May 31, 2018

J. GEILS BAND - Nightmares And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle
(Atlantic Records SD 18107, 1974)

The J. Geils Band was one of the most popular touring rock & roll bands in America during the '70s. Where their contemporaries were influenced by the heavy boogie of British blues-rock and the ear-splitting sonic adventures of psychedelia, the J. Geils Band was a bar band pure and simple, churning out greasy covers of obscure R&B, doo wop, and soul tunes, cutting them with a healthy dose of Stonesy swagger. While their muscular sound and the hyper jive of frontman Peter Wolf packed arenas across America, it only rarely earned them hit singles. Seth Justman, the group's main songwriter, could turn out catchy R&B-based rockers like "Give It to Me" and "Must of Got Lost," but these hits never led to stardom, primarily because the group had trouble capturing the energy of its live sound in the studio. In the early '80s, the group tempered its driving rock with some pop, and the makeover paid off with the massive hit single "Centerfold," which stayed at number one for six weeks. By the time the band prepared to record a follow-up, tensions between Justman and Wolf had grown considerably, resulting in Wolf's departure, which quickly led to the band's demise. After working for years to reach to top of the charts, the J. Geils Band couldn't stay there once they finally achieved their goal.

Guitarist J. Geils, bassist Danny Klein, and harpist Magic Dick (born Richard Salwitz) began performing as an acoustic blues trio sometime in the mid-'60s. In 1967, drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and vocalist Peter Wolf joined the group, and the band went electric. Before joining the J. Geils Band, Bladd and Wolf played together in the Boston-based rock revivalist band the Hallucinations. Both musicians shared a love of arcane doo wop, blues, R&B, and rock & roll, and Wolf had become well-known by spinning such obscure singles as a jive-talking WBCN DJ called Woofuh Goofuh. Wolf and Bladd's specialized tastes became a central force in the newly revamped J. Geils Band, whose members positioned themselves as tough '50s greasers in opposition to the colorful psychedelic rockers who dominated the East Coast in the late '60s. Soon, the band had earned a sizable local following, including Seth Justman, an organist who was studying at Boston University. Justman joined the band in 1968, and the band continued to tour for the next few years, landing a record contract with Atlantic in 1970.

The J. Geils Band was a regional hit upon its early 1970 release, and it earned favorable reviews, especially from Rolling Stone. The group's second album, 'The Morning After', appeared later that year and, thanks to the Top 40 hit "Looking for a Love," the album expanded the band's following. However, the J. Geils Band continued to win new fans primarily through their concerts, so it was no surprise that their third album, 1972's 'Full House', was a live set. If the next three Geils albums - 'Ladies Invited' (1973), 'Nightmares And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle' (1974), and 'Hotline' (1975) - represented something of a commercial falling off (although each placed well inside the Top 100), they each still contained moments of undeniable get-down-to-it-ness. Wolf and Justman had by then developed into an outstanding song writing team, while the musicians transcended their roots to become the kind of unpredictable, intuitive music machine that leaves listeners breathless every time.
"The key to the band was chemistry and loyalty", says Justman. "We wanted the solidity that Booker T. & The MG's or the Funk Brothers of Motown had. You play together until it becomes second nature, like breathing together." "Detroit Breakdown" and "Must Of Got Lost" (the latter the band's highest charting single up to that point, reaching #12), two Wolf-Justman originals from 'Nightmares', and Hotline's "Love-Itis" (written by Memphis soulster Harvey Scales with Albert Vance) and "Believe In Me" (written by soul legend Curtis Mayfield) illustrate Justman's point and stand out among studio recordings done for Atlantic. While their live shows remained popular throughout the mid-'70s, both 'Hot Line' (1975) and the live 'Blow Your Face Out' (1976) were significant commercial disappointments. The band revamped its sound and shortened its name to "Geils" for 1977's Monkey Island. While the album received good reviews, the record failed to bring the group increased sales. In 1978, the J. Geils Band left Atlantic Records for EMI, releasing Sanctuary later that year. 'Sanctuary' slowly gained a following, becoming their first gold album since Bloodshot. 'Love Stinks' (1980) expanded the group's following even more, peaking at number 18 in the charts and setting the stage for 1981's 'Freeze Frame', the band's high watermark. Supported by the infectious single "Centerfold" -- which featured a memorable video that received heavy MTV airplay -- and boasting a sleek, radio-ready sound, Freeze Frame climbed to number one.

"Centerfold" shot to the top of the charts late in 1981, spending six weeks at number one; its follow-up, "Freeze-Frame," was nearly as successful, reaching number four in the spring of 1982. The live album "Showtime!" became a gold album shortly after its late 1982 release. While the band was experiencing the greatest commercial success of its career, relationships between the members, particularly writing partners Justman and Wolf, were volatile. When the group refused to record material Wolf had written with Don Covay and Michael Jonzun, he left the band in the middle of a 1983 recording session. Justman assumed lead vocals, and the group released 'You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd' in late 1984, several months after Wolf's successful solo debut, 'Lights Out'. The J. Geils Band's record was a failure, and the band broke up in 1985. Magic Dick and J. Geils reunited in 1993 to form a contemporary blues band that has released two CDs, 'Bluestime' and 'Little Car Blues'. 'Nightmares' was the first J.Geils Band album that I acquired as a teenager, having only heard "Detroit Breakdown" while browsing at my local import shop. My copy is a U.S pressing and features a cardboard inlay. The remaining tracks on this album are just as strong as the opener and I just love listening to this album from start to finish. There are so many rich sounds and uptempo beats going on, complementing the strong vocals of Peter Wolf. This is a great album, even if it wasn't their most successful album from a commercial point of view.

