This cover of The Rolling Stones’ psychedelic pop masterpiece She’s A Rainbow was the B-side to The Storm, the tempestuous debut single of the much-missed World of Twist. It’s a slightly unusual cover version in that – aside from a beefed up rhythm section and a different vocalist – it’s virtually indistinguishable from the original. You can play them simultaneously if you like. I don’t care though, because it was one of the first records I ever bought. It was the 12″ with photos of kettles on the sleeve. I played it over and over too, flipping from side A, The Storm (12” Version) followed by She’s A Rainbow, to side B, She’s A Rainbow (12” Version) followed by The Storm. God it was great.
The Storm itself is an atmospheric and invigorating blast of acid-house/indie-glam with personality to spare and more hooks than a Philadelphia meat locker. Hippyish and ultra-danceable, The Storm is driven along by a hyperactive rhythm section and accented with psychedelic synthesizer sounds, squally guitar licks, thunder samples and Tony Ogden’s breathless vocals.
World of Twist was one of those bands that really should have been huge. They seemed to have everything they needed to go stellar; the talent, the tunes and a strong, distinctive image. Even their timing seemed to be perfect, arriving with their floor-filling sound in 1990, just as indie-dance and techno was invading the mainstream.
But it didn’t quite happen for them. So, rather than reaching their potential and entering a wider public consciousness, they had to settle for making a deep and lasting impression on a small number of people.
The story of World of Twist can be roughly divided into two halves – the first, when they did absolutely everything right and the second….not so much.
By the time they released The Storm, World of Twist had established an original and exhilarating sound, fusing progressive rock, indie-pop and acid house. They built a reputation for being great live and erudite, entertaining and quotable in person. Consequently, the music press loved them too. So much so that for a time one particular music paper pushed to introduce a new subgenre to define them – kitschedelia.
The kitsch part of this was down to the strong, art school aesthetic that World of Twist cultivated – a kind of enigmatic, Python-esque, very British, retro imagery that infused their record sleeves, promotional materials and band photos. There aren’t many snaps of World of Twist wearing jeans and trying to look surly in a dingy alley; not when they could be shot in full Victorian military regalia instead. (The fantastic World of Twist online library is highly recommended for more on the band’s aesthetics.)
The band got lots of airplay, TV slots and radio sessions – including an enduringly excellent one with John Peel – and released a couple more singles as good as The Storm, including Sons of the Stage, another psychedelic, indie-dance monster with a killer bassline at the bottom, a charismatic Tony Ogden vocal on the surface, and swirling depths of sound in between.
Their debut album was hotly anticipated and they’re reputed to have spent £250,000 of record company money recording it. They’d done everything right up to that point. If the album was up to the standard they’d set with their singles they were going to be huge.
Sadly, the release of their debut album marked the beginning of the end for World of Twist. The LP, Quality Street, was a huge disappointment; to critics, to fans – me included – and to the band themselves. Aside from the singles, the songs were a little lacklustre, but the big problem was the production – the hugely expensive production. It was awful. The intricate depths of instrumentation were buried and Tony Ogden’s vocal was pushed too high in the mix. Ogden wasn’t a strong singer in the traditional sense, but his enigmatic vocals were perfect as an equal component of a song. On Quality Street, his voice was up on a pedestal and expected to carry several cuts. The rhythm section that had provided the engine for singles like Sons of the Stage and The Storm sounded weedy and weak. In short, it just didn’t sound good.
In 2005, Tony Ogden gave his honest appraisal of the album experience:
“We had an amazing time. We wanted to make the greatest psychedelic dance rock album ever and there was a lot of coke and E in the studio. But the album came out at half normal volume. We’d spent £250,000 making an album with the smallest bollocks in pop history! The band just fell apart. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast and that led to communication problems. I didn’t wanna sing, the guitarist didn’t wanna play. When the company didn’t get a hit they threw us in the bin. I was devastated – I spent four years on smack watching Third Reich movies because the good guys always win. I’m really sorry for letting our fans down. But I’d ask anyone to play that World of Twist album 20 times with every dial on full. If it doesn’t rock, come and smash it over my head.”
Quality Street didn’t even make the Top 40 and World of Twist were swiftly dropped from their label. What happened next is hard to definitively say. It depends on which band member you believe, and sometimes, on which version of what that band member says in contradicting quotes. Either they were set to be picked up by Creation Records and either refused to sign or gambled on asking for an exorbitant advance, not caring whether they won or lost. Or World of Twist was only ever meant to be a temporary art project and the album was the pre-planned conclusion of this project. Or Tony Ogden suddenly lost all his confidence and tried to take a less prominent role in the band with either another band member or a new recruit taking over as frontman. Whatever the truth, Quality Street was their first and last album. World of Twist had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and were finished.
A lot of love remained for the band, even as it became increasingly obvious that they weren’t ever coming back. After the split, Tony Ogden continued making music for his own pleasure and rebuilt his self-belief away from the spotlight. He’d been making tentative steps towards a return to the industry when he died suddenly in 2006, aged just 44.
World of Twist made some brilliant music but never achieved the level of success they deserved or attained the riches that so many less original bands did during the ‘90s. But like a brilliant young footballer who wows their home crowd for a couple of seasons before injuries and alcoholism derail the career everyone had anticipated for them, they made a deep and lasting impression on everyone they reached and their legend only grows as the years pass.