Quintessence were one of the great live attractions on the British and European scene between 1969-72: getting a record deal with Island within weeks of forming, in April 1969, for whom they would record three fabulous LPs, and disappearing equally swiftly after the second of two LPs for RCA in 1973. In many ways - musically, aspirationally, philosophically - they were the last hurrah of the '60s. But there was a bit of intrigue towards the end...
Flautist/band-founder Raja Ram decided to sack two members: Phil Jones (voice) and Dave Codling (rhythm guitar) around June 1972. Thus, while the rump quartet Quintessence made their disappointing final LP, 'Indweller' for RCA, Phil and Dave pulled together a new band, KALA, and recorded as largely overlooked album for the Goodies' label, Bradley's. As you do. Kala didn't exactly set the charts alight, but their year of activity was full of intrigues of its own.
Back in 2010 I had the great pleasure of being involved (mastering, design, annotating etc) in a first-time resurrection of the KALA LP on CD, for Hux Records, with bonus tracks and the involvement of both Phil and Dave.
It's still an underappreciated gem. So here's part of the notes, adapted to stand alone as a feature from the footnotes of rock...
AFTER QUINTESSENCE: KALA
During the period spanning late 1969 - 1972 Quintessence were one of Britain’s most powerful and most popular live acts. A six piece band brought together from five nationalities in the hippie cauldron of London’s Ladbroke Grove area at the height of the ‘underground’ movement, the band implanted themselves in the hearts of a gig-going generation in Britain and Europe, notched up serious press coverage and grazed the UK album charts before something odd happened around May/June 1972. Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones and Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling - respectively, the lead singer and the rhythm guitarist - were sacked. By the flute player, Raja Ram. To be fair, he was the chap who had started the band, via the classic method of an ad in Melody Maker. But it was, nonetheless, a pretty stupid thing to do. It spelt the end of the road for Quintessence, who limped on as a four piece making one more album, in 1973, before drifting below the radar of the national music press and on into an obscure fizzling-out somewhere in Germany a couple of years later.
Raja Ram spreading the word in 1970 - Swami Ji can be seen at 1:09-1:14, with Quintessence recording at Island's Basing Street studios
The Quintessence story can be followed in detail in the two-part notes to the Hux albums Cosmic Energy: Live At St Pancras 1970 and the 2CD set Infinite Love: Live At Queen Elizabeth Hall 1971, to the glorious soundtrack of the band in their prime. But what about Phil and Dave - what did they do next? Well, in short, they formed a band called Kala who lasted a year or so, cut one LP, released one single and were caught live on a couple of tracks on a various-artists LP. Poor Dave, ingloriously and undeservedly, didn’t even make it to the end of that little adventure. As far as the casual observer of the music world was concerned, even at the time let alone since, Kala was but a backstage corridor that allowed Shiva Jones and his sidekick Dave to leave the building. After Kala, nothing would be heard from either for a very long time indeed. That story, thankfully, has a happy 21st Century ending. But before getting to that, we’d better hear something of Kala: a band which has struggled to enjoy the status of a footnote for nearly 40 years. Unlike Quintessence, for Kala there was no press coverage to speak of, so we shall rely instead on the memories of its two founder members…
‘It was formed pretty quick,’ says Shiva. ‘I had to scramble because I was dismissed from Quintessence overnight, as was Dave - there was no notice, no opportunity to prepare for anything. So suddenly I was without an income - which was never very much anyway, just enough to support my family at the time. So I’d say within a couple of months we had the options of different musicians; we’d practiced with different guys. And as Dave was my buddy and lived right next door [in Blenheim Crescent, off Ladbroke Grove] I said, ‘Why don’t you jump on board with me and we’ll see what we can get happening here?’. Within a couple of months we would have had a working operation. It was definitely word of mouth - when you’re in a musicians’ scene everybody knows everybody. You put the word out, somebody shows up, they say, ‘Well, I know somebody…’ and eventually you find people you think are good enough for the operation.
