Rather than opening with the standard assortment of lazy comparisons to who or what Nick Garrie-Hamilton and his Nightmare Of JB Stanislas sounds like (“Odessey and Oracle!” “SMiLE!” “A slightly less suicidal Nick Drake!”), something far more important first needs to be established. This obscure, all-but-unreleased, 1969-recorded flop from a teenaged Franco-Caledonian minstrel living an extended episode of A Place In The Sun contains, hidden within its ghastly grey gatefold, the most beautiful song ever recorded.
It’s a song far prettier than Bridge Over Troubled Water, one more poetic than Something, is a slice of balladry less sappy than He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother and less contrived than Hallelujah. That song is called Deeper Tones Of Blue, and it’s 100% aural ambrosia (the heavenly manna, not the rice pudding).
Propelled along gently for an oh-so-short two-and-a-half minutes by a lone, twanging harpsichord, waves of softly picked acoustic guitar and a mournful, sweeping orchestral arrangement by a clearly underrated Gallic producer named Eddie Vartan, Deeper Tones is in many ways a traditional love song, taking its title and refrain from the shade of the narrator’s dear companion’s eyes. But it’s also one with a ever-present and irresistable tinge of sadness, exemplified primarily by Garrie’s cryptic lyric, which, whilst far from Bolan-esque nonsense prose, takes some time to get your head around. Yet when combined with the song’s soaring orchestration, choral bridges and melancholic, dream-like atmosphere, the romantic surrealism of lines like “I’d like to stroll along the seashore of your mind / and whisper all my secrets to the breeze”, delivered in Garrie’s attractive, slighty effeminate tenor, all seem to make sense, and are vital in making Deeper Tones Of Blue such a special experience.
Even the opening line, starting with “Your lips are slightly warm / and cling like a summer wind / I’d like to lose myself in you” is good enough cause for bursting into tears. But of what? Sadness? Joy? Fear? God only knows, indeed. Which, incidentally, might be a fairly good lazy comparison here, if, instead of being a Brian Wilson original, God Only Knows was actually an interpretive cover version of #9 Dream (imagine that; it’s easy if you try). To conclude, track nine of Nick Garrie’s JB Stanislas is too heart-breakingly gorgeous for words and everybody needs to hear it.
The remainder isn’t as great – you can’t really hope to top the most beautiful song ever recorded, of course – but, as a whole, The Nightmare Of JB Stanislas is a remarkably well-written and impeccably produced song cycle worthy of very much praise indeed. Musically, nine of the record’s 11 remaining tracks are in the same kind smoky, orchestrated, mildly psychedelic baroque pop and folk vein as Deeper Tones, and are uniformly excellent; Garrie’s ear for melody coupled with M Vartan’s for tasteful and emotive string arrangements is a match made in musical heaven, to which the exquisite, wistful and oddly infectious chamber pop of songs like David’s Prayer, Ink Pot Eyes and Wheel Of Fortune attest. It doesn’t care for anything like The Zombies or post-surf, pre-lunacy Wilson, as Elefant’s press release would have you believe; a better comparison would be with Billy Nicholls‘ criminally unreleased 1968 lite-psych masterpiece Would You Believe, albeit less flowery, with a darker, more melodramatic edge. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing that particular record, buy it, too.
Unfortunately, even almost consistently brilliant records often have one glaring, irritating character flaw, and Garrie’s ill-fated d�but is no exception. In a bizarre period creative decision that would also inexplicably rear its ugly head on a crop of otherwise perfect Brit psych LPs (Eire Apparent‘s Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, The Fox‘s Goodtime Music, Octopus‘ Johns’ Rock), JB Stanislas, for some reason known only to those in the studio at the time, contains one novelty country knees-up (novelty? country?!) that sticks out like a predictably unwelcome sore thumb. It’s called Queen Of Queens, it’s track 10, it sounds like one of those stupid ’50s send-ups from The Move‘s Message From The Country (Ben Crawley Steel Company), and there’s no reason for it to exist. But that’s a very minor quibble, and the exact reason why someone so kindly invented the ‘skip’ button.
Apparently the young Scotsman didn’t approve of the way the finished product turned out, unhappy with what he considered to be an excessive amount of heavy-handed orchestration not true to his original artistic vision. Hearing what the original vision would have sounded like sans said orchestral pomp would be diverting, but as it stands, The Nightmare Of JB Stanislas – including, don’t forget, The Most Beautiful Song Ever Recorded – is a precious, immersive, atmospheric and delightfully dated product of a very special time, and rightfully deserves a place in the upper echelons of the (no doubt soon to be established) Baroque and Roll Hall of Fame. Lovely stuff.