It’s nearing closing time in the tavern of musical obsession, and fans of psychedelic folk light up their leaf of choice and get the last rounds in. The court is in session; the stained and cracked table reverberates, shimmers and morphs into a pantheon of improbable achievements as wide-eyed dreamers state their convoluted cases. In hoarse, reverential whispers, the deeds of COB, Incredible String Band and Pearls Before Swine are recounted. Eventually, the rheumy, bloodshot eyes of your fellow nutters lock on to you like a target acquisition system, and it’s one of those inexplicable moments when an entire public space falls silent. Here’s your chance to strike a blow for the underrated. You say one word that encapsulates everything that you feel is good and great about the genre: ‘Forest’. Well, you do if you’re me anyway. To my mind their two albums, ‘Forest’ and ‘Full Circle’, are as essential as ‘5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion’, ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’, ‘Spirit of Love’, or ‘One Nation Underground’.
Forest was started in Grimsby in the mid 60s by brothers Adrian and Martin Welham and their school friend Dez Allenby. Folk music, thanks to Dylan, was as hip then as spinning other people’s stuff on turntables is now; the shockwave from the advent of the Beatles was travelling faster than the speed of thought, and the world was one boundless psychedelic vision. Forest was initially the Foresters of Walesby, who, if the sole evidence of ‘Famine Song’ from ‘Full Circle’ was anything to go by, were easily able to hold their own against traditional three-part harmony groups like The Watersons and the Young Tradition. The latter were obviously an influence – ‘Famine Song’ recalls the way the YT’s vocal arrangements and lungpower combined for a result as electrifying as in folk as Hendrix was in rock. It’s a pity that Foresters of Walesby versions of folk standards such as ‘Staines Morris’, ‘Hares on the Mountain’ and ‘The Blacksmith’ were never recorded. In fact, the Young Tradition was on the bill at their first serious gig, and became strong supports of the nascent group.
A concurrent love of other forms like beat music and blues was always going to cause a breakout from the traditional mould, and this started to happen around the flowering of the Summer of Love in 1967. Revivalism gave way to a solid brace of original songs that were well established by the time of their appearances in summer of the following year. Demos got made, connections established, and under the management of Marc Williams the three young men were recast with the hipper moniker Forest. Around this time they made an enduring and powerful allay in the form of John Peel, who helped with publicity, and eventually landed them management and agency contracts with Blackhill Enterprises. The demos contained a lot of what they were presenting on stage at the time, and, along with BBC airings on Night Ride and Top Gear, ultimately landed them a deal on the EMI progressive rock subsidiary Harvest, and in an instant they entered the underground rock counterculture of the day.
Their 1969 debut LP ‘Forest’ was firmly placed in that counterculture, and a long way from their revivalist roots. In fact it was much more like the Incredible String Band’s contemporaneous work stripped of its overlay of arch theatricality. Throughout the album the instrumental textures are all acoustic: the strings of guitar and mandolin and drones of organ and harmonium ascendant. The vocals are skilled, youthful and possessed of a certain abandonment: naïve and glorious and obscured by perfumed smoke, in fact the words ‘smoke’ and ‘mind’ occur an awful lot. The album kicks off with ‘Bad Penny’, which plays out as if the work of Ray Davies was being robed instrumentally by Mike Heron and Robin Williamson. ‘Lovemakers’ Ways’ is genuinely epic psychedelic folk with an exquisite melody, a fractal arrangement and lots of time-signature agility. ‘While You’re Gone’ and ‘Sylvie’ have a good-natured ease that suggests the band would have done some rousing, crowd-pleasing folk club work. The ethereal ‘A Fantasy You’ and ‘Fading Light’ are exquisite letters from those times, alternately dream-like and propulsive: soaring and Pan-like with eddies of mandolin, organ, various pipes and hand drums in the glades of their psychic voyaging. ‘Do You Want Some Smoke?’ strikes a blow for a new tradition in the same way that albums like Mike and Lal Waterson’s ‘Bright Phoebus’ were doing at time, and shows off the bands facility with complex vocal arrangements. Elsewhere, the climactic ‘Mirror of Life’ equals anything on ‘Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ for tripped-out acid-folk strangeness. There is a lack of polish and variety to the production that works favourably to give the record a single-minded intensity and clout. It’s electrifying work in the way that the recordings of the Young Tradition are. No doubt this was an aim of the recording fulfilled. Despite the album clearly being the product of a band learning how to exert its will in the studio and not quite getting there, several tracks achieve a level of structural sophistication that would be rarely heard in this genre today.
