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2012 : VOLUME 17
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Matching Mole - Matching Mole
Matching Mole - Matching Mole
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 22311
Year of Release:1972/2012
Time:CD1 67:47
CD2 57:43
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD1: O Caroline (5:05), Instant Pussy (2:59), Signed Curtain (3:06), Part Of The Dance (9:16), Instant Kitten (4:58), Dedicated To Hugh, But You Weren't Listening (4:39), Beer As In Braindeer (4:02), Immediate Curtain (5:57) Bonus Tracks: O Caroline [Single Version] (3:33), Signed Curtain [Single Edit] (3:05), Part Of The Dance [Jam] (20:57)

CD2: Bonus Tracks: Signed Curtain [Take Two] (5:32), Memories Membrane (11:16), Part Of The Dance [Take One] (7:27), Horse (3:47), Immediate Kitten (9:54), Marchides/Instant Pussy/Smoke Signal (19:36)

Matching Mole - Little Red Record
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 22311
Year of Release:1972/2012
Time:CD1 42:59
CD2 46:48
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here
Matching Mole - Little Red Record

Tracklist:

CD1: Starting In The Middle Of The Day, We Can Drink Our Politics Away (2:31), Marchides (8:25), Nan True's Hole (3:36), Righteous Rhumba (2:50), Brandy As In Benj (4:24), Gloria Gloom (8:06), God Song (2:59), Flora Fidgit (3:26), Smoke Signal (6:37)

CD2: Bonus Tracks: Instant Pussy/Lithing & Gracing (7:57), Marchides (10:30), Part Of The Dance/Brandy As In Benj (8:44), Starting In The Middle Of The Day, We Can Drink Our Politics Away [Take One] (2:53), Smoke Signal [Take Four] (6:46), Flora Fidgit [Take Eight] (6:39), Mutter (3:23)

PATIENCE.

Patience is what is required of the CD-consuming prog fans of today. When it comes to CD reissues, we all know that some are good and some are just plain awful. Artwork forgotten or cropped, background hiss and/or CD tracks beginning halfway through the last song. This is just a fact of life. However, the usual trend is for reissues to get better and better as time moves on, which is why we choose to be patient until they meet our standards. Patience is why there's been an awkward gap in my library between Soft Machine's Fourth (1971) and Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom (1974) for so long.

You see, I find drummer and songwriter Robert Wyatt to be an extremely gifted musician. The man appears to be able to enter his own plane of reality when composing music, as well as possessing a voice whose timbre is as unique as Jon Anderson's. While the results can be hit and miss (that's 90% hit, 10% miss), his music never ceases to be fascinating and different, and on the frequent occasions when it does come together it blows my mind. It also helps that in the time before his tragic defenestration accident, he was an incredibly talented drummer, turning a once functional instrument into an art form of its own. It's because of him that I would not want to own anything other than the highest quality reissues of his work. Fortunately, Esoteric are here to deliver.

First, a bit of history. By 1971, tensions were running high within Soft Machine, causing Wyatt to quit the group. Being unsure of where he would go next, he simply jammed in his garage with various musicians, including Phil Miller (Delivery), David Sinclair (Caravan) and Bill MacCormick (Quiet Sun). Thus, Matching Mole was born, taking their name from the French translation of Soft Machine, i.e. machine molle. By 1971, they had started recording their first album athough technical difficulties would prevent the album from being released until April 1972.

The band's debut was mainly coordinated and controlled by Robert Wyatt himself, making it something of a solo album in its own right. While one no longer needs to turn the album over in the middle, the difference between first and second half of this album are very noticeable. The archaic Side One was lighter and more accessible, with the beautiful love song O Caroline and the tongue-in-cheek Signed Curtain acting as a prelude to the jazzy instrumental Part Of The Dance. Wyatt's vocals never fail to impress in the former tracks, and the lyrics are a trademark of his style.

On Side Two, we see a darker, more avant-garde side of the band. The four tracks, better listened to as a whole, form an experimental suite, which gets stranger and stranger by the minute. On Instant Kitten for example, the band perform a jazzy instrumental reminiscent of Caravan, with Sinclair's distinctive organ enhancing the illusion. By Beer As In Braindeer however, the band have lost all sense of time and structure, playing randomly and erratically. To round off, Wyatt delivers a haunting Mellotron solo that would make Tangerine Dream fans proud. The notes reveal that Wyatt had a growing fascination with the instrument at this point, and its use on this album is rather telling.

