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2023/4 Albums Thing 255 - Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe”

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For any serious record collectors that may be reading this, you can stop having hot flushes now, my copy of this is a re-issue. For those wondering what I’m talking about, the story goes like this.

In the late ’60’s Billy Nicholls was a budding songwriter who was hired as a staff writer for Immediate Records by its owner Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham was obsessed by the Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” and tasked Billy with writing and recording a British response to it. That turned out to be “Would You Believe”. He used the musicians that were available to him at Immediate to make the record so this album features all of the Small Faces (Steve Marriott can be heard very prominently on the title track despite Oldham’s attempts to have him drowned out by an orchestra in the mix), legendary session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan (who played on 54 UK #1 singles), bass on some tracks by John Paul Jones (later to join Led Zeppelin), Drums by Jerry Shirley who was then in Immediate band the Apostolic Intervention but went on to join Marriott in Humble Pie, keyboards by Nicky Hopkins and who DIDN’T he play with (The Sones, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Who, and on and on and on)? That’s some lineup.

And the music ? Well, add that band to the fact this was made in 1968 and you have yourself a mighty fine slab of prime breezy, British Psych-pop. You get blissed-out ballads (“Come Again”, “Feeling Easy”), Baroque pop (the title track and “Life Is Short”), straight ahead pop tunes (“Daytime Girl”), barely disguised drug references (“London Social Degree” one for the acronym spotters…it was the times) all with backing vocals that, in places, sound bizarrely like the Swingle Singers (if anyone remembers them).

My personal favourite is “Girl From New York” a psyched-out paean to the girl who “came from New York in the summer”. It has proper nonsense lyrics about a day out at the zoo, how good their view was (!) and a fantastic Fuzz guitar (which may very well be played by Steve Marriott). It was the first song I heard by Billy Nicholls, on the expansive “Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers” compilation, and it’s always been a big favourite with me.

Due to Immediate’s financial difficulties “Would You Believe” was only ever pressed as a quantity of 100 promotional copies, it didn’t get a full release at the time. That and the musicians on it are why it is so sought after and why, in 2017, a Near Mint example of one of those 100 promotional copies sold for a shade over £8000. My copy is a 1998 re-issue, which still cost me 3 figures in trades to secure it. 

Although this album was commissioned by Loog Oldham as a “British Pet Sounds”, rather controversially in most peoples view I’d guess, I’ll take this over “Pet Sounds” every time. After reading about it in numerous “Best Albums Ever…” lists I bought “Pet Sounds”, listened to it once and gave it to my Dad. As Loog Oldham said about it “It enhanced the drugs I was taking and made life eloquent and bearable” and as I don’t use drugs or need to alter my state to make life more bearable it’s hardly a surprise I didn’t get it. Billy’s record is so much more to my liking.

Billy Nicholls went on to write many hits and, as a close friend of Pete Townshend, toured for a long time as The Who’s musical director and backing vocalist. Some of you reading this might be fans of his son Morgan, bass player with the Senseless Things and Vent 414. It’s a small world ay it ?

Girl From New York - https://youtu.be/rX4rWl5bAN8?si=wE9t-N2sul2vh6h2

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