Reviews in this issue:
- Hatfield And The North – Hatfield And The North
- Hatfield And The North – The Rotters’ Club
- Hawklords - Live '78
- Hawkwind - Love In Space
- Hawkwind - The Chronicle Of The Black Sword
- Steve Swindells - Fresh Blood
- Jack Bruce – Automatic
- Circus - Circus
- Woolly Wolstenholme & Maestoso – Uneasy Listening
- Graeme Edge Band – Paradise Ballroom
- Fat Mattress - Fat Mattress
- Fat Mattress - II
- Fire - The Magic Shoemaker
- Bond + Brown - Two Heads Are Better Than One
Hatfield And The North – Hatfield And The North
Tracklist: The Stubbs Effect (0:22), Big Jobs [Poo Poo Extract] (0:36), Going Up To People And Tinkling (2:25), Calyx (2:45), Son Of 'There's No Place Like Homerton’ (10:10), Aigrette (1:37), Rifferama (2:56), Fol De Rol (3:07), Shaving Is Boring (8:45), Licks For The Ladies (2:37), Bossa Nochance (0:40), Big Jobs No.2 [By Poo And The Wee Wees] (2:14), Lobster In Cleavage Probe (3:57), Gigantic Land Crabs In Earth Takeover Bid (3:21), The Other Stubbs Effect (0:38) Bonus Tracks: Let's Eat Real Soon (3:16), Fitter Stoke Has A Bath (4:35), Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut [incorporating Oh What A Lonely Lifetime] (6:08)
Hatfield And The North – The Rotters’ Club
Tracklist: Share It (3:03), Lounging There Trying (3:15), [Big] John Wayne Socks Psychology On The Jaw (0:43), Chaos At The Greasy Spoon (0:30), The Yes / No Interlude (7:01), Fitter Stoke Has A Bath (7:03), Didn't Matter Anyway (3:33), Underdub (4:02), Mumps (20:31): (a) Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut [Quiet], (b) Lumps, (c) Prenut, (d) Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut [Loud] Bonus Tracks: Halfway Between Heaven And Earth (Live) (6:20), Oh, Len's Nature! [Live] (1:59), Lything And Gracing [Live] (3:58)
When Andy Tillison included a piece of music entitled The Canterbury Sequence on The Tangent’s debut album he certainly started something. Or more appropriately I should say he revived something, namely a highly creative musical heritage that dated back to the heady days of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Slightly to the left of the prog mainstream, the Canterbury scene was typified by a more avant-garde, jazzy approach whose key exponents included Soft Machine, Gong, National Health, Henry Cow, Egg and Hatfield And The North. It’s difficult to discuss the history of any one of these bands without reference to the others, so interchangeable were the various members. The line-up for the debut Hatfield album for instance was bassist and vocalist Richard Sinclair (Caravan), keyboardist Dave Stewart (Egg, National Health), guitarist Phil Miller (Matching Mole) and drummer Pip Pyle (National Health, Gong). Guests included saxophonist, flautist Geoff Leigh (Henry Cow) and Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine).
Although listed as individual tracks averaging around the 2 to 3 minute mark, 1974’s Hatfield And The North flows beautifully as one continuous piece of music. Subject matter is fairly redundant in this context allowing the bands sense of humour to reflect in the song titles which are often surreal (Gigantic Land Crabs In Earth Takeover Bid) occasionally juvenile (Big Jobs No.2 [By Poo And The Wee Wees] and quote from Monty Python (Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut). They have no issues in poking fun at themselves either as in Rifferama where the histrionic soloing is greeted with hysterical laughter (it has to be heard to be appreciated). If you’re unfamiliar with the Hatfields then describing their music can be equally perplexing. Jazz-rock excursions played with impeccable skill and timing (truthfully I can’t think of a more proficient quartet on the planet) is an obvious pointer but there is more to the band than that. The music is tastefully mellow and melodic for the most part with instruments juxtaposed in a complimentary fashion rather than colliding in a jarring clash of egos.
Shaving Is Boring is one of the few occasions on the debut album when they engage in lengthy soloing but the bass and drum work in particular reach such heights of excellence that they can be forgiven the indulgence. Vocals are sparingly used throughout often as wordless harmonies acting like a fifth instrument as is the case of Calyx and Fol De Rol. If one track summed up the band to perfection however then it would have to be Stewart’s Son Of 'There's No Place Like Homerton’. It demonstrates the keyboardist’s flair for complex, almost classical arrangements with subtle organ and piano punctuated by dramatic sax ala Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo album. The dreamy female harmonies are surprisingly lush and deceptively intricate and there’s some by stellar guitar picking from Miller.
Bonus tracks are usually hit and miss affairs but those included on Hatfield And The North really hit the mark. Let's Eat Real Soon and Fitter Stoke Has A Bath were the respective A and B sides of a single released in November 1974 intended as a stop gap for their next album due early the following year. They are both jolly tunes with Sinclair adopting traditional lyrics (and a cockney accent ala Robert Wyatt). The final piece Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut incorporating Oh What A Lonely Lifetime includes characteristic fuzzed organ as a prelude to an instrumental section delivered with power and grace. It demonstrates the band at their best and made a fitting addition to a Virgin sampler album released in January 1975. Mindful of the debts incurred from recording the first album at Virgin’s Manor studios under the direction of Tom Newman, the Hatfields entered the On Saturn studios, Worthing in January 1975 to self produce their follow up. Released in March of that year The Rotters’ Club is generally considered to be their crowning glory and often receives a listing in the top prog albums of all time polls. It’s more strident than its predecessor with a greater contrast between tracks and an emphasis on fusion virtuosity. The sterling line-up of Sinclair, Stewart Miller and Pyle thankfully remained intact joined by such Canterbury stalwarts as Jimmy Hastings (flute, Saxes), Lindsay Cooper (oboe, bassoon), Tim Hodgkinson (clarinet) and Mont Campbell (French horn). Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal (aka The Northettes) were once again on hand to provide the heavenly backing vocals.
Picking up from where the recent single let off, the opener Share It features Sinclair’s busy accented vocals (Park Life anyone?) with a very Emerson sounding synth solo (circa Trilogy from the album of the same name) providing a welcome respite at the midway point. Chaos At The Greasy Spoon benefits from a prominent bass line in the style of a certain Chris Squire which snarls and growls its way into Pyle’s The Yes / No Interlude, the albums jazziest instrumental workout. Stunning keys and sax interplay joined by distorted guitar gives the impression that this could be a spooky (and disturbing) soundtrack to a gothic horror movie. In contrast, the captivating Fitter Stoke Has A Bath (from the same writer) is an engaging diversion which in addition to the wry humour has an unpretentious majesty about it.
