Reviews in this issue:
- Tudor Lodge - Tudor Lodge
- Soft Machine – Tales Of Taliesin
- Tangerine Dream – Underwater Sunlight
- Tangerine Dream - Atem
- Baker Gurvitz Army - Baker Gurvitz Army
- Baker Gurvitz Army - Elysian Encounter
- Baker Gurvitz Army - Hearts On Fire
- Earth And Fire - To The World Of The Future
- Arthur Brown & Richard Wahnfried – Time Actor
- Dave Brock And The Agents Of Chaos - The Agents Of Chaos
- Lol Coxhill – Ear Of Beholder
- David Bedford – Nurses Song With Elephants
Tudor Lodge - Tudor Lodge
Tracklist: It All Comes Back To Me (4:19), Would You Believe? (2:29), Recollection (3:18), Two Steps Back (2:52), Help Me Find Myself (4:19), Nobody’s Listening (3:31), Willow Tree (3:20), Forest (3:35), I See A Man (3:01), The Lady’s Changing Home (4:38), Madeline (4:04), Kew Gardens (2:25) Bonus Track: The Good Times We Had (3:00)
You will have to indulge me a while here for I am about to venture in the sparsely populated genre of progressive folk rock. Sure we have dipped our toes into this area before with the likes of Trader Horne and the excellent Mellow Candle, both incidentally reissued, as is this CD, by Esoteric Recordings, and now we come to another great recording of the genre, the eponymously titled sole album by Tudor Lodge. Formed in early 1968 by John Stannard and Roger Strevens, the duo played regular spots at the folk clubs in their home town of Reading. The pair were becoming established and had plenty of gigs booked when Strevens decided to jump ship. A fortuitous encounter with a native born Australian, Lyndon Green, allowed Stannard to fulfil the bookings despite the fact that the two singer-guitarists lived miles apart from each kin the South of England. It was at one of these concerts that the pair first encountered Ann Steuart, a New Yorker who was studying to be an opera singer. During the summer break in 1969 she had travelled to England where, with her sister, sang on the folk circuit often encountering, and ultimately befriending, the Tudor Lodge boys. After returning to complete her studies in the US, Steuart returned to the UK and joined Stannard and Green, adding her vocals as well as piano and flute skills to the ensemble. By some haphazard route, the band found themselves playing a ridiculously short set at the Marquee Club during a break by either King Crimson or Uriah Heep, memories differ as to which group was headlining that night. The sound engineer having balanced the set for the electric rock of the headliners was not going to change his levels for the mellow acoustic guitars, flutes and delicate harmony vocals and simply loaded everything with maximum feedback. Despite this, record executive Brian Shepherd, who was present in the audience, was sufficiently impressed to almost immediately sign the trio to that most progressive, and collectable, of labels, the Vertigo 'swirl'.
With only a limited recording budget, the album was laid down in a fortnight in early 1971, immensely benefitting from the professionalism, experience and sheer brilliance of that most famous of rhythm sections, Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums). With future Rush producer Terry Brown at the production helm, the subtle and subdued electric guitar of Mike Morgan and string and wind sections, both arranged by the band, to add colour, the recordings went smoothly, largely because the majority of the tracks on the album had been regularly performed by the group in the folk clubs. Most of the writing was from the pen of Stannard, although both Green and Steuart contributed one track each to which a cover of Ralph McTell's Kew Gardens was added as the closing track. The resulting album is an utter delight from start to finish. The balance between the instruments is nigh on perfect, the harmonies sublime and the tunes and melodies of the songs are simply dripping in gorgeousness. The songs are lifted from the primary acoustic guitar instrumentation by the luscious wind and string arrangements that add moments of classical grace but never overwhelm the songs. Steuart is an excellent flautist and shines throughout but always with the caveat that only what is necessary is added. It is impossible to single out any specific song as the standard is consistently excellent, although I do have a fondness for The Lady's Changing Home where Thompson and Cox come to the fore and more use is made of Morgan's electric guitar, even as far as including a solo laid over the ridiculously harmonious harmonies of the singers. Although the undoubtable attraction of the band is the harmony singing, they were still bold enough to include an instrumental, Madeline, a delightful acoustic guitar piece.
I have quite a few copies of this album although, alas, not an original vinyl version, and I have to say that this latest reissue from Esoteric is a definite step up in audio quality from previous releases. Add to that the inclusion of the rare b side The Good Times We Had never before included along with the album and the usual informative booklet that accompanies Esoteric releases, and we have a superb reissue. Even if you feel slightly ill at the thought of folk rock there are three albums that everyone should hear before dismissing the idea as a musical cull-de-sac: Fairport Convention's Leaf And Liege, Swaddling Songs by Mellow Candle and Tudor Lodge. Undoubtedly, the most peaceful and relaxing of the three is Tudor Lodge, and we all need some peace and relaxation every now and again.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Soft Machine – Tales Of Taliesin
CD 1: Hazard Profile Part One (9:20), Gone Sailing (0:59), Bundles (3:15), Land Of The Bag Snake (3:38), The Floating World (7:10), The Tale Of Taliesin (7:21), Out Of Season (5:31), Second Bundle (2:38), Nexus (0:50), One Over The Eight (5:26), Number Three (2:26), The Nodder (7:14)
CD 2: White Kite (3:00), Eos (1:20), Odds Bullets And Blades Part One (2:19), Odds Bullets And Blades Part Two (2:35), Puffin’ (1:17), Huffin’ (4:41), K’s Riff (4:41), Song Of Aeolus (3:43), Soft Space (8:20), Over n’ Above (7:23), (Black) Velvet Mountain (5:09), Sly Monkey (4:58), Panoramania (7:07)
Soft Machine was a band with a long and convoluted history, and this compilation pulls together recordings from the last phase of the group under the banner “The EMI Years Anthology 1975-1981”. The era featured on this compilation coincides with Karl Jenkins taking the helm as principal composer and band leader from an increasingly disinterested Mike Ratledge, and the four albums featured are Bundles, Softs, Alive And Well, Recorded In Paris and Land Of Cockayne, essentially three albums released in three years appended with what for all intents and purposes was Jenkins’ first solo album recorded under the Softs banner of convenience, 1981’s Land Of Cockayne.
