Album Reviews

Issue 2013-065

Reviews in this issue:

Reissues Special

Nektar - Remember The Future: 40th Anniversary Edition

Nektar - Remember The Future: 40th Anniversary Edition
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Cleopatra Records
Catalogue #:CLP 0274
Year of Release:1973/2013
Time:CD 1 - 35:44
CD 2 - 57:06
Samples:Click Here
CD 1 - Remember The Future Remember The Future (Part 1) [a. Images Of The Past, b. Wheel Of Time, c. Remember The Future, d. Confusion] (16:41), Remember The Future (Part 2) [e. Returning Light, f. Questions And Answers, g. Tomorrow Never Comes, h. Path Of Light, i. Recognition, j. Let It Grow] (19:01)
CD 2 - Bonus Material: Radio Edits - Remember The Future (9:55), Lonely Roads (3:52), Let It Grow (2:18)
The 1970 Boston Tapes: New Day Dawning (5:36), Do You Believe In Magic (3:40), Candlelight (4:00), Good Day (8:51), The Life I've Been Leading (4:35), Where Did You Go (5:27), Sealed With A Kiss (3:56), Our Love Will Last Forever (4:54)

I remember seeing Nektar perform live in the south west of England back in the summer of 1974 when they were arguably at their peak. As I recall I enjoyed the gig (I was on holiday at the time and the beer was flowing freely!) but there was nothing in the set that gave me the urge to dash out and buy one of their albums. As a result my extensive record collection (which grew at a rapid rate during the '70s) remained Nektar free. Nearly 40 years on and the opportunity has arisen to reacquaint myself with the music of Nektar and what better than this reissue of perhaps the band's most acclaimed album.

First, a brief introduction. Nektar began life in Hamburg in 1969 and this, coupled with the Germanic spelling of their name, led to the popular misconception that they were a German band. They were in fact all English, namely Roye Albrighton (guitars, lead vocals), Allan Freeman (keyboards, vocals), Derek Moore (bass, vocals) and Ron Howden (drums, vocals). Nektar also credited their lighting technician Mick Brockett as a band member rather like Genesis who had a similar regard for their sound engineer Richard MacPhail. Originally released in Europe in 1973, Remember The Future proved to be hugely popular in the U.S. when it appeared there the following year.

Although it has been reissued several times on CD, this 40th anniversary edition from Californian label Cleopatra Records is the first to include a bonus disc and the rare 1970 Boston Tapes. Disc 1 is devoted to the original Remember The Future album, a single piece of music (albeit in separate sections) divided into two tracks to accommodate the constraints of vinyl. The benefits of CD are clearly evident and the 36 minute playing time seems to go by in a flash, always a positive sign. The three bonus tracks available on previous CD releases have been moved over to the second disc which is filled out by the aforementioned 1970 Boston Tapes.

The first thing that struck me about Remember The Future is just how prog-lite it is, suggesting that Nektar's progressive-rock tag has more to do with the Sci-fi imagery (artwork, album title and concept subject matter) than it does the music. Melodic mainstream rock with traces of blues, pop, space-rock and The Beatles in their psychedelic phase would be a more apt description. I was also struck by how dated it sounds, not in the sense that it's 40 years old, more because it sounds like a product of the late '60s than it does the early '70s. I'm not entirely sure it functions as a single piece of music with the title song in Part 1 for example fading out before the instrumental Confusion fades back in. That said the individual sections are certainly entertaining with memorable hooks and tuneful songs where Albrighton's engaging lead vocal is supported by strong block harmonies from the rest of the band.

