REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Barclay James Harvest – Live
Tracklist: Summer Soldier (10:19), Medicine Man (10:27), Crazy City (4:59), After The Day (7:11), The Great 1974 Mining Disaster (6:32), Galadriel (3:10), Negative Earth (6:21), She Said (8:33), Paper Wings (4:20), For No One (5:52), Mockingbird (7:41)
Barclay James Harvest – Live Tapes
Disc 1: Child Of The Universe (6:40), Rock And Roll Star (5:11), Poor Man's Moody Blues (7:08), Mockingbird (7:14), Hard Hearted Woman (4:28), One Night (6:09) The World Goes On - Bonus track (6:09), Medicine Man - Previously unreleased bonus track (11:55)
Disc 2: Taking Me Higher (4:30), Suicide? (6:24), Crazy City (4:27), Polk Street Rag (5:25), Hymn For The Children - previously unreleased bonus track (3:29), Jonathan (5:35), For No One (5:46), Hymn (5:42)
Regular visitors to this site may be aware of my fondness for Barclay James Harvest which dates back some 35 years when my good friend Stewart first introduced me to their earlier recordings on EMI’s Harvest label. It was around this time that the band was undergoing one of the many upheavals that punctuated their career. Having been dropped by Harvest due to poor record sales and spiralling costs (they insisted on touring with an orchestra) they signed with Polydor Records in January 1974. To support their latest album Everybody Is Everybody Else (a prog classic if ever there was one) a UK tour was set in motion with the Liverpool Stadium and London’s Theatre Royal shows earmarked for recording their first live album. The Liverpool gig was cancelled on the eleventh hour when the bands road crew discovered that the venues electrical system was in a potentially lethal state. The 30th June London gig on the other hand got off to a resounding start but sadly the performance was blighted by the less than trusty Mellotron which failed to co-operate during the show.
A rescheduled Liverpool Stadium performance went ahead on 31st August 1974 but the pressure was on to have the live album in the shops before Christmas. As a result Barclay James Harvest Live released in November 1974 was taken mainly from the London recordings with some minimal studio overdubs plus the occasional song from Liverpool to replace those that couldn’t be salvaged from the London tapes. Whilst several songs remain in the bands set list to this day, some like guitarist John Lees’ epic Summer Soldier (from their final Harvest album Baby James Harvest) were living on borrowed time. A pity because it provides a magisterial opening to the show and it’s also one of the songs that first attracted me to the band. Melody wise it’s reminiscent of the bands popular Hymn but more ambitious drawing on the symphonic grandeur of earlier classics like After The Day. The band is clearly on top form from the outset, especially the late Mel Pritchard who gives a powerhouse performance throughout. Only keyboardist Stuart ‘Woolly’ Wolstenholme’s ever present Mellotron lets the side down sounding a tad muddy despite the post production tinkering.
Summer Soldier segues into Medicine Man which is basically an excuse for the band to indulge in some rare and lengthy soloing. This includes some very Yes like moments especially Woolly’s manic synth break and Les Holroyd’s thunderous bass workout. Crazy City sounds as tuneful as ever and reveals Holroyd’s love of US west coat music including some neat harmonies in the vein of The Eagles. Following the obligatory band introductions from Wolstenholme they launch into After The Day where the keyboardist also provides the vocals. This song remains the bands crowning glory in my humble opinion although the slightly ragged sound here doesn’t match the quality of the version that can be found on 2007’s
Legacy DVD. Lees’ guitar work however is as stirring as ever and there is also a sneaky reference to The Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin.
The poignant The Great 1974 Mining Disaster is treated to a fine performance with superb harmonies from Lees and Holroyd and once again drummer Pritchard provides a master class in technique. A beautiful rendition of the exquisite Galadriel leads into the uncharacteristic (for BJH) sounding Negative Earth, a pleasant if not outstanding tune and probably the weakest from the then latest album despite the Pink Floydish coda. It’s no surprise that it quickly disappeared from the bands set list after this tour. She Said is more like it, taken from the bands second album it’s full of pomp and splendour with Lees’ rousing guitar solo going into overdrive. Paper Wings is another tuneful but fairly average song from Holroyd and even the lively instrumental break sounds a little contrived by BJH’s usual standards.
For No One is another standout song from Everybody Is Everybody Else with the memorable chorus providing the albums title. Lees’ soling over the backdrop of Mellotron strings is archetypal Barclay James Harvest. Unsurprisingly the bands signature tune Mockingbird provides the encore and as prog rock classics go this is the genuine article. Furthermore this is quite possibly the definitive version with a stunning performance from the band interlocking brilliantly during the instrumental section. Even the Melly behaved itself on this occasion sounding suitably grand.
Whilst Barclay James Harvest Live unsurprisingly included a liberal sprinkling of material from Everybody Is Everybody Else, one obvious omission was the anthemic Child Of The Universe. The band made amends however by featuring it prominently during their 1976 tour captured for prosperity on their next live album Live Tapes. Released in June 1978, like its predecessor it was a double LP and also had a convoluted pre-release history. The original plan was to issue a live album of the 1976 Octoberon tour in order to crack the American market. However when the US deal fell through Polydor subsequently decided that in order to justify a European only release following so soon on the heals of Barclay James Harvest Live it was necessary to include newer material from the 1977 Gone To Earth tour. As a result songs like The World Goes On and Hymn For The Children were axed in favour of Poor Man's Moody Blues, Hard Hearted Woman, Taking Me Higher and Hymn. A sound move I think given that two of these songs quickly became established as live standards for the band.
