Prior to his conversion to Christianity in 1972, singer/songwriter and studio whiz-kid John Pantry had been the brains behind numerous late 1960s UK psych-pop masterpieces, writing and recording under such aliases as the Factory ('Try A Little Sunshine', 'Red Chalk Hill'), the Bunch ('Spare A Shilling') and Norman Conquest ('Upside Down') as well as leading his own groups, Sounds Around and Peter & the Wolves. This astonishing 53-track 2CD set - a heavily expanded version of Tenth Planet's acclaimed 1999 vinyl-only release - assembles every Pantry recording that survives from 1966-71, including those aforementioned seven-inch marvels as well as a plethora of demos, many of which have been taken from a hitherto-unknown-to-exist 1968 demo album. The Upside Down World of John Pantry is not only the definitive early career anthology of this fascinating figure (now a vicar in Kent), but a Holy Grail item for anyone who loves intelligent, melodic, Bee Gees-inspired late 60s British pop.
"Can there conceivably be a better name for a British '60s pop/psych icon than John Pantry? The warm, homespun, busy and frankly tasty connotations of the word "pantry" seem entirely apposite for this inexplicably overlooked one-man cottage industry of the genre. Tellingly, Vivian Stanshall nailed the essential difference between agit-prop American and quaint English psych archetypes with the memorable declaration "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHER… and they had marmalade and kicked the pantry out into the street, and lived happily ever after." Prior to this, my knowledge of Pantry's work was pretty much limited to my prized demo copy of the 'Little Girl Lost And Found' single by Peter & the Wolves - one of a great many ensembles and artistes whose work bore the John Pantry imprimatur somewhere along the line. Now, however, I am fully up to speed thanks to this vastly expanded double-CD version of '99's limited edition vinyl-only compilation, and its characteristically fascinating and painstakingly thorough sleeve notes from David Wells. The first thing that strikes you is Pantry's bulletproof quality control when it came to songwriting. This pop polymath, who alternated hats as an IBC Studios engineer and the keyboardist/vocalist with hard-working Essex hopefuls Sounds Around, rapidly developed an all-too-rare ear for an unusual, heart-tugging melodic motif and a picturesque lyric. Between '66 and '71, Pantry simply haemorrhaged the good stuff, and The Upside Down World… collects together his entire output - near as dammit - from the period in question. Included among the 53(!) tracks are reams of Pantry's own demos - generally banged out with immense conviction on piano and sung in his appealingly unadorned high tenor - and it is these which provide concrete proof of the innate quality of his songs from the ground up, whether it be the Bee Gees-style soft focus intensity of 'Marigold', the soulful, Todd Rundgren-prefiguring verticality of the title track or the tumbling Gilbert O'Sullivan phrasing of 'Smokey Wood Air'. Elsewhere, you'll find good-natured proto-glam ('Birthday' by the Bunch), swooning superpop perfection ('Jewel' by Wolfe), fiercely compressed airborne psych ('Try A Little Sunshine' by the Factory) and, best of all, the sweetly affecting and suitably lambent 'Lantern Light' by Peter & the Wolves; one of the great lost singles of '68." (Shindig!)
"Steeped in the sounds of the psychedelic '60s, engineer John Pantry lent his touch to cuts by everyone from the Beatles to the Bee Gees. He also used the BBC's famous IBC studio to record sunshine-laden tunes from his own songbook. Released earlier this year, Wooden Hill's 2CD set The Upside Down World of John Pantry digitises his entire 1966-71 personal discography. This nugget isn't just for nerds. While many of these songs were released under one-off names like Peter & the Wolves and Sounds Around, about half of Pantry's output never emerged. "Overlooked classics" may primarily appeal to deep diggers, but Pantry's tunes are A-grade all the way. The spectre of golden-era McCartney is everywhere. Both as a singer and a songwriter, Pantry pays spot-on homage to one of pop's biggest princes. It's almost like discovering a compilation of unearthed Beatles b-sides. It stands up next to other impressive influences. Songs like 'Red Chalk Hill' and 'Two People' are doppelgängers for Revolver-era Beatles; 'Spare A Shilling' rivals the Zombies; and 'Birthday' toes the line between the Small Faces, the Turtles and the Monkees." (Flavorpill)
