Dec 25, 2018

THE OCEAN - Heliocentric / Anthropocentric
(Pelagic Records PEL 004/008, 2010)

As the first in a two part companionship album revolving heavily around religious critique and a humanistic (and quite often negative) study of the Christian faith, "Heliocentric" represents the beginning of a new era for Germany-based post metal act The Ocean. While I had listened to "Anthropocentric" (the second half) before this one, I was already a fan of this band's complex and intelligent music from the 'Precambrian' days onwards, and my expectations were high for the next album. This band has always been prone to take on the most ambitious topics ("Precambrian" revolved around the creation of the Earth itself) and "Heliocentric" is no exception to this rule. A deeply thought-provoking concept by all standards, "Heliocentric" does ultimately disappoint my high expectations however. While the album is graced with some brilliant moments and lyrics that will surely upstart more than a few existential debates, the band's new direction does feel basic and less effectively executed than some of the great albums they have released in the past.

With a new vocalist here, the sound of the band is obviously changed a fair bit. While the abrasive growls are the same as they have always been (that is, a mixed bag), the introduction of Loic Rossetti is one of the more skilled singers the band has seen through its revolving door of musicians. However, while "Anthropocentric" shows the singer's talent in an excellent light, "Heliocentric" feels as if it stretches the vocalist's style in the wrong direction, usually towards a more abrasive direction that could vaguely be compared with the harsh style of Metallica vocalist James Hetfield. Ironically, many aspects of The Ocean's music have actually become much more melodic and harmonious since the atonal and unsettling sounds of 2007's "Precambrian". Even going as far as to have a piano-driven ballad like "Ptolemy Was Wrong", "Heliocentric" does see the band going in a slightly less complex direction with their music, and that did often feel to me like The Ocean's greatest strength; their meticulously crafted arrangements. Songs like "Metaphysics Of The Hangman" are driven by chorus structures, and while this doesn't necessarily mean that the music will be worse, in The Ocean's case, it does. Mixed results on Rossetti's new vocals,some inconsistent writing, and a more accessible direction? Doesn't sound good, but the album is far from being poor, and still sports a good deal of strengths.

First among the positive aspects of "Heliocentric" is the lyrical content and concept. On an even calibre with "Anthropocentric" here, the lyrics generally revolve around the Church's resentment towards science, as well as to debunk Creationism (a theme further developed with the second part) and question the existence of a divine entity. While this will offend some Christian listeners surely, the lyrics are written quite tastefully, touching upon the subjects through a poetic, often metaphorical language that really becomes the highlight of the album. The Ocean's "Heliocentric" is certainly one of the weaker points of The Ocean's career, especially considering when the band has had such success with releasing absolutely phenomenal records. in the past. However, tracks like "Firmament" and "The Origin Of Species" and a few others provide a great listening experience typical of the band's output. While the album did not reach my expectations however, it would pave the way for "Anthropocentric", which is the real masterpiece to be spawned from this project.

With 2007's "Precambrian", The Ocean (also known as Ocean Collective) came out with a two disc concept epic concerning nothing less than the turbulent creation of the planet Earth. To follow up something so vast, 2010 witnessed the band now releasing two companion albums, each dealing with such topics as the creation of man, the idea of god, and religion. Suffice to say, The Ocean are never short of ambition in the projects they choose to take. While the critique of religion and faith is as ripe a concept as any for a metal album, "Heliocentric" did end up being a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, the second installment in this chapter of The Ocean turned out to be quite a return to power for the band. With "Anthropocentric", The Ocean releases one of their most potent efforts yet, with a concept and lyrical content as profound and fiery as the music it is driven by. When speaking of the sound of this album, there is definitely a more conventional melodic sense here (like "Heliocentric") than there used to be, in no small part due to the addition of new vocalist Loïc Rossetti, whose clean singing is featured quite prominently here. However, unlike "Heliocentric", very little of the heaviness and experimentation is relinquished, and there is a very good balance between the heavier vocals and lighter melodic singing. With many of the songs, the clean vocals make some pretty catchy and memorable hooks, but luckily don't feel superficial by doing so.

The title track leads off the album in full force; a nine minute episode of sludgy heaviness, mixed with rhythmic experimentation. While the track begins in a very typical, atonal style for The Ocean, the differences and developments start to be heard when the clean vocals come in, three and a half minutes into the album. In direct contrast to the brute growls, the vocals are often beautifully harmonized, although some of the more stylized singing of Loïc Rossetti can get a tad nasal at times. At least as far as the first track is concerned, the highlights reside in the beautiful mellower moments, where The Ocean gets to properly show their new grasp for great melodies. Another highlight of the album is the single-worthy "She Was The Universe", which is a memorable powerhouse from start to finish, despite being highly rhythmically irregular. Along with many of the songs here, the chorus is kept quite melodic. Other noteworthy songs include "The Grand Inquisitor III", which is the most 'out there' track on "Anthropocentric" - an electronic trip-hop acid tweak of an interlude- and "Wille zum Untergang", a very post-rockish track that showcases the band's more ethereal nature. The only song here that isn't excellent is "Sewers Of The Soul", which keeps a relatively up- tempo, rock vibe without showing the same compositional complexity and intricacy of the rest of the album.

Lyrically, the material here is bound to cause some controversy, especially among the more religiously-inclined listeners. As was true with "Heliocentric", "Anthropocentric" is a harsh, to- the-point critique of Christian fundamentalism and hypocrisy. Philosophical opinions aside, the subject matter is intregated well into a sort of intellectual and thought-provoking poetry that's sure to stir up some debate amongst metalheads. "Anthropocentric" may very well be a rival of "Precambrian" for The Ocean's greatest work to date. Despite having one or two songs that feel a bit less inspired than the rest, "Anthropocentric" is a true definition of the 'thinking man's metal'; highly complex and frenetic sludge metal, mixed with a truly ambitious scope. An interesting album, The Ocean's mastery of aesthetic and innovation is readily evident in spades.

Dec 24, 2018

SYRINX - Qualia (Aeon Records AEON02, 2009)

Syrinx is a side project of mainly guys from NIL: David Maurin on acoustic guitar, Benjamin Croizy on keyboards and Samuel Maurin on bass accomplished with Philippe Maullet on drums. The alliance took place already at 1999 when they decided to create music of new form. At first they remained anonymous: ''They work together to attain a common goal which bears the name of Syrinx: thus, the name and career of each musician are unimportant'' and they named the band as Syrinx: ''Syrinx normally designs a nymph from Greek mythology. This concept does not belong exclusively to this mythology. It not only existed before it, but it exists to this very day. Syrinx, then, is the origin of this music". According to the band, the form of their music is Metamorphic Music fulfilling three conditions: 1) It is constructed on rhythmical and melodic themes which develop, change, and metamorphose in a subtle way into other themes. Depending on the effects intended, this process is more or less perceived by the listener. If this metamorphic construction is elaborated correctly, it can lead to the two following consequences: 2) It induces a special interior state in the listener. In fact, all music influences our movements, our emotions and our will-power, whether we are conscious of this or not. Syrinx' music is precisely conceived in this sense to operate an internal transmutation, an interior metamorphosis of the listener. 3) In the place where it is played, it creates a sort of climate: it contains in itself all that is necessary to be able to catch on progressively in the physical area where it is propagated. After the music has stopped, it still impregnates the area. A sensitive person can feel this phenomenon, even if he or she were not present at the time of its diffusion.

