"Here I stand, head in hand. Turn my face to the wall...." Thus begins The Silkie's one great shot at stardom, a truly original and lovely song called "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" that featured not one, not two, but FOURTEEN Beatles!!!! They were crawling out of the woodwork!!!! Billy Preston, Pete Best, Stu Sutcliffe I mean HOLY C
featuring not one, not two, but THREE Beatles! Apparently John, Paul and George were hanging out with The Silkie in a recording studio one fine day in the sixties, and the subject of a cover tune arose. The Silkie, no stranger to cover tunes, thought that perhaps John Lennon's sorrowful pop composition "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" would be just the TICKET -- TO RIDE. HA! No hang on, they thought "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" would help them GET BACK(!) to their roots, allowing them to say, "I'LL BE BACK!" to their roots so that they could get BACK IN THE USSR(!) where their roots were, with THE BOYS OF SUMMER.(!) Disliking the idea of a straight cover (one must assume), former Beatle (and at the time Beatle) and Wing Paul McCartney started playing this super-bonus up-and-down churning chord sequence on his electro-guitar that got the whole place a-hoppin'. Next thing you know, George picked up a tamborine, John picked up a production kit, Paul played his hot, happening rhythm line and WHAMO! The Silkie had a hit! Unless it wasn't a hit. One of us would have to look that up, and I think we both know how I feel about facts.
But let's talk about why I'm reviewing The Silkie.I'm trying to explain (a) how childhood favorites can be misleading and (b) how preposterous the music industry was in the '60s. For (a), let me return to a fine blue August day, age probably me oh let's say 4 I would have to guess - when my father finally (after 4 LONG years of waiting) allowed me to listen to his huge collection of '50s, '60s and early '70s rock singles at my own discretion as long as I didn't break any of them (which I DID -- MANY of them unfortunately. I only stopped because one night when I stepped on one, it cracked and cut my foot. As an aside, my Dad blew a gasket in his car when he saw that I'd been stomping on his records, and from that day on I only stomped on live human beings stapled to my basement floor). This was when I discovered the song "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" by The Silkie. I saw that the song was written by "Lennon/McCartney," but I'd never actually heard the Beatles' version (nor would I for another several years). So what I heard was a neat opening hook, followed by a strummy acoustic and smooth kinda '60s hipster voice singing a couple of lines, followed by some weirdo chippy singing a couple lines very operatically and WAY too high for the material, followed by some jerk shouting "HhhEY!" and the man and weirdo chippy singing the chorus together (x3). WHOA! I thought. I LIKE THIS! I didn't know the word "eccentric," but now that I do, that's the word I'd apply to their performance. The record was instantly lumped into my favorites pile with other eccentricities like The Hogs' "Loose Lip Sync Ship," The Count Five's "They're Gonna Get You" and The Fendermen's "Mule Skinner Blues." Hell, even the B-SIDE seemed a little odd! It was just an uptempo folky tune, but why was the singer using such a poor excuse for a Southern accent? Were these people from some sort of Crazy Insane World of Insaneness?
Many moons later (every night our moon explodes and is replaced by an exact replica), I learned the answer and it was less than interesting. I found their sole full-length album for $3.99 (it was cheap due to a huge gash covering the entirety of side B -- the record doesn't skip, but it sure does go "THUK" a lot! You people from the "cassette" generation will never understand the appeal of good old-fashioned vinyl, but believe you me, until somebody invents some sort of smaller disc that can somehow retain all of the musical information currently located on a record or cassette -- and don't keep your chickens crossed -- I'll continue to wet my pants instead of turning on the heater), and was instantly attracted by the band photos gracing the back cover. How would my young mind have accepted the reality that the mysterious Silkie was comprised not of insane crazyfolk but a cleanly dressed pile of two beards, a little boy, Jackie Kennedy and a stuffed baby seal? The answer is simple: it was a rhetorical question.
The music on the other hand was anything BUT rhetorical. It was -- IN EVERY INSTANCE ASIDE FROM THE TWO SONGS OFF OF MY DAD'S SINGLE -- percussionless acoustic folk music with lovely male-female harmony vocals (the chippy doesn't even sing operatically in any of the others!). Basically Britain's answer to Peter, Paul and Mary, but with one major difference: where PP&M were content to cover ONE Bob Dylan song ("Blowin' In The Wind" - it was a huge hit, maybe you've heard of it), The Silkie covered not one, not two, not (etc.), but EIGHT BOB DYLAN SONGS!!!! ON ONE ALBUM!?!??! WHY!!?!!??! WHY!?!?!?!?
(Record company stupidity)
Interesting thing to note is that Bob Dylan wrote a ton of beautiful songs. Many casual listeners miss this fact because of his wheezy ugly voice, but his songs were extremely melodic in those early years. Just take any of these Silkie covers ("A-Changin'," "Tambourine," "Dylan's," "North," "Blowin'," "Minus," "Ain't," "Tomorrow"); the luscious multisexual harmony vocals are soft, safe and sanitized, but the music is the SAME WAY DYLAN PLAYED IT. The chord changes, the lovely finger-plucking -- Dylan was a gorgeous songwriter. And I don't just mean his big tits!
That didn't make any sense at all. Somebody erase that.
On the strength of the title track, two great Silkie originals (the catchy-as-hell country/folk "City Winds" no longer sounds eccentric to me since I know the vocalist is a Brit trying to force out an American South accent, and "Blood Red River" is more fun than an open casket funeral -- and don't you "ACCUSE"("d") me of stealing that ironic metaphor!) and some lovely if eventually tiresome and soundalike Dylan covers, this LP receives a tip-top 7 from Prind Markle. The remaining song, a boring as jibb traditional folk song called "Close The Door Gently," unfortunately sounds like that guy on the steps in Animal House who gets his guitar smashed to bits by John Belushi.