UK fans remained unimpressed and Live Tapes failed to emulate the success of its predecessor which had been their best selling album to date. Germany was more receptive however where it reached the top 20 album chart possibly because the 1974 live album had not been released there. The bands popularity in Europe grew well into the late 80’s (especially Germany) although America remained impervious to their musical charms.
This remastered and expanded double CD of Live Tapes was first released by Esoteric Recordings (under their original name Eclectic Discs) in October 2006. For a track-by-track appraisal please click on my original review
here. The 2009 reissue is identical to that version including the three bonus tracks which reinstated the songs omitted from the 1978 original. Likewise this remastered version of Barclay James Harvest Live first saw the light of day in July 2005 and adds nothing new with a tracklisting that remains faithful to the 1974 original.
To compare Barclay James Harvest Live and Live Tapes in terms of preference is a tough call although for my money the latter just has the edge. Whilst the 1974 album has a rawer, more energetic performance from the band, Live Tapes benefits from a superior recording. Also whilst personnel favourites like Summer Soldier and After The Day are missing from the 1978 release it compensates with gems like Suicide? and Poor Man's Moody Blues. Given that less than four years separated the original releases the duplication of tracks is impressively minimal so in the final analysis both reissues come heartily recommended.
Barclay James Harvest Live: 8 out of 10
Live Tapes: 8.5 out of 10
Spooky Tooth - Lost In My Dream
Disc One: Weird (4:03), Sunshine Help Me (3:06), Society's Child (4:33), It's All About A Roundabout (2:47), Here I Lived So Well (5:10), Tobacco Road (5:18), Love Really Changed Me (3:36), Luger's Groove (3:37), The Weight (3:09), When I Get Home [Previously Unreleased] (4:15), Something Got Into Your Life [Previously Unreleased] (3:29), Lost In My Dream [First Mix - Previously Unreleased] (5:45), Better By You, Better Than Me (3:44), Waitin' For The Wind (3:45), Feelin' Bad (3:19), Evil Woman (9:09), Hangman Hang My Shell On A Tree (5:47), Oh! Pretty Woman (3:29)
Disc Two: Hosanna (7:36), The Wrong Time (5:12), I Am The Walrus (6:25), Son Of Your Father (3:55), The Last Puff (3:40), Wildfire (4:08), Times Have Changed (3:57), Cotton Growing Man (4:40), Ocean Of Power (4:42), As Long As The World Keeps Turning (3:39), Things Change (4:19), Sunlight Of My Mind (4:56), Fantasy Shifter (4:38), Higher Circles (5:23), Hell Or High Water (5:10), The Mirror (5:25)
Spooky Tooth evolved out of the highly regarded British psychedelic group Art who recorded and released Supernatural Fairy Tales which is now regarded as a seminal album of the genre. However, before the Art album had even hit the shelves, the group, comprising Mike Harrison (vocals), Luther Grosvenor (guitar), Greg Ridley (bass) and Mike Kellie (drums) had met up with US keyboard player Gary Wright and decided to change their name to Spooky Tooth. It is this original line-up of the band that are represented on the first CD of this Esoteric anthology of the band's career up to 1974 (the band reformed without Wright in 1999 and released one album. More recently, in 2007 Harrison, Wright and Kellie reunited for a tour subsequently and released a live DVD).
It is the first disc that will no doubt hold the most interest for long-time Tooth fans. Not only because arguably the original line-up produced the most significant album of the band's career, but also because seven of the 18 tracks are either previously unreleased or are tracks from singles that have not been released on CD before. Concentrating on these unreleased numbers first, the album kicks off with Weird, a song originally recorded by Art and released on their album under the title I Think I'm Going Weird. The Tooth version was the b-side of the band's first single Sunshine Help Me released in 1968, and maintains the psychedelic trappings of the original version, making it somewhat out of place to the music written for the debut album. Probably the reason it was relegated to the single b-side. The second rarity is another b-side, the instrumental Luger's Groove which accompanied the group's second single, Love Really Changed Me. A very energetic number with some great percussion, it is not a million miles away from the sound label mates Traffic adopted later in their career. In-between the release of the first and second albums, to keep interest in the group high, a cover of The Weight, the classic number by The Band, was released and achieved minor success in Europe, although not in the UK. A very good version of the song that, although keeping true to the original number, actually gets my vote as preferable to the version recorded by Robbie Robertson and his colleagues. One more b-side is included at the end of the first disc, a version of the Blues classic Oh! Pretty Woman that was on the flip side of That Was Only Yesterday, the first single release from the second album. A very good version and one that I think Gary Moore might have heard when sorting out the arrangement for his version of the song! Esoteric's Mark Powell has to be thanked for unearthing two previously unheard songs that were recorded during the initial sessions for Spooky Two. It is quite unfathomable why When I Get Home and Something Got Into Your Life have been left to languish in the vaults for over 40 years as both are great numbers and at least the equal of anything on the legendary sophomore release. The latter track in particular is quite fantastic. Last of the unreleased tracks is the first mix of Lost In My Dream which is over 40 seconds longer than the album version and changes the dynamic of the song slightly, giving it more tension.
