Morning Coming (6:43), Peter (4.09), September Morning News (5:40), Motorway (5:50), Fields and Factories (8:36), Strength of a Dream (4.00), Tolpuddle Episode (5:10), Second Birth (7:00), Good Time Girl (4:16)
When I was a lot younger I used to frequent an excellent second-hand record shop where I lived in Birmingham, and whilst there I would often see this and other Gravy Train releases. Yet for some reason I was never intrigued enough to actually check the band out for myself. So now, some 40 years later, I am able to correct that decision, thanks to those fine folks at Esoteric who have done another old release proud by remastering and bringing this long-lost gem from 1973 back to the public's ear.
So being the first Gravy Train album I've heard, this is what I think of it.
On an initial playing I did wonder why Esoteric had plumped for this one, particularly as it comes across as being a tad basic and unsophisticated, although to be fair, it think that is down to a muddy production that even a decent remastering could never resolve, rather than the music itself. However repeated plays revealed a fine album struggling to emerge.
The band was certainly competent enough and in Norman Barrett they had an excellent guitarist whose solos are fluid and gripping. In addition to that, he had an unusual voice. Quite high-pitched and reedy, but certainly different. Also keyboard/flute/sax man J D Hughes was also an excellent musician, with some great ideas and not afraid to experiment either.
The songs themselves are sturdy and workmanlike, rather than epic or outstanding, but again the more you play them, the better they become. The clever use of flute added to proceedings, gives a Jethro Tull vibe to proceedings.
The band is at its best on the longer songs, namely Morning Coming, Fields and Factories and the title track, where they get a chance to flex their instrumental prowess. There is an especially interesting saxophone section on Fields and Factories, all of which lifts the song into being somewhat memorable.
As it says in the excellent booklet that accompanies this new version, Gravy Train was always best viewed as a live act, as they never managed to capture in the studio, the fire and power they had live, something that is a tragedy as I would imagine a live set would be really interesting. However this re-release will have to suffice.
Not essential, but Second Birth is certainly a curio of days long gone. Oh how I miss those innocent days.
Starbright Starlight (4:28), Bring My Life On Back To Me (5:48), Never Wanted You (4:04), Staircase To The Day (7:31), Going For A Quick One (5:16), The Last Day (5:36), Evening Of My Life (2:59), Busted In Schenectady (8:11), Climb Aboard The Gravy Train (3:08), Sanctuary (4:02)
Released in 1974, Staircase To the Day would be the last album by Lancashire band Gravy Train, a band whose popularity (at least) on the live circuit would not be reflected in their album sales. Originally signed to the Vertigo label for their first two albums, the band then moved to the Dawn label which saw them release Second Birth in 1973. It was panned critically. Thus the Roger Dean illustrated Staircase To The Day would be the groups' final fling at achieving success in the music business.
The album itself is a nice collection of pieces, which synthesises the rock scene of the early seventies and features a myriad of influences or styles which we can readily associate with various other well-known bands from the prog rock/hard rock circles. From the opening Starbright Starlight, one can see that the band achieved a more cohesive and full sound when compared to their previous albums. This was due probably to two main factors: the addition of another guitarist (George Lynon), as well as the handling of production duties by Vic Smith (Vic Coppersmith-Heaven) who had just finished working on Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 and Judas Priest's Rocka Rolla and would in the future go on to work with The Jam. In fact early comparisons of the group saw critics referring to them as being in the same vein as early Jethro Tull, mainly to strong presence of J.D. Hughes' flute. On this album, the flute is "relegated" to a secondary role, only really appearing on the Moody Blues-esque, Mellotron-drenched Staircase To The Day and the acoustic The Last Day.
Tracks like Staircase To the Day and Never Wanted You have a taste of Uriah Heap as well as Sensational Alex Harvey Band, while the closing Busted In Schenectady has a lovely bass/Mellotron interaction which is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd together with Mary Zinovieff's electric violin. On the other hand, we then have tracks such as Bring My Life On Back To Me and Evening Of My Life whose backbone is completely acoustic. Never Wanted You shows off Norman Barrett's strengths as a vocalist, as he rocks away on this number with some great interplay with J.D. Hughes' organ playing.
This re-issue features two bonus tracks which are taken from the single Climb Aboard The Gravy Train and its B-side Sanctuary. These were the last recorded pieces of music released by Gravy Train before they disbanded. Climb Aboard is a straight forward rock number, while Sanctuary is a complete departure from anything the band had previously recorded, probably a sign of the times as the band seem to have ditched their rock sound for a more funkier approach, reminiscent of Philly soul.
