When, in September 2001, Mick Fleetwood organised a benefit concert in LA to help pay the medical costs of a cancer-stricken PETER BARDENS, it was pretty much the final act of a friendship that had endured for almost forty years. The pair had first played together back in 1963, and their paths would continue to cross on both a personal and professional level over the ensuing decades. Mick, of course, went on to fame, fortune and all manner of related excess with the living soap opera that is Fleetwood Mac. Though he was instrumental in the Mac coming together, Peter never quite reached the same level of public acclaim. Nevertheless, he was always highly respected within the industry as a keyboardist of style and taste, and his 1970s band Camel was a significant commercial and critical success in Britain, Europe and America.
By the time Camel came together in the early 1970s, Bardens was already firmly established as a stalwart of the British Rock scene, having served a distended apprenticeship in the music business that saw him play in bands with Fleetwood, Peter Green, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart and future Kink Ray Davies. Based around his peripatetic solo career, Write My Name In The Dust also includes significant contributions from Camel as well as earlier bands like Peter B's Looners, Shotgun Express, The Cheynes and Pete's fondly-remembered late 60s Psychedelic trio, Village.
Born in London on 19th June 1944, Peter Bardens was educated at St. Marylebone Grammar School before moving on to the Byam Shaw School of Art. By 1962 he was playing keyboards in Hamilton King's Blues Messengers, who briefly featured another art school student, Ray Davies, on guitar indeed, Bardens would later claim that an original Hamilton King song, 'Oh Yeah', had the exact same riff that would anchor the breakthrough Kinks single, 'You Really Got Me').
By the time that the Blues Messengers had disappeared into the ether, Peter had bumped into a drummer by the name of Mick Fleetwood, who, though still only sixteen years old, had left the provinces to try to make it in the Pop world. Staying at the Notting Hill Gate flat of his married sister Sally and her family, Fleetwood practiced incessantly in their garage, making sufficient noise to pique the curiosity of Bardens, who lived in the same street, Peter found Mick a gig with The Senders, a sub-Shadows instro band who played at the Notting Hill Gate for the promise of £6 a week and a free bowl of spaghetti (sadly, history fails to record whether that was a shared bowl of spaghetti or one for each member). Apocrypha has it, incidentally, that The Senders were formed at the suggestion of Peter's father Dennis - a noted journalist, biographer and playwright who, in 1953, had cofounded the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Panorama - who was apparently extremely keen for Fleetwood to play the drums anywhere but near the Bardens family home!
By the end of 1963, Bardens had moved beyond the world of pre-Beatles British Pop and become smitten by the new R&B craze. A new band was in order - The Cheynes, who, in addition to Bardens & Fleetwood, featured future Fleur de Lys/Spencer Davis Group guitarist Phil Sawyer, bassist Peter Hollis and vocalist Roger Peacock (later a solo performer before taking over as frontman for the Mark Leeman Five after their erstwhile leader had tragically died in a car crash). Initially managed by Peter ("for the sole reason that I had a brown mohair suit and nobody else did", he'd later quip), The Cheynes would enjoy a relatively brief, but interesting, career. Travelling to gigs in a head-turning black Cadillac, they played regularly at clubs like The Flamingo and The Ricky tick, also holding down a residency at the down market Mandrake Club in the West End, where they played to the club clientele of pimps, prostitutes and gangsters, despite the fact that some members of the group were underage.
In late 1963 The Cheynes signed to EMI's Columbia level, issuing three fine singles over a fifteen-month period. Their debut A-side, a strong version of the Isley Brothers classic 'Respectable', was probably the pick of the bunch, though mention should also be made of their final release, 'Down And Out', which was produced by Bill Wyman, who also wrote and played bass on the B-side, 'Stop Running Around'. The group also acquired a degree of notoriety after appearing in Mods & Rockers, a daringly homoerotic short film that was described at the time as a "modern ballet", and in which they appeared performing early Beatles covers over a sub-West Side Story backdrop involving rival gangs in heavily choreographed fights. Such high jinks and low farce ended in early 1965 when Bardens accepted an invitation from Van Morrison, at that point renting a flat in Notting Hill, to replace Jackie McAuley in Them.