Didn't Matter Anyway is something of a departure and easily my favourite song on The Rotters’ Club. Sinclair’s bittersweet ballad includes a hint of mellotron but is most memorable for the sumptuous flute playing from fellow Caravan member Jimmy Hastings. The breezy instrumental Underdub is more in the traditional jazz style with electric piano and flute once again dominating. It leads into the 20 minute Mumps, Stewart’s magnum opus in four distinct parts. Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut [Quiet] opens with angelic female harmonies before the centrepiece Lumps displays a colourful range of emotions including melodic guitar and bass work giving way to restless fuzzed organ and a wailing sax break. Electric piano supplies a rhythmic under current throughout. Following the restless Prenut, where Pyle’s intricate drumming sounds not unlike Bill Bruford’s playing on The Fish (from Fragile), Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut [Loud] provides an uplifting, almost grandiose finale. The bonus material comes in the shape of three live tracks recorded at separate venues in ’74 and ‘75 as previously made available on the 1987 CD release. They are very welcome nonetheless demonstrating that the band were equally adept on stage as they were in the studio. The lively Halfway Between Heaven And Earth may be dominated by wall to wall vocals but it’s rounded off by a superbly articulate keys solo which curiously fades leaving Stewart suspended in full flight. The relatively brief Oh, Len's Nature! is probably the bands heaviest piece by far (on record) which has something of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man about it. And speaking of KC, Miller’s acidic guitar work during his own Lything And Gracing has Fripp written all over it with the whole band coming together to end on an explosive note.
Although The Rotters’ Club charted at number 43 in the UK album chart the bands demise later that same year was put down to insolvency as well as internal issues. They would all go on to participate in other Canterbury combinations, most notably National Health. Richard Sinclair took a break from the music business to reappear in 1977 for a two year stint as the bass player in Camel. Dave Stewart had unexpected success as a singles artist along with Barbara Gaskin reaching number 1 in the UK and Germany. The pair continue to work together to this day preventing Stewart from taking part in several Hatfield reunions and live appearances which were sadly blighted by the unexpected death of Pip Pyle in August 2006. It’s a telling indictment when author (and Hatfield fan) Jonathan Coe was promoting his new book ‘The Rotters’ Club’ in 2001 that only the Italian and French interviewers remembered or expressed any interest in the music that influenced his book.
It’s interesting to speculate on what Hatfield And The North could have achieved had they stayed together for more than three years, a short career for any band. It was without doubt a unique combination of talented musicians that could have only emerged from the progressive rock genre, albeit of the jazz fusion vein. Often experimental but always superbly structured and melodic they leave behind two fine albums as a welcome reminder of a brief but illustrious career. The first in particular is one that I hold in high regard, sounding so fresh and vital on its initial release. Whilst the follow up was still a landmark release the bands style was understandably less of a revelation second time around. I also love the debut albums flowing continuity, possibly influenced by producer Tom Newman’s work on Tubular Bells the year before. The Rotters’ Club for its part boasts the bands lengthiest credited track (Mumps) but in comparison this is more a collection of individual pieces masquerading as an epic. I’m merely expressing a personal preference of course (and probably nitpicking to boot) because either way they are both excellent releases and are always worthy of re-evaluation.
Hatfield And The North: 9 out of 10
The Rotters’ Club: 9 out of 10
Hawklords - Live '78
Tracklist: Automoton (1:36), 25 Years (6:38), High Rise (5:00), Death Trap (5:47), The Age of the Micro Man (3:51), Spirit of the Age (9:20), Urban Guerrilla (6:12), Sonic Attack (7:09), PSI Power (6:07), Brainstorm (8:20)
Hawklords only managed one album, 25 Years On, and a single tour, both occurring in 1978. Although some recordings of the band have sneaked on to some of the rather dubious and innumerable releases that have been issued over the years, this album is the most complete set yet released. Recorded on the penultimate night of the tour at Brunel University on 24 November 1978, the gig was fraught with electrical problems having to be halted twice during the proceedings. Perhaps that is the reason for the relatively short running time, considering other shows were reportedly quite a bit longer. Accompanying the band's mainstays of David Brock and Robert Calvert are the other main players on the studio album, Steve Swindells on keyboards, Harvey Bainbridge on bass and Martin Griffin on drums.
Although a lot of hardcore Hawkwind fans found the Hawklords album rather too radical a departure (although taken in context of the previous year's Quark, Strangeness and Charm the development in musical style was not too radical), live the band were a different matter. Personally, I am a big fan of the 25 Years On album and so was quite disappointed that this live set only contained three songs from the album (the synthesised Automoton being an instrumental intro piece). Although one would expect the likes of Flying Doctor not to have transferred to the stage too well (although it was played at the start of the tour), it is a pity that some of the more reflective numbers are not represented. However, that takes nothing away from the spirited and energetic performance on this CD. The tour had obviously tightened the band who play with power and confidence despite the aforementioned power problems. Of particular note is a fine Death Trap that, along with Spirit Of The Age, was still unreleased at the time of the recording. The three songs from the album are present in versions that do justice to the brilliance of the studio recording. 25 Years, one of Brock's strongest musical and lyrical amalgamations, is a great opening number with Calvert singing some of the vocals through a megaphone to add to the theatrics of the show. The Age of the Micro Man is heavier than on the album but still providing the slowest tempo number in the set. PSI Power is darn near perfect, spot on choral vocals; multiple synth lines replicated exactly from Swindells, a concise guitar solo from Brock, Calvert on top form and the rhythm section of Bainbridge and Griffin hammering the song along as it teeters on the edge of chaos.
The rest of the set is culled from older material, the newest of which, Spirit Of The Age, from 1977's Quark, Strangeness and Charm, being adapted to suit the Hawklords style mainly through Swindell's keyboards and some improvisation in the middle of the song. Urban Guerrilla is also resurrected from the vaults and given a new lease of life, (coincidentally one of the few numbers that was maintained in the set for the following year's return of Hawkwind and available as a bonus track on the Atomhenge release of Live '79) although it is the disappointment of the set being a bit too long, and having the disadvantage of not being one of the better numbers from the back catalogue. Sonic Attack is one of those numbers that I tire of seeing in set lists and on live albums but the version herein is one of the better renditions, primarily due to Bainbridge's thumping bass, Swindell's synths and yet another fine performance from Calvert. The extended instrumental ending is also a nice addition. Of course, the signature tune Brainstorm closes the set and, again, there is a new vitality in the performance largely due to the three younger musicians in the group. Still the same great song but with a few subtle twists to make it stand out from other live versions.
Considering the previous night's concert (at Portsmouth Polytechnic) was also recorded it is somewhat disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to try and recreate an entire Hawklords set. Some of the Portsmouth show has been issued on one of the Weird Tapes archive collections and it would have been a treat to have the versions of Steppenwolf, Freefall and Uncle Sam's On Mars from that collection included here. Although I have not heard the Weird tapes, one presumes the recordings are on a par with those from Brunel. Perhaps the fact that the Weird Tapes are licensed to Voiceprint proved to be the stumbling block (which would also explain why Live '79 was not reissued as a double CD akin to the superior [from a fan's point at least] full-set Complete '79, also available from Voiceprint). To think what Mark Powell and the Esoteric/Atomhenge team could do with those tapes! Despite this small reservation, the 60 minutes on Live '78 are a joy to behold and a fine tribute to the short-lived Hawklords and the last full appearances Of Calvert alongside Brock.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hawkwind - Love In Space
CD 1: Abducted (2:55), Death Trap (4:42), Wastelands (1:35), Are You Losing Your Mind? (3:08), Photo Encounter (2:18), Blue Skin (6:53), Sputnik Stan (10:20), Robot (7:39), Alien I Am (8:51)
CD 2: Xenomorph (5:18), Vega (3:33), Love In Space (9:44), Kapal (6:04), Elfin (2:09), Silver Machine (3:34), Welcome To The Future (2:12), Assassins / Space [Is Their Palestine] (8:45), Love In Space [studio version] (4:48), Lord Of Light (3:52), This Is Hawkwind Sonic Attack (7:05)
After three years surviving as a three-piece of Dave Brock (vocals, guitar, keyboards, synth), Alan Davey (vocals, bass, keyboards) and Richard Chadwick (drums), Hawkwind decided that they needed more of a focus point and so recruited vocalist Ron Tree who had been singing with various bands around the free festival circuit. His first recordings with the band resulted in the 1995 Alien 4 album, a lose concept about alien abduction. The resulting tour was recorded and released as the double live album Love In Space in 1996. The album came as a pleasant surprise for long-time Hawk fans as it was a return to a rockier sound and, unlike the previous ambient/techno album White Zone (released under the name Psychedelic Warlords), actually featured Brock playing substantial amounts of guitar.
