Reviews in this issue:
- Keith Tippett - You Are Here...I Am There
- Keith Tippett - Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening
- Barclay James Harvest - Eyes Of The Universe
- Barclay James Harvest - Turn Of The Tide
- The Climax Chicago Blues Band - The Climax Chicago Blues Band
- The Climax Blues Band - Plays On
- The Climax Chicago Blues Band - A Lot Of Bottle
- The Gods - Genesis
- The Gods - To Samuel A Son
Keith Tippett - You Are Here...I Am There
Track list: This Evening Was Like Last Year (To Sarah) (9:05), I Wish There Was A Nowhere (14:05), Thank You For The Smile (To Wendy and Roger) (2:03), Three Minutes From An Afternoon In July (To Nick) (4:12), View From Battery Point (To John and Pete) (2:01), Violence (4:03), Stately Dance For Miss Primm (6:52), This Evening Was Like Last Year - Short version (4:04)
Keith Tippett - Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening
Tracklist: This Is What Happens (5:00), Thoughts To Geoff (10:23), Green And Orange Night Park (8:15), Gridal Suite (6:13), Five After Dawn (5:15), Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening (0:33), Black Horse (5:56)
There were several reasons why I wanted these albums, a few of these being:
- my increased appreciation for jazz, after many hours of listening to Miles Davis;
- my interest in Keith Tippett, the pianist that guested on three fantastic early King Crimson albums;
- the appearance of Robert Wyatt, one of my personal prog heroes on the second album, as well as other Soft Machine guests like Elton Dean;
- and last but not least, that curious Roger Dean artwork of a literal 'brainchild'.
In each of these respects, the albums did not disappoint. Let's dive in:
The first album, You Are Here...I Am There, was recorded in 1968, but was shelved until 1970. I can fully appreciate Tippett's frustration at having his work unreleased for an entire year. The original sleeve note - which is gratefully included in this Esoteric edition - written by Christopher Bird, tells us '[Tippett]'s not sure that he qualifies as a jazz pianist at all. He's wrong.' While the music on this record is certainly more jazz than anything else, it's clear that he's approached the music from more of a classical perspective, using drama and tension in most of his compositions.
It's the first side of this strange, yet beautiful album that really grabs me by the ears. This Evening Was Like Last Year begins the album at a melancholy pace. At nine minutes, this is a rather slow track, but the listener's patience is richly rewarded. Mainly in free time, the listener trusts that the piece is going to go somewhere, and believe me, it does! Initially, we only hear Tippett on the piano alongside Jeff Clyne with a heavy bowed bass. However, when the brass section enters at three minutes, things really start to happen. There's a melody here, but Tippett's in no rush to reach the end. The tension is insurmountable when the group suddenly reach a series of staccato notes which conclude in a flourish. We're not even halfway in! I've found it best to listen to this piece in the dark whilst lying in bed. It'll give you nightmares.
I Wish There Was A Nowhere follows on from the first track in a beautifully subtle segue. Tippett mixes things up a bit by adding a tempo. The opening section of this track is incredibly rhythmic, yet no less dramatic than its predecessor. It's clear that This Evening... was just the warm up track, as this piece lasts for nearly quarter of an hour, encompassing a range of themes and moods.
The second side isn't quite as ambitious, but is nonetheless interesting. Thank You For The Smile is a very simple track, quite repetitive, but has a melancholy take on a melody heard in Hey Jude. Three Minutes From An Afternoon In July is a more experimental piece, I wasn't too fond of it myself. View From Battery Point focuses mainly on Jeff Clyne on the bass. Violence follows, at a breakneck pace, reminiscent of the second Miles Davis quintet, without actually aping their musical style. Indeed, this track has that more dramatic feel to it, as opposed to Davis' esoteric noodling. Stately Dance For Miss Primm follows at a leisurely pace, and its straight four-four time makes it seem very stately indeed. At seven minutes, this is a funky breather for the group. Before they go, the band wraps up proceedings with a reprise of the opening track; a very cohesive way to send off the album.
Eighteen months in London seemed to give Tippett a new outlook on his music. In very sharp contrast to the notes on the first album, the notes for Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening read: '"I'm a jazz musician", he states flatly and categorically, without qualification.' Quite the turnaround there Mr. Tippett!
