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Bending Time and Blowing Minds:
SPIV U:Kby Peter Aaron

Right away, the influences are clear but impeccable: classic British pop, psychedelia, and glam à la the Beatles, early Pink Floyd, the Kinks, David Bowie, T. Rex. “Yeah, well, that’s the music I grew up with, so I guess it’s just gonna come out,” says SPIV U:K singer and guitarist Sham Morris. “I just write these songs, and they could be [done in any style], really. But they come out with this sound, and that’s also because they’re being shaped by the rest of the band.”

The rest of the band is bassist Tom Newton (like Morris, an English expatriate), guitarist John Gullo, and drummer Chris Morgan. The four came together in 2004 as SPIV (“spiv” is Brit slang for a shady character who lives by his wits; the “U:K” part was added later, in deference to a similarly named Northwest outfit), and since then have stood out on the upstate scene like a sequined, paisley thumb, thanks to their specialized—perhaps esoteric, to some—approach. Live, the band is known for its eye-dazzling stage presentation, which includes trippy, multi-colored lighting and mind-bendingly surreal film projections.

“One of the problems with live music nowadays [in the Hudson Valley] is that it usually doesn’t feel very special when you go to a gig,” says Morris. “I’d think it’d be really boring, just to watch the four of us bobbing around on stage with nothing else to look at. We figure if we’re gonna do a show, we should give it 110 percent. And, ultimately, the word will get around and more people will get interested.”

The former front man of glammy ’80s pop act One the Juggler (with whom he went by the name Rokko), Morris immigrated to the Woodstock area in 1987 after working with one of its best-known residents, the late Mick Ronson. The two met when the ex-David Bowie guitar player produced One the Juggler’s last album, 1985’s Some Strange Fashion (RCA), and became fast friends, eventually playing together in a duo and a quartet with two other prominent locals, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Jerry Marotta. Morris ultimately returned Ronson’s studio favors by producing and writing songs for the guitarist’s final recording, 1994’s Heaven and Hull (Spitfire Records), which features guest vocals by Bowie, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, John Mellencamp, Ian Hunter, and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot. “[Ronson] died of liver cancer before the album was finished, so it was a very bittersweet time,” recalls Morris, who also played with Psychedelic Furs guitarist John Ashton and former X-Ray Spex/Classix Nouveaux drummer B.P. Hurding in the short-lived in Pink Thing. “Besides being an incredible musician, Mick was a really wonderful guy and a great friend. I still miss him.”

As SPIV the foursome debuted with 2005’s Gigantic Inflation of the Ego (self-released, like the band’s other CDs), its rawest, most guitar-heavy set, and added the “U:K” for the 2008 follow-up, So Far Machine, which puts a stronger accent on the group’s lysergic leanings (the latter disc was reviewed in the July-August 2008 issue of Roll). The band’s newest release, Sir Reginald Dreamsequence, betrays its bemusingly evocative title by offering up yet another dose of timeless toy-town psych via “We Go Underground,” “Dear Mr. Grey,” “Henrietta Shopping Cart,” and other bursts of radiant Day-Glo pop.

While Morgan is known locally for his work with Woodstock’s Creative Music Studio and New York’s Swollen Monkeys, Queens native Gullo may also be familiar to many, as the front man of much-missed punk cover band the Relatives. “Playing in that band was fun but it was also very personal, because that music was such a big part of my life,” says Gullo, an active participant of Manhattan’s late ’70s/early ‘80s scene and, in the obscure No Excuse, and a one-time bandmate of blues-rock guitarist Poppa Chubby. For a while, the Relatives also included another popular local on guitar: New World Home Cooking chef/owner Ric Orlando, whose celebrated Route 212 eatery and bar has become SPIV U:K’s defacto home base.

Currently the band is working on promo videos for several of the tracks on Sir Reginald Dreamsequence, and has its kaleidoscopic sights on its namesake homeland. “We’ve put out these records, but we’ve been fairly lazy as far as promoting them,” Morris admits. “So now we’re working on licensing them in England. Taken together, they definitely tell a story.”

“They’re kind of a triptych,” says Gullo.

A most cryptic triptych, one might add.

Sir Reginald Dreamsequence is out now.

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