It's Albrighton's considerable guitar talents that provide the instrumental focal point to the extent where at times it feels more like a singer-guitarist and his backing band than it does a group effort. He certainly covers a good deal of ground, echoing amongst others Pete Townsend's power chords, Jimi Hendrix's bluesy jams, David Gilmour's melodic phrasings and Tom Johnston's (of The Doobie Brothers fame) chugging funk riffs. Supported by the powerhouse rhythm section of Moore and Howden, I was also reminded of Cream and Rory Gallagher during the heavier moments. Keyboardist Freeman on the other hand seems to be AWOL for a good deal of the time, although his Hammond arpeggios are a delight when they do surface. The tight, uncluttered arrangements also benefit from a clean sound suggesting that the whole thing has been re-mastered although the otherwise stylish CD packaging gives nothing away in this respect.

The three bonus tracks that open disc 2 were originally intended for promotional purposes with the 10 minute Remember The Future edit appearing on the sampler album Made In Germany. Lonely Roads and Let It Grow were designed for radio play and incidentally they are wrongly sequenced on the album cover which I've corrected for the track listing above. For collectors however, The 1970 Boston Tapes will be of much greater interest. These were the first studio tapes made by the band, recorded in the Jamaica Plain district of Boston, Massachusetts in the summer of 1970. Never given an official release and long thought lost, several songs were reworked for the Sounds Like This album released the same year as Remember The Future. Stylistically the Boston Tapes material is in a similar blues-rock vein to parts of Remember The Future and likewise each song stands up rather well in its own right. The sound quality is also quite excellent. Again frontman Albrighton dominates proceedings and the decision to record in Boston was perhaps prompted by the American influences in the music with shades of The Band and The Doors. Bookended by two blues ballads (Where Did You Go and Our Love Will Last Forever) is Nektar's inventive take on Sealed With A Kiss which takes me back to the '60s when Brian Hyland's hit version was a firm fixture on U.K. radio and my Mum's Dansette record player. The song is deconstructed and rearranged Nektar style complete with a rocky Thin Lizzy flavoured guitar break at the midway point.

Having lived with Remember The Future for several weeks I'm still unconvinced by its progressive-rock credentials being a far cry from genre leading albums like Tales From Topographic Oceans, Selling England By The Pound, Brain Salad Surgery, Lark's Tongues In Aspic, Dark Side Of The Moon and Tubular Bells all released in that same year of 1973. That said judged on its own, undemanding terms it's a fine album with an accessible, ear-friendly musicality that was understandably so popular on its initial release. With its excellent sound and bonus disc this 40th anniversary edition should be a must for Nektar fans.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Nektar CD & DVD Reviews:-
Sunday Night At The London Roundhouse
"...the realization they play progressive rock with the heart and soul of rock and blues, makes this one of my favourite bands."
(Jerry van Kooten, 8.5/10)
Unidentified Flying Abstract
"...amazing for fans, but there are other albums to hear first if you want to get to know the band."
(Jerry van Kooten, 7/10)
Pure: Live In Germany 2005 [DVD]
"This is a great package for every fan and is heartily recommended for anyone who has ever taken the slightest bit of interest in the group."
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
Man In The Moon | Evolution
"...a rather lame reissue of two non-consecutive albums, one mainly drivel, the other not so bad."
(Basil Francis, 3/10)

Royal Hunt - 20th Anniversary: Special Edition

Royal Hunt - 20th Anniversary:Special Edition
Country of Origin:Denmark/U.S.A.
Record Label:Avalon Records
Catalogue #:MIZZP-30003
Year of Release:2013
Time:CD 1 - 62:20
CD 2 - 69:30
CD 3 - 39:05
DVD - ?
Info:Royal Hunt
Samples:Click Here
CD 1 - Flight - Kingdom Dark – Stranded - Clown In The Mirror - Wasted Time – Epilogue – Time - Far Away – 1348 - River Of Pain - Tearing Down The World - Message To God
CD 2 - Cold City Lights - Follow Me – Surrender - The Mission - Can't Let Go - Paper Blood - Season's Change - The First Rock - Tears Of The Sun - The Well – Shadowman - Hard Rain´s Coming - Half Past Loneliness
CD 1 - Save Me (new song) - One By One (unplugged) - Bodyguard (unplugged) - Restless (unplugged) - Bad Luck - Double Conversion - U-turn - Sixth Sense - Day Is Dawning
DVD - Land Of Broken Hearts - Day In Day Out - Clown In The Mirror - Far Away - Last Goodbye - Stay Down - River Of Pain - Tearing Down The World - Martial Arts - Third Stage - Wasted Time - Message To God