By the time Matching Mole had been released, Sinclair had left the band disliking the experimental aspect of the music, leaving room for Dave McRae who had already featured heavily on the album. After gigging during the summer, the band re-entered the studio in August 1972 to record a second album.

With antagonistic artwork - a pastiche of a Chinese propaganda poster - Little Red Record was a different album in many respects. For starters, Wyatt had requested that Robert Fripp produce the album, which he did with aplomb. Crucially, however, Wyatt had decided to relegate his position in the band to solely writing lyrics, letting the others write the material. On this record, the band are a more synchronised unit, with tighter performances a very aggresive outlook.

The album starts with the eerie Starting In The Middle Of The Day We Can Drink Our Politics Away, a rather unsettling track, before plunging straight into the breakneck instrumental that is Marchides. The next nineteen minutes are progressive bliss as far as I'm concerned. The music sounds far more structured than their previous output, perfectly showcasing each of the bandmembers talents. Often the band choose to repeat a riff ad nauseum, such as the brilliant riff in Nan True's Hole, while either letting one band member solo on top or allowing guests Alfreda Benge, Julie Christie and David Gale to speak surreally, adding a phantasmagoric air to the record. On the whole, with complex patterns and speedy interplay, this is very exciting music.

Side Two isn't quite as fulfilling, but isn't without its own rewards. Starting with the lengthy Gloria Gloom - featuring the well renowned Brian Eno - we reach the more conventional, yet simultaneously blasphemous track God Song. In this brief acoustic piece, Wyatt laments God and all his mysterious ways quite explicitly. The final tracks Flora Fidgit and Smoke Signal are more of the same instrumental noodling as heard on the first side, a neat way to end the album.

Sadly, by the time of the album's release, Matching Mole were no more, due to Wyatt's unhappiness in being the main focus of the band. By 1973, it seemed that a new Matching Mole would reform, playing music that would later become Rock Bottom, but after Wyatt's topple from a fourth story window, the idea was abandoned.

However, we can now revel in Esoteric's reissues of the band's two albums, which are regarded in hindsight as classics. Along with crystal clear remastering, and full reproduction of the original artwork, Esoteric have appended a bonus disc to each album, giving fans a whopping two hours of bonus content to enjoy. I have to say, the amount of bonus content is rather unbalanced, with 85 minutes added to Matching Mole and only 47 minutes added to Little Red Record. Particular highlights include the live performances of Marchides, an extended 20-minute version of Part Of The Dance, and a demo of Starting.... These recordings allow the listener to experience the band more intimately and thus understand them better. I'd say it's definitely worth upgrading from any previous CD edition to hear this stuff.

Despite only lasting around twelve months, Matching Mole were a remarkable band, capable of creating evocative and memorable music. Their two albums provide a darker perspective on the sometimes enigmatic genre that is Canterbury scene, as well as showcasing Wyatt's skills as a drummer. If I had to choose between the two albums, I'd pick the second for its exciting Side One, although I'd be sad to say goodbye to O Caroline and Signed Curtain. For fans of Robert Wyatt, or simply those who enjoy the grittier side of prog, this is a must-have.

Conclusions:

Matching Mole: 8.5 out of 10
Little Red Record: 9.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Peter Bardens Ė Heart To Heart
Peter Bardens Ė Heart To Heart
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2322
Year of Release:1979/2012
Time:37:28
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Julia (3:57), Doing The Crab (3:08), Slipstream (6:13), Raining All Over The World (4:30), Jinxed (4:25), After Dark (4:33), Slow Motion (3:58), Tune For Des (1:50), Heart To Heart (4:54)

Keyboardist Peter Bardensí legacy with renowned prog band Camel included seven albums in six years before he decided to abandon the ship of the desert in 1978. Camelís symphonic influences can be traced through numerous neo-prog bands that would follow in their wake but in the meantime Bardens was looking for an alternative method of musical expression that would showcase his writing abilities as much as it did his keyboard talents. His first port of call however was to play on the 1978 album Wavelength by Van Morrison who Bardens had previously performed with in the 60ís as a member of Them.

Bardens was no stranger to solo albums having released The Answer and Peter Bardens in 1970 and 1971 respectively, shortly before teaming up with Andy Latimer, Doug Ferguson and Andy Ward to form Camel in 1972. Both of those albums however had been very much in the R&B style whereas Heart To Heart draws upon his experiences within Camel with more melodic pop-rock tunes (an area that Camel themselves were gravitating towards in the late 70ís) and prog-fusion instrumentals.