Peter would be a member of Them for just a matter of months, though his brief stay did coincide with the recording of the band's classic self-titled debut album - mind you, having said that, nobody seems too sure these days of who played on what (group members were regularly replaced on disc by session musicians). When he left - some reports claim that he was dismissed by Van, others that he quit in frustration at Them's somewhat haphazard approach to organisation - he put together his own band, Peter B's Looners. Bardens rehired old friends and former Cheynes members Mick Fleetwood (who'd become a member of another club band, The Bo Street Runners, in the interim) and Phil Sawyer, but the new outfit's ace in the hole was their guitarist, Peter Green.
Green had previously been the bassist in The Muskrats before spending a few days deputising for the AWOL Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, but joining Bardens' latest venture not only gave hiin the opportunity to make his recording debut, it also represented his first regular pro job. It was here that Green first met Mick Fleetwood, a serendipitous meeting that has tended to relegate The Looners to the history-book status of nursery band for Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. But The Peter B's (as they subsequently became known) were an interesting act in their own right. Handled by the Gunnell brothers, they played the various London clubs of the era with their brand of instrumental Jazz/Blues, influenced almost to the point of exclusion by Booker T & the MGs. Three off-cuts - 'Soul Dressing', 'Outrage' and 'If You Wanna Be Happy' - are featured on our anthology, recorded at around the same time that an alternate take of 'If You Wanna Be Happy' was released by EMI's Columbia label as the band's only single. Backed by 'Jodrell Blues', 'If You Wanna Be Happy' appeared in March 1966, supported by a promotional campaign that obscurely promised "red hot sales for cool blue pop (the new sound)".
But 'red hot sales' weren't forthcoming, and within a couple of months The Peter B's had headed off in another direction. 'The Looners just weren't diverse or remunerative enough to remain a viable proposition", admitted Bardens. "So we decided to restructure". That restructuring would take the form of a Tamla-style soul-revue called Shotgun Express. With Rod Stewart (who'd fronted The Peter B's for a one-off gig at Klooks Kleek back in March 1966) and Beryl Marsden as featured lead vocalists, the new venture bore a distinct resemblance to Rod's former club band, Steampacket, who had played the same circuit as the Looners.
Unfortunately, Shotgun Express would be no more successful in terms of wider appeal than their original inspirers.·A couple of singles failed to make any impact, and in April 1967 - having lost Peter Green to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers some months earlier - they called it a day. "It just lost momentum", admitted Bardens. "Phil Sawyer often didn't appear for gigs, Beryl was perpetually at the hairdressers, Rod was always in bed, and the administration got to be too great a problem. It didn't matter where we were playing, we never left for a gig before four o'clock - so we were always late. There were always a lot of moodies going on, a combination of general discontent and a feeling we weren't getting anywhere, and although we were all individually good by the standards of those days, I don't really think it worked, bringing us all together."
Together with John Morsehead, who'd replaced Peter Green in Shotgun Express before in turn giving way to Phil Sawyer, Bardens played with Julian Covey & the Machine around the time of their minor classic 'A Little Bit Hurt' single (whether he actually played on it is open to debate), but by that summer he'd joined mod/soul outfit Love Affair. However, he was off the scene by the time lead singer Steve Ellis and a bunch of session men had recorded the uber-Pop smash 'Everlasting Love', issued in Love Affair's name in December 1967.
After another typically brief sojourn with Jazz/R&B clubland combo The Mike Colton Sound, Peter Bardens put together a psychedelic-cum-progressive trio, Village, with bassist Bruce Thomas (later of Quiver, and then Elvis Costello & the Attractions) and drummer Bill Porter. Formed in August 1968. Village became a regular attraction on the era's Underground network, though their highest profile gig came supporting Chicago at The Royal Albert Hall. Despite the support ot management/production company Status Promotions, a company that had been set up by the management team behind paisley Pop merchants Status Quo. Village only released one single. Issued in July 1969, on the Head label. the topically-titled 'Man In The Moon' and its instrumental partner 'Long Time Coming' found Bardens moving centre-stage. his organ work dominating both sides in much the same way that Keith Emerson had ruled the roost in The Nice.
Turning down offers to act as backing band for such varied talents as Tim Rose and The Marbles, Village officially imploded in February 1970. Bardens subsequently attributing their demise to "a combination of dope and lack of exposure". By that stage, though, he'd already recorded tracks that, in September 1970, would be issued as his first solo album, The Answer (the bulk of the album had been cut in October 1969, though further work was carried out in June 1970). One of the ultimate stoner albums of the era, The Answer featured contributions from a number of contacts Bardens had made over the last few years, including former Love Affair lead singer Steve Ellis (used to particularly good effect on the title track), former Villager Bruce Thomas and regular session singer Linda Lewis. Springfield Park guitarist Andy Grober, later of Ellis's self-titled band and briefly with Thin Lizzy, also contributed as "Andy Gee", but Bardens' main sparring partner on the album was to be a contractually anonymous Peter Green.
