The seventies was such a rich decade for magnificent music that as a teenager listening to the radio gave me the opportunity to hear some sublime tracks. One of those was a modest 1974 hit by a band new to me and whose only notable single meant they became a sort of enigma to me.
That band were Splinter and the song was ‘Costafine Town’. Little did the background to the album that it came from become apparent, until a little detective work was carried out and the revelation of who was involved in it’s making had me rushing to the record shop to purchase the vinyl record. It’s a magnificent album itself and the sleeve is also a joy to behold, with the front opening up to reveal a fascinating monochrome photo of a street scene, a page of lyrics and a Dark Horse Records sleeve. The cover photo was taken by Terry O’Neill at Friar Park, where the album was recorded.
Splinter were a duo – Bill Elliott and Bobby Purvis – based in Tyneside and in 1970 they were known as Stone Blind – that was then changed to Half Breed. The Beatles’ former road manager and producer of a number of Apple acts, Mal Evans, was in Newcastle at the time and produced more demos with the group. The band had a manager, Rob Hill, and for various reasons Apple, although interested in the demos, were only really taken with Elliott and Purvis, rather than the band.
Then in mid 1971, the band changed their name again to Truth – but further differences occurred and Purvis decided to do his own thing – with Evans as his manager. He worked with Tony Visconti and wrote some songs with Mike Gibbins of Badfinger. But life was not what he wanted and eventually Hill managed to persuade Elliott and Purvis to get back together. Splinter was born.
Meanwhile, George Harrison had made a move into film production, making two documentaries including ‘The Concert For Bangladesh’ in 1972. His new film was a John Hurt drama called ‘Little Malcolm’ which was being made in 1973. The film makers needed a song for a pivotal scene in the movie. Evans suggested a Purvis composition which had recently been retitled ‘Lonely Man’. Harrison was impressed and arranged sessions at Apple Studios to record the song – with Harrison as producer and contributing his slide guitars, the duo were backed by Pete Ham from Badfinger as well as a drummer and bassist.
The film sadly was involved in litigation – but Harrison, who had now started his own record label Dark Horse Records, signed Splinter on as his first act to the new label. Work on the album is said to have taken seventeen months, as Harrison encouraged the duo to refine their vocal sound and rework their songs, adding many ideas of his own. The band relocated to Harrison’s home studio FPSHOT in Oxfordshire and amongst the musicians guesting were Billy Preston, Gary Wright, Klaus Voorman and Jim Keltner.
Harrison’s own contributions included various guitars, dobro, bass, harmonium, Moog synthesiser, mandolin and various percussive instruments. As he was still under contract to Apple, his efforts were attributed to Hari Georgeson; Jai Raj Harisein; and P Roducer.
‘The Place I Love’ was released in late September 1974 and ‘Costafine Town’ was issued as the first single on 13th September 1974 getting to number 17 in the charts. A follow up single ‘Drink All Day’ wasn’t a hit, but was banned by the BBC, bless ‘em, as it contained the word ‘bloody’.
The album opens with the wonderful ‘Gravy Train’ – a piano led boogie style song which really sets to tone for what’s to come – brilliantly crafted song writing and top notch vocals. ‘China Light’ is a slower song with a distinctive Harrison feel to it.
‘Somebody’s City’ is a stirring song with brilliant instrumentation. ‘Costafine Town’ is simply one of the finest pop songs released in the seventies – with a truly memorable chorus and some wonderful clapping. A bona fide classic. The remaining four songs are all superb compositions celebrating their glorious singing styles. As Purvis recalled “we both sang our hearts out – it took over a year to make and we’re both very, very proud to be associated with such a great man and a fine album”.
The duo went on to make three more albums – but none as good as their debut. There’s a lovely anecdote that Harrison revealed on a radio station in America – he asked listeners to help make ‘The Place I Love’ a hit and joked that he would need to sell 5 million copies of the album just to cover the cost of the brandy consumed in it’s production.
‘The Place I Love’ is relatively easy to get hold of on vinyl in the lovely gatefold sleeve with currently around 25 available for sale on Discogs, for as little as £4 excluding shipping. It’s been re-released on CD twice – once in Korea and once in the UK and again is relatively easy to get hold of, without stretching the bank balance. In whatever format – this album is so worth tracking down.