To realise his ambitions Bardens brought on-board a fine supporting cast with diverse musical pedigrees that saw legendary session players Mel Collins (saxophone, flute) and Peter Van Hooke (drums) rubbing shoulders with relatively newcomers Stan Scrivener (bass) and teenager Gus Isadore (guitars, vocals). Bardens wrote and (along with Norman Mighell) produced all the material on Heart To Heart and in addition to keys provides the lead vocals as he had done on the earlier solo outings.

The delightful Julia opens the album in surprisingly restrained fashion with Bardensí dulcet vocal tones having a certain charm, sounding not unlike his old band-mate Andy Latimer. Itís an agreeable ballad with engaging harmonies and lilting electric piano. In a similar vein but altogether better still is Raining All Over The World which in its own unassuming way contains one of the most attractive melodies ever penned by Bardens. A rich and fluid piano and sax arrangement elevates the song into Bruce Hornsby territory.

Doing The Crab is vintage swing jazz with scat vocals and although its skilfully and smoothly executed is not really my cup of jazz tea. More on the money is the fusion instrumentals Jinxed and Slipstream, both centred around lively synth noodling. The former brings the Canterbury scene and Hatfield And The North in particular to mind whilst the latter has perhaps a more Transatlantic feel about (Harold Faltermeyer anyone?). The mood continues in a more relaxed tempo with the appropriately titled After Dark which showcases Isadoreís jazz guitar sensibilities as well as a superb organ solo from Bardens to close.

With its catchy repetitive chorus, Slow Motion is the nearest the album gets to a potential single although its smooth delivery was perhaps too subtle to set either the charts or airwaves alight. The short Tune For Des sees Bardensí chiming keys effects tumbling like falling water leaving the superb title track and instrumental Heart To Heart to end on a proggy Camel flavoured high.

Heart To Heart was pretty well dismissed on its initial release which is a shame because it demonstrates Peter Bardens forging a strong musical identity so soon after his departure from Camel. Thankfully this re-mastered reissue allows the albums many subtle delicacies to shine through. Bardens would continue to pursue his solo career as well as appearing with several other acts which included the occasional guest showing with Camel before his life was tragically and prematurely cut short in January 2002.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Argent - All Together Now
Argent - All Together Now
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2321
Year of Release:1972/2012
Time:45:17
Info:Rod Argent
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hold Your Head Up (6:19), Keep On Rollin' (4:29), Tragedy (4:49), I Am The Dance Of Ages (3:47), Be My Lover, Be My Friend (5:21), He's A Dynamo (3:49), Pure Love: I. Fantasia, II. Prelude, III. Pure Love, IV. Finale (13:10), Bonus Track: Closer To Heaven (3:30)

Although keyboardist Rod Argent formed his namesake band in 1969 with the intention of producing music that was more progressive than his previous pop-rock outfit The Zombies, it would take several albums before his ambitions were fully realised. It would come to full fruition with 1974ís Nexus album but in the meantime their third album All Together Now released in the summer of 1972 would see Argent still finding their progressive rock feet. Compare All Together Now for example with Close To The Edge, Foxtrot and Thick As A Brick all released the same year and itís pretty clear that Argentís offering is mostly blues based mainstream rock with the occasional prog excursion.

Interestingly during the early 70ís it was possible to trace parallels between the career of Rod Argent and that of Keith Emerson. Just as Emerson left The Nice to form ELP, Rod Argent dissolved The Zombies and formed a new band that would showcase his keyboard prowess. In doing so he teamed up with a guitarist and vocalist (Russ Ballard) who had penchant for writing shorter, more pop-rock style songs. And in a similar fashion to the Emerson/Lake relationship, musical disagreements within Argent resulted in Ballardís premature departure. This was a pity because just like ELP it was the diversity in compositional techniques that gave the band its strength. Completing the original Argent line-up was Rod's cousin Jim Rodford (bass) and Robert Henrit (drums) who had performed with Ballard in 60ís groups The Roulettes and Unit 4 + 2.

