Classic STACKRIDGE discography

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Stackridge
Friendliness
The Man In The Bowler Hat
Extravaganza
Mr Mick
Something For The Weekend
Purple Spaceships Over Yatton - Best Of
The Forbidden City
Anyone For Tennis?
Preserved: Best Of - Volume Two
Radio Sessions 1971-1973
The Final Bow
Also: The Forbidden City DVD

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STACKRIDGE –
Something For The Weekend
Resurgent 1999
Angel Air 2007
It lasted more than two days, you know. Resurrected band are still active… with no new album since this one.

Blame it on THE KORGIS. Since two STACKRIDGE founding members, James Warren and Andy Davis, joined their forces again in the duo with electropop leanings, their former band’s resurrection was never too far away. Amazingly, it took them 20 years to up the ante of quirkiness to where it had been in the early ’70s – but the two have fallen out, and the situation was fortunately salvaged when Warren presented his ideas to Crun Walter and Mike Evans: in STACKRIDGE’s world half a band could become a new band. But there’s nothing amebic about this record which has effectively brought the old strange bunch of fellas into the new age, as the album’s big on its own merits.

Many songs here are overtly Fab-esque, but “Something About The Beatles” is an old-times nostalgie, not a self-parody, but there’s enough irony, with cajun fiddle often dancing amidst the contemporary rock rifforama. So soft harmonies of “It’s A Fascinating World” deceptively introduce the listener to what doesn’t turn out to be another fairy tale, where “The Youth Of Today” ambient buzz sits snugly alongside ’40s-styled croon of “Sliding Down The Razorblade Of Love”. Yet the feeling of something unexpected waiting around the bend is absent from “Something For The Weekend” which is strong but reeks of fatigue, the “Drinking And Driving” rock ‘n’ roll bravado notwithstanding. In this context, the closing “It Must Be Time For Bed” sounds sadly fitting. But since Davis and Warren are together again, can there be another wake-up call?

***

STACKRIDGE – Mr Mick
Rocket 1976
Angel Air 2007
The last hurray of the ’70s band: two faces of one record, both sad and wrinked.

Sometimes one step further leads over the top, and that’s how it was for STACKRIDGE. The band whose LPs had been more than just collections of songs from the beginning, they hardly needed to reach for a strict concept to thread the pieces on, especially when it took an external writer, Steve Augarde, to come up with a story of the titular old man’s sad withering. Not a bright kaleidoscopic idea compared to the previous records, but good for a change… from a creative, not commercial point of view. As a result, the label didn’t take a shine to the finished album and demanded the re-jigging. So much for the concept with most of the dialogue removed. Fortunately, the original version survived the time of the group’s non-existence – they broke up soon after the LP’s release – and now the two records, out in one package, can be compared and enjoyed in whichever form one prefers.

And one can’t deny that the issued variant packs more powerful punch beginning with reggae-fied take on THE BEATLES’ “Hold Me Tight”, yet shifted from the original opening slot to the penultimate position on the vinyl, the rock steady of “Hey! Good Looking” loses its toned brilliance. Now, the protagonist is introduced in “Breakfast With Verner Von Braun”, one hell of a psychedelic piece which, therefore, required a set of verses. As for the story, the narration runs along with typical STACKRIDGE instrumentals, this time, given such a treatment, rather pointless. For the most part, the music lacks the colorfulness – still, the “Coniston Water” heartbreaking sax wail stands out, and “Fish In A Glass” is a small prog masterpiece out of time with punk so nigh. And though the band had always felt out of time, this time their inspiration wasn’t ripe for making it. They timely made a bow instead.

**1/3

STACKRIDGE –
Extravaganza
Rocket 1975
Angel Air 2007
Having parted with rock, the English band have their rocks off.

Desperate recklessness could be the motivation for this record yet its motif is as jolly as it gets. “Extravaganza” was born when the commercial breakthrough that the ensemble hoped for appeared to be elusive, the group lost two JW’s, two founding members, guitarist James Warren and bassist Jim ‘Crun’ Walter, and switched from MCA to Elton John’s newly-founded Rocket Records. But out on a limb, the sextet went out on the tiles and, with the famous boozer Tony Ashton producing, delivered something tremendous.