What do you get when a fabulous acoustic guitarist meets up with a spectacular drummer ? Well, after nailing a mellotron-mad keyboardist (is there a more glorious sound than acoustic guitar and the mighty 'tron ?) and enlist a bass player with rolling fingers and you wind up with a French quartet named Syrinx. On their sophomore 2008 effort Qualia, the band expands their thematic instrumental only approach, calling it "Metamorphic Music", a textured canvas on which the musicians simply layer on details that delve deeply into incredible mutations, a clearly jazz-rock fusion that swerves into dense symphonics on a dime, the splendid David Maurin acoustic guitar in the spotlight. His likely brother Samuel Maurin supplies strenuous bass excursions, closer to Weidorje's Paganotti in that it's up- front and very center, like a musical spinal cord. Ivoryman Benjamin Croizy colors intensely with mostly the afore-mentioned mellotron but also tosses in some sparkling e-piano, rolling organ and somewhat metallic synthesizer ornamentations. The music is not far from fellow French acts Priam, Taal, Xang, Nebelnest and Nil (all three players save for the drummer were members of this legendary Annecy band) as well as obvious King Crimson tendencies (the mathematically precise bicycle acoustic guitar a la Fripp) , while drummer Phillipe Maullet could easily nail a Bill Bruford audition.

If you have any lingering doubts about my sanity, you need to protect yours upon feasting your ears on the opening masterpiece "Liber Nonacris", a nearly 20 minute python track that will slowly engulf you whole and digest you later! Tempestuous, at times veering toward insanity but somehow exceedingly controlled, or better yet, controlling, the delivery is breath- taking and audacious. This has to be one of the best epic instrumentals ever in progland. Fans of every stripe would find glee in the recipe, where blistering technique meets vaporous Gothicism. There are undeniable hints of eerie schizophrenia, emotional discomfort, obtuse irrationality and a yearning for some sort of salvation. Creepy, in a good way. The style can also morph into quasi-soundtrack-ish mode, as if the band was commissioned for some spectral horror movie, "Acheiropoietes" is a moody, somber and unforgiving canvas of sound. Led by a soprano saxophone that has no handcuffs, the piece at first is perhaps the jazziest here, very stop/start and stark. Cemetery anthem, binary for quite a while and then, BOOM the mellotron takes this into much more pleasant surroundings, lush and symphonic. A few simple drumstick moves and the mood becomes chaotic again. Like a crazed rat caught in a labyrinth, there I no possible escape, move forward at your peril or retreat into doom. All along the victorious bass keeps the acceleration gasping for air.

On the massive and over 14 minute long "Le Grand Dieu Pan", after a simmering piano intro where complacency and occasional cello eruption rule the day, the churning organ takes over leadership duties and, for all intended purposes, does not let go until the end, ably assisted by the wild guitar and manic drumming. Croizy then audaciously administers some synthesized fantasy, the bass burping along like some doped-up nurse, raising the angst to improbable levels of tension. Somber piano and grave flute combine to further the despondence. Pan is the Greek god of the shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, hunting and pastoral music, and companion of the nymphs, so its presence here is self- evident within the context of the song. Eventually, the arrangement is guided into a more symphonic complexion, the guitar and the bass getting very technical, the drums highly syncopated and poly-rhythmic. The piano returns majestically, with profound seriousness until they all explode on their instruments, Samuel in particular getting nasty on his four stringed monster. Just tremendous talent on display here, this is music you can enjoy as a whole or in part, following each instrument individually. Darn, I love that many options.

The brief five minutes finale is a wordplay on the "21st Circle" instead of century (hmm, never thought of that) but in fact, just a mellotron-infested ditty with great intensity and a strange growling slash (that devilish bass and effects) , David delivering a supersonic acoustic foray that would make Andres Segovia proud and Maullet pounding his heart out. The King Crimson influences are loving and overt but that jazzy craziness is just to expunge over. Tremendous listening experience. Gorgeous artwork. A classic.

CURRENT 93 - Baalstorm, Sing Omega (Coptic Cat ‎Records NIFE 010V, 2010)

Current 93 is a longstanding project of musician and artist David Michael Bunting (also known as David Tibet, or simply Tibet), a loose collective who record and perform an eclectic brand of music that has roots in folk but employs sounds that range from metal to post-rock to industrial to neofolk, with nuanced sounds that encompass everything in between. Founder member David Tibet has been the only constant presence in the band since their inception and his lyrical themes and subject matter encompass a wide variety of esoteric interests including: Christian eschatology, Aleister Crowley (from whom he took the band's name), Christian mysticism, Tibetan Buddhism, the iconography of the swastika and various occult left hand path traditions.

The group's direction is primarily guided by Tibet, but the group has close ties to many other groups including the avant band Nurse With Wound (Steven Stapleton has recorded and toured extensively with both bands), as well as Death In June, whose leader Douglas Pearce regularly appears with band. Other bands associated with the group include Sol Invictus, Coil, Crass, Höh and Fire And Ice. Tibet's prolific body of work has attracted significant attention from musicians of all genres over the years, and the band's album include appearances from an very broad range of artists from the folk singer Shirley Collins to Nick Cave to Marc Almond to the porn star Sasha Grey.

"Baalstorm, Sing Omega" is the 3rd in a series of albums by Current 93 and the only original member, David Tibet. The series deal with Tibet's revelations. Where many of Current 93's albums seem to have been adding more electric guitar, this album strips things back to the basics using more folk style instruments and sounds that are influenced by Middle Eastern sounds. Even with a more stripped back sound though, this album is still very dark and apocalyptic. "I Dreamt I Was Aeon" starts of with a piano solo and a dreamy organ starts swirling around. Tibet's chanting/singing vocals have a mysterious air to them. Strings soon join in, replacing the piano, violin and cello. The vocals can be a little annoying if you aren't used to them, especially when they aren't covered up by other layers of sound. They will grow on you, and seem very appropriate to the style of music. The feel and sound of the track remains consistent throughout.

"With Flowers in the Garden of Fires" introduces percussion, ord and a middle eastern flair. For the most part, the vocal melody consists of two notes with a little bit of variation, and continues that chanting/singing combination. "December 1971" is driven by the strings with Tibet's more gravelly vocals. Throughout the tracks, you will have noticed a child's sing-song voice in the background appearing from time to time. The vocals are quite expressive here, and in this case, have an avant-prog style to them, as the vocal melody acts as a dissonant counterpoint to the stings accompaniment. Tibet's voice is becoming more of a singing/speaking tone as he narrates in "Baalstorm! Baalstorm!" The melody here is more of a improvisation utilizing notes to express and emphasize words. This is all accompanied by a drone and a piano, with some guitar electronic accompaniment providing minimalistic texture. Intensity builds more in Tibet's voice than in the actual accompaniment as he becomes more frantic. The heaviness of the vocals here can make this track a little hard to listen to, but you can also get lost in the lyrics, as they are quite important to this track.

In contrast to this, the next track, "Passenger Aleph in Name" is not frantic, but more peaceful. A glockenspiel calms the overall atmosphere of the album with Tibet in a calmer and more melodic vocal. An acoustic guitar also adds to the melodic sound of this track. "Tanks of Flies" continues with the calm atmosphere invoked from the previous track. Tibet continues with a very melodic track here. The ord is quite apparent in this track and a plucked riff combined by acoustic guitar keeps the feel calm and serene. "The Nudes Lift Shields for War" features the glockenspiel again, and it provides more of a direction for this track. Acoustic guitar also accompanies Tibet's storytelling lyrics. We return to that narrating/singing style again here, with Tibet using inflection and emphasis where needed with higher notes and dynamics in his improvised singing. Intensity builds somewhat here, but the glockenspiel keeps the track anchored. "Night! Death! Storm! Omega!" utilizes a folkish drumming pattern and a more chaotic approach in the vocals, accompanied by the ord. This one is has a distinct mid-east feel. Vocals fade in and out on this one and they are layered with different lyrics providing counterpoint and giving that chaotic feel. Again children's voices shout out in different places.