The rest of the first CD consists of six tracks from the 1968 debut It's All About and a further five tracks from Spooky Two. Sunshine Help Me which, as mentioned, was the debut single, is a strong number that was a favourite of pirate radio station DJs. Again, there is a slight similarity to early Traffic, the sound of the heavy Hammond overlaying the harmony backing vocals. There are two cover versions included, Janis Ian's Society's Child is perhaps a bit overly dramatic, unlike John D Loudermilk's Tobacco Road which, initially at least, has been stripped right back and moves on to be a solid version of the standard with some great playing by Grosvenor. Of the other original numbers It's All About A Roundabout is a delightfully poppy number, Here I Lived So Well is a slower number with good use made of the vocalists and Love Really Changed Me deserving of being a bigger hit as it has everything a late sixties pop song should have. Any self-respecting prog fan should at least be aware of Spooky Two, rightly regarded as a classic first generation progressive album. Better By You, Better Than Me, covered in the late 1970s by none other than Judas Priest, is a fine song, as are Waitin' For The Wind, with its booming organ and the lovely acoustic Feelin' Bad. But it is the epic Evil Woman which at just over nine minutes is a tour de force of early hard rock, a wonderful song. Last track from the second album included is the rather introspective
Hangman Hang My Shell On A Tree which shows the other side of the band and a great vocal arrangement with an uncredited female singer adding new shades on the chorus.
CD Two presents a selection of tracks from each of five subsequent Tooth albums, starting with Hosanna from the ill-fated Ceremony album that was never intended to be the band's third album, but a backing for a concept album by French avant-garde musician Pierre Henry. Although the band tried to disassociate themselves from the album it did result in Wright leaving the group. Despite Henry's best efforts, he doesn't manage to totally destroy the fine performance of Tooth, and particularly guitarist Grosvenor, on this song. As I suggested in my review of Ceremony (below), it would be very interesting to hear the album without the Frenchman's annoying additions. By 1970 Gary Wright had left the band who had recruited multi-instrumentalist Chris Stainton (bass, guitar, piano, organ) to play alongside Harrison, Grosvenor and Kellie. Aided by session superstars Henry McCulloch (guitar) and Alan Spencer (bass) this configuration only lasted for one album before imploding. The album, curiously credited to Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison (which couldn't have gone down too well with Grosvenor and Kellie) was mostly a collection of cover versions. Of the two original numbers, both included here, The Wrong Time was actually written by Gary Wright and features some prominent female backing vocals as well as some scintillating lead guitar work, while The Last Puff is a piano-based instrumental boogie composed by Chris Stainton, who manages to capture the Wright organ sound quite convincingly at the end of the piece. It can often be a mistake to cover classic tracks that everyone is familiar with, yet Tooth successfully tackled two, The Beatles I Am The Walrus and Elton John's Son Of Your Father. The version of Walrus is simply wonderful, taking the trippy original to a whole other place with a much harder edge. Of course, any Elton cover would have to feature a prominent piano; this version shows how good a songwriter Elton John was in his early days. The album was not a great success in Europe and lead to the band splitting. However, sales in the US took off and a new version of the band did a US tour in 1971 before once again going their separate ways. By late 1972, Harrison and Wright had decided to give it another go recruiting future Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Chris Stewart and drummer Bryson Graham. The first album by the new line-up appeared in early 1973 with Wright writing six of the eight tracks and co-writing (with Jones) the other two. This compilation features three tracks from
You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw, the bluesy Wildfire which features a great vocal by Harrison, the gorgeously melancholic Times Have Changed with Harrison again shinning and Wright's acoustic and electric piano parts making this song a definite highlight of the anthology and Cotton Growing Man resurrecting the Hammond sound of old.
Despite a hectic touring schedule, a mere four months after You Broke My Heart... had been released the band were back in the studio and back with Mike Kellie on the drum stool recording the next album, Witness. Wright was again responsible for the majority of the writing coming up with some very strong material such as Ocean Of Power and Things Change, although tracks such as Sunlight Of My Mind don't really stand out and Jones is no match for Grosvenor in the guitar stakes. The loss of the recording contract with Island (although they remained the band's label in the US) and further internal band frictions led to one final set of changes in the line-up, a real upheaval with only Wright and Jones staying put. Harrison was replaced by Mike Patto (who sounds better on these tracks than he does on many of the songs he recorded with Patto and Boxer), Bryson Graham was back on drums and new boy Val Burke joined on bass. The new blood certainly injected a spice into the band and the fact that more of the material was co-written induced a change in sound, with more of a harder edge. Fantasy Satisfier is a good example of this and even in the only song (of two) included on this compilation that was penned by Wright you would be hard pressed to realise it was the same writer as material on the previous two albums. Hell Or High Water also takes things in a different direction with a much fuller sound and very busy arrangement. However, highlight is the title track Mirror co-written by Wright, Jones and Patto, a marvellous romp if ever there was one.