The majority of Alien 4 is included as well as a few of the more appropriate lyrical pieces from the past. Hawkwind have never been shy about reusing material from the past and the Alien 4 album had included three re-recordings of older tracks. All are included in their 'new form' on the first CD of the live album. Death Trap is hardly changed from other live versions I have heard and still maintains the punky vibe of the late 70s original. Wastelands (aka Wastelands Of Sleep originally on the 1988 album The Xenon Codex) is a brief linking piece that could have stemmed from the earlier days of the band with the synth replicating what in the past would have been a Simon House violin solo, and Are You Losing Your Mind? being a reworked version of Iron Dream from Quark Strangeness And Charm with added lyrics about mind control via a silicon ship inside the brain (Tell me why I don't like Mondays!) Photo Encounter is another linking piece, but the remaining four tracks on the fist disc are high energy numbers with guitar and bass to the fore and the band really giving it maximum effort. Tree has been criticised for being somewhat of a Calvert clone, but his use of effects on his vocals in quite innovative and in many ways it is good that tracks like Robot and Death Trap maintain a familiarity with the original songs.
The second disc initially maintains the energy and aggression with Xenomorph although the vocals are rather flat on the first verse. The years of playing as a three-piece meant that Brock and Davey had become experts at mixing their guitar and keyboard roles live, just listening to the CD it is amazing to consider that everything bar the drums is stemming from the two musicians. Obviously technology played a big part in the live presentations but the important thing is that it all sounds live. The nature of the show, with dancers, fire-eaters and a specially designed curved screen representing a space craft, provided lots of visuals to entertain the audience. The second CD is not as exciting as the first one, set at a completely different tempo. Vega and Elfin don't really stick in the mind that much and Kapal would have been better without the more ambient introduction. However, it is has to be remembered that this was a live presentation and, having not seen the associated film of the concert, I have no idea what else was going on during these pieces in terms of the aforementioned visual elements of the show. Love In Space, present in an elongated form, is split into three distinct parts. The first and last parts are the main song with Brock playing a tasty guitar line, while the middle part is more of a 'traditional' Hawkwind jam. The end of the concert rolls out three familiar numbers. Silver Machine was perhaps the surprise inclusion and gets a wild response from the audience and Welcome To The Future is a great way to end a concert. Assassins (wonder if the abbreviation of the title from Assassins Of Allah is a fob to political correctness?), which of course is a reworking of Hassan-i Sabbah and incorporating Space [Is Their Palestine] would perhaps seem an odd choice as an encore but, again, the energy the band impart, particularly at the end of the song, is impressive.
To round things off, the rare 1997 Love In Space EP is included as bonus. The Zeus B Held remix of the title track is rather an anomaly and comes as a bit of a surprise after the live material. Not a great remix and something that I doubt many people will play very often and for that reason it is a shame that it is not sequenced at the end of the CD. Particularly as the other two tracks from the EP are both live and it would have made better sense from a continuity point of view to keep the live atmosphere going, particularly as Lord Of Light is a great song and the performance on this version matches the high energy highlights of the main live album. This Is Hawkwind Sonic Attack is somewhat superfluous the novelty of the piece having worn off over the years. This version is also over-long and doesn't have the impact of the original. Again, this may be unfair criticism out of context of a live performance and as a b-side it was no doubt a nice addition for the collector. The same sentiments can be applied to its inclusion here.
Of the many Hawkwind live albums released over the years there are very few that are absolutely essential. Of course, Space Ritual tops the list with The 1999 Party [live in 1974] and Live '79 also well worthy of attention. Of the rest, Live Chronicles is recommended for the later period of the band's history and then it would have to be Love In Space. Certainly superior to the Alien 4 studio album that it was touring and an interesting memento of the brief time with Ron Tree. Recommended for Hawkwind fans who either want to replace their old vinyl versions or who had been rather wary of this era of the band; general prog fans wanting to dabble in the Hawkwind live experience would be best to start at one of the other three mentioned live albums.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hawkwind - The Chronicle Of The Black Sword
Tracklist: Song Of The Swords (3:23), Shade Gate (3:01), The Sea King (3:23), The Pulsing Cavern (2:32), Elric The Enchanter (4:48), Needle Gun (4:10), Zarozinia (3:21), The Demise (0:56), Sleep Of A Thousand Tears (4:16), Chaos Army (0:53), Horn Of Destiny (6:22), Arioch (3:24), Night Of The Hawks (5:06), Green Finned Demon (6:05), Dream Dancers (1:28), Dragons And Fables (3:21)
Back in March I reviewed the reissue of Hawkwind's Live Chronicles CD, the Hammersmith Odeon recordings of the tour supporting The Chronicle Of The Black Sword, the album that had surprisingly seen the band back in the UK album charts. The on-going Atomhenge/Esoteric Hawkwind reissue campaign, has now, with no regard to chronology, reissued the studio album in their customary high standard, in respect to both packaging and content. As background info, at the time of the recording, the band had a full and stable line-up of Dave Brock (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Huw Lloyd-Langton (guitar), Harvey Bainbridge (keyboards), Alan Davey (bass) and Danny Thompson (drums). However, things within the group had not been that stable over the previous two years when towards the end of 1983 recordings for an album to be called Earth Ritual were abandoned and the group virtually fell apart.
The only fruits of the Earth Ritual recordings are included as bonus tracks on this reissue, having originally been released as an EP in March 1984. Of the four tracks from that EP, Night Of The Hawks is a return to past glories, as well as a reunion with bassist Lemmy, with Lloyd-Langton, literally, having a 'wail' of a time! Green Finned Demon a poem by Robert Calvert set to music by Dave Brock, sounds very much like a solo demo recording with its programmed drums and waves of synth-generated noises although it does hold a certain charm, not least for the nice guitar work at the end. The brief instrumental Dream Dancers is nothing special comprising of odd synth effects but Lloyd-Langton's Dragons And Fables is another strong track and one that the group would incorporate into the Live Chronicles show. Following the Earth Ritual tour, which was filmed and became the band's first live video, and further line-up changes, the most significant of which being the dismissal of the increasingly erratic Nic Turner, the band embarked on one of their most challenging ideas - recording an album based on Michael Moorcock's tales of Elric.