"I Dance Narcoleptic" is the final track and also the longest track at over 10 minutes. It starts out with spoken vocals by Tibet and electronic textures. This track is very dramatic, with inflection used more than melody and children's voices shouting out throughout. Sounds of waves, storms and etc accompany throughout. Again, we get that Avant-folk feel here as it has a distinct improvised feeling, becoming more frantic and dramatic as the intensity builds as the track continues. Sounds, instruments and textures swirl and increase in volume along with Tibet's expressive narration. It's easy to let yourself get caught up in the intensity of this track. At 5:45, all sounds suddenly drop off and there is mostly silence until the 9 minute mark when the sound of waves fade in and Tibet sings a nice melody accompanied by acoustic guitar and the waves almost drowning him out.

This is a very dramatic and expressive album from Tibet and Co. Yes his narration/singing might be harsh to some people, but it is evident that it is exactly the feeling needed for this album. A good part of the album is far from the traditional rock music experience meaning that it has that authentic folk sound all the way through, but even this varies as Tibet's compositions approach an artsy feel that at times make you think you are listening to avant-folk-prog. The only complaint I have is that there are so many lyrics, that they tend to get tedious after a while, even with the inflection used in Tibet's vocals, and that can make the entire album hard to listen to. But other than that, this is an excellent example of Neo-folk Prog. Just be ready for some interesting moods and textures with this one.

Dec 23, 2018

THE FRANKIE MILLER BAND - The Rock (Chrysalis Records CHR 1088, 1975)

Unlike his first two albums Frankie Miller’s third album “The Rock” featured his own backing band so was marketed as being by The Frankie Miller Band rather than as a solo release. Recorded in sight of the famous Alcatraz prison during the first half of 1975 it still contains certain elements of those first two albums “Once In A Blue Moon” and “Highlife”. It is testament to Miller’s skill as a songwriter and vocalist that the basic pub rock of that opening album, the laid back New Orleans soul of “Highlife” and the country tinged rock and blues of The Frankie Miller Band all blend together so seamlessly on “The Rock”. The band itself featured Henry McCullough on guitar, Chrissy Stewart on bass, Mick Weaver on the keyboards and Stu Perry on the drums. All of whom already had illustrious CV’s to their name. The “Highlife” style soul feel was provided by no less a talent than The Memphis Horns and the Edwin Hawkins Singers of ‘Oh Happy Day’ fame. Add to that a backing vocal appearance by James Dewar vocalist with Robin Trower and it is no wonder “The Rock” is such a solid and consistent effort. The production duties were handled by Elliot Mazer who had been involved in the recording of Neil Young’s “Harvest” a few years previously. As he had been with the previous years album “Highlife” Miller was critical of the final mix and production sound, feeling that it lacked the real live feel that he desired. 

A couple of years earlier Miller and former Free bassist and songwriter Andy Fraser had attempted to put a band together but despite spending several months in the studio they never managed to get anything solid going. What they did achieve though was to form a lifelong friendship and a great song writing partnership. ‘A Fool In Love’ was one of the tracks that came from those sessions and that gets “The Rock” off to an explosive start. Miller’s vocal kicks in virtually as the track begins and the gritty delivery is reminiscent of the first album whilst the horns and backing vocals are more akin to something from the second album. The influence of Fraser gives the song a real feeling of being a band song rather than that of a solo performer and also adds a commercial flavour showing that he was never the junior partner in the main song writing team with Paul Rodgers in Free. It provided Miller with his first considerable success in America and was later covered by Delbert McClinton, Etta James and UK rockers UFO to name but three. Second track ‘The Heartbreak’ is a slower struttier track with a good mix of rock, blues and soul feeling in both the vocal and the musical backing. The piano underneath the vocal drives the song along nicely and a decent guitar and organ solo along with some typically classy horn work all blend together to make it a real stand out track. It is almost a precursor to Miller’s rockier albums of the eighties. 

The title track is next up and gets the toe tapping straight away with its country rock flavoured tinge. A twangy guitar, some bar room boogie woogie piano and gospel backing vocals all compliment Miller’s easy vocal and it really should have provided him with his first major hit. The song itself was inspired by the sight of Alcatraz from the recording studio and Miller’s belief that were it not for music he would probably have ended up in somewhere similar. Subsequently the album was dedicated to the plight of prisoners. The Frankie Miller Band actually played a gig in promotion of the album at San Quentin jail where Johnny Cash recorded his famous live album. The second of the tracks resurrected from the Rumbledown Band sessions with Andy Fraser ‘I Know Why The Sun Don’t Shine’ slows things down considerably. A gradually building brooding blues it is a little slower and more of a stripped back basic blues than the original Rumbledown Band recording which featured Paul Kossoff on guitar and eventually surfaced on the Paul Kossoff compilation album “Blue Soul” in the mid eighties. Although Henry McCullough is a fine guitarist and puts in a typically classy performance it is difficult not to prefer the faster and more soulful Rumbledown Band version with Kossoff. 

The first half of the album ends with ‘Hard On The Levee’ which despite being one of the lesser cuts on the album is still a mighty fine piece of work. It was an integral part of the live set and gives a clear indication of the direction Miller would go in with his next album “Full House”. One of Miller’s most loved, and most covered, songs ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ gets the second half of the album off to the same high standard as the first. A live favourite it is classic Miller and has claims to be the best bar room stomp track of all time. The song has a no frills fast paced approach with some more great boogie woogie piano, frenetic drumming, another tasteful solo and even a bit of cowbell unless I am very much mistaken. Throw on top of that a dirty gritty Miller vocal and you have something which is impossible to fault. The track has been covered by such diverse acts as  Chris Farlowe, Bob Seger and Cher. Having never heard the Cher version I can’t comment on it but I would assume there were a few lyrical changes. The Seger version is pretty true to the original albeit with more of an American country feel. Segar is often compared to Miller stateside and openly cites Miller as a huge influence. 

‘All My Love To You’ displays Miller’s more soulful side and is very Otis Redding/Arthur Conley like vocally. A Miller composition it has the feel of an old time soul track and it is not difficult to imagine it being belted out by those soul greats Miller admired so much. The Memphis Horns give the whole thing a great authenticity and Miller’s vocal is as good as any of those he admired. Things quicken up again for ‘I’m Old Enough’ which features a typically well thought out Miller lyric over a bouncy fast paced rock beat. Some simple but effective guitar and more classy ivory tinkling add to the track nicely and the whole thing has a great sing-along feel. As with the earlier faster tracks Miller’s vocal is full of grit and attitude. An edited version was released as a single but failed to trouble the judges although that didn’t stop the French Elvis, Johnny Halladay, trying with his own version. The final two tracks of the album take us back to Miller’s roots in Scotland. ‘Bridgeton’ is named after the area of Glasgow he came from and is another slower brooding track which builds nicely and tells the tale of Miller’s days there. The guitar has a dobro or even steel feel in places and there is even something which sounds uncannily like bagpipes although there is no suggestion of either in the sleeve notes so I am guessing it must be an organ effect. Whether that is the case or not the more obvious organ work is one of the highlights., as is the very sing able vocal melody.

The title of the final track ‘Drunken Nights in The City’ is pretty explanatory and tells the tale of Miller’s nights of heavy drinking with Celtic footballer Jimmy Johnstone. Miller is an avid Celtic fan and often wore a Celtic shirt on stage. The track itself is a simple vocal over an acoustic guitar. On live performances Miller would often play the song alone and the guitar playing here sounds like it is Miller rather than McCullough. The vocal also has a feel of being recorded after a decent amount of alcohol had been consumed. This gives it a very authentic feel and is either a great display of vocal acting by Miller or totally authentic. Having seen a few live shows my money would be on the latter. Despite being released to critical acclaim ‘The Rock’ like its predecessors failed to shift a huge number of units but the American tour to promote the album was a huge success and they regularly went down better than the acts they opened for. A UK tour with Rory Gallagher was not as successful though as guitarist McCullough was pre-occupied with recording his solo album and eventually the band began to fall apart. A disconsolate Miller went off to Holland to sing with old mates Procul Harum. 