I have to admit that I have never been a great fan of compilation albums, being too much of an 'anorak' (either that or too anally retentive!) and preferring to hear the individual songs in the context of the album with which they were created. However, I feel that Lost In My Dream successfully manages to distil the essential essence of Spooky Tooth into the two CDs. With a playing time of over 2.5 hours, there is a fair representation from each album (with, thankfully, the exception of Ceremony)
of the band's early career. I had, wrongly, previously been of the opinion that Spooky Two was the Tooth album that I needed to be concerned with buying. This compilation has proved that assertion to be wide of the mark and there is lot more to the group than that classic album. Heartily recommended!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Spooky Tooth With Pierre Henry - Ceremony: An Electronic Mass
Tracklist: Have Mercy (7:53), Jubilation (8:27), Confession (6:48), Prayer (10:51), Offering (3:29), Hosanna (7:37)
Ceremony: An Electronic Mass was the subject of a 'buried treasure' article in British music mag Mojo last year. Whether this had a bearing on the decision of Esoteric Recordings to reissue the album is debatable. What is unequivocal is that, coming hot on the heels of the fantastic Spooky Two in no way did Spooky Tooth consider Ceremony to be their third album, indeed the band themselves consider that they simply provided backing tracks for a project cooked up by Island Label boss and, coincidentally, their manager Chris Blackwell. Recorded in one day at a total cost of £600, the six tracks, all written by keyboard and organ player Gary Wright, combined music liberally infused with Hammond organ and lyrics freely borrowed from the Catholic liturgy. The musical backings were performed by Wright and the rest of the group - Luther Grosvenor (guitar), Mike Harrison (vocals and keyboards), Mike Kellie (drums) and the newly recruited Andy Leigh (bass and guitar) - before the tapes were shipped off to Pierre Henry, the avant garde French composer and pioneer of musique concrète whose concept the whole idea was in the first place. And that was the last the group heard of it until it was released as an album by Spooky Tooth With Pierre Henry, as if the whole project had been a complete collaboration from start to finish. Arguably it ended, or at least put a large obstacle in the way of the band's career, with the group disowning, and continuing to disown, the recording and main composer Wright leaving the band soon after its release.
Things start off well with the rather doom laden Have Mercy, the Hammond organ and intoning vocals giving a rather monastic feel. The electric guitar enters in a very heavy tour de force that really rocks. However, one is aware of an interfering noise like a dripping tap, a dull whooshing sound and, over a particularly fine solo, something akin to a small mammal being harassed by a somewhat larger mammal that likes to eat small mammals for lunch. What is really obvious from the start is that the noises (and there is no better way of describing them) are not even integrated into the master tracks but have just been added over the top which gives the effect of either a faulty CD or a radio station simultaneously receiving two broadcasts. Jubilation starts off with more strange Henryisms which completely ruin the music sounding as if they were recorded round the U bend of the nearest toilet bowl. It disintegrates from there on in to just simply become downright annoying. Confession has to contend with a hammer banging continually against a pole before electronic gibberish is poured over the top. Prayer starts off okay, with plucked piano strings and a multitude of very spacey sounds which lead quite well into the organ and a very strange sounding, but very effective, guitar. The lyrics are derived, in most part, from the Lord's Prayer, and compared with other music renditions of this religious text (Roy Harper and Siouxsie And The Banshees have also recorded versions) this one stands up favourably and possibly even surpasses the others. Offering, if you ignore the grunts, is also quite a decent mixture although the synth sounds do become increasingly more annoying as the track progresses and the drone of what sounds like a million bees would probably give one a severe migraine if the song went on any longer. Final track Hosanna is again ruined by the totally superfluous additions of the avant garde 'maestro' (and to avoid any misunderstanding, I'm using the term ironically) but Spooky Tooth manage to shine through in places.
Considering that Spooky Tooth completed recording their contribution independently of Henry and it is obvious that the Frenchman only added effects over the top of the music, then there is a possibility that tapes of the unadulterated tracks are still in existence. To the majority of people these unblemished tracks would certainly be of much more interest, and if one be may be as so bold as to suggest, of more artistic value, than the reissue of the album as originally released. Heck, get rid of the religious text and you'd have a pretty fine instrumental album! The playing of Wright and Grosvenor in particular is impressive throughout and there are some substantial performances underlying the shit poured over the top in the sake of 'art' (another word used ironically there!) That is not to say that it is a patch on other albums by Spooky Tooth, particularly the essential
Spooky Two, but considering the music was written and recorded so quickly and was not intended, by the band at least, to be released under their name it has its moments. That the album was a complete commercial failure in the UK and the US but did achieve a modicum of success in France, probably says more about the French and music than rejection of the avant garde by the British and Americans.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10 (that's 6 for Spooky Tooth and -3 for Pierre Henry)
Marsupilami – Marsupilami
Tracklist: Dorian Deep (7:37) Born To Be Free (5:45) And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin (6:40) Ab Initio Ad Finem [The Opera] (10:51) Facilis Descencus Averni (9:34)
I reviewed Marsupilami’s second album Arena back in 2007. Esoteric followed this with a reissue of the groups’ first album at the tail end of 2008, so this review is a little tardy but it is now my pleasure to remedy the situation.
The group’s line-up for the two albums remained constant except for the addition of Many Riedelbauch on saxophones for Arena. The sound on the first album is therefore a little less cluttered and more direct, with flute, guitar and organ taking the lead roles. Incidentally, for trivia fans, flautist Jessica Stanley-Clarke is now better-known as leading expert herb grower Jekka McVicar !
As with its follow-up, the album consists of just five tracks, though each one moves through a variety of moods and tempos, employing many time changes and oscillating from hard to soft, quiet to loud in true progressive rock style. Contemporaneous with Van Der Graaf Generator’s The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other, Marsupilami has much in common with that album, sharing an experimental drive, a doomy outlook and an intellectual lyrical approach. It should definitely be of interest to VDGG and Gnidrolog fans, though the vocal style is quite different to Mr Hammill’s (which might make Marsupilami more palatable to the wider prog audience, as I know Hammill is very much a love him or hate him sort of artist).