May 30, 2018

Live Oblivion Vol. 1 (RCA Records CPL1-0645, 1974)
Live Oblivion Vol. 2 (RCA Records CPL2-1230, 1976)

For over forty years, Brian Auger has been a musician’s musician. Jazz pianist, bandleader, session man, Hammond B3 innovator, and key player in the rise of jazz/rock fusion, Brian has done it all and then some. An incredible gentleman with one of the most varied careers in music, he has incorporated jazz, early British pop, R&B, soul and rock into an incredible catalog that has won him legions of fans all over the world. Auger’s unique musical career started at a very early age. Growing up in London during World War II, his family’s house had a player piano, and, at the age of three, ‘this thing fascinated me, with a pair of pedals. You put a piano roll in it, you pedaled, and, as you pedaled, paper was drawn across this grill, with corresponding holes it in for the 88 notes,” Brian remembers. “After a while I noticed that I was able to recognize the patterns in all the notes… I began to copy the notes [and] I was actually able to copy these melodies.” The Auger family’s home was bombed in 1944. “We were actually very fortunate, because the house was absolutely ruined, plastered, but none of us were hurt,” he recalls. Evacuated to the Leeds/Valley area for nearly two years, he lived with another family, and, as fate would have it, “they had a piano, and I would play it a little bit on there. When I got back home the thing that really grounded me was when I walked in the room, there was my piano.” Once home with his family, Auger became the entertainment for the neighborhood. “I used to have little concerts. We had a bay window, and my friends would all sit on the window sill, so I would play with all these little piano rolls, you know, and, and have these little concerts.” Aside from entertaining the neighborhood kids, Brian remembers “I began to see the movement from one key to another. I could hear a tune on the radio and immediately sit down and play it. I knew all the pop tunes.

As a child of eight or nine, “I was invited to all sorts of parties, and, since we were broke, people would pass a hat around and give me the money.” But aside from playing the British and American pop tunes of the day, Brian’s ears lit up when he started listening to his older brother’s record collection with names like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Auger’s brother also gave him and old radio, and he was able to hear American jazz played over Armed Forces radio. Brian could see patterns in jazz compositions, which helped him later as a composer. Auger became fascinated with the various jazz piano men that were making an impact on jazz . “Bill Evans was much more about texture and feel and harmony—harmony was really the thing that attracted me… I found that I loved to listen to his playing but it made me so sad”. He also admired Oscar Petersen, Hampton Hawes, Victor Feldman, Red Garland, as well as McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. These two elements—the technique of jazz and the heart of R&B—were what moved Brian. “I knew if I could grab you rhythmically and attract your attention I could get you to listen to something you wouldn’t listen to otherwise, and you’re only going to get a couple of listens before you’re hooked.”

With his fondness for jazz piano Brian came to an early musical decision. “When I heard those various guys I said ‘this is what I want to play’ and the early bands I got in when I was 16 or 17 years old, we were playing Jazz Messengers material,” he recalls. “Around this time my dad became very ill, so I thought ‘I had better get a job and help out at least until my younger sister and brother started to work’. I got a gig in a print firm…after two weeks, a supervisor said to him ‘I hear you play the piano’ and I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘I’ve got this gig in London on the West End…its just me and you’. He was a drummer. I go in and play everything, not knowing that I can only play two keys—G and C—I can play all these tunes, but I can only play them in two keys”. The self-taught Auger only played in G or C until a trombone player visiting the club told him that each piece was written for a certain key, so Auger went home and learned them in the correct keys. “This was a huge learning experience for me, and I started to learn all these tunes in the right key and all my jazz stuff in the right key, and this moved me on to no end.” At eighteen, Brian’s club gig started to draw a number of big name artists who were touring London including Billie Holliday.

Playing in clubs, Auger won the Melody Maker jazz poll in 1964 and was now a known commodity in swingin’ London’s burgeoning music scene. Interestingly, this success in playing American music in Britain coincided with the British invasion in the US, and some jazz clubs started playing rock and roll, which also intrigued Brian. “I was kind of taken by the Beatles, it was kind of a phenomenon, you know,” he remembers. . Auger was still more intrigued with technique, however, and, in 1965, when he heard Jimmy Smith albums, he decided to get involved with a Hammond B3, an organ few British musicians could play, largely because the bulky organs were virtually non-existent in England. Around this time, the Yardbirds called Auger for session work. Upon arrival, he said “what do you want me to do?” and they said ‘We need an intro, and also a comp throughout the tune’ and I said fine, but where’s the organ?” They looked around the studio, but “they said “we don’t have an organ”—just a harpsichord. said ‘come on, you guys, you’ve got to be joking’ and they said ‘that’s all we’ve got’ and so I did a rolling intro with this harpsichord thing, and I left, thinking these guys are nuts, I mean whose going to buy a pop single with harpsichord on it.. It went to number one, so what do I know?” The song was “For Your Love,” which kicked off the Yardbirds recording career, and also made Brian an in demand session man around London.

In 1965, Brian’s exposure got a huge boost when he got call from Long John Baldry (who had been on Beatles Christmas shows. John had seen him play in a club in Manchester with the organ trio, and asked Brian to put a band together. So Auger rounded up guitarist Vic Briggs, and John got Rod Stewart. Brian also recruited a young, mod singer named Julie Driscoll, telling John “why don’t we add Julie because there’s nothing else out there like this.” Auger was attracted to the new band because of the wide range of influences. “Julie was a range of things from Nina Simone to Motown, where Rod was a mix of Chicago blues and Sam Cooke,” Brian laughs. “Long John was straight Chicago blues or gospel, and we all sang backup on the stage for everybody else and it turned out to be a huge success.” With this new group of musicians, it was more like a revue than an actu_al band, but what does one call it? ” If someone really played with a great deal of fire in those days, someone would say ‘that guy’s a steamer, so Steampacket became our name,” explained Auger. Sadly, Rod’s manager, Brian’s manager and John’s manager, feuded over whose label the record should come out on, so they never really recorded anything and Steampacket collapsed in 1966 after one year. However, a live concert video exists of Steampacket playing the Reading Jazz and Blues Festival in 1965, and it is truly a rocking’ experience today.

After Steampacket broke up, “what it did do was it took me out of the jazz world and made me play through such a variety of material that in the end I began to focus toward those various musical styles that really rubbed off on me,” recalls Brian. “That was the idea of the [Brian Auger] Trinity, a combination of blues, Motown and Messengers.” In November 1967, their first album, Open, was released in France, and the French just went crazy. “All of a sudden we were booked at the Montreux Jazz Festival as the headliner in 1968—no rock-jazz band had ever done that, these were pure jazz festivals. Following that, we got the Berlin Jazz Festival the same year—one of the most purist of all.” Despite the crowd’s initial reaction being somewhat less than favorable, Auger’s incredible band won the crowd over, as well as many fellow musicians. Dizzy Gillespie, who was so impressed with Brian’s band he said, “‘hey man, you should come jamming with us.’ I figured he must have been kidding. I was totally in awe,” Brian laughs.

