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Kula Shaker

+ {The Jeevas} + {Crispian Mills}

Neo-psychedelic Britpop outfit similar in many respects to CAST or The CHARLATANS, KULA SHAKER were most popular in the second half of the 90s, during which time they’d garnered a No.1 debut album and a string of hit singles. Inspired by the mysticism and instrumentation of flower-power Beatle GEORGE HARRISON, figurehead Crispian Mills (born 18 January 1973) had stemmed from celebrity stock, down to the fact his mother was famous English actress, Hayley Mills, and his father being ageing director Roy Boulting; coincidentally, both his parents – divorced in 1976 – had met on the set of the 1966 film, The Family Way, starring veteran thespian Sir John Mills (his grandad), with the score supplied by another Beatle, PAUL McCARTNEY.
Named after a ninth-century Indian holy man/emperor (Kulashekhara), KULA SHAKER were founded in Highgate, London, in spring 1995, by singer/guitarist Crispian and long-time buddy Alonza Bevan (bass, piano, tabla). They’d started out in school group, The Lovely Lads, before becoming the equally short-lived Objects Of Desire; Marcus Maclaine was their lead singer. Upon Crispian’s return from an enlightening pilgrimage to India (c. 1993), he reconvened with Alonza to form mod act, The Kays (along with sticksman Paul Winter-Hart), but within a year, vocalist Saul Dismont had made way for organist Jay Darlington; leaving behind a couple of rare-as-hen’s-teeth promo singles for Gut Reaction Records.
After sharing the spoils (with PLACEBO) of winning the prestigious “In The City” new band competition, and a resounding Glastonbury appearance in summer ‘95, KULA SHAKER signed to Columbia Records, through A&R man Ronnie Gurr. The quartet debuted that Xmas with a limited-edition, “Lucky 13 mix” of `Tattva’, a 60s-styled psych nugget incorporating Eastern instrumentation and vibes. Their first single proper, `Grateful When You’re Dead / Jerry Was There’, was a tribute of sorts to the recently departed JERRY GARCIA, that earned them their first Top 40 entry. The band’s follow-up, a polished-up version of the aforesaid `Tattva’, fared even better, cracking the Top 5.
Third hit, the fast-and-furious `Hey Dude’, kept up the momentum, reaching No.2 on the back of a blinding T In The Park appearance in Scotland (they returned there in 1997 as headliners). Mills and Alonza’s songwriting was heavily influenced by a combination of classic 60s psychedelia and grandiose 70s rock, much in evidence on their chart-scaling album, K (1996) {*8}; however, America was less than impressed. Relying on similar retro-raga influences such as `Tattva’, the Top 10 `Govinda’ was another slice of elaborate, but cliched psychedelic mantra, while the exclusive non-album `Hush’ (Top 3 the following February), was workmanlike in its similarity to the DEEP PURPLE version of the JOE SOUTH original.
KULA SHAKER continued to musically spar with their tried and tested cod-mod/psychedelia; another Top 3 single in spring ‘98, `Sound Of Drums’ (very INSPIRAL CARPETS), testament to just that. The track was a feature on their Bob Ezrin-produced sophomore set, PEASANTS, PIGS & ASTRONAUTS (1999) {*6}, a pretentious set of good-time cosmic rock’n’roll that gave ammunition to the gun-toting music journos all ready to shoot them down at any opportunity. Two further Top 20 singles, `Mystical Machine Gun’ and `Shower Your Love’, marked the end for Crispian and his chums, as the band split that September.
The frontman was expected to go solo, but chose instead to form trad-rock trio, The JEEVAS (along with STRAW refugees Dan McKinna on bass and Andy Nixon on drums), who released flop singles, `Virginia’ and `Scary Parents’, prior to their debut album 1 2 3 4 (2002) {*5}. Featuring a cover of The UNDERTONES’ `You Got My Number’ and a minor hit in `Once Upon A Time In America’, ‘Shaker fans looked to have given Crispian and Co the brush-off. By 2003’s second attempt, COWBOYS AND INDIANS {*4}, The JEEVAS had rode their luck into the sunset having turned from Eastern to Western in the space of only several years; a watered-down re-tread of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s `Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ (a modest hit) and another cover from DYLAN (`Masters Of War’), made this one to avoid but for curiosity reasons.
In the meantime, the remaining three ‘Shakers had found work with a variety of combos: Winter-Hart for Thirteen: 13, Bevan for JOHNNY MARR & THE HEALERS and Darlington with OASIS. Inevitably, KULA SHAKER officially re-formed in 2006, although it was without Jay, who’d declined the offer before the band went into the studio for the `Revenge Of The King’ EP. Subsequently adding Harry Broadbent (organ) on 2007’s self-financed STRANGEFOLK {*6} set, their timing was probably out of sync, while accusations of sounding too BEATLES or retro, were rife. Although this was no “Sgt. Pepper”, “Revolver” or “All Things Must Pass”, the HARRISON-isms provided extra texture on `Second Sight’, the anti-Bush `Great Dictator (Of The Free World)’ and the mystical and kooky robotic/spoken-word title track.
Recorded in Lompret, Belgium, PILGRIMS PROGRESS (2010) {*7} was KULA SHAKER expanding their musical horizons to take in elements of chamber folk, baroque pop and trippy prog/psychedelia. Starring the precious `Ophelia’ and the DYLAN-esque `Modern Blues’, plus the orchestral manoeuvres of opener `Peter Pan R.I.P.’, the killer quartet had earnestly mixed up pieces of 60s-70s styles to fit their own modern-day musical jigsaw. A CRISPIAN MILLS solo 7-inch single, `Healing Hands’, might’ve caused concern when released only a few months later, but it was indeed a one-off.
A long time coming, KULA SHAKER’s Top 40 return K2.0 (2016) {*7}, was hardly a surprise given that deluxe editions of their first two sets were still selling extremely well. A psychedelic smorgasbord of HARRISON, DYLAN, TRAFFIC et al, complete with starry-eyed sitars and retro raga-rock, Crispian and Co created a fantastical dreamboat of an album, dressed up by the glorious grooves of `Infinite Sun’, `High Noon’ (very MORRICONE), `Here Come My Demons’, `33 Crows’ and `Mountain Lifter’.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2016

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