The majority of All Together Now was written by the Rod Argent/Chris White partnership with a couple of contributions from Ballard. Like Rod, Chris was a former member of The Zombies and itís the Argent/White classic Hold Your Head Up which kicks off the album in perfect style. Hold Your Head Up would quickly become an anthem for Argent (leading to covers by Uriah Heep, Steppenwolf and Mr. Big) and as a drastically edited single (this was pre Bohemian Rhapsody after all) it was a huge hit in both the UK and USA. Like The Whoís Wonít Get Fooled Again and Freeís All Right Now, Hold Your Head Up was one of the definitive British rock songs of the early 70ís and just like Wonít Get Fooled Again (which was also savagely cut for single release) it has to be heard in its full length album version. Otherwise youíre missing the blistering organ solo with crashing guitar volleys and spacey, pulse like rhythm that anticipates the air-punching choral hook.

In comparison, the rest of the album is something of an anti-climax it has to be said although it does have its moments. The aptly titled Keep On Rollin' with its Jools Holland style boogie-woogie piano and bluesy vocal sits comfortably alongside Ballardís blues rocker Tragedy (which in no way could be confused with the Bee Gees song of the same name). Rhythmically the slow burning I Am The Dance Of Ages bears a resemblance to Hold Your Head Up whilst Be My Lover, Be My Friend is yet another rocker enlivened by a driving riff and a gritty Hammond solo. Ballardís energetic, rock Ďní roll flavoured He's A Dynamo is by all accounts dedicated to Rod Argent leaving the man himself to conclude with an extended suite of keyboard pieces. His virtuoso playing throughout Pure Love which ranges from the celestial to the downright dirty is effortlessly on a par with the aforementioned Keith Emerson.

The sole bonus track Closer To Heaven is something of a disappoint particularly given that the album has been previously released on CD with no less than seven bonus songs including Argent classics like God Gave Rock And Roll To You and It's Only Money Part 2 from 1973ís In Deep album. Closer To Heaven for its part originally appeared on EP along with Hold Your Head Up and Keep On Rollin'.

The disappointing bonus content aside, Esoteric have done a first class re-mastering job with All Together Now giving it a fuller sound and a new found airiness. Hold Your Head Up has never sounded so good, particularly when cranked to the maximum although for me it only goes to highlight the weakness of the rest of the material. Coincidently, returning to the Keith Emerson comparisons, the original Argent lineup reformed to appear at the High Voltage Festival in London on the 25th July 2010, the very same day as the reunited ELP.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Tangerine Dream - Electronic Meditation
Tangerine Dream - Electronic Meditation
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Reactive
Catalogue #:EREACD 1025
Year of Release:1970/2012
Time:36:34
Info:Tangerine Dream
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Genesis (5:56), Journey Through A Burning Brain (12:26), Cold Smoke (10:39), Ashes To Ashes (4:06), Ressurection (3:28)

Hi there folks. You'll probably remember me as the guy who wasn't too keen on Atem, the band's fourth album. I simply found that the album was lacking in... well stuff really. Nevertheless, I thought I'd give them another go, starting at the beginning this time.

Yes, it seems that Esoteric complete their collection of the band's so called 'Pink Years', by reissuing their very first album Electronic Meditation. This appears to be quite a polarizing album between fans, having the rather unique line-up of the stalwart Edgar Froese, Conrad Schnitzler (who sadly passed away last year), and drummer Klaus Schulze. After this album, each member went his separate way, and each went on to be a renowned krautrock artist. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Unfortunately for the new listener, it seems that Tangerine Dream never started as an even remotely accessible group, but were cold, experimental and difficult right from the beginning. The first thing you notice is that the album sounds as if it were recorded in a dungeon rather than a studio. The album takes absolutely ages to get going, with the opening track Genesis providing nothing more than droning and creaking, with a few sounds of flutes in between. Journey Through A Burning Brain has a very similar intro, before some organ chords signal the beginning of something vaguely musical. Slowly the band come to life, Froese riffing on the guitar while Schulze goes primal on the skins. The music gets louder towards the end before dying away into organs. Cold Smoke starts more interestingly, with quiet droning pierced by short explosions of noise. The frightening aspect of the music dies away after the first listen. Once again, the band slowly build up the level of noise and agitation over the course of ten minutes before they are interrupted by heavy breathing. Ultimately this is the most interesting, exciting thing on the record, and I'm not quite sure it's sophisticated enough to meet my standards. The last two tracks aren't interesting at all really: Ashes To Ashes is simply an organ riff repeated with Froese jamming on top accompanied by furious drumming and Resurrection is a series of organ chords followed by bizarre sound effects.