I was fortunate to see Royal Hunt on what I believe was the last night of their tour promoting their 20th Anniversary at the sold out Firefest, the prestigious melodic rock festival held at Nottingham's Rock City venue in 2012, an absolutely fantastic event that you must attend, especially if you love all things melodic. Royal Hunt may have been the wild card at the festival but, God, did they know how to entertain and please a crowd.

Guitarist Jonas Larsen is the latest addition to the band who has a fluid and melodic style, Andreas Passmark plays a monstrous 5 string bass, Allan Sorensen (drums) is in his second tenure with the band having left in 2000 but re-joined in 2004 after recording Paper Blood, the band's comeback album. Vocalist DC Cooper is now also back in the band having left after recording two great albums with the band, Moving Target and my personal favourite Paradox. To give you some idea of how great DC's voice is he was one of the finalists for the Rob Halford gig with Judas Priest and this ultimately led to him becoming a member of Royal Hunt. The band's previous vocalists have included Mark Boals and John West who are no slouches either. Then we have musical genius and powerhouse Andre Andersen on keyboards who is a proficient multi-instrumentalist whose inventive style combines classical and rock to drive the band forward like a bulldozer.

This triple CD release, a compilation, offers 34 songs from their 16 album career including 1 new song, previously released bonus tracks and reworked songs, a mixture of studio and live recordings. I can imagine some long term fans seeing 20th Anniversary as a filler, which in all honesty it is. I like the idea of collecting music this way but is there enough unique material included to get a hardened fan to part with their money? That has to be your call but it is a great opportunity for those unfamiliar with Royal Hunt to step into the band's world in a way that is not going to cost you the earth. In doing so I think you may be surprised by what you hear.

The sound quality is phenomenal; the music has been well mixed and mastered, full of grandeur and pomp that offers various approaches, walls of guitars and keyboards interacting and complimenting each other in perfect union. Let's not forget DC's vocals which are the added icing on the cake. It's not all about surging power metal though with the inclusion of Shadowman, the acoustic versions of One by One, Bodyguard, Restless and the beautiful and angelic closer Day is Dawning.

There are plenty of standout moments throughout; the infectious Stranded, the atmospheric and thought provoking Message to God, the gritty Can't Let Go which concerns increased commercialisation, the blistering and dynamic Paper Blood, the menacing Tears of the Sun, even the anthemic new song Save Me confirms that Royal Hunt still have a real and serious presence about them and is a nice appetizer for things to come.

Unfortunately at this stage I haven't seen the DVD, so am unable to offer any comment as a copy was not supplied with the promo.

As a fan, is there enough to get me to put my hand in my pocket to buy this release? I definitely think so even though I own the albums. Royal Hunt are what I consider to be a premier league melodic prog metal band, a thinking man's band, a band at the top of their game that has released many great albums. This release demonstrates these statements perfectly.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Royal Hunt CD Reviews:-
The Mission
"If the album has a fault, it's that it sounds in some way too familiar, too comfortable: you get the feeling as you listen that you know just how such an album about such a subject should sound, and this one does."
(Gerald Wandio, 8.5/10)
Eye Witness
"Until now Royal Hunt has been a band that has produced some classic songs but for me has never managed to maintain that quality and focus through an entire album...far and away their best album to date."
(Andy Read, 9.5/10)
Collision Course
"...this album is more likely to be on a collision course with my local second hand record shop, than my IPod."
(Andy Read, 6/10)
Show Me How To Live
"Overall impression is generally positive as another addition to a thoroughly packed genre pulls off an entertaining album without bringing anything particularly new to the table, but when you are on a roll doing what you do best, why not?"
(Brendan Bowen, 6/10)
Previous Royal Hunt Live Reviews:-
The Gods Festival, U.K.
"...on the evidence of this performance...I think Royal Hunt may be about to achieve its crowning glory."
(Andy Read)

