At ASH, we have always been long term admirers of the magnificent Todd Dillingham. So I'm delighted that his brother Mick has written this article about how the musical adventures began.
Mick is a dear friend of mine. As a journalist, he is outstanding. People often complement me on the music I recommend and how much I know. Well I know less than half of what Mick knows. His consistent uncovering of great bands and artists is awe inspiring.
He has also been involved in all things ASH related from the very beginning, approaching nine years now. Mick hasn't been writing as much lately, which is a crying shame, I'm hoping this is about to change. You can find more of his work here.
There is no better person to write about the beginnings of Todd's psychedelic delights than Mick.
Todd was always the classic bedroom musician, first and foremost. An eccentric outsider not really built for this big bad world of ours. He always loved music and for his fifth birthday got the latest Beatles album and by his teens he had a big record collection and went to a lot of gigs. He taught himself how to play guitar and was quite a superb player, but Todd being Todd, he never really did anything with it other than entertain us all with his ability to make up silly songs on the spot.
In his mid twenties he wrote a few songs, The Summer, Fading Just For You which he went into a tiny studio to record. But then one day he won a couple of hundred quid on the horses and went and bought himself a four track Tascam recorder. More brilliant songs started pouring out, matched by musical invention and quality playing. These home recordings, most of which remained unreleased, though a handful turned up on various releases, were staggering stuff and eventually brought him to the attention of Nick Saloman.
Art Into Dust was Todd’s first album, the bulk of which was recorded in a couple of days up at Mick Crossley’s (Flight Reaction) place in Saffron Walden with Nick Saloman (Bevis Frond), for release on the man’s Woronozow label.
Todd’s song Lament has already appeared on the fourth Ptolemaic Terrascope EP, given away free with the magazine (and played on the John Peel show!). Another track Reality appeared on the Woronziod sampler. Todd also played his first (of only ever two) live appearances with a short acoustic set supporting The Bevis Frond at an all dayer at The Dome in Tufnell Park. He was very nervous and sat on a stool during his four song set.
Twink, the legendary drummer from Tomorrow, The Pretty Things and The Pink Fairies who happened to be in attendance that day and aware of Todd’s nervousness beforehand very kindly and spontaneously grabbed maracas and a tambourine and joined him on stage to play along. The crowd also got behind him and cheered and clapped after each number with warm appreciation.
Saloman had been dragging his heels for a few years over doing the album by then, so it was a relief when he finally decided it was time. No sooner had the recording been completed then Todd was given the chance to record down in Canterbury with the legendary Richard Sinclair, Andy Ward and Jimmy Hastings.
With some money from our Father, we headed down the Canterbury to spend five days recording at the same studio as Sinclair was using for the Caravan of Dreams album. In retrospect the studio was too big for the task, but an album’s worth of tunes was captured.
When Saloman found out about this, his nose got out of joint and he decided not to release Art Into Dust after all. A few months later, Voiceprint came on board wanting to release Wilde Canterbury Dream. On hearing about the unreleased debut they decided that it would be cool to release that as well, a few weeks after Wilde Canterbury Dreams. So Todd went from nothing to two albums just like that.
Expanding the original album for the Voiceprint release, Todd added a home demo, Am I Alone and two tracks recorded recently with Andy Ward in East London. Little Green Pears, with a young Canterbury based guitar player Nicky Johns and a mind bending 24 minute version of the Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive on which Andy shines like a thousand stars on the drums. This then was Todd’s second but really first album Art Into Dust.
Todd was very prolific at this point and the thousand pounds or so made from the first two Voiceprint albums was ploughed back into recording using small studios, first in East London and then another in West London.
Andy Ward (Camel, Caravan Of Dreams and later Bevis Frond) was the only constant, not only was he a lovely bloke to hang out with ,but one of the best drummers this country ever produced. The brilliant Terry Burrows a.k.a Yukio Yung of Chrysanthemums fame often came down over the next few years to lay some superb stuff down.
Andy got electric violin player Anthony Aldridge down to the studio a couple of times, one of them on the same day that Rob Ayling of Voiceprint arranged Mike Wedgewood of Caravan/Curved Air fame to join in. First Mike and Anthony overdubbed their parts onto the Vast Empty Spaces suite that Todd and Andy had been working on that dominates the album of the same name.
