Joe Mantino's Promise: A Fable Of Lost Folk

Children of Rain - Red Corduroy (Bad Pressings)

This is a tale with two beginnings that merge revealingly. One is more than half a century old, the other only began at the start of the year. They meld on the account of a single name, or rather the mis-accounting of it, and the fact that it seemed beguiling to this writer on a late at night, nothing better to do trawl for "quality obscure" on auction sites. You are unlikely to have heard of Children Of Rain. They released one single on Dot Records in 1966, but someone at the label sent the wrong credits to the pressing plant. Although they were the first to get their hands on "Get Together," their rendition tanked, not because it was in any way inferior to the later version by The Youngbloods which became a counter-culture anthem for that turbulent decade of hope and change, and sold! sold! sold! Such is the mysticism and capriciousness of fate, and the fact the song was demoted to the flip-side of their sole release "Dawn To Dusk." It might have had a better run at success had their name been at all visible on the disc, rendered an afterthought after the their lead singer's Pam Meacham, which had been randomly elevated and wrongly spelt in the process. Hence the black hole on search engines. How it appeared was never how it was supposed to but it stands as an portent laden indication of future calamities. Having taken a chance on their eight song acetate I realized I may be buying an expensive relic of little actual worth, but I coughed up the $200 and hoped that my instincts might have unearthed a wonderful curio, and not a batch of best forgotten musings.

What emerged from the dusty and crackling grooves that made their way from a record store in Illinois to a rainy, wintry Manchester was a lost link. Children Of Rain undertook these recordings in the wake of Dylan having gone electric at Newport, and their songs betray none of the cutesy qualities that spoils much folk from that era. They possess a spirited but haunting melancholia, a stunning back-bone of considered song-craft, and had they fared better at the hands of time they would now undoubtedly be revered as innovators. Their sound has an oddly English quality that eerily echoes Pentangle and Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention. The arrangements are sparse but considered and are perfect settings for the melding of Pam Meacham's beautifully effortless voice with the tones of her brother Denis and that of Alan Ross, who she would eventually marry. The acetate is glowingly introduced by her god-father Jim Ameche, a famous radio presenter on WHN in New York, and whose skills are obvious in the manner in he delivers this brief duty. The acetate in question was one of half a dozen produced to further their career on the back of their debut release.

Although formed at college, they were never a band that gigged consistently. They did play the famed Gaslight Club on MacDougal Street in the fall of 1966 that had hosted the likes of Jack Kerouac and many of the Beat Poets in the previous decade, and whose stage had been graced by Dave Von Ronk, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. Nerves always an issue with the band threatened them that night, but without scuppering their performance. What did herald the beginning of an end though arrived in the form of a fast talking little man called Joe Mantino, chomping on a cigar and adorned by a cheap suit and and a straw fedora. He promised them the earth but at a price, $1.600 dollars in advance to be precise, a fairly considerable sum in 1966, especially from someone who resembled Bob Hoskyns in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? For their investment they would record their songs, acetates of which would be delivered to all the right people in all the right places, and perform a show-case show at Regis College in Boston. When the band arrived at the venue it all had been had been cancelled due to negligible ticket sales, and the auditorium was so large all it represented was the optimism of their manager's greed. Joe's scam had been to scarper off with the takings whilst they sang. Sadly when the plug got pulled he disappeared with the remnants of their cash and their promised acetates. None of the band ever owned one till I tracked down Alan Ross recently who was somewhat bemused, and I use that term sparingly.

Bands rarely survive such little earthquakes and the Children Of Rain ended their two year existence not long after the departing click of the heels of that cruel scenario. There was a strange additional twist in the tale of Joe Mantino. Pam recalls a surprise visit from a F.B.I. man trying to locate him. A clairvoyant had pointed him her direction. Joe's misdeeds hadn't simply been embezzling a trio of budding folk singers, he was a serial cheat. She last heard that he'd been busted for trying to cash a dodgy check in Vegas. It is likely that he ended his days in a concrete suit propping up a bridge or a skyscraper, or as fish food in the Hudson. However half a century later Alan Ross is planning to release the tracks he now has of his former band. A debut, albeit delayed, but that represents the emergence of a missing jigsaw piece in the annals of folk-rock. A song like "Red Corduroy" with all its tremendous wistfulness really should be a standard in any area of music. Pam and Alan later formed Ross Legacy whose sole single on Philips is now much sought after but rare. On moving to Texas Alan Ross became a prolific and successful jingles writer and sports journalist. His recent solo albums reveal a talent that is still both vital and stimulating.

Joe Mantino has somehow, and belatedly so, kept his promise in a curious way from beyond his presently unknown final resting place. He at least got the discs produced before his disappearing rip-off act of failure. When the album surfaces I will give the songs their proper reflection. For now what is in preparation is a collection of literal rarity in both quality and scarcity. All based on the strength of a name that suggested a sense of reward on a late night in winter.

Welcome home Children Of Rain, proof, if any were required, that much hinges on the choice of an evocative name. - Rob Cochrane

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Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published numerous collections of poems.

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