Quatermass - Quatermass [Repertoire Reissue]

Quatermass - Quatermass [Repertoire Reissue]
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Repertoire Records
Catalogue #:REP 5087
Year of Release:1970/2007
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Entropy (1:11), Black Sheep of the Family (3:38), Post War Saturday Echo (9:45), Good Lord Knows (2:55), Up on the Ground (7:09), Gemini (5:57), Make Up Your Mind (8:44), Laughin' Tackle (10:35), Entropy (Reprise) (0:42), One Blind Mice (3:17), Punting (7:09)

Quatermass - Quatermass [Esoteric Reissue]

Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC22397
Year of Release:1970/2013
Quatermass - Quatermass [Esoteric Reissue]

Tracklist: One Blind Mice (3:27), Entropy (1:11), Black Sheep of the Family (3:41), Post War Saturday Echo (9:52), Good Lord Knows (3:12), Up on the Ground (7:09), Gemini (5:55), Make Up Your Mind (1:44), What Was That (5:59), Make Up Your Mind (Reprise) (1:03), Laughin' Tackle (11:31), Punting (7:09), Afraid Not (5:25), Bluegaloo / Broken Chords / Scales (6:30)

Roll up, roll up for the second edition of 'Compare That Reissue'. Previously, house favourites Esoteric had their hides whipped by Repertoire when it came to remastering and repackaging the two albums of cult band Cressida. This time, Esoteric and Repertoire clash once more when it comes to this infamous prog trio (not that one) who between them play drums, bass and keyboards (not them either). It is, of course, Quatermass whose sole album bears a striking sleeve design created by the late Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis.

It is actually quite an incredible album too. Released in 1970, it was one of the first albums to really blend prog rock and hard rock, which it does with aplomb. The opening rocker Black Sheep of the Family is particularly notable as guitarist Ritchie Blackmore decided to quit Deep Purple to record a cover of this song on the very first Rainbow album. Quatermass actually shares a deeper history with Deep Purple, as the members of the band - John Gustafson (vocals and bass), J. Peter Robinson (keyboards) and Mick Underwood (drums) - met whilst playing with Episode Six, the band which singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover left to join Deep Purple in 1969.

Post War Saturday Echo gives some initial hints of prog in its angular and rather out-of-place opening. Quickly, the intro dissolves into a slow blues piece. Personally, I've always found the echoey vocals to be rather irritating. The music erupts whenever the band hits a chorus, creating dynamic tension in the track. Eventually, the patience of the listener is rewarded in the second instrumental, where the band unleash their progressive side. This could even be the earliest prog metal.

Quatermass - Quatermass [Esoteric Reissue]

Good Lord Knows is absolutely dreadful. I can't tell if Gustafson was being ironic when he wrote this, but it's woefully out of place on this album. Things are quickly set straight by the powerful hard rock triptych of Up on the Ground, Gemini and Make Up Your Mind. The first two of these are quite comparable, with a similar structure although not too similar. While the two tracks have their pros and cons, Up on the Ground has to win for having a fiercer main riff and killer bass solos during the choruses. That said, Gemini is more consistent through the instrumental, and has better lyrics. Make Up Your Mind dominates the proceedings with a stellar progressive six-minute instrumental section that separates the two shorter lyrical parts of the song. An instrumental sandwich, you might say.

This just leaves Laughin' Tackle, another curious lengthy opus that sees the members of Quatermass jamming with a string ensemble. Parts of this track are very good indeed, notably the 'schizophrenic' drum solo and the tense bass part that follows. However, I can't help feeling the track gets a bit lost in itself sometimes and doesn't really deliver a very powerful punch. I've tried many times to hear the reprise of the Entropy track that begins the album, but only whilst writing this review was I able to hear it, faintly sung by Karin Stigmark.

