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Love In Space

Emergency Broadcasting System 1996 / Atomhenge 2009

A live flight a little lower for the radar to register but nice nevertheless.

Mid-’90s saw HAWKWIND shrink in their ranks but not in their aspiration to fly high. Thankfully, the “technology replacing people” concept wasn’t at odds with the band’s futuristic leanings, but it imposed certain lack of energy to live performances, no matter how theatrical the show was. The expansion felt inevitable yet as this album, the first concert recording of the new line-up, suggests, the erstwhile peaks lay away. There’s no desirable edge to the new track “Robot” and the otherwise heavy late classic “Death Trap”, preceded by the tension-building spoken-word “Abducted”: with powerful machine of drummer Richard Chadwick and bassist Alan Davey to stoke Dave Brock’s guitar-and-synthesizers orchestra, singer Ron Tree simply doesn’t possess the vocal charisma and cuts it only in “Alien (I Am)”.

There are many wonderful instrumental passages, though, involving both Brock and Davey on keyboards and including mesmerizing mid-Eastern “Assassins” (recorded in 1977 as “Hassan-i Sabbah”), but, stripped of the visuals, the reliance on the previous year’s “Alien 4” LP, not the best in the HAWKS canon, renders pieces such as “Blue Skin” rather pale. But then, the prog epic “Sputnik Stan” hides some great rock ‘n’ roll moves in it, as well as the perennial “Silver Machine”, while the title track is as emotion-emitting as this band get and fares on-stage better than the studio version, attached as a bonus. Still, sentimentality has never been their trade, so the nostalgie is parted with on “Welcome To The Future”, the only track here from the HAWKWIND’s halcyon days. And the live take on “This Is Hawkwind Sonic Attack”, another bonus, only goes to show the ’90s weren’t the times for the HAWKS.


The Carnivorous Circus

Transatlantic 1970 / Esoteric 2009

Striking on his own, the chief Deviant rides the Devil and gets better as the time goes by.

Having lost his band prior to the release of “3”, Mick Farren was obliged to deliver one more record to the label – and deliver he did! Starting and finishing his solo debut with the hoodoo stomp of Bo Diddley’s “Mona” – here’s your circularity and here’s your Nazi march on the cover – the singer immerses himself in somewhat different stew than before, with the primitivism level kept down due the top-notch players. This time, Farren roped in two thirds of QUATERMASS, namely bassist John Gustafson and keyboardist Pete Robinson, who came on boards thanks to Farren’s new guitarist Steve Hammond, the writer of their smash “Black Sheep Of The Family”, plus his drumming mate and future PINK FAIRIES colleague Twink, and, fresh out of Elton John’s sessions, cellist Paul Buckmaster, and it’s the band’s sensitivity that saves it all from the underground dive it is.

“I was crazy when I did “Mona” – really mentally ill. If I listen to it I can still feel it”, recalled Mick much later. Not really, yet it’s a heavy task listening to the two-part “Carnivorous Circus” based around interviews he recorded with a Hell Angel who fell victim to the police cruelty, and the dazed Steve Peregrine-Took of TYRANNOSAURUS REX who rattles percussion here. Nevertheless, the bass-laden funk at the rock bottom of this madness, as well as folky strum in “You Can’t Move”, feel nice, and stereo-panning makes the gumbo even more tasty: had Farren sung rather than chant psycho-lines such as “Who needs the egg?” and story-tell, it would have been his masterpiece. As it is, Mick’s take on “Summertime Blues” still can give THE WHO run for their cover money, while the dirge of “An Epitaph Can Point The Way” still sounds eerily soul-shaking. If only Mick Farren’s further road was so straight… But then, it wouldn’t be Mick Farren, always a Deviant.



Transatlantic 1969 / Esoteric 2009

The deviation from the main course as a cause of hitting the reefs – with neither hit nor impact.

