A Brief History
Born on the 6th February 1952, Tim Blake is probably one of the most underrated synthesizer/keyboard players within the progressive realm. His musical pedigree involves playing with such luminaries as Gong, Hawkwind, Steve Hillage and David Aellen to mention few as well as a prominent solo career. Furthermore he has been of an incredible influence to various keyboardists such as Jean-Michel Jarre just to mention one.
Tim Blake's musical career started off in the late sixties when he played as guitarist and jammed with various local outfits such as Trees, Hawkwind and Skin Alley, who were managed by Doug Smith of Clearwater Productions. His friendship with the groups, especially Dik Mik, Hawkwind's sound engineer, kindled an interest in electronics and early synthesizers. Little did he know that almost a decade later he would join this outfit as their keyboardist!
After working as an engineer at the Marquee studios he met David Aellen of Gong who was recording his solo album Banana Moon and plans were afoot for him to join the group as their sound mixer yet the job was taken by Venux De Luxe and he returned to England and purchased his first synthesizer - the birth of Crystal Machine. Crystal Machine featured Tim Blake using an EMS synthesizer and the group was so called because of the amounts of crystals consumed by the team as well as by the accompanying laser show! This led to Tim Blake producing a tape of solo music which reached David Aellen who in turn asked him to rejoin Gong.
This was the autumn of 1972 and Tim Blake was to remain with the group till 1975 under the stagename Hi T Moonweed with red dyed hair. His role was that of playing synthesizers and occasional vocal contributions, yet soon he began co-writing material and even was responsible for the cover art-work (together with wife Brigitte) for the album You. During these three years the group split up briefly in1973 with the departure of David Aellen resulting in Tim Blake joining other members in the splinter group Paragong. This cemented his friendship with Steve Hillage which saw their musical contributions to the group reach new heights and Blake also playing on Hillage's solo album Fish Rising. 1975 saw the departure of a trio of musicians, including Tim Blake, from within the Gong fold resulting in a change of musical direction for the group from one of psychadelia to that of a more avant-garde approach.
A lack of support from Virgin as regards promotion of any of his solo material caused Blake to move to France with his girlfriend Brigitte and restart the Crystal Machine project together with Patrice Warrener and Bernard Szajner. This period also saw Blake collaborating with Cyrille Verdaeux on the Clear Light project. (See the extensive review of Cyrille Verdaeux material) The Crystal Machine gigs were the first of their kind as they involved the use of lasers creating a sci-fi atmosphere while Tim Blake played surrounded by his synthesizers decked out in spacesuit. This can be seen on the covers of his first two solo albums.
The first solo album Crystal Machine was released in mid-1977 and was culled from a number of excerpts and tapes made during two Crystal Machine gigs, that of Seasalter in 1976 and a Paris gig in February 1977. Resembling the German style of electronic-prog that was sweeping through the markets via groups like Tangerine Dream and various offshoots of this band, the album was marred by poor sound quality. Tim Blake also opened for a Gong reunion concert which took place that May in Paris and went on to play together with Steve Hillage and finally for with the members who had played on the Trilogy Gong material.
1978 saw a return to the studio with Tim Blake willing to concentrate on creating songs with lyrics rather than instrumental music. Aiding him for this album was a blind French keyboardist, Jean-Philippe Rykiel, who would eventually end up a legendary keyboardist in his own right. There was a certain amount of critical acclaim for Blake's New Jerusalem album but it was snubbed in Britain as was most electronic music! On the other hand the remainder of Europe and even Japan received the album with a certain amount of success resulting in tours which culminated in the Glastonbury Festival with Steve Hillage and Peter Gabriel.
Crystal Machine came to an end in 1979. Ideas were lacking as well as a general waning interest in the electronic New-Age music. Tim Blake entered a period of musical inactivity, that is until he received a phone call from Dave Brock to join Hawkwind in place of Steve Swindells. He lasted just over a year within the Hawkwind fold, enough time to record two albums and three tours. It was during the Levitation tour that the group unceremoniously left him behind. Another period of musical inactivity followed during which time he set up residency in a windmill in Brittany with his wife Brigitte.