Now, as for the reissues themselves, we've got two rather different entities, both at a very similar price - last time I checked Amazon that is. Repertoire's 2007 reissue is their standard mini gatefold sleeve treatment, which is really quite perfect for an album with such a bold design. Fold it out and view it from different angles; I swear there's an optical illusion going on there. Esoteric's reissue from earlier this year is something far more special. Original keys man Robinson has created a new remix of the album, a painstaking process that took around five months to complete, since the original multi-track tapes had been lost. The result is a very fresh sounding album, and one that brings to light new facets of the music that weren't audible in previous editions. In one case, a piano and Mellotron segment was completely restored at the end of Make Up Your Mind, giving a much more symphonic and climactic finale to the epic song. The Esoteric version also appends a DVD with a 5.1 surround sound mix. Let's bring up that same table from last time for some closer comparisons.

Sound QualityGood. Just what you'd expect from any reissue. I prefer Repertoire's version of Post War Saturday Echo, as ironically it sounds less echoey. Excellent. It's difficult to quantify just how much better the sound quality is, but in general, it just sounds better. I never really liked Black Sheep of the Family before, but with this remix the music just seems to erupt out of the speakers and it's difficult not to sing along. The bass on Up on the Ground, which is present on the Repertoire version, is twice as present here. The bass fills the room and is astounding. As I've said though, Post War Saturday Echo suffers.
ArtworkQuatermass is a perfect album for Repertoire's treatment. Without the full vinyl version, this is a wonderful substitute. Importantly, the inner gatefold, replete with lyrics is maintained, although minor cropping occurs both outside and in. Esoteric have once again decided to go slightly less traditional with their reissue. For one thing, the largest pterodactyl on the front cover is green! Naturally, no explanation is given for this anywhere. The trifold digipak also extends to the left so that more of the building can be seen. Clearly, album designer Phil Smee is a dapper hand at both geometry and Photoshop, as the effect is seamless. The original album cover (with solely black and white prehistoric flying reptiles) is once again displayed on the album's booklet. The inner gatefold now appears on one of the CDs, as well as on the inner lining of the digipak, and here more cropping occurs. A true artwork stickler will become very disgruntled. A cute feature shows the members of Quatermass both in 1970 and in 2013.
Bonus tracksThe Repertoire version contains both sides of the band's 1971 single One Blind Mice / Punting.Esoteric is a clear winner in this round. As well as the single (with a marginally longer version of Punting), we are also privy to a previously unreleased rehearsal recording Afraid Not, as well as a 1974 live recording with drummer Barry De Souza. If you count the 5.1 remixes as bonus tracks too, then Esoteric is laughing.
TracklistLike any normal reissue, this version has the full album, and then the bonus tracks. However, the track marker for Entropy (Reprise) is awkwardly placed just as Laughin' Tackle is ending.The tracklist here is very different. For one thing, the bonus track One Blind Mice begins the album. Robinson explains this in the liner notes: the only true multi-track recording they were able to find was of this song, so it was chosen to preface the album. Later, Make Up Your Mind is split into three parts to further expose its structure. It's not what I would have done. Fortunately, Laughin' Tackle is presented as a single piece.
Liner notesThe Repertoire notes, penned by Chris Welch, are quite amateurish, containing grammatical errors and typos as well as some truly daft sentences: "'It was a shame Quatermass didn't achieve the success the three-hardworking musicians deserved, but at their efforts have not been forgotten." Nevertheless, the notes give a good overview of the band, where they came from and what they did next. Esoteric's notes are written by Robinson himself, and he discusses each of the album's tracks briefly, as well as the remixing process. What he writes is very specific and interesting. Unfortunately, he doesn't touch on the band's history. These are liner notes for true fans of the band who already know the back story.

