With Fontana off the scene and Clayton also about to disappear, the Span were able to eschew artistic compromise in favour of intrinsic musical merit. A series of high quality demo recordings were made at R. G. Jones’s studio, including new material of the calibre of 'World In My Head' and 'Blue Day', which had been inspired by the rapidly-developing UK blues boom. Clayton's final managerial act before disappearing into the wide blue yonder was to present these demos to Clive Selwood, head of the UK branch of Elektra. Selwood was sufficiently impressed to notify label president Jac Holzman of the band's potential, and the Span were duly signed to Elektra in early 1969. Holzman immediately commissioned an album, but insisted on a change of name for his new charges. Thus it was that the Mike Stuart Span were rechristened Leviathan.
Elektra officially launched Leviathan's recording career in April 1969
with the simultaneous issue of two singles. Three of the chosen tracks -
'Remember The Times', 'Second Production' and 'Time' - had initially been
conceived as Span recordings, with the newly-composed 'The War
Machine' completing the quartet. Elektra's media assault was strengthened
by the support of the influential John Peel and a live performance of
'Remember The Times' on TV show Late Night Line-Up, but with the benefit
of hindsight, the label would probably have been better advised to
concentrate on promoting one track rather than 'The Four Faces of Leviathan'
(as the campaign had been rather portentously titled).
Despite the commercial failure of both singles, work continued on the band’s
album at Trident Studios. It had initially been suggested that Elektra would
send the band to a cabin in the Rockies for several months in order to immerse
themselves in the process of creating original music. Unfortunately, this
possibility disappeared when some of the label’s American signings over-indulged
on chemical rather than musical freedom. Nevertheless, as a taster for the LP, a
further single coupling 'Flames' and 'Just Forget Tomorrow' was recorded in the summer.
By the time that it surfaced in October 1969, however, Leviathan were no more (although, as Gary Murphy wryly notes, the band would no doubt have hastily reformed had the single been a spectacular success!). The final straw had come when Jac Holzman pronounced himself dissatisfied with the completed album. In addition, as gigs became less frequent, Brian Bennett - who had begun to take part-time work during the band's attempts to make the big time - felt that he could make more money labouring on building sites (as opposed to labouring in pop groups, presumably).
The documentary A Year In The Life was broadcast in late September 1969, by which point the group had gone their separate ways. Roger McCabe would withdraw from the music business completely, while Stuart Hobday embarked on what was to prove a highly successful career with BBC Radio 2 as a music producer. Brian Bennett joined the final incarnation of Jason Crest (who would shortly mutate into High Broom), where he was reunited with Roger Siggery, his former colleague in Tony's Defenders.
Despite his bitterness at the failure of the Span/Leviathan, Gary Murphy was persuaded to join a local bluesy progressive outfit called Hellmet, who cut sufficient material for an album. Unfortunately the Hellmet recordings didn’t gain a release – a familiar story as far as Gary was concerned, given that the Leviathan LP and some of the strongest Mike Stuart Span recordings had also failed to see the light of day. But as the MSS’s fellow psychedelic warriors Traffic once observed, who knows what tomorrow may bring? After all, more than forty years after they split, we finally have a complete Mike Stuart Span anthology...
******NEW ADDITION : PICTURES FROM BELGIUM courtesy Jean Jieme
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