Indeed, this album did mark a change for the Bristol-bred musician. While You Are Here...I Am There was entirely written and arranged by Tippett, Dedicated... could be seen as more of a semi-improvised jam session between the man and his newfound jazz-fusion friends. A full rundown of the musicians on this album is as follows:-
- Keith Tippett: Piano/Hohner Electric Piano
- Elton Dean: Alto/Saxello
- Marc Charig: Cornet
- Nick Evans: Trombone
- Robert Wyatt: Drums
- Bryan Spring: Drums
- Phil Howard: Drums
- Tony Uta: Conga Drums/Cow Bell
- Roy Babbington: Bass/Bass Guitar
- Neville Whitehead: Bass
- Gary Boyle: Guitar
This Is What Happens starts the album in a light-hearted fashion. With a strong rhythm, delivered by some fantastic drumming and accentuated by horn fanfares, this is the ideal song to put on at a party. Thoughts To Geoff was apparently a much older Tippett tune that got speeded up during a live set. The tempo stuck, and when this ten-minute piece gets going, it really races. All the same, it seems just a little messy to me. Green And Orange Night Park begins in a melancholy flurry of cymbals, horns and piano notes. Soon after it moves into the main theme with its electrifying rhythm and bold riff. A very satisfying track indeed.
Gridal Suite is the evolution of Three Minutes..., a more intense piece of dense experimentation, but now entirely dissonant. I remain unconvinced. Five After Dawn continues the experimental theme, simulating people and things awakening in a rather spooky fashion. Still not my cup of tea. The classic Soft Machine track Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening is played briefly by Dean and Charig before falling into Black Horse, another chunky, funky tune to end the album.
Despite the 'celebrity' line-up, the increased electric instrumentation and the Roger Dean artwork which 'should' tell me it's a better prog album - if prog clichés are to be believed - I have to say I preferred the first album, with its shimmering Side One. Both albums have their strong points and weak points, but the balance is tipped in favour of the former rather than the latter. Esoteric have done a pretty sweet job of reissuing these two, and though I'm weary that the inner gatefold has been replaced in the second album, all the information and necessary artwork is still intact, so I'm not complaining too much. Some bonus tracks wouldn't have gone amiss, as these recordings seem a bit bare otherwise, but I'll make do with what I've got. I'd love to see Esoteric release more of Tippett's work, including Centipede, the fifty-man band that defied all expectations. The Keith Tippett Group in both forms provide an exciting dose of fascinating, bold jazz that is sure to please any fan with the slightest interest in the genre.
You Are Here...I Am There: 8 out of 10
Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening: 7 out of 10
Barclay James Harvest - Eyes Of the Universe
Tracklist: Love On The Line (4:38), Alright Down Get Boogie [Mu Ala Rusic] (3:53), The Song [They Love To Sing] (6:11), Skin Flicks (6:52), Sperratus (5:00), Rock N'Roll Lady (4:29), Capricorn (4:33), Play To The World (7:02) Bonus Tracks: Sperratus [Unreleased Single Edit] (3:23), Rock N' Roll Lady [Unreleased Single Edit] (3:23), Capricorn [Single Edit] (3:37), Play To The World [Unreleased Single Edit] (3:52)
Barclay James Harvest - Turn Of The Tide
Tracklist: Waiting On The Borderline (3:46), How Do You Feel Now? (4:50), Back To The Wall (5:12), Highway For Fools (3:15), Echoes And Shadows (5:02), Death Of A City (3:46), I'm Like A Train (5:26), Doctor Doctor (5:37) Life Is For Living (3:42), In Memory Of The Martyrs (8:02) Bonus Tracks: Shades Of B Hill (4:12), Life Is For Living [Single Version] (3:30)
Since 2005, Esoteric have been progressively re-mastering and reissuing the back catalogue of Barclay James Harvest concentrating on their tenure with Polydor Records which began in 1974 and ended in 1997 with the band's split. This latest pair, Eyes Of The Universe and Turn Of The Tide, originally released in November 1979 and May 1981 respectively, contain the usual bonus material and expanded booklet with additional artwork, photos and liner notes. Whilst Turn Of The Tide receives its first airing on Esoteric, this version of Eyes Of The Universe was issued by Esoteric in 2006 although the sleek digipack wrapping is new for 2013.