The next album, Definitely What, was Brian’s solo album and was the same year that Brian and Julie’s hit “This Wheel’s On Fire” went to number one in England. “That was primarily on a reel of tapes that was sent called the basement tapes, the Bob Dylan basement tapes,” Brian remembers. “Wheel’s was a strange song. There was an upright bass and Bob Dylan singing the piece,” he continues. “Julie really liked it and I listened to it. I liked the kind of idea there except that I thought it was an album track, not a single. So we decided to go for it and so I started to mess around with this thing trying to put rock rhythms to it and a different kind of rhythmic bass. It just didn’t work, and in the end I just couldn’t get away from the walking bass. ” The frustration in trying to find the proper bass track led to some experimentation. ” Let’s treat it as a jazzier thing, then, almost as a march, let me just think of it as a kind of a march, put it down like that,’” Brian recollects. ” So I put the backtrack down with a piano over the organ on it and some mellatron strings. When Julie added her extraordinary vocal, all of a sudden it was like ‘wow, this is really psychedelic man’.” Psychedelic it was, and the hypnotic effect Brian was searching for helped propel the tune to hit status all over Europe as well as the U.K.

After the success of “Wheel’s,” the Trinity obtained a large following, particularly in Britain, with Julie being the lead vocalist. Her soulful voice and mod look, made her the “it” girl of the moment. And with Carnaby Street in full gear, Julie’s voice and vibe made her one of the poster girls of the mod years. Streetnoise, the third album, was done in 1969 in preparation of Auger’s first US tour which was “a musician’s dream, especially if you’re a jazz [or R&B] musician, I never, ever, you know, imagined that I would be coming over to play in America,” Brian fondly remembers. Creating their own works, along with a take on the Jose Feliciano version of “Light My Fire,” it all fell together: To this day it is considered one of the Trinity’s finest albums, and contains a number of stand out tracks including a take on Richie Havens’ “Indian Rope Man,” Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” Laura Nyro’s “Save the Country” and “I’ve Got Life” from the musical Hair.

The euphoria of the American tour soon dissipated, however, when the manager’s mis-management dealt Auger another blow upon returning from the U.S. “We went back, I said to Giorgio [Gomelsky] ‘where’s my accounts’ and he handed me a bill for 5,000 [UK] pounds—‘ you know I could have bought a couple of little houses for that so that was the end of it for me’.” He did one more album with the Trinity called Befour, recorded without Julie, which came out in 1970. Julie decided she’d had it as well as she needed complete rest after the trauma of the Gomelsky fiasco, and her promising career never recovered. Brian wanted to continue with cutting-edge music and , as he recalls, “I just needed to put people around me who wanted to go that way, and so the Oblivion Express started up in 1970.” Versatile Jim Mullen asked to be the guitar player and Barry Dean was selected as bass player, with Robbie Macintosh (who later found fame with the Average White Band) as the drummer. Brian initially did the vocals, but ‘my voice never held up night by night” so we asked Alex Ligertwood to join us as lead singer. “Alex is such an incredibly powerful, amazing singer,” Brian continues.. “He was a friend of Jim’s and Jim told me about him, and so we decided that we would ask Alex if he would come down and sing with us and see what happened, you know, and that was it.” He joined up in ’71, after Oblivion had already done one album, A Better Land, so Ligertwood’s first album as vocalist for the Oblivion Express was Second Wind. The band collapsed suddenly when Alex moved to Paris where his wife preferred to live, and MacIntosh was hired by AWB. “I was broke and I thought, I’ve got to go out to Europe, man,” Auger remembers. “We had an agent out there, and I called him, and he said, ’sure, yeah, and we will get dates together for you.’ All of a sudden we got, Godfrey Maclean on drums and Godfrey asked if he could bring conga Lennox Laington to rehearsal. When I heard Lennox I immediately hired him.”

Jack Mills appeared, and “Jack wasn’t as strong a solo player as Tim Mullen, but his rhythmic playing, his rhythmic ideas were just tremendous, and he fit straight in.” Brian continues. So all of a sudden we went out to play and I was just wondering what the hell was going to happen, and the band was smokin’ and the groove was like, whoa, this is outrageous.” The new line-up of Oblivion Express rolled into the 1970s, cutting Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” as well as originals “Light On the Path” and “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend” on the Closer To It album in 1973. Believing in his music, Brian contacted his agency to see if they could book a tour of America.. They could, and Brian went into credit card debt to finance it. “I scraped together the fare and went out there and RCA put the record out, “Brian laughs at the sheer ballsiness of this move. “Jeff Franklin, my agent at ATI, played it and went ‘this is incredible, man’, we’ll give you a tour.’ He said ‘look, I can get you a tour in a jazz club in about six cities in the States on the East and West Coast.’ I said ‘I’ll take it, whatever it is I’ll take it’ and then I went to RCA and they were less than enthusiastic. They said ‘we don’t know what kind of music this was, but in the jazz clubs you’ll never sell any records. Don’t do it! ‘ I decided I’m just gonna bypass the record company and I’m just going to do the tour.”

They hit Cleveland, and the Closer To It album broke on its own. “A local RCA rep, Billy Bass, went down to the radio station WMMS in Cleveland and goes, ‘this is the best piece of product on the whole label, man’, ” Brian laughs. “He gets them to play a cut, and eventually they’re playing it every 15 minutes. It becomes a hit on the jazz and R&B charts at the same time. Then [Frank Mancini] the head of national promotions for RCA turns up one night and I said to him. ‘Frank what are you doing here man, you’ll never sell any records out of a jazz club, you know.’ He said “well, I know, I know. What kind of music is this, I think you had better come and meet the business affairs people on your way back when you finish the tour and let’s kind of have a talk.”’ Closer To It was followed by Straight Ahead, which also landed on both the R&B and jazz charts. The Express opened for Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters,, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin and others, bridging rock, jazz and R&B genres, and sometimes did straight R&B gigs. “I got a boost in ’75 when Ligertwood rejoined for the Reinforcements album. Oblivion Express kept rolling through most of the 70s, until the group finished touring in 1977. In 1976 and’ 77, Brian was voted the Number One Jazz organist in the world in Contemporary Keyboard magazine, largely behind the strength of his live playing with Oblivion Express. Visiting London in 1977, Auger invited Julie Driscoll to do another album again, and thus the album called Encore, (1977) and one more with Julie followed. After a year off, he did Planet Earth Calling after being approached by Head First Records.