During those couple of months of roughly May-July 1972 in which Shiva was scrambling to pull something together, the Quintessence machine motored on. There was no official announcement in the press. It was only in late July, in an interview with the Melody Maker, and then again in September with the NME, that Quintessence leader Raja Ram let it be known, in a somewhat disingenuous fashion that Shiva and Dave had left - suggesting that the pair had chosen this path, and had done so only after soul-searching conversations over cups of tea at Ram’s place.
‘The weird thing was they were just a few blocks down the road in Ladbroke Grove,’ says Shiva, ‘and they had a big operation with a truck - that was a symbol, I guess it still is, of success with a band. If the truck pulled up out front with the gear and then the van with aeroplane seats, if you had that you were a well-working band. Quintessence had all that, I had none of that. When I was dismissed from the band I never got my keyboards, I never got my congas, never even got a microphone - I had zilch! So within a week of getting the advance from a new record deal [for Kala] I had the truck parked out front, the van with the seats…! And I’m looking out the window thinking, ‘Hmm, I wonder if they’re driving by checking out what’s parked in front of my place?’!’
Nevertheless, in the short term the manner of Shiva’s departure - or, rather, the fact of it - from Quintessence caused his reputation some problems:
‘Quintessence never made any official announcement that I had left. They kept that quiet. They’d show up at gigs without me and promoters would say, ‘Where’s the singer?’ And the feedback I got was they’d say, ‘Well, he hasn’t shown up tonight…’ So when Kala were trying to get bookings I got feedback from my agent saying, ‘People think you don’t show up for gigs’. ‘What do mean?’ I’d say. ‘I’ve never blown out a gig in my life - I’ve even gone onstage with tonsillitis’.
These minor difficulties aside, as Shiva has suggested, Ladbroke Grove was a musicians’ scene in those days and in retrospect the time between Quintessence ejection and a record deal for his new band seems remarkably swift. Shiva remains a little hazy about how it happened:
‘I don’t know how this came about, but Michael Caine’s manager at that time somehow connected with me and he became like a personal manager/silent backer of the band - I don’t know how I made that connection! I actually had a walk on part in one of Michael Caine’s movies, a spy movie I think. It was like, ‘Come down and meet Michael’, you know, so I came down and said, ‘Hello’, felt like an idiot…’
To which greeting, one immediately wonders, did Mr C say those immortal words, ‘My name is Michael Caine’?
‘He didn’t need to: I think everyone knew who he was!’
Anyway, getting back to the story…
‘On the film, all I did was walk on and walk off,’ says Shiva, ‘they just wanted someone with long hair. But the funny thing was, this guy, the manager, had a white Rolls Royce, like the Beatles had. And I remember this guy driving me round in this thing. So one day I’m sitting in the passenger seat with long hair, maybe looking like I was one of the Beatles or something, and we’re driving around somewhere in London past this big hotel and standing out the front was Sammy Davis Junior. So we drive by, he’s looking into this Rolls Royce - and he starts waving at me! And I said to Michael Caine’s manager, ‘Hey - that was Sammy Davis junior - he must think I’m somebody!’ It was really funny.’
So much for a silent financier and upmarket chauffeur; next we come to the record label connection. Bradley’s Records, a fairly short-lived mid ‘70s offshoot of ATV Publishing, is today best known, if at all, as being the home of The Goodies when the boys were having a run of hits on the back of their TV tom-foolery. For a while, though, when it began Bradley’s was looking at a whole different market:
‘Signing with Bradley’s,’ says Phil, ‘that came about through a guy who had always been a friend of Quintessence, Alan Reid. When I left the band he came round and said, ’I’m A&R man for this new label. We’re looking for bands who are album bands, we’re not interested in Gary Glitter type acts, we want serious musicians.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s us’. I went round and had a meeting with the CEO, got on real well with him and he said, ‘Alright, let’s do it’. So he signed us up and I think three or four other people were on the label [at that time]. So we lined up a tour, went into good studios, put the tracks down…’
Shiva’s broad-brush recollection here doesn’t, however, convey the thinking he had put into his new band. In a sense, as a working musician, it was back to ‘business as usual’ for him, but the new band was also an opportunity to consciously revamp his approach to music:
‘Quintessence was a very ‘loose’ band,’ he recalls, ‘onstage the songs had a beginning, and an end and the middle was a no-man’s land, you just explored where you wanted to go. As much as I love improvising - and as a vocalist I’m good at it - I wanted a little more structure. I wanted specific lengths for solos, specific dynamics and within that enough room for people to express themselves and feel good about their solos. But I was never really into extended, lengthy jams - it wasn’t my thing. But that was the genre that Quintessence was in at that period, where everyone just jammed out, and that was fine. I figured, ‘Now’s the time to get back to a more formalised structure’. I’d still be getting my message across, whatever it was at the time, but within a tighter format.’
