The appearance of occultist Aleister Crowley on the sleeve of Sgt Pepper is well-documented—here he is looking rather grainy on my CD insert—although I always forget which of the Beatles it was who put him in the list of “people that we like”. I’d guess John Lennon who would have appreciated Crowley’s obscene poetry, copious drug intake and ability to consistently épater la bourgeoisie.
Less well-known is what I presume must be the first outing for Crowley’s voice on this rare undated single from the mid-Seventies. Along with the cassette tapes I discussed earlier, this was another item turned up during a recent clearout of household junk. I’ve yet to see a detailed description of the origin of these Crowley recordings. I have the first CD pressing and haven’t looked at later editions so can’t say whether those contain more information about what are supposed to be wax cylinder recordings copied to acetates. The first complete collection of these was a vinyl release produced by David Tibet in a limited edition in 1986. I was among those that ordered a copy.
The Marabo single features two of the same recordings, of course, albeit in slightly poorer quality. (And I love the way it has a removable centre, as though it might well end up in a jukebox.) One feature of the continual reissuing of the recordings is that sound quality has improved over the years. The versions of The Pentagram and La Gitana on YouTube sound better than the ones on my CD. The occult resonance of Crowley’s voice (which always reminds me of Winston Churchill) have inevitably made it a popular sampling source. In the pre-sampling era 23 Skidoo and Psychic TV (both with David Tibet) used loops of the Enochian Calls. Bill Laswell later took to using samples on his ambient releases and the most recent CD version includes an entire disc of ambience with Crowley’s voice subjected to digital processing.
The sleeve art was by Steffi Grant, occultist wife of occultist Kenneth Grant, and it’s possible the pair sing backing vocals on the less-than-compelling B-side, a soft rock number entitled Scarlet Woman by Chakra. The song is credited to “Ponton/Ayers/Grant/Magee” so even if one or other of the Grants didn’t sing they helped with the lyrics. It should be noted that Mrs Grant’s artwork is often better than these illustrations and does much to enliven her husband’s volumes of occult philosophy. Some of their work was also featured in the seven-volume encyclopedia, Man, Myth and Magic, which featured Kenneth among the staff of consultants.
Before anyone asks: no, the single isn’t for sale. I’ve sold a lot of old vinyl over the past few years but I’m keeping this particular item. I know a couple of unreleased recordings by Chakra exist; if anyone has further information about the group, please leave a comment.
Update: Jok posted a link which resolves the mystery. It was indeed Kenneth Grant on backing vocals.