“It is possible for one person to communicate with another on more than one level; you can talk to each other; you can feed each other; you can screw each”, wrote Mick Farren on the back cover of his band’s third record – and that’s how it was for THE DEVIANTS and their leader. “3” saw the light of day after they parted ways and nowadays stands as a monument to the possibilities which the band could have tried to pursue if they stayed together, and the wishing well of the progressive finale “Metamorphosis Exploration” shows the depth unfathomed yet.

The hero of this album might be Duncan Sanderson whose bass prominently provides a solid foundation for the other to bounce on fearfully: there’s a threat in the ensemble’s most serious work and the ominous snippet of “La Marseillese” in “The Junior Narco Rangers”. Yet it’s the addition of Canadian guitarist Paul Rudolph that made the sound heavier, with theatrical vocals of the “Billy The Monster” comical drama and the fantastic a cappella pseudo-yodel of “Black George Does It With His Tongue” off-set by instrumental “Broken Bisquits”, a multi-layered hard rock number, and “Rambling B(l)ack Transit Blues” featuring a madful march. Such a parading links it to “The People Suite” where the “Social” part discarded from the band’s name pokes its head in – as it does in the bluegrass of “Let’s Drink To The People”. But, soon after waving their defiant flag in June 1969 in Hyde Park alongside THE ROLLING STONES and KING CRIMSON, THE DEVIANTS who fell between the two, crashed their course.


Black On White

Atlantic Italia 1969 / Angel Air 2009

Classic Italian film-makers x PROCOL HARUM refugees = an obscure gem of British psychedelia.

“A Whiter Shade Of Pale” might define the course of a certain English group but the band’s drummer Bobby Harrison and guitarist Ray Royer were having none of it and soon were forming another collective to pursue a direction of their own. Quite how FREEDOM, this new venture, got commissioned a soundtrack for the Dino De Laurentiis-produced and Tinto Brass-directed “Nerosubianco”, or “Black On White”, remains a mystery; fortunately, the record, committed to tape at Olympic Studios and engineered by Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer, hasn’t been a secret for some time now. It bears little resemblance to the hard rock the band’s next incarnation would play but it’s a small classic anyway.

The heavy fuzz and Mike Leese’s dramatic piano in “Seeing Is Believing” and the fairground baroque of “The Truth Is Plain To See” all but deserve to join the pantheon of Brit psych delicacies, even though “The Better Side” with its lush strings feels cheesy and is too long to endure its period charm. But then, there’s a nice organ and guitar interplay in the darkly mellow “To Be Free” where Steve Shirley’s soulful vocals and bass glisten brightly, and the fiddle-driven “We Say No” shows a rare country influence on the art rock. More so, it’s hard not to get in the “Born Again” vertiginous and highly melodious groove, while the “yeah yeah yeah” refrain of “With You” etches itself in one’s memory in an instant. A pity, “Black On White” aside, FREEDOM didn’t record much – this edition adds some bonus tracks to it – as they were capable of much more than to be reborn in the lead boots.


The Chronicle Of The Black Sword

Flicknife 1985 / Atomhenge 2009

From sci-fi to pure fantasy, from outer space to the fairy tale vales, the cosmic lords become giant kings.

Never averse to churning out concept albums, the word “ambition” sits uncomfortably with the Ladbroke Grove spirits, yet the project that HAWKWIND embarked on in the mid-’80s was their most ambitious. Ten years after immersing into the Michael Moorcock’s world with 1975’s “Warrior On The Edge Of Time”, the band took to Elric of Melnibone’s adventures on this, their pivotal, if not most commercially successful, album of the prog rock’s shallowest decade.

Its era shows – the fans of DEPECHE MODE will be pleased to hear “The Sea King” – and the “Needle Gun” four-on-the-floor groove makes one cut the rug, but while the sound feels a bit plastic from the opening riff of “Song Of The Swords”, it doesn’t mar the piece’s heavy metal assault. Whereas Huw Lloyd-Langton’s sharp guitar is sabre-dancing with Alan Davey’s rumbling bass, Dave Brock’s vocal delivery and the voice-bounce clearly indicate the disco texture is deliberate – there’s the ambient ambition dwells.

