A look at the studio recordings of mid-eighties Scottish legends The Green Telescope
THE GREEN TELESCOPE – TWO BY TWO EP (IMAGINARY RECORDS 001) 1985
The Green Telescope ‘Two By Two’ EP – The Wump Records single by The Green Telescope was neo primal American 60s garage mayhem but this four song EP released in 1985 catches the future Cawdor lairds wearing their Dutch beat influences on their sleeves.
The first side compiles two Lenny Helsing originals titled ‘Two By Two’ and ‘A Glimpse’. Both of course are laden with attitude or should I say beatitude. The opener on side two is the quite marvellous ‘Make Me Stay’ written by Alan McLean. This is surely one of the very best neo garage beat tunes of the 80s revival.
‘Got no love, make me stay’The Green Telescope
The other song on the EP is a cover of ‘Thinkin’ About Today’ a 1966 wailer originally recorded by The Outsiders. A great song and thankfully The Green Telescope give a thrilling interpretation.
A while ago Lenny confirmed the line-up as follows:
Lenny Helsing (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica)
Bruce Lyall (organ)
Alan McLean (bass)
Gavin Henderson (drums, backing vocals)
Since I wrote this review several years ago I located a rare piece of “Two By Two” ephemera, this being the very rare alternative cover showing Steve Zodiac and Commander Zero, two characters from ‘Fireball XL5’.
At first I thought the sleeve was a fake or one of those ‘fan’ home-made creations. It’s so well done and the quality of the material and ink made me doubt my suspicions.
I recently asked Lenny for the scoop and here’s what he had to say.
“We recorded the songs in 1985 for sure but the record wasn’t issued until Syd’s birthday on 6th January 1986. Ah ha well well, look what we have here. It’s not a fake per se as it was done by Imaginary but I have to say totally without any say or input from me or any of the group!
We weren’t best pleased at the time for sure. The scoop is that Alan Duffy did it as I recall … as something a little different for the last ‘few’ copies of the last pressing.
I think he told me there were around 40 or 50 copies at most done with this sleeve. Of course we loved Fireball XL5 and Steve Zodiac but we wouldn’t have used that particular image on our group’s record!”
The GREEN TELESCOPE – ’Face In A Crowd’ / ’Thoughts Of A Madman’ (Wump Records BIF 4811) 1986
This was the second and last 45 by Edinburgh’s Green Telescope. After this record they would change their name to The Thanes Of Cawdor then shorten that to The Thanes.
I love this 45. Both sides are killer. ’Face In A Crowd’ written by Lenny Helsing is a frantic beat punker complete with caveman screams, reedy organ and a nice touch of maracas. To me this sounds more like Dutch punk as opposed to American garage. It’s a great song whatever the influence!
The other side is a cover of the 1967 no hit wonder by The Nomads. Yes they had the good taste to tackle ’Thoughts Of A Madman’. Not only that but in my opinion it is far better than the original.
Lenny won’t thank me for this or agree but his tormented ’60s garage punk vocals are so possessed I actually think that he is indeed a MAD man. Hold on to your hat when the fuzz kicks in at 1 minute 20 seconds. Drums on this are way-out too.
Both songs were recorded at Roslin Glen Studios.
Lenny Helsing recently contacted me with the line-ups of The Green Telescope when recording the 45s reviewed.
The line-up for the Wump release was as follows:
Lenny Helsing (lead vocals/fuzz guitar/maracas)
Bruce Lyall (organ)
Alan McLean (bass)
Mal Kergan (drums)
I played with The Nomads that originally recorded ”Thoughts Of A Madman”. I also co-wrote the song. I am interested in obtaining a copy of The Green Telescopes version.
I already have a version by an Australian band (The Philistines). I also understand that a band in New York (U.S.A.) recorded a version of the song but I don’t know the name of the band.
I tried contacting Lenny via Facebook but to no avail, unfortunately. I loved the green telescope 45s in the 80s and still play them regularly, plus the tunes they recorded for the otherwise-lame ’waking dream’ comp.
And also remember them recording a superb session for Andy Kershaw’s radio 1 show, which included a great version of ’square root of two’ by the nightwalkers. I think a Green Telescope retrospective is long overdue. I may start hassling Re-vola and Sundazed et al to give it a go.
THE GREEN TELESCOPE – ”Turnin’ Out” (Psycho Records 35) 1985
Until we get a long deserved Green Telescope retrospective we’ll have to make do with the selection of cuts found on singles and obscure vinyl only compilations from the mid 1980s, including ”Turnin’ Out” from ”The Waking Dream.”
”The Waking Dream” also showcased recordings by Mood Six, Sleep Creature & the Vampires, Palace Of Light and The Magic Mushroom Band. Those other bands are not my scene and for my particular head space The Green Telescope rise like Scottish Nobles above the others.
These Edinburgh based outsiders contributed three songs. The frantic acid punk gem ”Turnin’ Out” and a cover version of The Calico Wall’s ”I’m A Living Sickness” as well as another self penned number ”Can’t Step Off The Path.” These recordings were the first to be available on vinyl by The Green Telescope and predate their first single / EP ”Two By Two” on Imaginary Records.
Lenny Helsing (guitar and vocals)
Bruce Lyall (farfisa organ)
Gavin Henderson (drums)
Steve Fraser (bass)
All songs recorded at Sound Site, May 1985 and produced and engineered by Ron Real.
Green Telescope discography:
The Waking Dream LP – three tracks compiled (Psycho Records 35) 1985
Two By Two EP – four tracks (Imaginary Records, Mirage 001) 1986
Face In A Crowd / Thoughts of A Madman (Wump Records BIF 4811) 1986
Beyond The Wildwood LP – Syd Barrett tribute (Imaginary Records, Illusion 001) 1987
When Scopes Collide
The Green Telescope was given a brief introduction to the nation as part of the Tube’s recent Scots coverage. Amidst the general much ado about nothing, the camera chanced upon a rehearsal room door bearing a logo that could well have graced an International Artists sleeve. A shadowy figure glanced round the portal for a moment and was gone.
That apparition was Lenny Helsing, the group’s singer / guitarist. Lenny, along with Bruce Lyall organ, Alan McLean bass, and Gavin Henderson drums are the four components that make the instrument called The Green Telescope function. What made them pursue a garage sound in Edinburgh, of all places?
Lenny: “I heard about the Elevators at school, this strange acid band that had a weird sound running through every song. It took around four listens to sink in fully. Syd Barrett is a big hero of ours too.”
Bruce: “We played our debut gig on a boat on the River Severn along with the Satellites through a Green Telescope. Brush away that mohican and get out that old kaftan.”
Bearing in mind that the Green Telescope has been in operation since 1980, what kind of following have they built up?
Lenny: “It’s starting to happen. If the gigs were more forthcoming then I’m sure we could make up for lost time. now that the line-up is stable the fans seem to be sincere, now they realise we mean business.”
The Green Telescope is really only psychedelic in the word’s literal meaning, of expanding one’s mind. What they indulge in is basically rock and roll with a few twists.
Gavin: “The kind of people that are aware of this type of music are mostly collectors, as opposed to people that will actually attend live gigs. Hopefully we can reach those people and get them to come and see us.”
Bruce: “It’s nice to introduce people who never dreamt such a sound existed to this kind of material. It’s a real show. The individuals who do lights for us are every bit as important as any one of us.”
Could there be a Happening at this year’s Edinburgh Festival?
Lenny: “We’d like to do something under the banner of The Hanging Baskets of Avalon. The idea is to organise a multi media event, and let friends of ours realise their fantasies publicly.
If somebody wanted to litter a stage with glass and hoover it up the opportunity would be there. We also make our own films, swishing liquids around in plates and zooming in and out around freaky lights. Very cultured.”
As well as his place within the Green Telescope, Lenny Helsing plays drums with The Rubber Dolfinarium. That F is important. These are a dual guitar based ensemble with more surf / trash leanings.
The main objective though is to record. Just what will a Green Telescope sound like?
Lenny: “We are ready to go into a recording studio, but we’re a bit hesitant, having come this far solely on the live front. We have loads of ideas but are really in need of someone who understands what we need to sound like.
For a start, some of the things that the 1984 technology can do to drums is just too horrible to contemplate.” (Sounds, 1984)