For me “The Rock” is the album where the final pieces of the Frankie Miller sound and style came together. The basic pub rock elements of the first album and the smooth laid back vibe of the Toussaint collaboration are both evident throughout but have now been married together with a bluesy soulful band feel and a smidgeon of American country commerciality. This was very much the blueprint for his next venture “Frankie Miller’s Full House”, a band which encompassed the sound and styles of his first three albums into one tight unit and finally delivered the chart success he deserved.

Dec 19, 2018

EUCLID - Heavy Equipment (Amsterdam Records AMS-12005, 1970)

Euclid's one and only album is among the very best of the late 1960's - early 1970's heavy rock albums of all time. Based out of Haverhill, Massachusetts, the musicians themselves come from a diverse New England garage & psych-rock background. Bassist Harold Perino Jr. (aka "Maris"), came from The Ones, a central Mass. garage band who also had a rare garage LP on the Ashwood House label. The other members were from southern Maine. Garage rockers Gary Leavitt on lead vocals & guitar, and his brother Jay Leavitt on drums were in the Cobras together. Ralph Mazzota from the psych-tinged Maine group Lazy Smoke is outright dazzling on blistering lead guitar. 

Pedigree aside, this is a powerful and inventive psychedelic heavy rock album that stands on its own as a great work. Euclid was signed to Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman Records subsidiary label, Amsterdam Records, distributed by Mainstream Records, and was one of the few, if not only "rock" releases on either label (a notable exception being the rare Minx soundtrack by The Cyrkle). With its tremendous rumbling in-your-face riffing fuzz guitars; screaming solos, backwards bits, thick fuzz bass, pounding drums and oddly-effected vocals, the album, produced by the legendary Bobby Herne, with finishing touches to the mix by Les Paul, Jr; stands proudly with one foot in the 1960s & one in the 1970s, crafting their sound with a heavy-handed metallic attitude. 

One of the coolest things about this album is the overall evidence of the various background influences brought in by each of the group members. In Euclid, you get the very best of it all. You have the raw & ferocious high energy garage element mixed with a very clear and real psychedelic conviction of the drug saturated times. These characteristics combined with a new heavy/hard rock discipline & focus, resulted in one of the best early heavy rock albums ever recorded in the United States. The combined members' various instrumental contributions are equally matched by their amazingly supportive crystalline four-vocal harmonies. The background vocal quality is quite effectively offset by the lead vocals "take no prisoners" brutal male vocal styling. Bobby Herne's production on this record, with lots of twists & turns, is absolutely top notch and gives the music its deep unstoppable heavy forward momentum. The first track is a real winner, clocking in at over 11 minutes, blasting forth with super heavy monster riffs. 

There's also hints of an eastern psych groove with cool sitar playing, and their version of "Gimme Some Lovin'" sounds as if it were done by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. With their old friend Bobby Herne in the producer's chair (he also produced The Shaggs "Philosophy Of The World" LP), they create a "bad trip" spiked with backwards tape effects, darkly-phased vocals, all instruments set from overkill to "pummel", and an album title certainly eligible for the 'truth-in-advertising' award with its 'earth moving' characteristics. Their original songs are incredibly inventive with lots of twists and turns. The album itself stands as a perfect monument which musically represents the transition from hard heavy psych to hard heavy rock. This is an LP you'll play over & over, and never get tired of! In short, the group Euclid was one of the true "unsung" cornerstones that really helped pave the way for the up and coming US hard rock movement. This is an LP you'll play over & over and never get tired of it!  

Gary Leavitt, Bobby Hearne, and Maris have all passed on due to various circumstances over the years. Gary Leavitt was killed in a 1975 motorcycle accident, which effectively ended the band, who were a popular live attraction in the Northeast up until then. Jay Leavitt still performs occasionally with his group Bluezberry Jam in the Maine area. The Leavitt brothers along with Bobby Herne, first appeared together in 1966 as the Cobras, releasing the New England garage classic "I Wanna Be Your Love" bw/ "Instant Heartache" on the Big Beat label, one of the most incredible and out of control garage 45's ever recorded.

Dec 17, 2018

DONOVAN - What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid
(Marble Arch Records MAL 795, 1969)

The line between intertext and plagiarism is a witchy, winding road. Where one ends and the other begins is inherently confused and cluttered, pockmarked with varying degrees of interpretation and ensuing condemnation. Music presents a most difficult testing ground when seeking to clarify a distinction between theft and inspiration. To mark clearly the blurred, skewed and dimly lit border of ownership and originality is near impossible. With this in mind, I give you Donovan. "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" or "Catch the Wind" (depending on where you hail from) is the 1965 debut album of British folk singer Donovan. Light on the ears and entirely enjoyable, I’m not actually going to say all that much about the album, except that there is something familiar about it,  instantly familiar, and it is precisely this familiarity that has made the album as infamous as it is famous.

Heralded by many denouncers as the key piece of evidence in dubbing Donovan as nothing more than Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan, a cheap knock off or folk music’s incarnation of The Monkeys; endless interrogation has left the album scarred and the artist - branded by many Dylan fans - a charlatan. I get that branding. I really do, but I feel that there is more to Donovan and less to the comparison than those at the pulpit of musical conspiracy would have you believe. Much of the hype that fuels such detraction is based on Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of Britain, and the subsequent documentation of that tour contained in D.A Pennebaker’s film, Don't Look Back. The film helps to highlight the obsession in the British press for creating trans-Atlantic music rivalries, like that of Dylan and Donovan or The Byrds and The Beatles. Donovan, in an odd twist of fate, actually came to the defence of The Byrds after New Musical Express trashed their London shows because they supposedly didn't live up to the manufactured hype of being America’s answer to the Beatles.

What makes it into Pennebaker’s film, besides Dylan light heartedly mocking the press’s obsession with Donovan, is their first meeting at The Savoy Hotel. The atmosphere that the film conjures is hard to pinpoint, but seems to be one of mutual regard, between a visibly nervous Donovan and a characteristically distracted and hard to read Dylan. Donovan plays "To Sing for You" before Dylan responds with a stirring rendition of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". Pennebaker insists the broader scene involved Dylan condemning an unknown Donovan song called "My Darling Tangerine Eyes" for blatantly plagiarising his "Mr. Tambourine Man" chord structure, saying, "Well, you know, that tune. I have to admit that I haven't written all the tunes I'm credited with, but that happens to be one that I did write!"

What makes the assertion by Pennebaker so interesting is the fact that Dylan refused to allow this scene to be included in the final cut of the film. If the embarrassment of Donovan by Dylan did occur, perhaps Dylan didn’t want the world to see it. There is a barely audible moment in the film that might explain why, and possibly why "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" has so many moments of structural similarity to Dylan's work: as Donovan begins strumming the guitar, Dylan excitedly remarks, "He plays like Jack, man!" referring almost certainly to the great Ramblin' Jack Elliot.

Ramblin’ Jack is worthy of more space than I’m going to allow him in this brief synopsis, but his part in Donovan’s story is worth mentioning, if only briefly. Ramblin' Jack is inexorably linked to Woody Guthrie, a hero of Dylan’s and an icon in folk music, who has only really ever been eclipsed by Dylan himself. Ramblin' Jack was a student come friend of Guthrie’s and became a master of his songs and playing style. He is said to have later taught an Englishman that fingerpicking style while performing in Paris in the early 1960's. That Englishman’s name: Mick Softley. Softley then met Donovan after returning to the UK and, while working together, Donovan acquired a new style of picking in order to perform a song by Softley called: "Gold Watch Blues". So, Donovan learned his style from a student of Ramblin’ Jack, who was first a student of Guthrie’s, who was Dylan’s hero. Inspiration rather than direct imitation seems a bit more tangible regarding Donovan’s work when armed with these facts.