In 1988, Tim Blake was back in the the music scene with his first concerts. Three years later the third solo album, Magick was released together with a number of tours. During the nineties, friendship with groups like Hawkwind and Gong was rekindled, resulting in a number of reunion concerts and tours. The new millennium has seen the release of his fourth solo album The Tide Of The Century, as well as a re-release of his solo albums on the Voiceprint label.
Released in 1977, Crystal Machine was the first solo album released by Tim Blake. It was also the name used by Blake together with Patrice Warrener for their musical light show. In fact, most of the tracks available on this album are live recordings from these particular shows. Some from the Seasalter Free Festival which took place in England in 1976, whilst others were recorded live at Le Palace Theatre in Paris (1977).
One has to take into consideration that the full appreciation of this music has to seen in context together with the accompanying laser show. As a result of this, the music tends to be a bit bland and repetitive at times, though an early indication and insight into Tim Blake's world. As such the album is not too accessible for the first time listener and one would be better introduced to Tim Blake's solo work via his second album, New Jerusalem. How best to describe what is on offer here? There is use of various synthesizers, all creating layers of effects and melody lines which are intertwined to create at times an almost hypnotic effect as the soundscapes and music slowly (very slowly!) unfolds.
Midnight opens the album with its string bass lines and theme. In my opinion this is one of the better tracks on the album, as opposed to Metro/Logic which seems to lose the plot amidst the percussion and loose musical structure. Last Ride Of The Boogie Child gives an insight into what Tim Blake's voice is like, something which he will make full use of in future albums. Unfortunately his soft voice is drowned by the production work and overpowered by the synthesizers.
Synthese Intemporel is the mainstay track of the album running at over fifteen minutes, with the music somewhat feeling more optimistic. The rhythm is a constant pulsating, while the musical body of the song involves a series of themes that are constantly changing and shifted throughout the track. After hearing almost all Tim Blake's output, this is still one of his best compositions. The album comes to a close with two minutes of oscillating synthesizer sweeps on the track Crystal Presence. Though not much of an individual track, when heard in the context of the whole album, the track makes an effective closer to a difficult album.
When heard, this album may sound a bit outdated, although it remains an effective release, especially for those who love synthesizer music. On the other hand, after hearing this album you can only sit back and imagine what the whole show was like back then in the late seventies!
Blake's New Jerusalem could be considered as Tim Blake's first proper studio album. Whereas Crystal Machine had a number of tracks recorded live, this is a total studio affair with Blake providing all instrumentation as well as vocals, though he enlists the help of Jean-Philippe Rykiel on the final two tracks. Recordings took place during the spring and summer of 1978 in Sussex, England and Paris, France with the music showcased here a reflection of the musical scene that was still breaking through and that is the dawn of the electronic era.
The cover of the album shows Tim Blake donned in a spacesuit seated amongst his synthesizers and various other paraphernalia, with the the words "Crystal Machine" printed in bold digital letters across the length of the keyboard. There are two distinctive parts to the album which, when released, was conveniently divided into two sides. The first side is a number of shorter tracks, while the entirety of the second side is taken up by the epic New Jerusalem.
Uncharacteristically and unexpectedly, the album opens up with the sound of Tim Blake's voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar. A Song For A New Age seems to herald the birth of the electronic era and Tim Blake seems to be seeing out the "old" acoustic age with a guitar with a gradual interjection of synthesized effects creating the feeling of space. Lighthouse, known also as being a Hawkwind song written by Blake, features the Tim Blake that we expect to hear and who was so prominent on Crystal Machine. A digitized voice coupled with synthesizer and an almost trance-like rhythmic background. All this coupled with Tim Blake's voice and swirling sound-effects lay down the atmosphere for the rest of the album.
Generation (Laserbeam) seems to be a recount of the Crystal Machine shows and that is having electronic music accompanied by a laser show. Possessing an almost Alan Parsons-like rhythm, this track is more upbeat (and optimistic!) when compared to the first two tracks with Tim Blake's voice, at times reminding me of Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator). Passage Sur La Cité (Des Révélaitons) is a pure instrumental showcasing Tim Blake's synth-prowess and is a reminder as to why he remains an inspiration and influence to some rather more well-known keyboardists such as Jean-Michel Jarre, to mention one.