The resulting album certainly bears that out, with some of the songs harking back spiritually - with both a lower and upper case S - to Quintessence and others nodding towards the popular no-nonsense boogie and country-rock of contemporaries like the Faces. ‘Well, we didn’t intentionally do that,’ says Shiva, ‘but maybe it was subliminally influenced in that direction. Personally I liked the Small Faces with Steve Marriott - I thought he was fantastic!’
Everything on the album was tightly arranged and lengthy jams are conspicuous by their absence. True, the production sound, while luxuriant, lacks the power and majesty of the John Barham-produced material on the first three Quintessence albums, but partly this reflects the way production sound had softened in general in those few years at the start of the ‘70s, and at least Barham himself (absent from half of the third and all of the fourth Quintessence albums) was back, this time credited with brass and cello arrangements. Raja Ram had been responsible for side-lining Barham from Quintessence; Shiva was delighted to bring him back:
‘I always liked John. I thought his contribution to the first couple of Quintessence albums was brilliant - he’d worked with Ravi Shankar, he worked on [George Harrison’s] All Things Must Pass, knew all those guys, and he was a brilliant classical musician and really easy to work with. He was kind of our George Martin! I was happy to have him back on board.’
The production on the record was credited to Shiva - who, to his regret, overcompensated and believes to this day that he mixed some of his vocals too low (a perception which modern mastering can certainly help to alleviate) - but he was happy to have some song writing contributions from Dave. Dave’s ‘Thirsty Generation’, to these ears, vies with Shiva’s own ‘Sun’ as the album’s stand-out track, while his other contribution, ‘Travelling Home’ was the album’s lead track and Kala’s only single.
‘None of us had any individual writing credits in Quintessence,’ says Shiva, ‘we all had to write under the group banner for certain legal reasons, and on the basis of that I thought we’d all write equally, but we didn’t. Some people were getting royalties but they never wrote a thing! But Dave’s great contribution to Quintessence was ‘Vishnu Narayan’ [aka ‘You Never Stay The Same‘], a great song...
'Vishnu Narayan' by Quintessence (1971)
'And when he came into Kala I said, ‘Listen, we should put a couple of your songs down - I’d like some variety, I like your writing, you’re a buddy and it’ll give more colour to the album’. I didn’t want it to be just me. So we went through his repertoire and I said, ‘Let’s do ‘Travelling Home’’ - a straight ahead rock song. I put the repetitive hook on the end with that one, which I’d also done with ‘Vishnu Narayan’, adding the chant at the end. And the other one, ‘Thirsty Generation’, I thought was a great song, so we did that as well - in fact, again, I put a repetitive thing on the end! That ‘ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh’ bit. But the lyrics in both those songs of Dave’s are really good…’
Having set the scene for the new band being an ocean of bliss, there was, alas, a resurfacing of that old Quintessence demon of backstabbery at some point during the making of the album. Once again, Dave ended up being fired.
