Q: What was the connection between Melbourne band Python Lee Jackson and Rod Stewart?
In A Broken Dream (D K Bentley) – Python Lee Jackson 1972
The history of Australian popular music in the 1960’s and 1970’s is littered with stories of promising local groups who naively made the pilgrimage to London seeking international fame and fortune only to find that they were unappreciated in a highly competitive and ever-changing musical scene that barely tolerated amateurish Antipodean intruders.
For every success story – the Bee Gees and the Seekers were highly successful in the UK at this time, the Easybeats had scored a hit record and AC/DC were set to emerge – there were many other Aussie groups whose spirit and resolve was crushed trying to sustain a precarious existence living in dingy squats, scrambling for poorly-paid gigs, combating union resistance to overseas acts, and surviving the English weather and homesickness.
Axiom, Sherbert, Twilights, Masters’ Apprentices, Mississippi, Groove and the Groop all returned home wiser but no wealthier, and promptly split up.
Python Lee Jackson would have seemed to be one of the more unlikely groups to take on the challenge of cracking the UK market, as they were not headline performers here, their several minor hits were covers of US soul/R&B songs and did not rise above #42 on the charts and their capable lead singer Mal McGee had moved on to join the blue-eyed soul trio known as the Virgil Brothers.
When the group arrived in London in 1969 they were Dave Bentley (keyboards), Dave Montgomery (drums), Mick Liber (guitar), expat Aussie bass guitarist Tony Cahill formerly of the Purple Hearts and the Easybeats was recruited, and Brit guitarist Gary Boyle guested on their sessions.
Bentley had written In A Broken Dream as the title track of an album of the same name in the 1960’s, the song is cut from the same soul/blues template for which the group had been known, but there was an intriguing US West Coast psychedelia meets Procol Harum vibe about Liber’s guitar work and the bass and organ contributions from Cahill and Bentley respectively.
Bentley had intended to sing lead on the recording but after hearing Joe Cocker’s dramatic version of With A Little Help from My Friends realized that the song needed a more soulful treatment and so a session vocalist was recruited to provide a demo guide. The session vocalist delivered a soulful, bluesy, mod rock rendition, subtle and nuanced, he captured the angst and despair in the lyrics and animated them in a way that would have seemed challenging when first read “Don’t push your love too far / Your words won’t leave a scar/ Right now is where you are/ In a broken dream”.
Issued in 1970 the song did not chart, and the session singer agreed to be paid an amount, equal to the cost of a new set of car seat covers, this was apparently the end of the road for Python Lee Jackson, and the song, but not for the singer.
The unknown session singer was a young Rod Stewart, before he joined the Faces, with no solo hits to his credit, pre-dating Maggie May and his “Rod the Mod” fame.
Stewart went on to become a global superstar, eventually In a Broken Dream assumed the cache of an early Rod Stewart classic recording, a definitive performance, the song was re-issued in 1972 and climbed to #3 on the UK charts in September for a substantial hit on the strength of Stewart’s new -found celebrity.
There was also a promo video which was essentially of the hippy, trippy, soft porn genre, with lots of bare breasts and bums and swirling psychedelic artwork which is not easy to find, but the song failed to really chart in Australia (#84 in ’72), and we are left to wonder if the famously tight-fisted Rod Stewart ever tried to renegotiate his session fee, after the record leapt into the UK top 5.