EMI 1973 / Angel Air 2013
From pop to prog and back in one fell swoop: lost masterpiece comes across the Channel four decades after its release.
For all the Shropshire’s claim to fame, two feats stand out with various degrees of prominence: the world’s first iron bridge and a top-notch band who branded themselves after this construction, the first group out of the county to have a record out. Released originally only in France, it solidified – even on the name level – a string of singles the ensemble, called FLUFF, issued on DJM in Decca in 1969-1972. By the time their LP made it onto the market, it wasn’t strict pop anymore, and the quartet’s instrumental iron became a part of the overall irony so infectious in the effervescent skank of “Hallelujah Days,” its tune spilling over into the baroque strings-drenched “Getting Older,” and mischievous in “Just A Day” or “Simple Man” that could have passed, in their twine of acoustic and slide guitars as well as romantic vocals, for obscure George Harrison’s songs.
“We’re trying to give the audience special treat,” indeed, as goes “Show” which the orchestra slips into the prog waters – with a bubbly effect to boot – and the bass-buzzing “I Can Fly” dabbles with psychedelic tropes. On a much firmer ground, “Making It Hard” rocks with a sharp riff from Mick Skinner to the fore and Gerry Ward’s four-string puncturing the folky inflections, while the vocal harmonies-filled “Frost And Fire” crosses over to the country rock sway. Yet epic closer “Shanty” is unmistakably English, and seriously so, piano and flute pouring grandiosity into a traditional motif and tension heightening as the piece flows forward and gets heavier to land on the symphonic pop – back where it’s all started in the first place. Sadly, that would be the only release for the Shropshire pioneers who could’ve been as big as the landmark that gave them their name.