From 1979 to 1983, Brian settled in California and took it easy for a while, taking music courses at Marin College and San Francisco State. It also gave him an opportunity to spend more time with his family, playing occasionally in local clubs. “People weren’t knocking the doors down at the time because punk and disco had suddenly come in, you know, and “anything that smacked of jazz, you can forget it,” Brian remembers of the dreaded disco era. In the mid-80s, however, Brian toured Europe again, especially Italy and Switzerland, and released Keys to the Heart in 1987. Brian would have been content touring Europe occasionally, but fate intervened once again. In ’89, he got a call from Eric Burdon (of the Animals), who “sounded like the Steampacket days all over again, you know, ‘I need someone to put a band together’,” he recollects. Brian hoped that they “could update some of the arrangements and make it really like a great modern band and really nail everybody” but grew dissatisfied after four years because Burdon wanted to stick to Animals music. During those four years, though, Auger was able to tour the whole world (even going behind the Iron Curtain). His son Karma joined the band when the drummer quit two days before a European tour. Karma, working as a drum tech, was the only person around who knew the all the material, and Burdon was kind enough to give him the drum chair

In 1993, Auger decided to leave Burdon and concentrate on his own music. In the mid to late 1990’s, Auger formed his own family version of the Oblivion Express, with his children Karma on drums and Ali performing, as the lead vocalist, along with a bassist and guitarist Auger has selected. Before releasing Auger Rhythms. His first career retrospective, Brian toured Europe, where he drew large crowds at several jazz festivals, including a two night gig at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival. And for fans in the States, Brian and the revamped Oblivion Express have started touring all over America at clubs and festivals as well. So the career of this most incredible man has come full circle. In so doing, Brian is always amazed at the undying affection his fans have for him and the body of work he’s created in nearly forty years of recording and touring. “It always amazes me,” he laughs. ” We’ll be playing in some small town in Europe and a small club or town hall. We’ll be loading in and doing sound check and I’m always a bit nervous that no one will show up. Then the sun goes down, and suddenly the hills are alive with the sound of my B3, and fans come out of the woodwork. Many have the old albums they want autographed.” There is no one on the planet quite like this amazing guy who still comes to a gig ready to play, and not just walk through a set of oldies, but inject his music with the fire and passion that only a true original brings to the bandstand or studio. Brian Auger is a true original, and we are fortunate to have him and his musical legacy as a vibrant part of today’s music scene.

May 29, 2018

APRIL WINE - The Whole World's Goin' Crazy (Aquarius Records AQR-510, 1976)

In the Halifax, Nova Scotia suburb of Waverly, Myles Goodwyn was playing in a group called Woody's Termites. In December 1969, his next door neighbor, Jimmy Henman convinced him to join a group composed of himself and his cousins, Ritchie and David Henman. Jimmy and Goodwyn had previously played together in several bands including East Gate Sanctuary while David and Ritchie played in the Lower Sackville group Prism (not to be confused with the famous Vancouver group of the same name). The name April Wine was coined by David for no apparent reason other than the two words sounded good side-by-side. They soon sent a demo tape to Terry Flood in Montreal who, in partnership with Donald K. Donald productions, ran the Laugh-In Club and Aquarius Records. A polite rejection notice was misinterpreted as an invitation to go to Montreal, so on April Fool's Day 1970 they left Halifax for Quebec with all their worldly possessions and very little money in their pockets.

They arrived in Montreal to find there was no deal or gigs waiting for them. But they met Flood and DKD's Donald Tarlton who agreed to house them in a chalet in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. When an opening at the Laugh-In Club came up, the performed to a good reception. After several more area gigs, a management and recording deal was signed in August 1970. They soon began work on their self-titled debut album for Aquarius Records. The record featured the Maritimes radio hit "Fast Train" and was enough to allow them to record a second album. But, in October of 1971 Jim Henman left the band to return to school and was replaced by Montreal native Jim Clench (Coven, Allison Gross).
Ralph Murphy produced the second Aquarius album "On Record" which featured the vehicle needed to propel April Wine into the North American market - a cover of Hot Chocolate's "You Could Have Been a Lady". This single went No. 1 in Canada and made Billboard Magazine's Top 30 in the USA where it remained for 11 weeks. The follow-up was "Bad Side Of The Moon" (an Elton John/Bernie Taupin composition). The toured as openers for Mashmakhan before headlining many smaller Canadian dates.

Goodwyn and Clench soon became allies for a shift in musical direction and internal struggles with the Henmans led to the brothers leaving the act during the recording of "Electric Jewels", to form Montreal-based band Silver and, later, All The Young Dudes with Bob Segarini (The Wackers, Family Tree). Mashmakhan drummer Jerry Mercer was added following a stint with Roy Buchanan and guitarist Gary Moffet (ex-Pops Merrily). The album sparked the 'Electric Adventures Tour' which landed in nearly every major Canadian city that had venues of 2500 seats or more...a major achievement during the day. During the tour Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli (of The Young Rascals) saw April Wine live and decide to produce their "Live (Play Loud)" album. The team-up was so successful that the duo also produced two new studio tracks, and ultimately radio hits, for the "Stand Back" album: "I Wouldn't Want To Lose Your Love" and "Tonight Is A Wonderful Time To Fall In Love" as famed Electric Ladyland Studios in New York. The album went on to sell over 250,000 copies

By this point a rift had formed between Clench and the rest of the band over musical direction and despite Clench's significant vocal and writing contributions to April Wine, he left to join an early incarnation of Loverboy and eventually late-period BTO for several albums and tours.  Steve Lang (The Cheeque, Devotion, Mashmakhan) was his replacement. In March 1976, April Wine's 6th LP "The Whole World's Going Crazy" was released with 100,000 units ordered in advance by retailers. This allowed the band to tour in Canada with Heart. 1977's 'Forever, Now' - which was originally conceived as a Goodwyn side-project - was overly heavy on ballads which diminished their Rock sound but it still managed to sell a modest 100,000 copies.  As a conscious effort to beef up April Wine's sound live, guitarist Brian Greenway (Cheeque, Mashmakhan, The Dudes) was summoned by his old bandmates to quit his forklift job and join April Wine on the road. When the Rolling Stones played their now legendary El Mocambo club show in Toronto in August of 1977, April Wine was added as opening act stemming from a favour the Stones owed April Wine's manager Donald Tarlton. With Eddie Kramer already on hand recording a live LP for the Stones, April Wine's set was also captured for posterity and became the "April Wine Live At The El Mocambo" LP. The band would later open for the Rolling Stones again at Buffalo's Rich Stadium on July 4, 1978.