With shimmering percussion, ethereal flute and commanding vocals, the portentously titled And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin is an excellent slice of early prog, full of all the promise of a then burgeoning new genre. Likewise, the ten plus minutes of the instrumental Ab Initio Ad Finem [The Opera] are a prog fan’s delight, with wonderful, spooky organ driving along over rolling drum beats, cranking up the tension before heavenly flute melodies float in to sooth and caress. Wild guitar breaks are interwoven with gentler passages, making for an enthralling musical experience. There’s a beautiful passage around the six-minute mark where acoustic guitars, flute and piano create a mood that sound like a cross between Le Orme (Felona & Sorona) and VDGG at their most serene, before erupting into a terrific organ solo.
I have picked these two tracks to give a flavour of the material contained on the album, but it would be nigh-on impossible to pick out favourite tracks as each one has so many different moods and they all have great moments. I like a lot of organ in my prog, and I also found the prominent use of flute to be extremely enjoyable.
Considering the age of the album (nearly forty years old now), it sounds remarkably fresh, with only the vocals sounding rather dated in style. Esoteric’s usual sterling re-mastering really brings the album to life, making it palatable to a modern prog audience, interested in the roots of the genre, not just for nostalgia buffs who loved it the first time around.
Listening now, its hard to understand why this wasn’t much more successful first time round - perhaps it was the crap cover which put people off – the music certainly deserves plenty of attention from prog lovers today.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Man - Revelation
Tracklist: And In The Beginning (4:22), Sudden Life (4:41), Empty Room (3:44), Puella! Puella! [Woman! Woman!] (3:34), Love (2:52), Erotica (4:10), Blind Man (4:18), And Castles Rise In Children's Eyes (3:22), Don't Just Stand There [Come In Out Of The Rain] (4:15), The Missing Pieces (1:56), The Future Hides Its Face (5:30) Bonus Tracks: Erotica [First Version] (8:40), Sudden Life [Mono Single Mix] (4:12), Love [Mono Single Mix] (2:53), Erotica [Mono Single Mix] (4:14)
Man - 2 Ozs Of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle
Tracklist: Prelude - The Storm (12:24), It Is As It Must Be (8:31), Spunk Box (5:51), My Name Is Jesus Smith (4:07), Parchment And Candles (1:53), Brother Arnold's Red And White Striped Tent (5:11) Bonus Tracks: My Name Is Jesus Smith [Alternative Version] (5:14), A Sad Song [Grasshopper] (5:16), Walkin' The Dogma ["Spunk Box" Demo] (6:07)
After masterfully remastering the Man albums that originally graced the famous United Artists label, Esoteric turn back to the beginning with the Welsh group's first two albums that were released on the Pye label. But first, a bit of history. Man evolved out of a group called The Bystanders, a five piece comprising Micky Jones (guitar and vocals), Clive John (guitar, keyboards and vocals), Ray Williams (bass), Jeff Jones (drums) and Vic Oakley who had replaced original vocalist Gerry Braden. The group had released half a dozen singles on the Pye label and a couple on the independent Welsh Pylot label, but had only achieved a minor hit - one week in the lower reaches of the national charts with their cover of 98.6, a 1967 hit for Keith (James Keefer). Despite, the lack of chart success the band were doing okay, reportedly earning up to £1,000 a week, which in 1968 was the average annual earning. Not that they didn't earn it - one week described in the informative and witty sleeve notes (as ever by Deke Leonard) included two residency gigs in Manchester (both on the same night), three day trips to London for BBC radio sessions and a further trip to London to play the British Airlines Annual Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, supporting none other than Acker Bilk! Such was their schedule that they had three complete sets of equipment, unheard of in those times, with one set at each of the Manchester clubs and the third set for use in the studio and other engagements. The aforementioned Mr Leonard was recruited following the departure of Oakley and with his multi-instrumental skills, primarily as a second guitarist, prompting a change in direction for the group. However, the band had neglected to inform Leonard that they were going to give up the residencies, the cover versions and the lucrative engagements in order to pursue their own muse and concentrate only on self-penned numbers. Leonard was correspondingly shocked to discover that his dreams of financial security were being dashed in favour of artistic integrity!
The group were about to be dropped by Pye when producer John Schroeder caught the band playing a set of mostly new numbers and persuaded Pye to stick with the group, particularly as it was obvious that the musical environment was changing and the future no longer lay in the cabaret-type circuits but with bands writing increasingly adventurous music focusing on albums rather than singles. So three weeks after Leonard joined the group and they had changed from The Bystanders to Man (allegedly because at the time everyone was saying 'man' at the end of every sentence so it would be free publicity!), the band were scheduled to start recording their debut album. Unusually, Schroeder suggested that the group recorded the only remaining concert on the books using the Pye mobile recording studio, a rather good idea as it happened as most of the backing tracks on the album were derived from the concert. The rest of the recording took place at Pye's Marble Arch studios and, whilst there, the group took full advantage of the sound effects library and, consequently, Revelation is rife with them, as with the opening crash of thunder on And In The Beginning, a vaguely Eastern number that is not so much mystic as mystifying. Rather a pretentious start, particularly the spoken word section in the middle. Sudden Life begins with a menagerie of animals, from a gaggle of geese to an ominously roaring lion, which are completely unconnected to the song that follows. A basic bluesy number with harmony vocals and the origins of the Man dual guitar sound and some panned organ stabs from John. An echoed cry of 'Hello' introduces Empty Room with its dual vocals and keyboard heavy approach. Some interesting ideas but not really a classic song, particularly the awkward lyrics and rather painful sections where there is only a single voice. Chalk it down to perhaps trying too hard. Mick Jones' first writing credit comes with the instrumental Puella! Puella! (Woman! Woman!) which is the first truly great track on the album, albeit one that sounds nothing like the Man band! Ominous haunting vocalisations, strident piano and even a recorder really make it a stand out piece of music. Not to be outdone, Leonard responds with a solo composition of his own, Love, and proves he is just as able a writer. A simple song, based on a prominent acoustic guitar, it is vaguely reminiscent of that other great Welsh band, Badfinger.