With all this in mind, the fact remains that "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" is incredibly reminiscent of Dylan’s work and the structure of some of his tracks; however, this doesn’t condemn it to be labelled a knock-off. Just as some of Dylan’s early work is reminiscent of Guthrie’s, so is Donovan's of Dylan's. "Catch the Wind" no more plagiarises "Chimes of Freedom" than "Bear Mountain Picnic" does Guthrie’s "Talking Sailor" - inspired no doubt, but more than able to hold their own as unique tracks. My personal Vinyl version of the recording is a re-issue from 1969. Originally the first Donovan album had been released on Pye Records way back in 1965.

For those who still aren’t convinced, Donovan's later work digresses into a musical realm all its own, blending a uniquely eclectic psychedelic fusion - and pairing with some artists that went on to create a little known band called The New Yardbirds - but that's for a later article. For now I'd throw on "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" and revel in the work of a man who, in a back room of London’s Savoy Hotel, got Bob Dylan to say: "Hey - that’s a good song, man!"

Nov 30, 2018

THE SEEDS - The Seeds (GNP Crescendo Records GNP 2023, 1966)

The debut album by The Seeds was indeed an audacious and brutal missive from a band of sneering reprobates with the merest of musical proficiencies but with unlimited punk attitude. At least, that’s how it must have seemed when The Seeds was released in June 1966. The world had already been introduced to Sky Saxon, Daryl Hooper, Jan Savage, and Rick Andridge on the group’s three singles, but this was an entire LP, and it didn’t let up from start to finish. The fact that they were actually nice, regular guys (generally speaking) was hard to tell amidst the demented clamor rising from the LP’s grooves. The music on "The Seeds" has its roots in the primitive garage sounds of bands like The Kinks but it’s further out there than anything else of the time. On this debut album, Sky Saxon and his gang tear through a collection of simple tunes at warp speed, doggedly recycling a limited repertoire of musical ideas and skills. What makes it hold up to repeated listens is the band’s sheer conviction. Every note is bursting with breathless emotion, technical proficiency be damned. In fact, the three instrumentalists, especially keyboardist Daryl Hooper, were quite adept at their instruments but the music of The Seeds did not call for clever tricks or complicated arrangements.

Resolutely sticking to its simplistic script, The Seeds commands attention. The music is simple: drums and electric guitar, with Hooper’s organ dominating. The intricacies of The Beatles aren’t to be found here. Much of the appeal is in Sky Saxon’s unusual voice, a nasal sneer to end all nasal sneers. Sky, aged 29, was so far ahead of his time that the world would take at least ten years to catch up. He spits out his boneheaded teen-angst lyrics, interspersing them with various grunts, howls and wails. The Seeds contains several engaging new ideas: ghostly proto-psych on "Can’t Seem To Make You Mine" and "Try To Understand"; fearsome voodoo punk on "Evil Hoodoo"; rambunctious defiance on "No Escape" and "Pushin’ Too Hard". The album suggests some of the avenues that the band would explore on its subsequent albums like "A Web Of Sound" and "Future". There is virtually no studio trickery or advanced musical theory applied to this album; while managing to avoid monotony, you can’t really say that it’s sophisticated. Which is kind of the point; there’s gold in the dirty ditches of the record’s dingy landscape. Aptly-named guitarist Jan Savage has few tricks up his sleeve; his short, simple guitar figures get their power from their economy, their magical and precise placement. Just a couple notes here and there add much to the structure of the music.

Similarly, Daryl Hooper sprinkles a few notes around when necessary, and it is his mid-60s sound that give many of the songs their soft, curious underbelly. Drummer Rick Andridge keeps the beat without a lot of clever fills. At times, different second guitarists would join The Seeds in the studio, including Russ Serpent; bass guitar (miscredited to Sky) was played by other guests, including Harvey Sharpe. ("Fallin' In Love" and "Evil Hoodoo" do not feature Andridge; an alternate drummer whose name is lost to history handles the duties on these two songs). All in all, with nothing but a couple pieces of warped lumber and a few ten-penny nails, The Seeds build a majestic garage-punk monstrosity of a skyscraper on their debut album. Sky Saxon’s lyrics on "The Seeds" are perhaps best left unmentioned. They seem as if they were written in about ten minutes, that’s for the whole album, and consist mostly of standard circa 1965 pop music clichés. 'Sky’s lyrics were infected by a wondrous charm', as a 2008 press release charitably worded it. Several of the songs include the phrase 'night and day'. Sky Saxon always needs your love both night and day and he’d never tire of urgently telling you. Of course, at the end of the day the lyrics really don’t matter on "The Seeds" anyway; it’s Sky’s glorious buzzsaw voice and the effusive wackiness of the music that spins your head around on each listen.

"Can’t Seem To Make You Mine" is slow and warbly, and this is the recording that the new band made at its very first session in April 1965 and which became their first single. Every member of The Seeds shines on this track, the musicians contributing admirably interlocking parts (especially Hooper’s groovy organ and Savage’s queasy answering guitar figures). Sky squawks and grunts and sighs through his aggrieved lyrics. This is "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction", played at half speed but no less frustrated. "No Escape" is a peppy two-chord party music, led by Daryl’s relentlessly chirping organ notes. Sky breathlessly cries for freedom, audaciously slipping frequently into something like a stoned, sandy southern drawl ("nowhere to RAWN, nowhere to HAD"). The band’s bellowed backing vocals are great, and give the song its unified gang feel. In "Lose Your Mind", Sky growls compellingly over a harsh Bo Diddley beat that’s punctuated on every beat by Daryl’s keyboard tones and a scuzzy harmonica solo. Nobody sounded more garage-y than this. ("Lose Your Mind" has been excised from some CD re-releases of "The Seeds", notably single discs that pair the band’s first two albums. If buying this album make sure it includes this track).

The following "Evil Hoodoo" might be arguably the most audacious song on "The Seeds". This repetitive, brutal five-minute slab of heavy metal garage mythmaking is great. Sky is wearing his most powerful rattlesnake necktie but remains vulnerable to a witchy woman and her wicked spells. Incessant 'whooooah' backing vocals, and the sustained insanity of the performance (edited down from fourteen minutes, as was the plan all along), contribute to the head-spinning atmosphere of this incandescent classic. Punk and psychedelia begin right here. "Girl I Want You", led by a fuzzy, electronically-enhanced keyboard and guitar figure, retains the sneering punk of the rest of the album but is one of its more melodic moments. Kind of like "Evil Hoodoo" after Sky has submitted to the woman and all seems well. Absolutely chaotic, but happy. Then comes "Pushin’ Too Hard". The big song, which would be The Seeds' only Top 40 hit and would help define the band for decades. Not unfairly, either: everything seems to come together on this magic performance, with its razor guitar, soft keyboards like a dark pillow, reliably exasperated Sky (who scribbled the words after an actual argument with a girlfriend), and just the right length and accessible production values for a wider appeal.

The following "Try To Understand": Released as an unsuccessful single in its own right before gaining legendary status as the B-side of "Pushin' Too Hard", this is like a fast version of "Can’t Seem To Make You Mine", with a to-die-for chorus and amazingly focused playing. That this song wasn’t a major hit in its own right is not an indictment of The Seeds nor of GNP Crescendo, but the record-buying public. This song is every inch the equal of "Pushin' Too Hard". Another statement of intent from Sky and The Seeds, full of raunchy guitar, queasy keyboard and guitar touches is the song "Nobody Spoil My Fun", and a scandalized Sky wondering why people always want to spoil your fun. Mid-tempo, echo'y bleariness to let you come down a little from the two sweaty classics that preceded it. "It’s A Hard Life" is a fast-paced, jittery punk with some inventive guitar weirdness and Sky calling for backup from the rest of the band who vocally support him with a throaty "Yeah!" in the song’s opening seconds. Jan hits his guitar strings with a physical ferociousness not heard in rock before on this track’s more manic sections.

