Newly-formed in 1967, Nirvana was the innovative result of the Irish/Greek musical, spiritual and cultural collaboration of Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos. Their first choice of band name was Birth, which was discarded in favour of Karma. They finally settled on Nirvana, meaning 'final release from karmic bondage' – the end of earthly existence and reincarnation. Tiny Goddess was the first single released on Chris Blackwell's Island label.
Much of the band's history is covered in the interviews and features linked below, but Patrick was kind enough to answer some additional questions for Radio London. He says: "Fans of your Radio London website will love my new book Psychedelic Days. Mojo gave it a 4-star review and Shindig said it was one of the best books written about the Sixties music scene. In America, where I have been promoting it mostly on the radio and in the press, it has had a wonderful reaction."
Radio London interview by Mary Payne
There was a saccharine movie made about the pirates recently ('The Boat that Rocked', aka 'Pirate Radio'–) and I believe it was beyond dreadful and sank without trace - please excuse the pun. It was the brainchild of director Richard Curtis and that says enough for me!
MP: I think the release of Tiny Goddess was a case of unfortunate timing. Picked as John Peel's climber, it was crammed into the overcrowded playlist during Radio London's final few weeks, reaching #24 on the Fab Forty. It would invariably have climbed much higher had the station remained. After the majority of the offshore stations closed on August 14th, there were only the two Carolines and possibly Luxembourg, plus the odd slot in a Light Programme music show, left to play it. Sadly, by the time Radio One arrived on 30th September, Tiny Goddess must have been lost beneath a pile of new releases, all vying for the limited allocation of weekly Beeb 'needle time'.
How much did you feel that the demise of the majority of the pirates affected your record sales?
P C-L: We never thought about those kind of things. When we were in England we heard our music being played a lot and that was success enough for us. We were just so wrapped up in creating new music and songs. Everything else we left to Island Records and our mentor Chris Blackwell, whom we trusted implicitly. Much of that time we spent in Europe, as we became very successful in France, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia. Other artists covered our songs here and there in those countries and Francoise Hardy recorded Tiny Goddess in French, German and English.
MP: Was Pentecost Hotel inspired by a particular place or event?
P C-L: In a kind of subliminal way, yes it was. Imagine Pentecost Hotel as the name of a white sailing ship that takes you to a good place far away called Nirvana Island. I did have a dream in which I saw a ship with the name Pentecost Hotel painted on the side, but it was sailing UNDER the water!
MP: Reviewers love to label music and compare one band to another. I've seen Nirvana's music labelled 'baroque rock'. Did you find you were compared to other bands, such as the similarly-labelled Left Banke, who also used orchestral backing on their singles?
P C-L: We were not very connected in those days – not that we are today either. We were ploughing our own furrow and did what we did in the moment. I had not even heard of Left Banke at that time, as I was more into rhythm and blues before I formed Nirvana. Alex was living in Paris before he came to London and was into Bebop.
A few remarks were made during those days mostly by reviewers or journalists linking us to the influences of classical music, but that was mainly because we had a cello and a french horn in the first group line-up. Someone wrote that we, Procul Harum and the Moody Blues were the 'new sound', along with the American bands that were around at that time. I liked Arthur Lees and Love; Alex liked It's a Beautiful Day.
MP: I have always been a huge fan of phasing and I find the opening of Rainbow Chaser arresting and unforgettable. Did you write the song with the intention of having the phasing effect through it, or was that the result of experimenting in the studio? Is that first note just a piano and percussion or do I detect other instruments in there? I would be fascinated to hear what the original recording sounded like before the song was phased.
P C-L: Let's call it our 'accidental experiment' What happened on the day we recorded it is described in the book and that is something I will save for the reader. The intro is piano, percussion and some subtle brass.
(Patrick talks extensively about Nirvana's most commercially-successful release Rainbow Chaser in his 'Dave White Presents...' interview (link below) and reveals that the lyrics were missing a second verse. Because of the financial constraints on booking studio time, Patrick failed to get the chance to finish them and he ended up having to sing the same verse twice - MP)
In May 2010, Filter magazine asked Patrick if he found it tiresome to have to keep explaining constantly that Nirvana was the original band of that name and unconnected either to Kurt Cobain or Washington. (The originals took legal action over the subsequent use of the name.) Patrick replied that he and Alex had been making music as Nirvana for the past thirty-eight years.
"Twenty-five years later there was another group called Nirvana who made great music and were very successful," he noted. "They do not exist any more as a group, which is it in a nutshell."