It is obvious from the offset that Brock had realised that the group had somewhat lost their way in the four years since their last rock album, 1981's Sonic Attack. The group's experiments with more electronic music, coupled with the release of a hoard of compilation and quite dodgy albums, had alienated a large chunk of their core audience who had become somewhat detached from the band. In addition, new bassist Davey was eager to recapture the sound that the band had created in the seventies and deliver a consistent album of quality songs. Opener Song Of The Swords sets the tempo with a classic Hawkwind riff and the band in full tilt. The drumming is a bit pedestrian and uniform, although that was possibly something that Brock was after having had problems with the timekeeping of previous incumbants of the drumming stool. The album contains a few instrumentals with both Shade Gate and The Pulsing Cavern being more self-contained pieces which include a variety of instruments and something of a melody, as opposed to some of the more ambient pieces of synth sounds that the band has indulged in. The Demise is more of a narrative piece that adds the story and least worthy of the lot is Chaos Army which is, well chaotic. The Sea King is not Lloyd-Langton's finest moment but does feature some suitably aquatic noises. Davey takes solo writing credit for the impressive Elric The Enchanter, which does reflect the 'golden era' of Warriors On The Edge Of Time, and the bonus cut Arioch, originally released as the b-side of the Needle Gun single, which was a surprising omission from the final album as it would have sat nicely alongside the other instrumentals on the album. Nice to have it included as an extra here.
Needle Gun itself and Zarozinia should need no introduction being two songs written by the band in the 1980s that have genuinely stood the test of time and can comfortably sit amongst a list of essential Hawkwind songs. Not far behind in terms of quality are Sleep Of A Thousand Tears and Horn Of Destiny, the former having a characteristically quirky middle eight and the latter also having a variety of different aspects pushed around by the group with both songs demanding the listener's attention. If the rather metronomic drumming of Thompson is the drawback, then the contributions of Lloyd-Langton more than make up for things. The album is quite deserving of the recognition it received as a return to form. If any studio album after Levitation is worth considering, then The Chronicle Of The Black Sword is it, indeed it might even have the edge.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Steve Swindells - Fresh Blood
Tracklist: Turn It On Turn It Off (3:16), Fresh Blood (3:38), I Feel Alive (3:50), Low Life Joe (4:20), Bitter & Twisted (3:53), Don't Wait On The Stairs (3:25), Is It Over Now? (4:12), Down On Love Street (5:41), Figures Or Authority (5:17), Shot Down In The Night (3:31)
Following the recording of the album 25 Years On and subsequent 1978 tour, the Hawklords were all but down and out, still writing and rehearsing but with no recording contract and seriously short of money. Lead singer Bob Calvert was the first to jump ship after a bout of recurrent depression soon followed by keyboard player Steve Swindells (who had been asked to take over on lead vocals by Dave Brock, an offer Swindells turned down as the situation with the group didn't look like improving soon). Befriended by an Italian count, money was forthcoming for the recording of some demos which were duly laid down in 1979 with the assistance of Hawkwind alumni Huw Lloyd Langton (guitars) and Simon King (drums) along with ex-Van der Graaf Generator bassist Nic Potter. On a trip to New York City (also funded by the mysterious Count), Swindells was able to use his connections to gain a personal meeting with Doug Morris, the then President of Atco Records, who hailed Swindells as the 'new Springsteen' and immediately signed him to the label. After various recording misadventures, the album was released in 1980, supported by a single (Turn It On Turn It Off c/w Low Life Joe), and was generally ignored in the UK although fared better in the US where it was #3 in the airplay charts. However, a bad management decision not to take up an offer of a coast-to-coast US radio tour virtually killed the album after such a promising start.
The 1980s were generally a strange time musically and no more so than at the beginning of the decade. The punk revolution had all but died replaced by the more palatable 'new wave', whilst the prog behemoths were either struggling to find a direction or aloof in complacency. One thing the musical upheaval of the mid-to-late-seventies had brought to the forefront of popular music was a stronger sense of attitude, something that Swindells delivers throughout this album. In the sleeve notes to the album, Swindells also notes that his favourite band at the time were The Clash, which inevitably must have had some influence on his writing. However, don't get the impression that this is just some form of standard post-punk rock album, there is certainly a lot more to it than that. I am reminded in some respects of the great Brinsley Schwartz in terms of the writing quality, although there is a more aggressive delivery. Even though Swindells is a keyboard player, and a talented one at that, Fresh Blood is not a vehicle for him to show off his skills. The three supporting musicians all perform at the top of their game with King and Potter, providing plenty of driving rhythms and Lloyd-Langton adding tasteful fills all over the place. In fact, there is rather a sparsity of solos throughout which make them so much more impactful when they do occur (such as on the very tuneful Is It Over Now?). There are echoes of Squeeze on Don't Wait On The Stairs later covered by Roger Daltrey on his 1984 album Parting Should Be Painless. Daltrey also covered Bitter And Twisted on the McVicar soundtrack album in 1980, and was probably alerted to Swindells as they shared the same management company. The song itself is the most similar to the Hawklords material, with Swindells even managing to sound a bit like his friend Robert Calvert.
Turn It On, Turn It Off was the obvious track for the single combining a healthy dash of Hawkwind, particularly in the spacey keyboards, with an engaging lyric and vocal delivery. I Feel Alive, written about Swindells' first impressions of New York City, is the most up-beat song of the album, while Figures Of Authority is arguably the stand-out song of the album, being a genuine candidate for the title of 'lost classic'. Of course, the most well known song on the album is Shot Down In The Night, subsequently performed by Hawkwind on their next tour and immortalised on the album Live '79. The solo version is punkier than the Hawkwind version although inevitably the essence of the song is maintained. There is really only one song that sticks out as being rather below par, the 'love song' Down On Love Street which lacks a level of conviction and is somewhat twee.
Fresh Blood has long been out of print and this is the first time that it has been awarded a CD release. Obviously, Hawkwind fans and completists will be glad of this reissue, although the reach should extend beyond such a narrow clique of music fans. One of the better rock albums from the 1980s with a somewhat unique blend of new wave aggression and attitude, fine tunes and melodies and even a dash of Hawkwind flavour to boot.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Jack Bruce – Automatic
Tracklist: Make Love [Part II] (3:37), Uptown Breakdown (4:29), Travelling Child (5:12), New World (3:23), E. Boogie (4:27), Green And Blue (5:12), Swarm (4:00), Encore (4:10), Automatic Pilot (1:02)
Jack Bruce is one of the most renowned bass players/singers/singer-songwriters from the UK. Famous for his work with Cream, solo projects and numerous collaborations with top notch musicians, he is still making records and playing live at the age of 66. His remarkable voice is recognised instantly. Originally playing cello amongst others, he developed into a multi-instrumentalist, although his bass playing remains his trademark. The album reviewed here was originally released as an LP in Germany (1983) and at a later stage in the UK (1987). This is the first time Jack's experiments with Fairlight and other electronics is available worldwide on CD. As custom in those days, the running time is well below forty minutes and because Automatic is to be considered an experiment by Bruce who was looking for new challenges at the time, this album should not be compared with all his other efforts.
The album Automatic was Jack first attempt to work with the “computer and keyboard rolled in one”: the Fairlight. The studio where Jack worked with Robin Trower bought one and Jack was eager to explore his boundaries. Fascinated by the power of the electronics, he decided to make a contemporary album and doing everything himself. Whilst controlling real drum sounds by playing a keyboard, he played all keyboards, basses and harmonica. Together with his distinctive vocals, the end result was astonishing. The album is stylistically in the vein of eighties synthi-pop music but Bruce gives the music his own characteristic twist.