Even in this comparatively short period of the group’s existence the line up went through the usual obligatory changes but one can feel a continuity nonetheless. The core of the band up to and including Softs was Jenkins (keyboards, saxes, flute), John Marshall (drums) and Roy Babbington (bass) who first all played together on 6 as far back as 1973.
Some of the more dogmatic fans of the group are of the opinion that all post-Wyatt incarnations of the band are Soft Machine in name only, bemoaning the complete severing of the psychedelic pop influences of the Wyatt era and the change to a more jazz based direction confirmed by the recruitment of jazz rockers Marshall and Jenkins from influential fusion pioneers Nucleus, and particularly with the seemingly increased marginalisation of eventual sole original member Mike Ratledge, who left in 1976. As the informative sleeve notes here reveal, Ratledge had not been happy in the band for some time and one cannot put the blame for this at Jenkins’ door. It just seems he got fed up, ran out of creative juices and left of his own accord.
For myself, not becoming a fan of the band until long after the final split definitely has its benefits as I can appreciate all the disparate eras of the band for what they were, each producing some utterly fantastic music. The thing that links all eras of Soft Machine is a thirst for true progression, in the literal meaning of the word. The styles may change, but the quest is relentless.
In this latter phase of the group Jenkins’ knack with an intricate melody and his initially simple sounding but revealingly complex compositions act as the structure for the guitar wizardry of first Allan Holdsworth, another who had passed through the ranks of Ian Carr’s Nucleus, albeit briefly, and later the equally talented John Etheridge. Indeed, the structure and discipline Jenkins gives the band was something that their previous free-jazz blowin’ period lacked, although it has to be said they came up with some inspired craziness in that time.
The first album represented on this compilation, Bundles, came out almost two years after the previous studio album 7, and calling the album Bundles rather than "8" signifies that things have changed. Jenkins taking the lead saw a marked change in direction from the earlier jazz era with the introduction of electric guitar as principal instrument. Indeed the last time a guitar featured in the line up was way back when Daevid Allen was still a member.
It would have been remiss to have started this compilation anywhere else other than with Hazard Profile Part One, the tolling bell introducing the technical brilliance of Allan Holdsworth who adds his mesmerising legato runs to change Soft Machine into a fully-fledged fusion band. Hazard Profile Part One was part of a side long Jenkins composed suite, which in turn used Jenkins' earlier Nucleus piece Song For The Bearded Lady as its template. No mean acoustic player either our Allan, as can be heard on Gone Sailing which adds some nice light and shade to proceedings. Karl Jenkins’ future career as a successful classical composer is hinted at on the ambient and minimalist atmospherics of the wonderful The Floating World which would not have sounded out of place on a Jade Warrior album.
The following year saw another album, Softs, Mike Ratledge’s last with the band, and it seems an album he had very little to do with, having already left in all but name, and the two tracks he contributed to are not represented here. This album also sees the introduction of John Etheridge as replacement for the abruptly departing Allan Holdsworth who it seems is forever restless in a group format. John Etheridge gets to shine straight away on The Tale Of Taliesin, and the album shows off Jenkins' arrangement and composition skills with a symphonic vibe running through it, again exemplified on The Tale Of Taliesin with a theme followed by a fast’n’furious middle section starring Etheridge, and coming full circle with the coda. Also, taking sax duties away from the band leader Jenkins, leaving him to concentrate on keyboards and musical direction is the new recruit Alan Wakeman (no relation). Softs exudes a grandness of sound sometimes nearer to symphonic prog than jazz fusion, although the latter still has the upper hand.
At this point I must give praise to the efficient but never obtrusive rhythm section of John Marshall and Roy Babbington, who obviously relished Jenkins’ musical direction and the discipline it gave them. Marshall does get a few short solos on the individual albums not repeated here, but they are of a level of technical ability that never strays into indulgence. At times he reminds me of Billy Cobham, praise indeed!
Ending the first CD and taking up a large slice of the second are tracks recorded for 1978’s Alive And Well, Recorded In Paris including two songs recorded at those concerts but not on the original record. Here we get to hear Soft Machine at their best in a live environment. The sound is rougher, but that only serves to convey the energy and intensity of a band of virtuoso musicians in full flight. By now Alan Wakeman’s brief tenure has ended and his replacement is violinist Rick Sanders, and Roy Babbington has also left to be replaced by Steve Cook. The obvious comparison to make with this line up is with The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and I would say it was a score draw! John Etheridge gets to explore his acoustic guitar chops to full effect on Number Three, a very classical sounding piece. This section ends with Soft Space, a futuristic synth led whiz through the ether that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a rave club some ten years later.