On the other hand, I'm a great fan of the artwork for this album. Even though the cover depicts a decapitated doll, there's something aesthetically pleasing about the strawberries-and-cream colour scheme. Once again, Phil Smee has done a great job at repackaging this issue, using the same reds and creams throughout throughout the booklet. The original inner gatefold is restored, although understandably the novelty stamped balloon gets no more than a mention in the liner notes.

Another 'classic' album for Esoteric, another mystery for me. Perhaps I was never destined to enjoy this enigmatic genre. I personally find it astonishing that they ever got off the ground in the first place, but in the liner notes, Froese and Co. seem infuriatingly sure of themselves. Why anyone would want to pay for an album with so much incessant droning and so little stimulating material eludes me, but I'm sure Tangerine Dream fans would say otherwise. Ultimately, this is a release for those fans who want to hear Froese playing with some soon-to-be successful krautrock artists with rock-oriented instrumentation, away from synths and Mellotrons. Those who simply want to explore the origins of this band, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. This is not something I'd recommend to the larger progressive audience.

Conclusion: 3 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Tangerine Dream - Pergamon
Tangerine Dream - Pergamon
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Reactive
Catalogue #:EREACD 1026
Year of Release:1986/2012
Time:46:08
Info:Tangerine Dream
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Quichotte Part I (23:20), Quichotte Part II (22:49)

I thought I was done with Tangerine Dream, but then this little live offering made its way into my collection, and subsequently into my heart. From the other side of the band's 'Virgin years' - I suspect it may be a while before Esoteric has the power to ask for those albums - we are presented with a live piece Quichotte, recorded in January 1980 in East Berlin. The album has a somewhat convoluted history as it was released only in East Germany at first in 1981 with the title Quichotte. It was only five years later that it appeared in the West, retitled Pergamon after a museum near the venue.

The story behind the album is as remarkable as the music, as it appears that Tangerine Dream were one of the first major Western bands to play in East Germany. With this performance marking their very first appearance behind the Iron Curtain, this album is an important historical document, as well as a riveting performance. For new member Johannes Schmoelling, this must have been a difficult first time on stage with the band.

Despite having just two tracks that are roughly 23 minutes each, this is quite an accessible album. In fact the first five minutes of Part I actually comprise an independent keyboard solo. With pleasant melodies and driving rhythm, this is a beautiful and memorable start to the album. Afterwards, we slide into the minimalistic world that TD fans will be more familiar with. I like to think of Part I as one giant keyboard solo, with a background that shifts so slowly it is almost impossible to tell. Rather unlike my previous encounters with TD, the band actually manage to keep the music interesting, or at the very least alive, throughout.

Part II on the other hand is very different. Although continuing in the minimalist style, this is a far more exciting piece of music. The music takes a while to get on its feet, but when it does, there is an electric feeling in the air, like something is about to happen. Incredibly, the band keep up this feeling for the next 18 minutes, adding more and more layers to their music as they do. The sound effects are brilliant, and it all seems to come together when Froese gets out the electric guitar. What makes me so impressed is how they are able to achieve the effect without getting louder or trying to outdo themselves. Altogether, a very worthwhile experience.

Esoteric have done another good job putting this reissue together. The essay in the booklet is a good read and helps the listener understand the remarkable story behind the music, with pictures from the night and other memorabilia included. The artwork for both the Pergamon release and the earlier Quichotte release have been restored, although sadly the back cover of the latter has been cropped to be printed on the disc itself. Oh well.

I'm very glad to have heard this album, as I was about to give up on Tangerine Dream altogether. This is an important, interesting, and best of all, accessible album. Rather like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, this album lets you experience music in a rather hypnotic way. On the other hand, it is also suitable as background music, as it is not too distracting when turned down. Tangerine Dream present some very melodic music, without sacrificing too much of their trademark experimentalism, resulting in an album that is perfect for the first time listener.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Lindisfarne - Back And Fourth
Lindisfarne - Back And Fourth
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2313
Year of Release:1978/2012
Time:45:55
Info:Lindisfarne
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Juke Box Gypsy (2:25), Warm Feeling (4:07), Woman (3:27), Only Alone (3:45), Run For Home (4:23), Kings Cross Blues (3:46), Get Wise (3:08), You And Me (3:06), Marshall Riley's Army (3:39), Angels At Eleven (2:56), Make Me Want To Stay (4:02) Bonus Tracks: Stick Together (3:08), When It Gets The Hardest (4:01)