The debut album was a modest success and the band embarked on the familiar rounds of touring and promotion, everything jammed in a series of vans of dubious serviceability. They played both rock venues and folk clubs and engaged in impoverished tours of the continent. In retrospect one could see that their position in the scheme of things was awkwardly between the two worlds of club folk and the burgeoning progressive rock scene, and that perhaps this would be their undoing. But they still had another recorded masterpiece to loose upon the world. The 1970 LP ‘Full Circle’ represents a band with much more idea of what they wanted to achieve in the studio. It also shows a shift from the communal collaboration that had marked the creative process on the debut LP. Here, the individual songwriters are on divergent but still complementary trips. Dez Allenby’s ‘Hawk the Hawker’ and ‘Gypsy Girl and Rambleaway’ both represent the Forest ideal at its most affectingly lyrical, and also continue his concern with creating modern folk myths based on colourful characters (in the former case a pot dealer!). Adrian’s songwriting astonishes with arguable two of the finest songs of the period by anyone, the goosebump-inducing celestial staircase of ‘Bluebell Dance’ and neo-classical glory of ‘Graveyard’ (famously once BBC DJ Bob Harris’s favourite track). Martin weighs in with the complex and challenging folk-horror tale of the Brechtian ‘Midnight Hanging of a Runaway Serf’ and archetypal seasonal nostalgia piece ‘Autumn Song’, which leaves the listener with a fittingly thematic final whiff of wood-smoke and the thought that ‘all my life is contained in this, the key to each and every wish’. It’s masterpiece of lyrical precision and a fitting elegy to mark the end of their recorded work for Harvest.
I’ll save the details of the final stages of the band for the end of the article, but it is probably fair to say that the band were burdened by some ineffectual management and sidelined by heavier times. Perhaps a spell was broken when Dez Allenby faded out of the band. In a pre-independent label environment one needed to secure and keep a major label deal to maintain headspace in the industry, and the majors were ruthless then as now. At an infamous Eel Pie Island gig they had the course of their gig forcibly changed by the management after three numbers for not being ‘rock’ enough. An extended sax solo from new multi-instrumentalist member Dave Panton recovered the situation somewhat, but they to fled a hostile audience after the first set with only a rubber cheque as compensation for their labours. It seems that the time were only progressive if you were the ‘right kind’ of progressive. There is an Italian bootleg of material from this time that gives a clue to what a third forest album might have been like. It contains songs performed in concert for Bob Harris on BBC Radio 1 in May 1972 and a studio session for Bob Harris with added applause (by the bootlegger) on 23 October 72. It contains some superb compositions by Martin and Adrian and a cover of the Everley Brothers ‘Leave My Women Alone’. On the truly live songs, the Welhams are joined by Dave Panton on viola and saxophone and Dave Stubbs on bass. The most interesting track is the 10-minute ‘Everyday Laugh’ which contains long improvised passages typical of the style that the band was developing in their later days and diametrically opposed to the precision of ‘Full Circle’. The droning viola and skronking saxophone sections on this track probably have more to do with Henry Cow and the Velvet Underground than folk. And yes, they sound very drugged.
Needless to say when Mr McMullen recently sent me Dez Allenby’s email address and said, ‘see what you can do with this,’ I immediately got in touch with Dez, and subsequently the Welhams, and was able have a quite detailed chat about those days.
DA = Dez Allenby. MW=Martin Welham. AW=Adrian Welham.
PT: What are your earliest musical memories – what you were exposed to while growing up that led to you becoming musicians?
DA: Well my mother used to sing and my father played mouth organ, though not at the same time. And my grandma used to play hymns on the piano with the music in front of her for the words but they said she made up the music. I used to love to hear her practising to play for the ‘sisterhood’ meetings. I've realised recently that my early brush with the Church of the Nazarene and services in a little mission in down-town Grimsby - The Gospel Tabernacle - gave me a strange feel for the power of music that went beyond tapping your feet to it. I never learned an instrument other than harmonica whilst young. It was John Lennon singing ‘Twist and Shout’ that made me realise I wanted to sing. This directed my musical pursuits since I thought I would need to play a stringed instrument to hold a place in an R&B band. Then came Dylan on the big scene and visits to Grimsby Folk Club where I heard the Broadside, a local folk group writing songs about the fishing community in which I lived, and The Watersons, a wild and weird harmony group from Hull who made their own sound. I've always found music to be the kind of total experience that somehow transforms and I've wanted to do that with people in performances.