The records emotional peak lies in “Zarozinia”, arguably the best ballad HAWKWIND ever came up with – a consequence of Nik Turner’s leaving prior to the album’s start, perhaps – but the Brock-Moorcock-penned “Sleep Of A Thousand Tears”, high on slide guitar, sees the band in their regular spacey environment. And if “The Earth Ritual” EP, added here as a bonus, throws in some more quests to the saga, such as the beautiful “Dragonss And Fables” or the self-mythologizing “Night Of The Hawks”, the B-side “Arioch” rams the trip closer to home. Yet for the best experience of this adventure, nothing beats "Live Chronicles" where it all comes alive.


Town Beyond The Trees
Special Edition

Hall 2008 / Angel Air 2009

The Swansee’s finest bring on their best… and it’s just the second album from the band.

The echo-laden heartbeat and strum of the opening “Long Hard Road” suggest there’s something made in the mid-’80s in your hands, in the time when everything felt sunny and you just loved it. But it’s not a mist-wrapped nostalgia plays the emotions game, it’s what the Welsh ensemble THE STORYS do in the present tense entangling their listeners in the warm web of Steve Balsamo’s gossamer voice and Dai Smith jangle-and-slide guitars. When Andy Collins’ bass and vocals lead “Nobody Loves You” to the rainbow’s end, it’s charming to a painful extent, bittersweet to the extreme.

It’s hard to not freefall for it, especially when “Evangelina” introduces the uptempo drift into this tasty pool with harmonica bringing the necessary grit, all the more caressing on the bonus “Live” album where “Town Beyond The Trees” blooms on, psychedelic-way, twice as long as its acoustic studio version alongside concert takes on the best moments from the band’s debut such as the swelling “Be By Your Side” and ruminative folk of “Kings Of Broken Dreams”. But strings on some songs of their second record, including the widescreen “It’s All We Really Need”, take the saccharine level up too high, save for “Trouble Deep” with its uplifting surge serving as a great coda and a bridge to the next record which promises to make THE STORYS really huge.



Stable 1968 / Esoteric 2009

A little more self-deprecation, a little more tunefulness, a little more serious merriment.

With the band’s debut‘s initial run having distributed independently and sold enough copies for THE DEVIANTS to be signed, the volume of live work increased, and the experience shows all over their second album. The level of musicianship increased, too, with Sid Bishop’s double-tracking his guitar for “Jamie’s Song” and guests including Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax and Pete Brown in trumpeter’s, not poet’s role which was always reserved for Mick Farren. The title of the demented opener, “Somewhere To Go”, is telling even though this bass-driven dirge sounds dangerously close to THE DOORS – quite a contrast to the light jazzy croon of “Guaranteed To Bleed”.

Yet it’s not too dark in here, as the ensemble go mad in THE RIVINGTONS’ “Pappa-Oo-Mao-Mao” surfin’ rave, and spoken word inserts don’t spoil the fun that spills out of the “Let’s Loot The Supermarket” infectious choir and the “Fire In The City” sax-soiled swirl. There’s also a serious acoustic country blues attempt in “Blind Joe McTurk’s Last Session”, whereas “Normality Jam” is exactly that: an extemporization on guitar and organ’s acid axis. Perhaps, the rockabilly of “Sydney B Goode” feels a little bit out of it all, but it lifts off the aural horror of “Last Man” which closes the record, where everything works fine to make the listener dispose of all the brain trash there is.


2 Ozs Of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle

Dawn 1969 / Esoteric 2009

The whole of the hole to peep in and get razzle-dazzled.

There was no formula for MAN to explore on their second LP as their first, “Revelation”, didn’t become a hit, and no reason to feel low. In fact, the band got high as a kite fleet. This lightness hugely informs “The Storm”: after the heavy thunder, it rolls in serenely on Clive John’s piano and sees guitar licks soaring with seagulls while the faux-orchestral darkness looms on, only for Deke Leonard volume knob and acoustic guitar to bring back the calm and the wordless singing to pull up the sun. But then, heaviness of other kind falls with “It Is As It Must Be”, its blues harmonica notwithstanding, riding the hammering riff, URIAH HEEP-way, and dissipates in handclaps-assisted rhythm-and-blues ramalama. Had MAN taken the hard rock road, they’d be huge!