The last Soft Machine album did not appear for another three years, and, as I said earlier it is really a Karl Jenkins solo album in all but name, featuring a completely revised line up. A returning Allan Holdsworth joins John Marshall, along with Jack Bruce on bass, Ray Warleigh and Dick Morrissey on saxes and flute, and Alan Parker on rhythm guitar and some backing singers complete the band, along with an orchestra no less! None of the musicians get to dominate and even Holdsworth is subdued, playing a part of a whole rather than flying along by the seat of his pants as before. The music is much less jazz rock based although Jack Bruce’s liquid playing could not really come from anywhere else. The songs take on an ever greater symphonic feel, showing off Jenkins’ still growing panache at arranging. Over And Above features some fine smoky sax blowing over mellifluous strings and is unlike anything previously put out under the Softs banner and sets the scene for the other three cuts from this record. The more familiar jazz rock territory is revisited for the final track Panoramania and so ends the long and winding road of one of the most influential and well respected bands the UK has ever produced.
This collection, coming as it does after Esoteric’s tasteful, well handled and superbly remastered reissues program, is the perfect entrée for those who are less than familiar with the Jenkins era, and also for those whose funds do not stretch to buying all the remastered albums. John Etheridge has continued the sound of the Bundles and Softs era with the essential Soft Machine Legacy, but that’s a story for another time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tangerine Dream – Underwater Sunlight
Tracklist: Song Of The Whale Part One: From Dawn... (8:21), Song Of The Whale Part Two: ...To Dusk (10:55), Dolphin Dance (5:07), Ride On The Ray (5:34), Scuba Scuba (4:27), Underwater Sunlight (5:56) Bonus Track: Dolphin Smile (4:58)
Rising out of the sonic specter of what is referred to as their Blue Years discography era, electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream add Underwater Sunlight to the recent run of their material getting the remaster and compilation treatment from the Reactive imprint of Esoteric Recordings.
Underwater Sunlight is represented in part on the Reactive compilation Ride On The Ray, and it is only fitting for Reactive to take that album further to its full remastered glory.
I discovered Tangerine Dream in the early 1980s when I saw the movie Risky Business, for which the band contributed to the soundtrack. I was switched on, so to speak, by Tangerine Dream enough to catch a performance from them at the Providence Performing Arts Center in 1986, around the time of the initial release of Underwater Sunlight.
Across a career spanning to date 44 years and a musical chair game, as it were, of lineups, an exhaustive amount of soundtrack work and numerous live recordings have been the meat and potatoes of the band’s output. But Tangerine Dream is a significant studio album outfit as well, with Underwater Sunlight having its deserved place.
On Underwater Sunlight, keeper of the torch and stalwart shepherd Edgar Froese on synthesizers and guitar is joined by then-longtime member Chris Franke on synthesizers and electronic percussion, and newcomer Paul Haslinger on synthesizers, grand piano and guitar.
Underwater Sunlight sees the band delving into its familiar territory of instrumental electronic rock, utilizing an often favoured sequence format of one epic rounded off by some shorter tracks. For reasons perhaps of accessibility or continuity, the main attraction here and requisite epic, Song Of The Whale, is halved into two separate parts. This review would not be worthy without mentioning them both.
Song Of The Whale Part One: From Dawn... opens with piercing icicles of synthesizer and echo locative sweeping washes of sound recalling the primitive sonar of watery underworlds. Franke fires off some minimal yet powerful symphonic electronic percussion with a confidence belying that of the poor guy in the percussion section of an orchestra, who only gets to strike the tympani once or twice during a performance. Some fiery guitar and a dramatic flourish bring the first half of the epic to a resounding close.
Song Of The Whale Part Two: ...To Dusk opens with a quaint grand piano section courtesy of Haslinger, with distant synthesizers creeping in like fog over a lake in the early morning. The misty synthesizers then freeze into those returning and now seemingly melted icicles, leading to an upbeat section with lush synthesizer chords and bravado filled guitar. The song fades at the end, as if to recede like the ebb of low tide.
The shorter tracks, unsurprisingly, are more song oriented and also in places a bit more lively, often sharing Franke’s bouncy electronic percussion as a common ingredient. This is perhaps most evident on the jumpy proto-electronica of Dolphin Dance and to a lesser extent on Ride On The Ray, the latter of whose electronic percussion recalls some of the beats thrown down on the White Eagle release.
The Reactive remaster is appended with one bonus track, Dolphin Smile, originally released as a B-side to a single erroneously titled at the time as Dolphin Dance, but which was in reality in fact an excerpted version of Ride On The Ray.
Also of curious note: the album upon its initial release never had a title track, but with the Reactive remaster we see Underwater Sunlight as a song title replacing what was earlier titled Underwater Twilight. (It’s still mentioned as Underwater Twilight in the CD booklet liner notes).
In addition to this possible discrepancy and the overall informative liner notes, the otherwise professionally designed CD booklet contains photographs, captions and credits.
The room for improvement rubric does not apply here, as this is a release from the 1980s and not a current album.
Diehard T-Dream fans and in particular aficionados of the band’s Blue Years period will most likely gobble this one up, as I enthusiastically did when it appeared in our writer’s pipeline. It’s also a decent starting point for the uninitiated and as such receives my recommended rating. You can listen to songs from it by hitting up the Youtube link above.
Here’s to more Reactive Tangerine Dream remasters to come!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tangerine Dream - Atem
CD 1: Atem (20:28), Fauni-Gena (10:48), Circulation of Events (5:53), Wahn (4:32)
CD 2: The Deutschlandhalle Performance (40:06)
This might be one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write. Reactive, a subdivision of Esoteric Recordings dedicated to German rock, have remastered and repackaged Tangerine Dream’s classic 1973 album Atem for the 21st Century listener. Two CDs are housed in a standard jewel case with a glossy cardboard cover displaying the haunting artwork in full. When you pick up this reissue, you feel like you are holding an important document, and rightly so as this was the album that DJ John Peel hailed as his favourite album of 1973, consequently opening the band up to new waves of listeners.