Staircase To the Day is a good spin, and indeed listening to this album/band makes one wonder why or how they didn't go on to achieve success, as some other of their contemporaries did. Luck and a question of timing probably played a role in all of this. Having said that, if you want to listen to good early seventies rock music, then this album will go down fine.
One Step On (a. In My Mind b. Nothing At All c. Interaction d. Paint It Black) (18:47), Little Message (4:42), Night Today (5:04), USA (6:41), Rock N' Roll Man (4:33); Bonus Tracks: Night Today (alternative version) (5:10), Rock N' Roll Man (single version) (4:13)
Back to the earliest days of progressive rock with the 1969 debut release by Jody Grind, a trio of Tim Hinkley (Hammond organ, bass pedals, vocals), Ivan Zagni (guitar) and Barry Wilson (drums). The mid- to late-sixties was a time of enormous musical changes, both in the sound and type of music being produced, and the almost constant forming and disbanding of new groups eager to make an impact. Hinkley's first band of note had been the Bo Street Runners, derived from the mid-eighteenth century name of London's first professional police force, who are probably most well known for having both drummer Mick Fleetwood and singer Mike Patto in their ranks (the band that is, not the nascant police force!). When the Runners broke up in financial disarray. Hinkley and Patto formed the short-lived Patto's People who were resolutely unsuccessful and dispanded fairly rapidly.
Hinkley returned to his parents' home to contemplate his future, making a living playing on a variety of sessions. A chance meeting with Elkie Brooks, who was looking for a backing band, resulted in Hinkley recruiting guitarist Zagni (who had played with Patto in The News - a group that had regularly supported the Bo Street Runners) and session drummer Martin Harrison. The rehearsal sessions ended up proving that the three musicians could effortlessly jam together, creating extended instrumentals, but were not much use at providing backing for Brooks' musical and vocal ambitions.
Encouraged by their musical chemistry, in January 1969 the trio played their first gig using the name Jody Grind, the title of a jazz instrumental by pianist Horace Silver. They continued to perform wherever possible at local clubs and free festivals. Although the band was gathering an audience, they were not making any money, so Harriman returned to playing sessions and Wilson, another ex member of The News, was bought in to occupy the drum stool. The group eventually signed a deal with Transatlantic Records, originally a folk label, who had grasped the mood of the times and expanded into the underground rock scene. A boon for the bands that signed to the label, was that the groups were given complete creative freedom to record what they wanted, which may have ultimately been to the detriment of Jody Grind's career.
The creative control, probably explains why the opening number was the 19-minute title track, a bold move by anyone's standards. The jam qualities first discovered during rehearsals backing Brooks, are evident throughout. Although the piece does flow well, the track does have an underlying shambolic nature, including an underwhelming drum solo. The highlight is definitely the inclusion of a heavy, horn-laden version of the Stones' Paint It Black. Little Message continues along the jamming route but has more succinct solos by both Hinkley and Zagni and is an impressive up-tempo burst of proto prog.
The slower Night Today is a more arranged number, with jazzy overtones and is quite delightful, with the guitar and Hammond blending well to create a piece typical of the late sixties. The horns are also well arranged, a role undertaken by David Palmer before he joined and gained widespread success with Jethro Tull. USA is a rather plodding blues number that grew out of the group's earliest live performances, somewhat indistinguishable from a myriad of other blues jams performed by countless other bands.
The final track on the original album was the Chuck Berry tribute Rock n' Roll Man, a rewrite of Johhny B Goode. Again, nothing really separates this rendering of the song from any of the many others. It gives Zagni a chance to let-fly, although the guitar sound is very thin and has too much treble.
The bonus tracks for this Esoteric release includes a slightly extended version of Night Today, the best track from the album, and the single version of Rock n' Roll Man, the worst track (I have never been a Berry fan!)
In addition to Palmer adding horn arrangements to the songs after the band had finished recording, bassist Louis Cennamo, another ex member of The News as well as having been a member of the last version of Patto's People (who had changed their name to The Chicago Blues Line Band by the stage), was drafted in to add extra bass to Paint It Black and Rock n' Roll Man. He also, presumably, appears as the fourth member of the band on the rear sleeve of the album.
The album remains a historic slice of music from the times and would largely have been forgotten about if not for the subsequent Far Canal album. There is no denying the musicianship displayed on this album, but overall there is a lack of coherence and direction. It seems the group was anxious to record and release an album, before realising that they didn't have enough decent material to fill the playing time, and as a consequence the whole thing feels rather rushed. Saying that, the album received critical acclaim and presumably sold enough copies for the band to hang onto their recording contract, so in that respect can be viewed as successful, although greater things were to follow.
