Album of the week: Message To A Harlequin (1968)

Would recommend if you’re a fan of: Tim Buckley, Pat Kilroy, Bonnie Dobson, Wendy & Bonnie, Chrysalis, Donovan

Source: Album artwork

This week our album goes to, Message To A Harlequin, by Tim Hollier. Little is known about Tim and his mysterious, perplexing debut album, as it’s never seemed to gain the success it so obviously deserves.

Tim was born in 1947, in Brighton, U.K. In 1963 he went to study at Carlisle art college, during this time he became relatively successful within the local folk-music scene, playing folk clubs with his cousin in a duo named Sovereigns. A couple of years later Tim moved to London to study graphic design, here he met Canadian guitarist Rick Cuff and started playing live shows in and around London, the two even opened for the likes of Roy Harper and Paul Simon. In June 1968 he signed to United Artists, and by October of that same year, Message to A Harlequin was released.

The album features John Cameron on harpsichord, organ, and piano, Harold McNair on flute, Danny Thompson on bass, Tony Carr on drums, and Tim sings and wrote the songs – this makes for a colourful combination of  instruments which give the album a ‘folky’, baroque feel.

The album opens with title-track Message To A Harlequin, a fantastic display of psychedelic acid-folk, with dreamy lyrics, “by the silver palace tower in the wild sunlight swaying… in his robes of silk and satin, trimmed with juniper and lime, he tells his timeless story to the quiet of the mind,” transporting the listener to a pre-raphaelite, Arthurian world, smothered in a psychedelic haze. The track could be compared to some of the more psychedelic-folk songs by Donovan, such as Guinevere or Three King Fishers.

Released just a year after Tim Buckley‘s iconic Goodbye and Hello, both albums are good examples of psychedelic folk-rock, clear similarities can be heard. The two Tim’s both have unique and dramatic singing voices (particularly Tim Buckley,) however, they’re also strangely similar in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on.

The album is consistent throughout, and if anything, seems to get more psychedelic and dreamlike as it goes on. The only negative thing I can find about Message To A Harlequin, is it’s running time, at just 31 minutes, it feels like it’s stopped short, almost unfinished – if only it could carry on for an eternity.

Severely underrated, Tim Hollier’s symphonic folk-rock masterpiece is well worth checking out; the album has never been reissued, but an original copy thankfully isn’t too difficult to get hold of, with copies often cropping up on Discogs or Ebay. It’s also on Youtube.

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