However, Peel must be hearing something that I’m not, as I’ve found it very difficult to appreciate this album. Being new to the Krautrock genre, this avant-garde opus was certainly the wrong place to start. I’ve learned that Tangerine Dream is an acquired taste, and that the band’s so-called ‘Pink Years’ (which include this album) are mainly for connoisseurs. Still, this intrepid reviewer investigates.
The first track, Atem, would have taken up the whole of Side 1 on the original release, as it is over 20 minutes in length. The first 5 minutes of the track have the feel of a gigantic fanfare. This gets faster and louder and more intense until there is the sound of an explosion towards the sixth minute, as if a rocket has blasted off. Afterwards, we are catapulted into a spacey realm of calm and atmospheric sounds. The track continues like this for the remaining 15 minutes, with various experimental effects being subtly tested while you relax. The most enjoyable parts are when something quite noticeable changes, for instance the loud bass sound heard at 14:17. It’s as if the group are trying to lull you into a false sense of security and then suddenly changing the music once you’re comfortable. This is definitely the most memorable and enjoyable track from the album.
The original Side 2 contained three songs. The first of these, Fauni-Gena, is a light, repetitive mellotron workout with the sounds of nature in the background. At nearly 11 minutes, this new age track becomes quite tedious after a while. Circulation Of Events is also very similar, but only half the length. Only Wahn shows any diversity, with insane wordless vocals heard at the beginning of the track. These sounds are quite unnerving, but give way to a more relaxing mellotron piece with percussion accompaniment.
Also presented with this set is a live recording entitled The Deutschlandhalle Performance dated from the same year as the album was released. This 40 minute series of slow-changing directionless sounds is some of the most difficult music I’ve ever had to listen to. The liner notes claim that this recording ‘will make Tangerine fans drool in their Dreams,’ but for this reviewer, it was an absolute nightmare.
One thing that I can say for sure about this album is that it has been a whole new experience, though perhaps not an entirely enjoyable one. I’m far too used to things happening in my music for this slow-changing stuff. If you like Tangerine Dream, then you will love this new remaster and the extra CD too, but for the uninitiated, I recommend you stay as far away from this album as possible, and try some of the group’s more accessible albums first.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Baker Gurvitz Army - Baker Gurvitz Army
Tracklist: Help Me (4:56), Love Is (2:47), Memory Lane (4:46), Inside Of Me (5:33), I Wanna Live Again (4:22), Mad Jack (7:54), 4 Phil (4:25), Since Beginning (8:05) Bonus Track: Memory Lane Live (10:21)
Baker Gurvitz Army - Elysian Encounter
Tracklist: People (4:17), The Key (6:24), Time (4:04), The Gambler (4:23), The Dreamer (3:41), Remember (5:24), The Artist (5:12), The Hustler (6:41) Bonus Tracks: People Live (7:39), Freedom Live (5:54)
Baker Gurvitz Army - Hearts On Fire
Tracklist: Heart Of Fire (2:32), Neon Lights (4:38), Smiling (3:13), Tracks Of My Life (4:30), Flying In And Out Of Stardom (2:20), Dancing The Night Away (3:25), My Mind Is Healing (3:53), Thirsty For The Blues (5:15), Night People (3:21), Mystery (4:07) Bonus Track: Whatever It Is Live (6:29)
Just as an opening statement this is not strictly a prog related review per se, although if I did dig hard enough I could justify why the three Baker Gurvitz Army albums are being reviewed here. In all actuality this is nothing more than a collection of the three very fine classic rock albums.
In all their refinement, the band comprised of the Gurvitz brothers, Adrian, (guitar) and Paul (bass), who originally played with The Gun of Race With The Devil fame, keyboardist Peter Lemer (who left after their second album Elysian Encounter), who’d been in Barbara Thompson’s bands Paraphernalia and Seventh Wave, vocalist Steve Parsons (Mr Snips) and the man who needs no introduction Ginger Baker.
These are three albums that have been lovingly remastered and re-released by Esoteric Recordings, each featuring bonus material. Recently the Baker Gurvitz Army – Live 1975 DVD was reviewed receiving a warm hearted 6 out of 10.
As a band and a set of musicians BGA really complimented each other, their standard of musicianship never let them down, so they never fell into the trap of being a pretentious supergroup with their debut album still sounding fresh and compelling as do their other two studio albums. Each member was allowed to breathe.
The band offered differing sounding songs, which really added to the mix; the 24 bit re-mastering used here has made sure that these pieces are still addictive and sound fresh. With their debut the band took a punchy and direct root with the songs like the opener Help Me and a sedate yet building I Wanna Live Again. The oppositional instrumentals Love is and its funky blues neighbour 4 Phil are really pleasing on their ear, tracks that really embody what their debut was about. For me though the pure genius of the band was displayed in the form of the stunning Mad Jack, where Ginger Baker’s voice really adds character building the scene. Memory Lane features a rather interesting solo from Baker in the middle of its structure, which confirmed their confidence knowing what their fans wanted to hear. The live version that is included here features Mr Snips on lead vocals and Peter Lerner on keyboards, two people who became an integral part of the band on their second album.
The interesting part in all this though is that Ginger is kept in check, being a team player, an integral member who helped pen the four strongest tracks here, not going off on an extravagant journey like Toad, which all in all allowed for a very good hard rock album.