The first track Make Love [Part II] is nice pop tune with a bit of a reggae rhythm which is beautifully and sensually sung by Bruce. Reminding a little bit of the Abba sound with lots of piano and multiple vocal layers by Bruce, Uptown Breakdown is a lovely track with keyboards used as ‘brass section’ and it has a slightly fusion-like feel as well. A little solo by a clarinet-sample. Travelling Child is a song with a catchy chorus, rather slow and almost a ballad. Another slow track, this time a real ballad, is New World featuring electronic wizardry as ‘the orchestra’. E. Boogie starts with drums and a bass loop. Sung with a slightly distorted voice and lots of effects, this track comes close to contemporary acts like Depeche Mode, Paris France Transit or Space. Also a tear breaking song is Green And Blue, featuring drums, bass and ‘organ’. In the more up-tempo parts a different style, using piano and background vocals the music suddenly sounds like a hit record from way back when. Swarm mainly consists of one short theme, changed half a tone, the chorus being more orchestral and atmospheric. Nice organ solo by the way. A sixties hit with a modern arrangement, that’s what Encore sounds like. Bruce excels with his vocals; they are full of emotion and he is doing a sort of a duet with himself. The last track is solely Bruce singing and playing the harmonica; a short piece of blues just to remind the listener the ‘blues’ always has been one of his major interests.
A very interesting and intriguing record from one of the finest rock musicians of all time. A worthy but ‘stand alone’ addition to his impressive career and not to be missed by any fan of Jack Bruce or collectors of early eighties synthi-pop.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Circus - Circus
Tracklist: Norwegian Wood (7:16), Pleasures Of A Lifetime (8:13), St. Thomas (3:32), Goodnight John Morgan (1:46), Father Of My Daughter (3:17), II BS (6:29), Monday, Monday (4:19), Don't Make Promises (4:46)
Originally released in 1969, the eponymous album by Circus was one of the first Progressive Rock releases on the Transatlantic label, until that time primarily known for its Folk orientated releases. Circus was mainly notable for featuring future King Crimson and Camel saxophonist and flautist Mel Collins. After previously paying his dues with smaller outfits Collins was recruited by Phillip Goodhand-Tait for his Stormsville Shakers. Over the next couple of years the material that the band were playing moved from R’n’B towards Psychedelia and the name was changed to Circus with Goodhand-Tait leaving soon after. The rest of this new band features Ian Jelf (guitar, vocals), Kirk Riddle (bass) and Chris Burrows (drums) with Keith Bleasby adding percussion to two tracks.
There is a definite jazz influence to the Proto-Prog of much of the album and covers feature heavily in the material. The most notable of these is the opener, Lennon and McCartney’s Norwegian Wood, which gets a whole new arrangement with much improvisation and suggests the way that The Nice may have approached this song. The other covers include a laid-back take of The Mamas and the Papas Monday, Monday and jazz standards in the shape of Sonny Rollins’ quirky and upbeat St. Thomas and Charles Mingus’ more sinister and edgy II BS. There is ingenuity in the arrangements and improvisations inserted into the covers which are all very well chosen and performed.
Many of the arrangements bear a stylistic similarity to the lighter and breezier moments of the early Crimson period such as I Talk To the Wind and the quintessentially English outlook resembles Caravan at times. The flip-side of this is the pounding tour-de-force of Norwegian Wood. Collins’ work has always been a wonder to behold and this is also true here, the rest of the band doing a good job but Collins immediately standing out as a class player.
The original material retains a laid back charm with inventive sections and the album makes for a rounded whole. The lovely and lengthy Pleasures Of A Lifetime also features Mel’s dad on alto flute and Father Of My Daughter includes some Tabla from Chris Burrows. Ian Jelf’s vocals are pleasant enough, particularly on Don’t Make Promises which incorporates a folk feel, but don’t overburden the record, a good balance being struck with the instrumental tracks.
This is a well deserved and timely reissue from Esoteric and comes with an expanded booklet featuring liner notes by Sid Smith and including much info and insight into the original recording. It is a shame that there are no bonus tracks to be had but the album stands up as an enjoyable piece of late 60s mellow jazz-rock with inventive psychedelic twists. The production isn’t brilliant but the remastering has tidied the sound up well enough. Of its time but well worth hearing.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Woolly Wolstenholme & Maestoso – Uneasy Listening
CD 1: Sail Away (3:23), Patriots (6:56), Maestoso (6:47), American Excess (5:57), A Prospect Of Whitby (3:04), Lives On The Line (3:14), Deceivers All (6:04), Too Much, Too Loud, Too Late (6:12), All Get Burned (3:27), Has To Be A Reason (4:37), The Will To Fly (4:13), The Sunday Bells (4:41), Open (3:39), Why Remain (1:55), Bootham Park Elegy (3:38), Blood And Bones (5:18)
CD 2: Souk (5:14), One Drop In A Dry World (7:03), A Waiting Game (4:02), Carpet (5:18), 2 Am (5:04), Birds (1:16), Through A Storm (7:11), A Lark (5:46), The Iceman Cometh (3:59), Hebden Bridge (4:59), Loot 1:05), Harp And Carp (5:19), Faith, Hope And Charity [Previously Unreleased] (3:22), Matilda Yarrow (5:04), Soldier Of Fortune (11:39), The Angelus [Previously Unreleased] (2:36)
When Stuart Woolly Wolstenholme abandoned the good ship Barclay James Harvest in 1979 fans must have wondered who on earth was going to replace their erstwhile keyboardist. The answer of course was no one, they continued as a three piece with commercial (if not artistic) success until their eventual decline and less than amicable split in 1998. This opened to doors for Woolly to reunite with guitarist John Lees to form a revamped BJH for a new album and eventually a tour, a collaboration that continues to this day. But I’m getting ahead of myself because in the interim period Woolly released five albums under his own name and the band pseudonym Maestoso. A retrospective of his output has been thoughtfully compiled by Mark Powell, Keith and Monika Domone, aficionados on all things BJH related. The title is a tad misleading however given that this double CD anthology covering 1980 to 2008 is anything but Uneasy Listening.
Disc one opens with a healthy and welcome selection of songs from his debut solo album Maestoso released in October 1980. Although sales were pitifully low, this for my money remains his best work to date and far superior to anything BJH were recording at the time (or since). Opening cut Sail Away is similar to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, not so much in the sound but more in the intent, surely a parting shot to his former colleagues. It’s an upbeat and (given his serious musical intentions) a surprisingly poppy affair where his voice sounds remarkably like Gerry Rafferty. The rest of the album was more typical of Wolstenholme’s expansive style with excellent support from drummer Kim Turner and guitarist Steve Broomhead. Throughout Patriots Broomhead’s soaring technique captures the melodic style of Lees himself whilst the symphonic title track is Wolstenholme at his most grandiose, producing waves of orchestral drama that bring to mind The Enid. In contrast Prospect Of Whitby is an enchanting little song with chiming Vangelis style keyboard effects.