"You Can’t Be Trusted": An adventurous structure finds the band soaring high and swooping low in between dramatic stops and gritty keyboard solos. Sky addresses yet another misbehaving woman, but this isn’t the warning of "Pushin' Too Hard", it’s a gleeful brush-off for good. The shortest song on The Seeds, which is saying something. A quick I-IV-V blues-style tune with some nice guitar touches and trilling keyboard part can be heard in "Excused Excused". Sky, who (guess what) "needs your love both night and day" objects to the fact that the girl only wants to be around him when things are good; when he’s down and really needs her, she just comes up with reasons that she can’t come around. He doesn’t even want her as a friend, not as hateful as "You Can’t Be Trusted" but close. The closing of the album marks the track "Fallin’ In Love". Recorded at the same session (without Rick Andridge) as "Evil Hoodoo", the album closer is a broad, good-timey performance that finds Sky, uncharacteristically, more subdued and conventional (despite his curious references to 'a purple cloud'). Hooper offers one of his more complex keyboard solos on the album, and "The Seeds" ends on a song that acts nicely as a cap to the madness that came before.


Nov 29, 2018

ANDY ROBERTS - Urban Cowboy (Elektra Records K42139, 1973)

Born in Hatchend, London, in 1947, Andy Robert’s father was a devotee of Music Hall comedy and his mum an afficionado of classical music. Both involved Andy in their enthusiasms from a young age and consequently, from formative exposure to slapstick and symphony concerts, Andy took up the violin at nine (taking lessons for nine years) and simultaneously dived into the skiffle boom that was sweeping Britain in the late 50s, owning his first guitar circa 1959. He got a music scholarship to a public school in Essex, he explained, in an extensive interview with Ptolomaic Terrascope in 1992. When Roberts went there, there was already a band called Flash Sid Fanshawe & The Icebergs. This was in 1959. They’d got guitars which they’d made in the school workshops and played very simple stuff which he thought sounded fantastic. By the time Andy Roberts left the school there was half a dozen quite good bands there. You could plug in and just make as much racket as you wanted. Andy’s school band, foreshadowing his long involvement with the wacky and the surreal, was known to its friends as Monarch T. Bisk & The Cherry Pinwheel Shortcakes, or, at least, would have been but nobody could remember it all. The band went through several stages, from a Shadows sound to Chicago Rhythm'n'Blues, but he never thought of doing it for a living.

It was becoming embroiled in providing live music for a revue, written by a Shortcakes’ associate, at the 1965 Edinburgh Festival which led to the real beginnings of Andy’s path as a professional musician. The show ran for two weeks at the Traverse Theatre, and one of the acts following the play was Vivian Stanshall, who had recently formed the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, doing mime, playing the tuba and generally camping around. The theatre was also playing host to The Scaffold, a Liverpool comedy troupe comprising Roger McGough, John Gorman and Mike McGear (ne McCartney, Paul’s brother). Andy was really impressed with their show, and by a bunch of poets,  including Adrian Henri, playing the venue during afternoons. Many strands of Andy’s career over the next decade and beyond would be interwoven with all of the above, all focused on this one venue in August 1965. Andy returned to London and accepted an offer to study law at Liverpool University, almost immediately bumping into Roger McGough at a bookshop as soon as he got there. The ‘jazz and poetry’ movement was at its peak, and Roger invited Andy to dive in: "February 1966 was the first time I did a thing with him and Adrian Henri, at the Bluecoat Theatre in Liverpool. It just took off from there. Within a couple of months I was doing poetry events at The Cavern and playing with a band at the University. There was loads going on".

Soon, on the back of a 1967 poetry anthology entitled The Liverpool Scene, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Andy, along with jazz saxophonist Mike Evans and songwriter and guitarist Mike Hart, were taking bookings as ‘The Liverpool Scene Poets’ Andy was also recording with McGough’s music and comedy outfit The Scaffold, on a series of singles which included their breakthrough hits "Thank U Very Much" and "Lily The Pink". Roger consequently had to drop out of the poetry gigs, leaving Andy to suggest to the charismatic Adrian Henri that all they needed was a bassist and drummer to become a bona fide band. Percy Jones and Bryan Dodson (later replaced by Pete Clarke) filled those roles respectively and The Liverpool Scene was born. An album for CBS had already been recorded, prior to the band’s formation, called The Incredible New Liverpool Scene, basically Andy accompanying Adrian Henri and Roger McGough, recorded over a couple of hours in Denmark Street, London. BBC Radio’s champion of the underground John Peel took a shine to it and regularly booked the now fully-fledged band (or, as a duo, Roberts & Henri) for his show and for his own live engagements. He also nominally produced their first full-band album, "Amazing Adventures Of" (RCA, 1968), in a recording deal secured by their new manager Sandy Roberton, a key figure in the careers of many now legendary acts at the progressive ends of folk and rock music of the time.

In 1968 Andy graduated in Law, having somehow found a way through a degree course in between singles with The Scaffold, concerts with the Scene and helping out on the Scaffold spin-off LP "McGough & McGear", the other guitarist being Jimi Hendrix and the producer Paul McCartney. "I wasn’t professional at the time" says Andy, "but I was doing jobs that many professionals would have envied. I’d get calls to do a bit of recording in London, and I’d stay at Paul McCartney’s house, walk up and ring the doorbell and there’d be 85 girls hanging around outside. I didn’t even think twice about it. But 1968 was really when the working life started". The following year saw the Liverpool Scene at their peak, delivering their second album "Bread On The Night", touring the UK on a three act bill with Led Zeppelin and Blodwyn Pig, playing to 150'000 at the Isle of Wight Festival (on the day of Bob Dylan’s much-heralded comeback performance) and touring America for a gruelling, and revelatory three months. "Absolute disaster" is Andy’s verdict on the tour. "We suddenly came up against the utter reality of it. With a British audience, given this poetry and a band that were never rehearsed, we got away with it through being so different and through our verve and irreverence. None of which worked in America".

The American experience would nevertheless inspire the band’s best work, the lengthy "Made In USA" suite, one side of their last LP proper, "St Adrian Co, Broadway And 3rd" (1970) and which would filter into Andy’s own work for the next few years. It also forced him to re-examine his own direction: "Before America I was stupid enough to still think I could be Jimi Hendrix. I wanted to be a star. You do when you’re young, you don’t realise that everybody has their role, and that wasn’t mine". Andy still recalls some sage advice he received around this time from folk-baroque guitar hero Davy Graham: "You only person you should be in competition with today is yourself yesterday". The first Andy Roberts album, "Home Grown", was recorded in late 1969, and built upon the quirky solo tracks he had to date peppered among the jazz/poetry workouts on Liverpool Scene albums and radio sessions. "The Raven", featured on 1968’s "Bread On The Night" and heard here in a superior unreleased version from 1969, was one such; "Home Grown" itself was another. Those two tracks conveniently represent the poles of Andy’s writing: the profound and the purely comedic. Making these parameters sit well together on one piece of vinyl was the question which would quickly colour Andy’s own view of the album or, at least, in its original form, as released by RCA (under a production deal with Sandy Roberton) in March 1970.

Infinitely listenable and beautifully arranged, with excellent guitar work from Andy. A lovely, peaceful album. That was Disc’s judgement on this mesmerising and atmospheric rough-hewn debut, on which Andy was backed on some tracks by the rhythm section from Mighty Baby (another of Sandy Roberton’s charges), with brass arrangements from future Jethro Tull man David Palmer. An eclectic album, punctuated with brief bursts of violin and organ noodling, the key tracks included the ragtime/country flavoured comedic songs like "Home Grown" and "Gig Song", the impressionistically autobiographical "Moths And Lizards In Detroit" (first of the "American" songs) and "Queen Of The Moonlight World" (inspired by a visit to London Zoo), and the altogether gothic "Applecross", inspired by a weekend in a village of that name in north-west Scotland. The spooky vibe was continued on the traditional "John The Revelator" and a funky cover of Spider John Koerner’s "Creepy John". Andy performed several items from "Home Grown" on John Peel’s Top Gear radio show, plus the driving non-album track "You’re A Machine", on which he was again backed by Mighty Baby. A previously unreleased rehearsal of the track, recorded shortly before the BBC session.