Following the departure of keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme earlier in 1979, Eyes Of The Universe featured the BJH trio of guitarist/vocalist John Lees, bassist/vocalist Les Holroyd and drummer Mel Pritchard. With the conspicuous absence of Wolstenholme, the songs marked a departure from the elaborate arrangements of their earlier recordings for a more radio friendly pop/AOR sound. On its original release it failed to chart in the UK but reached number 3 in Germany which was fast becoming a major stronghold for BJH (the following year in Berlin they performed in front of 175,000 fans in a free concert). The song writing was split equally between Lees and Holroyd and they played most of the keyboard parts themselves with session keyboardist Kevin McAlea contributing to two tracks.
Love On The Line gets off to a good start with a menacing synth bass line that predates the tone of Vangelis' Blade Runner theme by three years. Sadly it's joined by a disco beat jumping on the Bee Gees band wagon of white funk which was hugely popular at the time despite the aftermath of punk. This was the first song from the album to be released as a single and inexplicably became a live favourite. Alright Down Get Boogie continues in a similar vein and has to be one of the worst songs ever penned by Lees. This embarrassing affair was justified as a tongue in cheek spoof of 70's disco but either way there is no excusing a chorus like "Get down boogie alright" (The Tangent did a similar but much better pastiche with the clever The Sun In My Eyes from A Place In The Queue). From the ridiculous to the sublime with the beautiful The Song (They Love To Sing) which is one of Holroyd's best ballads ever with haunting keyboard support from McAlea.
Skin Flicks is a curious combination of Crosby, Stills & Nash West Coast harmonies and symphonic synth punctuations that plagiarises Question by The Moody Blues. It works in part but the song never really goes anywhere and hardly justifies its near seven minute length. It's also surprising that the band should seemingly go out of their way to invite further comparisons following the infamous 'Poor man's Moody Blues' jibe. Better is Sperratus (an anagram of "Superstar") which opened side two on the original vinyl disc. McAlea again shines on keys along with Lees' soaring guitar in a driving instrumental break which is one the albums few prog moments.
Rock N' Roll Lady is another song that became a live favourite although this studio original is weaker than later versions. Owing a debt to The Eagles One Of These Nights, it does at least benefit from Lees' spacey guitar sound. The overtly commercial Capricorn is a nod in the direction of More Than A Feeling by Boston released three years earlier. It does admittedly have a catchy chorus and no surprise that it was released as a single the following year. Closing the original release is the sublime Play To The World another memorable song from Holroyd featuring a majestic saxophone coda from guest Alan Fawkes.
The four bonus tracks are all single edits of songs already included on the album and as such serve no beneficial purpose other than fleshing out the playing time. The fact that three of them were conceived but never released is a telling indication of the lack of commercial success that befell the album's previous singles. Sperratus in particular misses out on the instrumental break which is the song's best part. Play To The World suffers a similar fate fading just as the sax solo starts.
If you own a pre-2006 CD of Eyes Of The Universe it would be difficult to recommend this version on the strength of the bonus tracks alone. What scores in its favour is the superiority of the re-mastered sound and the historical artwork which includes such artefacts as a 1979 festival poster with the band's name headlining above Dire Straits.
With a hefty European touring schedule and a 'Best of' collection to separate the two studio albums, Turn Of The Tide followed 18 months after Eyes Of The Universe. The essential line-up of John Lees, Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard remained intact (as it did until the band's spilt in 1997) with returning guest keyboardist Kevin McAlea joined by Colin Browne on guitars, bass, keyboards and backing vocals. Like McAlea, Browne had toured with BJH the previous year including the prestigious Berlin concert in August 1980.
Holroyd's opening tune Waiting On The Borderline offsets its angst ridden lost-love lyrics with McAlea's rhythmic keys loop. Lead guitar is conspicuously absent. Lees' sensitive piano on How Do You Feel Now? is more on the mark although the synthetic sax sound undermines the reflective mood. The plodding Back To The Wall is let down by the lightweight synth arrangement with a cheesy chorus resurrecting the spectre of the Bee Gees from the previous album. Lees ups the ante with the mid-tempo rocker Highway For Fools which is his thinly disguised attack on the music business and features real guitars at last. This is short lived because digital keys are once more in the ascendency for Echoes And Shadows. To be fair this is one of Holroyd's best efforts with a memorable choral hook against a lush synth backdrop.