We've Had It (5:07), Bath Sister (3:29), Jump Bed Jed (7:15), O Paradiso (7:36), Plastic Shit (7:20), Vegetable Oblivion (2:09), Red Worms & Lice (7:22), Ballad For Bridget (3:43); Bonus Track: Paint It Black (5:06)
Jody Grind's debut album One Step On was somewhat messy and uncoordinated, a limitation fully accepted by band leader and Hammond organist Tim Hinkley, who admitted that the band had not played very well and did not capture their live sound; even going so far as to suggest some of the best bits were the David Palmer horn arrangements.
Wanting to adopt a simpler approach, he ran into disagreements with Ivan Zagni (guitars) and Barry Wilson (drums), who wanted to spend more time experimenting in the studio. A month after the debut was released, both Zagni and Wilson quit, with Zagni eventually ending up as choirmaster at Norwich Cathedral. Not wanting to give up on the advances made by Jody Grind, least of all the recording contract, Hinkley grafted in guitarist, bassist and vocalist Bernie Holland and drummer Pete Gavin, both of whom had been members of Bluesology, the band originally formed by Elton John, who acted as backing musicians to Long John Baldrey.
The difference between the two Jody Grind albums is quite startling. The opening classical guitar on We've Had It is a million miles away from the beginning of One Step On. The simpler studio approach pays dividends, and the writing skills and vocals of Holland add a new dimension. Indeed, on this song the Hammond is not so up-front but provides excellent backing, with both Hinkley and Holland handling lead vocals. Bath Sister is more electric, with definite prog elements coming through and Hinkley's Hammond being the perfect foil for Holland's guitar work.
The production is notably cleaner, with a better balance than on the debut, somewhat surprising in that Hugh Murphy occupied the producer's seat for both albums. Jump Bed Jed continues the high quality with an extended piece, the instrumental section of which features guitar and Hammond work that is the equal to Lord and Blackmore in their early Deep Purple days.
O Paradiso is an instrumental number named in tribute to the Dutch venue of the same name, at which the new incarnation of Jody Grind performed some of their latest material at before heading into the studio. The gig garnered rave reviews and established a small but enthusiastic following for the group in Holland. Some great instrumental passages are split by, in my opinion, an unnecessary drum solo, which although better than the one that appeared on the first album, is somewhat of an indulgence. However I suppose it did give equal prominence to all three group members.
Plastic Shit sees a noticeable drop in sonic and production quality, with the guitar very prominent and the vocals too far back. The reason for this is that it is was recorded in concert at the Roundhouse, and is the only known live recording of the band in existence. It does show how proficient a live act they were and how the new recording approach was more representative of their live sound. An early warning of the ecological mess ravaged by plastic waste; the message, if not the recording, was well ahead of its time.
The brief instrumental, Vegetable Oblivion, has some deliciously obtuse chord changes that would not be out of place on a Gentle Giant album, while the final extended number, the bizarrely titled Red Worms and Lice, is also an instrumental, and is notable for having two guitar parts which makes the piece stand out, although I guess the band would have had a hard time reproducing it live. This piece is more along the lines of the jamming nature of the material on the first album, but is much more focused and is a marvellous piece of music that has both groove and panache.
The last piece, Ballad For Bridget is a complete contrast. With laid back piano and vibraphone (both played by Hinkley, although not simultaneously!), it is rather more of a light jazz piece, but quite delightful, showcasing the marvellous skills of the three musicians. The bonus track harks back to the debut album and is a single mix of Paint It Black extracted from One Step On's title track and issued as a single in Germany and Portugal, prior to recording commencing on the second album. Although it highlights the differences between the two versions of the band, it does stand out much more than as a section of the 19-minute 'suite'. As a standalone piece it is very dramatic, energetic and exciting, Palmer's horn arrangements really making the piece stand out.
Unfortunately this album also failed to the catch the attention of the buying public. It is arguable that if Far Canal had been the debut, then the band would have been more likely to achieve a lasting success. The failure of a deal with CBS to distribute the album in the US didn't help matters. CBS insisted that the album name would need to be changed (think about it) and the band refused. The lack of success resulted in Transatlantic dropping the band (although Holland thinks that his suggestion to call the next album Far Queue might have been a contributory factor!) thus confining the band to the history books. In an interesting twist, Hinkley did eventually end up playing with Elkie Brooks, as he went on to join Vinegar Joe fronted by Brooks and Robert Palmer, things coming full circle.
If you are interested, as I am, in quality sixties music that formed the roots of progressive rock, then you can't go far wrong with Far Canal, certainly by far the superior of the two albums released by Jody Grind.