MANDRAKE PADDLE STEAMER – Pandemonium Shadow Show

Sommor 2019

Punchy post-psych exploration of progressive possibilities by obscure British collective who deserve belated accolades.

MANDRAKE PADDLE STEAMER - Pandemonium Shadow Show

Pandemonium Shadow Show

While this ensemble didn’t make even a mere footnote in the history of rock, MPS were a foothold for at least two musicians who went on to more prominent positions later on, but what emerged in London in 1967 served not only as a launching pad for the group of art students’ extracurricular pursuits, but also as a solid unit in its own right. Here’s the testament: nine previously unreleased recordings from 1968-1970 to augment the band’s sole single, 1969’s “Strange Walking Man / Steam” – laid down at Abbey Road, as the quintet got assigned by EMI to Parlophone, rather than Harvest where they stylistically belonged, yet sadly not included on “Pandemonium Shadow Show” which, thus, wouldn’t comprise the combo’s complete output. It’s quite impressive nevertheless, though, because they seemed to be getting ahead of the pre-prog period by adding a hard edge to the otherwise tasty, if somewhat theatrical, performances.

“The World Whistles By” and the compilation’s title track might mix innocence with menace as any classical-tinctured carnival should, Martin Briley’s acidic guitar solo washing over the chorus once Brian Engel’s voice upped the drama and dynamics, yet it’s storytelling epics “Doris The Piper” and “Stella Mermaid” that pack unexpected punch. They creep up on the listener by slowly immersing one’s ear in the increasingly intricate interplay – in which each instrument has a space to glimmer or roar – and vocals whose emotional range expands far and wide. Pieces such as “Upminster Windows” take some time to reveal a full picture behind their aural collage, melodic layers in turns overlapping and being peeled away, yet “Solitair Husk” is building tension via the throb of Paul Riordan’s bass and Martin Hooker’s keyboards before the ensemble unleash cinematic gallop.

More so, there’s a hint at a concept the collective edged toward – the symphonic “The Doorway To January” and folk-inspired “The October Country” its only remnants – so the wonderful dirge of “Simple Song” isn’t simple at all, with electronic buzz applied to this wordless assault on a fugue filigree that’s simultaneously solemn and playful in the best art-rock way possible. That way was only developing then, and had the band not run their course when, even when the name shortened to the first word, further efforts proved futile, they could have attained cult status or true popularity. Engel and Briley would collaborate in a few other projects, but fame would eschew them; fame, not respect, as the latter found his place at the front of THE NEW SEEKERS and the former as a session player for the stars and a member of GREENSLADE. Hearing the two explore different routes decades ago should explain how they achieved those positions; other accounts of their and their colleagues past will be available on the group’s website.


February 25, 2019

Category(s): Reviews
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