Lees' returns to one of his most consistent lyrical topics for Death Of A City, universal destruction although the galloping guitar riff is less atypical, bringing to mind a lightweight version of Thin Lizzy. It also contains a reference to After The Day which just happens to be my favourite BJH song. In contrast Holroyd's piano ballad I'm Like A Train is reminiscent of Elton John's Candle In The Wind to begin with but this is lost when it hits its poppy-MOR stride. The Beach Boys style wordless harmonies provide a pleasantly welcome ending however.
The synth-pop/rasping bass sound of Doctor Doctor was very in vogue in 1981, predating the Thompson Twins by two years. No disrespect to BJH, but you really had to be in your teens with floppy hair to do this kind of thing with conviction. The bubbly Life Is For Living was a hugely successful European single release for BJH but it pales in comparison with the live version that went down a storm at the 1980 Berlin concert. In Memory Of The Martyrs was unveiled at the same concert and here it provides Lees' characteristic slow burning album finale. The stately acoustic pace, tasteful musicianship, rich harmonies and Lees' melancholic vocal provide a fine tribute to those that lost their lives attempting to cross the Berlin Wall.
Of the bonus tracks, the untypical Shades Of B Hill (the 'B' side of Life Is For Living) sounds exactly like the kind of slow paced, echo laden songs on John Lennon's Double Fantasy album which was hugely popular at the time following his death in December 1980. Listening to the 'A' side single edit of the aforementioned Life Is For Living, I find it hard to comprehend how it reached the top 3 in both the German and Swiss singles charts.
With the benefit of over thirty years of hindsight it would be all too easy to dismiss both these albums as contrived attempts to garner mainstream appeal. However in the context of what was happening musically in the late seventies/early eighties they represent a fair stab at a more commercial song driven direction. Several institutional prog bands were attempting the same thing with variable results and to be fair BJH were never the most complex to begin with, the accent was always on melody as opposed to intricate instrumentals. Although many of the songs sound derivative there are some very tuneful moments with capable performances helped by BJH and Martin Lawrence's glossy production. This is not vintage BJH by any stretch of the imagination but for those that bought and enjoyed the original albums, and there were many, they both represent excellent upgrades.
Eyes Of The Universe: 6.5 out of 10
Turn Of The Tide: 6 out of 10
The Climax Chicago Blues Band - The Climax Chicago Blues Band
Bonus tracks: Checking On My Baby (3:30), Arthur's Boogie (1:34), Stormy Monday (5:35), Don't Start Me Talkin' (Take One) (2:54), Anybody's Boogie (0:57), You've Been Drinking (Take One) (4:10), And Lonely (Take Five) (5:33)
The Climax Blues Band - Plays On
Track list: Flight (7:52), Hey Baby, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, Yeh Yeh Yeh (4:24), Cubano Chant (5:35), Little Girl (3:00), Mum’s The Word (3:45), Twenty Past Two/Temptation Rag (3:20), So Many Roads (6:34), City Ways (3:21), Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (6:13)
Bonus tracks: Like Uncle Charlie (4:14), Loving Machine (2:26), Dance Of The Mountain King’s Daughter (2:35), Flight (First Mix) (7:28)
The Climax Chicago Blues Band - A Lot Of Bottle
Bonus tracks: Spoonful (6:37), Flight (live) (7:07), Seventh Son (live) (4:19), Reap What I Have Sowed (live) (5:40)
The British Blues Boom of the 1960s saw dozens of bands charging away from the crossroads with a hellhound on their collective tail. Some went on to world dominance, a lot arrived and disappeared without trace, and a sizeable number occupied a middle ground in terms of commercial success, and The Climax Blues Band were probably somewhere towards the bottom of that particular middle league table.
