Tope poked his head above the parapet of the Rushden of Iniquity and spied a hole in space…you know, one of those left by Fohat. This being East Northants, a place where they still practice the Olde Religion, Tope saw nothing unusual in that at all and rushed home to tell his mates, who, like him, were all sock puppets. Over-excited and not a little monged, the very next day they all boarded their pea-green spaceship HMS Nene* Park and set forth on an adventure of fun and frolics, with their lucky mascot Doug The Dog.
Alternatively, as the PR sheet has it, “in 1973 Tomska R. Huntley created this concept that was destined for German TV which was Tope’s Sphere. The original idea was to be a groundbreaking animated series with a live soundtrack by UK/German super group, Klementine Uhren. It was supposed to feature Tope, the knitted-monkey protagonist and Chode, his sidekick to go on an outer space adventure with a psychedelic rock score… both Tomska and the group weren’t too happy with the final mixes and it disappeared promptly. Tomska’s dream was shattered and he was bankrupt. He dumped what was left of Tope’s Sphere and vanished into the Himalayan Mountains.”
Both of those paragraphs are true facts.
Orange Clocks hail from a place called Rushden, and unlikely as it seems to those of us who have been there, Rushden now boasts two bands that a handful of folk beyond the borders of Northamptonshire have actually heard of, thanks to the gleefully omni-directional signing policy of That London’s Bad Elephant Music.
Beyond the surreal universe of Bad Elephant press releases and this reviewer’s fevered imaginings the cartoon world of Orange Clocks is certainly as real as reality can get that far east down the A45. The spirit of the Pothead Pixies lives on, not just in Gong, but also in this joyfully barking troupe, who belt out Hanna-Barbera spacerock that will have you recalling the madcap adventures of Scooby Doo when he was with The Clangers and sundry other over-coloured semi-remembered delights from your formative years.
Tope and his mate Chode (yes, I see what they did there) charge through the galaxy on their surreal adventure, accompanied by monster wah-riffs and screaming synths in a manner that would make Daevid smile. The narrator of the story, a bug-eyed bean, possibly from Venus, gets animated as Tope and Chode ride the space fandango, and “…before Tope can do anything, a large space craft hovers overhead, and sucks Chode off…into the atmosphere”. Sophisticated this ain’t, but Uncle Frank would approve I’ve no doubt.
This is a space opera where the set wobbles almost as much as the script, and it is a laugh alright, and at only a tad over half an hour does not outstay its welcome. The two longest tracks on the album follow one another, and at a combined time of less than seven minutes Darkside and Magical Fields trip along nicely, the knowingly arch narration accompanied by lolloping rhythms and fine languid outer-space guitar. Elsewhere we have an ’80s free festival vibe, and anarcho punky hippies Here & Now are watching from the wings. Heck, there’s no point in getting over-analytical, it’s just a daft bit of fun and well worth your time in these grey and depressing days.
Meanwhile, back in the wunnerful whorl of FACTS…As well as having two bands now, Rushden has one other claim to fame. Passed down through the generations since WWII is a story of destruction and deprivation arising from the time in 1940 when Henry & Herbert Bates’ fish’n’chip shop was deliberately targeted by a German Dornier bomber and battered by several bombs to the ground, depriving the locals of their only food source beyond the occasional passing pigeon or rustled sheep. The Germans believed it was a front for the manufacture of Evil Sock Puppets that would be used to infiltrate the Third Reich and bring about its demise. Henry Bates wrote novels in his free time as “H. E.”, so there.
* Pronounced “Nen”. This is important.
01. Tope’s Sphere Intro (Original Recording) (0:35)
02. Just Kickin’ Back (2:01)
03. Fun In The Stars (1:01)
04. SOS (1:30)
05. Unknown Planet (0:55)
06. Ambush (1:53)
07. Sphere Malfunction (0:53)
08. Trouble With Chode (2:12)
09. Tope’s Hope (0:30)
10. Darkside (3:04)
11. Magical Fields (3:45)
12. Cogs, Brackets and Chains (0:43)
13. Big Track (2:50)
14. A Father’s Return (0:59)
15. Stromp’s Stomp (0:51)
16. Chode’s Down (0:44)
17. March of the Psilicybins (1:37)
18. Out of the Aether (1:06)
19. Utopean Dream (0:55)
20. Theme from Tope’s Sphere (2:28)
Total Time – 30:35
Burn – Drums & Percussion
Derek Cotter – Vocals & Bass Guitar
Tom Hunt – Vocals & Synthesizers
Ja Lee – Samples and Sounds
Dan Merrils – Guitar
Stuart Paterson – Guitar
Martin Winsley – Narration, Vocals & Percussion
~ Guest Star:
Ian ‘Trev’ Watson – Electro Horn
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Date of Release: 3rd March 2017