Reviews in this issue:
Last year Ecletic Records brought us Caravan's first studio release in seven years. 2004 sees them continuing this excellent work and "reissuing back catalogue titles which are notable for their innovation and quality". DPRP's Mark Hughes has taken a journey into some of the earliest days of Progressive Rock whilst reviewing the first of these releases. And this is only the beginning as already Eclectic Discs are planning a series of releases from Nektar's back catalogue at the end of March 2004. We hope to bring reviews of all of these releases, along with Jerry Van Kooten's interview with the band and a Concert Review from their forthcoming tour.
Touch - Touch
Tracklist: We Feel Fine (4:41), Friendly Birds (4:53), Miss Terach (3:29), The Spiritual Death Of Howard Greer (8:52), Down At Circ's Place (4:00), Alesha And Others (3:05), Seventy Five (11:12)
Bonus Tracks: We Finally Met Today (3:43), Alesha And Others [alternative version] (3:17), Blue Feeling (11:46), The Spiritual Death Of Howard Greer [alternative version] (8:07), The Second Coming Of Suzanne (12:17)
For those of you who have read the Touch story and album review in the Forgotten Sons Section of your favourite internet progressive rock site and were disappointed that the Renaissance CD re-release is no longer available, don't despair! The good people at Eclectic Discs have seen fit to make this landmark progressive album available again What is more, there are five bonus tracks (three more than on the Renaissance release), which effectively doubles the length of this release compared with the original vinyl version. It would seem superfluous to repeat the background of the group which can be found on the Forgotten Sons page so lets get straight on with the review.
On listening to this album one has to remember that in the late 1960s there was a totally different approach to music to what we are used to in this modern era. Technological advances and improvements in recording techniques were opening up a whole new range of previously unavailable sonic possibilities and many bands of the time, from The Beatles down, were readily encompassing these new techniques and instrumentation. In addition, one should recall that most of the categorisation, and even sub-categorisation, that we somewhat erroneously apply to music these days has mostly been fitted to older bands retrospectively. Because groups in the 1960s and early 1970s were not so restrained by these categorisations, they readily borrowed from whatever musical genres they desired. The results were often chaotic, sometimes pretentious but routinely interesting. And interesting is an epithet that can be easily applied to the Touch album.
The album, often cited by major progressive artists as being an influence, does run the gamut of styles. Opener We Feel Fine is brash and ballsy frequently lapsing into a chaotic maelstrom. In complete contrast Friendly Birds develops from a gentle acoustic guitar introduction to an extended piano workout before Miss Teach, with a more honky tonk piano settles things down. Things really start happening with The Spiritual Death Of Howard Greer. Structurally, the piece has several distinct sections, from the opening keyboard and almost Gregorian Chant-like vocals the song increases in tempo with some fine keyboard and guitar work before lapsing into an upbeat pop section and ending like a deviant sister of early Moody Blues. Easily one of the highlights of the original album. Down at Circe's Place is a slice of prime freakbeat and the most psychedelic that the band gets but, once again, the clever sequencing tempers the expansive and energetic mood with a downbeat Alesha And Others, a gentle vocal and piano piece, which starts like a torch song before fizzling out in a haze of jazz runs across the keyboard.
The longest track, Seventy Five, closed the original vinyl release, and shows were Dave Greenfield of The Stranglers could have got some of his early ideas from. An involved piece that progressed through various time changes, the mix is very dense with a lot going on. This track really should be listened to through headphones to full appreciate every nuance of the arrangement. In effect a summation of what has what came before it, it is a great way to end the album.
Bonus material includes live in the studio demos of two album tracks. Alesha And Others is not radically different from the album version but seems imbued with a greater warmth. A faultless performance, particularly in the vocal department, completely justifies its inclusion. The Spiritual Death Of Howard Greer demonstrates that the band could handle the more complex material live and although, obviously, it is not as complex as the final version, it is still an excellent performance. There are two album outtakes that were recorded in 1968. We Finally Met Today was planned as a single in 1968 but its release was aborted, probably because, as a single, it doesn't cut it - too much soloing and not enough of a hook. Blue Feeling, the second song on the CD to break the 11-minute barrier, suffers from being unfocused and having a relatively loose arrangement. It is not finalised to the same high standard as the rest of the album, probably because I doubt if it was ever actually finished! Despite some nice moments I can imagine a lot of people hitting the skip button after hearing this once. The same can't be said for the final track, music from the 1974 film "The Second Coming Of Suzanne" in which Richard Dreyfuss plays a frustrated film maker obsessed with the idea of Christ as a woman, and tries to film his vision with Sondra Locke as his subject. The film wasn't a great success but did leave us with a marvellous 12 minutes of very interesting music.