The most notorious track on the album, and the one that got the band some press coverage and a ban from sale in WH Smiths, is Erotica. Based around a live jam captured by the mobile recording unit, the piece was originally intended to be purely instrumental until producer Schroeder suggested they added a moaning woman simulating an orgasm (hence the ban!). Obviously the sound effects library did not have the requisite material and so a typist from Pye's offices was recruited to add the appropriate noises! This remastered version of the album contains three versions of Erotica, the original almost 9-minute version, the shorter album version and a mono mix that was released as a single! May seem a strange choice as a 45 but it did reach number 3 in the French charts (some two years before Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin attempted something similar) and was a major hit in Angola! Blind Man is a piano-led bluesy number that I'm sure Wishbone Ash borrowed the opening riff from at some point. Jones is credited with the next two numbers, another instrumental in And Castles Rise In Children's Eyes, which borrows heavily from the classics, and Don't Just Stand There [Come In Out Of The Rain] which sounds quite dated these days and proves that Jones, at this point, was not an outstanding lead singer. However, it is probably the heaviest number on the album and when John gets going on the organ resemblances to Vanilla Fudge are not far off the mark. The Missing Pieces is most notable for giving future Man member Martin Ace a co-writing credit although as it is mostly sound effects and some mundane lyrics I am not quite sure what he and the other three composers actually wrote! Last track, The Future Hides Its Face is a reprise, or continuation, of the opening track. Two other mono single mixes are added as bonus tracks and complete the album. Revelation didn't sell that well, particularly in the UK, and one hesitates to suggest the front cover may have put people off (let's face it, Man were hardly the pretty boy band of the sixties!). However, it did reasonably well in Europe, especially Germany, and persuaded Pye to finance another album.
That album was 2 Ozs Of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle and a recording date was set for a mere six months after the release of Revelation. Consequently, Man spent the summer of 1969 ensconced in their communal terrace house in Streatham writing, rehearsing and ingesting artificial stimulants. Once again recorded at Marble Arch Studios, this time in the main studio that was usually reserved for orchestras, although the desire to raid the sound effects cupboard had at least worn off. Regarded by many to be one of the best, if not the best, Man albums, the six months of writing and rehearsals had really allowed the band to forge their own sound. With no manager, agent or gigs, the band were free to concentrate on the music. Their progression was evident from the start with the 12.5 minute Prelude - The Storm, a Jones instrumental that features Leonard making seagull sounds with his guitar and generally setting out the stall for what was to come, both throughout the rest of the album and forthcoming releases. The intensity is ramped up on It Is As It Must Be with the dual lead guitars getting a real work out on this rocker, which originally went under the title Shit On The World, something that Pye objected to. They also were not too eager on the title of the next track which the band had called Spunk Rock. Whereas Shit On The World had been replaced by It Is As It Must Be (after a wry comment by composer John), Spunk Rock somehow got transformed to Spunk Box, obviously someone at the label got confused at which the offending word was! The track is synonymous with Man, their iconic song that in concert would be stretched to four or five times the length of the studio version. The album version has all the elements crammed into six minutes and is the ultimate Man song, even if the vocals are a bit ropey!
My Name Is Jesus Smith, which no doubt if released as a new song these days would get a lot of fundamentalist Christians hot under the collar, is the tale of a man who takes over Heaven and has the pearly gates melted down and sold for scrap. Featuring slide guitar throughout it is quite a jolly number, if a little simplistic, although more characteristic of the Man sound than the very Baroque Parchment And Candles with its harpsichord backing. The original album ended with Brother Arnold's Red And White Striped Tent which is another bona fide classic Man song, although not generally performed live in its original form, long-term Man aficionados will recognise elements that were often incorporated into on-stage jams. Three great previously unheard bonus tracks have been exhumed from the vaults: an instrumental and slightly longer version of Jesus Smith which I think is far better than the album version; A Sad Song [Grasshopper] which is obviously a song in progress and taped in rehearsal; and Walkin' The Dogma the demo of Spunk Box (or Rock!).
Neither album matches up to their prime United Artist releases, although Ozs Of Plastic comes close and is a worthy addition to any Man collection. As for Revelation, well a bold first attempt with indications of what was to come. The Man band occupy a somewhat unique place in the history of British (Welsh!) music having become an institution surviving against all odds and musical trends. It remains a somewhat hypothetical question at just how big they could have become if Peter Grant had become their manager before they started recording their second album, seems it was only the fact that they had no gigs for Grant to watch the band in action prevented such a managerial heavyweight getting his weight (so to speak) behind them.
Revelation: 5 out of 10
2 Ozs Of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle: 7.5 out of 10
The Deviants - Ptooff!