MW: As a seven year old in the junior school choir I remember getting lots of exposure to vibe-laden Christmas carols – therein finding an unknowing affinity with sanctified folk songs. Family harmony singing sessions were obviously a factor, and included Ian (much older brother), Barbara (slightly older sister), and Adrian (slightly younger brother). We tackled anything with a decent melody, but Everley Brothers, Buddy Holly/Crickets, and obscure American vocal groups like the Impalas, Kalin Twins, and Four Preps all figure. There was a constant stream of pop music via my elder brother’s records, played on ridiculously small record player at full volume - totally inadequate for anything but partial appreciation and every track has treble distortion (mmm...sounded good). When I was eleven, a baby grand piano entered the household thanks to Dad’s mania for repairing anything involving wood. (He and his brother were classically trained violin/viola/cello players.) The piano opened musical doors, meaning Adrian, Barbara and I could simultaneously busk bass, chord and melody parts. Must have been fun for the neighbours. Then came 1963 and the Beatles: at this point music became my raison d’etre. I scraped together pennies to buy my first guitar. £2 15s to a shabby second-hand shop in Corporation Street, Grimsby got me three quarter-size F-hole acoustic bliss. My initial song-writing attempts were garbage. Three years of pop music saturation led to further stabs at song-writing. By 1966 I was an avid participant in musical journeys led by Beatles, Stones, Kinks. Around this time Barbara started bringing acoustic music into household - Bert Jansch, Paul Simon and sundry singles from UK independent labels. I was inspired to learn finger-style techniques so that I could play like Jansch (some hope). By this time Adrian has acquired an acoustic guitar, I’ve got a 12-string and we both had electric guitars and one amp. Saturdays are spent hammering out full volume rock while parents are out shopping. Neighbours in the next street must have wondered…
AW: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by music, whatever the type. As a boy in my pre-teens, opportunities to hear ‘pop’ music were limited to café jukeboxes, youth clubs and Radio Luxembourg – the only radio station broadcasting popular music; the BBC output in those days was limited to ‘light music’, big band and jazz music, and classical music. My eldest bother Ian had grown up with the Rock’n’Roll revolution in full swing, so Martin and I could enjoy Ian’s collection of records, and of course, sing along with them. The foremost influence on me in those days was principally Buddy Holly (with or without his Crickets) and the Everley Brothers. The arrival of the Beatles onto the scene in 1962, however, knocked me for six. It is not necessary for me to expand on this event, or its cultural impact, since that era is well documented. Listening (then and now) to the Lennon/McCartney compositions was, and is, a lesson in song-writing. Forty or so years later, their catalogue remains unsurpassed in my opinion. Martin and I spent countless happy hours learning, playing and singing the music of Buddy Holly, the Everleys and subsequently, the Beatles. These three ‘bands’ were undoubtedly seminal influences for me.
How and where did the members of what eventually came to be known as Forest meet, and decide to form a folk band?
MW: At Wintringham Grammar School, which all five Welham siblings attended over a 14-year span, I found myself in the same A-level set as Dez Allenby. He’d been in the same class as me throughout Secondary school but sat on opposite side of alphabetically-oriented classroom, so I never really got to know him before this. We shared a similar sense of humour, attitudes and he plays harmonica. A good guy - and he had Bluesbreakers Albums. Dez knocked round with strange guy named Rory Greig who plays extremely loud banjo. We get together with a lad (Andy Sutton) who has a guitar and inflict upon the school folk club a peculiar mix of folkish songs as the aptly named ‘Ranting Lads’. Andy disappeared, and the remaining Ranters began to gig around north Lincolnshire pubs and folk clubs. Rory went off to Uni and Adrian joined me and Dez .We sought out folk songs that would enable us to investigate unaccompanied singing, having heard The Watersons and later the Young Tradition - both superb exponents of the genre.
I assume that the path to Forest started off with the earlier incarnation The Foresters of Walesby, which then became Forest at some point. Was it the same membership through that period, and what are the key dates?