It is always a delight to discover some obscure album. There are many such releases that fetch ridiculous prices in their original format and, on many occasions, are really not worth the asking price. Original Touch albums have been spotted on ebay going for in excess of £500. Not sure if it is worth that much, but a remastered CD with stacks of bonus tracks for 1/40th of that price is, quite simply, one of the best bargains you will find this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Locomotive - We Are Everything You See
Tracklist: Overture (2:03), Mr Armageddon (4:25), Now Is The End - The End Is When (3:14), Lay Me Down Gently (3:58), Nobody Asked You To Come (3:15), You Must Be Joking (3:59), A Day In Shining Armour (3:28), The Loves Of Augustus Abbey Part One (1:07), Rain (3:25), The Loves Of Augustus Abbey Part Two (1:29), Coming Down / Love Song For The Dead Ché (4:29), The Loves Of Augustus Abbey Part Three (1:22), Time Of Light And Darkness (4:34)
Bonus Tracks: Mr Armageddon [mono single version] (4:38), There's Got To Be A Way (3:45), I'm Never Gonna Let You Go (3:14), You Must Be Joking [mono single version] (4:01), Movin' Down The Line (2:45), Roll Over Mary (3:02)
Locomotive, a Birmingham, England band formed in the mid 1960s, started their recording career with a soul-based ballad Broken Heart released on the Direction label in 1967. This was followed in 1968 by the reggae-influenced Rudi's In Love which scored the band a top thirty hit for their new label, Parlophone. By the time the follow-up single, the Hammond organ ladened Mr Armageddon, was released in 1969, the band had changed direction somewhat. A rather doomy psychedelic prog song punctuated with great slabs of brass, the song deserved to be a big hit but failed to catch the attention of the public and sadly flopped. An album was prepared for release but was inexplicably held back until early 1970 by which time the musical environment had moved on and We Are Everything You See was left languishing in the racks.
Even a cursory skip through the tracks conveys the realisation that the album could only have been recorded in the 1960s, the musical freedom, experimentation and characteristic sound just screams out that We Are Everything You See is a lost classic. Centred around keyboard player, vocalist and main song writer Norman Haines the rest of the group comprised the unusual combination of Mick Nincks on bass and vocals, Bob Lamb on drums and Mike Taylor on trumpet. Notice anything? No guitar! Strangely enough, I didn't even notice the lack of guitar until I came to write this review, it simple doesn't figure as any 'spaces' in the music are filled with excellent brass and woodwind, expertly supplied by Dick Heckstall-Smith, Bill Madge, Chris Mercer and Lyn Dobson on saxophones, Henry Lowther on trumpet and Chris Wood on woodwind. (And yes, it is the same Chris Wood who went on to join Traffic while Dick Heckstall-Smith will be familiar to fans of Colosseum).
So what is the only album by Locomotive actually like? A heady fusion of psychedelia, jazz and early progressive rock it certainly lives up to the reissue label's name, eclectic. Starting with an overture (performed by members of the famous Hallé Orchestra) things really launch off with the opening chords of the aforementioned single Mr Armageddon. The contrast with the gentle, almost pastoral, string opening is startling and is a wake-up call for what follows. A great song, the combination of brass and Hammond is simply fantastic. Fans of Atomic Rooster will lap this up with uncertain glee. Fortunately, the remainder of the album continues in a similar vein, with strong writing and adept performance being standard on each track. This album embodies what progressive rock was all about first time round, the quality, the diversity, the originality and the surrounding musical environment. And let's not forget the willingness of the record labels to let groups develop and go with their instincts. Each track is a joy to listen to, although there are some obvious highlights. The remarkable You Must Be Joking features some very good falsetto vocals (also present on Lay Me Down Gently), a chirpy woodwind part (unexpected after the lyric "What a peculiar twist when she cut her wrists"!) and a great sax solo. A Day In Shining Armour is a bit funkier, driven along by some great bass and drums, while the orchestrated Rain has possibly the only appearance of keyboard vibes!
