Recapturing My Flaming Youth
I AM currently on a journey of timebinding, but I don't yet know if the end will be rewarding or disappointing.
In my first year at Oxford University I was omnivorous for anything with a science-fictional theme. Though I didn't at that stage go much on fantasy, I was a sucker for anything with space references. Any rock or pop music with a space theme was likely to hit the jackpot. So when a space-themed concept album entitled Ark 2 by a previously unknown band called Flaming Youth appeared, unheralded, I just fell in love with it. It had a gatefold sleeve featuring a cellophane mock stained-glass window in an otherwise plain black front cover, which at the time stunned me. The lyrics described the launch and journey of a spaceship rescuing a few chosen humans from an Earth destroyed by greed, environmental catastrophe, or nuclear war, and their thoughts on what they had left behind and how they would have to change.
After umming and ahhing for a couple of days in typical impoverished-student fashion, I bought it. The music was somewhat cheesy, with a typical late-Sixties poppy production, and bouncy melodies. Song titles included Guide Me Orion, Pulsar, and From Now On. Some of the cheesier lyrics were comments on late twentieth-century fads, such as psychoanalysis: "Trick-cyclist take me with for the ri-i-ide..." (sic) which rhymed with "...something insi-i-ide..." Nevertheless, I still thought it was enormous fun, and I was surprised I didn't hear much of it on the radio.
A month or so later bill posters appeared announcing a gig at the Oxford Union cellar club by a group called Orion. I'd never heard of this band, but the name might be more than a coincidence. I decided to go along to see if they had anything to do with the LP I had just bought.
Yes, they did. They played most of the songs on the LP. At the end I went and spoke to the drummer, who was a little chap with a round face. He confirmed that there was a proper launch planned for the spring and this was a rehearsal gig.
At the beginning of the summer term of 1970, my mother was bringing me back down from Newcastle to Oxford when her car was stolen from outside the South Yorkshire motel at which we stopped overnight. The LPs (including Ark 2) and other items left in the boot were never recovered, though the car was found a week or so later.
Despite my fondness for the LP, due to lack of money I never got round to buying another copy while it was available. As well as a little thing called Finals, my later discovery of the OUSFG (Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group, featuring such luminaries as Dave Langford, Kev Smith, Diana Reed, Allan Scott, Chris Morgan, and Mike Scott Rohan) rather took over my life. Ark 2 became a sort of one-hit wonder in my head, a fond memory.
However, I never lost interest in it, and about five years ago in a local W.H. Smith I was idly leafing through a price guide to second-hand LPs and made two interesting discoveries. One was that it had been re-released on CD. The other was that its second-hand value was even at that stage £20, because of its historical value in the career of its drummer, Phil Collins. He had later returned to the group that made From Genesis to Revelationwhich later shortened its name to Genesis.
Coo. So that's who the little chap I was talking to was.
That made me more determined to find a copy. I asked in our local MVC if the CD could be orderedbut it had already been deleted! Every now and then I would leaf through the F's in any reasonably large record store (new or second-hand) either for the vinyl or CD version, without luck.
However, the arrival of online shopping provided new avenues of exploration. Our family have become very used to online shopping, not least as our sixteen-year-old son Hugo is currently majoring on Pokemon soundtrack CDs, many of which are only available on Japanese import, and on selling unwanted but rare toys on Ebay for surprisingly vast sums. Ark 2 on Ebay, though?no luck. A Google search revealed a fan or two with loads of info, but no copies for sale. Amazon's Z-Shopsstill no luck.
However, just yesterday, I think I may have struck lucky. CDNow's "rarities corner has a Japanese import digitally remastered edition available on back-order for $31.75. Go for it! The order has been accepted.
However, I have no less than four unanswered questions:
- Will the Japanese distributors still have it in stock, or will they have deleted it?
- Will the artwork have anything like the same impact?
- Will the sleeve notes be in Japanese? If so I will have to rely on our eldest daughter Dulcie, who is doing French and Italian at university with a side order of Japanese.
- Most importantly, as musical tastes have moved on: will the music now sound utterly cheesy, Sixties and disappointing?
I'll let you know if the journey into the past is worth it. Whether Phil Collins would thank me for it if he knew is another matter.