Sophomore album Elysian Encounter has a much better production value than the debut Baker Gurvitz Army, seeing the band travelling the same musical path, a band that had found their footing creating another great high quality album. The introduction of Mr Snips on vocals made a difference allowing the rest of the band to concentrate on their given jobs offering up quality songs like The Gambler, The Artist and Time. Dynamically Adrian Gurvitz excelled with his guitar work, which saw him really adding more depth than on their debut as did the rest of the band, creating songs that weren’t overplayed or over long. Hendrix’s Freedom is a worthy addition to the package making a fitting conclusion to this album.
The final album and closing studio statement from the band came in the form of Hearts On Fire, seeing the band lose the interaction of Peter Lerner, but that made it no less of an album as they introduced various others to fill his shoes. Neon Lights and Mystery, Tracks Of My Life and the intense Thirsty For The Blues being the standout tracks here, but with this album as with their two previously releases, commerciality wasn’t to be in their favour. It was an album though that really demonstrated the cohesive nature of the band, but unfortunately due to personality clashes, the death of their manager and their failure to gain the recognition they duly deserved the show sadly came to an end. Looking back on these albums in the new light of day it is hard to understand how they didn’t achieve much more.
Baker Gurvitz Army : 7 out of 10
Elysian Encounter : 7 out of 10
Hearts On Fire : 6.5 out of 10
Earth And Fire - To The World Of The Future
Tracklist: To The World Of The Future (11:29), How Time Flies (3:17), The Last Seagull (7:35), Only Time Will Tell (3:42), Voice From Yonder (7:00), Love Of Life (3:10), Circus (6:19) Bonus Tracks: Tuffy The Cat (3:09), Fun (3:40), Thanks For The Love (3:41), Excerpts From To The World Of The Future (5:37), What Difference Does It Make (3:10)
To The World Of The Future, released in April 1975, was the fourth album by Dutch group Earth And Fire, following on the heels of Earth And Fire, Song Of The Marching Children, and Atlantis, released between 1970 and 1973. The album saw the band evolving a different sound from their earlier albums with a greater use of synthesisers and incorporating a wider variety of musical styles. Four of the five band members who performed on Atlantis remained with the group: brothers Chris and Gerard Koerts (guitars and keyboards, respectively), Jerney Koogman (vocals) and Ton van der Kleij (drums) although bassist Hans Zeich had been ousted in favour of Theo Hurts who brought with him a love of Chick Corea and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which would have some bearing on the new music.
Unlike most prog bands of the era, Earth And Fire not only managed to capture an audience for their albums but obtained success in the singles market, having had seven previous hits and scoring a couple more with two of the singles released around the time of this album. This inherent dichotomy can be seen from even a cursory glance at the track timings: longer songs neatly interspersed with three-minute single material. The skill of the band was in managing to maintain a characteristic sound across all the material. The move away from a more classical inspired style of writing is evident immediately from the opening electronic beeps of To The World Of The Future, which has more of a groove to it. With a lovely rolling bass line, lots of percussion and plenty of synths, the song is certainly more modern sounding than their previous material but it still has a very progressive air to it. Koogman is on fine form and the Koerts brothers shine throughout, particularly Chris who plays a blinder on his guitar. How Time Flies, written by drummer van der Kleij, is more acoustic although swathes of keyboards fill out the background. An interesting song although some of the sounds utilised do tend to make it sound somewhat dated. Hurts contributed the riff that the band improvised around in rehearsals which evolved into the album's only instrumental, The Last Seagull. The jazz rock influences are most keenly heard on this number which is dominated by Gerard Koerts keyboards, although brother Chris does provide an impressive solo.
Released simultaneously with the album, single Only Time Will Tell became the group's ninth hit. With a rousing chorus and a lively backing it was an obvious single but does sit somewhat awkwardly between The Last Seagull and the strangest track on the album, Voice From Yonder. On this number Chris Koerts provides more of the vocals which are largely spoken. However, the musical backing is rather exciting and there are some glorious moments with a few lovely chord changes included. Love Of Life, the first single, which was actually released some ten months before the album and still featuring Zeich on bass, was the first sign of the change of direction in the band's style and prompted the departure of Zeich. Yes the rhythm is pretty funky but the passionate vocals from Koogman and the sheer zest is enough to carry it through and make it an enjoyable song. Last song of the original album, Circus features what is widely regarded to be Koogman's best vocal performance, possibly because for the first time she contributed to the writing by providing the lyrics. Some nice Hammond work and another prominent bass line are featured throughout although I think the track suffers somewhat from not flowing all that well, it is too bitty and the slower sections were band provide circus-type music are a bit annoying, plus the ending is rather poor.
No less than five bonus tracks are included on this release, the first of which is Tuffy The Cat the b-side of Love Of Life. An instrumental number which again features the magnificent Hammond organ. It is just what a flip side should be, something a bit different that wouldn't necessarily have suited the album. As a fan of b-sides this is a wonderful inclusion. As is Fun which appeared on the other side of the Only Time Will Tell single. Another instrumental piece, this one follows the jazzier style which some of the album material incorporated, and is definitely worth having in the Earth And Fire collection. Thanks For The Love c/w Excerpts from To The World Of The Future was released five months after the album. The lead track is far more commercial than anything previously released by the band, who were under pressure from their record label to achieve higher chart placings. Interesting if only for the fake keyboard horn section. The b-side is really only for collectors as it features a Dutch commentator introducing the band and excerpts of tracks from the album. An odd choice for release as it sounds more like a radio advertisement. Having said that, it certainly includes a lot of the album highlights and if I had heard this on the radio I would be sorely tempted to check out the album. All the more strange that this should be included when the b-side of the next single, released in March 1976, has been omitted from this release. Okay, it was just an instrumental version of the a-side, What Difference Does It Make, which is a pretty awful song that stinks of disco, but even so!
