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Keith West

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If ever a "secret history" is written of British psychedelic rock, Keith West will surely have one of the leading roles. As the lead singer and principal songwriter of Tomorrow, he was a guiding force of one of the first and best British psychedelic bands, even if their one album (with a lineup that also featured Steve Howe in his pre-Yes days) was little heard beyond the London underground. West got his feet wet in the British Beat boom as singer in the obscure mod/R&B bands Four + 1 and the In Crowd, the latter of which evolved into Tomorrow after Steve Howe joined. While Tomorrow was still a going concern in 1967, West launched a simultaneous solo career, releasing a few solo singles (some of which also input from Howe) in the late '60s. The first of these, "Excerpt From a Teenage Opera," was an unexpectedly huge smash, reaching number two on the British charts during the summer of 1967. "Teenage Opera," a convoluted story about the death of a grocer named Jack, was rather fruity in both lyrics and production (prominently featuring a too-cute children's chorus). But this ornately arranged slice of pop-psychedelia (with the accent heavily on the pop) had some moments of real grandeur, and has been said to have been an influence on Pete Townshend at a time when he was mulling over prospects for a rock opera of his own. The British press hyped the hit as part of a forthcoming full-length opera, but, in fact, nothing else had been written, and a projected double-album never materialized. West did release one more installment as a single, the even more rococo "Sam," a perhaps too-ambitious orchestral-psychedelic production that briefly made the British Top 40. West's solo success hindered the career of the much less pop-oriented Tomorrow, who had yet to even release their album when "Teenage Opera" hit. Although West was far more interested in working with Tomorrow than staging whimsical pop-psych operettas, the difficulty in balancing the two concerns led to Tomorrow's premature demise in 1968. West did manage to release another solo single (unrelated to any operatic concept) and record some reasonably interesting unreleased material, which (as in his Tomorrow days) were frequently narrative character sketches of archetypically eccentric Brits. He hasn't done much recording since the early '70s, although he produced a few (unknown) bands, worked with his old partner Howe occasionally in the studio in the '90s, and produces music for television and radio commercials. He is one of the foremost cases of unrealized potential of the British '60s psychedelic scene. ~ Richie Unterberger

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