Let’s get this out of the way swiftly and with the minimum of fuss – yes, Electric Banana are the band whose Cause I’m a Man features in Dawn of the Dead and was written by Cliff Twemlow. Claim your bag of broken biscuits in the foyer on your way out. Electric Banana were, to mix shaped foods, an odd sausage. An in-house project for the De Wolfe music library, a company that already excelled at providing music for television and film projects, Electric Banana were employed to fill an increasingly glaring hole – pop music. At the time – we’re talking 1967 here – record labels were wise to the value of their product and, as now, the use of a piece of an artist’s music on screens big and small was going to cost you big. What was required was a beat combo of their very own, both economical to employ and, crucially, with the musical chops to rise above the current alternative, which was essentially brow-beating middle-aged musicians into guessing what hip young things listened to and ending up with a Mantovani meets Jimmy Young car crash.
Phil May (vocals); Dick Taylor (guitar); Wally Waller (bass,vocals) and Jon Povey (keys, drums, vocals) remained the core of Electric Banana across five albums – May and Taylor being founder members of The Pretty Things, of course. Their moonlighting from their day jobs is all the more remarkable given that their magnum opus, SF Sorrow, was released slap bang in the middle of Electric Banana’s busiest period, in late ’68. They got a nice extra payday for their extra curricular activities, plus the freedom to record outside the traditional label system. Forever doomed to remain anonymous to all but a few, their chances of topping the hit parade were zero, purely because their recordings rarely found their way into the public’s hands. These were available only by request from De Wolfe and even if you did stick around the see the end credits at your local Plaza, it was pointless asking to order one at Our Price.
Cherry Red have pulled together all five albums across three discs with some excellent sleeve notes to guide you through their timeline, which surprisingly ran through until the late Seventies. The tracks are by no means consistent – bluesy rock gives way to lush pop via side streets of occasionally overly ponderous noodling, which is fair enough given that you weren’t expected to sit down and listen to them in the same way you would a Bowie record. The Pretty Things are inevitably the go-to comparison for their overall sound but in a more broad sense, Electric Banana were the sound of England. This was London from Carnaby Street to Soho backstreets to smoky Kensington underground clubs, not necessarily the swinging Sixties but a less rose-tinted look at a culture happy to ignore America.
Dawn of the Dead was far from the only place to find Electric Banana plying their trade (indeed, their cover had largely been blown to the cool kids when The Pretty Things recorded their own version of the band’s I See You). Electric Banana featured prominently on the magnificently misguided Norman Wisdom film, What’s Good for the Goose, a film which imaginatively sees Southport as a fitting location for swingin’ high-jinx, Norman’s bare buttocks and Sally Geeson’s tits. Also produced by Tony Tenser, the band featured in Tigon’s Michael Armstrong film, The Haunted House of Horror, famously the vehicle intended for David Bowie to star in until AIP’s insistence on Frankie Avalon as lead put the kibosh on that.
Electric Banana’s appearances in exploitation fare continued with slots in Pete Walker’s The Comeback; 1970’s Monique and, the sleeve-notes claim, Snake Dancer (1976) which I can’t confirm. Plays during episodes of Doctor Who, The Sweeney, Doomwatch and Public Eye took them to the crystal bucket in the corner of the room, whilst I See You surfaced in its entirety in one of the most celebrated of all the Play for Today series, Edna, the Inebriate Woman. Electric Banana’s eventual break-up was instant and final, though bizarrely their name lived on, either because of their intriguing moniker or their standing in the industry – funk and disco tracks can be found using their name, whilst perhaps more in keeping with their skewed acceptance into underground fare, they were nominally the pop band in the gay porno, Confessions of a Male Groupie or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Electric Banana. Though Cherry Red’s new CD set offers nothing previously unreleased, it is typically lavish in presentation and the sound quality is spot on.