It's no contest, Esoteric are clearly the winners, making it a decisive 'one all' overall. Although I'm fortunate to have both versions so I can fully appreciate just how good the Esoteric version is, you'd be a fool to want the Repertoire version instead. Although only one Quatermass album exists - I've decided to look the other way as far as 1997's Long Road is concerned - their legacy is timeless. Here's to hoping that generations of prog lovers to come will experience Quatermass in their heyday through this exceptional new reissue.

Conclusion (musically): 8 out of 10


Bill Nelson's Orchestra Arcana - Iconography

Bill Nelson's Orchestra Arcana - Iconography
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Cocteau/Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:COCD1008
Year of Release:1984-1986/2013
Info:Bill Nelson
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Christ via Wires (3:06), Clock Conscious (4:23), I Wonder (2:17), Eastern Electric (3:25), Search and Listen (2:10), News from Nowhere (2:39), One Man's Fetish Is Another Man's Faith (4:59), Right, Then Left (3:33), Iconography (2:15), The Gods Speak (2:20), Life Class (2:52), Altar Natives (5:29), Sex, Psyche Etcetera (5:38)
Bonus tracks - Several Famous Orchestras (3:22), Who He Is (3:10)

Orchestra Arcana was Bill Nelson's imaginary group from the mid '80s that made the Sex, Psyche Etcetera EP in 1984 and the Iconography LP in 1986. The two bonus tracks on this reissue were from the EP, and not included on the original LP.

The EP and album were recorded in Bill's home studio with, as Bill puts it the liner notes, "...a couple of early synthesisers, a drum machine, home constructed tape loops and a fair amount of ingenuity". The latter was certainly needed when it came to inserting the ever-present "found voices", consisting of snippets of radio TV and film dialogue, into the right places in the music, in ye olde analogue fashion.

Yes, it does now sound somewhat dated, but it has a certain naive charm. Coming across this now, it sounds like a broadcast from a very distant world, a musical Voyager that left its own solar system aeons ago, transmitting "little signals from an analogue world" as Bill tells it.

Some of this is comparable to what Robert Fripp was doing on Exposure back in 1979, especially a track like One Man's Fetish..., the spoken word sample and general ambience being of a very similar variety, until Bill's trademark synth sound takes it into an alt-pop universe.

Probably more of an example of a man on top his game as far as analogue studio trickery is concerned than a truly memorable piece of music, the album nonetheless has its virtues. When Bill actually plays his guitar on Right, Then Left, although it is very understated, we are reminded that here is a man who knew his way round a fretboard. I often feel that in going for the electronic end of the musical spectrum Bill cut off his nose to spite his face, as it were. Is this an example of the wilful stubbornness that folk from his part of England are known for, one wonders?

Taking a minimalist approach, the earlier EP tracks are the more expansive and therefore atmospheric, although the "found voices", often spliced into the music in looped repetition, do get a bit wearisome by the time Sex, Psyche Etcetera rolls around. On this track the repeated spoken phrases over synth washes and long guitar chords becomes annoying rather than hypnotic. At the time of original release it had its novelty value, but even then that soon wore off.

This is a pleasant if non-essential album from Bill's vast discography, and you have to give credit to Esoteric for keeping the faith with this, the latest in their series of Bill Nelson reissues, but it is difficult to see who these albums are aimed at, other than students of home recording technology, or of single-minded musical obsession.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Bill Nelson Reviews:-
Northern Dream
"If subsequent releases are as interesting as Northern Dream then I look forward to hearing more."
(Mark Hughes, 6/10)
"Quaint and charming though this album is I cannot see where the market for this CD lays."
(Roger Trenwith, 5.5/10)
Practically Wired
"If you missed this one first time round, go treat yourself to the many-splendoured musical journey."
(Roger Trenwith, 8/10)
"At the end of a long day, you might not want to listen to frantic, zappy, noisy Prog, but just chill out instead, and here you'd be spoilt for choice of tracks to do just that."
(Basil Francis, Unrated)
Trial By Intimacy (The Book Of Splendours)
"If you're looking for an entry point into Bill Nelson's early ambient world, this is a great place to start."
(Roger Trenwith, 7/10)

