The Studio 68! only released two records in their lifetime: a five and half minute single “Doubledeckerbus” in 1991 and a 12 inch “Smash” EP the following year. Both were great records, full of swirling Prisoners organ, big Small Faces chords, a splash of The Creation’s red with purple flashes, and topped with a sprinkling of the Nazz.
In August 1992 they recorded their intended debut album, Portobellohello, only for Sussex constabulary to seize the tapes after a raid on the band’s accountant for financial irregularities. That, combined with the young band self-destructing on their mythology and a lifestyle more in keeping with 70s rock stars than a group playing to a handful of people in the Camden Falcon, plus main man Paul Moody taking a job writing for the NME meant their career was short lived.
Listening, finally, to that album thanks to a rescue mission by Paisley Archive Records it’s a pity events transpired against them. Although recorded in the era of Seattle grunge and Berkshire shoegazing, The Studio 68! were one of a number of bands – Five Thirty, Spitfire, The Revs, The Stairs, The Dylans - who, with their pilfering from the past, would do the spadework for a future breed of flag waving British popular beat combos.
From today’s position, few would claim Studio 68! were anything but a mod band (white jeans, desert boots, Tootal scarves, sunglasses, good hair) but in the early 90s it wasn’t wise to closely associate with a movement that was dead on its arse and viewed with ridicule from the outside. I didn’t think of The Studio 68! as card-carrying mods back then, more as people (and there were a lot of us) who’d been teenage mods and taken that foundation and built upon it. It was good period, horizons were now wider than Peter Meaden’s labels, the strict modernist scripture thrown away, and an interest in the 60s underground, International Times, the Oz trails, beat writers, Joe Orton, pop art, Parisian riots, Black Panthers, psychedelia, garage rock, Deep Purple, the Stooges, biker movies, Peter Fonda, Aleister Crowley and Funkadelic blossomed and sat comfortably next to The Who and traditional mod icons.
This is where The Studio 68! were coming from and what informs the ten songs on Portobellohello and the six bonus tracks. As stated earlier, The Prisoners and, to a lesser extent, the Small Faces are the two most obvious influences (although Moody lacks the vocal prowess of either Day or Marriott) but they’re their own band. There’s a real drive, a strange kind of urgency, to the mod-rock of “Goodbye Baby and Amen”, “Afternoon Sun”, “He’s My Sister” and “Pop Star’s Country Mansion” which scorch their way into the consciousness, hammered home by Will Beaven’s incessant Hammond. The occasional druggy references are a little obvious but elsewhere there’s a healthy dose of cynicism in the lyrics. The one cover, an instrumental version of Python Lee Jackson’s “In A Broken Dream”, is their impressively played, acid drenched, “Maggot Brain” wig-out moment.
Kula Shaker’s first album would be another four years coming but The Studio 68! had it all here – without the faux Eastern mysticism shtick. Don’t let the Kula Shaker reference put you off, I know we’re not allowed to like them but I’ve just dug out K to double-check what it sounds like and it’s mostly rather good and remarkably similar in scope to Portobellohello (Shaker organist Jay Darlington travelled the same roads The 68). It just shows, once again, how the music business dice roll more favourably for some than others.