Another musical re-assessment was in order and after attracting the attention of Capitol Records (Aquarius' distributor), the 1978 album 'First Glance' was released featuring the hard rocking "Roller"; and, soon, American audiences were taking notice. So, 1979 the band finally toured the United States for nearly a year supporting such acts as Styx, Rush, The Tubes and Squeeze. They returned to Canada in October 1979 to start work on the LP "Harder...Faster". When released in early 1980 it produced another handful of radio hits in "I Like To Rock" and "Say Hello" helped in no small part by tours of England and Europe though the British press savaged them. Upon release of the next album, 1981's "Nature of the Beast" and its hit singles "Just Between You And Me" and the Lorenc Hud song "Sign Of The Gypsy Queen", they returned to another disappointing run in England - which was ultimately canceled due to poor ticket sales and mismatched opening slots with British metal acts - but Europe offered them sold-out concerts in countries like Holland and Germany. They were able to parlay this into a headlining tour in the southern United States upon returning to North America.

In January 1982, the band took time off and recorded "Power Play" later that year. After their successive run, the industry began shifting with techno-pop of the '80's and April Wine found themselves a hard rock act with a dwindling audience. Their farewell tour was in 1984 for the "Animal Grace" album and it was successful enough to spawn another in a long line of live albums. Goodwyn put April Wine to bed for a long rest with an eye to working on a solo career from his new home in the Bahamas. However, April Wine still contractually owed Capitol Records one more album. Greenway joined Goodwyn in Nassau, along with Montreal session musicians Barbe, Pellerin and Simon, to record what was supposed to be the band's final album "Walking Through Fire". While living in the Caribbean, Goodwyn released a solo album to middling reviews and zero sales. Soon, a serious discussion to revive April Wine followed. Goodwyn returned to Montreal in preparation for the recording of a second solo album, but interest was steamrolling for an April Wine reunion. Greenway, also licking the wounds of an aborted solo career was the first to sign on. Mercer would leave The Buzz Band to return to full duty, but Moffet is fully committed to his production company (including producing the See Spot Run hit album "Weightless") and his spot is filled by local guitarist Steve Segal. Finally, after years away from April Wine, Jim Clench returned from Calgary to Montreal to fill in the bass slot. 

The band would sign a new record deal with FRE Entertainment in 1992 and would release two albums of mostly new compositions - "Attitude" (1993) and "Frigate" (1994). Segal would leave the band in 1995 and April Wine would continue on the road as a four piece over the next five years. In 2001, the band recorded another new studio album called "Back To The Mansion" with Goodwyn, Greenway, Clench and Mercer. Another live hits package recorded live in Kitchener, "April Wine Live 2003", was released and featured Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch) who had been with the band for three tours. June of 2004 saw April Wine travel to Sweden to be part of Sweden Rock 2004 and shared the stage with Heart, UFO, and Foghat among others. Studio album number sixteen came in 2006 called "Roughly Speaking". Clench left the band in January of 2007 to be replaced by Breen LeBoeuf (Chimo!, Offenbach). 

Late 2008 also saw the departure of Jerry Mercer from the band. After a cancer scare and about to turn 70 years of age in the Spring of 2009, Mercer decided to retire. He was replaced by Blair Mackay. In March of 2009, April Wine was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame during Canadian Music Week in Toronto. They also received The Lifetime Achievement Award on the eve of their 40th anniversary as a band; On April 18th of 2010 at the Juno Awards, April Wine were also inducted in to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Jim Henman continued writing and has worked on numerous projects in the last 10 years including Terry Kelly, Anne Murray's guitarist George Hebert, and Jeannie Beks & Co. He also wrote "Death: The Musical" which had a long run at Halifax's Neptune Theatre and did a stint in Ottawa in 2001; Jim Clench died on November 3, 2010 in Montreal after a battle with cancer.

May 28, 2018

SPACE FARM - Space Farm (Zodiac Records ZLP 1042, 1972)

Although Harvey Mann and Glen Absolum were not alone in embracing the spiritual philosophy of Krishna consciousness which emerged in the early 1970s, they were among New Zealand’s most visible adherents to this path of spiritual enlightenment. So much so that in May 1972 the New Zealand Herald reported on the phenomenon of the chanting, shaven-head Krishnas on Auckland’s Queen St and noted among the devotees in this new cult were two members of “the Auckland pop group Space Farm”. “Spiritual food in Queen Street” was the Herald’s headline, which reported that pedestrians were baffled as the Krishnas gave away fruit and flowers. “Singing Maha Mantra - mind delivering - chants to the music of a guitar and small brass cymbals, the four Krishna devotees presented passersby with booklets, and specifically blessed fruit.” The purpose of the exchange was to interest people in God, Mr Richard Cook, “road manager for the Space Farm group”, told the Herald. “It is our philosophy to preach about God for the benefit of everyone.” The Krishna duo providing the music on Queen St were guitarist Mann and drummer Absolum. But Space Farm, by any stretch of the definition, was most certainly not a “pop group”. 

Had the Herald - almost affectionately known then and for more than a decade after as “Granny Herald” - paid closer attention to what was happening just five minutes walk from its office, it would have been aware of the LSD-inspired cosmic rock of bands like Space Farm playing in Albert Park and the quad at the University of Auckland. Inspired by Hendrix, Indian music and many of the other ingredients in the psychedelic sonic stew of the time, Space Farm was making music which extended the contract of rock into something which reached towards the great beyond. Formed in 1971 by Mann and Absolum (formerly of The Underdogs) with bassist Billy Williams (from Whangarei's The Classic Affair), and briefly saxophonist Bob Gillett, the band did not last long and left just one self-titled album behind them (in two versions however). By early ’73 Mann and Absolum had fully embraced the Hare Krishna movement. Space Farm, which had created some of the most thrilling, exploratory live acid rock of the time, was no more. These days we are inclined to look askance at musicians like Mann and Absolum who, in just a few years, moved from the earthy John Mayall-inspired electric blues of The Underdogs into the acid rock of Space Farm and then on to Krishna-rock with their subsequent band Living Force. But that was in the nature of the period when new philosophies and ideas out of the East and America’s West Coast (the distinctive American Zen movement), primal therapy, macrobiotics and many and various “isms” (feminism the most prominent) all emerged in rapid succession.