DA: There were no membership changes along the way, but a transforming shift of perception happened in 1967 as if we were all different band members anyway. The traditional stuff went - we played our own songs and played instruments on almost all songs. I was much moved by Pepper and the 5000 Spirits and all the other stuff that was going on - Family, Floyd – oh, there was so much listen to that made you want to do things quite differently.
MW: In 1967 our parents moved from Grimsby to Walesby - a tiny village in the Wolds. We became The Foresters of Walesby after discovering empty church on the hill in the village where we could rehearse in splendid isolation. (The church features on the ‘Full Circle album cover and in Dez’s ‘Gypsy Girl & Rambleaway’.) We worked up repertoire of folk songs and regularly play Grimsby Folk Club. The road to Damascus turned out to be paved with folk-rock when we played Grimsby Folk Club, where the Young Tradition was the visiting group. We were mutually amazed with each other’s music and become good mates with these psychedelic hippies who clearly shone their musical talents into the staid world of folk and successfully lit up the scene with a dynamic harmonic approach previously unheard in this neck of the woods. The YT invited us to sing at the Hundred Club in London to introduce us to a wider audience in the Big City. We met various folk luminaries in the process. At this stage, the band’s musical destiny seemed mapped out. By this time Adrian is 17, and Dez and I are 18. In the autumn of 1967, Dez and I moved to Birmingham to take up University course in Behavioural Science. Adrian remained in Lincolnshire working at print works of local newspaper. We continued to develop folk-based repertoire by communicating ideas with Adrian via cheap voice-tape.
Dez and I played Birmingham folk clubs regularly attending ‘The Jug of Punch’, where a succession of folk artists appeared. Unable, in my case at least, to develop any interest or competence in statistical theory, I resolved to leave Uni at end of first year. At this point I heard the first Incredible String Band album, Shirley Collins, and Fairport Convention albums plus a myriad of post-Pepper music from UK and America. I began writing songs in folk modes to widen the repertoire. In spring 1968 Adrian moved to Birmingham bringing a 6-string acoustic guitar and little else. I played 12-string acoustic and Dez took up the mandolin. The Foresters did their first big open-air festival gig at Canon Hill Park, Birmingham, with Roy Harper topping the bill. It was a mix of traditional folk and our own songs. Hearing us, a local impresario asked us to record a demo in his studio. We recorded four or five of our own songs – nothing comes of this. Around this time we met Mark Williams – a budding music journo - who becomes our manager.
Was this around the time of the name change to Forest and the first association with John Peel?
MW: Right. Mark had contacts in the pop/rock field and we were booked as support to Joe Cocker and the Greaseband just as their superb rendition of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was climbing the charts in the direction of No. 1. This gig was at our ‘old’ university and hosted by John Peel who heard our set, which received a hostile reception. John berated the soul-seeking audience for not listening. John turned out to be a nice guy who supported our music on an on-going basis and helped us to gain national airing on Radio One.
I gather that the Foresters of Walesby played mainly traditional material? Was some of the material on the Forest LPs debuted back then, or was it all written later?
DA: We almost always put our latest songs on the LPs because we were so excited by what we had just written. No, none of the recorded songs came from the Foresters of Walesby except ‘Famine Song’.
Did Walesby in Lincolnshire have much of a club scene to be going on with?
DA: Walesby is a very small village with couple of churches and perhaps a shop. But there were little folk clubs in Lincoln, Scunthorpe and Grimsby where we played often as guests. But we heard people like Mayall, Clapton, Peter Green, Jethro Tull, Jimmy Witherspoon, The Artwoods and many others at the South Bank Jazz Club in Grimsby. These amazing people came in transits to one night in the club: a very vibrant scene.
Once in Birmingham, and called The Forest, did you play many club gigs, and what other notables were on the same bills? Did this incarnation of the band record anything that might be crumbling away in a vault, attic, garage or even studio storeroom potential treasure awaiting discovery?
DA: As Martin mentioned, we recorded some stuff at Haynes's studio where Carl Wayne of the Move seemed impressed. These just recently turned up again. Who did we share bills with? Remarkably, people like Joe Cocker at Aston University in the week that ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ hit number one in the charts, and The Spencer Davis Group at Cannon Hill Arts Festival. We would break right out of the folk ghetto. Used to see Ozzie Osborne and share impoverished fags together at our agent’s. Who else? John Martyn with whom we lost much of our minds, the McPeak Family, Dominic Behan, the Young Tradition and Tea and Symphony.