Sphincter Ensemble - Harrodian Event #1

Sphincter Ensemble - Harrodian Event #1
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2398
Year of Release:2013
Info:Sphincter Ensemble
Tracklist: Event#1 (Freen-Josp) (5:51), Event#2 (Sylvan Interlude in a Petunia Patch) (2:38), Event#3 (Buckforgusode-Morrobwal) (6:14), Event#4 (Pigeons Awake!!!) (3:52), Event#5 (Mortlake Mooch) (6:22), Event#6 (Goleeg'mk) (2:44), Event#7 (Country Knees) (5:01), Event#8 (Interlude #29b) (5:20), Event#9 (Prelude Before a Cuppa) (7:21)

Music can represent many things. It can contain beautiful harmonies, it can present lush soundscapes, it can bring driving rhythm and it can generate all manner of emotions within the listener. However, in the case of Harrodian Event #1, the music is simply about total freedom.

On Sunday, 2nd January 1972, seven very capable musicians entered a community centre in West London called the Harrodian Club. Their names and respective instruments were:

  • Paul Buckmaster - electric cello
  • Martyn Ford - French horn
  • John Gustafson - electric bass
  • Trevor Morais - drums
  • Ann Odell - organ
  • Peter Robinson - electric piano
  • Tony Walmsley - guitar

They set up their instruments and simply began to play, without any instruction as to what. They took cues from each other and simply improvised. It was, as we musicians call it, a good jam. Fortunately for them, Robinson had brought his Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder to commit these jams to tape. The disc I am reviewing, having been released over forty years later, is just 45 minutes of a jam that apparently went on for hours.

Although at times there are elements of jazzy funk, mostly brought on by drummer Morais, this is a highly avant-garde album, which thrives on its lack of structure or direction. Indeed, it's rather comparable to Bitches Brew, Miles Davis' stellar breakthrough album that saw him pioneer a new era in jazz.

While I respect and appreciate the fun that the musicians must have had whilst jamming, that's not to say I enjoyed it. While all seven musicians fondly reflect on this 'event' in the liner notes having actually lived and experienced the music, it's entirely different to just hear it from the sidelines. What may be cathartic for the players is actually quite dull for the listener. With no promise of clever musical devices or rewarding musical interplay, it's actually a rather futile listen. If all bands ever did was go to a studio and record mindless jams without any premeditated thought, the music would mostly be quite awful. There's a reason that artists spend time to write music, and it's to avoid situations like these. Rather than listening to a bunch of pompous musicians have brainless fun in a community centre, it'd be more worthwhile to actually have a jam with your own friends. At least that way, you get the fun of spending time with your instrument.

The names of the people behind this album simply don't matter as, with minimal creative input, it may as well be anybody playing the instruments here. Despite the appearance of two members of Quatermass, there's nothing of the legendary band on this album, but simply a brainless mess of music. If you liked Bitches Brew but are looking for something more raw, if a lot less skilful, then the lamentably titled Sphincter Ensemble may do something for you. Folks who like clever music however, stay away! Here's to hoping that the '#1' in the title is not significant of more 'events' to come.