Following a bout of touring supporting the likes of Judie Tzuke and Saga, Wolstenholme and band returned to the studio in 1982 to record their second album Black Box. Due to a lack of commitment from Polydor Records however it failed to see the light of day until 1994 when the shelved tracks and demos eventually surfaced on Voiceprint as Songs From The Black Box. A generous eight songs from that release are included here and although they are more commercially structured than the debut the excellence of Woolly’s song writing and arrangements still shine through. He provides both guitar and Mellotron for the poignant The Will To Fly and his moody vocal and celestial organ playing during Open evoke Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker. Personal favourite however is The Sunday Bells which recaptures both the wistful acoustic sound of early Genesis and Woolly’s more familiar symphonic style. The album was reissued by Esoteric in February 2004 under the title Black Box Recovered with several tweaks and additions including Why Remain and Bootham Park Elegy both of which receive an airing here.
Disc one concludes with the powerfully expansive Blood And Bones from 2004’s One Drop In A Dry World with a further five songs from the same album opening disc two. The lengthy time span between this and the previous release represents a period where Wolstenholme had all but abandoned the music business with his interest only rekindled following the re-launch of BJH in the late 90’s. Although the Mellotron is still ever present it displays a harder edge to his sound especially the acidic Souk. Even the lengthy title track One Drop In A Dry World tempers its lush orchestrations with a gritty guitar display from Broomhead. Standout track for me however is the haunting 2 AM with its persistent acoustic guitar riff, brooding bass line and lush Mellotron strings.
Eager to maintain the momentum, the next album Grim followed just 17 months later in October 2005. In contains some of Woolly’s most assured song writing thus far and although it was recorded in a home environment the seven tracks represented here display a level of musicianship and sound quality that is top notch. The melodrama of Through A Storm is tempered by the acoustic delicacy of A Lark, Loot and Hebden Bridge but the crowning glory is the expansive epic Harp And Carp with its equal measures of pomp and folk. This particular song is very reminiscent of Camel’s Harbour Of Tears and overall the tracks from the Grim album put me in mind of Genesis circa Wind And Wuthering.
Following the previously unreleased Faith, Hope And Charity, an engaging acoustic ballad (with a wry twist) recorded in 2007, are two songs from the same session that appeared on the most recent Maestoso album Caterwauling. Matilda Yarrow is a lyrical acoustic guitar and (Mellotron) flute lament that would have sat comfortably on Anthony Phillips' The Geese And The Ghost album. The mammoth Soldier Of Fortune on the other hand is a disjointed affair where the combination of prog, symphonic and folk proves to be a somewhat incongruous blend. Imagine King Crimson meets Fairport Convention by way of Barclay James Harvest and you have a fair idea of what to expect. This collection comes to a sublime conclusion with the elegant and classical tinged The Angelus, recorded solo by Woolly in his London flat in 2008.
As this compilation admirably displays there is a nostalgic (some my say old fashioned) quality about Wolstenholme’s work that captures the spirit of bands like Camel, Genesis, The Enid and BJH in their prime. It’s well written, superbly performed and arranged with a degree of passion and integrity that certainly deserves the appreciation of a far wider audience than as hitherto been the case. It’s sad to reflect that only the most recent Caterwauling album is still commercially available with the others all now deleted. That makes this particular release even more vital which, as I said earlier is anything but uneasy listening so don’t be put off by the title. In fact it’s quite the most rounded and enjoyable retrospective collection I’ve experienced in a very long time.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Graeme Edge Band – Paradise Ballroom
Tracklist: Paradise Ballroom (9:12), Human (6:07), Everybody Needs Somebody (4:53), All Is Fair In Love (5:06), Down, Down, Down (5:54), In The Light Of Night (3:09), Caroline (6:01) Bonus Track: Be My Eyes (4:00)
The first half of the 1970’s proved to be very prosperous for prog acts like Yes, ELP and The Moody Blues giving band members the financial security to take time out and indulge in solo albums with varying degrees of artistic success. To boost sales solo releases invariably displayed a sticker as a reminder that the artist in question was also the member of a popular band although this was never a guarantee of musical similarities. Drummers in particular, who often had minimal creative input into band projects, would channel their energies into other forms of musical expression. Kick Off Your Muddy Boots the 1975 solo debut by The Moody Blues’ Graeme Edge was a prime example. It was followed two years later by Paradise Ballroom which like its predecessor saw the drummer working in partnership with Adrian Paul Gurvitz under the collective name Graeme Edge Band. The Gurvitz brothers had recently been involved in a similar project Baker Gurvitz Army with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker in addition to other collaborations.
Graeme has written several songs for the Moodies, both independently and with other band members and here he shares compositional credits with Adrian on all tracks. The pair are also responsible for the impeccable production. Adrian also supplies guitar, keyboards and vocals whilst Paul handles bass and vocals. They are joined by a host of seasoned session players which includes Blue Weaver and Tony Hymas on keyboards augmented by strings and brass to produce what can best be described as R & B flavoured tunes with a glossy veneer. The title song that opens clocks in at a tantalising near 10 minutes but don’t expect a prog mini epic here. Blue eyed soul-funk is the name of the game complete with Earth, Wind & Fire style horns. The track owes its length to a couple of slower, spacey sections which sound a little out of step with the rest of the song. Adrian’s lively guitar work is a real joy here as it is throughout the album.
Human is a more laidback affair with a pleasant acoustic guitar and flute motif that bears a resemblance to Jeff Wayne’s Forever Autumn. Ironically the latter song is often associated with The Moody Blues due to Justin Hayward’s presence on vocals. Everybody Needs Somebody is based around a compelling riff that has danceability written all over it (and was unsurprisingly released as a single) whilst the prominent guitar soloing in the mid-tempo rock number All Is Fair In Love is straight from the Eric Clapton school of licks. Down, Down, Down is a melodic diversion with sweet harmonies and steel guitar from B.J. Cole. It sound uncannily like Gallagher & Lyle who had a string of successful singles around the time this was recorded. In The Light Of Night is fairly bland soft funk but the album ends on a high with the engaging Caroline, a catchy ballad of sorts with great sax playing from Bill Easley.
The bonus track for this reissue Be My Eyes was originally the B side of the single Everybody Needs Somebody which was released five weeks after the album. It lacks the quality of much of what’s gone before and as such does little to justify its inclusion here. Better is the excellent booklet that accompanies the CD which includes a synopsis of the events surrounding the original release plus an insightful biography of Graeme and The Moody Blues up to that point in their career. Another bit of rock history from the vaults courtesy of Esoteric.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Fat Mattress - Fat Mattress
Tracklist: All Night Drinker (3:14), I Don't Mind (3:50), Bright New Way (3:50), Petrol Pump Assistant (3:03), Mr. Moonshine (4:04), Magic Forest (3:04), She Came In The Morning (4:01), Everything's Blue (2:47), Walking Through A Garden (3:26), How Can I Live? (4:28) Bonus Tracks: Naturally [mono single version] (3:06), Iridescent Butterfly (3:44), Magic Forest [mono single version] (2:58), Little Girl In White (4:10), Eric The Red (2:56), Black Sheep Of The Family (4:34), Hall Of Kings (5:33), Which Way To Go (3:04)
Fat Mattress will always be known as the band that Noel Redding was in when he wasn't laying down the bass for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. However, it was not a vanity band, the key members having been playing together in various combinations since the mid 1960s. During a break from US tours with the Experience, Redding was eager to do some recordings with his old friends, and had been actively writing new songs with vocalist Neil Landon. When The Experience summoned Redding back to the US, Landon kept the momentum going by starting a writing relationship with bassist, guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist Jim Leverton. Original drummer Pete Kircher, later to be a short-term member of Status Quo, was otherwise engaged with the band Honeybus and so the drum school was occupied by Eric Dillon. In late 1968, enough material had been written and all four members were free of other commitments so a studio was booked and recording commenced!