They didn’t though, so the slide guitar-boasting “My Name Is Jesus Smith” boogies too superficially for its lyrical intent, until the bluegrass picking kicks in, and the delirious vocals and bass gallop of the future live staple “Spunk Box” dated worse than the classical motifs of this piece. Still, while the “Brother Arnold’s Red And White Striped Tent” main figure feels too repetitive after the more-of-the-same “Parchment and Candles”, the “fun to boredom” quotient leans on the good-time side, with a bonus “A Sad Song (Grasshopper)” adding a pinch of melancholy to the heady mix.


Live ’78

Atomhenge 2009

New Wave from the aeons-old Space Bandits, sonic assassination committed in style.

When HAWKLORDS rose to power in 1978 the band seemed rather removed from HAWKWIND but all the studio sheen peeled off when the quintet came on stage. So while “25 Years On”, their only studio album, bowed – at singer Robert Calvert’s suggestion – to the New Wave tendencies of the era, guitarist Dave Brock’s cosmic grit made the ensemble’s concerts lean to the punk side of the times. Recorded at Brunel University, in Uxbridge, on November 24th, 1978, this is the only official live recording of the band, and though usually their show ran longer than 60 minutes, it’s a great, rare document including material both old and new.

And it’s urgent, “25 Years” bubbling on the clipped guitar riff like the acid-burnt CLASH with Steve Swindells’ Farfisa-like keyboards adding the layer of innocence to the aural innuendos. In such company, “Urban Guerilla” takes on a new relevance, whereas “The Age Of The Micro Man” is as close to a ballad as Brock and Calvert could get, with Harvey Bainbridge’s bass giving it a cool depth once the song feels the reggae dreadlock. As for New Wave, there are a bit dragging “Spirit Of The Age” from the previous year and “Death Trap” to make the ensemble’s space rock implode to a claustrophobic sound; curiously, then, the latter piece would be released on the “PXR5” LP in 1979 under the HAWKWIND sign alongside sharpish “High Rise”, here boasting the progressively styled synth solo and a nice bluesy guitar wail.

With another new cut, “PSI Power”, faring much better than the time-tested “Sonic Attack”, HAWKLORDS might seem to be the future, yet the band’s future impact was to sizzle off and give a new lease of life of HAWKWIND. And that life begins here, live.



Impressario 1967 / Esoteric 2009

One wonderful perversion of the times to sling the swinging era into the future – with a bang.

Call it proto-punk or psychosocial rock, the debut album of Mick Farren’s band was more about the message than the music. From the “THE DEVIANTS’ album!” announcement to the “Right!” cheers, it still sounds more like one hell of a happening than the exercise in tunesmithery. But if “Nothing Man” is a sarcastically freaky aggrandizing of freak-haters, “Charlie” rolls charmingly, while the spirit of Ladbroke Grove’s gentle underbelly winds off as a spliff smoke from the acoustic crawl of the poetic “Child Of The Sky”.

Elsewhere, though, the lazily threatening “I’m Coming Home” and acidic “Garbage” roam down the road that THE STOOGES yet had to take, and “Deviation Street” rams it all home in spoken word and groovy sound collage – all with Sid Bishop’s searing guitar burning a Zeitgeist brand all over the main man’s Jagger-ish recital. Deceptively amateurish, especially if compared with what the the like-minded Zappa did at the same time across the Atlantic, “Ptooff!” somehow retains its appeal even now. You gotta believe it when Farren suggests he’s “a complete and adequate human being”. That’s the deviance.


MAN – Revelation

Pye 1969 / Esoteric 2009

After the United Artists albums, Esoteric brings in an impressive debut from the Welsh speed kings, rather a genesis than revelation.