‘Lead guitarists, they tend to be somewhat competitive,’ says Shiva. ‘They’re usually competitive with the lead singer. But in this case… We brought in this American guy, pretty laid back, Perry Sinclair, and after a while he said, ’You know, I don’t think Dave’s cutting in - I think we need a new guitar player’. And I thought, ‘Aw, I can’t do that - he’s my buddy…’ But the pressure kept coming on me and I think it got to a point where he said, ’If you don’t sack him, I leave’. So he caught me at a vulnerable time and I said, ’Alright, we’ll change players, it’ll keep the band going…’
Finding himself sacked from Kala, just as he had been from Quintessence only months before, can't have been a barrel of laughs. As Dave puts it, ‘Everything went pear-shaped overnight again!’ He takes up the tale from there:
‘Confused and wondering why this had happened, I suppose it took me a couple of weeks to get organized. Word had got around that I was looking for musicians and sure enough, along came ‘Creepy’ John Thomas. We quickly formed Samsara and did a few gigs - the Roundhouse, Ally Pally, etc. We managed to record during that time, but we didn't manage to impress enough people, I guess.’
Dave hung around London getting gigs for a while with fluctuating personnel before decamping to a muso friend's villa in Spain for nearly a year: ‘I had a great time, went to Marrakesh and so on, but a lack of inspiration eventually brought me back to London.’ Back in town, initially ‘living above a hippy clothing boutique in Golbourne Road’, Dave was neighbours with Paul Kossoff and Pete Bardens – two other former rock stars who were looking for a way back to the big time. He was soon back in Blenheim Crescent once again, living above his brother-in-law, Gopala. After a still-born attempt in the mid '70s to resurrect a version of Quintessence (without Phil) in Germany, Dave finally locked into a more positive musical path that took him to Los Angeles for the better part of the next 20 years and involved a handful of appearances on vinyl, before winding up back in his home town of Leeds in 1994.
'I don’t feel good about it,' reflects Phil, on the question of giving in to the pressure to let Dave go from Kala. 'But I would have explained to him that I didn’t have much choice. When you’re in that position, wanting to present the best that you can to the public, should you stick to friendship and loyalty or should you be a totally professional musician and put feelings aside? It’s a fine line. What do you do there?’
‘[After Dave was fired] Perry then says, 'I’ve got a great guy we can bring in, his name’s Les Nicol...' My first meeting with Les was quite amazing. I was so excited to meet this guy who had been given such a big build up by the other guys in the band. I remember hearing a knock at my door and, and as I opened the door, I saw this guy who looked remarkably like Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver. I should have seen that resemblance as a sign of things to come - Long John Silver / Mutiny! Well, leading with my chin, I reached out my hand and said “Welcome, mate”. He proceeded to give me that Long John Silver sideways look and pronounced, 'So, you're Shiva, the cosmic wanker!' I was sucker-punched - down and out for the count. Breathless and emotionally cut to the quick, I replied sheepishly, 'Ah, yeah that's me.' I should have known, at that initial meeting, it was going to be a bumpy ride...'
Les Nicol doing his thing in 2010
For Dave at least, the arrival of straight-talking Les from up north did at least bring a certain piquancy of sangfroid and schadenfreude, as Phil explains: 'So Les comes along and he was a phenomenal player. But it wasn’t too long before he said, ’You know, Perry’s not cutting it…’ I said, ’What do you mean?!’ He said, ’We don’t need another guitar player - I’ll cover it all’. And he was right: he could. So then Perry got the boot!’
Both Dave and Perry do, however, feature on the album. While Perry lasted long enough to feature on the whole record, managing a particularly fine lead solo on ‘Sun’, with Les uncharacteristically playing the acoustic parts, Dave managed to play on four tracks: his own two compositions plus ‘Meditations’ and ‘Honey Of Love’. ‘Meditations’, incidentally, had been a song performed live but not recorded by Quintessence, as had the ’Hari-Om’ chant at the end of ‘Pearl’ (both can now be heard on the Queen Elizabeth Hall live recordings referred to earlier). ‘Sun’ was also a Quintessence-era leftover, albeit not featured on any recordings, including the posthumous live sets, although it would turn up in fabulously reworked form in 2006 on the Shiva’s Quintessence CD Cosmic Surfer - a studio collaboration between Shiva and Swiss keyboardist Ralph ’Rudra’ Beauvert. (A compilation of material from the Jones/Beauvert ouevre, including the revamped ’Sun’, will be available on Hux in due course.)