If life was a journey, the late ’60s and early ’70s offered many different paths. Towards the end of Space Farm, Mann and Absolum were on theirs: shaven heads, vegetarianism and chanting the Krishna mantra replaced long hair, acid-eating and the rock‘n’roll lifestyle. Meanwhile, bassist Williams stuck with the secular and the pleasures of the flesh. “I still had too many earthly desires to take that spiritual path,” he told Sunday Star-Times writer Grant Smithies in September 2017 on the occasion of the vinyl reissue of Space Farm’s album. “I wanted to keep making loud rock music rather than sit around playing a sitar in a temple. So they went their way and I went mine.” In the liner notes to the 2017 reissue Wellington writer and critic Nick Bollinger observes, “It was a time of change and experimentation. Not just in music but also in society as young New Zealanders in growing numbers began to question the prevailing culture of rugby, racing and beer, the country’s involvement in foreign wars, and the values of earlier generations. “Some sought political change, others looked for alternatives in drugs and spiritual beliefs. For such seekers, Space Farm provided the ideal soundtrack.” Bollinger’s overview is broadly correct but what is also notable about that period of social and political change is just how little overt comment there was from musicians. About the conflict in Vietnam for example - in which New Zealand was represented by volunteers - there was a deafening silence from the counterculture musicians. It seemed everyone was too busy on their own personal trip.

Space Farm’s album represents that: the lyrics are about vague ideas of freedom, flying, gypsies, space, infinity, “forever today”, living for the moment. Bollinger’s essay quotes Mann in this regard: “All throughout history, music has been connected some way with freedom and a sort of feeling of liberation. I am most moved by music when it takes me away - ‘away’ being from the 9-to-5 sort of mundane consciousness, and the restrictions of the general mundane stuff that takes a lot of our time.” With the album’s original release came a poem by Glen Absolum (whose nickname was Glenny Pig) that describes an alternative, organic personal universe: “Do you like the busy city / Or does your love lie with the sun / Watching it rise in the morning / And knowing your life has just begun”. The original 1972 album notes were written by Tom McWilliams, the deputy editor of entertainment magazine Playdate, then in its last year. He wrote that Space Farm’s name “suggests music of infinite depth and reach. There are no boundaries in space and Space Farm is cultivating a far-out freedom. As Harvey Mann sings in the number ‘On the Loose’: ‘I am like a rolling stone of the sky’. “The lyrics of this album have thematic unity. They affirm ‘the grace of all things that are moving’ (‘Wheel’). The album is ‘about’ universal freedom, infinity and eternity. There is nothing freaky in such subjects, nor in the sound, which is powerful but melodic – strong and graceful.”

If the inconvenient realities of life were often ignored then it hardly mattered in Space Farm’s case: it was never about their words but the sheer power and inventiveness of the music borne out of the musicians’ backgrounds and diverse interests. In The Underdogs, guitarist Mann had such a formidable reputation as a player of technical expertise and emotional depth that - in a slightly desperate mimicking of the London graffiti which read “Clapton is God” - some here wrote “Mann is God” on walls. By the time of Space Farm however, the impact of Jimi Hendrix’s extraordinary style was much more evident. This was LSD-influenced improvised rock which evoked colours and sounds largely unfamiliar in our local musical landscape. Space Farm was, in the parlance of the period, “out there, maaan”. Although there wasn’t much acid around in the general population at the time, not even among students and creative types beyond the connected cognoscenti, Space Farm’s music tapped into the spirit of a trip and left no one in any doubt this was a whole new thing. Live, they were something to hear and experience. “Space Farm’s greatest moments live were heard when it held down a residency at the Tabla nightclub in Auckland and many fans used to cram the place,” said Mann in 2000 about a live recording of a Wellington concert made by rock fan John Pilcher on a portable reel-to-reel recorder he carried to gigs.

Pilcher’s recording, remastered by Mann, was issued on CD (on the Hogomus label out of Hastings) as "Space Farm - Live". “Personally this was one of the periods I remember most fondly in my musical career,” said Mann. “The ’70s release of the "Space Farm" album didn’t really capture this live energy and magic, despite our best efforts, and ended up sounding a little pale compared to the live monster that used to unleash its music regularly on fans at the Tabla.” For their sole studio album a year later, the material was more economic and focused into shorter songs: five on the first side, four on the second, only ‘Gypsy Queen’ reaching beyond five minutes. In that however, it is worth remembering even Hendrix practised an almost pop-length economy on his early albums. Williams spoke to Smithies about the album’s recording at Stebbing’s in Auckland, sessions he admits he can barely recall because of their regular and heroic intake of acid. “I just remember it was very quick because [studio owner] Eldred was cracking the whip. He was a headmaster, there was no mucking around. He was a businessman, keen to record us because we were from the upper echelons of New Zealand musicians at that time, and he was counting on the underground subculture around us to buy the album.”

But, being a businessman and looking for sales, Eldred Stebbing was unhappy with Mann’s sometimes raw and slightly uncertain vocals. A few months after the album was released, Stebbing brought in former Underdogs singer Murray Grindlay to re-record the vocal parts and so the album appeared once more, but different. That later version of the album was reissued on limited edition vinyl (500 copies only) by the German company Little Wing of Refugees in 1990 as Going Home to Eternity. It came in a variation of the original cover, painted by psychedelic artist (and early Underdogs vocalist) Archie Bowie. The 2017 local reissue on Wah Wah - also limited to 500 vinyl copies - however is of the original album with Mann’s vocals and re-presents it in Bowie’s original sleeve with liner notes and wonderful reproductions of posters. There was an unheard coda to the Space Farm story, a second album recorded at Stebbing after Williams’ departure with Mann playing bass and guitar, but that album – with Krishna-conscious song titles  – was never released.