Wales might be quite removed from where it was at in the late ’60s, but THE BYSTANDERS felt tuned in enough to relocate to London and confident enough to land a contract with Pye Records. More so, having taken the MAN moniker, they got the balls to get ready for their first album without having so much of a material. Fortunately, three weeks before the recording started the band’s ranks expanded thanks to Roger “Deke” Leonard who wrote the lion’s share of what’s in here.

For many the focus of “Revelation” must be “Erotica” which’s orgastic pattern preceded “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, yet there’s a groan-free eight-minute version added to this re-issue to distil the ensemble’s sound so delightful on the rest of the tracks, now clear from the patina of time. Time’s an important issue of most of the songs, from the acid raga and organ-oiled chorale of “And In The Beginning…” to “The Future Hides Its Face”, yet the “Love” acoustic lace possesses a timeless, heartbreaking quality. And for all the aural embellisments and angelic vocal harmonies, purely progressive in the widescreen wordless “Puella! Puella!” with its classical piano and the Tchaikovsky-derived “And Castles Rise In Children’s Eyes”, in the harmonica-splashed “Sudden Life” the MAN’s blues base remains solid, while “Blind Man” rides a slide-quitar awashed boogie horse. So much for acid rock: one needs no speed to enjoy this “Revelation”.


An Anthology 1966-1974

Esoteric 2009

The first-ever career-spanning representation of the British heavy blues hitters. Quite spooky.

In all honesty, the band deserve a box set treatment but this double-disc comp comes as close to it as it gets. The ensemble could be revered if only for the players that later on graced such diverse collectives as HUMBLE PIE, THE ONLY ONES and MOTT THE HOOPLE – diverse but with one common element: rowdiness. Yet there’s also the immense corpus of works which welcomed to delve in the noiseniks as fresh as JUDAS PRIEST, who covered the acoustic-tinged rifferama of “Better By You, Better Than Me”, and as old as THE MOVE, who made the jolly psychedelic “Sunshine Help Me” their live staple. Both classics are here, among other albums cuts intersperesed with rarities, singles and their B-sides, including the opener, “Weird”, which boasts, though still tentatively, all the elements that made SPOOKY TOOTH special – the elements you get when you throw in English blues lovers with the best American singer and keyboard player this side of Al Kooper.

It’s Gary Wright’s organ and, more importantly, songwriting that still keep the SPOOKY legend afloat, and “It’s All About A Roundabout”, that with its light groove could have been easily re-imagined as disco floor-filler, still hold its own alongside the hard-hitting standard “Tobacco Road”, featuring the delicious wails of Luther Grosvenor’s guitar and Mike Harrison’s voice on the band’s debut album, and the 1968’s almost orchestral take on THE BAND’s “The Weight”. Why handle outside material at the time when there was fabulously creepy “When I Get Home”, punctured with Greg Ridley’s bass, that remained unreleased until now, is anyone’s guess; but when it came to “Spooky Two”, there was no doubt as to the songs’ quality be it a New Orlean’s buzz of “Hangman Hang My Shell On A Tree” or a countrified “Feeling Bad”, whereas the nine-minute-long sludge-like witch-fest “Evil Woman” shows the players’ further progress as interpretors.

Never the strangers to experiments, they teamed up with French musique concrete master Pierre Henry for “Ceremony” in 1969, but in the anthology context “Hosanna” from this “electronic mass” sounds like a continuation of the band’s previous work and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Still, it made Wright jump the ship, so the songs from the following year’s “The Last Puff” don’t fly even though the guitar front was reinforced with Henry McCulloch, and nothing could make the instrumental title track, the only original on offer, outshine Elton John and THE BEATLES’ imaginative covers. After that, the break-up – and the 1973 reformation with Gary at the helm. The tremendously titled “You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw” added the rolling joy of “Wildfire” to the canon, and one can easily trace the roots of FOREIGNER back to Mick Jones’ contribution to this piece as well as the piano-led spiritual “Times Have Changed”, and the memorable, hookful “Things Change” from the next LP, “Witness”. But the life was slowly seeping out of SPOOKY, and 1974’s “The Mirror” saw Mike Patto take the frontman spot to belt out “Fantasy Satisfier” and fill it with atomic funk energy, to dig deep the reggae of “Higher Circles” and to elevate the dramatic, richly textured title track even higher yet never reach the band’s past heights.

