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West Coast Consortium

West Coast Consortium (later known as just Consortium) was a British pop/rock group with a harmony-rich, gently psychedelic sound who evolved through several incarnations in the mid-'60s to early '70s. Reminiscent in their early days of a very English take on the Four Seasons or the Beach Boys, they grew into a lush, harmonically rich band, especially after their 1969 hit, "All the Love in the World," allowed them more studio time and a bigger budget. While they were batting for hit singles, they recorded three albums' worth of home demos that presented the band in a charmingly intimate fashion. Regardless of the setting, they are one of the great under-rated groups of the era. The band initially coalesced under the name Group 66, featuring lead vocalist Robbie Fair, guitarists Geoff Simpson and Brian Bronson, bassist John Barker, and drummer John Podbury. Their initial repertoire consisted of basic covers of contemporary rock & roll hits, something that changed when, one day, they were working on a rendition of the Four Seasons' "Rag Doll" and discovered that they could harmonize better than they could play. A similarly successful attempt at performing the Beach Boys' "I Get Around" proved to the quintet that vocals were their strong point and could set them apart from most of their rivals. By 1967, Simpson had started writing songs and the group began actively seeking a recording contract. They were signed by Pye Records, which put them together with producer/songwriter Tony Macaulay. He insisted that the group -- which had changed its name to the gimmicky, monosyllabic X-It -- had to pick something less terrible. In the interest of emphasizing an American cultural connection, they arrived at West Coast Consortium. The group's original sound was rooted in high harmonies and midtempo songs, similar in style to the Ivy League Their first two singles failed to chart, as did a 45 released under the name "Robbie," focusing on Fair's persona. They subsequently lost the services of Macaulay, who increasingly turned his attentions to the Foundations, and picked up Jack Dorsey as producer. The band generated one poppish freakbeat single, "Colour Sergeant Lilywhite," filled with phased guitars and drumming and an outsized vocal performance from Fair; it didn't chart, but it did become a minor classic of British psychedelia. Amazingly during this period, the group was given the chance to record an entire LP, despite not having had a hit. They rehearsed and self-recorded an album's worth of demos, but ultimately decided to focus their efforts on playing live. They hadn't given up writing songs, however, and in late 1968 recorded another album's worth of demos that showed the band growing more confident and progressive. Fate then took a hand in a very unexpected way. The group suddenly found a new fan in the form of the head of Pye Records, the legendary producer/bandleader Cyril Stapleton. A revered figure on the British music scene, he chanced to attend a performance by the band and was so taken with them that he decided to give them his personal attention on their next record. At the time, they'd cut a version of Simpson's "All the Love in the World" that wasn't coming out right with Dorsey, and, astonishingly, the label chief violated all corporate protocol by agreeing. Dorsey was taken off production and the existing recording was junked. The band started over with Stapleton producing; they also shortened their name to the simpler and more mysterious Consortium. The result was their strongest record to date, a glowing piece of sunshine pop with an unpretentious orchestral accompaniment and a strong vocal performance by Fair. The effort paid off and "All the Love in the World" was their first real hit, reaching number 22 on the U.K. charts in the course of a nine-week run. The chart hit, the name change, and Stapleton's interest in them did get the group a fresh round of music press coverage, along with better gigs where they were able to show off their ability to re-create their harmonies and the full Mellotron- and organ-based sound. It also afforded them more time and money for their sessions, the result of which was a series of singles that became the harmony-rich psychedelic pop songs that got the attention they deserved. Unfortunately, as good as songs like "Cynthia Serenity," with its haunting melody, compelling beat and falsetto harmonies, or the gorgeous "I Don't Want Her Anymore" were, they were unable to build on their previous chart success. The band was still working hard, writing so many songs that their third album's worth of home demos recorded in 1969 became a double-LP. It was around this time that guitarist Billy Mangham joined the band and they moved to a label, Trend, run by Foundations manager Barry Class. Trend didn't help their sales, and in 1970 the original group's history effectively ended as Simpson quit, unwilling to leave his wife or their recently born twins for a six-week tour of Italy. He went into the less travel-demanding field of songwriting, enjoying success in the '70s, while the rest of the band soldiered on in one form or another for the rest of the decade, and even existed for a time in the '80s. By that time, the Consortium had a much louder sound, very far removed from their Four Seasons/Beach Boys-inspired roots. In the 2000s, the band were the recipients of two fine reissues: 2003's Looking Back: The Pye Anthology collected all their A- & B-sides plus a selection of demos, while 2008's Mr. Umbrella Man: A Collection of Demos 1967-1969 delved into their home recordings. It wasn't until 2024 that all their work was gathered in one place with the release of All the Love in the World: The Complete Recordings 1964 -1972 on Grapefruit Records. Along with the previously issued singles and unearthed demos, it included 20 songs that saw the light of day for the first time.
© Bruce Eder & Tim Sendra /TiVo


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