Did the band attend any festivals at this time, or otherwise tour at al/?
DA: Not many festivals although we played at the Cambridge Folk Festival. We did a big one on Parliament Hill Fields to about 10,000 people, played the Marquee and the 100 Club when we moved to London. And we did gigs somewhere off the Ladbroke Grove where it was always like a festival anyway with people like Roy Harper, and I think The Pink Floyd were on. Ron Geeson certainly was. And at out agent’s, Blackhill Enterprises, we hobnobbed with
Pete Brown and the Battered Ornaments, County Joe's bass player, The Edgar Broughton Band, Bridget St John and shared gigs with them.
How did the record deal for the two albums come about? And interestingly on a progressive rock label…
MW: At an archetypal hippy gig at All Saints Hall, Notting Hill, London (complete with light-show and incense) we played a by-this-time well-coordinated set which impressed various musicos who were in attendance to assess our potential. EMI were just setting up the progressive rock label Harvest. The label’s manager Malcolm Jones and Peter Jenner of Blackhill Enterprises liked what they heard enough to sign us for a management and recording contract. No money, but there was an album and big gigs in prospect…
DA: We did a demo for Fontana and amazingly they accepted it. They had some interest in acoustic music but were very straight. On the basis of their offer, we got into the deal with Harvest. We just didn't see music in terms of genre and we wanted to be with an audience of our generation. We'd all listened to Dylan. They would all like Forest, we thought.
I know a single preceded the first album, but I’ve never actually heard it…
AW: This was Forest’s first Harvest release, in spring 1969. ‘Searching for Shadows’, one of Mart’s songs, is a neglected gem. With its memorable melodic form and the high-energy Forest treatment, I think it glows with the band’s creative adrenalin of those days. I am disappointed that on the album re-releases (on vinyl and CD), ‘Searching for Shadows’ was not included, or rather, added.
DA: Yes. That was what was happening in those days. I thought I was involved in a cultural revolution, a change of perception that was influencing everyone for the good. It was a joyful time when people were coming together in new ways, as evidenced by changes in music. We felt right at the heart of it.
What was the working composition method of the first album? I note that all tracks are tri-credited to all band members.
DA: A kind of communitarian ethic was at work there. We all lived in the same house or flat. Someone would say 'I've got a new song' and the other two would listen a bit and then join in. It was the way we had worked with our voices in the early days. After a good few days rehearsals would come arrangements which we would then commit to memory. We shared the credits on the first album because we recognised that the collective arrangement added very much to the original idea.
AW: Whilst the songs on the first album are tri-credited for the reasons Dez mentioned, essentially the lead vocalist on the track is the culprit! There was more spontaneity in our instrumental augmentation on the first album. Abbey Road Studios was groaning with musical instruments and we purloined what we could, to enhance many tracks. ‘Full Circle’ was a different matter. The instrumentation was more economical and in all honesty, more measured and thought-out. As we each developed as songwriters, our ideas and visualisations for our compositions might call for specific motifs, instrumental passages or ritornellos, and so forth.
A heavy emphasis on drones is quite noticeable on the first record. A lot of folk records at the time, progressively-intended or not, were mainly based around stringed instruments. So here we get a Midsummer Night’s dream-world of pipes, organs, glorious ragged harmonies, and stringed instruments as well. An intentional world you were trying to create?
DA: We have always had a deep commitment to playing things that have not been done too much before. I could not claim to be ‘intentionally creating a world’, but we'd come from folk clubs at least for part of our musical development so it just seemed natural to explore the potential of the instruments we had. Adrian and Martin would just start playing things that were lying around in the studio and we'd see if they would fit. And they did. I was less adventurous but I was playing whistle a lot anyway.
DW: Our aim was to create a sound-scape through which the melodies would drift into unexpected areas, incorporating vocal harmony and rhythmic changes on the way. At the same time we were aware of the need to stay just this side of accessibility - we were hoping to sell some records after all. However, the overall effect of hearing the album is still a sense of strangeness - some songs are straightforward narrative/melody in the A/B/A mode (‘Nothing Else Will Matter’, ‘While You’re Gone’) others meander both rhythmically and melodically (‘Fading Light’, ‘Smoke’, ‘Don’t Want To Go’) and we tried to sew into the fabric ideas which would permeate over several hearings.