To the higher circles they moved, indeed, flying high and mighty. The TOOTH returned a quarter of century later, yet the veterans’ new songs can’t rock these golden treasures. Now, on to the box, perhaps?


Demon Deceiver… Plus

Angel Air 2009

Metal exorcism: the JUDAS PRIEST firestarter goes it alone.

To many just a footnote in the British metal history, Alan Atkins could have fronted the band he formed in the late ’60s for years to come but, in order to support the family, he left the name JUDAS PRIEST to the rest of the bunch and quit. The name and some songs that Rob Halford wasn’t ashamed to sing. A couple of these are here, on Atkins’ fifth solo album since the vocalist returned to the fray in the ’90s, including the gentle ballad “Dreamer Deceiver” which rounds off the cycle beginning with its own allusion, the title track – acoustically-tinged and possessed by a memorable guitar riff from Simon Lees, with Al’s voice confined to reading a poem.

What’s in between, save for the classic “Victim Of Changes”, falls in the “generic heavy metal” category, but it’s relentlessly, effortlessly good and tuneful and Atkins demonstrates a great form throughout. More so, with the heartbreaking seriousness of “Sentenced”, and “Blood, Demons And Whiskey” featuring a multi-tracked vocals on coda he gives his former colleagues and run for their money, while “God Help Me” feels much tastier than PRIEST’s recent cuts. The “Plus” part, two tracks from the veteran’s new band, HOLY RAGE, including “A Void To Avoid” with Bernie Torme on guitar, only add weight to this impressive work.


Two Heads Are Better Than One

Chapter One 1972 / Esoteric 2009

When B&B doesn’t mean “bed and breakfast” but a meeting of the blues brothers.

The keyword was “beat”: Pete Brown comes from the English breed of Beatniks whereas Graham Bond lived for the rhythm looking for it also in Magick and drugs. There’s enough of it all (“Amazing Grass”, geddit?) in the pair’s only joint album, recorded when Bond and Brown hit the bottom with their bands having broke up, and another “B”, their collaborator Jack Bruce, not willing to throw in his lot with the two’s volatile luck. “Two Heads Are Better Than One” didn’t succeed on the commercial front, yet it has a lot of fine moments, the best being absorbing epic “CFDT (Colonel Frights’ Dancing Terrapins)” with Mick Hutchinson’s scorching guitar thread, but most touching on the African heritage of the blues idiom.

Therefore, the “Oobati” funk feast with Brown’s shining trumpet and the chant in the otherwise bar room buzz of “Lost Tribe” where Diane Bond’s vocals dominate and her husband puts his all in the piano solo before doing a great Mac Rebennack impression in the manager-burning, New Orleans brass-wielding, “Ig The Pig”. Even more creepy, if stylish, is the Jack-The-Riper-ish “Mass Debate” featuring Ed Spevock’s swell drums and a lot of echo, and the soul sacrifice of EP-only “Milk Is Turning Sour In My Shoes” where Bond goes all jammy on Hammond. Unfortunately, he had nowhere else to go from there and, save for a couple of guest cameos, that would be Graham’s last record ever.



Island 1969 / Esoteric 2009

Musique concrete meets heavy blues with messy, rather than massy, results.

When respected French composer Pierre Henry designed “an electronic mass”, the master of “found-object” music treated his British collaborators like one of those non-artistic things. For their part, SPOOKY TOOTH, riding the crest of the “Spooky Two” wave, didn’t expect the experiment to bear their name on its sleeve – otherwise, Gary Wright, the band’s keyboardist and main writer, would have hardly get involved into the project. Save for the hammering dirge of “Confession”, it’s far from the “nail in the ear” depiction on the cover, though, and “Prayer” is a wonderful acoustic ballad, yet Mike Harrison’s wailing “Lord, have mercy” in the beginning is an early warning.