So we are left with just the "Space Farm" album in all its psychedelic and headphone glory as their sole artefact. With the guitar searing and panning between the speakers, Williams’ bass mixed high and acting like an anchor and Mann’s endearingly uneven singing, the album presents a mix of brooding ballads (‘Homeward Bound’), chipping funk rock (‘Infinity Way’), melodic acid-pop (‘Waking Dream’) and space-flight/cosmic rock pieces (‘Gypsy Queen’). It might not be as musically innovative as some might expect – it’s impossible not to hear Hendrix whispering in their ears – but it is a rare one from that fascinating period. It captures the spirit of possibilities and a time when gifted rock musicians pointed to something in the far distance, plugged in and invited everyone, with or without acid, to climb aboard their spaceship. Space Farm’s music “is as positive as the music of the spheres," wrote McWilliams in 1972, channelling Sun Ra and Jane Austen: “If it cannot be described it can be heard. Reader, become a listener.”

May 27, 2018

THE MUTTON BIRDS - Envy Of Angels (Virgin Records CDVIR 55, 1996)

Originally conceived as a band to flesh out the eloquent compositions of Don McGlashan, The Mutton Birds quickly developed a coherent and distinctive group sound. An oft-turbulent decade together brought them international acclaim and the abiding affection of a large and loyal local fan base. When The Mutton Birds formed in Auckland in 1991, its members had already achieved varying degrees of recognition within the New Zealand music scene. Initially viewed as the group’s clear leader, singer-songwriter Don McGlashan was also the best-known member. He found New Zealand rock notoriety a decade earlier in Blam Blam Blam, then, from 1985, earned attention alongside Harry Sinclair as half of theatrical-musical project The Front Lawn. Eager to pursue his songwriting, McGlashan decided to start a new group, destined to become one of New Zealand music’s best and most popular for the ensuing decade. In a recent AudioCulture interview McGlashan reflected, “I was nearly 30 when the band started. I didn’t want to be the new guy on the block. I wanted to settle down and have a career where I wrote a bunch of stuff that would stick around for a long time. I loved the multifarious nature of Front Lawn but I really wanted to be in quite a conservative band that had its own sound and acted as a vehicle for my songwriting.”

McGlashan noted, “The basic point of the Blams was to be spiky and indigestible. That was exciting and fun and it fulfilled its promise. I'd also done experimental things, like From Scratch. I wanted a new band with really deep roots, where the songs seem to grow out of the soil. The stuff I really cared about was folk music, like the Irish songs of distance and longing, and the American, English and Australian songwriters who'd settled down and tried to unpick their lives and their country and the people around them, trying to make songs that could stick around, like Ray Davies, Neil Young, Paul Kelly, Nick Cave, The Band.” The first recruit to flesh out Don’s songs and vision was guitarist David Long. He'd been a McGlashan fan, he told AudioCulture. “I saw the Blams when I was about 15. I was obsessed with them. I just thought Don was the best songwriter in the country and I still do! He writes songs that don't sound like anyone else.” While playing in adventurous Wellington band The Six Volts, Long teamed with The Front Lawn. “We were the band on their album [Songs From the Front Lawn, 1989],” he says. “Don and I really hit it off, and I thought it was great to be playing his songs. I feel like I coloured Don's songs in with sound."

That creative chemistry would be a crucial component for the first five years of The Mutton Birds. Long recalls that “a while later, Don rang me and said ‘I'm thinking of starting a rock band. Want to move to Auckland?’ The Six Volts had been together about three years and we were all rather tired, so I was up for it.” Early rehearsals and gigs (including their low-key public debut at an outdoor event in Windsor Reserve, Devonport) were as a trio, with Steve Garden on drums. “He wasn’t up for the touring thing, though, so we looked for a drummer for ages,” says Long. “Then I said to Don, ‘do you know Ross Burge? I used to see him in The Spines and he’s the best player I’ve ever seen.’” After listening to Burge’s playing on some records, McGlashan was convinced. “Ross was living in New York City at the time. I rang him up and asked if he was planning to come back. He said ‘Yes but I'm only flying to Sydney. You'll have to fly me back from there.’ I had to borrow money to do that,” says Don. A smart investment, for Burge still sometimes plays with McGlashan, as on the 2013 NZ tour with Dave Dobbyn. Don explains “We actually recorded quite a few songs for the first album with me on bass, before Alan (Gregg) joined. His joining meant I could switch to rhythm or acoustic guitar. I always thought of the band as a three-piece, but I couldn't play bass well enough to sustain that.”

Enter Alan Gregg, then playing in Auckland band Dribbling Darts Of Love, alongside Matthew Bannister and Burge. His inclusion in the band completed the seminal Mutton Birds line-up. “Alan is so thoughtful about music and what songs mean,” praises Don. “It was great to have him on board and that really made us what we are.” The Mutton Birds never sought to fit into any local scene, explains McGlashan. "When we started we were all a little bit older than the other bands in Auckland. I don't even know what the scene was doing around then, certainly nothing I particularly wanted to be part of. We weren’t considered very cool but I think we surprised people in that the songs didn't sound like they were adhering to any kind of orthodoxy." With the line-up of McGlashan, Long, Burge and Gregg complete, the recording continued. The band soon evolved democratically, but McGlashan admits to being autocratic at first. “On the first album, I rather dictated and arranged everything and was bossing everybody around." The recording process was low-budget, Long recalls. “Don had an AKAI cassette recorder and we recorded mostly on that, then went into another studio to mix. We’d put down guide parts, then I’d go in and do the guitars by myself.”

In a September 1992 interview with RipItUp, McGlashan recalled the challenge of recording in their practice room. “We’d be struggling away with the rain beating on the roof and noxious fumes from the printer swirling around and on our hands and knees trying to work out where the humming was coming from ... I started to think what was wrong with me, why hadn’t I been able to get a deal for this record ?" Whatever the resulting eponymous debut lacked in sonic polish was compensated for by the strength of Don McGlashan’s songwriting. Songs like 'Dominion Road' and 'White Valiant' had a vivid sense of place that quickly resonated with the New Zealand audience. Deciding to cover The Fourmyula’s rock classic 'Nature' (in 2002 famously voted New Zealand's greatest song of the previous 75 years) was a very smart move, as it allowed conservative radio programmers to play something from a brand new band. The success of 'Nature' was boosted by a compelling video directed by Fane Flaws, filmed by ace cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (An Angel At My Table) and with a dance sequence choreographed by Douglas Wright.