'Cosmic Surfer', fabulously re-recorded by Phil Jones in the mid 2000s as 'Shiva's Quintessence'
‘Had I stayed in Quintessence I would have recorded those pieces with them,’ says Shiva, ‘but as I didn’t, I took them with me. As the album illustrates, there was definitely a Quintessence influence in there but there’s also much more of a rock aspect too - Quintessence a la rock rather than Quintessence a la jazz, let’s say.’
The one major downer about the Kala album for Phil was its outward presentation. As well as bringing back John Barham from the Quintessence glory days Shiva was keen to re-engage with Gopala, the artist who had created such striking images for the first two Quintessence albums - before, of course, being side-lined by Raja Ram. This time it was Bradley’s doing the side-lining:
‘I never wanted my picture on the front cover,’ says Shiva, ‘it was a horrible photo. The record company had actually commissioned Gopala to do this psychedelic Tibetan painting of the God Kala, a manifestation of Shiva. It was brilliant, and they promised to give him a lot of money. He lived upstairs from me and he was Dave’s brother in law, so we were all pretty tight in this area we lived in - Dave next door, Gopala above me, and [our guru] Swami Ji in the flat above Gopala. I went away for a short period - to Cornwall, just a week off - and while I was away the A&R man went to have a look at the painting and had a huge argument about it with Gopala. [In the event, no money ever changed hands for the commissioned painting.] I come back to find this sleeve with a pink tinted photo of me had already gone to press. They knew I would have said no.’
If this all sounds like one annoying, faintly Spinal Tap-ish episode after another, Shiva’s travails were not over yet:
‘Around the time the album was finished Bradley’s had booked us a major college tour. And at that point Les got the band together and created a mutiny. He said, ’If you don’t pay us a bigger retainer we’ll quit.’ I think we had maybe two or three weeks before the tour started and there were a lot of dates booked. I thought, ’Jeez, what am I going to do?’ I couldn’t get them any more money - they were getting a few hundred pounds a week to do nothing but rehearse and that was coming from my backer. They thought I was getting more money than them - I wasn’t - and they said, ‘We want the same as you’. We were all getting 300 quid a week, which was a lot of money then - to do nothing but be available to rehearse and being committed to do the tour. They were free to do other gigs. But still they said, ‘Well, if you don’t get any more money we quit’. I was really backed up against a wall. So just at that moment my old school buddy Chris Brown, from The Unknown Blues [Phil‘s hit-making mid ‘60s band from back home in Australia], calls me up one day and says, ‘Hey Phil, I’m in town, what you doing?’ I said, ‘Any other Aussies in town…?’ He said, ‘Yep, the whole band’. I said, ‘Listen, I’ve got this tour coming up - you think we could pull a band together in two weeks?’ He said, ‘You’re kidding - ‘course we can!’ So I went back to the other guys, who figured I would cave in to their blackmail, and I said, ‘You know, I’m really sorry to say this guys, but I gotta let you go’. Stunned looks on their faces. So Les walked out the door and Chris and the boys walked in the door. It went to real straight-ahead rock once those guys came in.’
Phil Jones & The Unknown Blues circa 1967 with Aussie hit 'Pick A Bale Of Cotton'
The evidence for Shiva’s recollection is abundantly found in the two tracks recorded live at one of the dates on that tour - a triple-header with two other Bradley’s acts, virtuoso guitarist Paul Brett and soft-rock trio Hunter Muskett - on March 25th 1973 at London’s Marquee Club. Released as Bradley’s Roadshow, at the bargain price of 95p, it was a fine attempt at doing something similar to the more fondly recalled and ultimately more successful early ‘70s Island Records compilations on which Quintessence had featured: the likes of You Can All Join In, Nice Enough To Eat, El Pea and Bumpers. All the material on Bradley’s Roadshow was exclusive to it, the Kala set not only featuring a version of the band not otherwise recorded but two songs it didn’t otherwise record: the Zeppelin-esque ‘Come On Round To My House’, written by Shiva, and the Mick Cox cover ‘Before You Leave’.