Tracks like ‘Lovemakers’ Ways’ and ‘Fading Light’ are quite complex structurally and instrumentally, lots of layers and time changes making them reveal their content over many listens. Was it important to go beyond folk orthodoxies, simple narrative ballads or easy instrumental options a la jigs and reels?
MW: ‘Lovemaker’s Ways’ is an inspired song by Adrian: uncluttered, airy, warm with a beautiful melody; rich in unexpected forays. It was a joy to be instrumental in presenting this one. ‘Fading Light’ was also cleverly crafted by Adrian, and a complex, well-gigged grower.
DA: I rate Martin's and Adrian's songs very highly. Adrian never wrote before Forest and was the last of us to write. Was he worth waiting for! Their songs are built around really interesting guitar chord progressions that they seem to understand easily and love to develop. I think as well as this, they are both touched by simplicity so that as well as the complexities of form, you get these memorable melodies or snatches of melodies. We had left the folk orthodoxies behind by then and were on our own trip. I think we had approached the traditional material in our own way too.
AW: But there was no band policy to avoid folk music orthodoxies or structures. Personally, I usually allowed the embryo of a new song to develop naturally; if a phrase was for example, modal, and fell naturally into the song, it stayed. It was important to me, to avoid derivative phrases or melodies. I wanted Forest’s songs to be ‘Forestial’ rather than folk, blues, psychedelic or whatever. In the main, I feel we achieved this.
‘Don’t Want to Go’ and ‘Mirror of Life’ seem to be progressive folk touchstones of the time, on a par with the Incredible String Band’s ‘Three is a Green Crown’. How did these ones come about?
MW:I re-tuned my 12-string to write ‘Don’t Want To Go’. It’s made up of layered 12- and 6-string guitars, mandolin and cello. It seems to work okay apart from inappropriate Hammond organ overdubbed late in the recording. ‘Mirror of Life’ is an early one of Adrian’s, and another gig standard and another ¾ time shift. It’s lyrically rich, but that peculiar stereo panning of the vocal outro does song no favours.
As I listen to this record on headphones while fumbling away at these questions, the songs and their performances seems as rich and strange as when I first heard them years ago. Are you pleased at how this record holds up, and is there anything you would change, looking back now from a different century?
DA: I don't listen to ‘Forest’ much. I prefer ‘Full Circle’, but don't listen to that much either. Forest seems a bit messy to me in terms of production. Look, I don't want to spoil it for you! What I do like is the naivety of it: the virginal first. You go into the Abbey Road studios; you record your songs and add lots of extra tracks. You do all the work there over something like a fortnight, bringing nothing home to listen to. Then you mix it with Malcolm Jones who gets a bit fed up that you all want to keep switching up and down the various controls. It sounds great on the six-foot high speakers they have there and not bad on the trannie radio speakers they have because that's how most people will hear your work. Then eventually it's on vinyl and you hear it and wish you'd mixed it differently. What am I saying? Oh yes - I'd like to remix it. We didn't know what we were doing and that is its strength and weakness.
‘Forest’ seems to me more comprehensively successful than ‘Full Circle’, so it’s interesting to me that you think the reverse…
DA: I think ‘Full Circle’ hangs together better as a record though I know what you mean, I think, about Forest being more comprehensive. For me as a musician on that record- and it is very often a painful experience to hear yourself- it is too comprehensive. Not enough variance.
What was the reaction like to the first LP? How were sales?
DA: John Peel loved it. We got radio gigs, university gigs, a tour of Germany. Not many sales. Maybe 10,000? It was released in the USA on Harvest. I must have met all the people who have bought the record at subsequent gigs and just people who I would meet casually who have Forest records at home. While not many bought it, I have met a lot of people who rate it very highly.
AW: The perceived popularity of ‘Forest’ over ‘Full Circle’ may owe more to the fact that the former enjoyed more publicity and promotion (such as it was) than the latter. I learned however, that our total sales, including our current CDs of those albums, reveal that sales for each album are roughly the same.
‘Full Circle’ seemed to be a much more diverse record than the first record, with material which seems like individual solo pieces with band members guesting on each other’s work. Notably American country influences are evident on tracks like ‘Hawk the Hawker’. What was the intent with the second record?
