Reliving Psychedelic Days

Nirvana in the Netherlands at the height of their fame

By David Hennessy

Cricklewood-based Irish film-maker Conor Heffernan’s study of musician and songwriter Patrick Campbell-Lyons, titled Rainbow Chaser, will screen this week at Cork Film Festival.

Patrick Campbell-Lyons left his home in Lismore, Waterford as a young man to become the driving force behind psychedelic progressive rock band Nirvana and a part of the swinging sixties scene in London. The band, made up of Patrick and his songwriting partner Alex Spyropolous, are remembered for songs like Tiny Goddess, Pentecost Hotel and Rainbow Chaser which the film takes its name from. Rainbow Chaser is still used for adverts, soundtracks and has recently been sampled by UK hip-hop duo, Rizzle Kicks for their track, Dreamers.

In the new film, Conor, who is from Cappoquin in Waterford, takes Patrick back to the places of his younger days. These include the old Island Records office, the Giaconda café and Denmark Street. Patrick shares memories of a London that was “wild and wonderful” and the legal battle that came much later when Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl became popular using the same moniker.

Patrick tells The Irish World: “It was really nice to be able to retrace the steps with Conor, I think he captured the moment.”

Was it emotional with so many memories flooding back? “Yeah, it was kind of strange going back there sober and straight,” Patrick laughs. “When I started the book Psychedelic Days three years ago, it just all came back so quickly to me so I’m still kind of holding on to that a little bit.

“I’m just one of the few people who fortunately survived it. If you read the book, a lot of the people in it did not survive those years. Luckily I did and I was able to tell my story. I was very close to a guy called Speedy Keen, John Keen, he was a drummer in a band (Second Thoughts) I had in Ealing before I had the Nirvana project. He and I were very, very close but there were numerous people I knew who didn’t come out the other side. But when you’re writing the book, you don’t think about it. It was when I read the book myself and I thought ‘they’re no longer around’, they were living for me when I was writing.”

It was the repeated ‘what were the sixties like’ question from young relatives that prompted Patrick to write Psychedelic Days: “I wrote the book really because of that question. My daughter kept saying: ‘Daddy, I wish I had been born at that time’. Then my nieces kept asking me: ‘What was it like?’ Eventually I said I would write it for them. It started as a song really and then the lyric became a short story and then the short story became a chapter and then I couldn’t stop. I won’t write another one. People keep saying to me: ‘Will you do a continuation?’ For me there was only one decade like that. It was a golden time, I must say, especially for songwriters.”

Patrick today

For the film, Patrick and Conor went back to where Island Records had their office all those years ago (now a clothes storage place on Oxford Street). In the sixties, Patrick and Alex turned up with their demo and played live for Chris Blackwell, the man who built Island Records up from nothing. After being signed, Nirvana were labelmates with bands such as Jethro Tull and Traffic. Patrick describes the Island Records people as like “family” back then.

“The only place that I found retained something of it was Denmark Street itself because there’s still a few music shops there. There was a lovely little park at the back of Denmark Street that hadn’t changed at all. It was a place where we used to go and roll a joint every now and again. And I still think it’s being used for the same purpose,” Patrick says with a laugh.

Although Patrick’s band had limited commercial success, they were acclaimed by the critics. However, this could have been different had they performed on Top of the Pops with their best loved song, Rainbow Chaser which came out the same time as Traffic released Hole in my Shoe on the same label. “We went in at number 22 and they went in about 24 and the promotion guy had already said to Chris ‘I’ve got Top of the Pops for Rainbow Chaser and we were getting ready and we were told on Friday: ‘Sorry, you don’t have it Steve Winwood (Traffic) insisted that it’s his’.”

Playing Top of the Pops could have in all possibility lifted Rainbow Chaser into the top 5 but in spite of this, Patrick is not bitter: “We weren’t too bothered really. In those days, you were just so happy to have a song recorded in the first place, to get a publishing deal. That was a dream, the competition was so strong out there. It was number one in Australia, number one in Scandinavia and then two weeks later, we got an invitation to play with Salvador Dali in Paris so that made up for it really, not many bands can say that.

“If we had gone on Top of the Pops, it would have probably been a top five record and my life would have been totally different, probably we would have been forced into forming a bigger band, start touring in America and I probably wouldn’t be alive talking to you today. I’ve talked about it with my partner a couple of times, that’s the way we felt about it.”

Kurt Cobain, whose band Patrick had a legal battle with over the name

Reading from the back of one of his own old records, in the film Patrick describes nirvana as “a place or state characterised by freedom from or oblivion to pain, worry or the external world”. It is ironic that years later, the name would be a source of worry. It was in 1991 that, with the release of their Smells like Teen Spirit, that Patrick and Alex released a Seattle grunge three-piece were making a name for themselves… but with a name Patrick and Alex had had since before Kurt Cobain was born. Patrick tells the story: “Alex said he heard a band and I thought it was an ordinary punk record. Then it was all over the place. We decided we had to do something because we had the name and a good track record of stuff. That was a long struggle. We went to live in Los Angeles for about nine months to fight a legal case that was successful.”

The Seattle band’s legal team claimed Patrick and Alex had no profile in USA but they disproved this by walking into a local Tower Records and finding one of their tracks on a compilation called Best of British with all the other best known bands from their era: “In the end, the judge said both bands can keep the name and trade and record under that name but they mustn’t impeach on each other’s sound: We shouldn’t play grunge music and they shouldn’t play baroque psychedelic rock. We were unlikely to play grunge music. I liked them as a band eventually when I listened to their stuff.”

Patrick has since covered the popular grunge hit Lithium and gets a good laugh out of some of the online comments about the bands who share the same name: “Some people think that Kurt Cobain was in our group. Some of the stuff I read is hilarious.”

The film Rainbow Chaser screens at Triskel Christchurch Cork Film Festival as part of its Irish Shorts 1: Unfinished Dreaming Programme on Thursday November 14 at 1.30pm.

You can watch a sample of it here:

For more information about Patrick and his book, which is out now, you can go to: www.psychedelicdays.com.

For more information about Conor Heffernan and his films, you can go to: www.facebook.com/rainbowchaser or http://myspace.com/hodproductions23.

Burger Records release next month Cult- The best of Nirvana on December 10.

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