“Let’s all have fun with the clown” is the album’s not-too-hidden agenda. Never firmly etched in rock, here, beginning with “Spin Round The Room”, the combo shake the blues off completely in favor of pretty show tunes. Still, that’s not pastiche: the band manage to escape the banality trap and employ vertiginous kaleidoscopic vision where pre-war jazz makes strange characters play around and flautist Mutter Slater sing “The Volunteer” while marching to its beat. It was his and Andy Davis’ dream, to be goofing around, Zappa-way, but sometimes the collective smiling mask seems to be stuck on their faces like grimace – in “Happy In The Lord” their Sgt. Pepper turns into sergeant-major. Fortunately, just before it gets too sweetly crooked, an urgent instrumental “Rufus T Firefly” pitches in and, in bleary-eyed “No One’s More Important Than The Earthworm”, sadness eventually rears its head. After that, a marvelous wordless comedown. Extravagant, indeed, a different kind of gem.

****1/2
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STACKRIDGE –
The Man In The Bowler Hat
MCA 1974
Angel Air 2007
Back then a failure, now a delight. George Martin couldn’t go wrong.

It was a dream, to work with the Fabs’ producer and, having delivered a hushed ode to joy in the form of “Friendliness”, STACKRIDGE rode the newly found enthusiasm on their third album that would, as the band hoped, break them through. As bad luck would have it, the ensemble nearly broke up instead – but not before the quintet delivered this little gem.

This time progressive tendencies give room to playful songs such as opening “Fundamentally Yours” which combines baroque solemnity with light breeziness, and “The Last Plimsoll” catchy rock drama. And if previously the group still saw stylistic margins, as blurry as they were, here the music goes everywhere – meandering from calypso to country in “The Road To Venezuela” and unashamedly waltzing in “Pinafore Days”, all smoothly, all alluring, all beckoning to follow. All strangely failed to register with the mass public, even the jaunty carouselambra of “Dangerous Bacon”. Still, there’s a grandeur in the record that takes in some Tchaikovsky for the widescreen and wide-eyed orchestral finale, “God Speed The Plough”. That’s the way to exit and start a new chapter!

****

STACKRIDGE –
Friendliness
MCA 1972
Angel Air 2006
The ochre-tinged fantasy with crystal clear good intentions.

That wasn’t the financial case even though, having overrun their first album budget, STACKRIDGE had to cut down the expences when it came to their second outing. That was a concept thing to shake off the ebullience of the debut LP and employ the pastel tones instead of the bright tapestry threads. Marching in boldly with a brisk instrumental “Lummy Days”, the sextet immediately go elegiac in the title song and, with the exception of the “Keep On Clucking” boogie, don’t leave this comfortable, harmony-filled furrow until the very end. This time it’s Michael Evans’ violin that leads the bunch into the haze where lovely cabaret tunes such as “Anyone For Tennis” reveal themselves unexpectedly and Eastern-flavored nostalgic anthems like “Syracuse The Elephant” loom large. Lennonesque surrealism suits the band just fine yet even The Fabs wouldn’t have shaped a theme called “Father Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow” so softly. A (mostly) quiet masterpiece.

****2/3

STACKRIDGE –
Stackridge
Angel Air 2006
Some flimsy whimsy from the age of innocence. Songs of experience lay just around the bend.

Quite a timely release: this English band were ahead of their time with playful “Dora The Female Explorer” commited to tape in 1971, 35 years before a similarly-shaped playful character took on the world. But it would be right, too, to say they were behind the times – as in 1971, when STACKRIDGE’s eponymous debut was out, this sort of English psychedelia seemed to be on the wane. Not that singing bassist James Warren and guitarist Andy Davis, the ensemble’s main songwriters, cared much about the style. Not that they needed to while lyrical extravaganza gelled fine with bright melodies such as in tone-setter “Grande Piano” where a jolly four-string rumble underpins an urgent ivory-tinkling only to dissolve in soft hazy glow, very moving in autumnal vilolin and cello of “The Three Legged Table” that break into a charged boogie. Thus, you never know what’s there ’round the corner, nothing prepares you for the “Marzo Plod” hoedown and the court grandiosity of “Essence Of Porphyry”, and that’s a part of the game. And that’s the catch, the reason for you to hang on in there where folk of “Slark” leaves you. Hang on to a daydream!

****1/3

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