A rather tame cover of The United States Of America's Coming Down / Love Song For The Dead Ché is saved by a lovely flute solo by Chris Wood and some decent harmony singing while the original album is rounded off nicely with the rousing Time Of Light And Darkness. The six bonus tracks comprises the a and b sides of three contemporary singles, the first two of which were released in 1969, and the last one, containing two unique tracks, was released simultaneously with the album in 1970. Three of the non-album tracks I'm Never Gonna Let You Go, Movin' Down The Line and Roll Over Mary, bare testament to the more pop aspects of the sixties sound, with I'm Never Gonna Let You Go being almost soulful.
Locomotive will certainly appeal to fans of 1960s/early 1970s progressive music, particular people with a penchant for keyboard (and in particular Hammond organ) prog. This reissue is of exceptional quality and the booklet promises to contain lots of rare photos and additional information, although as Eclectic don't provide booklets with their review copies it is hard to judge! One minor gripe is that the CD is lacking several tracks that would have completed the Locomotive Story. The first two singles (Broken Heart/Rudy, A Message To You and Rudi's In Love/Never Set Me Free), a single they recorded for the Transatlantic label under the name of Steamshovel and a couple of unreleased tracks (Rudi Catch The Monster and My Girl Blue) were all included on a previous, limited CD release on the Shoestring label. It would have been good to have everything in one place but, all the same, hats off to Eclectic Discs for reviving this album for a new generation. Perhaps they will get round to reissuing the Dog That Bit People album which featured Mick Hincks and Bob Lamb after the demise of Locomotion.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mandalaband - The Eye Of Wendor: Prophecies
Tracklist: The Eye Of Wendor (4:47), Florian's Song (2:36), Ride To The City (3:25), Almar's Tower (1:56), Like The Wind (2:42), The Tempest (1:03), Dawn Of A New Day (4:15), Departure From Carthilias (2:57), Elsethea (2:48), Witch Of Waldow Wood (4:37), Silesandre (3:29), Aenord's Lament (1:52), Funeral Of The King (1:33), Coronation Of Damien (2:23)
Bonus Track:Dawn Of A New Day [alternative mix] (4:14)
Mandalaband, the brainchild of musician, composer and producer David Rohl, existed for a brief period in the mid to late 1970s. Following the establishment of his own studio in Cheshire, Rohl formed the group to record and perform the music he was writing. Quickly signed by Chrysalis Records, the group set out on their first tour supporting ex-Procol Harem guitarist Robin Trower. However, following a disagreement with Chrysalis over who should produce the album, Rohl left the band. Released in 1975, the eponymous Mandalaband album received a mixed reception but its commercial failure resulted in the band recruiting a new vocalist and an additional guitarist, changing record labels and embarking on a career that included several hit albums and singles under the name of Sad Cafe.
Meanwhile, Rohl had become chief engineer at Strawberry Studios, the Stockport home of 10cc. Chrysalis, to whom Rohl was still contractually bound, suggested that the Mandalaband name should be kept and used by Rohl for his next project, a planned series of three albums about a gemstone with mysterious properties. No longer wanting to work as part of a band, Rohl formed the 'Mandalaband Club' which utilised the talents of his friends and of various musicians whom he had worked with at Strawberry Studios. Recording the album at Strawberry in periods of downtime (usually late at night) the album took nearly two years to complete. Despite selling reasonably well and having only cost £8,000 to record (some bands these days spend more than that plugging microphones in!), Chrysalis refused to fund a second album given the changing musical environment and expected higher cost of recording the sequel.
So what we are left with is the first part of a trilogy, although the lack of a complete tale should not detract from the enjoyment of the album. The rather derived Tolkeinesque story is rather dated and twee, although time has been rather kinder to the music. The opening track The Eye Of Wendor is an instrumental piece that sets the tone. Featuring the whole of Barclay James Harvest, the piece is similar in style to a BJH number - sweeping strings over a piano setting introduce the track before the characteristic guitar sound of John Lees breaks through. Most of BJH also appear on Witch Of Waldow Wood which features an excellent vocal performance by 10cc's Kevin Godley(although by the time the album was released Godley, along with his musical partner Lol Creme were concentrating on their own music away from 10cc). Godley, Creme and Graham Gouldman also appear on Elsethea and both tracks share musical similarities with 10cc, aside from the vocals. The final member of 10cc, Eric Stewart, sings on Florian's Song. Of the other guest vocalists, Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span takes the lead in Like The Wind where her ethereal voice (sounding very like Annie Haslam in places) contrasts nicely with the male voice choir and frantic drumming of Kim Turner. Justin Hayward from The Moody Blues sings the Celtic-flavoured Dawn Of A New Day, which, not surprisingly given the timbre of Hayward's voice, is a ballad. Finally Paul Young and Ian Wilson from Sad Cafe take care of the lead and backing vocals on Silesandre, a jolly ditty with a very energetic musical score that makes it my personal favourite of the album.
