Exposé Online banner

Tea & Symphony — An Asylum for the Musically Insane
(EMI TOCP-7753, 1969/1993, CD)

by Mike Ohman, Published 1994-08-01

An Asylum for the Musically Insane Cover artThere's not two albums like this in the world (with the possible exception of the band's second album, Jo Sago, not yet out on CD). Tea and Symphony were a trio of Jef Daw (guitars, flutes, cello), James Langston (lead vocals, guitars) and Nigel Phillips (keyboards, recorders, mandolin, percussion). Together they made acoustic music so outrageously weird it's almost unbelievable. It's hard to say what's more disturbing, Langston's evil, cackling vocals (which stylistically resemble Phil Judd on the first Split Enz album), or the ghoulish diminished tonality running through many of the songs, even present in the vocal harmonies. Only a couple of tracks have real drums, most of the percussion consists solely of hand-drums and cymbals operated by Phillips. Strawbs bassist Ron Chesterman sits in on a few tracks, but most of the songs are bass-less as well. What I'm trying to say is that Tea and Symphony's sound is basically stripped-down and claustrophobic, at least for the first half, consisting mostly of two guitars and hand-drums over which Langston caterwauls zombie-like. A few songs feature recorder and flute, and the opening song "Armchair Theatre" pierces you straight between the eyes immediately with its liberal garnish of odd sound effects, kazoos and unusual percussion. The second half has a couple of longer songs ("Terror in My Soul,” "Nothing Will Come of Nothing") to which Phillips contributes organ, piano, tympani, and harpsichord. Only the bluesy "The Come On" has a typical rock arrangement, featuring the rhythm section of fellow townsmen Locomotive. That's the track they apparently used to promote the album, but the thought that they actually expected radio stations to play anything from this album is more bizarre than the music itself. Musically only one thing even remotely resembles it, the drugged-out folk of Witthuser & Westrupp, yet Tea and Symphony truly inhabited an alien world all their own.

Filed under: Reissues, Issue 4, 1993 releases, 1969 recordings

Related artist(s): Tea and Symphony

Latest news

2020-09-09
Simeon Coxe RIP – Simeon Coxe, best known for his experimental electronics in the band Silver Apples, has died at the age of 82. The band's 1968 debut album set the stage for both German electronic music and experimental punk music a decade later. Coxe died on September 8 from pulmonary fibrosis. » Read more

2020-09-05
Gary Peacock RIP – Legendary bassist Gary Peacock, veteran of many recordings and performances with Paul Bley, George Russell, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, and many more. » Read more

2020-07-22
Tim Smith RIP – Tim Smith, leader of the eccentric band Cardiacs, has died at the age of 59 after many years of health problems. Cardiacs was known for intense and complicated music that combined punk energy with the rhythmic and harmonic sophistication of progressive rock. » Read more

2020-07-12
Judy Dyble RIP – Singer-songwriter Judy Dyble, who was a founding member of Fairport Convention and one of the distinctive voices of the 60s folk revival in Britain, has died at the age of 71. Her passing came at the end of a long illness, though which she continued to work. » Read more

2020-07-06
Ennio Morricone RIP – Famed composer Ennio Morricone has died at the age of 91. The creator of scores for more than 500 movies, some of his works have become the most recognizable sounds in the history of cinema. His soundtracks for Sergio Leone's Westerns made from 1964 to 1971, are iconic landmarks in film music, but he also composed for dramas, comedies, and other genres. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2016 for The Hateful Eight. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Peter Garland - String Quartets – Exuberant, bright and energetic, these two string quartets performed by Apartment House ( a traditional line-up of two violins, viola and cello) manage to cover a few centuries’ worth of style while...  (2010) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues