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SOFT HEAP – Soft Heap
Charly 1978

Esoteric 2009

Canterbury runs mild. The tombstone to the talents gone to eternity.

Long due for re-release, the quartet’s sole album came to a CD a months before Hugh Hopper – the H in HEAP, the other letters of acronym being the names of Elton Dean, Alan Gowen and Pip Pyle – joined his former colleagues for the great gigs in the sky. With SOFT MACHINE, where Dean and Hopper emerged from, continuing in one form or another, HEAP’s record remains a unique proposition which escapes angularity and pursues tunefulness that Gowen sought previously in GILGAMESH and NATIONAL HEALTH and ultimately realized here.

It might be Elton who leads the way in most of the tracks to shoot high in the most commercial one, the mellifluous “Fara”, but Gowen’s underwater Moog glides the “Terra Nova” speeding up serenity of Dean’s soaring sax and Hopper’s subsonic bass and pins up their dirge in “Cicrle Line” while Pyle’s cymbals add tidal splashes painting a pregnant calm before the storm which produces a rainbow. This storm is “A.W.O.L.” that sees each of the players running amok to cross their paths only to sprint wildly once again when the four-string command to, and that rainbow emerges in the form of “Petit 3’s”, an elegiac, light flow of brass and synthesizer – Canterbury kind of fusion in its multicolored best. And if one suspects the four veered away from jazz, there’s a “Short Hand” brief yet crazy and time-signature-filled spurt to finish it off. Unfortunately, for the band it was the finish.


Intercord 1983

Esoteric 2009

The first legitimate release for CREAM’s warbler’s rarest record. Jack-of-all trades makes lifeless form come full of life.

Jack Bruce’s albums, all brimful with melodic wonders, hold little surprises on the stylistics front, but there are exclusions, and it’s not that he’s been Latin-bound post-Millenium. His most unusual records are 1995’s "Monkjack", which saw the veteran sing and play only piano in the organic company of Bernie Worrell, and this one, out in Germany in the plastic age of early ’80s. Also keyboard-based, “Automatic” was Jack’s dalliance with the Fairlight synthesizer – and what a fabulous flirt it was!

Save for the closing harmonica-oiled blues of “Automatic Pilot”, there’s a nice poise between Bruce’s sweet operatic voice and the shallow electric sound that creates a great effect in the “Make Love (Part II)” elegant reggae, while in “Green & Blue” and “Travelling Child” the majestic balladry takes the veteran into the cold New Romantics territory. Of course, a bass is accentuated throughout, and the sparsier it gets the meatier it tastes. Yet experimentation doesn’t end with aural side. “Uptown Breakdown”, splashed with ivories, jerks rhythmically – a limp trip to the dancefloor for a jazz buff Bruce – but in “E. Boogie” Dusseldorf goes Philly losing a tune on the way. As if to compensate it, “Encore”, originally recorded as “The Best Is Still To Come” for the then-unreleased 1978’s gem “Jet Set Jewel”, comes on as quasi-orchestral surge, high on cello and piano, to leave a welcoming aftertaste to what may have become automatic yet remains utterly human.


EGG – Egg
Deram 1970

Esoteric 2008

Ab ovo, or the dark where the classicism blooms from.

Often wrongly filed under the “Canterbury” tag, this London trio were a straight-ahead progressive proposition – as straight-ahead as prog could be back in 1970 – with symphonic, rather than avant-garde, inclinations. But though from the four decade’s perspective, tackling Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” and Bach’s “Fugue In D Minor” may seem a bit banal, there’s a great enthusiasm oozing out of the band’s self-produced debut. And there’s much more to like beside these timeless pieces, but not bassist Mont Campbell’s plaintive vocals which, with the exception of the single “Seven Is A Jolly Good Time” set in the time-signature of 7/4, take the back seat to let Dave Stewart’s keyboards drive it all.

So while the jazzy groovathon of “The Song Of McGillicudie The Pusillanimous” feels naive, “I Will Be Absorbed” shows a hymnal depth in its piano-and-organ dance silver-lined with Clive Brooks’ cymbals. Still, everything pales before “Symphony No. 2”, here with the reinstated “Third Movement” which was cut from original LP due to Stravinsky copyright: it’s on this 24-minute, five-part epic that the trio are in their unbound collective element where the mind flies and synthesizers rule the den over dramatic, almost orchestral drums and bass backdrop which sometimes transforms into a panoramic screen. The album is a product of its era, yet still has a pull like a good old movie.


Radio Sessions
Angel Air 2009
The Scottish thunderbirds uncaged and soaring – with just a little thunder.

Previously available as two separate volumes, now these 19 tracks come together as the fullest collection spanning the whole of the Glaswegian finest’s existence and presenting each of their line-ups. They possessed everything to sprawl their blues all around the world, even two of the greatest singers of all times, Maggie Bell and James Dewar duetting with grace and power on “Raining In My Heart” to the latter’s bass groove. But that sprawling was the drawback with only a droplet of pop nous hidden deep in the progressive whirlwind of “Freedom Road” and “Love 74”, the “Faces” solemnity and the “Good Time Girl” swagger. There simply was no simplicity needed to hit the big time.

It might come, of course, had Les Harvey not been electrocuted on stage in May 1972; after that, there was no real life in the ensemble which is obvious when two versions of “On The Highway” are compared, one, funky-sharp, from the month before the 27-year-old guitarist’s death and the other, much less jiving, from five months later when another doomed six-string prodigy, Jimmy McCulloch, took his place. As great as he was, Jimmy just didn’t have Les’ jazz sensibility demonstrated here on “Touch Of Your Loving Hand” and the jam on Dylan’s “Ballad Of Hollis Brown”. The CROWS’ tight-but-loose approach gravitated towards looseness yet their live recordings feel rather trance-like, especially when done for the radio, and when it came to rocking out like in “Big Jim Salter” and Freddie King’s “Goin’ Down”, with a magic interplay of Colin Allen’s drums, Harvey’s licks and Ronnie Leahy’s organ, no format could frame the band’s atomic energy.


Mercator Projected
Deram 1969

Esoteric 2008

The complex, if enchanting, voyage for mapping out the uncharted waters.

Maybe they clutched onto one music strain too many: there’s no other reason why this band didn’t get up there with the prog elite, as the quintet’s first album is one magnificent swirl of ideas. While “Centaur Woman” comes in as a tasty slice of a blues pie, topped with Steve York’s elastic bass solos, the exotic and mystical “Waterways” introduces the band’s trademark Eastern patterns, here with sitar tones. And if it’s delicate sometimes, the opener, “Northern Hemisphere”, goes for the throat with Dave Arbus’ dervish violin hung on Geoff Nicholson’s catchy guitar riff. Its vocal melody flows into the duetting flute and sax motif of the baroque silk-and-grit that is “Isadora” in which rhythm section takes a rock steady walk.

Elsewhere the gentle “Bathers” builds the tension into a march, and wind and strings in the Bartok-inspired “Communion” sound almost Renaissance, though quite mischievous, just like the theatrical interludes between some pieces. Yet there’s country peeks out of the “In The Stable Of The Sphinx” artsy raga mayhem (even more expressive in a longer demo form), the influence source clear on the bonus “Eight Miles High” re-fashioned the EAST OF EDEN wild way. One fantastic journey!


Angel Air 2009
A glance beyond the “Clear Air Turbulence” draft – and more.

The subtitle says it all: “The Rockfield Mixes Plus”. By 1977, after the former DEEP PURPLE singer’s new band had tried their jazz rock schtick on the road, Ian Gillan realized it was not the fans wanted but was eager to experiment further and backing out seemed to be out of question. Or so it seemed until the ensemble’s second album, “Clear Air Turbulence”, was finished to crystallize both the group’s fabulously fusion vision and the understanding of inescapable commercial failure. That’s why the leader decided to pander to the punters and remix the record. The original tapes survived, though, and now there’s a chance to access and assess that vision from a fresh perspective.

Here, the air is much more clearer, with rock grit consciously downplayed to give way to the brass to shine and make frontal the cosmos-shattering rhythm section of John Gustafson and Mark Nauseef who make the album’s title track feel elastic rather than sharp. With Ian Gillan’s voice playing the part of one of the instruments and not a leading force, Ray Fenwick steps forward mainly to deliver the skyward solos leaving more space for Colin Towns’ synthesizers to fill during the course of a song. This way, “Over The Hills” churns out powerful, funky-dance groove and gains momentun towards its lyrical core poised between the “Jesus Christ” desperation and the “Mr. Universe” boast to dissolve into a piano jive and Afrobeat, while “Five Moons” with its soaring sax wail and vocal harmonies packing a punch, is beatifically transparent. Unlike these, “Money Lender” and “Angel Manchenio” feel unfocused and sagging when adorned with small overdubbed details; sharpness suits the rockers better as demonstrated by live version of “Smoke On The Water” from Japan.

The rest of bonus material, bar the concert take on “Over The Hills”, is something one can live without unless it’s a rarities collector; more of those is on the bonus DVD which makes this package such an alluring proposition and justifies the “Anthology” bill.


Go!…Live From Paris
Island 1977

Esoteric 2008

The celestial show full of stars casting a light through the years.

These days “Go!” looks like a pinnacle of the Japanese auteur’s oeuvre combining an innocence of the pre-new age era with a large-scale sophistication. A bold move in itself, the line-up that the 21-year-old percussion and piano player called up made it all the more admirable, but a real feat was to take it all – and almost all of the musicians – on-stage. More so, while the album’s restrictions dictated the odd thematic sequencing, in concert the subject of time travel comes in linear order, which brings a solid logic to the proceedings as well as a chance to improvise.

Sprinkled with the main man’s polyrhythms, there’s a battle between TANGERIN DREAM’s Klaus Schulze’s hazy synthesizers and SANTANA’s Michael Shrieve’s drums that are tamed in the non-LP “Wind Spin” before Pat Thrall’s riff cuts in, all together painting ethereal pictures. But then, things go earthbound when Steve Winwood pours out his soul over the glacial funk of “Winner / Loser” and the rubber-like extended “Time Is Here” lazy skank adorned with Al DiMeola’s liquid guitar fire. Still, Yamashta’s piano crystallizes everyone in a wonderful, poignantly solemn “Nature” that welcomes a new storm in the “Crossing The Line” guitar duel. Then, “Man Of Leo” stretches up over 15 minutes as a kind of loose but tight jam which sees DiMeola soar skywards again and Winwood engaged in a call-and-response with Karen Friedman who finally comes to shine here. There’s much going on and new layers are revealed with every new spin which this record deserves and demands.


Live Chronicles
GWR 1986

Atomhenge 2009

Heroic staging of heroic tales: the sword’s still high.

Today’s notion of taking an entire album up on stage isn’t so new, of course, but it took more guts for HAWKWIND in 1985 than THE WHO more than a decade earlier: it was ’80s after all, with space rock reaching its nadir. Not that Dave Brock’s brave unit ever cared about the times – what could it mean in their continuing flight? – and once Nik Turner jumped the ship, the ensemble engaged in the epic project based on their old friend Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone saga which was streamlined into "The Chronicle Of The Black Sword" album and then into a live show that’s documented on these two discs.

Visually, it must have been a killer performance but the aural attack interspersed with narrated pieces is no less enjoyable. The period’s smooth sound served the usually rough-cut band well, with “Song Of The Swords” and “Needle Gun” splicing the almost dance rhythm to Huw Llloyd-Langton’s soaring guitar solos, while “Dragons And Fables” challenges the metal bands of the day for sharpness and melodicism, and “Angels Of Death” features new drummer Danny Thompson’s imaginative thunder. Elsewhere, “Zarozinia” comes on like on the most delicate ballads the ’80s gave birth to, but the “Dreaming City” rustic delivery doesn’t easily lend itself to the era’s plastic sheen.

The new context provides a fertile soil for some past favorites to grow naturally, “Assault & Battery” unleashing the vocal harmony-filled glimpse of the old beast in a glitzy skin to rock it out into the powerful “Sleep Of A Thousand Years”, and “Master Of The Universe” pulsating like a quasar, hung on Alan Davey’s bass throb. Alongside the classics, “Moonglum”, a song written especially for the “Chronicles” staging and one of the best neo-progressive compositions, flows on as perfectly. Even now, which means the album stood the test of time nicely.


Forms And Feelings
EMI 1969

Esoteric 2008

The adorable monument to adorable era when the newfangled turned into the classic.

Remembered mostly for launching Dave Edmunds’ career, this Welsh threesome were special: without succumbing to the progressive trends of their day, the young bucks effectively merged blues strains with the classical influences. But there’s much to love on the band’s second album, beyond the extended, 11-minute version of their hit, a twangy remake of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” interpolating quotes from Mozart and Monti. The hooks are in from the baroque start of “In The Land Of The Few” where a harpsichord gives way to the fuzz and the hauting, harmonies-filled melody, with a guitar solo akin to the charge of the light brigade – of a winning kind, though. It’s only Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” that breaks the romantic mood brought on by Bizet’s “Farandole” which gloriously hits the rock and the hard place here, and the “Seagull” bitter-sweet balladeering where Edmunds plays in unison with his own singing.

The sound too sparse to cast the ensemble as a power trio, their suppressed energy feels on the brink of being unleashed, never more so than in the psychedelic middle part of the otherwise insipid “Why (How-Now)” chug, and that’s the reason the record in places feels dated and a product of the future elsewhere. LOVE SCULPTURE might be up there with ELP had they followed their artsy instincts demonstrated in the thunderous reading of Holst’s “Mars”, yet Dave Edmunds’ heart wasn’t in it, and he didn’t take the guitar hero path, too. In a parallel universe, still, they’re huge.


Producer’s Archives
Volume 3. 1964-1979
Angel Air 2009
The bottomless treasure chest reveals another set of diamonds – with a couple of priceless ones.

The third instalment of Mike Hurst’s series on Angel Air is a mixed bag; there are artists both famous and time-forgotten. It doesn’t matter anyway as most of the tracks on offer testify the sharpness of the producer’s ear, even though Hurst’s intuition failed him sometimes. That’s how it was with “Handbags And Gladrags” which, when Mike D’Abo played it to him in 1967, had been given to DOUBLE FEATURE who didn’t breathe enough life into this future classic and were beaten to its release by Chris Farlowe.

But there’s class in THE ALAN BOWN’s brass-splashed take on “All Along The Watchtower” with Jess Roden’s no less soulful voice on the forefront – no wonder the legend has it that it was their version that inspired Hendrix. The most precious gem here, though, is Cat Stevens’ previously unreleased “Twinkie” from 1968, possibly the last song the singer laid down – so soft a tune for a soft porn movie! – before reinventing himself from a teen idol into a mature artiste. These two transcend the period’s constraint, the rest, incudling a Murray Head pre-Judas single, being the products of their era.

Still, Shakin’ Stevens rocks the joint with his sprightly cover of “I Don’t Want No Other Baby”; two Mikes, D’Abo and Hurst, duet recklessly on the former’s jolly “Going Going Gone” which would have sounded contemporary a decade later, in the ’70s; and the latter’s 1964’s go at Tim Rose’s “The Banjo Song” sounds like an influence on SHOCKING BLUE’s “Venus”. With a couple of songs from Bruce Woolley and Cilla Black rounding up this collection, there’s more than just historic value to it.


Christmas At The Patti
EMI 1973

Esoteric 2007

One of the most legendary happenings comes back alive from the obscurity.

The Welsh equivalent to “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream”, the concert held at the Swansea’s Patti Pavillion on December 19th, 1972, was much jollier event that many heard about but only a few remember. Not Deke Leonard, then banished from the MAN fold yet having a go there nevertheless. So it was a brilliant idea for him to pen hilarious liner notes for this re-issue which are based on the other participants’ recollections. Still, they might as well rely on the music itself because it’s quite vividly captures the mood of the night.

The original running order shaped differently, here THE FLYING ACES open the incestous proceedings with the appropriate light boogie of “Welcome To The Party”, Deke adding his licks to those of his MAN replacement, Martin Ace, and Malcolm Morley, only for DUCKS DELUXE to intensify the shaking in “Boogaloo Babe” and keep rocking the knees-up to the loose end of the “Life On The Road” jam where the MAN throng come reinforced with Dave Edmunds on slide guitar. A bit earlier, Edmunds leads PLUM CRAZY in the frenzied take on the seasonal hit, “Run Run Rudolph”, right after trying on “Jingle Bells”, while Leonard joins THE JETS to meticulously screw up “Jambalaya” to a great effect. Not much to relish musically here – save for BJ Cole’s pedal steel and Morley and Leonard’s combined guitar and vocals heroics as HELP YOURSELF in the “Mona” voodoo drone and their inspired interplay in “Eddie Waring”, both breaking the 10-minute barrier – yet the drive more than compensates for it, so the audience lap it up, and there’s no reason why not share the sentiment.


Live Seventy Nine
Bronze 1980

Atomhenge 2009

In the “make it or break it” time, the Ladbroke Grove warriors made do and broke into the ’80s.

Once punk had awashed the UK, progressive rock bands hit the rock bottom, only a few as spectacularly as HAWKWIND with their hippie inclinations. In 1978 they attempted to get their act together as HAWKLORDS but a year later returned to their original form. And shape, too, judging on this Oxford recording which landed the group a deal with Gerry Bron‘s Bronze Records and effectively saved them from dissolving, even though Rovert Calvert parted company with Dave Brock. Here, the ensemble sound reviltalized, indeed, even though the opener, a freshly composed and finely polished “Shot Down In The Night”, full of Harvey Bainbridge’s bass rumble, takes them into alternative future to the one revealed on the classic albums. With ex-GONG Tim Blake’s synthesizers, it borders with disco but the cosmic guitar of Huw Llloyd-Langton who played on their first LP, propels the number above the clouds.

Tinsel adorns also “Motorway City”, yet to be given a studio shine, but there’s enough trademark echoing hooks in the funky performance, whereas the lightly spaced out “Spirit Of The Age” from 1977 gains the impetus to spin back the time for the time-tested “Master Of The Universe” and “Brainstorm” that here are much more focused, sharpened, livelier and rockier than ever before. But if Blake’s solo piece, “Lighthouse”, brings on some release to the charge, “Silver Machine” – or “Washing Machine” as Brocks calls it – blows up mid-way to show the past isn’t the place for HAWKWIND to dwell in. Blame and bless the punks, then!


The Best Of 50 Years
Angel Air 2009
As raw as it gets and as young as rock ‘n’ roll demands, the original English wild man takes stock of his first half a century.

“The leading exponent of early, middle and contemporary piano virtuosity” is how David Bowie depicts his “Low” sidekick Young who may not be as famous as another raw roller, Vince Taylor, yet as biting. But then, Roy’s been much wiser as to not die young and continues to hammer the keys and holler to everyone’s delight – not less his own, judging by 2000’s “I Wanna Do My Boogie Woogie” which retains all the atomic energy of another of his originals, 1959’s crackling “Big Fat Mama”. Of course, comparisons with Little Richard are inescapable, and the two can be mixed up in the live take on “Keep A Knockin'”, yet the veteran does Ray Charles’ “Mess Around” just as nicely, and there’s top-notch Buddy Holly-isms in “Just Keep It Up”.

Capable of camping up such hurricane smashes as Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” and “Bony Moronie” with brass, Young throws the Wurlizter glam over the hoodoo grit of his own “Devil’s Daughter” and goes disco in 1977’s “Shufflin'”; even THE BEATLES’ “She’s A Woman” and “Lovely Rita” come re-imagined as lushly orchestrated, booming hymns. Solemn and rough in “Beautiful Man” and the equally soulful, yet mellifluous, “Boogie Man”, the man is full-on throughout this 27-tracks, double CD collection which is so life-affirming that one can only surmise what Roy Young will come up with in the next 50 years.