Although not up to the standards of their first two albums, I actually prefer this album to Atlantis. The different and more professional approach has worked well and the group had some interesting ideas to enhance their sound and style. If you liked any of the previous albums then I doubt you'll be overtly disappointed by To The World Of The Future, particularly in this, as ever, excellent Esoteric release, with at least three bonus tracks that are well worth your attention..
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arthur Brown & Richard Wahnfried – Time Actor
Tracklist: Time Actor (8:58), Time Factory (10:39), Charming The Wind (4:48), Grandma’s Clockwork (4:09), Distorted Emission I (5:30), The Silent Sound Of Ground (15:00), Time Echoes (8:22)
The late 70s were a busy time for Arthur Brown, mostly involving collaborations with German synth pioneer Klaus Schulze. Having played live together in 1977 and then seen the commercial failure of his Chisholm In My Bosom LP, Brown spent a mysterious period in Burundi as a teacher, and on returning they got together on this album (originally released in 1979), Schulze recording under his pseudonym Richard Wahnfried, a name reserved for works he considered were aimed away from his core audience. They also collaborated on Schulze’s Dune, and Brown also recorded the album Faster Than The Speed Of Light with long time cohort Vincent Crane. The sessions for all these works were all around the same time period, so Brown and Schulze must have been surfing a long creative wave.
Schulze’s history as one time drummer of Tangerine Dream and then Ash Ra Tempel where in his brief tenure he first took up keyboards, going on to create his own Krautrock synth classics as a solo artist is well known and should need little re-telling here.
This album arose out of Schulze’s desire to make an album based around the concept of a “Time Actor”. Brown already had his Time Captives from the Kingdom Come album Journey, which may have been the first record to use a drum machine. Indeed Arthur Brown’s electronica credentials were well established, going as far back as The Crazy World Of days. So, it would seem a sonic marriage made in heaven.
Musing on concepts as broad as the illusory nature and meaning of time, and how we act out our place within the concept, and as Brown puts it in the sleeve notes “…the basis of matter itself, which is a very deep idea”, one could well imagine a younger Stephen Hawking returning home after a hectic day at intersection of reality and quantum theory sitting down and listening to Arthur Brown’s musings on Time Actor. What he would have made of them is anyone’s guess! Heavy stuff indeed.
Musically, Klaus Schulze’s trade mark sequencers and synthesisers are to the fore, and for most of the album are fairly low key, drifting along to a quiet but insistent beat creating a dreamlike quality that blends well with Arthur’s philosophical ponderings. If, as is claimed in the sleeve notes, the music and lyrics were mostly improvised then you have to applaud the artistic integrity and courage of the two friends.
Arthur Brown’s amazing voice is held in check for the first four tracks, offering mainly spoken word improvisations but it is highlighted to good effect on Distorted Emission I and the following track The Silent Sound Of Ground.
In the former he gets to sing some almost scat-jazz phrasings after the soaring upper register section, which, if not Arthur singing in falsetto one can only assume is supplied by Harmony Brown. Also joining in on this track is Vincent Crane’s trademark Hammond and long time Schulze sideman Wolfgang Tiepold’s cello. Probably the most complete offering on the album it’s a shame this track is only five and a half minutes long. On the latter fifteen minute epic Brown gets to flex his vocal chords to full effect, giving brief flight to that distinctive operatic baritone, ably aided by Schulze’s synth washes and Vincent Crane’s keys.
As both Schulze and Brown are individualists who go their own way, it is difficult to contextualise this album as it does not fit in any musical genre of the time of its original release, and as a result it has not dated and still sounds unique. Fans of both Klaus Schulze and Arthur Brown should not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Dave Brock And The Agents Of Chaos - The Agents Of Chaos
Tracklist: Hi-Tech Cities (4:15), A Day (5:34), In The Office (1:33), Hades Deep (4:39), Words Of A Song (1:37), Heads (5:40), Nocturne (2:29), Wastelands Of Sleep (5:40), Empty Dreams (1:02), Into The Realms (4:26), Mountain In The Sky (3:19) Bonus Tracks: The Damage Of Life (6:02), Riding The Range (2:16)
Dave Brock surely needs no introduction, the mainstay of Hawkwind since their inception in the late 1960s he has ploughed the space rock furrow with varying degrees of success for over 40 years. In that time several releases have appeared under his own name although none perhaps so fully formed and complete as the album released in 1988 under the guise of The Agents Of Chaos. Although on the album there were only two credited musicians, Brock, of course, and Julian "Crum" Crimmins (from Welsh band The Moonloonies), the pair had toured the free festivals of the latter part of the 1980s backed by Tubular Dog, although it is not sure if the combined unit used the Agents name at that time. The reason for this particular musical sidetrack was precisely because of the nature of the gigs, not all members of Hawkwind at that time were particularly enamoured with the idea of playing a whole raft of free dates so Brock saw it as an opportunity to try out some new material that would not necessarily have suited his main band. At the end of the festival season it seemed appropriate to record some of the new material so the main duo settled down in Brock's home studio in North Devon in early 1987 to quickly lay down the material that had been performing live as well as a few other pieces that the pair had lying around.