Green's dextrous, acid, Blues guitar was the perfect complement to Bardens' Hammond organ work and ragged vocals, but disorientated, partly-extemporised tracks like 'Don't Goof With The Spook' and the clearly under-the-influence 'I Can't Remember' derive much of their appeal from encapsulating the loose, hedonistic late 60s vibe that was so prevalent as Psychedelia merged with the more self indulgent strains of Progressive Rock. 'I Don't Want To Go Home' showed a more song-based approach. 'Let's Get It On' was a good natured, mid-tempo rocker reminiscent of The Stones, but the centrepiece of the album came with the epic, pulsating 'Homage To The God Of Light" which, in addition to having been a staple diet of Viliage's live repertoire, would lated form the basis of the Camel track 'God Of Light Revisited' (also recorded as 'Lord Of Light Revisited').
The album was promoted with a Radio One session that featured versions of 'The Answer', 'Homage To The God Of Light' and 'I Can't Remember', with Bardens the leader of a cabal of musicians that in addition to the likes of Bruce Thomas and Andy Gee, also included King Crimson's Ian MacDonald on saxophone and flute. Great things were expected of Bardens at this stage, not least by Transatlantic owner Nat Joseph: "Pete Bardens is a really top musician who realises very fully the context in which he is working", he told the press at the time. "He'll take pains to make sure a record is programmed to get across to his audience. I think he's going to be a massive star."
Joseph utilised Bardens as producer for fellow Transatlantic signings Marsupilami, but in February 1971 Peter cut a second solo album for the label. Andy Gee and drummer Reg Isadore survived from The Answer, bassist John Owen and former Aynsley Dunbar frontman Victor Brox also came in, and a soulful, five-strong team of female backing singers was headed by Linda Lewis and Liza Strike. Despite the inclusion of two or three rather marginal pieces, the album was another fine piece of work. With a broader musical canvas than its predecessor, the set had a number of highlights, including the ponderous, organ-based instrumental 'My House', which foreshadowed Bardens' work with Camel, the rampaging 'Feeling High' and 'Down So Long' a thrillingly gnarled slab at downer Blues Rock. Given a stronger, more upfront production, the pretty 'Sweet Honey Wine' might even have been a contender for single status, but possibly the album's most convincing construction was 'Write My Name In The Dust', a ruminative ballad given added musical ballast by dint of some raw guitar leads, Bardens' typically powerful organ work and some hugely effective, Gospel-style backing vocals from Strike, Lewis and colleagues.
Issued in July 1971, sadly Peter Bardens (issued in the US as Write My Name In The Dust) didn't really make too much impact. Frustrated by his lack of progress at home, and seeing the likes of Ten Years After and Savoy Brown making far more impact on the other side of the Atlantic, Bardens spoke of his plans to leave the UK for what he described at the time as "the more promising shores of the USA"; just before he left, though, he arranged a final handful of live gigs in Ireland.
In fact, it would be a further sixteen years before Peter finally moved to America.
In September 1971, he answered a Melody Maker advertisement from a guitar/bass/drums trio who were looking for a keyboard player to flesh out their sound...and on the 20th of the month, he met guitarist Andrew Latimer, bassist Doug Ferguson and drummer Andy Ward for a rendezvous in Hampstead. The trio had formed the backbone of various Guildford-based bands since 1964 - first as Beat group The Phantom Four, then Psychedelic hopefuls Strange Brew, and then second wave Blues boom act Brew. After submitting a demo to DJM, they had been taken on as backing band for Philip Goodhand-Tait on his album I Think I'll Write A Song - but were then let go by the record company. For the last nine months they hadn't worked, but they'd felt that Goodhand-Tait's piano work had complemented their sound nicely, and decided to recruit a keyboardist and attempt to go it again. Hence the Melody Maker ad...
"When we got together as a four-piece, Pete Bardens had about four gigs booked in Ireland as a previous commitment". Andrew Latimer later reflected. "As we didn't have a name at the time, he suggested we'd be booked as Peter Bardens' On. I agreed, but said we needed to have a name when we left Ireland...We spent a lot of time in pubs coming up with outrageous names, and in the end we left Ireland still nameless. When we got back, Pete or Andy Ward suggested Camel. It didn't sound too bad...'