DA: To do a better one. Martin and Adrian were much more into arranging whistles and mandolins for instance rather than letting the music shamble on which I always trusted. I think we wanted people to notice us so we approached it less naively. This was one of Bob Harris's favourite records for some time and was record of the week on Rosco's Round Table on Radio One. But sales were no better and the gigs were not plentiful.
MW: ‘Gypsy Girl & Rambleaway’, ‘Bluebell Dance’, ‘Midnight Hanging of a Runaway Serf’, ‘Autumn Childhood’, ‘Graveyard’ and ‘Famine Song’ all represent a continuum from first album. Most of these were gig standards. ‘Hawk the Hawker’, ‘Do Not Walk’, ‘To Julie’, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ were stylistic changes that may have represented individual wishes to experiment with genre, which the group happily went along with. The songs on this album were nearly all presented by the writer to the group in a relatively advanced stage of arrangement. We wanted to avoid too much clutter in the musical backdrop and were able to have much more control of production at the recording stage. In retrospect, for me at least, the continuum tracks work best…
AW: ‘The Midnight Hanging of a Runaway Serf’, ‘Gypsy Girl and Rambleaway’ and ‘Bluebell Dance’ were written by Martin, Dez and Adrian respectively yet all three tracks represent, to me, the core Forest sound. ‘Bluebell Dance’ was written in the period between ‘Forest’ and ‘Full Circle’.
Clearly the band enjoyed the instrument-swapping aspect working together. ‘Graveyard’ seems a great example; with all that marvellous tin whistle work, and Adrian pulling out the aforementioned cello. A fun part of what the band did?
DA: Yes. Given a few bob more from sales or gigs, we'd have been sitting in studios doing this sort of thing probably to this day: the very best of fun.
Joan Melville's cover art for the records complements the music in the way that good cover art is supposed to do, and adds mystique to an already fairly mystique-drenched sonic artefact. How did the relationship with Joan come about?
DA: As far as I recall, we were introduced to Joan Melville by Marc Williams (who also introduced us to John Peel - a better manager perhaps in retrospect than we thought at the time). We went to see Joan for tea and talked about meditation. She had been given a mantra by the Maharishi that George Harrison had made well known and we talked about this and art. We played for her so that she could get a good feel for the music and I remember posing for her in my pants presumably for artistic rather than voyeuristic purposes. She was older than us, a sort of hippie mum figure, and we cared about her very much. She came with Dave Hollis (our photographer) to Walesby to sketch the church whilst he did some photographs. They stayed at Martin and Adrian's parents' house and visited my parents in Grimsby. Joan decided to do the two versions of the same picture because she sensed some heaviness about the group at that time, a little after the visit. We kept in touch for a time after the group ceased to work together and sadly, she died some years ago, but not before she produced a book based on her feelings derived from an Egyptian mummy in the British Museum. Perhaps our mystical mum?
The first incarnation of Forest ended with the departure of Dez Allenby in 1971. ‘I came to a point when I had to do something else. I had just got lost in the smallness of our lives and found it hard that so few people wanted to listen to our music. So I quit and returned to my education while playing with music as a significant part of my private life’, he says. But the band continued for several more years.
Martin and Adrian began auditioning for two new members for a rapidly-approaching tour of Holland. "We had known Dave Panton while living in Birmingham in the early period of Forest", says Adrian. "He was an accomplished musician and plied his trade as an avant-garde performer and composer." In Forest, he played sax, oboe, viola and percussion. Dave Stubbs, a young bass player with a "quick musical ear" for Forest’s melodic style was also recruited at this time. This new line-up was quickly rehearsed for the Holland tour. The tour peaked when Forest played at the Pink Pop Festival 1971, along with Fleetwood Mac, Focus, Hardin and York, CCC and many others. "Around thirty thousand people seemed to enjoy our set and called for more", recalls Adrian. On their return to England, a live concert for the BBC with John Peel awaited - the last public gig the band performed with the ‘Holland tour’ line-up.
Meanwhile, the band was keen to begin recording a third Forest album and made urgent enquiries with EMI as to when this could proceed. Malcolm Jones – a man with whom they had enjoyed such a good rapport - had moved on, to be succeeded by David Croker, who was himself rapidly succeeded by Nick Mobbs. "Our urgent enquiries became very urgent at this stage", says Adrian. But it rapidly became apparent that henceforth, Harvest would retain only the more commercially viable artists – ones of the commercial magnitudes of Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.