Ironically, the first track on the album, All Night Drinker, was the first song recorded and featured special guests in Redding's Experience band mate Mitch Mitchell on percussion and Traffic's Chris Wood on flute. Comparisons with what the Experience were recording at this time would be pointless as Hendrix was in a sonic space all of his own. However, it would also be a mistake to dismiss Fat Mattress as an inferior group on the basis that Redding wasn't in the same league as a guitarist as Hendrix. The album is pretty much of its time, in that peculiarly English way, with some great harmonies and melodies, both ably represented in I Don't Mind. The style of the music is quite varied, the more acoustic Bright New Day could almost be a Moody Blues song whilst elsewhere The Kinks of the period can be heard, although not so much in the manner of Ray Davies very idiosyncratic storytelling, more in the arrangement of the numbers. Inevitably, everyone at this time was influenced by The Beatles and Fat Mattress were no exception: the playfulness of Mr. Moonshine and the harpsichord and vocal arrangements on She Came In The Morning. Psychedelia is present in the fantastic closing number of the original album, How Can I Live? Indeed, of the original 10 tracks only the rather slight Walking Through A Garden disappoints.
As ever with Esoteric Recordings, the reissues offer the chance to assemble contemporaneous bonus material that dedicated collectors drool over. On this album there are no less than eight bonus tracks, all bar two, the mono single version of Magic Forest and Naturally, the first single from the second album, are unique tracks. The conventions of the time meant that even though the original LP was only a little over 35 minutes duration, two further tracks recorded during the sessions, Little Girl In White and Eric The Red, were also omitted. Of course, it could be that these latter two tracks were not considered to be of standard by the band, although the evidence would contradict that as Little Girl In White in particular is a fine song that fits well with the other material. The instrumental Eric The Red is more of a jam than a fully realised song but even so, from the current 2009 perspective doesn't seem out of place.
The remaining five songs are in many ways out of place on this release as they are better associated with the second Fat Mattress album, although the reasons for their inclusion on this album is simply because the reissue of Fat Mattress II is full to the brim with more bonus material! Naturally and Iridescent Butterfly were the two sides of the first single from Fat Mattress II, and although the A side is the heavier song, it is Iridescent Butterfly, with its hippyish vibe, flute (although this time not by Chris Wood) and simpler arrangement that steals the show for me. Black Sheep Of The Family was the b-side of Highway, the second single from the sophomore album. A great song that gained a wider audience when it was first included on the first album by Quartermass and then, a few years later, on the debut by Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. Hall of Kings, an out take from the second album recording sessions, displays a totally different sound from the other material on this album, a lot folkier in nature seemingly having lost a lot of the originality of the original band. Final track, Which Way To Go? was a putative Jim Leverton solo single which failed to gain a release at the time. A decent enough song, although Leverton's voice has yet to mature into the sonorous delight employed by Caravan.
With the album recorded, but no record company behind them, the group were invited to support the Experience on parts of their Spring 1969 US tour, a busy time for Redding. Whilst in the US, Chas Chandler, manager of both Fat Mattress and the Experience (!) had managed to secure a major deal with Polydor Records paying them one of the largest advances ever given at that time. Appearing at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival things were looking promising after a successful tour of Germany and a return to the US as a headline act. Unfortunately, during this US tour Redding decided to leave the group. But with a contract to fulfil and Chas Chandler still in charge, the group were soon back in the recording studio. My only disappointment with this, and the accompanying Fat Mattress II, reissues is that the four-song BBC session (included on a previous anthology) has been omitted. These are the only omissions from an otherwise complete Fat Mattress collection.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Fat Mattress - II
Tracklist: The Storm (4:11), Any Way You Want (3:48), Leafy Lanes (2:48), Naturally (3:02), Roamin' (4:22), Happy My Love (3:43), Childhood Dream (3:23), She (2:32), Highway (4:23), At The Ball (4:10), People (4:04). Bonus Tracks: Margarita (4:15), Cold Wall Of Stone (2:37), Long Red (4:23), Words (4:13), The River (17:10), Future Days (4:02)
In 1969 Fat Mattress were following up their first US tour, as support to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with their own 30-date headlining series of concerts. However, after only five dates, founding member and guitarist Noel Redding quit the band resulting in the remaining dates being cancelled. The remaining members, Neil Landon (vocals), Jim Leverton (bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Eric Dillon (drums) were still under contract to Polydor Records who were expecting a follow-up to the eponymous debut. Their manager, Chas Chandler, was instrumental in suggesting Canadian guitarist Steve Hammond as a replacement for Redding who joined along with a full-time keyboard player, Mick Weaver (aka Wynder K. Frog).
The new expanded line-up went back into the studio and quickly laid down a new album. Following pretty much the template of the first album, there is a fine mixture of pop, rock and light psychedelic numbers with distinctive use of vocal harmonies throughout. However, the songs are possibly not as strong as on the first album a fact candidly admitted by Jim Leverton in his sleeve notes where he admits that perhaps the band had become a bit complacent and given the large advance paid to the band by the record label, the hunger and incentive was possibly not as strong as it could have been. The controlling arm of Chandler couldn't have helped, particularly as he insisted on producing the album. But having said that things get off to a great start with The Storm which makes good use of Weaver's keyboard skills. The dual tracked electric guitars and backing acoustic guitar provides a folkier approach to Leafy Lanes, a style that is also explored further in Roamin', which is layered with copious amounts of flute. Naturally was the obvious choice as a single, being an energetic, driving number that shows off the heavier side of the band.
The next single, Highway, was a complete contrast and actually sounds a lot more dated than quite a lot of the other material, having more of a mid-sixties beat band feel to it, particularly in the chorus. Happy My Love is another up-beat number with Weaver laying down some almost boogie-woogie piano, but She is rather a mish mash that goes through several different styles and tempo changes that are not entirely convincing. Much better is Childhood Dream with a plaintive acoustic guitar and recorder introduction and a good vocal performance from Landon with the un-credited flautist again making an appearance as (s)he does on At The Ball with its insistent rhythm track in an otherwise quite ordinary song. Last track of the original album was People which closed the album on a high with Hammond spicing things up with a couple of nice guitar solos. The band toured the UK and mainland Europe in support of the album and were in Germany with Hendrix a few days before he died. On returning to the UK they regrouped with Redding (who had been about to resume working with Hendrix) and started writing and recording for the third album.
The putative third album doesn't get off to a good start with the very ordinary Margarita, the weakest thing the band very committed to tape, not at all inspiring! Cold Wall Of Stone is far superior with the Hammond organ and electric guitar giving the piece a bluesy contemporary (for the seventies!) sound. Redding's contributions are great and Leverton's observation that the band seemed to have more energy with their original guitarist back in place definitely ring true. The strong material continues with Long Red which has a Uriah Heep vibe to it, Words is the obligatory slower number but it is with The River that Fat Mattress pull something totally left field and come up with a seventeen minute song that shows off the progressive leanings of the band and how they may have developed if they had continued. Far from a perfect song, for instance the transition from the first to the second section is crude at best, it is nonetheless a fine feast of musicians having fun playing together and creating something bigger than their individual parts. One suspects that the track may have been edited were the third album scheduled for release. However, the ignominy of being asked, by your own manager, to audition for him so he could assess their potential was too much. The band rightly refused and promptly split up.