Born Again
Polydor 1974

Esoteric 2008

The last flight from the progressive aviary.

Unlike other art-shooters, this English band who soared high with “Sympathy” but failed to keep the height of their most successful single didn’t have big ideas to ride on which is why by 1974 the quartet abandoned all ambitions and played for pleasure only. That’s why it’s impossible not to fall under the spell of “Body And Soul” and “Lonely Street” that could have given EAGLES a run for their money in the harmony field and soulful vocals from Steve Gould who then delivers an intricate guitar solo in “Live For Each Other”.

Elsewhere, “Redman” is a gentle piano ballad which is followed by the groovy organ-led anthem “Peace Of Mind”, while there’s charged funk in “Diamonds” with Dave Kaffinetti’s clavinet challenging that of Steve Wonder’s. With a single as strong as “Passin’ Through” the listener can’t go wrong, yet the band had nowhere to go after that – a pity.


Live Tonite… Plus
Angel Air 2009
The quiet Irish bluesman comes on in his Scandinavian kitchen.

Less versatile, stylistics-wise, than Rory and not as sleek as Gary can be, for Eric Bell it’s always been the blues the main focus of attention. That’s why he went separate ways with THIN LIZZY and that’s why on this album, laid down in Sweden in 1996 and previously released only there, this band’s “The Rocker” is as funky incongruous as “La Marseillaise” quote in “The Stumble”, which opens the show and rivals Peter Green’s take on this Freddie King classic. But that’s the margins of one hell of a performance where Bell’s patented dobro technique comes forth in Guitar Slim’s lava-hot “Things I Used To Do” rather than “Whiskey In The Jar” that appears here in radically different, epic arrangement to the one everybody’s familiar with.

Strong “r’s” accentuated in this traditional smash and in Eric’s own Eastern-flavored “Walk On Water”, the Irish rock history box-ticking takes a peculiar turn with the nod to THEM and their leader, the frantic execution of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” opening the floodgate for a deep, emotional reading of “Madame George” in which Bell’s voice sounds uncanny like that of Phil Lynott. With many guitar layers of the bonus “Two Ships” as infectious as it gets, there’s much to enjoy on “Live Tonite” and revalue the veteran’s talent.


Anthology 1969-1981
Angel Air 2009
Some other routes to the chicken shack: a different journey of the mighty bird.

Unlike a certain metal dirigible, these progressive heavies didn’t soar very hight but the British band’s flight was no less spectacular, and here are some of their aerial stunts previously obscured by clouds. It’s not the “Best Of” type of compilation, rather a collection of alternative versions and rarities recorded when the group’s singing guitarist was John Du Cann, so with nothing from the Chris Farlowe era, the “Anthology” tag might be a bit misleading; there are a few cuts, though, originally recorded with Du Cann whose vocal parts were re-done by Pete French such as “Break The Ice”. Of course, included are the big ones, “Devil’s Answer” in its 1970 demo form with Carl Palmer on drums as well as 1982’s live rendition, and “Death Walks Behind You” in a different mix and in a 1981’s studio re-run. Both songs show the ensemble always knew a way with a melody and skilfully employed hard interplay between the guitar and the leader Vincent Crane’s meaty keyboards, so fantastic on three consequent instrumental tracks on the second disc, including “Shabaloo”, an early radio session, previously unreleased.

That was both their strength and their weakness – too pressing for the art rock crowd and too sophisticated for the headbangers even though the occult fans could hang on well to the faux-Satanic imagery like in “Friday 13th” available here for the first time with John’s overdubs. Reformed in 1979, ATOMIC ROOSTER became more streamlined and, with the memorable chorus of “Play It Again” and “It’s So Unkind”, the latter not passing the demonstration phase, could have found favor among the NWOBHM mob, yet the band didn’t have the sharpness of image to do so – even though the 1980 single “Do You Know Who’s Looking For You” was released on a sampler with IRON MAIDEN. Curiously, while most of that breed sound dated now, the ROOSTER’s output has a modern ring to it. Which is the reason why this “Anthology” can hook the aficionados and uninitiated alike.


