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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Smokey Circles - Smokey Circles Album (1970 uk / israel, beautiful orchestrated pop psychedelia, 2018 reissue)

This enigmatic album was the result of a collaboration between Ralph Murphy and Shmulik Kraus. Murphy had emigrated from the UK to Ontario, Canada aged six, and taught himself how to play guitar as he grew up. He played in New York and California during the early 60s folk boom, then formed a duo with his friend Jack Klaeysen back in Canada. When the Beatles hit, they decided to travel to the UK, arriving in February 1965. First they tried their luck in Liverpool, but the Merseybeat craze had petered out, so they relocated to London on the advice of Gerry & the Pacemakers. There they got in touch with agent Joe Collins, and began to play opening slots at the New Oxford Theatre for acts including the Pretty Things and the Byrds. Collins found them a berth on Pye Records, under producer Tony Hatch, and they issued four singles as The Slade Brothers, between June 1965 and September 1966. In that time they continued to act as an opener for touring artists, including the Kinks and the Walker Brothers.

As songwriters, they placed Call My Name with James Royal, who released it on CBS in January 1967. Produced by Collins' associate Mervyn Conn (primarily a tour promoter), it sold well, leading Murphy to place other songs with acts such as Billy Fury, Vanity Fare, Bella & Me and the Casuals, as well as co-producing cult band Kate with Conn. He also continued to collaborate with Klaeysen, under the new name Harper  & Rowe, releasing several singles and an LP, none of which appeared in the UK. Towards the end of 1967, the successful Israeli band the High Windows asked Murphy to translate their lyrics into English, in a bid to have success outside their homeland.

The High Windows were a trio led by the charismatic Shmulik Kraus. Born in Israel in 1935, he had made his name working with Abi Ofarim, before forming the band with Josie Katz (his wife) and Arik Einstein. When Einstein jumped ship, the couple moved to London, where Murphy ended up joining them as 'Raffi Murphy', and forming a songwriting partnership with Kraus. This resulted in two singles, issued in January and May 1968, both produced by Conn. When they didn't sell, the High Windows fell apart, but Murphy and Kraus continued their connection. with Conn when he formed his tiny Carnaby label in late 1969. John Walker recorded two of their songs, and another pair appeared on a promo-only single in March 1970, credited to Smokey Circles.

The following month, an entire album of their commercial pop songs appeared under the same name, performed by studio musicians, arranged by the renowned Ken Woodman, and produced by Conn. According to Disc & Music Echo, 'Long Long Love sticks in the brain like it should be a smash hit single, and Sun Comes Up is delightful,' but sadly sales didn't materialize and the duo parted ways. Thereafter Murphy continued to act as a writer-producer, until his death on 28 May 2019, of pneumonia, he was 75, while the volatile Kraus embarked on a solo career, remaining famous in his homeland, where he died in 2013. 
CD Liner notes

1. Long Long Love - 2:09
2. Chocolate Soldier - 3:18
3. Anybody Needs A Lover - 2:17
4. Traces Of Tomorrow - 3:29
5. Love Me While You Can - 2:03
6. Carnival - 3:22
7. Leaving Your Dreams Behind - 2:16
8. Whisper Streams - 3:24
9. Who Are We - 3:40
10.Sun Comes - 2:54
11.Find A Time - 2:23
12.Little Man - 3:07
All songs by Ralph Murphy, Shmulik Krauss

*Ralph Murphy - Composer
*Shmulik Krauss - Composer
*Leslie Danken - Vocals 
*Frank Shin - Vocals
*Ken Woodman - Arranger, Conductor
*Mervyn Conn - Producer