‘70s Sunshine Pop – Better by Design

When it came to brightening up the day in the early 1970s, few British pop groups could better Design at letting a little ‘sunshine’ in.

Their 50th anniversary is marked this April (2019) with the 20-track nostalgia romp that is ‘Children of The Mist – The Best of Design’ (Market Square; MDMCD206).

Rooted in Southern California in the mid 1960’s, ‘sunshine pop’ came to be the term associated with a melange of feel-good easy listening and folk rock, characterized by lush vocals and light arrangements.

The Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas and the 5th Dimension were amongst the key progenitors Stateside while over the ‘pond’ the mantle fell to a London-based collective of girls and boys, calling themselves Design.

If you were watching TV in the UK in the 1970’s, the chances are that you will have seen and heard this memorable vocal harmony group perform not least as few other acts got called back to appear on mainstream entertainment shows as often.

In their eight-year lifespan, Design guested on over 50 primetime TV shows, ‘house band’ for legends such as Morecambe & Wise, The Two Ronnies, Val Doonican, Benny Hill, Nana Mouskouri and Tommy Cooper. Millions of viewers watching their heroes watched Design, too.

The six-piece, comprising Barry Alexander, Gabrielle Field, Kathy Manuell, Jeff Matthews, John Mulcahy-Morgan and Geoff Ramseyer, released five albums and thirteen singles between 1969 and 1976, establishing a special niche across Europe for their highly melodic, shimmering and pretty  pop songs, winning them widespread regard as ‘Britain’s 5th Dimension’.

Upping the quality stakes were the musicians working on the band’s releases, a roster including the likes of Clem Cattini, Herbie Flowers, Alan Hawkshaw and Chris Spedding.

Arrangements came in from Alan Parker, Syd Dale and Herbie Flowers while productions duties fell to the talents of Dale, Adrian Kerridge and Robert Kirby.

In his notes for this April 2019 50th Anniversary compilation of their work, culled from their albums Design, Tomorrow Is So Far Away, Day of the Fox and In Flight and including three previously-unreleased tracks, Kingsley Abbott writes:

“For most of the sixties, any British groups with an interest in vocal harmonies looked first to what was happening on the American charts.

 “As the decade rolled on, British groups were producing music that could stand shoulder to shoulder with their American cousins.

“This collection of Design’s recordings proves exactly how improved they had become. It is evident from their dipping and soaring vocals that Design were at least the Americans’ equals.”

Singer and songwriter Tony Smith formed Design while he was working at the BBC in London in December 1968. The group then signed a recording contract with Adrian Kerridge of Lansdowne Studios and recorded their first album Design during the summer of 1969. This led to a two-album deal with Epic Records in the USA.

In November 1970, shortly before the first album was released, Tony Smith left the group and he was replaced by guitarist Jeff Matthews, who had been with John and Geoff in the group Free Expression.

This was Design’s most successful line-up and after their appearances on The Morecambe and Wise Show in 1971 they became one of the most televised groups in the UK, guesting on dozens of programmes, watched by millions.

They toured with Gilbert O’Sullivan, starred in cabaret and at the London Palladium, and recorded the albums Tomorrow Is So Far Away, Day of the Fox and In Flight before Gabrielle Field and Geoff Ramseyer left the group in October 1974.

Barry, John, Kathy and Jeff carried on as a four-piece group and recorded one more album By Design before finally splitting up in October 1976.

Since then, Design’s albums have become much sought after by record collectors and they have been highly praised by music critics in magazines and books such as Shindig! and Galactic Ramble.

Children of the Mist celebrates Design’s finest moments from their first four albums, along with two unreleased tracks featuring Geoff and Gabrielle, ‘Precious and Few’ and ‘For a Friend’, later re-recorded for the fifth album after they had left the group.

Bonus material features three previously unreleased songs: ‘White Bernadette’, from that first-ever recording session in April 1969, and ‘It’s Been a Lot of Fun’ and ‘You’re Not Being Kind to Me’, two Barry Alexander demo recordings from 1974/75.

 

Available in CD digipack format including a new essay on the band by music writer Kingsley Abbott illustrated extensively with archive images, and for streaming/download.

Official Design web site: www.designvocalgroup.com     

Album web site: www.childrenofthemist.co.uk

DESIGN ON FILM:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBgIhAuzNWo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX8BeuSzKQ8

 

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