Lindisfarne Ė Magic In The Air
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2314
Year of Release:1978/2012
Time:79:50
Info:Lindisfarne
Samples:Click here
Lindisfarne Ė Magic In The Air

Tracklist: Lady Eleanor (4:33), Road To Kingdom Come (3:50),Turn A Deaf Ear (3:55), January Song (4:15), Court In The Act (3:11), No Time To Lose (2:52), Winter Song (5:38), Uncle Sam (3:02), Wake Up Little Sister (2:37), All Fall Down (3:41), Meet Me On The Corner (3:00), Bye-Bye Birdie (2:38), Train In G Major (3:40), Scarecrow Song (3:43), Dingly Dell (6:25), Scotch Mist (2:21), We Can Swing Together (10:05), Fog On The Tyne (3:52), Clear White Light (6:29)

Name the classic progressive rock bands of the 1970ís and itís highly unlikely that Lindisfarne will figure amongst them. In truth a more apt description would be mainstream rock with a heady dose of urban folk with at least two minor classics in their repertoire in the shape of Lady Eleanor and Clear White Light. Either way, for every self-respecting UK rock fan during the 70ís (which included yours truly) Lindisfarne were an essential part of the scene. Take 1972 for example, a typical month would have seen the likes of Deep Purple, Genesis, Yes and Lindisfarne all playing a 2,000 Ė 3,000 capacity venue near you. During that same year Lindisfarne had their first taste of success with the UK hit single Meet Me On The Corner and the Fog On The Tyne album, the title song from which was destined to become a Geordie anthem. Indebted to their North East of England roots, no band before or since has ever wore their heritage so proudly on their collective sleeves in quite the same way as Lindisfarne.

Despite their commercial success, the band split in two in 1973 with one half becoming folk rockers Jack The Lad whilst the other half led by Alan Hull retained the Lindisfarne name before calling it a day in 1975. It didnít last however with the original line-up of Alan Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Ray Jackson (vocals, mandolin, harmonica), Simon Cowe (guitars, mandolin, banjo), Rod Clements (bass guitar, fiddle) and Ray Laidlaw (drums) reuniting in 1976 for a string of seasonal gigs on home turf at the Newcastle City Hall. It was the release of the bands cunningly titled fourth studio album Back And Fourth in the summer of 1978 however that saw them fully re-established.

Produced by the renowned Gus Dudgeon, Back And Fourth contained a smattering of hit (and potential hit) tunes alongside more traditional (if a tad lightweight) rock offerings. Chief amongst the former is the infectious Run For Home, their first hit single in the USA. The song may have been about the relief of returning to Newcastle after a lengthy tour but the memorable vocal hook, smooth harmonies and strings ensured a universal appeal that struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic. Other songs with a radio friendly sensibility included Only Alone which its persistent, memorable chorus and the bright and breezy Warm Feeling. The latter is one of the few songs on the album not credited to Alan Hull. It was co-written by Ray Jackson as was the tongue in cheek Kings Cross Blues which despite the title has a sunny country and western feel. In a similar mould is You And Me, but the standout track and the only authentic folk song on the album is Marshall Riley's Army. With evocative mandolin, harmonica and fiddle supporting an anthemic choral hook itís a stirring tribute to the Jarrow Crusade march from the North East of England to London in 1936 to demonstrate against unemployment. The original album concluded with two ballads, the wistful piano led Angels At Eleven which includes a reprisal of the string arrangement from Run For Home and the more upbeat and Beatlelish Make Me Want To Stay. Of the two bonus tracks here, the jaunty and reggaefide Stick Together is the more memorable mainly due to its biting anti-racist sentiments.

