Circumnavigating the Sea of Self/ We Are The Egg
Date: April 21, 1974
Chart Position: 9
Available: Tabula Rasa II, remastered and expanded (Klangtone! Import)
The sludgy prog of Circumnavigating the Sea of Self was never going to be a chart hit in 1974. Til Blake’s paean to the pleasures of the flesh in 12/8, and famously featuring a didgeridoo solo, was just the wrong side of whimsical. But the B-side, We Are The Egg, was a different story. “Me and Malc the roadie wrote it in half a day,” Calum McVey, Ptolmaic Egg’s drummer recalls. We Are The Egg was a four-to-the-floor, straight-ahead glam stomp that neatly satirised the band’s tour-album-tour routine from the perspective of a drum roadie. “Set ‘em up! Skins, seating, high hat, kick drum, toms,” sings McVey, then laughs. “It was a bit of a problem when it was a hit.” Creative tensions in the band increased as the single climbed the singles chart. McVey explains, “We’d never had a hit before. It wasn’t what The Egg was supposed to be about. And Til didn’t know how to handle the attention. He was a serious poet and musician and all of a sudden there was the promise of money, and girls and a better van. He wanted all that, but he wanted to be famous for his long, rambling songs too, not We Are The Egg.” The band was booked for Top of the Pops, but… “Due to some strange rule the beeb had at the time, we had to play the A side. Well, mime to it.” To make light of the fact that they weren’t playing the real hit, the band’s young guitarist “Went on dressed like Alvin Stardust and sprinkled glitter over the crowd, instead of playing his guitar.” Til sacked him. Tensions in the band got worse. “Til knew he couldn’t go back to writing the stuff he had before – there was no going back from a top ten hit single. So, we tried to write another. Til insisted on writing the lyrics, but to me they sounded, y’know, insincere.” Follow-up single, The Lido Stomp, stalled in the lower reaches of the UK chart.
“You had to admire him – Til took this really bold step and as a result we lost our original fanbase,” McVey breaks off to laugh at this. “I remember him saying to me, “It’s no good trying to attack the mainstream from the outside, you’ve got to be right inside to subvert it.” Then he shaved his beard off. And on went the make-up.”
The Lido Stomp made the Top 30 in France and Italy and was a top ten hit in Germany. “It was Germany that broke up the band,” says McVey, “We were on our way to do some TV there. Til wouldn’t travel with the rest of the band at that point, so we all flew out seperately with plans to meet in Bonn. But Til never turned up – there’d been some mix-up at the airport and he ended up in Norway. There was no way he was going to make it to Bonn in time, so we recorded the show without him. Then we flew home, because we had a tour to do.” But Til never came home. “Something happened to him out there. We got a telegram from him a week before the start of the tour saying he’d quit the band and the music biz. We were a bit shaken. There was a lot of money at stake. We had to struggle on with Bob standing in on vocals. But I think we all knew it was over for The Egg. And at the end of the tour it just sort of fizzled out. At least we didn’t split up because of drugs, or musical differences or nicking each other’s girlfriends or any of that stuff – it was a cock-up at Heathrow what did it.”
“After The Egg I realised I wasn’t going to be a drummer for the rest of my life, so I diversified.” McVey went on to write hits for Slinky, The Splitz, and Jack in the seventies. “A great time,” he laughs. In the eighties he reinvented himself as the producer of choice for Los Angeles hair-metal bands, including Toxyn.
But what happened to the other members of Ptolmaic Egg? Til Blake, the band’s singer, songwriter and leader, “runs an organic farm somewhere in Yorkshire.” Bob Tunage, who played bass and sang, “teaches bass to kids at rock school over here in the States.” Dave Black, guitarist, “works in computing”. But what of the other young guitarist – the one who got the sack? “You’d know him as Tony Kandinsky – he was the only one of us to become a proper pop star. His guitar sound really made We Are The Egg – like a young Pete Townshend he was. He never played like that again of course. I still see Tony; he’s a lovely bloke nowadays.” Today Calum McVey runs his own label, Dyzfunkshun. “A lot of death metal, one funk-metal outfit, called Bompdozer and strangely a whole new breed of prog bands. It’s like my life’s come full circle,” he laughs.
Mofo, May 2007