The end was clearly approaching. Adrian: "By 1972, things were rapidly changing on the music scene. Glam Rock was lurking in the wings and the advent of discotheques, visual (as opposed to aural) imagery, and trite novelty records put paid to any continuance of the innovative sonic arts of the late 1960s, as far as the business at large was concerned. Forest’s music had always been cerebral rather than just physical or ‘foot tapping’ - lyrically and melodically challenging rather than mundane. Little wonder then, that by 1973 we felt it was time to withdraw with, hopefully, our credibility intact."
Adrian also had this beautiful coda of feeling to share on the whole trip. "I feel fortunate to have worked with Martin and Dez. We all lived together, got on well, shared everything and ran Forest democratically. In short, we lived and starved together and I have no regrets. On a rare listen, recently, to the Forest albums, and with some degree of detachment after all this time, I was struck by the pleasing idiosyncrasy of the music. After all, the Forest sound does not easily fall into any specific stylistic category. We embraced the rich melodic structures of traditional song and synthesized these with fresh musical forms to create a world of dreams, surrealism, Nature, stories and love, very much in keeping with the spirit of that age. Tracks such as ‘Do You Want Some Smoke’ – a fine song and in my opinion Dez’s finest composition on the ‘Forest’ album – or Mart’s ‘Don’t Want to Go’ where his inspired singing perfectly articulates his plaintive lyrics, or ‘Bluebell Dance’ are good examples - three worlds in the Forest universe. Well, you know what I mean! Oh yes, realising these ideas into song was great fun!"
Since Forest, Martin and Adrian have continued to write, building up a new canon of songs for recording in the near future. Dez has worked with children with special educational needs for the last 24 years, and has engaged in many and varied musical ventures in that time. There was Harry Simon and the Arrears, a sort of garage punk folk band with Martin and sundry others that did a few gigs in the 70s in London, and Amazing Music Unlimited - musical arrangements for about 30 children at a school where he worked doing folk, soul, and a few of his own compositions. There were residencies at folk clubs and also the excellent Prism, who were Yorkshire and Humberside Arts musicians in residence for around five years and toured the region's clubs and festivals. Currently Dez throws his musical energies into Southernwood doing home-recorded instrumentals, originals and a few cover versions in with wife Cathy and collaborator Stuart Fletcher.
It would be remiss of me to conclude without conveying a few thankyous from the members of Forest to several pivotal institutions. Firstly, they wish to mention the key inspiration provided by the Young Tradition -England’s leading unaccompanied traditional folk band, at that time, and the folks who encouraged them to "make a go of it" after hearing them sing at a gig as the Foresters of Walesby. As they say, "Heather Wood, Peter Bellamy and Royston Wood were fine singers, a great band and good friends to Forest". They also wish to acknowledge the support and encouragement they received from John Peel, God’s presenter and leading exponent of ‘cutting-edge’, obscure and newly emerging music for nearly four decades. "John even put us up in his home when things were tough. He, too, was a good friend to Forest."
And finally a plea for the release of BBC Forest sessions. Forest recorded for the BBC many times, including studio sessions and live sets for DJ John Peel’s ‘Night Ride’, ‘Top Gear’, and ‘Live in Concert’ programmes, several broadcasts as session guests on ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ hosted by Bob Harris and (once) Pete Drummond, and a BBC World Service programme on which the tracks from the first album were played then discussed by Martin and the presenter. Altogether, around thirty different Forest songs were recorded for the BBC, none of which has seen the light of day to my knowledge or the band’s. I’ve had no luck in finding anyone at the Beeb who can help with this, so if anyone knows please get in touch through the Terrascope and together we’ll start a letter-writing campaign to hold their toes to the fire. Of course writing to John Peel would be another option, and you can do that by writing to him at ‘BBC Radio One, Broadcasting House Langham, London W1A 1AA, England’. I’m sure it would strike a chord with him and probably end up getting passed to the relevant licensing functionary. Do you really want to wait until any remaining tapes have entropied into a pile of metal oxide particles? I didn’t think so.
Tony Dale, © Ptolemaic Terrascope 2002