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Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera

Though one of many fast-burning psychedelic acts of the late '60s, London band Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera was one of the only groups to add soul elements to their colorful psych pop, resulting in a rare sound that was fun, funky, and irreverently out there. Their struggles with a lack of success and line-up changes caused them to fade away quickly, with some members going on to join the Strawbs, but they left behind two albums and a few singles, all collected on 2022 anthology compilation Long Nights of Summer. Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera began as the Five Proud Walkers, a garage band mainly focused on soul and blues who played frequently around London starting in 1964. After supporting Pink Floyd in May of 1967, the Five Proud Walkers were moved to take their style in a more psychedelic direction, switching gears completely and now calling themselves Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera. The renamed group consisted of guitarist Colin Forster, bassist John Ford, drummer Richard Hudson, and Dave Terry (who played under the stage name Elmer Gantry, named after and dressing like the lead character in a 1960 film adaptation of a Sinclair Lewis book) on guitar, lead vocals, and harmonica. The band's first single, "Flames," gained some minor traction from BBC radio play, and made enough of an impact to be covered in concert by Led Zeppelin when they were still in their infancy. The band's self-titled debut was released in 1968, but failed to do much commercially. The membership, approach, and band name all changed for their second, more folk-rock leaning album Ride a Hustler's Dream. Terry left the band before the album materialized, leaving vocal duties to new additions Paul Brett and Johnny Joyce, and the band's name shortened to Velvet Opera for their sophomore album. In 1970, Ford and Hudson left the band to join the Strawbs, and Velvet Opera was effectively over, though an extremely short-lived version of the band including former Tintern Abbey vocalist Dave MacTavish recorded one single for the Spark label later that year. In the ensuing years Terry's musical adventures included fronting a band who accepted illicit bookings posing as Fleetwood Mac, acting in a production of Hair, and eventually singing on recordings by the Alan Parsons Project and Cozy Powell. In 2022, the Grapefruit label offered up a comprehensive anthology, Long Nights of Summer, compiling both studio albums, singles, unreleased demos and radio sessions, and more or less every last bit of sonic ephemera connected to Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera.
© Fred Thomas /TiVo


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