The Ballad Of Liverpool Slim… Plus
Angel Air 2009
More sweet than sour, The Fabs’ pal goes all mellifluous.

It’s a bit sad: all his rather illustrious career notwithstanding, Jackie Lomax is most known for his association with THE BEATLES and George Harrison-penned single “Sour Milk Sea”. The song features on this album from 2001 as a 1976 live bonus cut which shows the artist’s soul leanings were always there but evolved considerably when he relocated to America, all the while remaining the Liverpudlian at heart.

There’s the Northern restraint in the gently bubbling start of “Pawn In Your Game” with Lomax’s soft guitar underlying his honeyed voice over the delicate Hammond lacing, whereas “Baby Slow Down” has a nice swampy feel to it, and “There’s A Woman In It Somewhere” takes it all to the Philly camp. The recurring melodies give the record a certain wholeness, but the slight shift in the subject matter – like in “Divorce Blues” which harks back to the opening tune – constantly propel it forward until the hopelessly romantic “Love Will A Way” soothes the drift. With “Friend-A-Mine” a meticulously stylized, tremulous tribute to The Quiet Beatle, it’s quite a time to disunderrate mr. Lomax!


Suspended Animation
Polygram 1981

re-issue Angel Air 2009

Celibate as the future for the “no future” generation from the genre’s outsiders.

Not the tonsure-sporting German-based GIs but the members of the English prog folk elite, John Ford and Richard Hudson knew their way around punk anyway, and when THE STRAWBS flew out of fashion they, with Terry Cassidy as the third leading force, took no chances and took revenge by throwing on a new guise and throwing themselves into the 2 Tone territory. Of their two albums this, the second one, is the best amalgamation of the veterans’ humorous facet, the opening ska agitprop of “Don’t Want No Reds” as relevant today as it was back in their day. And if the start of “Oxford Street” looks like THE MONKS would go back into the country, the urbanism stumbles in to stay.

The songs here come bristly yet melodius to offset the irony of the times in the likes of the funky “I Can Do Anything You Like” and “Don’t Bother Me – I’m A Christian”, the latter on par with RAMONES in the infectiousness department, while “Cool Way To Live” pokes into THE STONES lazy side. But then there’s a twangy instrumental piece “Space Fruit” which closed the original album on a lyrical note but now is followed by what should have been the core of the band’s third LP that wasn’t released. Whereas “Beast In Cages” effectively rips off the “We Will Rock You” riff, these six cuts sound more modern – and, in “Cybernetic Sister”, futuristic like J.J. Cale on acid, while “Ann Orexia” with its Latin-tinged acoustic bridge feels like a hit in waiting. What started as a joke outgrew the initial message and became art.


I Never Go Out In The Rain
Stately Home 1984

Angel Air 2009

It was like Russian doll with THE STRAWBS spawning THE MONKS spawning HIGH SOCIETY in 1980 when the rumble became tiresome for a while, and John Ford, Richard Hudson and Terry Cassidy invited some elegance from the fifty years earlier to find an alternative way to cut the rug. What resulted was a great pastiche, with “Top, Hat & Tails” making a good foxtrot whereas acoustic lining and clarinet lead the way in “Got To Get Out Of This Rut” – think QUEEN minus camp or SAILOR minus schmaltz. It’s this brilliant, so there’s a good reason the band still do their thing.

The collection spans whole of the HIGH SOCIETY timeline that’s as harmonius and humorous as it gets. It might seem samey a bit yet pieces like the merry “I Can See High” or “The Late Late Train” with its lace of a solo come glitzy, especially in live rendition. It’s not strictly European, though, as “All My Life I Give You Nothing” has a mariachi ring and a Spanish accent to it. Still, all the emotions are real, the blissful croon of “Down By The River” bringing one-day excursion into a dream to a close.


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