Design


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1968-70)

- Gabrielle Field -- vocals

- Barry Johnston (aka Barry Alexander) -- vocals, guitar, keyboards

- Kathy Manuell  -- vocals, flute

- John Mulcahy-Morgan -- vocals, percussion

- Geoff Ramseyer -- vocals, guitar

Tony Smith (aka A.C. Smith) -- vocals, guitar

 

  line up 2 (1971-74)

- Gabrielle Field -- vocals

- Barry Johnston (aka Barry Alexander) -- vocals, guitar

- Kathy Manuell  -- vocals, flute

NEW - Jeff Matthews -- vocals, guitar (replaced Tony Smith)

- John Mulcahy-Morgan -- vocals, percussion

- Geoff Ramseyer -- vocals, guitar

 

  line up 3 (1974-76)

- Barry Johnston (aka Barry Alexander) -- vocals, guitar

- Kathy Manuell  -- vocals, flute

- Jeff Matthews -- vocals, guitar 

- John Mulcahy-Morgan -- vocals, percussion

 

 

 

 

- Barry Alexander (solo efforts)

- Free Expression (Jeff Matthews, John Mulcahy-Morgan, and 

  Geoff Ramseyer)

- The Stevettes

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Design

Company: Epic

Catalog: E 30224
Year:
 1971

Country/State: London, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2053

Price: $15.00

 

Liner notes aren't known as the best source of biographical information, but there simply isn't a great deal of information to go on with regard to this London-based group.  In fact,, even their website is a bit vague with the group's history.

 

"Together since January 1969, Kathy Manuell, Gabrielle Field, Tony Smith, Barry Johnston, Geoff Ramseyer , and John Morgan have brought into close harmony musical backgrounds which are tremendously varied.  Prior to forming Design, Kathy and Gabrielle were students of operetta and classical music, Geoff and John were members of a rock band [Free Expression] doing the British club circuit; while Tony and John were accomplished songwriters. Through various "acts of fate" they came together, began performing at parties, were asked to perform for Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy at the "Save the Children Fund Ball" and were a sensation.  With this album Design have come to our shores."

 

photos from a 1974 appearance on the Benny Hill Show left to right:

Barry Alexander - Gabrielle Field - Kathy Manuell - Jeff Matthews - John Mulcahy-Morgan - Geoff Ramseyer

 

In spite of what the liner notes said, by the time the group released their US debut, Smith was no longer a performing member of the band, having been replaced by Jeff Matthews.   While Smith may have been gone, his fingerprints were all over the band's 1971 album debut "Design".   Smith's voice remained on several of the songs and he was credited with penning ten of the eleven songs.  The only non-Smith song was Barry Alexander's 'The Minstrels' Song'.   Interestingly the tune was credited to 'Barry Johnston' - Barry apparently wanted to keep some distance from the fact his father was British cricket commentator Brian Johnston.  

 

To be honest, Design was more of a marketing ploy than an attempt to make music that was going to stand the tests of time.  Accordingly the group's main selling points seemed to be their  young, mod good looks and their blended, if somewhat anonymous harmony vocals. They quickly became staples on British television shows, though I suspect few fans could tell which one was Gabrielle versus Kathy, let along the names of the five guys.  As a result, much of the debut album was little more than throwaway pop fodder intended to appeal to top-40 radio stations.  Imagine a British hybrid of The Association, The 5th Dimension, The Free Design, and The Mamas and the Papas..  Add in a touch of Brotherhood of Man and maybe a little ABBA and presto - Design.   And that's what makes the album so strange.  Buried in MOR-ish harmony muck like 'The Lonely', 'Willow Stream',  and 'Matchstick Man' were some unexpected surprises.   The opener 'Coloured Mile' took the group's wall-of-sound harmonies and surrounded them with some lysergic edges.  Imagine a stoned version of the Free Design.   It made for a great tune.  Equally impressive were 'Marguretta' (okay I'll admit that one was a guilty pleasure), Alexander's 'The Minstrel's Theme', and the jazzy, almost acapella closing ballad 'Dawn Chorus'.   It's far from a great LP, but had some nice sunshine pop moments.

 

"Design" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Coloured Mile  (A.C. Smith)  - 2:58

Geez ...  what the world?   I remember hearing 'Coloured World' for the first time and wondering how The Free Design had acquired British accents ...  As mentioned, the group's harmony rich sound isn't going to appeal to every one, but this was a great example of how good they could be when packaged with a strong, slightly lysergic tune and arrangement (check out the underlying bass work).  The song was also released as a promo US single:

- 1971's 'Coloured Mile' b/w 'The Minstrelís Theme' (Epic catalog number 5-10713)  rating: **** stars

2.) Willow Stream  (A.C. Smith)  - 2:25

And 'Willow Stream' demonstrated how band they could be when surrounded by twee, throwaway material.  I'm guessing this one was given a slightly tropical feel on purpose, but the results were simply irritating - kind of like a band Boney M tune.   of course that didn't stop Epic from releasing the song as a US single: 

- 1971's 'Willow Stream' b/w 'Coloured Mile' (Epic catalog number 5-10623)  rating: ** stars

3.) Marguretta  (A.C. Smith)  - 3:11

Okay, 'Marguretta' was a song that I should have detested.  It was simply way too cute and way too catchy for anyone's health.  In fact, if you ditched the English lyrics and added some Scandinavian accents, it could have been an ABBA tune.  The ladies' chirpy refrains (sounding like the Vienna Boys Choir), were hysterical.   Great tune.   rating; **** stars

4.) The Lonely  (A.C. Smith)  - 2:59

Bland ballad that showcased the ladies' slightly shrill vocals ...   rating: ** stars

5.) Thinkin'  (A.C. Smith)  2:16

Seriously, with a distinctive MOR-jazzy vibe and some elaborate vocal arrangements 'Thinkin'' could easily have been a Free Design effort.   rating: *** stars

6.) Matchstick Man  (A.C. Smith)  - 4:18

Not sure which guy handled the lead vocals on this one, but this one was simply too sappy and the subject matter too English to make the cut.  Did anyone think this one was going to tug at the heartstrings?   Yech.  (I did like the underlying busy bass line.)    rating: ** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) The Minstrel's Theme   (Barry Johnston) - 3:13

Imagine The Mamas and the Papas after they'd taken a Masters class in English folk music ...   The group's waves of sweet harmonies remained a danger to diabetics, but the tune had a wonderful melody and a cool toy town psych flavor.  It also served as the 'B' side on their second US single.   rating: **** stars

2.) Speak   (A.C. Smith) - 3:31

Geez this one was a strange tangle of influences; The Fifth Dimension, Gilbert O'Sullivan-styled pop; Simon and Gafunkel harmonies ...   Easily the album's strangest performance.   rating: *** stars

3.) Buttercup Stranger  (A.C. Smith) - 3:21

'Buttercup Stranger' started out with some beautiful acoustic guitar and when the vocals kicked in the tune had a very Simon and Garfunkel feel.   rating: *** stars

4.) Children of the Mist  (A.C. Smith) - 2:45

Yeah it was a bit on the MOR side of the house, but 'Children of the Mist' was probably the album's most radio-friendly tune, 'Children of the Mist' had everything needed for heavy radio rotation; great melody and a nice display of their vocal prowess.   rating: *** stars

5.) Dawn Chorus  (A.C. Smith) - 4:09

It opened up as an almost acapella piece before morphing into an atmospheric ballad that recalled The Fifth Dimension at their jazziest.    rating: **** stars

 

 

 

The group have a nice website at: http://www.designvocalgroup.com/index.htm

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

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