Tracklist: Opening (0:09), I'm Coming Home (5:57), Child Of The Sky (4:27), Charlie (3:53), Nothing Man (4:21), Garbage (5:36), Bun (2:42), Deviation Street (8:53)
The Deviants - Disposable
Tracklist: Somewhere To Go (7:24), Sparrows And Wires (0:55), Jamie's Song (3:35), You've Got To Hold On (3:56), Fire In The City (3:01), Let's Loot The Supermarket (2:35), Pappa Oo Mao Mao (2:34), Slum Lord (2:22), Blind Joe Mcturk's Last Session (1:20), Normality Jam (4:24), Guaranteed To Bleed (3:48), Sidney B Goode (0:54), Last Man (6:13)
The Deviants - Three
Tracklist: Billy The Monster (3:26), Broken Biscuits (2:09), First Line (2:44), People Suite (2:24), Rambling B(l)ack Transit Blues (5:37), Death Of A Dream Machine (2:50), Playtime (3:06), Black George Does It With His Tongue (1:20), The Junior Narco Rangers (0:28), Let's Drink To The People (1:32), Metamorphosis Explosion (8:54)
The Deviants, regarded by some as the original blueprint of punk, have their three 1960s albums subjected to the remastering and reissuing skills of the Esoteric label. The original incarnation of the band consisted of main man Mick Farren on vocals and piano, Russell Hunter on drums and vocals, Cord Rees on bass, Spanish guitar and vocals and Sid Bishop on guitars. By the second album Rees had departed to be replaced by Duncan Sanderson and by the time of the third album Bishop had relinquished the six string spot in favour of Paul Ruldolph. Originally formed in 1966 under the name of The Social Deviants in the Notting Hill area of London, the band originally appealed to the speed freaks and anarchists prevalent in that area at the time. An unlikely friendship with a young millionaire resulted in the gift of £700 which funded the recording of the debut album. Unrestrained by any record company involvement the band set about recording with no constraints or direction and certainly without any concessions to commercial appeal.
From the opening notes of I'm Coming Home on Ptooff! it is obvious that The Deviants were not a well rehearsed and musically competent band, if anything they border on the chronically inept! This is undoubtedly where the punk comparisons come from, which is probably grossly unfair to a lot of punk bands! The opening number, whose only relation to the Ten Years After number is the name and that it is broadly a blues-based number, is somewhat chaotic with an inane lyric about feeling alright and walking up to a door and opening it - yes, six minutes to open a door! From this number I guess you could conclude that The Stooges were fans. Child Of The Sky belies the era with its hippyish acoustic guitar and recorder groove even if the lyrics are far and removed from the hippy ideal. Charlie is another disastrous blues-type number that plods along to nowhere in a not too brisk manner. Nothing Man and Deviation Street are both musical collages utilising tape loops and various studio techniques taught to them by Jack Henry Moore who had studied with John Cage. Both tracks feature spoken lyrics although Nothing Man is a more conventional track with a musique concrète air while Deviation Street is a mish mash of everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink and may be mind bending to those with an already bent mind but to the sober it loses any appeal it might of had after a couple of listens. Garbage lives up to its name whilst Bun is a surprisingly adept guitar instrumental.
Amazingly, the first album gathered enough interest for the group to be signed to the independent Stable Records who coughed up the cash for the band to record
Disposable, an album that Russell Hunter himself calls "a complete amphetamine lunacy album". Somewhere To Go is a more straight song with some nice guitar work by Bishop and added organ by guest Tony Ferguson. Farren's rant over the top is annoying to say the least - the man is definitely not up there in the crooner stakes! Sparrows And Wires is a spoken word piece by band associate Stephen Sparkes (who, incidentally, recently described Ptooff! as the worst record in the history of man!) set against a dire guitar and drum backing. Jamie's Song is better but Farren's vocals once more grate on You've Got To Hold On, although the wailing harmonica of M.J. McDonnell and the surprise addition of an actual chorus along with some good acid rock guitar work from Bishop give the song some acceptability. Fire In The City is a sleazy jazzy number with added horns but it not much to write home about. Anyone who thinks that drugs enhance the creative spirit leading to greatness desperately needs to hear the drivel that is Let's Loot The Supermarket which was actually released on a single, albeit as a b-side! The wild and whacky Pappa Oo Mao Mao is Farren's tribute to early American rock 'n' roll whilst Slum Lord literally breaks down mid way through giving way to the ridiculously bad Blind Joe Mcturk's Last Session. Again, one would have to be stoned to find this in the slightest bit amusing. Normality Jam is relatively, well normal, and is exactly what it says it is, a rather uninspired jam that meanders along inoffensively leading into the very uncharacteristic Guaranteed To Bleed, a slower number with piano and organ by Dennis Hughes and an unidentified vocalist who deftly manages to sing outrageously flat in several places. A brief Bishop rock 'n' roll guitar solo in Sidney B Goode (not hard to guess the inspiration) before the album ends with Last Man which is most like the experimental pieces on the first album, and just as bad.
Stable records proved to be not so stable and went bust relatively quickly resulting in the departure of Bishop and the recruitment of Ruldolph, a more accomplished musician and composer. Ruldolph took greater control of the band, writing seven of the eleven tracks on the album and bringing a degree more coherence to proceedings. This didn't sit too well with Farren who thought that the band, his band, were aiming to compete with the likes of Led Zeppelin, a group the Deviants had opened for in 1968. He may have had a point as although opener Billy The Monster maintained some of the weirdness of previous albums, the instrumental Broken Biscuits and, after a slow start, Rambling B(l)ack Transit Blues ramp up into quite ferocious rock songs. The album is still replete with dubious material though, Black George Does It With His Tongue is just rubbish and The Junior Narco Rangers is more unfunny ramblings while People Suite has an opening that owes a lot to Syd Barrett. The lengthy Metamorphosis Explosion is essentially a slow blues which features some nice playing from Ruldolph and a rather restrained Farren.