As Peter Bardens' On, they first gigged together in Belfast on 8th October, debuting as Camel on 4th December, when they supported Wishbone Ash at Waltham Forest Technical College. Early days were a struggle ("We started the band from scratch". Peter would later confirm, "We had no money and no equipment"), particularly when MCA, having offered them a deal, unceremoniously dumped them after a self-titled debut album (which featured Peter's 'Arubaluba', included here in contemporaneously-recorded live format) had failed to hit the spot. After Camel moved to Deram, however, it was a different story, and their next three albums - Mirage, The Snow Goose (a solely instrumental adaptation of Paul Gallico's children's story) and Moonmadness - established them as one of the leading British Progressive Rock groups of the mid-1970s. Indeed, their profile at the time was so high that, in 1976, Peter's former label, Transatlantic, issued Vintage '69, effectively a reissue of his first solo album, but with Write My Name In The Dust' replacing 'Let's Get It On'.
But the arrival of Punk saw the musical tide turn against Camel, and after completing sessions for the album Breathless in 1978, Bardens left the band, though he would continue to guest on various Camel projects over the next decade or so. Having ostensibly left to resume his solo career (which bore its first fruits with the 1979 release Heart To Heart), he turned up in the backing band of old friend Van Morrison, playing live shows and contributing to the well-received album Wavelength). He also worked on a session basis for the likes of Virgin label popsters Yellow Dog and, perhaps more intriguingly, reunited with Reg Isadore and Peter Green on the latter's 1979 'comeback' album In The Skies. Subsequently involved with the mid-1980s Colin Blunstone band Keats, Bardens also took part a decade later in a reformation of Camel that used the name Mirage, and worked with Peter Green again on a couple of fin de siecle albums.
Primarily, though, Bardens pursued a desultory solo career, which became increasingly New Age-oriented after he'd relocated to America in 1987. Though by now off the critical radar back home, he was to have a significant impact on the Southern Californian music scene after settling in Malibu where he became something of an icon. He was supported by WAVE (a popular adult contemporary radio station in LA), who regularly featured his work and included him on one of their compilation albums. Indeed, in creative terms he enjoyed something of a second wind after moving to The States. As well as colaborating with various musicians in and around the Malibu area, he released several albums (Seen One Earth sold particularly well) and music videos, and even scored a nature documentary. In recent years Peter turned his attention back to writing and art, using his computer to create hundreds of digital paintings - which, in viev of his fine art education back in his youth, brought his career full circle, as his son Ben now observes.
Sadly his intention to produce a coffee table book of artwork was to be cruelly thwarted when, in early 2001, he was found to have a brain tumour. That was successfully removed, at which point a further round of surgery revealed lung cancer. On September 28th, a Mick Fleetwood-organised benefit concert, also featuring John McVie, was staged in LA; Bardens played for an hour before going back to his hospital bed. Though he was able to return home for the final few weeks, he died on 22nd January 2002.
A month after his death, Peter's final batch of recordings featuring Fleetwood on drums and percussion as well as Bardens' daughter, Talullah - was issued as the synth-based album The Art Of Levitation. The album's outstanding offering 'Spirit Of The Water', was a remake of a song that had first appeared on the Camel album Moonmadness. Given added poignancy by his daughters sensitive handling of the lyrics. 'Spirit Of The Water" reflected the sense of acceptance and heightened spiritualily with which Bardens entered his final days, and the lyric offer as appropriate an epitaph as any with which to end this career anthology of a highly respected musician.
"By the time we find each other
We can live, we can die...
But nothing stops the river as it flows by
Nothing stops the river as it flows."
With very special thanks to Ben Bardens, and also Nigel Lees, Peter Moody, Steve Hammonds, Mike Mastrangelo and thanks to Tim Hunt at Sanctuary Archives for mixing down 'Long Ago, Far Away' from multi-track.
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"Respectable" is by The Cheynes (with Mick Fleetwood) (P) 1963 Licensed from Universal
"Indian Thing" is by The Shotgun Express (with Mick Fleetwood) (P) 1967 Licensed from EMI Special Markets
The Answer (P) 1970
Don't Goof With A Spook (P) 1970
I Can't Remember (P) 1970
I Don't Want To Go Home (P) 1970
Let's Get It On (P) 1970
Homage To The God Of Light (P) 1970
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