Once Luther Grosvenor’s guitar kicks up the dirt, the bluesy momentum is gained right but Henry’s FX – overdubbed later – splutter and swoosh quite pointlessly and intrude on the sweetly soulful “Jubilation”. Still, the closing “Hosanna” sees the two strains gel nicely over Wright’s heavy Hammond showing what might have been if both parties worked together, not on different shores of the Channel. As it was, Henry ostensibly recorded his parts over TOOTH’s original two-track tapes, so there’s no hope of hearing the pure SPOOKY mix. But then, it was him who started it all.


Another Fine Tune You’ve Got Me Into

Charly 1978 / Esoteric 2009

The return of the king – ever-shifting, always mighty, yet transparent.

Two years since the Canterbury band’s first coming and with SOFT HEAP behind him, Alan Gowen decided to try and shape his vision once again. This time the keyboard master jazzed it up even more thanks to Trevor Tomkins and Hugh Hopper joining him and the original guitarist Phil Lee, but the line-up clearly preferred mellow arrangements to the groove they were capable of and hint on in the accordingly titled “Play Time”. And if there’s a gloomily bobbing, low-end undercurrent to the delicacy of “Bobberty”, the acoustic guitar weave of “Waiting” brings bliss to the proceedings, while the brooding “Underwater Song” and the exquisite opener “Darker Brighter”, an antidote to the punk edginess of the time, fall on the sweet side of fusion – footloose and full of fancy. It reaches zenith in “T.N.T.F.X.” but stops short of explosion one expects… which might led to another record if only there was one.


The Magic Shoemaker

Pye 1970 / Esoteric 2009

The cult classic and then some: the complete released output of an English trio who could have been huge.

There’ve been a few good attempts to set children’s fairy tales into a rock frame but none of those featured a good original storyline. Which may be why this one gained almost legendary status over the years even though Dave Lambert‘s approach felt naïve on its release, in 1970, and feels naïve still – but that’s what makes the FIRE’s only album captivating in this prosaic day and age. Not a rock opera by any measure, most of the songs here, beginning and ending with “Children Of Imagination”, have a psychedelic ring to them and several possess great hooks. It’s hard not to join in the chorus of piano-led “Only A Dream”, yet the narration and conversation with kids sometimes break the spell, and in places Lambert sings too high to feel comfortable with a tune like “Tell You A Story” while his guitar playing on this, and on acoustic solo of “Shoemaker”, is exceptional.

The music oozes charm in spades, “I Can See The Sky” heading towards heavy rock with its blueswailing harmonica, and “Reason For Everything” begging for orchestration and betraying the main man’s love of folklore which he’d realize three years as part of THE STRAWBS. But a clear BEATLES’ influence elsewhere is not surprising, too, what with FIRE’s links to Apple Corps. and Paul McCartney giving tips to give a commercial boost to the band’s debute single, “Father’s Name Is Dad”, a bonus track here. Still, “Flies Like A Bird”, a fuzz-folk gem, and the countrified “Happy Man Am I” are catchy on their terms, whereas hidden brilliance of other cuts was revealed almost fourty years later when the trio reunited to stage a live version of their masterpiece. Which means, the legend lives on.


Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life

Affinity 1977 / Esoteric 2009

The Balearic trip of a Flying Teapot pilot. Get a tan, become a fan!

If there ever was a sun on Planet Gong you could safely bet it came from some other world, but the one that shone on Daevid Allen, once the singer jumped the pixie ship he’d been driving since late ’60s and settled down in his Majorca home, undoubtedly hang above our Earth. Picking up from where he left off on “Good Morning” in 1975, two years later Allen delivered arguably the warmest record of his entire oeuvre.

Starting charmingly with a breathtaking acoustic lace of “Flamenco Zero” which features Juan Biblioni on guitar and reintroduces Zero, the “Radio Gnome Trilogy” protagonist, and closing with the “Deya Goddess” paean-cum-chant, the album still holds a lot of Daevid’s patented idiosyncrasy. It lurks deep in the “Only Make Love If You Want To” and the “Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do?” bucolic, yet sad and nervous, tones lapping over a gentle fairground swirl, and comes forward, cajun-dancing, in “See You On The Moontower” which rocks lazily. The bile spills over in the delicate recital of “Poet For Sale” but whatever threat it packs, there’s a soothing, 11-minute meditation “I Am”: a sunrise cock, a tidal guitar wave, birdsong, mother’s lull – the study of life-affirmatiom. The record to chill out to in summer and reminisce to in winter.


