From left: Chris Simpson, Glen Stuart and Lyell Tranter
The news of Lyell’s passing continues to haunt me.
His contribution to the beginnings of Magna Carta is immeasurable and it shaped the way the road was to run for the years ahead. I loved Lyell as a musical brother and a friend.
The way it all happened was just un-writable. As I recall, Mary and I were away for the weekend and the other
residents of our flat in Hampstead, London, had a party in an upstairs room. We came back on the Sunday night and I espied in a corner two guitars in cases. My first thoughts were, it was very trusting of the owner of the guitars, because you just did not do that in London. I opened the cases and inside one was a Gibson nylon strung classical guitar and in the other a Johnny Smith electric jazz guitar. I was impressed, it was as simple as that, and I learned much later from Jan Akkerman that the Johnny Smith was a superb instrument. A note inside gave me Lyell’s phone number. Those were heady days.
Chris, Mary and Lyell rehearsing at Thurlow Road in London
Just down the road were Abbey Road studios and when we finally got together it was fuelled by the Swingin’ London ethos abounding in the city. He couldn’t believe my songs, written with no knowledge of music. I just loved the easy way he played. The first song we worked on was ‘Emily through the Windowpane’ and then ‘Midwinter.’
Lyell, Mary and Chris working on new songs
The folk boom was explodin g across the land. Dylan and Joan Baez arrived, and in Soho at Les Cousins Bert Jansch and John Renbourn headed a stellar onslaught. Donovan joined the melee and we needed a record deal.
So I hounded everyone I knew and got one with Phonogram.
We then took the mop-top Glen Stuart on board on harmony vocals and I persuaded Mike Taylor and Peter Rice to be our agents. The gigs started to come in and we all hit the learning curve.
I persuaded Brian Shepherd at Phonogram to begin recording us. Spike Homes on string bass joined us briefly. He was not very good but bursting with enthusiasm and filled our heads with knowledge on the counter culture. He also raved about jazz/folk bassman Danny Thompson who had just joined Bert and John in the Pentangle. Danny came in for his first session with us and wow he was the goods. He really rated Lyell’s reading music (as I couldn’t) and loved the
songs. Off we went across the highways and byeways of England. The new culture was everywhere and the Beatles ruled supreme. In many ways we were so very green and the world of agents and managers were lying in wait for the likes of us.
But the music saved the day.
Magna Carta in 1969: Lyell Tranter, Glen Stuart and Chris Simpson
With Paul and Art laying down the blueprints we made ‘Spinning wheels of Time’ and ‘Midwinter’ leaning on them for influence. We ranged across the land in a Ford Transit and every village had a pub with a folk club. The first gig was at the Coalhole Folk club in Cambridge. Our first album was complete and had 12 songs on it. Lyell, exquisite fingerstyle guitar, Glen vocal harmonies and me both… but the man for me was Lyell. ‘Would they like us’ I wondered. We played all the album songs. The applause was deafening and went on and on. So we played them all again.
So many memories. A cottage in the north west and we were given a bed for the night. Strangeley it belonged to a deep sea diver
who kept a horse in the kitchen at night. We stayed there for three days, frost thick outside and slept in fur coats and the frozen stars shining through holes in the roof.
We got better and better; then the tv’s and a small part in a French film about hippies.
Then Peter Rice pulled one good apple out of the barrell… he went to see Gus Dudgeon and took with him a tape we had put together an epic of mine called ‘Seasons’. Gus shortly to begin producing Elton John, was blown away. He came to see us working with the Pentangle and that was it. ‘Seasons’ here we come.
It took a month in Trident studios but in the end it was finished. Phonogram all came down for the playback and it was classed as a world master. Rick Wakeman played superb keyboards on it and would say to me in years to come that even given Davey Johnstone’s superb firepower (snapped up by fat Reg) he preferred MC with Lyell.
That says it all… I miss him very much.
Glenn Stuart, Lyell Tranter and Chris Simpson
One of my most successful songs was/and is ‘Airport Song’ originally with the daft title of ‘Heathrow Fogbound.’ I played it to Lyell and he laid down a guitar part that just ‘had it’. We met up in the studio the following morning by which time I had a
lead guitar line. ‘Great’, said Gus Dudgeon, ‘we’ll have that one.’ We did and zapped it in two takes. Across the world it is heart touching when an audience la-la-la’s it!
Chris Simpson, 4 November, 2022