"Southend-on-Sea's one-man psych-pop treasure trove... What a thrill it must have been for the crate-diggers at Tenth Planet to first get wind of the far-flung joys of bands such as Peter & the Wolves, Sounds Around, Wolfe, the Bunch, Norman Conquest and the Factory - then to string together the clues and the astonishing truth that they were all vehicles for the eccentric pop talent of one inimitably English, quintessentially 60s talent. His name is Pantry - John Pantry. Now a vicar in Kent. Before his 1972 conversion to Christianity, however, he was the Bee Gees' recording engineer, a major label songwriter and recording artiste, and DIY demo-maker. The Gibbs aren't a bad compass point on Pantry's tinkling singer-songwriterdom. This is innocent, dreamy, summery pop without the constant fear of flinching buttocks. Think Tony Hazzard, Graham Gouldman, Ray Davies. In terms of impact, this extended double-CD set adds little to the dense Pantry best of, first issued on vinyl in 1999. What's best? The driving psych of the Factory's 'Try A Little Sunshine', the insanely catchy B-side 'Birthday', the Lennon-ish 'Red Chalk Hill'…and 50 more." (Record Collector)
“Upon gaining employment at IBC Studios in 1965, John Pantry worked under producers like Shel Talmy and Glyn Johns, and over the next few years engineered, among other notable recordings, the Bee Gees’ first three UK albums. In addition to providing an invaluable education, the job also afforded Pantry free studio time here and there, of which he and his group Sounds Around took full advantage. Sounds Around cut two singles for Piccadilly that failed to ignite, but independent producer Eddie Tre-Vett sensed their potential, and in the years ’67-’69, the group would become something of Tre-Vett’s house band, with the gifted singer/songwriter John Pantry a virtual one-man Denmark Street. Under various guises, including Peter & the Wolves, this studio aggregation would record a number of well-played, lyrically clever and exquisitely melodic pop singles for MGM and CBS (it’s a complicated story, but David Wells does a commendable job of sorting it all out in the liners). Pantry would abandon secular pop in 1972 (now a vicar in Essex, he’s been active on the Christian music scene for decades), but left behind an extraordinary body of work from the previous five years, much of which never made it beyond demo form. In 1999 Tenth Planet issued its vinyl-only Pantry retrospective. This expanded CD edition is bolstered by Pantry demos from a recently-discovered thirteen-track acetate, and should be of genuine interest to anyone with a fondness for late ‘60s English pop craft. Pantry’s songs are seldom predictable; they almost always go in interesting and unexpected directions. Even more bubblegummy numbers, like Sounds Around’s ‘Red White And You’ or the Peter & the Wolves flipside ‘Birthday’, which nicks freely from the Move’s bag of tricks, are twisty-turny rollercoaster rides. Among the more musically ambitious sides Pantry & co. released in this period are the Peter & the Wolves A-side ‘Lantern Light’, one of the best period specimens of Brit-pop this reviewer has heard in ages, and ‘Woman On My Mind’, which sounds for all the world like the great lost Merry-Go-Round single. Also well worthy of mention is the Factory’s land of a thousand psych-guitars extravaganza ‘Try A Little Sunshine’. The pleasures to be found among the demo recordings here are too numerous to mention, but certainly include the evocative numbers ‘Red Chalk Hill’, ‘Glasshouse Green, Splinter Red’ and ‘Pitsea Pub’. There are also the quite magnificent, perhaps Smiley Smile-inspired ‘ Mississippi Paddle Boat’ and ‘Salt’. Later recordings display a more ‘70s songwriter approach, while tracks like ‘Wash Myself Away’ point to the spiritual crossroads at which Pantry was soon to arrive.” (Ugly Things)
The Upside Down World Of John Pantry - John Pantry Featuring Peter & The Wolves,The Bunch , Norman Conquest and The Factory
LP back cover 199 album
Liners from 1999 LP
"An essential release for fans of '60s UK psychedelia. Contains all the great works by the songwriting genius John Pantry - plus a horde of wonderful demos. The double CD version has even more tracks. John Pantry had a sophisticated writing style that elevated him above his peers.... from the super-charged thrust of Try a Little Sunshine and Spare A Shilling... to the brittle and melodic acid ballads like Red Chalk Hill and Smokey Wood Air.
A song like Upside Down has a hymnal style to it. Listen to the chord changes... almost funereal. Pantry eventually rejected the rock n roll lifestyle and is now a vicar in Essex. You can hear him on Premier Christian Radio... but that's another life and another story. I had some cassettes of his recent hymns (he's still composing) - but 99.9% of all trace of psych has, unsurprisingly, been washed away. Funnily enough though - even though i found his hymns uninspiring... there was a tiny lingering vestige of his former sound..."