Then Todd and Mike recorded Little Sister together that also made it to the third album. The musical highlight of the session was the epic prog monster Janus At The Gates of War, recorded live in one take, Todd and Anthony in the main room, Andy and Mike in the drum room. Peter Giles was the engineer (no not the Crimson bloke) and he was also a fine keyboard player always up for playing along.
Todd was never really Rock Star material but if you plopped him down in a modest studio, boy could he create, sometimes recording and mixing four or five songs at a session. Andy Ward was amazing and there was a synergy between him and Todd that meant that he easily and brilliantly kept up with the breakneck pace.
Andy actually found refreshing when recalling the often interminable time spent in the studio with Camel. Like the three days spent sitting around in some big expensive studio, bored to distraction, while the engineer miked up the drums. Todd’s approach to all the talented musicians he was fortunate enough to record with was straight forward and clear: just play entirely what you want to play and that was it.
Vast Empty Spaces came out on Voiceprint soon enough and sold out within a few months and the money from that helped continue the recording.
Todd had so many songs at this point and was writing more every week. As the recording sessions mounted up he would sort through the pool of recordings and compile the next album from them. With Bevis Frond’s offer to put out Sgt. Kipper on Woronzow and with so much great stuff to choose from, far too much for Kipper alone, the idea of self releasing Astral Whelks was born. It was released in a limited edition of 450 copies and was very much the sister album to Sgt. Kipper. With its potent blend of Psych, Prog and Folk Pop it remains many folk's favourite album by the man.
The opening three songs had already seen the light of day on various vinyl singles, but all were noticeably alternative mixes done at the time of recording. The next three tracks were from the same sessions with Andy and Terry blazing away. Janus also made its debut. While it and the title track were long prog epics, The Turquoise Mountain with Peter, Andy and Anthony was the biggest of all.
Based on the adventures of Brian Blessed’s attempt to climb Everest, the vocal version did not quite work, so most of the vocals were stripped away in a second mix (and the song redone as The Blessed One, which remains unreleased).
The Summer was one of Todd’s oldest songs and had already appeared on the Wilde Canterbury Dream album, dating from the very first real studio session Todd ever did a few years before. The version on Whelks was all new with Andy on drums and the only appearance of younger brother, Peter, on bass.
As a teenager Peter had been in Todd’s first and only attempt at forming a band, Coloured Rain (This was when Todd had just started writing songs seriously and he had a dozen or more gems already home demoed.) Unfortunately the other two members of the band (on drums and rhythm guitar) were low on talent and high on delusions of grandeur. After three or four rehearsals it became clear that Todd’s songs and those of the drummer, (who was a big Police fan and insisted on singing his third rate Police knock offs in a fourth rate Sting voice) where not really sitting well together
What sealed the band’s inevitable fate was a really useless, amateurish day up on Hampstead Heath spent "filming a video" or two with nothing more than a rented home video camera and with no thought of how it was going to be edited or any such important issues. Let's hire a camera and go up the Heath was the plan in its naive entirety. It really was a hopeless shambles. At one point two Italian girls who were there with a friend taking glamour photos wandered over to see what was going on with the video camera (quite a novelty in those days). The drummer basically bigged up the whole thing up and told them they could be in the video if they wanted, dancing along to one of his songs.
So while the band mimed along, these two dumb girls gave it their sexy dancing all. The other two band members thought it was great, (it wasn’t), the Dillingham brothers wanted to curl up and die with embarrassment. Later it started to rain and as they sheltered from it, the non-Dillingham members of the band started going on about the certainty of being on Top Of The Pops and playing Wembley within the year.
Todd and Peter left the band a few days after. Peter moved up north a while later and on one of his visits back to London, Todd thought it would be nice for him to pop down the studio and play bass on one of those Coloured Rain songs, The Summer, from all those years before.
Sgt. Kipper was the main focus though and a lot of the best recordings were earmarked for that. It was to be a full length cd and a double album on vinyl . Unfortunately some sort of technical snafu on the vinyl art meant that Todd made not one penny from the release.
With no money forthcoming, the next studio was an even smaller affair and though some amazing recordings were produced, in the end we couldn’t even scrape together enough to continue even that. There was a EP and a ten inch for Pink Lemon but there was little money to be made from them. A while later Todd got married and moved to the States and stopped making music until a few years back when he started up again.