John’s Children – A Strange Affair: The Sixties Recordings (Grapefruit)

John’s Children fall into the same category as The Seeds, The Germs, Billy Childish, The Fall…etc. – not the most technically proficient musicians, but able to transcend flat vocals, out of tune guitars and missed drum cues with great songs and spirited performances. Even the group’s manager Simon Napier-Bell (who also managed The Yardbirds) referred to them as “the worst group I’d ever seen”….and that’s their manager! Today the psych-mod pop group are best remembered for a four-month stint with a young Marc Bolan on guitar before he split to form T. Rex. But relegate John’s Children to a historical footnote and you miss the brilliance of hard-driving singles like “Desdemona” (written by Bolan, and featuring his trademark vocal warble), “A Midsummer Night’s Scene,” and “Jagged Time Lapse.” They often recall the thundering sound of The Who, and in fact, the two bands once toured Germany together until John’s Children were kicked off the bill for being “too loud and violent” according to Pete Townshend; no small feat given The Who’s own reputation for volume and violence. It was the band’s outrageous antics that ultimately kept them from commercial success, but it made them influential to the UK Glam and Punk scenes, where such things were celebrated.
A Strange Affair is the final word on the band’s recorded output, featuring all their singles, their sole album, Orgasm (recorded in 1967 but shelved until 1970 due to protests over the title), songs from pre-John’s Children outfit The Silence, post-John’s Children singles by single Andy Ellison and a host of alternate recordings, mixes, instrumentals and other ephemera. The 2cd-set features fifty-two tracks in total, which is a lot of John’s Children. To be honest it’s too much, but there’s about 15-20 great songs you’ll keep coming back to – mostly from their early singles. You probably won’t revisit the Orgasm album very often though because management decided to give what could have been a strong studio album a ‘live’ feel by overdubbing the screaming girls from the soundtrack to A Hard Days Night, rendering it unlistenable. In addition to the music, A Strange Affair also boasts fabulous liner notes by singer Andy Ellison (who would form Jet and Radio Stars several years after John’s Children’s 1968 break-up) with song-by-song commentary and a fascinating band history taken from his upcoming autobiography.