Despite just the two musicians appearing on the album and there being an obvious bias towards keyboards, the sound is much more complex and involved than one would expect. This attribute can be firmly placed at the feet of Crimmins who Brock readily acknowledges as a bit of a boffin having a brilliance in using electronics to create a full sound palate. This is most fully appreciated in the tracks that Crimmins brought to the collaboration: A Day and Nocturne (the latter being a reprise of the beginning of the former), the brief Empty Dreams and the original album closer Mountain In The Sky. All largely rely on the just keyboards and, with perhaps the exception of the last of these tracks, maintain an element of the Hawkwind sound and space rock ethos. Mountain... has a more rhythmic feel and is more in the vein of where Brock would take the Hawkwind sound over the next few years.
As it is, the Chaos material provided fertile ground for the Hawkwind catalogue, with both Heads and Wastelands Of Sleep being re-recorded and released on The Xenon Codex and Hi-Tech Cities being demoed by the band at about the same time. Here, Heads has a definite Hawklords feel while Wastelands Of Sleep has a typical languid Hawkwind sound. Both are exceptionally strong tunes so it is not surprising they were considered appropriate for wider exposure. Similarly, Hi-Tech Cities, one of the more guitar orientated tracks on the album owes more to traditional Hawkwind than any eighties synthesiser experimentations and it would be interesting to hear the song in a full band context. Hades Deep also resurfaced in later years, slightly rearranged and retitled as Back In The Box. Again, guitars dominant and Brock's whispered vocals certainly add to the atmosphere.
As for the remaining tracks, well they are mostly brief and more experimental in nature: In The Office is a simple keyboard riff that is quite charming but resorts to sound effects from, guess where, an office! Words Of A Song is another brief snippet that is laden with sound effects and treatments; neither are really complete songs per se but act more as linking pieces. The exception to this is Into The Realms which, again, focuses mainly on keyboards. Lots of sound effects and an ominous vocal delivery make it one of the darker pieces on the album but is still eminently listenable.
In compiling this re-release, Brock came across several tapes of material that was recorded at the same time as the album but was left off the final running order, probably due to limitations of space on vinyl releases. Two such examples are included as bonus tracks. Riding The Range is a relatively brief guitar and synth workout that sounds like it was laid down as an idea for development and features some very nice and uncharacteristic guitar work from Brock. The Damage Of Life turns out to be the longest track on the album and may originally have been even longer if the fade in is anything to go by. Again, the song seems to lack the fuller development of the released material featuring a rather basic backbeat and a mix that is somewhat inferior to the rest of the album. Still, it is a song that shows some promise and is nice to have as a bonus!
Not having the Hawkwind name associated with it obviously meant that The Agents Of Chaos album did not fare as well commercially as it might have. Being released on the Flicknife label (some of whose releases were not benchmarks of quality) and at about the same time as The Xenon Codex also couldn't have helped sales. However, there is sufficient decent material on this album to satisfy the majority of Hawkwind fans. Indeed I prefer it to several of the releases that have been issued under the Hawkwind name.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Lol Coxhill – Ear Of Beholder
CD 1: Introduction (0:36), Hungerford (7:14), Deviation Dance (3:27), Two Little Pigeons (3:22), Don Alfonso (3:16), Open Piccadilly (4:57), Feedback (1:13), Vorblifa – Exit (6:32), Insensatez (8:18), Conversation/Mango Walk (1:41), Piccadilly With Goofs (1:22)
CD 2: Rasa Moods (20:13), A Collective Improvisation (2:44), I Am The Walrus (3:54), The Rhythmic Hooter (2:30), Lover Man (4:53), Zoological Fun (1:05), Little Triple One Shot (2:12), That’s Why Darkies Were Born (3:32), A Series Of Superbly Played Mellotron Codas (0:26) Bonus Tracks: Pretty Little Girl – Part One (2:34), Pretty Little Girl – Part Two (2:33), Sonny Boy/Oh Mein Papa (2:59), Mood (3:31)
Anybody with a keen interest in Soft Machine will have probably heard of Kevin Ayers, lead guitarist on the group’s 1968 debut. They might also know that Ayers left the group following that album to record his solo debut Joy Of A Toy. On this album, Ayers invited a whole range of musicians to perform, from the then-members of Soft Machine to David Bedford and even Syd Barrett for the single Religious Experience [Singing A Song In The Morning]. Bedford – who was at that time one of England’s leading young classical composers – provided the arrangements and played keyboards on many of the tracks. The outcome was a psychedelic treat, full of wit and style.
After the album was released, Ayers decided to form a part-time band named Kevin Ayers & The Whole World which consisted of himself as a singer, David Bedford on keys, Lol Coxhill on saxophone, Mike Oldfield (who had not yet released Tubular Bells) on bass, and Robert Wyatt on drums. Coxhill was a saxophonist who loved free-jazz, experimental music and performance art. In 1970, he was urged by DJ John Peel to record a solo album. The results were released as a double-LP named Ear Of Beholder in 1971 on Dandelion Records, the label co-owned by Peel and Clive Selwood. Esoteric Recordings has remastered this bizarre album so that a new generation may experience the zany contents within.
The album itself might as well have been called ‘All About Lol’, because this is a very personal release indeed. It’s easy to draw comparisons between this album and The Beatles’ White Album as both are double LPs with a truly eclectic track listing that encapsulates each artist entirely. Ear Of Beholder doesn’t just represent Coxhill though; it tells you his life story.
The very first track on the record is a personal introduction from Coxhill himself, telling you a bit about the album. From then on, it’s a smorgasbord of everything to do with the artist, be it the 20-minute free improv Rasa Moods recorded live in Utrecht, or the sound of his young children belting out a performance of I Am The Walrus.
What becomes evident upon listening is how much this man is attached to his instrument. A total of 24 minutes is devoted to hearing the man freely improvise on the saxophone. Unfortunately, this is my least favourite thing about the record. You would never stop in the street to listen to a busker, but on this record Coxhill is essentially forcing you to. Once you’ve heard 2 minutes of directionless noodling, you’ve heard it all.
