Catching up with the “Real” Nirvana’s Patrick Campbell-Lyons
May 3, 2010
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Though many people may not know it, there was an original Nirvana before Kurt Cobain. The brainchild of Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos, the British psychedelic rockers put out their first record, The Story of Simon Simopath, in 1967, which is credited by some to be the first-ever concept album. They released four more albums before disbanding in 1971. Earlier this year, Campbell-Lyons released Psychedelic Days, a book that relives the trippy times of the 1960s, published by Global Recording Artists. Via email, FILTER caught up with Campbell-Lyons to discuss topics like Jimi Hendrix, Pro Tools and what he REALLY thinks about those grunge rockers from Seattle.
The book not just a memoir, but it’s about the interesting people you’ve met over the years. How have these people affected you as an individual, rather than a musician?
The time span of the book is 1961 to 1969, the psychedelic days, with an opening chapter that explains my background growing up in Ireland, my arriving in London in the early ‘60s and getting into music and travel. I always knew from an early age that music would give me the opportunity to visit other countries and meet, as you say, interesting people. Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Jimmy Cliff, Tony Visconti, Francoise Hardy and Chris Blackwell. I am attracted to those kinds of people in life and love and all left their mark, like a tattoo on my heart.
I love how you include a list of songs for the iPod generation at the end of each chapter. What new groups are you listening to?
I like to hear and listen to new music and bands and though I do not use an iPod myself, I will buy their CDs and vinyl if they release it! Groups I like are Elliott Smith Belle and Sebastian, Richmond Fontaine, Arthur Russell and Clock Opera. Also, Los Angeles-based band, Allah Las, is special. I saw them a few nights ago at El Cid on Sunset, I will be looking out for their first release and I also like Corrine Bailey Ray, who has just released her second album is an original talent.
Meeting legends such as Hendrix and Salvador Dali must have been surreal. What was it like to have met these artists? Did you know then the gravity of the circumstances?
I have to say that it was not surreal at all. Jimi liked to be accepted as one of the band. What struck me about him was his beauty inside and outside, and he oozed charm. Sadly, that is one of the reoccurring scenes in Psychedelic Days. Too many of these beautiful, spirited, talented artists and sometimes personal friends left us all too soon, more often than not by sleeping accidents while under the influence of drink, amphetamines, or dope. Dali is another story. He was not a beautiful person, but rather a megalomaniac, a voyeur, an egomaniac and a psychosomatic clown. But he was an amazing painter. If you look at the "Crucifixion of Christ" or his "Loaf of Bread in a Basket" there is nothing more breathtaking in the world of art.
You also talk about the challenges in getting your music recorded and being exposed to the world. Do you think if the band started off today, it would be easier to make an album? Would Pro Tools have enhanced or diminished the band’s sound?
No, I do not think it would easier today, not because of a lack of talent or songwriting ability, but because of the economics of the music business. The suits of A&R departments in the big record companies who have killed American and British music over the last 10 years with their lack of feeling for the artist and no knowledge of music. With regards to Pro Tools, I know what it does but the idea of my ever going near one would be a musical sacrilege to the way I write and make music. I am a "real" kind of person and I like real drums, real voices, real songs, real space and ambience. I like fragility and the odd glitch or mistake that works in the relationship between real musicians.
What were the crowds like in the ‘60s? How are they different than now?
They were bigger and happier and followed their favorite bands from venue to venue and danced much more than the kids do today. Today the audience are listening with half an ear, while texting and talking to the person next to them and there is a blasé air in the clubs or halls of, "you know what? I wish the band would fuck off and let the DJ come on."
Why do you decide to write this book? What makes this book different from any other memoir on psychedelic era?
I decided to write it because my daughter and my nieces and many other people I have met over the years often asked me, "What was it like in the ‘60's? Did you do drugs? All that stuff." Other musicians I met over the years asked what was it like to be in a band at that amazing time, especially on Island Records? We were the first band signed to the label and our Story of Simon Simopath was the first album released on the label. What makes the book different from so many others is that I lived it day and night for 10 years with the people who were at the "happening.” We were on a trip with the trippiest people imaginable and I survived, thank God.
Truth be told, people still associate Nirvana with Kurt Cobain and his band. Obviously you fought to be recognized, but does it get tiresome to always have to explain the difference?
There is no difference to explain. We are the first group in the world with the name Nirvana; we have been recording and making music for 38 years and will have a psychedelic album released in USA early next year. 25 years later there was another group called Nirvana who made great music and were very successful and they do not exist anymore as a group, which is it in a nutshell.