Has anybody met Chrissie Harwood? Let us introduce to you an elusive British artiste who made an equally elusive, immaculate LP, which in the 35 years since its original release, as if by tragic magic, has materialised into thin air.
Recorded for an obscure British label it was the only record she ever made and no singles were ever released. In fact it was seldom heard beyond these shores (aside rumours of an Australian vanity pressing), and alongside Vertigo’s obscure Linda Hoyle LP, late period Transatlantic releases such as CMU’s Space Cabaret and Julie Covington’s early solo LP Beautiful Changes, it remains one of the most sought after English female folk rock records ever released. Until now it has been a mystery amongst pop-historians, DJs and record collectors alike.
For a short time in the early 90s the original LP became a regular exhibit at UK record fairs where aspiring collectors and DJs like myself would be the only buyers willing to take a gamble on this anonymous slab of vinyl housed in its uninspiring black and white sleeve which was devoid of any information likely to inspire any of the old-faire to take a punt. A record shop in Stockport called ‘The 78 Record Exchange’ was rumoured to have a whole box of these LPs sat outside in the rain throughout the late Eighties until the final copy was snapped up for the modest 50 pence asking price. The old cliche “never judge a book by the cover” couldn’t be more apt – and although, in hindsight, the LP has all the enigmatic trappings of an American private press, Smithsonian, folksploitation LP the bland packaging didn’t quite cut the mustard. Since then copies of the LP rarely crop up, only two have cropped up on the ‘necessarily evil’ eBay within the last 3 years and both have commanded figures around the £200 mark (£192 and £228 retrospectively). With a notable resurgence in vintage British folk rock it is little wonder that ‘an original Chris Harwood’ has become something of a holy grail amongst collectors, but few can say they actually know the history behind this sacred LP – the original artist, as I already mentioned, has remained somewhat elusive to say the least.
Throughout the heady summer of 1970 a regular folk tinged fixture at Rick Wakeman’s notorious ‘Brewer’s Droop’ rock pub in London was an unnamed blues-folk outfit featuring a sixteen-year-old singer called Chrissie Harwood. Spellbinding performances were warmly received by the progressive-pop cognoscenti which inspired Chrissie’s latter day squeeze and future husband and rock hack, Mark Plummer, to pursue a record deal resulting in an overnight guinea-pig contract with the launch of a CBS distributed new label owned by an uber-legendary, Mickie-Most-alike called Miki Dallon.
The first release on the short lived Birth imprint (which acted as a sister-label to Dallon’s Youngblood Records) was realised with a half baked business plan, and after a short run of break-neck off-peak studio sessions at Marble Arch (one of which witnessed a temporary power cut) – the LP, ‘Nice To Meet Christine’, was written and recorded with Plummer behind the desk and Ms. Harwood in the vocal booth. In his debut role as producer, Plummer enlisted the services of a host of up and coming progressive rock and folk stars drawing from a little black book of celebrity friends who he had previously interviewed for the likes of Melody Maker and in turn they then created the blueprint for a Rock Family tree-surgeons breakfast.
The original ‘Yes’ guitarist Peter Banks, who would later form ‘Blodwyn Pig’ was drafted in to play acoustic and pedal steel guitar throughout the entire LP alongside a young Guitarist Dave Lambert who would go on to work with Dave Cousins in ‘The King Earl Boogie Band’ and later join ‘The Strawbs’. Lambert wrote three tracks for the album, a country-rock-boogie number ‘Ain’t Gonna Be Your Slave’, the up-tempo ‘Flies Like A Bird’ and a quasi-political intro track ‘Mama’ which included a Gainsbourg / Melody Nelson-esque choral arrangement courtesy of folk-rock vocal group ‘Design’ (craftily recording under the moniker ‘The Designettes’ to avoid legal wranglings with their new label Epic).
By contacting Joe Cocker’s Hammond organist Tommy Eyre, Plummer would inject ‘the funk’ into the proceedings, which goes some way to explaining why the LP has become a regular inclusion on record collectors wants-lists, especially sought after amongst Hip-Hop producers and die-hard Acid-Jazzers over the last ten years. Eyre (who would play on albums by ‘Juicy Lucy’, ‘The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’ and John Martyn) added sublime twinkles of Fender Rhodes and bursts of Hammond B3 to the LP, most notably on an astonishing, orchestral-funk cover of CSN’s ‘Wooden Ships’ as well as Chrissie’s self penned ‘Gotta Do My Best’ complete with pulsating backbeat courtesy of rock journalist veteran Chris Welsch drumming under the pseudonym J.K. Boots. Chris Welsch also supplied a future-DJ-friendly drum break on another of Chrissie’s original compositions ‘Never Knew What Love Was’, a stripped down arrangement exposing the raw fender bass played on the album by Roger Sutton, fresh from recording the seminal Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll LP ‘Open’.
With extra percussion from drum workshop legend Peter York, more guitars by folk-festival stalwart Mike Maran, and ‘Macdonald & Giles’ saxophonist, Ian MacDonald, contributing to a version of Traffic’s ‘Crying To Be Heard’ the LP unintentionally became an all star super-session (library music enthusiasts might revel in the fact that violins were contributed by session-man and Michel Legrand side-kick Johnny Van Derrick whilst taking a break from recording incidental music for The Pink Panther). Three further tracks were recorded in the session which have never been heard since the original recording.
After the studio bill was paid the LP was delivered, manufactured and sadly, mysteriously disappeared in to the purple ether with minimum commitment in the artwork, marketing and radio-plug department. A crest fallen Chrissie was given the cold, ambiguous explanation that ‘nothing happened’ with her only handcrafted stab at fulfiling the teenage dream. In later years Chrissie would hide her only copies of the ultra rare original release in a cupboard only to smash and tear them to pieces to save the potential humiliation of the record re-appearing at family functions like an embarrassing photo album. To this day since, the mysterious Chris Harwood has shyly put her singer songwriter days behind her and successfully covered the tracks. Fruitless, feeble attempts to track Chrissie down have lead to a string of ‘dodgy’ bootlegs from France, Italy and the UK which have only highlighted ‘Miss Christine’s’ enigmatic position in the mystery of pop history. In a topsy-turvy chain of events, the solo artist would step down the pop-ladder and become a session vocalist. Chrissie’s voice can be heard clearly on two tracks by the Peter Grant discovered ‘Stone The Crows’ backing up lead vocalist Maggie Bell on ‘Sunset Cowboy’ and ‘Crystal Palace Bowl’. The Twickenham born singer also spent extra studio time in an unnamed rock combo recording for Bell Records before a twist of fate saw her take the disappointing music industry in to her own hands and until recently she has worked behind the scenes, promoting pop music overseas.