However, not all is lost. Between the long-winded solos, there are some curious tracks including some pre-war music hall novelty songs: Two Little Pigeons, Don Alfonso and the ironic anti-racist That’s Why Darkies Were Born. All three of these tracks include David Bedford as the pianist who occasionally joins in on the vocals.
There are some live tracks too, chronicling the time he spent with Kevin Ayers & The Whole World and various other musicians. Sadly, most of these recordings have poor sound quality, a problem that Coxhill himself laments towards the end of the album. Even without the sound quality, there are some problems with the tracks chosen: at 20 minutes, Rasa Moods isn’t the kind of track you’d need to hear more than once. However, one of my favourite tracks on the record is the Kevin Ayers & The Whole World track The Rhythmic Hooter, because we get to hear Coxhill’s saxophone in the context of a band, and an all-star one at that!
Maybe the most discomforting things about the album are the sounds of children that appear on more than a couple of the tracks. Like any parent, it’s clear that children were an important part of Coxhill’s life. I know it should be sweet, but try saying to somebody “Oh hey, I’m just listening to a recording of someone’s children at the zoo.” You’ll probably get some funny looks.
Ending with the comedic A Series Of Superbly Played Mellotron Codas, Ear Of Beholder is one of the most personal albums I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, since the man’s musical tastes barely intersect with my own, I cannot really recommend it as much more than an experiment. However, the listening hasn’t turned me off completely, and it’s hard not to respect and admire such an artistic statement. As always, Esoteric have done a fine job remastering and restoring this album, including its artwork. The liner notes are well-written and informative, including partial interviews from Coxhill and Bedford. In addition, two singles released around the time of the album are included as bonus tracks.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
David Bedford – Nurses Song With Elephants
Tracklist: It's Easier Than It Looks (3:10), Nurses Song With Elephants (15:54), Some Bright Stars for Queen’s College (3:27), Trona (11:54), Sad And Lonely Faces (7:18)
Almost as if inspired by working on Ear Of Beholder, David Bedford decided to record a solo album of his own. In the liner notes, Bedford reveals that Nurses Song With Elephants, also originally released on the Dandelion label, “was a sort of retrospective that looked back to pieces [he’d] already composed”. He regrets that “in some respects it doesn’t really hang together as an album in that it’s just a set of pieces”, but he’s just being polite as this is a far more cohesive album than ‘Ear’.
When I was 15, we were taught about experimental music in school. We were given examples of experimental musicians, such as John Cage, and got to hear clips of their music, where all manner of things were allowed. These artists would write scores using non-standard notation, but rather lines, symbols, text and even pictures. The musicians involved would play their instruments in an unconventional way, e.g. drumming on a piano or using a violin bow on a guitar string. These pieces would invariably be dissonant and jarring, and at such a young age I was put right off by the genre. Yet here I am, writing a review of an album which fits perfectly within the genre I’ve just described. Given that I’ve had to become extremely open-minded about my music since listening to progressive rock, how do I feel about the genre now?
The first track It’s Easier Than It Looks is a relatively brief track for eight recorders and eight melodicas. This track was written for young people to perform, but here Bedford has played all sixteen parts. It sounds like an interesting piece, and the eerie feel of the track fits right in with the otherworldly front cover, but without being able to see sixteen people play this together, this number loses a lot of its original appeal.
Just shy of 16 minutes, the longest piece is the title track Nurses Song With Elephants. Written for ten acoustic guitars, this piece goes through many different sections. You may be wondering how the title was chosen. It turns out that the ‘elephants’ in the song are represented by the rubbing of moist thumbs along the body of the guitar, whilst the ‘Nurses Song’ refers to the poem by William Blake which is recited towards the end of the piece, when the guitarists start playing more tunefully. It feels like Bedford is rewarding you for your patience, and as an extra treat, Mike Oldfield joins in on bass at the end. However, 16 minutes is still quite long, and one can’t help but think that there are better things to be doing with one’s time.
The most intriguing track on the record is Some Bright Stars For Queen’s College, written for eighty girls’ voices and twenty seven plastic pipe twirlers. At 3½ minutes, this is another brief, eerie track. The girls’ voices create a liquid sound, and the pipe twirlers (apparently including John Peel) create a spooky backdrop. To those who have seen ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, this track is very similar to the music played over the coloured light sequence. A very effective piece indeed Mr. Bedford!
At 12 minutes, Trona is simply too long and lacks creativity. The liner notes reveal that the instruments used are a flute, oboe, bassoon, two trumpets, clarinet, two trombones, two violins, viola and a cello. The staccato figure heard near the beginning is heard nearly all the way through the track and gets old very quickly. However, this piece is the closest that I can come to working out what the score looks like, and for that it is interesting.
The final track, Sad And Lonely Faces is the only one written for the record itself. This is easily my favourite for a number of reasons. The structure of the song is an experimental piano piece followed by a symphonic ending with Kevin Ayers reading a poem over the top. His baritone voice sounds amazing here, and he leads the piece and album out beautifully. Strangely enough, an ending as lovely as this seems to make listening to this record absolutely worth it.
To answer my question posed at the beginning of this review: it’s been an eye opener. With a fresh mind free of prejudice, I’ve been able to appreciate this genre more than I ever expected to. However, the parts of this record I enjoy the most are where Bedford isn’t being experimental at all, proving that I haven’t exactly been converted. If you’re willing to try something completely new and different, I’d definitely recommend this album, but if not, you might want to save your money for something closer to home.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10