, it features Dave on bass and harmonica and some extraordinary musical gymnastics from Stevie on guitar and Chris Wood on organ. Side 1 fades out with Paper Sun fading in and out, finally setting.
Side 2 opens with Dealer, which is a delightful fusion of Spanish guitar played by Stevie with basic “blues” sound. Clever bass patterns that “zoom” through the background and it is overall my favourite track.
Utterly Simple was written by Dave for the film “Mulberry Bush” and features him on vocal and sitar. Fairy tale influences with a surprising narrative from Jimmy Miller on phone, one of the finest telephonists in the business Jimmy!
Coloured Rain proves why Stevie once collected a vocalist of the year award and gives Chris Wood time out to demonstrate his prowess on sax.
I Hope I Never Find You There is Dave “Mr Dream Maker” Mason back in the land of “Hole In My Shoe,” assisted by pipe and drums and providing the kind of rhyme- philosophy which is his strength.
Give It To You is, as Dave Mason put it, so succinctly, “a blow!” A free- for – all jam session in which Jim Capaldi cuts away on drums and Stevie Winwood explores the musical depths of jazz organ a la Jimmy Smith.
“Mr Fantasy” should cause quite a bit of controversy among its listeners.