The Liverpool Scene finally split, onstage at a London gig, in May 1970. In Andy’s recollection ("Adrian attacking Mike Evans with a mike stand") it had been building up for a while. Soon after, Andy crashed a motorcycle and was out of action for a couple of months, but recovered well enough by July to accompany Adrian, along with Dave Richards on bass, Alan Peters on trumpet and John Pearson on drums, to Norway for a couple of gigs booked as the Liverpool Scene. The trip would inspire Andy’s "Sitting On A Rock". Regrouping with Adrian had been Andy’s hope, but it wasn’t to be. Despite the Scene’s perceived success, as Andy explained to Record Mirror, "nobody really made any more than about £20 a week. I was going to form a band with Adrian after the Scene split, but he backed out. You’ve got to remember, he’s 39 and £20 with the Scene wasn’t much". As Adrian went on towards becoming, in tandem with his poetry, a well-regarded visual artist and college lecturer, Andy pressed ahead with his new band, now titled Everyone. Retaining Richards and Pearson from the Norway trip, he added John Porter, on guitar, and took Porter’s recommendation to bring in Bob Sargent on keyboards which, he now says, was probably the worst of several moves.

Nevertheless, the picture that emerged from the band’s debut music press feature, in Disc, September 19, 1970, was one of a bunch of happy campers, ready to take on the world. Having played one gig, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, no less, and on the cusp of their debut album, Andy declared, "We’ve reached the stage now where we’re over-rehearsed and under-performed". In retrospect, he prefers to sum up the period with a rejoinder worthy of Spinal Tap: "Rented a house near Stonehenge; took lots of drugs; didn’t rehearse enough". The resulting album, Everyone, released in January 1971, while well-recorded was, in Andy’s view, "frankly, a bit of a mess, there was Bob’s stuff and my stuff and it didn’t really meet in the middle". The album included four songs fronted by Andy: another Koerner cover, "Midnight Shift", and a beautiful trio of originals in "Don’t Get Me Wrong" (a reflection on recent US student uprisings against the Vietnam war), "Sitting On A Rock" and "Radio Lady", the latter being another memoir of the Scene’s US tour. All three originals are included here, with "Radio Lady" appearing in the form of a superior mix first released in October 1971 on an US Roberts compilation, on the Ampex label, confusingly called "Home Grown".

Whether Everyone could have found the common musical ground to continue is academic, for the band were effectively destroyed by a tragic accident involving their two road crew and a friend on the A33 in November 1970. The group’s van and gear were written off and Paul Scard, Andy‘s loyal roadie, lost his life. Andy saw out some contractual obligation gigs as a three-piece with Richards and Pearson but ‘come December 1970 that was it. "I didn’t want to do anything". By the time the group’s first (and last) album appeared, on B&C, there was no wind in its sails. Shortly after the crash, Andy and Dave Richards had rented a house for a month on the outskirts of Northampton. This brief period would yield the material that found its way onto Andy’s next solo album proper, "Nina And The Dream Tree", a year later. As Andy explains, "We played a lot of Bezique, and played Neil Young and Grateful Dead records. I was visited by Polly James, actress in the popular TV sitcom The Liver Birds, with whom I was seriously involved, and who is the subject of the whole of the first side of Nina . Polly and I spent New Year’s eve at Tommy Steele’s house". Andy was back in London by January ‘71, living with his folks and wondering what to do, when he got a call out from Paul Samwell-Smith, ex-Yardbirds bassist and now a record producer. He was looking for a guitarist to work on a debut solo album by former Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort vocalist Ian Matthews, hot property after MSC’s September 1970 No.1 hit single with "Woodstock". Andy and Iain hit it off together, and the new association with himself and Samwell-Smith put him into seven months intense studio work Iain and Cat Stevens and so on. Then Sandy Roberton was saying I hadn’t done a solo album for a year and should do something.

Work on the Ian Matthews album "If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes" spanned January to March 1971 (April to May ‘71 would see further studio work with Ian Matthews, which became his next album, "Tigers Will Survive"); during March he also worked on the Mike McGear LP "Woman"; and he was also, as a Melody Maker feature of March 27 put it, experimenting on a solo album, using vocal backing from three West Indians (but no flash guitar). Those backing singers, who played a crucial part in the magical sound of "Nina And The Dream Tree" (recorded sporadically during the next few months and released on Pegasus Records in October 1971), were Mike London and Mac and Kathy Kissoon. Three pieces of Nina’s jigsaw had been debuted on a BBC session for Bob Harris earlier that month,"Keep My Children Warm", "I’ve Seen The Movie" and "Welcome Home", although the listing of musicians involved, essentially a reunion of Everyone, as given in Ken Garner’s In Session Tonight (BBC Books, 1993) strikes Andy in retrospect as hugely unlikely. During the early summer of 1971 Andy was certainly enjoying himself playing shows with a proto-Grimms outfit billed as the Bonzo Dog Freaks. If this was a blast of the future, Sandy Roberton had engineered a blast from the past: a new lease of life for "Home Grown". The "Home Grown" re-release provided an excuse for Andy to perform, supporting Procul Harum, at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, backed by Dave Richards and Mighty Baby’s Ian Whiteman and Roger Powell. It would be the stage debut of the Nina material, and led directly to Andy getting the support slot on a Steeleye Span UK tour later that year.

During July ‘71 Andy was able to tell Melody Maker’s Karl Dallas that: "For the first time I’ve got a coherent direction. Now I have personal statements I wish to make, though I don’t want to knock them in with a sledgehammer". Dallas was given a preview of the new recordings and was rightly impressed: "There is a great deal of warmth in his work" he wrote, "a fellowship for his kin which brims over. His singing voice has matured incredibly and his use of the electric guitar is haunting, reminiscent sometimes of Richard Thompson on top form". Andy was often telling the press that it was only during the McGear and Matthews sessions earlier in the year that he found his voice on the instrument, and the quality of his electric playing, a master of texture and atmosphere, was one of Nina’s revelations. Then again, spending August-September 1971 on an Ian Matthews tour of the States as a trio with Richard Thompson himself can’t have done any harm.

As before, Andy’s US tour experiences would be a rich seam for his song writing. Time spent with one Karen Goskowski at the Poison Apple in Boston would yield three songs, first heard on his country flavoured "Urban Cowboy" LP in 1973: "Poison Apple Lady", "Urban Cowboy" and "New Karenski". The first of these is heard here in a demo version recorded in November 1971. "Urban Cowboy" was recorded piecemeal during sporadic 1972 sessions, yet emerges as a true gem of an album. Working with his Plainsong colleagues Ian Matthews, Dave Ronga and Dave Richards and guest musicians like Richard Thompson, BJ Cole, Martin Carthy, Neil Innes and Dick Parry, Andy Roberts explored a series of beautiful original songs and a powerful cover of Jim Hall's barroom classic, "Elaine".