Chris Brown, from the 'Continuity Kala' line-up, with his mid 70s Australian band Ayer's Rock and their Aussie hit 'Lady Montego'
Shiva had pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in recruiting his old mates from Oz for the tour, but this was Kala: the good luck couldn’t last. And it didn‘t.
‘I can’t remember what the length of time was,’ says Shiva, ‘but some time after the tour the CEO of the record company got fired, by ATV [who owned it]. They called me in and said, ‘Look, we’re rearranging the whole label: we don’t want album bands any more - we want hits, pop tunes, no more serious musicians. And I said, ‘Oh yeah? Well, we can put some singles out…’ ‘Ah, but we don’t want the band, we just want you - we don’t need the band. You can be the next Gary Glitter. We’ll put you in a glitter suit and we’ll stuff a banana down your pants.’ These guys were serious! ‘Just go home and write a couple of hit singles. Oh, and by the way, we’re going to take all the equipment back…’ So they pretty much shut the band down. That was it.
'I guess the whole life of the band was maybe a year, year and a half. But I wrote them a few songs that I thought were pretty good. I wrote this great song called ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’ which was not that different from the song of the same name that U2 put out [30 years later]! Anyway, I gave it a go, wasn’t getting much feedback from them and said, ‘Okay, that’s fine, you don’t like what I’m doing, why don’t you let me go so I can pursue my career elsewhere?’ But they said, ‘No, we’re not letting you go - ‘cos you might come up with something really good’. ‘But I want out!’ ‘Well, you can take us to court but it’s gonna cost you more money than you’ve got.’ So basically they shut me down. They wouldn’t let me out of the contract and they weren’t going to use anything that I had. So that was that.’
In retrospect one has to raise an eyebrow at the short-term-ism of the label - these were the days, after all, when many other labels, large and small, in Britain were allowing artists two or three albums at least to find their stride (many of whom would reward such patience with years of strong sales for their benefactors). Even within the brief career which Kala were allowed, one has to ask whether the people involved in the label were maximising the potential of their artists. Quintessence were still a hot property and a hip name in 1972, regulars in the music press of the day. Shiva Jones was the front man and public face of that group. Yet not one interview with his next band, Kala, appeared in any national title that I‘m aware of.
Shiva can only agree: ‘They never really capitalised on the Quintessence momentum when Kala came out. Only people on the inside knew it was me. Shortly after the band finished I moved to Earl’s Court then to Gloucestershire so I didn’t see much of Dave after that. When I moved to Gloucestershire I worked in a dairy - a hell of a job, a lot of physical labour involved. Definitely character building.’
In summary, Shiva remains pleased with the sole album from Kala, and pleased at its reappearance for the first time on CD: ‘I think there’s some beautiful songs on there in terms of the Quintessence vibe,’ he says, ‘I think there’s some great rock songs and one of my favourite tunes is ‘Still Got Time’ where Les does this ripping solo. And he put some really nice acoustic guitar on ‘Sun’ - Perry plays the solo on that one. I think there’s some great songs on that album that would have gone down really well with Quintessence [if we‘d carried on]. And I think it also matured into some other areas that I wanted to express myself in vocally, musically and lyrically that I don’t think I could have done in Quintessence.’
The story does, though, have a happy postscript. Largely as a result of the activity around the Hux Kala/Quintessence CD releases of 2009-10, Phil and Dave got back in touch - as well as with original Island era producer John Barham - and performed a genuine one-off reunion with Quintessence material at the 40th Anniversary Glastonbury - having been the first band onstage in 1970. BBC Yorkshire chronicled the get together in a mini documentary, while John Barham mixed an album of the event (with new studio material inserted) 'Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury 2010'. And this time Dave didn't get fired!