So do your Dylan-loving-but-his-voice-hating self a slight favor and don't actively avoid Silvie's pure, feminine, expressive voice, Mike's moving guitar and vocal power, Ivor's swinging strumming and subtle singing harmony and Kev's wonderful string bass! (And no I don't mean bassist Kevin Rutmanis from the Melvins, although I suppose it's possible he was playing in a British folk band when he was 1 year old).
I read your article and wanted to touch base with you. My parents were the famous Silkie couple, Mike and Sylv Ramsden. Unfortunately my father passed away almost 3 years ago, but they sang together as a duo for over 35 years after the band broke up 1966.
Some interesting points:
The guitar intro on the record was Paul. In fact the song is Paul's arrangement of John's song, with a little help from his friends. George played percussion by tapping on the back of the guitar. John was in the studio and Jane Asher (Paul's girlfriend at the time) was in charge of opening the beer bottles. Rock'n'Roll indeed.
The reason to do Dylan covers was totally dictated by the record company. They wanted the band to be a pure folk band, but the Silkie showed enough talent on the other songs to be a little bit more than that. I mean come on, they were only 21!!
Paul offered them a throwaway song of his called "1+1 is 2" which we are still trying to track down as the "missing" Beatles song. In probably the worst mistake in musical history, the Silkie turned him down, because as my Dad said "it was a crap song". What? That didn't ever stop Phil Collins!
They were due to visit the States early 1966 as part of the British Wave, and do American Bandstand, Ready-Steady-Go, Ed Sullivan, which, as my parents used to argue, would have put them on the map. However your loving government, afraid of too many Brits infiltrating your minds with the devils music, put a stop to it all. Apparently Brian Epstein could have made it happen but he was too busy gazing at pictures of John Lennon to notice and the band disintegrated. Having missed the chance to travel to the States, my parents got married instead in Liverpool on Jan 1st 1966.
Dylan actually asked John about them on his famous trip to London and John told him that they sounded "very silky" - now there's British humour for you.
Actually if nothing else, I think that my parents arrangements of some of the Dylan tracks were better than the originals. The structure, sound and especially the harmonies that they achieved with 2 guitars and a double bass gave a life and depth that was missing from the original works (that terrible nasal drone!!), specifically Girl from the North Country, Spanish Boots and Dylan's Dream (my favorite).
As an update, Mum was here in the States last year, where I live with my wife and 2 girls, working on a Beatles/Liverpool movie that is due to release in 2008. She sings occasionally with any of myself, my brother, my sister, my cousin, local bands in Devon and even did a star stint in Newport Beach, CA last time she was here. Her voice is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard and it is a crying shame that they did not make it the Rock and Roll Pantheon where they rightfully belonged. Having said that, if their career had lasted, I wouldn't be here, so I guess I'm grateful in a way that it didn't.
It was great to hear what happened to the Silkie. I have a near-mint mono copy of the album You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.
I bought it when I was part of a struggling garage band in Sydney, Australia in the sixties. Some of our fluid membership and friends went on to become The Easybeats – but that’s another story. Today I was just playing a game where I had to come up with a group or solo artist starting with “S” - and I came up with the Silkie. That in turn, made me google the name to see what on earth became of them.
In the sixties, like today, many bands were much better than they were given credit for and, conversely, some real crap topped the charts from time to time. The Silkie definitely belonged in the former category.
I was sad to read that Mike Ramsden died so young but delighted that the melodic Sylvie still graces the airwaves now and then. I think I will now give the album its first airing for this century.
Love Minus Zero - No Limit was always my favorite.....
Thanks for the memories, and for the update on the Ramsdens. Sorry to hear of his dad's passing.....
I remember The Silkie’s “You’ve Got….” in the SF bay area in late 1965. Late night DJ on my favorite station (KYA), a guy named Tommy Saunders used to play it where the other jocks wouldn’t.
It was a pretty big hit for them, their only in USA. The song appeared in the Beatles second movie “Help” and I recall thinking that their rendition sort of sounded like the Beatles guitar riffs, only with a female vocal.
I remember being in a record shop in Oakland once and a young lady there was having an absolute orgasm over having found their album in one of the record racks. I mean I thought she was going to lose it right there in the shop. I was 12 at the time and the personnel at the shop didn’t pay much attention to me, since I was a kid and I probably didn’t have any money.
Your reviews are well written. The way I probably would write them. Keep exploring rock and roll’s checkered history. There are so many wonderful stories contained within.
I also seem to remember that they were just called Silky at that time and their line up, performing style and repertoire inevitably drew comparisons with Peter, Paul and Mary who were very popular then. I clearly remember Mike, Sylvia and Ivor but I don’t really recall the double bassist so well – but then it was over 40 years ago ! I do recall that Blood Red River was virtually their signature song too.
There were a lot of students working there and we all rated them very highly and felt certain that they would ultimately make it in the music business. I remember chatting to Mike and Sylvia in the cramped staff canteen about the contemporary folk and protest music scene and who in that genre we all liked. Sylvia had such a pure and distinctive voice which harmonized so well with Mike and Ivor and I still remember the first time I saw them on TV – must have been Top of the Pops – just over a year later performing ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ just after I had arrived back at University for the autumn term. I assumed that was just the very beginning for them but it was not to be.
Often wondered what happened to them after they faded from the public scene – success in that business can be so capricious and talent is no guarantee of longevity either. Really sorry to hear of Mikes premature death in 2004.
Cool that you made the time to do the SILKIE website thing! They deserve it! I always wondered what happened to The Silkie! Thanks!