Formed in Stafford in the U.K., The Climax Chicago Blues Band comprised Colin Cooper (vocals, harmonica), Pete Haycock (guitar, slide guitar, vocals), Arthur Wood (keyboards), Derek Holt (rhythm guitar, bass, organ), Richard Jones (bass), and George Newsome (drums). They released their debut album in 1969, a year after forming, and were probably at least 2 years late in terms of missing the boat of musical tastes, as psychedelia had evolved out of blues rock and was already on the wane in the year that progressive rock was born, with the release of King Crimson's debut album upon an astonished world. You may dispute that, but I'm sticking to my guns, and I have meandered on at length on the subject on my blog, if you're interested.
Anyway, I digress! As was often the case with blues bands, the debut album was essentially the group's live set at the time. As a result of a fine bit of managerial blagging to none other than George Martin, the boys ended up recording their debut for Martin's then fledgling production company A.I.R. (London) at Abbey Road Studios no less, a deal which also saw them signing for EMI offshoot Parlophone. This record was committed to tape in just two days, and the studio novices were produced by a rather young Chris Thomas, also making his debut as a producer. The remaster is as clear as a bell, thanks to the quality of the original recording, a testament to Thomas' burgeoning talent for twiddling knobs.
There were essentially two kinds of '60s blues bands; the more common were those who took the template, and, to varying degrees of success, forged their own sound from it, The Rolling Stones and Cream being two of the more prominent examples. The other less common type were the purists, who stuck to the John Mayall/Alexis Korner museum curator approach, with bands like Mayall's Bluesbreakers and latterly the likes of early Groundhogs, Chicken Shack, and yes, The Climax Chicago Blues Band being examples.
So what we have here is a succession of well played if rather worthy covers of such standards as Don't Start Me Talkin', Wee Baby Blues, and How Many More Years, played in the style of The Bluesbreakers or Clapton's version of The Yardbirds. In fact Colin Cooper's voice is very similar to Clapton's early monotone. We also have a few originals, And Lonely standing out as daring to leave the trusted 12-bar mould for a few minutes. They end the album proper with a cover of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer, recorded four years before it came to prominence on the soundtrack for The Sting, which serves to lighten the somewhat dry atmosphere of the record. Like most bands of their persuasion, I'm sure their sound came over far better live than on record.
The inclusion of the likes of The Entertainer is a credit to the band for covering the less obvious blues and R&B standards, although given that they were so late for the train the esoteric choices were more than likely borne out of necessity as all the "obvious" blues tunes had already been done to death. The sleeve notes' grand claim that "...the Climax Blues Band were taking a long established and traditional musical format, daring to play around with it..." is a bit wide of the mark. Not to say that this is not enjoyable, it is, but there's nothing here you won't find any bar band still churning out today, all these years later.
Ah, now this is a bit more like it! On their second album, Plays On, band leader Colin Cooper has added the saxophone and something called a "bamboo whistle" to his musical repertoire, Derek Holt is now credited with bass guitar and mellotron, Richard Jones having left. These changes served to flesh out the sound, and we are taken on jazzy albeit rhythmically straightforward extemporisations on the likes of Flight and Cubano Chant. These are interspersed with more of ye olde blues, and it sort of works.
Most strange is the track Twenty Past Two/Temptation Rag which is a blues belter on the slide geetar that has a solo piano ragtime thing crudely spliced into the middle. If you saw a pub band doing this the abrupt change would make you drop your pint!
The group dropped the "Chicago" from their name as a result of a request from the American band Chicago Transit Authority (later simply "Chicago"), which was a move that may well have happened in any case as the word restricted perceptions of punters to expect no more than a faithful covers band.
The band has obviously become much more confident in a short space of time, and sound tighter, but looser as a result. Retaining Chris Thomas at the helm, the sound is warmer and more soulful than the debut and you can almost feel the good vibes oozing through the speakers, especially on the mid-tempo walking blues Crazy 'Bout My Baby, which ends with some smoky and hazy stereo panning. Hey, don't bogart that...
The most interesting of the bonus tracks is the 'A' side of the single Dance Of The Mountain King's Daughter which is an odd little tune in a bossa-nova beat that shows the band's willingness to experiment, something hinted at throughout this album, no more so than at the start of Mum's The Word, appropriated wholesale from Also Sprach Zarathustra. The tune then becomes a quasi-classical slice of psychedelia, whizzing off into the firmament.
Apparently the whole thing was unrehearsed and dusted off in a mere week, again at Abbey Road, and considering the short space of time that had elapsed since the first album, there is no little progression in evidence.
