14.10.13

Re: Shagrat - Pink Jackets Required (1970)

Paul Rudolph - bass
Twink - drums
Steve Took - guitar, vocal

11 ultra rare tracks for this short-lived band formed by Steve Took of Tyrannosaurus Rex fame & Twink at the end of 1969. Three of these tracks, 'The Sparrow Is A Sign', 'The Coming Of The Other One' & 'Three Little Piggies' came out later on Twink's classic 'Think Pink' (1970) album & the versions included here were recorded just before Steve left with Marc Bolan for the very first T-Rex tour of the US. The other tracks were recorded at Denmark Street Studios between 1969 & 1970.

This obscure album is a surprise from the vaults of Twink, aka John Alder, one-time Pink Fairies/Deviants and Pretty Things drummer and generally hyperactive psychedelic legend of the U.K. underground. The fact that he is teamed up with Steven Peregrine Took of Tyrannosaurus Rex -- the missing link in U.K. psychedelic pop -- for fans of this strain of '60s U.K. psychedelia will find this hard to believe. This album was recorded in 1969 just before Tyrannosaurus Rex embarked on their first U.S. tour and was completed on Took's return. Although it is in effect a collection of demos and some of the tracks will be know to fans of Think Pink -- primitive takes of "The Coming of the Other One" and "The Sparrow Is a Sign" will be familiar. In fact, Pink Jackets Required is one the most astonishing albums either of the pair recorded, and in popular opinion and rock-evidence surpasses the Twink Think Pink album . The name Shagrat was bounced around for an incarnation of one of Twink's other groups with members of Pink Fairies, but that unit was entirely different to the genius brilliance of the project with Steven Perigrine Took. Simply, this should be tracked down and given serious attention by those who love A Beard of Stars, Deviants, Pretty Things, and early T. Rex. ---  Dean McFarlane

Tookie and Chairman Mick got down to work, "half-writing a couple of half-songs" as Farren put it, and Farren even managed to get some early press for the band, already identified as Shagrat, in one early 1970 interview, in wich he discussed playing concerts once the then-current cold season was over. Eventually however, Farren and Took began to have differences over writing style, Steve feeling that his structured songwriting was not well complimented by Farren's chaotic poetry (ironic since Farren has identified Steve, along with Syd abrrett, chrissie Hynde and occasioanlly Neil Young as the only songwriters he knew who worked free of structural restrictions.) Wallis and Taylor sided with Took and decided to form a band around Steve and his songs, much to the annoyance of Farren, who walked off from the final band meeting in a huff! A drummer, Phil Lenoir, ex of Black Cat's Bones, was recruited and the band decide to retain the moniker Shagrat (as previously quoted in the press by Farren), a contraction of Shagrat The Vagrant, the name under which Steve had been credited on Mona for contractual reasons. Originally, Shagrat was the name of an evil Orc Captain from Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" but Wallis offers an alternative explanation. "'Steve Took' was Steve Took's real name as far as we were concerned so he decided to take on another persona, 'Shagrat' who was the guy with the slanty eyes, pointed beard and the suede shoes." Interviewed in 1972, Steve himself offered yet another explanation: "I am gutter Rock, I'm a schneide. That's why I had Shagrat - it was a rat trip. Rats turn over at an amazing pace and they have a lot of kids. Not only do they eat the poison but they thrive on it and get bigger and they can still slip under doorways. It's the ecology trip. Do you know how many rats were killed in New York last year? 'Cos I don't! Hah! I can't remember my figures."

With a stable line-up, band concept, and band name, the group developed at a handsome pace. After extensive rehearsal at "a stone hall" late at night, which would apparently disturb neighbours, Shagrat proceeded to the studio, specifically to 10CC's Strawberry Studios in Stockport. There, they recorded a session of three tracks, Boo! I Said Freeze, Peppermint Flickstick and Steel Abortion, all three of which survive on acetates. Unfortunately the first two tracks were pressed onto acetate at an awkward speed while the disc of the last track is rather seriously crackly. Neither of these problems are insuperable to anyone armed with a tape player equipped with a speed selector and tone control, however, the former fault in particular has caused many to wrongly diagnose Shagrat's sound as 'doomy freak rock' befitting the band's malevolent namesake or, as Mark Paytress put it, 'the obverse of the hippie coin flipped by Tyrannosaurus Rex.'