That Fat Mattress had potential is not beyond doubt. Although one would hesitate to suggest that they were of the calibre of the larger seventies bands, one can never tell how things might have panned out. With Redding maturing as a guitarist, Weaver's keyboard skills, Leverton's multi-instrumental prowess and the rich harmony vocals, Fat Mattress had a lot to offer. Still, the past is one thing that can't be changed but it is nice to have these reminders available of the musicians and songs that didn't become household names.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Fire - The Magic Shoemaker
Tracklist: Children Of Imagination (0:18), Tell You A Story (6:41), Magic Shoes (3:42), Reason For Everything (7:35), Only A Dream (5:41), Flies Like A Bird (5:07), Like To Help You If I Can (4:06), I Can See The Sky (5:15), Shoemaker (5:18), Happy Man Am I (0:57), Children Of Imagination (0:38) Bonus Tracks: Father's Name Is Dad (2:32), Treacle Toffee World (2:09), Round The Gum Tree (1:33), Toothie Ruthie (1:56)
Fire formed in the late 1960s and are most famously known for their debut single Father's Name Is Dad which appears on many a psychedelic compilation album. The single was released in 1968 by a trio of musicians from Middlesex: Dave Lambert (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Bob Voice (percussion and vocals) and Dick Dufall (bass and vocals) on the Decca label. Actually it was released twice, the original release having been withdrawn and then promptly reissued on the insistence of a member of The Beatles who felt that it would benefit from some added overdubs (Lambert had actually struck a three-year deal with Apple Records as well as being signed by Decca as part of Fire). The single is an absolute classic of the period and is included on this reissue along with its b-side (Treacle Toffee World - a mixture of early Kinks and Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd) and the strange follow-up single Round The Gum Tree (unfortunately seemingly inspired by David Bowie's The Laughing Gnome) and Toothie Ruthie (at best, a rather throw-away song).
Lambert was not all that keen on the psychedelic tag the group had acquired and was understandably irked at the record company meddling, particularly over the first single. He was working on an album based on a children's story he had written about a cobbler who unwittingly makes a pair of shoes that magically enable the wearer to fly. The story goes that the shoemaker gave the shoes to his King who used them to fly to the king of the hostile neighbouring nation and avert an impending war. All very simplistic but it was a story for children! Indeed, the narrative of the story is included between the songs as told to a group of children which, although a bit twee, is also rather endearing in a strange kind of way, particularly their interactions with Lambert's narration. The songs themselves are of a very diverse nature, ranging from more psychedelic-type numbers such as Magic Shoes and I Can See The Sky; rockier numbers like Tell You A Story and Flies Like A Bird with its gentle acoustic guitar introduction and fine electric guitar parts (some played by guest Paul Brett); and progressive numbers such as Reason For Everything. Only A Dream, a paean to racial harmony, is a more melodic, piano-driven number with the big chorus, likewise Shoemaker is an anthemic ballad that particularly emphasises the fine bass playing of Dufall and the interestingly varied percussion and drums of Voice.
The strength of the album is in its variety, the fact that it doesn't belong to a single genre, I mean Happy Man Am I is a brief jug band number with guest Dave Cousins plucking away on his banjo accompanied by a jews harp, a very good impression of a tea chest bass and, yes, even a jug! The album was eventually released towards the end of 1970 by which time Lambert was exhausted with the whole thing and so with little promotion and Lambert taking up on an offer to join The Strawbs the album faded into obscurity. Over the years it has gained a somewhat mythical status and original albums are widely sought by collectors. The infamy of the album was such that the original band reformed last year to give the piece its first complete live airing. Hard to classify and hard to rate, but the eclectic mix and fine playing will surely appease even the harshest of critics.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Bond + Brown - Two Heads Are Better Than One
Tracklist: Lost Tribe (3:54), IG The Pig (4:39), Oobati (3:46), Amazing Grass (5:08), Scunthorpe Crabmeat Train Sideways Boogie Shuffle Stomp (4:05), CFDT (Colonel Fright's Dancing Terrapins) (5:52), Mass Debate (3:24), Looking For Time (1:58). Bonus Tracks: Milk Is Turning Sour In My Shoes (7:32), Macumbe (3:38)
Two famous names of the 1960s British music scene, Graham Bond from his days with the eponymous Organisation and Pete Brown from his lyric writing for Cream and subsequently Jack Bruce pooling their talents, but were two heads better than one?. Bond himself had also been a member of the Jack Bruce Band and it was his firing from this group that ultimately led to the recording of the only Bond + Brown album. Bond on organ, piano and vocals and Brown on trumpet, talking drums and vocals didn't have to look far for the first two members to be recruited to the new band, Bond bought his wife Diane along to add extra vocals whilst Brown remained faithful to drummer Ed Spevock from his recently disbanded Piblokto. The line-up was completed by the addition of deLisle Harper on bass and guitarist Derek Foley, who had previously beenin the progressive rock band Paladin.
There is no doubt that Bond had seen better days. His expansive drug and drink habit and deteriorating mental condition was never going to be a recipe for stability. Brown's Piblokto were also an acquired taste and the writing was invariably already written big on the wall when the group's new manager first words to his new charges were "I've just seen Pete Brown and Graham Bond albums together in a remainder bin". The album is a real mish-mash of musical styles, odd rhythms, soulful trips, sideways glances into jazz, some rhythm and blues and even a bit of more progressive-type rock. Generally, one can't help feel that it is all a bit self-indulgent. From the puerile schoolboy humour of Mass Debate with its schoolgirlish backing vocals (by Sue Woolley and Erica Bond), to the bluesy Ig The Pig and the quite dire Scunthorpe Crabmeat Train Sideways Boogie Shuffle Stomp, which is as awkward to listen to as it is to recite the title quickly after one too many alcoholic beverages. However, there are some better moments, the highlight of the album being Amazing Grass, the only song on the album written by Diane Bond. With a great bass line, some fine tinkling of the ivories and about the only time on the original album that Bond summons a decent sound out of his Hammond, terribly ironic considering in the 60s Bond was considered the master of the Hammond. Oobati, by deLisle Harper, is also a decent song and if it were not for his Afro-Caribbean vocals is reminiscent of some of the material on the Paladin albums.
Two bonus tracks are included on this reissue, both of which were issued on an EP, along with the piano-heavy lead track Lost Tribe, prior to the album's release. Milk Is Turning Sour In My Shoes has a driving rhythm but is marred by the poor vocal performance. Still, the arrangement is highly original, darts all over the place and a large proportion of the song is made up by some fine Hammond playing, and there are even bass and drum solos! Easily the best song on this CD, and probably the only one that will find much affinity with the general prog fan, it is a surprise that the song wasn't included on the album when it was first released rather than languishing on a b-side. Macumbe is also better than a lot of the material on the album, perhaps the band ran out of ideas when it came to record the album?
The band did manage to tour but it was marred by drugs, in-fighting with managers (resulting in Diane Bond being fired from the group) and a surprising number of road accidents from which the band escaped unscathed. Bond never recorded anything more as he tragically died under the wheels of an underground train in 1974. After a glittering early career in some ways it is sad that this album should be his swansong. One for collectors, die-hard fans or those curious about oddities.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10