Somewhat confusingly, the band re-inserted the "Chicago" into their name for their third album, released in 1970, which saw them moved from Parlophone to EMI's underground imprint Harvest. Still retaining the production services of Chris Thomas, A Lot Of Bottle has a more focussed and harder-edged sound than its predecessor, guitarist Pete Haycock in particular laying down slabs of furious hard edged blues playing, in places not a million miles from the style of Rory Gallagher.
Gone is the experimental playfulness of Plays On, a vibe that is replaced with a more sleeves-rolled-up workmanlike approach, with the bar-room boogie of Long Lovin' Man being a prime example, almost pre-empting the pub rock sound of four years hence.
Of most interest are the bonus tracks, including a Latin-flavoured instrumental take of Spoonful which thankfully does not take the easy way out by copying the well known Cream version, and might be how they envisioned Santana playing the song, fair belting along until the final 90 seconds, which remind me of The Doobie Brothers. There are also three live tracks recorded at The Blow Up, a London club, in 1971. As I said earlier, bands like this were often much better in a live environment, where the raw energy of the blues genre is best captured. Suitably rough and ready, but with a great sound considering the age of the tapes, these three tracks do not disappoint in that respect.
All in all then, these three albums are a neat introduction to what was in effect the dying embers of a musical explosion, without which the progressive rock we all cherish would probably have sounded a whole lot different, as more than a few of the original proggers started out in youth club bands covering the same kind of music as presented here.
If I may conclude with a question that I've often pondered upon: Can Robert Fripp play 12-bar blues?
The Climax Chicago Blues Band: 6 out of 10 (from a musical point of view, unrated from a prog perspective)
Plays On: 6.5 out of 10
A Lot Of Bottle: 7 out of 10 (from a musical point of view, unrated from a prog perspective)
The Gods - Genesis
CD 1 – The Original Stereo Mix: Towards The Skies (3:25), Candles Getting Shorter (4:28), You're My Life (3:20), Looking Glass (4:14), Misleading Colours (3:36), Radio Show (3:17), Plastic Horizon (3:32), Farthing Man (3:18), I Never Know (5:41), Time And Eternity (2:46)
Bonus Tracks: Baby's Rich (2:48), Somewhere In The Street (2:49), Hey Bulldog (3:03), Real Love Guaranteed (2:28)
CD 2 – The Original Mono Mix: Towards The Skies (3:25), Candles Getting Shorter (4:28), You're My Life (3:20), Looking Glass (4:14), Misleading Colours (3:36), Radio Show (3:17), Plastic Horizon (3:32), Farthing Man (3:18), I Never Know (5:41), Time And Eternity (2:46)
The Gods – To Samuel A Son
Tracklist: To Samuel A Son (3:32), Eight O'Clock In The Morning (3:17), He's Growing (2:27), Sticking Wings On Flies (2:41), Lady Lady (3:20), Penny Dear (2:36), Long Time, Sad Time, Bad Time (3:14), Five To Three (3:01), Autumn (3:13), Yes I Cry (2:40), Groozy (3:41), Momma I Need (3:58), Candlelight (2:34), Lovely Anita (3:35)
Bonus Tracks: Maria (4:02), Long Time, Sad Time, Bad Time [Mono Single Version] (3:16)
If you're going to adopt a name like The Gods then you need a convincingly epic sound to match. That's clearly what Ken Hensley (keyboards, vocals), Joe Konas (guitar, vocals), Lee Kerslake (drums) and John Glascock (bass, vocals) attempted with their bombastic mix of late '60s pop, rock, psychedelic and proto-prog. It wasn't always that way however with the band's original blues-rock style reflecting the tastes of their then lead guitarist Mick Taylor who was on route to The Rolling Stones via John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. During Glascock's hiatus in 1967/1968 another rising star, Greg Lake, was The Gods' bassist for a brief period prior to his success with King Crimson and ELP. Hensley and Kerslake would later further their own careers as members of the 1970s version of Uriah Heep whilst Glascock spent four years with Jethro Tull before his untimely death in 1979.