Nov 28, 2018

ANTHONY PHILLIPS - The Geese And The Ghost 
(Hit & Run Music HIT 001, 1977)

"The Geese And The Ghost" was the first studio album by English musician and songwriter Anthony Phillips, released in March 1977 on Hit & Run Music in the United Kingdom and Passport Records in the United States. It was originally intended to be an album by Phillips and his former Genesis band mate Mike Rutherford, but Rutherford's difficulty in devoting time to the project ended the idea. The album reached number 191 on the Billboard 200. In July 1970, Phillips left Genesis after three years citing illness with glandular fever and worsening stage fright. He began to write new material at a considerable pace, completing the arrangements to "Which Way the Wind Blows", "God if I Saw Her Now", and "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times" on the 12-string guitar within ten days of leaving the group. He put demos of these songs to tape at the studio set up in his parents' home between late July and early August 1970, receiving assistance from friends Harry Williamson and former Genesis roadie David Rootes. Having put down these early ideas Phillips began to take a greater interest in classical music. At one point, he listened to a piece by Jean Sibelius and had "one of those strange revelations" and realised he was "terribly limited" and "narrow" as a musician, and declared to himself that his guitar playing lacked enough technique. Phillips tackled this by halting development on his songs and taking lessons in piano and classical guitar, and studied orchestration and harmony over the course of the following four years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He also gave music lessons to pupils at two schools in Surrey, and later called it his "student period".

Phillips remained in close contact with his friend and Genesis guitarist and bassist Mike Rutherford and in the spring of 1972, the two agreed work towards a potential joint album using Phillips's demos and other 12-string guitar pieces they had written before and during Phillips's time in Genesis. Development continued in August 1973 when Phillips and Rutherford met in their spare time before latter returned to Genesis commitments, after which Phillips took charge over the album's direction and expanded its foundation of 12-string guitar based pieces towards folk and progressive rock using techniques he had learned from his orchestration tuition. Among the demos they developed during this time was their hymn tune "Take This Heart", later released by Charisma Records in 1975, and the prospective 1974 release of the single "Silver Song" with "Only Your Love" on the B-side, that included Genesis drummer Phil Collins on lead vocals and drums. Demos of the latter two were recorded at Island Studios in November 1973 with producer Rhett Davies, the former dating back to 1969 as a parting farewell to Genesis drummer John Silver. In late 1973, Phillips and Rutherford had completed writing the album during a short break in Ireland, the "Misty Battlements" of the Henry suite being the last section worked out.

In the spring of 1974, Phillips began to select the material that would be used for the album. This included the titles: "Which Way the Wind Blows", "God if I Saw Her Now", "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times", "D Instrumental", "Master of Time", "Collections", "I Saw You Today", and "Autumnal". The latter song was an orchestral piece that Phillips had recorded with the orchestra at Guildhall School, but it was later removed from the final track listing due to the dissatisfaction from Charisma management. "Master of Time" was then left off as Phillips and Rutherford had run out of recording time. The first recording sessions took place in 1974 when Rutherford had spare time surrounding the recording of the Genesis album "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". After choosing the final track running order, the two agreed to begin recording the basic guitar parts at Send Barns, the home of Phillips's parents in Woking, Surrey. To finance the project, Rutherford had pitched the album to Charisma and the label agreed to an advance of £3,000 which they used to purchase two reel-to-reel Teac 4-track tape machines, a mixing desk, and outboard equipment.

After Rutherford left the project for upcoming touring commitments, matters changed in October 1974 after Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett had injured his hand which pushed the opening dates back one month. With a narrow space of time to work, Rutherford rejoined Phillips in the studio and continued recording which began with "Which Way the Wind Blows", the first track recorded which features an electric guitar made to sound like a classical acoustic guitar. The pair soon ran into technical difficulties as the Teac machines were creating static clicks that were heard upon playback, causing visits from numerous people who were able to fix the problem. Upon fixing, they put down tracks for all seven sections of "D Instrumental", four parts to the Henry suite, an outline of "Silver Song", and an untitled improvised guitar instrumental. The late 1974 sessions included the first overdubs recorded which featured the first of several additional musicians on the album. Phillips had his younger brother Robin play the oboe for "The Geese and the Ghost" and Hackett's brother John playing the flute. The latter had completed his education and was invited by Rutherford to play on the album at a time when he considered pursuing music as a career, taking it "as a welcome sign that I had made the right decision!" Upon Rutherford's return to Genesis, Phillips continued working by himself which involved the basic tracks put down for "God if I Saw Her Now" on 26 November, and working on additional parts for the songs already put down until Christmas.

In 1975, recording relocated to a canal boat in London's Little Venice. Phillips resumed with recording on 7 April 1975, bringing in Rootes to assist in technical duties while further overdubs and other final arrangements were put down. After Genesis wrapped up touring in May Rutherford reunited with Phillips and the pair decided to place the finished overdubs onto 16-track tape to facilitate the parts yet to be recorded. Having learned Tom Newman's facility was available on The Argonaut, his canal boat studio in Little Venice, London, sessions began there in July. Recording soon ran into problems as the studio still in its infancy and suffered from numerous malfunctions, plus incidents of the boat being hit by another during recording, causing restarts. Phillips's longtime producer Simon Heyworth joined the project at this time, providing assistance and encouragement. Many of the session musicians on the album were students at Guildhall who had also played on the orchestra session for "Autumnal". One of them was Martin Westlake, who arrived at the boat to record the timpani parts but found the instrument was too large to fit through the door. The problem was solved after the owners of the neighbouring barge agreed to have the timpani recorded on their boat with extended microphone leads run through to the studio. John Hackett recorded his second flute session on the Argonaut. He was the subject of a prank from Phillips who initially handed him a flute part that he described as "Stravinsky on speed" with notes too difficult for him to play, leaving him "quake inside" for several moments before he received the real arrangement. The final session on the boat was for the vocals on "Triumphant Return", formed of several of Phillips's friends who were invited to celebrate the end of recording. They are collectively named the Barge Rabble on the album's liner notes.

The majority of the mixing duties were completed by Phillips with assistance from Heyworth after Rutherford resumed working with Genesis. The second half of "Collections" and "Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West" still required further work, yet as the album neared completion in early 1976 it was presented to Charisma and the label chose not to release it, leaving the album unfinished. A meeting with Virgin Records A&R man Simon Draper in April also came to nothing. It remained shelved due to the difficulty Phillips had in getting it released elsewhere, recalling others had deemed it "'pleasant and euphoric, but not instant'". Meanwhile, Phillips secured work in various projects and recorded his first library music compositions and in late 1976, submitted his application to study for a music degree. He then received unexpected news that Marty Scott of the US-based independent label Passport Records expressed an interested to release The Geese & the Ghost, and brought in Robin, John Hackett, and Jack Lancaster to record the incomplete woodwind sections at Send Barns in October. This was followed by a final overdubbing session at Olympic Studios in London with engineer Anton Matthews in the following month, and the album was mastered by Greg Calbi at Trident Studios. A search to find a willing UK distributor proved to be too difficult, so his manager Tony Smith, who also managed Genesis, established the Hit & Run label to secure a home release. A deal with Vertigo Records ensured its distribution to other territories, including New Zealand, Japan, and Argentina. "The Geese And The Ghost" was released in March 1977.

The album was first released on CD by Virgin Records in 1990 and contains the demo of "Master of Time" as a bonus track. On 20 July 2007, the album was reissued in Japan as a 2-CD edition by Arcangelo Records, presented in a limited edition mini-vinyl sleeve. The first disc features a new remaster of the album with the 52-second "Lute's Chorus Reprise" section added to "Henry: Portrait of Tudor Times", and the second disc contains 14 tracks of previously unreleased demos, out-takes, and bonus tracks. This edition was released in the UK in a standard jewel case by Voiceprint Records on 14 April 2008. On 7 April 2015, Esoteric Recordings released a 3-disc Definitive Edition of the album. Disc one contains a new stereo remaster completed in 2015; disc two contains the bonus material as previously released in the 2007 and 2008 reissues with the previously unreleased track "Only Your Love" from 1973, originally intended to be the B-side of "Silver Song"; and disc three is a DVD containing the album mixed in 5.1 surround sound. Included is a poster and a 24-page booklet with photos and extensive liner notes.