The remaining tracks are instrumental or are narrative numbers with vocals provided by the choir. A few of the tracks, such as The Tempest and Almar's Tower, set the mood and, in film score terms, can be viewed as incidental music. However, generally each piece stands up in its own right, although the sum is greater than the parts and the album should, for best effect, be listened to as a whole piece (which is probably why no singles were released from the album). Aside from the name musicians, there are a whole host of less famous protagonists who contribute to a brave and ambitious musical score. Special mention must be made of guitarist Steve Broomhead whose playing is uniformly great throughout. He appears on the majority of tracks alongside BJH's Woolly Wolstenholm, indeed the two musicians subsequently joined forces in Maestro and are still playing together today.
The Eye Of Wendor: Prophecies may seem to some to be an overblown, slightly pompous, overindulgence. It could even be considered to be a David Rohl vanity album. However, it deserves greater consideration. The songs are well written, the performances are from the top shelf and if you are a fan of 'big production' albums then it has a lot to offer. Eclectic Discs are maintaining their high standards of albums they are selecting to re-release and are even reprinting the complete original artwork along with extensive linear notes detailing the making of the album. With such a musical venture there was never likely to be much in the way of outtakes, considering the album was virtually prepared piecemeal. However, a previously unreleased mix of Dawn Of A New Day has been unearthed and is included as a bonus track. The value of it's inclusion is left to the individual listener but at least Eclectic have done their best to make the reissue as complete as possible and you can't say fairer than that.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Woolly Wolstenholme - Black Box Recovered
Tracklist: Deceivers All (alternative mix) (6:02), Has To Be A Reason (4:35), Down The Line (2:35), All Get Burned (3:25), Too Much, Too Loud, Too Late (6:10), Even The Night (3:20), The Time Will Fly (4:12), The Sunday Bells (4:40), Open (3:38)
Bonus Tracks: Why Remain (1:53), Sail Away [demo] (3:54), A Prospect Of Whitby [demo] (2:59), Patriots (5:57), Quiet Islands (demo) (5:02), American Excess [live 1981] (6:10), Lives On The Line [live 1981] (2:52), Deceivers All [live 1981] (6:13), Bootham Park Elegy (3:36)
Following Woolly Wolstenholme's departure from Barclay James Harvest in 1979, he embarked on a solo career releasing the album Maestoso in 1980. A second album, to be called Black Box, was started, this time with a band named after the title of the first album. Polydor Records were apparently disappointed when Maestoso didn't chalk up the multi-platinum sales that BJH were achieving and decided to pull the plug on the second album leaving it lying uncompleted in the vaults. Recordings from the sessions were eventually released in 1994 when Voiceprint issued Songs From The Black Box, a compilation of what would have been the first two albums. Since that CD has long since been deleted, Black Box Recovered once again ensures that fans of BJH curious as to what Woolly's solo material is like don't have to spend hours searching second hand stores (or, as is more likely these days, surfing the internet).
So will fans of BJH be disappointed with Black Box Recovered? Pretty unlikely as a lot of the characteristic hallmarks are present. Several tracks would have easily sat on a BJH album, although maybe not one that the band produced in the early 1980s. And that was the crux of the Woolly's departure, the musical direction the band was heading in - more Americanised and less in the symphonic style that dominated the early albums. That's not to say, Black Box Recovered can be classed as Once Again (part two), but they are descendants of that era, offspring following the lineage of distant parentage. The closest it gets to BJH is on the opening track Deceivers All which is classic Barclay James Harvest. The version on this CD is different from the one that appeared on the Songs From The Black Box CD, being an alternative mix previously included on the Rime Of The Ancient Sampler - The Mellotron Album compilation record. Two other tracks have a definite BJH stamp on them. The Sunday Bells, has a very delicate and quite beautiful introduction before getting all dramatic (think of The Enid rewriting the soundtrack for "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"), and Open, which has a definite nod in the direction of Procol Harum.
Has To Be A Reason and Too Much, Too Loud, Too Late are reflections on life on the road and life in the studio, respectively. More up-beat numbers, both have particularly memorable choruses that will stick in the brain long after the album has finished. All Get Burned reminds me, for some reason, of Peter Bardens in a mellow mood and is a fairly decent track but not as good a ballad as The Will To Fly, a condemnation of blood sports that is right up there with Ant Phillips' Now What Are They Doing (To My Little Friends).
