Taking their name from Wordsworth’s poem, Tintern Abbey came together in mid-1967 after meeting in a Chelsea dole queue and soon became a regular attraction on the London-based late 60s underground circuit.
Their profile was helped in no small measure by the fact that they were managed by Nigel Samuel, a teenage multi-millionaire who, among many other subterranean ventures, financed the counter culture’s parish magazine, International Times.
Founding member and bassist Stuart Mackay had started 1967 with Yorkshire R&B band The Sect before moving down to London.
The band were despatched to Carnaby Street to pick up all the latest psychedelic clothes, and Samuel soon had them all living in a flat he owned in Earl’s Court that had been the previous headquarters of IT.
Shortly after, the group were sent by Samuel to spend a month in a Cornwall cottage, thereby following the fashionably bucolic route pioneered by Traffic.
By the time they returned to London the band had written a fistful of new songs, including what were to prove the jewels in their crown – Beeside and Vacuum Cleaner. These two tracks were chosen to launch Tintern Abbey in late November after Samuel had brokered a deal with Decca’s experimental offshoot, Deram.
A paean to the joys of acid-induced indolence, Beeside was a shimmering haze of Mellotron, clashing cymbals and throbbing bass lines, with David MacTavish’s spectral, gossamer-light vocal floating over the top of a message from beyond. The title was something of an in-joke amongst the band – “let’s call the A-side Beeside“.
Vacuum Cleaner, which the band often played as the opening number of their live shows, was rather more visceral – a song that rejected the narcissistic Mod philosophy of yore (“new clothes don’t buy my soul”) in favour of the hippie lifestyle (“fix me with your sweet dose, now I’m feeling like a ghost . . . all the time”), impeccably sung by lyricist MacTavish and featuring a staggering guitar break from Don Smith.
Within days of the single’s release, Tintern Abbey were back in the studio to record a possible follow-up, Snowman, that was abandoned after Smith’s abrupt departure. The band’s roadie suggested as replacement a young guitarist he’d known from his days on the Cambridge music scene.
An audition was duly arranged, but it quickly became clear that the group and the guitarist were incompatible. Fortunately, David Gilmour (for it was he) would fix himself up just a few days later, accepting an offer from some old Cambridge friends to join their band instead . . .
Guitarist Paul Brett and organist Terry Goldberg joined the group, and a full-length LP was planned for August 1968. Sadly the group disbanded before the album could become a reality.
Copies of the Beeside/Vacuum Cleaner single in mint condition today change hands for around £400.