Second Hand - "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" (Death May Be Your Santa Claus)
For every Seeds, Creation or other canonical psychedelic garage band you can name, there were at least 10 more that were almost as good – in the same town. Multiply that by the number of towns with bands, and you had a vast untapped field of psychedelic possibilities, most of which were destined to fall through the cracks.
Second Hand was one such band. The young group of South London schoolmates, notably influenced by the Small Faces, the Creation and the Who, set out playing any battle of the bands contest they could find. Eventually this paid off with a prize package netting them a demo in a professional studio owned by Vic Keary.
Keary saw instant potential in this young, but talented group of musicians, and was able to parlay their demo tracks into a deal with Polydor Records. Amidst a name change (from Moving Finger to Second Hand), release delays by the label and a general lack of promotion, the band languished in obscurity.
The group recorded their second album during off-hours at a studio where Keary worked, and it was here that Keary met up with some odd fellows filming a controversial underground film entitled Death May Be Your Santa Claus. Second Hand ended up using that album for the film’s soundtrack (on top of starring in it), and Keary liked it so much, he formed his own label, Mushroom Records, to release it and a few other records by friends.
The first pressing of 1,000 copies sold fairly quickly, but the record itself was incredibly difficult for most folks to grasp. Despite their age (most of the group were in their late teens to very early 20s at the time), the musicianship was astounding. The album relies on massive organ & Mellotron riffs by Ken Elliott, which often led to a key-heavy carnie vibe. And while comparisons to early Pink Floyd were made, the band are more akin to Zappa and the Mothers, or even Captain Beefheart (as evidenced on the utterly whacked “Baby RU Anudder Monster?”).
Like so many other bands of the psychedelic era, Second Hand were high on talent, and bubblegum this was not. The percussion suggests an extensive jazz background that melded with the heavy vibe of the day to create sometimes chaotic and always fascinating results. Noise experimentalists Nurse With Wound would include Second Hand, as well as a later incarnation of the band called Chillum, among their major influencers, in an exhaustive (and now much-referenced) list of lesser-known musical acts that was added to their debut album’s liner notes.
Since many of the names listed on the NWW list were unbelievably rare, many believed that the band had made most of them up and this led hard core collectors to scour the earth for proof. While the movie that shares its title may never be heard from again, it’s nice to know that Death May Be Your Santa Claus can be heard again in a modern context, especially amongst the nascent revival of heavy psychedelia.