Back And Fourth did reasonably well in the 1978 UK charts paving the way for the release later that same year of a double live album recorded at one of the aforementioned seasonal shows. If the polished sound on Back And Fourth lacked some of the gritty earthiness of the bandís earlier releases then Magic In The Air was the real deal. Recorded at the Newcastle City Hall on Christmas Eve 1977 at the end of a sell-out 5 day residency, it shows the band in jubilant form taking rock, folk, blues and rock Ďní roll comfortably in their stride. All the bandís favourites are trotted out for the appreciative home crowd including Lady Eleanor, Meet Me On The Corner and Fog On The Tyne, in a nutshell this is essential Lindisfarne. As live albums go itís a triumph with excellent sound, playing and singing and even when theyíre rocking as is tunes like Court In The Act and Road To Kingdom Come, acoustic instruments and voices all shine through with supreme clarity. Having more than one competent vocalist is a bonus for any band and here the harmonies during Clear White Light and Rab Noakesí Turn A Deaf Ear are displayed with enviable precision. Although many of the songs have a goodtime vibe as befits the occasion they sit comfortably alongside Hullís more socially conscience protests like Winter Song and All Fall Down. Itís also gratifying to note that despite the occasion not one Christmas standard rears its head during the set with a bleak seasonal reference during the moving Winter Song being the only exception. In addition to the sing-along appeal of Fog On The Tyne, perhaps the highlight (for the home crowd at least) is an extended We Can Swing Together which takes an entertaining diversion with the inclusion of Blaydon Races, Scotland The Brave and the Z Cars TV theme amongst others.

In a career spanning four decades, 1978 was undoubtedly a standout year for Lindisfarne with these two remastered and superbly packaged reissues being a poignant reminder. Like all bands, the years that followed for Lindisfarne had its highs and lows with the premature death of Alan Hull in 1995 being a major low. Even though the band has subsequently split his songs continue to be performed to this day and the band can even be forgiven for backing England footballer Paul Gascoigne in a silly (if popular) re-recording of Fog On The Tyne in 1990. Although Lindisfarneís only real claim to prog fame is that during the early 70ís they toured with Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator and Alan Hull was an admirer of Yes, they remain for me a professional but fun loving band who had a keen ear for a good melody and insightful lyrics along with a political awareness that never overshadowed their sense of humour.

Conclusions:

Back And Fourth: 7 out of 10
Magic In The Air: 8 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Todd Rundgren & Utopia - Disco Jets
Todd Rundgren & Utopia - Disco Jets
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2319
Year of Release:1976/2012
Time:41:41
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Disco Jets (3:33), Cosmic Convoy (3:13), Time Warp (2:30), V.H.F. (3:47), Star Trek (4:07), Pet Rock (3:23), Space War (3:25), Rising Sign (3:48), Black Hole (3:19), Spirit Of Ď76 (2:48)

Todd Rundgren is a very unique man, having tried his hand at a wealth of musical genres in his time. As experimental as he was, he less famously had a go at prog, with some truly phenomenal results in the first incarnation of his band Utopia. Their first album, titled Todd Rundgren's Utopia, was something of a prog Ikon, pushing the boundaries with 30 minutes of music on each side.

When I discovered that Utopia had recorded an unreleased album that would have been placed chronologically between their debut and their second studio endeavour Ra, I was overcome with excitement. However, the very fact that the album was unreleased made me pause for doubt. The further revelation that the album was entitled Disco Jets discouraged me further, but I hoped for the best; maybe the title was ironic?

Mmm, nope, not really. As you may have already guessed, this is an incredibly silly disco album, the sort of thing that Rundgren may have recorded in his spare time. With all tracks being instrumental, save a few vocals here and there, there are a few things that stop these tracks all sounding the same. For instance Disco Jets is the track that has the words 'Here come the Disco Jets!', Star Trek is quite literally a disco version of the Star Trek theme, and Space War is simply a disco track with odd sound effects in the background. Yep, not particularly palateable to the progressive ear really.

You'd think that with such a radical change in sound, you wouldn't be able to tell it was Utopia, but this is not the case. It's all down to the production. That same crunchy drum sound is still there. Those guitar and keyboard sounds are still there. However, rather than belting out premium progressive rock, they stick to playing excruciating disco.

From a non-progressive point of view, this is a perfectly average disco album; rather hit-and-miss, with some tracks being more tuneful than others. There are some fun moments, and the Star Trek theme, along with the multitude of familiar themes in the final track give the album a friendly atmosphere. On the other hand, some of the tracks are rather jarring and make me want to press the 'Skip' button.

However, I am a prog fan, and this is a progressive website, so I have to be harsh with this one. It's a great shame that Todd Rundgren didn't use Utopia to their full progressive potential, instead choosing to vary his musical direction further. It's not hard to see why this project was shelved for so long, as the results are simply no match for Utopia's other releases. Phil Smee, being the sly dog he is, has created some rather ironic artwork for this release, choosing to mirror the band's debut album: instead of balls flying towards an eye, we have planets flying towards a disco ball. Very clever. Ultimately, this is a release for die-hard Utopia or Rundgren fans but not for the general progressive population.

Conclusion: 2 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS


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