Conclusion: 2 out of 10


CCS - Tap Turns On The Water: The CCS Story

CCS - Tap Turns On The Water: The CCS Story
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 22404
Year of Release:1970-1974/2013
Time:CD 1: 76:11
CD 2: 77:08
Samples:Click here
CD 1 - CCS: Boom Boom (3:37), (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (4:33), Waiting Song (4:36), Lookin' for Fun (4:02), Whole Lotta Love (3:44), Living in the Past (3:48), Sunrise (5:16), Dos Cantos (8:09), Wade in the Water (2:57)
Bonus: Walking (3:13), Salome (3:05), Tap Turns on the Water (3:44), Save the World (4:03)
CCS 2: Brother (3:27), Black Dog (4:10), I Want You Back (3:45), Running Out of Sky (Sky Diver) (4:01), Whole Lotta Rock and Roll (6:15)
CD 2 - CCS 2: Chaos/Can't We Ever Get It Back (8:57), This is My Life (3:54), Misunderstood (2:47), Maggie's Song (3:43), City (3:38)
Bonus: If I Never Sing Another Song (1:40), Mister, What You Can't Have I Can Get (4:10), Sixteen Tons (2:58)
The Best Band in the Land: The Band Played the Boogie (3:50), Wild Witch Lady (4:01), Lola (3:36), Primitive Love (3:15), Hundred Highways (3:50), Shakin' All Over (3:09), Memphis (3:41), Sunshine of Your Love (3:40), Our Man in London (2:23), Cannibal Sheep (3:36)
Bonus: Hang It on Me (4:00), Hurricane Coming (3:15), Dragster (3:14)

More frequently than ever, Esoteric has begun putting together anthology reissue packs that collect together full or partial albums, ranging from the cult band Cressida to the mercurial Beggar's Opera and right down to the downright obscure Burnin' Red Ivanhoe. In some cases, there is a lack of quality control, as Esoteric try to cram too much into one place, ruining the atmosphere of the standalone album as well as utterly wrecking the album artwork. However, this kind of treatment seems just right for the Collective Consciousness Society - ubiquitously abbreviated to CCS - the jazz-rock brainchild of Cambridge-bred composer John Cameron and fronted by the much older singer Alexis Korner, a pioneer of blues in Britain. The albums and singles tend to slide into each other, and the artwork is hardly very important here, meaning that a cheap one-buy-gets-you-everything package is ideal. The double disc set includes all three of the band's albums, namely CCS (1970), CCS 2 (1972) and The Best Band in the Land (1973) and rounds up all the non-album tracks, presenting the collection in chronological order.

Now I shan't be spending too long on this group, as their output couldn't be very easily described as prog. Essentially a rock band with an extended brass section - including the talents of Henry Lowther among others - CCS specialised in playing jazz-rock covers of popular tunes such as Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. Indeed, CCS helped to shed more light on the fledgling Led Zep when their version of this song was used as the introduction to BBC's Top of the Pops. I still find it rather ironic that TotP used this song when they would never have a band like Led Zep on in the first place, but I digress. The band also cover Jethro Tull's Living in the Past quite creatively, although draw blanks with their rather muddled attempt at another Led Zep song, namely Black Dog.

However, original tunes permeate the tracklist, and the most notable (and perhaps enjoyable) track of the set is the band's top single, Tap Turns on the Water, which originally made it to #5 in the UK singles chart. Replete with daft yet cheerful lyrics - "Tap turns on the water, see the waters flow / Acorn makes a forest, watch the forest grow!" - and played in a tremendously major key, it may be the feel-good song of 1971.

Oddly, there's a lot of redundancy in the band's canon. For example, the main riff from Tap Turns on the Water can be heard yet again in CCS's cover of The Jackson 5's I Want You Back. Elsewhere, Living in the Past and Running Out of Sky (Sky Diver) seem too similar, especially in the rhythm department, to be treated as separate songs. Perhaps the biggest offender though is the aforementioned Whole Lotta Love, which unabashedly makes its way onto album 2 as part of a medley titled Whole Lotta Rock and Roll. In fact, this is another highlight of the set, with seamless segues into such classics as Lucille and Long Tall Sally.

CCS never appeared to be a particularly hard-working band, more a group of successful and well-established artists just playing some fun music. As a result, the proceedings are all very light, and errors are made along the way. This is the sort of music that would go down well at social gatherings when your pristine vinyl copy of Relayer might not be so deeply appreciated as background listening. You might even find yourself singing along!

Conclusion: Unrated


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Published 23rd October 2013
Album Reviews