LOST TREASURES – Barry Booth – Diversions!

Posted on 07 May 2015




Barry Booth

By Peter Marston

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Barry Booth is a most unlikely artist to have recorded one of the great lost chamber pop albums of the ’60s. When the album, Diversions!, was released in 1968, he was already thirty years old and had never recorded an album or even a single as an artist. Indeed, he had never intended to record Diversions! either. He was merely hoping to place some of the songs with other artists. That is, until iconic British producer Tony Hatch (The Searchers, Petula Clark, Jackie Trent) fell in love with the material and insisted that Booth record the album. Further evidence of his reticence is the fact he never again recorded as an artist, though he has been involved as a music director and arranger on many records by others.

Barry Booth

Booth’s roots were in classical music and he studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy of Music in the late ’50s. Though accomplished, he was not a virtuoso pianist and, following a stint in the National Service playing in military orchestras and dance bands, Booth began to work as the bandleader for Roy Orbison in the mid-’60s. While working with Orbison, he began to collaborate with two young actors and comedians, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, whom he had met while working as the musical director for the British television series Five O’Clock Club. Booth commissioned the future Pythons to write some lyrics which Booth would then set to music. The resulting songs provided the entirety of the material on Diversions!.


Booth brought some of the songs to Orbison and later to Hatch. While Orbison passed, Hatch was charmed by both the material and by Booth’s restrained and heartfelt vocal style. He talked Booth into recording the songs himself, with Booth arranging and conducting and Hatch producing. The pair entered the studio in late 1967, with session musicians including Herbie Flowers and Terry Cox, and the album was released on Pye in April of 1968.

Barry Booth back cover

The album is characterized by small, but beautiful string and horn arrangements supported by a rhythm section of drums, bass and piano.  The lyrics are whimsical, typically narrative, and often reflect a British Music Hall sensibility. The tone of the compositions range from fanciful to melancholic, but the work is very much of a whole and entirely distinctive. The opening track, “He’s Very Good with His Hands,” is perhaps the highlight of the album, an ode to a shy but dexterous model maker who is taken by a girl, but more at home with his wooden trains and aeroplanes. “I’ll Listen” is an account of a husband’s reverie during his wife’s nightly recounting of her day’s activities. It is funny, charming and moving all at the same time. “Vera Lamonte” is a tale of an aging and lonely acrobat who is cheered only by her recollections of her younger, more agile days that lies somewhere between McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).” The closest thing to a love song on the album is “The Last Time I Saw You Was Tomorrow,” a song that was written for, and pitched to Orbison (and it shows). “The Hottest Day of the Year” is an amusing story of a young man who seeks refuge from the heat in a city park and removes his hat and coat and then, in the next verse, his shirt and, then, his pants and, ending up naked, is cheered by a crowd of onlookers. “Somebody Make My Mind Up” is the most upbeat track and a showcase for Booth’s impressive piano playing. It’s a little like Ramsey Lewis meets Georgie Fame. “Mole” is a nearly psychedelic deconstruction of the life of a, well, mole. It’s the strangest song on the album and one of the most memorable.


Two singles were released from Diversions!: “He’s Very Good With His Hands” b/w “The King’s Thing” and “The Hottest Day of the Year” b/w “Vera Lamonte.” Neither single charted, though the former was played by John Peel’s on his popular Top Gear show.


Diversions! was reissued on CD by Castle Music in 2002, and is generally available through the usual retail outlets. It is also available on iTunes and other digital download sites. If you are a fan of chamber pop, British Music Hall or the wit and whimsy of Monty Python, you won’t be disappointed!


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Pop Pioneer and “Lost Treasures” writer, Peter Marston is the leader of long-running power pop band, Shplang, whose most recent album, “My Big Three Wheeler” has been described as “the Beatles meet Zappa in pop-psych Sumo match.”  Peter has a new project in 2015 under the name MARSTON.   They will have a track on the upcoming “Power Pop Planet – Volume 5” compilation due in June, 2015.

You check it out at this link:  http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/shplang


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Good Blog Post:  http://sparksinelectricaljelly.blogspot.com/2009/06/diversions.html

AMG:  http://www.allmusic.com/album/diversions-mw0000739126

Blog link to audio samples:  http://www.bazboothzone.co.uk/music.php?item=165



“I’ll Listen”

“Vera Lamonte”

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