In their five year run which began in 1965, The Gods released a handful of singles and two albums, both of which have been expanded, re-mastered and reissued by Esoteric. Recorded and released in 1968, their debut album Genesis (no connection with Gabriel and co. who had recently embarked on their own career) included all original songs with Konas and Hensley claiming the majority of the writing credits. The transition to stereophonic sound during the '60s saw record labels like Columbia manufacturing albums in both mono and stereo (usually identified by a red or blue dot on the sleeve as I recall) and Genesis was one such album. Thoughtfully Esoteric have included both formats on this two disc set but for review purposes I've stuck with the stereo version which also includes the bonus tracks.
The opening cut, Towards The Skies, is pretty typical of what The Gods were all about; bold and expansive with Konas' gutsy riffs underpinned by Hensley's sustained organ chords and Kerslake's lively drumming. Glascock's bass, however, is less conspicuous thanks to the muddy production (which even Esoteric's first rate re-mastering cannot salvage). Singing in unison for the most part, the three vocalists deliver a potent sound although sadly there are no elaborate harmonies to speak of (The Beach Boys they are not). Instead, at various times they reminded me of several quality U.K. bands from the same era including Manfred Mann, The Hollies, The Moody Blues, The Yardbirds and Cream.
The mellow Candles Getting Shorter with its celestial organ has shades of Procol Harum whilst the powerful Misleading Colours is influenced by Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze released the previous year. Plastic Horizon is easily my favourite song with a memorable chorus and the organ sounding suitably majestic, definite shades of early prog and a pity that it fades after just 3½ minutes. Ironically, it is also one of two songs on the original album not written by the band. Another favourite is I Never Knew, if only for the Mellotron hovering serenely in the background. The same song also highlights the limitations of Konas' technique. He's a good guitarist but rarely ventures beyond the heavy blues style of Hendrix and Clapton. Also on the minus side is the childish (but thankfully short) psychedelic sequences that link each track sounding dated even for 1968.
The now familiar Esoteric bonus material consists of the A and B sides of the band's singles released around the same time. Somewhere In The Street is heavier than most of the songs on the album with rich vocal backing from Hensley and an early indicator of what was to come in Uriah Heep. Hey Bulldog is equally energetic and a worthy version of a lesser known Beatles tune.
Whilst Genesis was not a huge seller it did well enough to allow the band to return to the studio to record a follow up, To Samuel A Son. Like its predecessor it was produced by David A. Paramor but thankfully the silly track links were (almost) left behind. From the title song onwards the sound is noticeably sharper and the music more adventurous, opening with a lengthy organ intro and featuring a story-telling song style more accustomed to The Beatles and The Move. In fact the sound of the Fab Four is stamped all over this album. The massed, 3-part singing has also been replaced with more thoughtful vocal arrangements.
If the pretentious title isn't a big enough clue then the music and lyrics of Sticking Wings On Flies is indicative of a more psychedelic meets early prog style which is echoed in Konas' twangy (George Harrison) guitar sound panning across the speakers. Other song highlights on To Samuel A Son include the melancholic Five To Three, the Mellotron drenched Autumn, the harmony rich Yes I Cry (with excellent drumming from Kerslake) and the catchy Lovely Anita written by Kerslake.
It's not all good news however as the country-rock Penny Dear and the rockabilly Elvis Presley-ish Long Time, Sad Time, Bad Time testify. The highlight of the bonus material (and possibly the album) is the bands version of the Leonard Bernstein standard Maria from West Side Story. The Gods' bombastic interpretation is clearly indebted to American psychedelic rockers Vanilla Fudge who also influenced early Yes, particularly Anderson & co.'s extended version of Bernstein's Something's Coming from the same musical.
The fate of The Gods was sealed when they recorded their second album. Whilst they were all individually talented musicians and the songs of an acceptably good standard, stylistically they were looking backwards more than they were forwards. In that same year of 1969 pioneering bands like King Crimson, Yes and Led Zeppelin released their debut albums and in comparison The Gods' music sounded woefully out of date.
Before the band members went their separate ways they evolved into Toe Fat, a backing band for U.K. rhythm and blues singer Cliff Bennett which lasted for a couple of years. Konas had already departed for Canada and relative obscurity by this point whilst Hensley, Kerslake and Glascock had a productive 1970s ahead of them.
Genesis - 6 out of 10
To Samuel A Son - 6.5 out of 10