Of Queues And Cures

Charly 1979 / Esoteric 2009

“Be all ears”, warns the cover. True: this ensemble’s patients’ patience never is taxed.

Having settled in their tracks and with Alan Gowen gone to crystallize a vision of his own, Dave Stewart single-handedly took NATIONAL HEALTH into a much rockier direction than the band’s first album promised they would pursue. The leader’s organ may gently nudge the birds’ trill out of “The Bryden 2-Step (for Amphibians)” that both opens and closes this record, but once HENRY COW’s John Greaves’ bass solo sets the tension course to step forward every now and then, the real action begins. Now, Pip Pyles’ drums come all panoramic and Phil Miller’s guitar runs from fiery soloing to a sharp riffing and back, “Dreams Wide Awake” getting even more rock hard as the synthesizers’ wave swirl around the ears – but there’s a jazzy feel underneath it all, and a great sense of adventure throughout and it’s genuinely English sort of fusion, full of twists and turns and instrumental twine which untangles so tasty.

If Pyle’s “Binoculars” sounds more a less like a conventional, vocal song, with Jimmy Hastings’ sensual flute adding to its brass-sprinkled roll, sometimes too many disparate strains make the album a hard puzzle to crack – and all the better for it. The twilight crawl of Greaves’ “Squarer For Maud” brings on the elegiac mood of the digital autumn where guitar flock flies southbound and the organ prepares for a solemn, orchestral hibernation with Peter Blegvad’s lyrical send-off. Meanwhile, Stewart’s “The Collapso” is a pure prog piece that builds on and on with resolution hidden from the sight by its baroque jive and the players’ sly competition in the dramatic, tin soldiers’ march into a batlle. Still, it’s the process that enchants, not the result. And the battle’s won anyway, even though it was the last band’s feat in the ’70s.


National Health

Affinity 1978 / Esoteric 2009

The impressive debut of romantic warriors: a casus belli and a winning case.

By the late ’70s, the two-keyboards ensemble looked like a well-tested formula, but if PROCOL HARUM employed piano and organ, GREENSLADE’s choice was a double set of synthesizers, and it’s this combination that a pair of Canterbury ivory tinklers, Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen, based their new band on. Having parted ways with, respectively, HATFIELD AND THE NORTH and GILGAMESH, it took them three years to come up with this album which still stands as a monument to reckless melodic alchemy; when it was released, Gowen had jumped the ship for SOFT HEAP, yet his imprint is all over “National Health”.

Their only joint composition on offer is deliciously crazy “Elephants” that rounds off the record linking the finale to the entry point, “Thenemos Roads”, where Gowen’s baroque Moog paves the way for Stewart’s Hammond to tread and introduces the highly hummable hook to catch up with it near the end. With much going on within these almost fifteen minutes of glory, the band – unlike many a jazz and prog artist – never lose the plot, even though Phil Miller’s guitar and Neil Murray‘s bass groove mightily to loosen up only when Amanda Parsons’ gentle vocals float in.

The singer’s voice lends an atmospheric feel to the suitably enchanting “Brujo” – that’s your “charming” in Spanish – entwined with Jimmy Hastings’ delicate flute and peppered with Pip Pyle’s thoughtful drumming under Stewart’s electric piano’s roll. The drift gains momentum as it flies, and “Borogoves (Excerpt from Part Two)” has it accumulated in Murray’s romantic solo, while “Part One” of this piece boldly ventures into the RETURN TO FOREVER territory throwing in medieval motifs to make it irresistible. Both quasi-symphonic and pseudo-rocking, it’s a real masterpiece on the album that’s hard not to get back to time and again.



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