The epic Jerusalem, as already mentioned, occupies the whole of the second side of the LP and is one of those tracks that is a must for those who collect music from the electronic era. Opening with a quotation from poet William Blake's New Jerusalem, a hypnotic bass arpeggio backdrop flows throughout the whole of the track which is "interrupted" in two brief sections by Tim Blake's vocals. The remaining part of this track has Blake indulging in synthesizer solos which though intriguing and atmospheric never veer far from the basic layout of the track. This track must be listened to with headphones on!
On the whole, this album makes an enjoyable listen and is probably the best album to start off by listening to Tim Blake as a solo artist. What makes this album even more remarkable is that at the time of recording the musical world was still reeling from the punk revolution, the capabilities and sounds of synthesizers were still rather primitive when compared to today's standards and the electronic revolution was still in its infant stages.
Magick is a collection of songs and music made with a sequencer, a keyboard, and a microphone. The recording is live and recorded directly to stereo inside Tim's windmill. It was meant to capture the "magick" of a full moon one night in Brittany.
There is no review as yet available for this album.
One of the synthesizer greats is back and he is back with a vengeance. Probably the name Tim Blake rings very few bells with the younger audience and even less realize that he is up there with Jean Michael Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Cyrille Vedeaux, Brian Eno, and Jean Philippe Rykie among others. his C.V. involves stints with groups like Gong (1973-1977), Hawkwind, Steve Hillage and Cyrille Verdeaux. The Tide Of The Century is the fourth solo album of his career, and the first in nine years. His music has been an inspiration to a lot of the modern dance and trance music as most of the Electronic Progressive Rock Music has been. Furthermore, Blake was one of the first musicians to experiment with lasers and fuse them together with his music to provide a music/light show when he formed Crystal Machine in the seventies.
This album is the fruit of an investment that Tim Blake has made named Le Studio Virtuel, which involves a direct-to-desk recording system set up in his windmill home in Brittany. (His house can be viewed in the booklet accompanying the CD.) Much of this material was premiered at the Alpha Centauri Concert in Holland in 1999, yet for some inexplicable reason a whole year has elapsed for this album to see the light of day. However, it has been well worth the wait.
Nature 'L' opens the album and is immediately greeted by the vocodered voice of Tim Blake together with his synthesizers. At least from the opening track there is a feel that this will not just be another of those electronica albums. The Tide Of The Century could easily be an Alan Parsons Project track. Mellow and softly flowing with a shuffle of a drumbeat while Blake's piano accompanies his relaxing voice the scene is set for a laid back album. St Dolay continues in the same vein with just piano and voice, at times reminding me of Chris de Burgh especially in the sad and pleading tone that Blake's voice has.
Crystal Island again is a soulful track with, at times, hints of Fish, thanks to his vocal variations from high pitched to graveled narration. The first collaborator on the album, Christiane Vitard, appears as backing vocalist, though her name has already been invoked in the previous track, St Dolay. Byzantium Dancing is the first instrumental track on the album and has additional help from Stof Kovaks and Min Tse Chou. This is vintage Tim Blake stuff, pure unadulterated electronic music. Hints of Jarre, Verdeaux and Hillage abound in this track. The speed is still slow and the punch is still soft and mellow. Changes from one theme to another are slow and progressive and hardly felt, yet clearly audible. Pleasant and unobtrusive as is most of Tim Blake's work.
Sarajevo, with its synth-drum beat, is possibly the highlight of the album. The synth sound seems to be straight out of the Seventies. In fact that is possibly the only drawback there is, as with a big band treatment this song could have been a classic. Once again, at times I feel as if it could have been a Fish song, verging on the Gabriel-esque. Tribulations brings the album to a close with a reggae fell to it. Totally out of place I'm not sure if it is an attempt in bringing a sense of modernity to the album, or if it is the French Colonial Influence that has affected Blake's songwriting. There is an African feel to the whole of the track with similarities being Johnny Clegg & Savuka and early Youssou 'N' Dour.
On the whole, this album leaves the listener with a feel-good feeling. There is little in terms of complexity and the music crosses over as very easy, relaxed listening. On the other hand, those who have come to view Tim Blake within the Gong approach to music, would be very disappointed. There is little in terms of experimentation and the whole layout is pretty basic. Yet it makes a good listen, almost verging on the New Age.