Following an appearance at the famous Hyde Park concert alongside King Crimson and The Rolling Stones in mourning for their guitarist Brian Jones, The Deviants flew off to Canada only for Farren to quit the group and return home when the promised live work didn't materialise. Ruldolph, Sanderson and Hunter continued for a short while playing a series of concerts down the west coast of the US before returning to England and teaming up with ex-Pretty Things drummer Twink as The Pink Fairies a band that, ironically, had initially been formed by Twink with Mick Farren immediately after his return from Canada.
I can't agree with the people who seem to think that these first three Deviants releases are classic albums and somehow have an important place in the history of music. A lot of the material is extremely week, with large chunks not really worth listening to more than a couple of times or at very long intervals between airings. As for the relevance of The Deviants to the punk scene a decade later, well it is easy to draw comparisons in hindsight but I seriously doubt that many, if any, of the young punks in 1977 had actually heard these albums, particularly Ptooff!, and am as equally certain that if they had they wouldn't have been an inspiration. I am a fan of the Esoteric label and support their aim to ensure that quality music has the chance to reach new ears. However, with these Deviants albums I think they may be catering for a very select audience.
Ptooff!: 3 out of 10
Disposable: 3 out of 10
Three: 4 out of 10
Mick Farren - Mona ~ The Carnivorous Circus
Tracklist: Mona [A Fragment] (3:16), Carnivorous Circus Part One: [The Whole Thing Starts - But Charlie, It's Still Moving - Observe The Ravens - Society Of The Horsemen] (15:19), Summertime Blues (2:41), Carnivorous Circus Part Two: [Don't Talk To Me Mary - You Can't Move Me - In My Window Box - An Epitaph Can Point The Way] (13:01), Mona [The Whole Trip] (7:27)
After Mick Farren had quit The Deviants he formed the Pink Fairies with Pretty Things drummer Twink and Tyrannosaurus Rex percussionist Steve Peregrine Took. After a chaotic debut gig in Manchester, Twink took the band name and, joining up with Farren's old Deviants bandmates, carried the Fairies into musical history. Remarkably, neither Farren nor Took took umbrage at this, as come December 1969 all three were reunited at sessions for Farren's contractually obligatory solo album which he owed Transatlantic records as part of the deal he had signed on behalf of The Deviants. Also rounded up to contribute to the album were Steve Hammond (guitar and vocals), John Gustafson (bass), Pete Robinson (organ and piano) and Paul Buckmaster ('cello). This last trio of musicians went on to become leading lights of seventies music, particularly in their recording and touring work with the exceptional Shawn Phillips.
Given the nature of Farren's work with The Deviants, particularly the first two albums, it is no surprise that after the (relatively) more slick Three album, Farren was eager to get back to a more experimental approach to music. The sessions started with a discussion between Farren and Buckmaster, who was comparing the riff in Bo Diddley's Mona with the work of classical composer Béla Bartók. Demonstrating the similarities on his 'cello, Farren immediately decided that they should record a version. The results top and tail the CD and are typically chaotic. Musically, the piece is okay, although I have never really been a fan of the somewhat simplistic and repetitive number. Hammond contributes some suitably psychedelic guitar with Buckmaster having an extended solo which initially is rather pleasing but ends up grating the nerves somewhat. Farren's vocals are more growled than sung. The album also features a version of Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues, which even at 160 seconds outstays its welcome by well over 100 seconds! The vocals, although not the worst I've ever heard, come pretty close!
The bulk of the album is made up of the two parts of Carnivorous Circus. The basis of both parts are interviews conducted by Farren with a Hell's Angel (about beating up a thief, getting arrested and then himself being beaten by the police) and with Steve Peregrine Took (about his time in Borstal, a juvenile detention centre). However, the first interview is just slapped into the piece with no attempt to integrate with any music. The bulk of the first part, starting after the interview ends at about three minutes, and continuing for about eight minutes, is a reasonable musical passage with suitable psychedelic guitar and Hammond jamming over a great drum and bass riff, although Farren does spoil things when he opens his mouth, still I suppose it was ostensibly his solo album! Following on from this there is some dire chanting. And no, the titles to the subsections bear scant relationship to the different sections of the track! Part two starts terribly and then a nice acoustic guitar bit starts up. The interview starts in the background and sounds a bit like the effect Pink Floyd subsequently achieved on Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast. Eventually the music stops and we are left with just the interview, plus accompanying hacking cough, presumably courtesy of Farren. Another jam ensues with sound effects and commentary added over the top before the Farren's growling vocals make sure that one isn't lulled into a false sense of security. An acoustic-based section almost brightens things up and finally brings the circus to a somewhat disjointed end.
Even though one tries to be fair in these reviews, it is genuinely quite difficult to point out any redeeming feature of this album. I admit I don't like this avant garde/experimental/call it what you will type of 'music' but even so, the album is not an easy listen nor a pleasant experience. Okay, a part of Carnivorous Circus Part One was pretty good, somewhat expected from the calibre of musicians involved, but comes with the caveat that it is not strikingly original and one has to contend with the, frankly, annoyingly bad vocals. That John Lennon and Yoko Ono were apparently fond of this album is not that much of a recommendation given the quality of their experimental work together, and even though Farren might have been first, being an ex-member of The Deviants would never have the impact of being an ex-Beatle. As policemen as the sites of accidents are wont to say, "proceed with caution".
Conclusion: 2 out of 10