Without record company support, the Span and Mike Clayton boldly took matters into their own hands, funding a privately issued single that appeared on 16 February 1968 on the band's Jewel label. Recorded at the R.G. Jones studio in Morden, home of the now fiercely collected Oak custom label, ‘Children Of Tomorrow’ and ‘Concerto Of Thoughts’ were magnificent, visceral chunks of British studio psychedelia, with the former in particular now acknowledged by genre buffs as a full-blown masterpiece. However, the band themselves weren’t so impressed. “We were far from pleased with the finished results”, admits Gary Murphy. “The sound was thin, too trebly and over-distorted, and could certainly have done with a professional remix. Jones was a very, very nice guy: the problem was that he was deaf in one ear, so he did stereo in one ear and then swapped the headphones over – which is why the single has a very weird mix! But time was of the essence, and, as it was self-financed, money not too plentiful. However, over the years I have come to accept the fact that it has a certain raw edge which I can now listen to without cringing!”
Limited to a total pressing of 500 copies, ‘Children Of Tomorrow’ clearly wasn’t about
to bother the charts, but it was nonetheless a superb release, with Bennett’s blistering
guitar heroics cutting through some typical psych-era day-glo imagery involving unicorns
and sitting in trees. “It was a cry for lost youth”, explains the song’s lyricist, Stuart
Hobday. “When you’re young, you’re told what to believe in, but as you get older you
realise that things aren’t quite as you were told – though I can’t remember where the
bit about sitting in trees came from! But it certainly wasn’t inspired by illegal substances,
even though everyone assumed it was. After one gig, a girl came up to me and asked if I
had anything for her. I didn’t know what she meant, so she clarified it for me – did I
have any grass? I told her we didn’t indulge, and she got a bit annoyed. ‘Don’t tell me
that’, she said. ‘I’ve just seen you on stage!’”
“To be honest, the audience probably lived that lifestyle more than we did. Everyone too
young to have been around at the time has this perception of what the Sixties were like,
and it was a great period – but we spent all our time travelling up and down the country
to gigs, sleeping in lay-bys… though occasionally with company!”
Although ‘Children Of Tomorrow’ failed to attract the attentions of an established record
label, the Span were beginning to widen their horizons, attracting some valuable publicity
both at home and abroad. A cameo appearance in the film Better A Widow, successful
tours of Germany and Belgium, jamming with Jimi Hendrix at the Speakeasy (Brian Bennett
was so nervous at the prospect of performing with his idol that he dropped his plectrum!) and the performance of a thirty-minute science fiction fantasy entitled 'Cycle' at the 100 Club in London’s Oxford Street (sadly not preserved for posterity) were all indicative of the favourable reception that the band were enjoying in their attempts to make that vital commercial breakthrough.
After an excellent session for John Peel's Top Gear programme in May 1968, such a breakthrough seemed closer than ever when the Span were chosen as the featured group in a BBC television documentary called A Year In The Life (Big Deal Group), an exposé of the music business as experienced by a young and unknown pop group. A Year In The Life would assiduously chart the band's progress over the twelve months, and as such would eloquently capture their corruption from optimistic, fresh-faced innocents into bitter, jaded cynics.
The first step in this process was inadvertently achieved by Mike Clayton's ill-judged attempts to 'set-up' a hit single in conjunction with the Fontana label and experienced songwriters Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who’d penned numerous hits for the likes of the Honeycombs, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich and the Herd. Produced at Radio Luxembourg’s London studios by Albert Hammond, the bland 'You Can Understand Me' (backed by Hammond’s equally slight 'Baubles and Bangles') was issued in August 1968. It duly received the pre-arranged patronage of Radio Luxembourg, but despite the behind-the-scenes machinations and the group’s performance on the BBC TV show How It Is, the single plunged into instant obscurity. The Span bitterly resented the way that the two songs had been foisted upon them, and following Clayton's equally disastrous attempts to establish the band's own record shop Exspansions in Brighton, they parted company with their manager in acrimonious - not to mention penniless - circumstances.