Tuesday, 2 June 2015
Without You/Hair/Today I Feel No Pain/Dear Prudence
After the demise of the Qustions in March 1968 Doug Parkinson, Billy Green, Duncan McGuire and Rory Thomas reunited and recruited a new drummer, Doug Lavery (ex Running Jumping Standing Still, Andy James Asylum) and took a new name that acknowledged the rapidly growing stature of their lead singer -- Doug Parkinson In Focus.
The slew of Singles released by Doug Parkinson In Focus warrants particular attention. The group (unfortunately) never made an album, but, if gathered together with their unreleased tracks (such as "Theme From 12th House"), these tracks would form a pretty solid album. Most have since been anthologised on the essential Raven compilation Doug Parkinson: In and Out of Focus.
The debut In Focus single "Advice" / "I Had A Dream" (May 1968) didn't chart, although it set out their stall in confident fashion, but the original lineup fell apart in August 1968. Organist Rory Thomas left to join The Affair and was not replaced; Doug Lavery departed to join The Valentines and was replaced by Johnny Dick (ex- Aztecs, Max Merritt & the Meteors).
In early 1969, a friend of Doug's in the UK sent him an advance copy of The Beatles' stunning new self-titled double album (now universally known as The White Album). They were smitten and immediately recorded a superb cover of the classic John Lennon song "Dear Prudence". Doug sent the tape to Festival, hoping to have it released as the next single but, incredibly, Festival turned it down. Stunned, Doug took the recording to EMI, who loved it. A record deal was signed, and the single was released on Columbia in May 1969. It shot up the charts all over the country, earning rave reviews; it peaked at #5 in the Go-Set national singles chart in early August and stayed on the chart for a solid four months, becoming the biggest hit of Doug's career. It was a brilliant showcase for Doug, enabling him to display both his power and subtlety, and it also highlighted the tight, funky cohesion of his band. The package was reinforced by its impressive flipside, the Billy Green-composed "This Must Be The End". It became one of the biggest selling Australian singles of 1969 -- no mean feat in a year that produced classics like "Smiley", "The Real Thing" and Mr Guy Fawkes" and it remains a signature tune for Doug ... not to mention being one of the best Beatles covers ever recorded.
In July, as "Dear Prudence" was heading up the charts, the group again competed in the annual Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds. In a nail-biting finish, Doug Parkinson In Focus was awarded equal first place with competition underdogs The Masters Apprentices, and the two bands shared the prize. The prize enabled the Masters to achieve their long-held dream of going to England, but for In Focus the glory was shortlived -- soon after the finals rumours began circulating that their prize money had had been misappropriated by their management.
The Hoadleys controversy was followed by another setback when their next single, "Today (I Feel No Pain)" was deemed uncommercial by EMI and was withdrawn soon after release. Fortunately, the A-side -- remarkable for its driving, slightly psychedelic backwards guitar effects -- reappeared later on the Dear Prudence EP.
They bounced back with their next single, which showcased Billy Green's brilliant pop writing skills, together with his astounding, almost orchestral (and criminally overlooked) guitar stylings on the power ballad (in the best senses of the term) "Without You" (October) which provided them with a second Top 5 hit. On its reverse side, this single featured Doug's unique take on the title song from the notorious rock musical, Hair which had recently premiered in Sydney in a blaze of publicity.
Once again on the crest of a wave, the group looked set for continued success, but in November Green and McGuire abruptly split to join the short-lived supergroup Rush with former Wild Cherries members Mal McGee and Kevin Murphy. Doug hastily recruited English guitarist Mick Rogers (ex-Playboys, Procession) and veteran guitar ace Les Stacpool and the new lineup premiered in December. By January 1970 Rush has folded and Billy Green returned in time for In Focus' appearance at Australia's first rock festival, the Pilgrimage For Pop at Ourimbah, NSW.
Duncan McGuire returned the next month, Stacpool and Rogers departed and In Focus returned to its classic lineup. Their final single was arguably also their supreme achievement, a fantastic 45 where it's hard to nominate an A or B side. "Baby Blue Eyes" / "Then I Run" was also a remarkably dynamic recording, and was one of the first stereophonic 7" singles recorded in this country. By turns lush, dramatic, evocative, funky and just plain hard-rocking, both of these Green-penned songs were shamefully neglected at the time, and deserve retrospective scrutiny for the hallmarks that they undoubtedly are. It performed moderately well, reaching #6 in May 1970, but the next month Doug and Johnny were invited to come to England to join a new band being put together by former Aztec Vince Melouney but that's another story.