However, hearing the tracks played at the correct speed, it comes across more like they were quite a wild, fast paced combination of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop And The Stooges, with a Hendrix soundalike on lead guitar.In particular, the track Peppermint Flickstick, which Nigel Cross compared to Pink Floyd's Astronomy Dominé when heard at the correct speed is more an alternating mix of the pulsating energy of the Sweet's Hellraiser and the opulence of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust title track, although another obvious influence is the rising chromatic chord sequence of Love's "My Little Red Book"(itself ironically, often cited as an influence on the said Pink Floyd track.) In terms of subject matter, Boo describes Steve's aforementioned experiences of tripping out on the motorway and then being picked up by the LAPD in October 1969. Interviewed in early 1972, Took also put a considerable anti-materialist slant on the song, citing the verse "You live high in your apartment/ Watch people turn into machines/ I'm scratching hard to pay my rent/ Hope to God that I die naturally." which, Took, claimed, was aimed at Tyrannosaurus Rex's well-financed management (although not at Bolan himself.) Peppermint Flickstick, which Wallis cited as his personal favourite in a 1987 interview, concerns a man who develops a severe crush on the Cadbury's Flake girl (yes, that advertising campaign has been going on for that long!) and consequently goes out and spends his life savings on the aforesaid brand of chocolate bars. He then returns home and spends his days locked in his house eating the Flakes and having sexual fantasies over them! Steel Abortion, the longest track of the three (running to over seven minutes) concerns a convict escaped from jail who quickly drops by his girlfriend's house for sex but soon has to get moving to avoid the police. The song was to become a long running staple of Took's live back-catalogue, as will be seen later. (One line from this song - "It don't feel good, 'cos it was made out of wood!" had in fact already turned up, snarled by Steve, during the extensive "Society Of the Horsemen" jam on Side One of Mona.)


Rehearsed and with a demo made, the band were booked for their first gig, at the Phun City Festival near Worthing, Sussex on 24th-26th July 1970. The band played a reasonably successful 30-45 minute set, including all the songs from the Strawberry Studios session plus others (Wallis recalls another song entitled One Stroke, but this is probably just the slow middle section of Steel Abortion. He also recalls a cover version of ""Seven & Seven Is" by Arthur Lee & Love) They got a particularly good reception from the multitude of Hells Angels on show that day, although the performance was given some added energy by Lenoir speeding his way through the set, having downed a considerable amount of amphetamine sulphate beforehand. It is also highly probable that Shagrat's performance was caught on film, as a movie was being made of the festival as part of a finance deal Mick Farren (who co-promoted the festival with longtime Deviants/Pink Fairies roadie Dave "Boss" Goodman) had secured with Ronan O'Rahilly, the Irish entrepreneur behind Radio Caroline, however it was never completed (although it was briefly under contract to British Lion) and the footage currently remains untraced. The gig had certainly got the band off to a cracking start, but problems set in immediately afterwards. Phil Lenoir left (Took claimed that they 'never saw him again' after the festival) as did Tim Taylor, leaving Shagrat in search of a new rhythm section. A new drummer was recruited in the form of Chicken Shack's Dave Bidwell, while Steve himself strapped on the vacant bass (according to some accounts, he did this at Phun City too.) They continued to rehearse together in preparation for several live dates which had been booked and Steve received approaches from several record companies. Many of them however were put off by Took and Bidwell's taste for drugs (Bidwell was a long-term heroin addict) and the fact that Shagrat lacked formal management - having had a bad experience at the hands of Enthoven & Gadyon, Steve had been left very wary of the business side of running a band.

Part of the problem was that at that point bands like Alice Cooper, Iggy & the Stooges and Hawkwind had yet to take off big in the UK. As a result, many UK record company personnel perceived Shagrat to be deeply uncommercial. When the aforesaid bands all took off a couple of years later, Steve was not in the least hesitant to shout 'I told you so' to the clueless A&R staff. "I rang up this recording man, because we ran out of money, and we kept it going for a few months, but they didn't want to buy 'Steel Abortion' or 'Peppermint Lickstick' [sic]. A bit naughty, the words, but then I'd taken in all this American culture and American society in general, and got chemicalised out of it, a general trip, and put it into words. Now there's Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' and 'Killer', Hawkwind and the general thing there is now and it wasn't there then because they couldn't accept that it was going to sell. I was saying to 'em, 'Look, man, look at the Yanks because we're about three years behind them as far as youth culture is concerned. This is what's gonna sell' and they'd say 'Oh yes, lads, sure, do they really want to hear this sort of thing?...So here we are in this present day lunacy when Hawkwind are stars. I mean they're all Syd Barrett heads.I mean, what a gas, we're taking over." Back in the pre-Glam days of 1970 however, A&R personnel were still primarily interested in arty prog rock at one end of the market, starless session musician-produced bubblegum at the other. This situation was only finally resolved, ironically enough, by Took's old boss Marc Bolan's defection from the underground and the subsequent birth of the UK Glam Rock explosion. Shagrat, like many bands ahead of their time, just didn't fit in.

In the end what finally terminated Shagrat as a performing entity was the fact that Steve was the band's only full time member. Chicken Shack had never actually broken up and during 1970 regenerated into Savoy Brown, taking Bidwell along with it. Wallis meanwhile had joined a band called Blodwyn Pig and not long afterwards got a spot in the band UFO, (a period of his career which Larry mainly spent hating lead singer Phil Moog's guts!) The upshot of this was that for Larry and Dave, participation in Shagrat became very much an out-of-hours activity. This didn't mean they actually left the band - indeed they conducted rehearsals and a photo session (taken outside Steve's flat during a particularly stormy gale) during late 1970 and into 1971. They continued together as a social group and both would work again with Steve, all together as a threesome on one of the most important recording projects of Steve's career (as detailed in the next chapter) and both reappearing separately at various later points in Steve's career. But with Steve as the only full time member, the band ceased to truly be a band. With gig bookings looming, and Steve not wishing to cancel, his only option was to play those gigs by himself. And that is exactly what he did. (source)