Home Louder Than War The Human Instinct: The Human Instinct/The Four Fours 1963-68 – album review

The Human Instinct: The Human Instinct/The Four Fours 1963-68 – album review

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The Human Instinct – The Human Instinct/The Four Fours 1963-68HUMAN-INSTINCT

RPM/Frenzy

CD/DL

Released 17th May 2019

All the Mercury/Deram single sides by the NZ psych pop outfit The Human Instinct, with the prime cuts recorded under their previous name the Four Fours earlier in the 1960s as a bonus – LTW’s Ian Canty gets a backwards lesson in NZ pop

Unlike most bands who worked their way through skiffle and rock & roll before arriving at beat, the roots of the Four Fours (later The Human Instinct) lay in a clarinet and piano duo that provided the music for ballroom and jazz dances in mid-to-late 50s Tauranga, New Zealand. Becoming a four-piece with the addition of drummer Trevor Spitz and saxophonist Rob Smith, they became a less staid and more rockin’ proposition, which increased with the arrival of Bill Ward on guitar. Dave Hartstone, the band’s principle songwriter, joined up in 1960 and this move pushed the band towards the sound the Shadows were pioneering at the time.

At this early stage Rob Smith’s brother Richard sometimes joined the band on stage to sing – later on he would become known to the world as the creator of The Rocky Horror Show under the name Richard O’Brien. When Mike Horman, who was part of that original duo with Colin Minifie (who had also by this time fallen by the wayside), declined to move with the band to Auckland to further their career, they quickly recruited non-musician Frank Hay for the bassist position after meeting him at their drummer’s café in 1963.

This replenished aggregation flung themselves into the Auckland club scene and released many singles in the next few years on the Allied International label. During this time the group invented a microphone that could attach to the top of their guitars (which after their departure to the UK they blagged themselves on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World programme to demonstrate) and they switched to the Zodiac imprint in 1966. They also replaced Trevor Spitz with Maurice Greer, drummer of the Saints (NZ 60s version). This put their best-known line up of the Four Fours in place and pushed them on to greater success.

To many bands from around the world at the time, the UK and particularly London seemed like the epicentre of cool and the Four Fours decided to make the long boat journey and base themselves there. Changing their name to The Human Instinct whilst at sea, they arrived at Southampton in the late summer of 1966, and from the band’s point of view they were finally closer to where the action was.

From the informative sleeve note included, it seems they had for the most part a thoroughly miserable time whilst domiciled in the UK, with the band in digs at opposite ends of London and unable to practice properly due to noise complaints. A stroke of luck came their way when they were offered a singles deal by Mercury and this was followed by a similar deal with Deram, Decca’s “progressive” off-shoot. The singles, which make up the first part of the set here, were unsuccessful and after the last Deram effort in 1968 most of the band returned to New Zealand (only Dave Hartstone decided to stay on) where they split up. Drummer Greer put together a new power trio under the name with guitarist Billy Te Kahika and bass player Peter Barton, which were a great success in their homeland. A line up still headed up by Greer exists to this day.

The first Decca single A Day In My Mind’s Mind was The Human Instinct’s apex, a classic “everything including the kitchen sink” piece of psychedelia that is full of breathless charm. It starts off with a Morse Code-laden intro (which allegedly told Decca to go forth and multiply) combined with a solid R&B/freakbeat base, before harp and flute accoutrements threaten to submerge things in whimsy. However the song and some biting guitar wins through, being strong and memorable enough to cope with the various adornments with aplomb.

This was a fantastic concoction, but unfortunately it bombed and Decca would only release one more single by the band. That was a decent version of the Byrds’ Renaissance Fair, with the self-penned and nicely funky Pink Dawn on the flipside making for another agreeable single, but again success was not forthcoming. Strongest of the Mercury tracks for me are the very smart and scathing The Rich Man and Can’t Stop Around, which whips by at a sharp pace with a moody charm.

This compilation is curiously sequenced in that it runs almost backwards, starting with The Human Instinct in their psych pop prime and then moving in reverse fashion to the beat pop of the band in their earlier Four Fours incarnation. Listening to the set backwards almost allows one a view into a textbook version of a pop band’s progress through the 1960s. With a whistling Roger Whittaker feel and Shadows guitar Theme From An Empty Coffee Lounge, it screams of pre-Beatles days early in the decade, and along with 1965’s Jungle Cat must have seemed a bit passé by the mid-60s when they were cut by the band. On Everytime they sail perilously close to MOR, but She’s Gonna Get Me is a lot sparkier. They’re rather fun to listen too now, but in truth the early Four Fours waxings struggle to be anything more than standard beat band fare.

As time passed though, they did steadily manage to put more of their own stamp on things. They started to incorporate the changing styles in sound that emerged in an inventive way, which let their natural strengths and abilities flood through. As such, the later recordings under the Four Fours name are more interesting and, for me, the better ones. The folk rock jangle of This Time Tomorrow cuts the mustard, and on From The Bottom Of My Heart the Four Fours transcend the slightly sappy lyric by manufacturing a very cool and moody musical backdrop. Last single under the Four Fours name Go-Go has a real freaky swagger allied to a really addictive rhythm. It is very bright and pretty darn wild with some excellent guitar and they do a good, groovy version of One Track Mind (also essayed in the same year by the Knickerbockers).

Though The Human Instinct/The Four Fours 1963-68 is structured oddly, it is a pretty satisfying compilation of a talented band. It does dip towards the end which shows the Four Fours in their formative and perhaps derivative stage, but The Human Instinct material contains some shining examples of trippy 60s pop music, and A Day In My Mind’s Mind is a classic example of overloaded psychedelia. With Dave Hartstone and Bill Ward as an in-built songsmith team they certainly could whip up some decent material, and the best of this collection is a boon at any Popsike kids or older late 60s buffs (including yours truly). They were lost in the shuffle, but The Human Instinct here provide a fair amount to enjoy.

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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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