An impressive nine bonus tracks gathers together four demos from the Maestoso album, a previously unreleased song from 1982, three live tracks from a 1982 concert in Vienna and even a demo of a brand new song that was recorded last year. The demos are all of a high quality but not having heard the Maestoso album I can't comment on how much they differ from the final recordings. Stand out track is Patriots while Quiet Islands sounds incredibly dated, particularly the electronic drums. The live tracks are not such good quality, being sourced from an audience bootleg recording that circulated soon after the concert. However, I have heard a lot worse quality recordings released and, considering the scarcity of available live material, their inclusion will be a delight to fans. Lives On The Line is worthy of mention, if only for the fact that it sounds decidedly new wave, somewhat unexpected considering the other material on the CD!
Although a worthy addition to the collections of ardent BJH fans, Black Box Recovered probably doesn't offer enough to tempt people who are rather apathetic to the delights of that particular band. But, having said that, the album does contain some fine writing and playing and is a commendable solo album, even if it does lack the grandness and consistency of the earlier albums of Woolly's previous band.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Clive John - You Always Know Where You Stand With A Buzzard
Tracklist: Out Of My Tree (5:21), Brand 'X' (3:45), Summer Song (5:24), Swansea Song (3:48), Visitin' The Duke (6:02), Love To You (6:19), Overflow (5:08), Bust Again (4:37), Ferret Interview (1:38), Hold Your Ferret Aloft (6:01)
Merthyr Tydfil in the mid 1960s was the home of harmony vocal group The Bystanders which featured piano, organ and guitar player Clive John alongside guitarist Micky Jones, bassist Ray Williams and drummer Jeff Jones. In 1968, fellow Welshman Deke Leonard joined the group who soon after changed their name to become the legend that is Man. Over the next five years the band underwent a multitude of line-up changes but managed to release six albums and build a solid following, particularly in Germany. Live performances were their forte, often blowing bigger named bands off-stage with their energetic and lengthy workouts. Finally, following the release of Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day, John permanently left the group (he had jumped ship temporarily a year or so earlier).
In September of 1975, after a period of 18 months where nothing had been heard from John, the marvellously titled You Always Know Where You Stand With A Buzzard was released on United Artists, the label that Man were on for much of John's tenure with the band. Written at a farm in Brecon and quickly recorded at Rockfield Studios, the basic tracks were laid down in a few days with John playing guitars and keyboards, Dave Charles playing drums and former band mate Martin Ace playing bass. To compliment the core trio of musicians various guests were called in to add odd bits and pieces during the recording process.
The resulting album is quite a strange mixture of different styles and ideas. Album opener Out Of My Tree would have comfortably fitted on any Man album of the period and is a fine way to start proceedings. What follows is a marvellous display of eccentricity and eclectism that only the 1970s could produce. Brand 'X' is a quirky guitar (played by Andy Fairweather-Low) number followed by the more restrained ballad Summer Song. A relatively simplistic song, piano and drums tap out the basic rhythm while a synthesiser underpins the main vocal melody line. Although. John's vocals can be placed in the 'acquired taste' category, his singing is perfectly suited to Summer Song, probably the best vocal performance on the album. It is back to the guitars for the mid-paced rocker Swansea Song, while the blues predominate on Visiting The Duke with some great slide guitar and Ted Crook blowing his lungs out on harmonica.
A change of pace is introduced with Love To You centred around some pretty basic organ work. The first half of the song tends to ramble and it is not until the introduction of the guitar midway through that things liven up a bit. However, it is probably the one song on the album that outstays its welcome, a good idea that didn't work out too well in practice. Overflow is another of the weaker tracks that doesn't seem to go anywhere but much better is Bust Again, recorded with a rhythm section of Tommy Riley on drums and Pete Hurley on bass. A more narrative song that, although still having a relatively simplistic arrangement, tends to work better than on other tracks. Ferret Interview is a whimsical, stoned dialogue between John and Fairweather-Low which, no doubt, will be almost impenetrable to most mainland Europeans due to the Welsh and Irish accents! Final track is the rather eccentric Hold Your Ferret Aloft which is presented in a previously unreleased full version. A jazz-tinged piano permeates the song which is a fine way to end an album of distinctive individuality.
To conclude, You Always Know Where You Stand With A Buzzard although far from being the best release of 1975, it is a testament to the times and will delight fans of eccentric, eclectic music as well as Man fans who are keen to complete their collections without having to pay the high price an original vinyl copy of the album commands these days.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10