The Mutton Birds peaked at No.2 on the NZ album charts, beaten out only by Eric Clapton. A long run of over a year on the charts confirmed the depth of its material and that it was striking a real chord within the New Zealand consciousness. Unsurprisingly it won Album of the Year at the 1993 New Zealand Music Awards. To RipItUp, McGlashan admitted he craved record label support for a second album. “My analogy with this first record is that we’ve decided we want to fly somewhere, so we go out in the backyard and build a plane. Next time, I’d just like to buy a ticket!’ The commercial success of The Mutton Birds spurred record company interest. After plenty of shopping around by the band, it was EMI Australia that stepped forward with that ticket in 1993. Prior to recording their second album in November 1993, The Mutton Birds had really begun to gel as a unit, adopting a more democratic working method en route. McGlashan explained to AudioCulture. “Because of the age we were, we knew the value of what we were doing. This was a bunch of grown-ups saying ‘I’m going to commit to this, but I need to put my ideas in and have them listened to'. Everybody had that attitude so by the time we got to the second album it was all pretty democratic and that increased. It made things a bit slow moving but made for a very strong sound. We had to question everything. I think that gave the songs a real strength. The arrangements are pretty simple, we weren’t a band that was very flowery. I’d say ‘I want to add some keyboards to this' and every note had to be negotiated.” Such a process paid off in the concise but always melodically and lyrically strong material. McGlashan’s ability as a poetic wordsmith was perfectly complemented by his warm vocal style and the intelligent musical contributions of his three comrades.

The result was a unified sound that could be viewed as greater than the sum of its parts. Don prefers the phrase "concentrate". If you put the four of us in a pot and boil us down you end up with a concentrate. Luckily it was one that ended up with some good records, not just a sticky goo." Buoyed by the debut’s success, The Mutton Birds began work on Salty.  Long told AudioCulture that “the first album was really exciting, the learning thing. By the second, we knew what sort of band we were more." The band set up shop with engineer Mark Ingram at the disused TVNZ studio in Shortland Street, Auckland, bringing in gear from Revolver Studios. “It was like being in a condemned building with all this amazing gear. It was a really fun process,” says McGlashan. In the April 1994 issue of RipItUp, Long told Russell Brown that “we put heaps of stuff down all together. Last time, we had such small rooms we couldn’t put down a guitar as well as bass and drums. This time we had a room the size of a basketball court." The band put over 20 songs to tape over a two-month period.

The deal with EMI Australia meant a bigger recording budget. Some went to hiring American studio ace Tchad Blake (Tom Waits, Ron Sexsmith, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) to mix the album. McGlashan recalls “we sent Tchad ‘The Heater' (the first single and a joint group composition) for him to mix, then we figured out a way to get him to 301 Studios in Sydney to mix a bunch of tracks with us". "We hadn’t met Tchad until we flew to Sydney for the mixing,” says Long. “He was mixing ‘The Queen's English’ and I remember listening to the drum sound and thinking ‘you are a god!’” McGlashan remembers Blake as “a fascinating and cool guy”. Blake’s sonic skills, McGlashan’s eloquent songwriting, and the spirited playing of the band resulted in an album justifiably considered a New Zealand classic. Considered by many the best Mutton Birds album, it’s one that stands the test of time. Adding diversity to the sound was the Alan Gregg’s development as a songwriter. He contributed three songs to Salty, 'Wellington’, 'There’s A Limit', and 'Esther', his melodic pop sensibility contrasting nicely with McGlashan’s more cerebral approach.

Don laughingly recalls, “Alan was paralysed with shame about his songwriting early on. He came to me when we were making Salty and said ‘I’ve got some songs. I don’t think they’re any good. If you agree with me then this conversation never happened!' That was funny ‘cos they were so good. It was great having those songs to lighten the tone of the stuff. When I got to the UK, I was going through a fairly dark phase and the stuff I wanted to write was fairly downbeat. It was nice to have Alan’s songs like ‘Come Around’ to lift us out of that.” Salty went down a treat at home. Peaking at No.3 on the album charts, it sold platinum. 'The Heater' reached No.1, with subsequent singles 'In My Room’, 'Ngaire’, and 'Anchor Me' all making the Top 20, clear confirmation of the depth of quality material. With Salty, The Mutton Birds began flexing their wings outside Australasia. They never snagged a record deal in the USA, but EMI Records in Canada picked up Salty for distribution and encouraged the band to spend significant time in Canada. As with Split Enz and Crowded House before them, The Mutton Birds found Canada a friendlier nesting ground than the USA. The Mutton Birds became aware of Split Enz’s popularity in Canada via their sound guy, former Split Enz drummer Paul (Emlyn) Crowther. “It's a bummer when your sound guy is more recognisable than you are,” says Long, adding, “Paul is a very close friend.”

During an Eastern Canada tour supporting popular Canadian rockers The Watchmen, they played a short set at The Phoenix, then four days later headlined a show at showcase club Ultrasound. My review for RipItUp (Dec 1994) noted that “in concert, frontman Don McGlashan is the focus of most attention, but the premier musicianship of his three comrades cannot be ignored. Some of the songs from Salty actually sounded better live.” The Mutton Birds made fans of The Watchmen. Bassist Ken Tizzard says “We were told there was a NZ band who sounded like Crowded House, so as fans we were excited about that. Of course, they sounded nothing like that band, but they had that same songwriting integrity. They were just very natural, good musicians who had really developed their craft.” The bands clicked personally too, with Tizzard having fond memories of having them over to his house in Toronto. During Long's tenure in the band, they only ever played two gigs in the USA. “One was a tiny club in New York City," he recalls. "We played a blinder gig but nobody who mattered came. We played at [Hollywood industry hangout] the Viper Room once. That really felt like it wasn’t us.” Looking back on Canada, Long notes “We weren't there enough. You need real money behind you, which we didn't have. The label was always waiting to see what happened first, and we’d have to cadge the airfare to places.” McGlashan now says “if I had my time over again I’d have insisted we come to America or Canada, just because the British music scene is so fashion-driven.”

Upon moving to London in 1995, things were looking promising. They had signed to Virgin in the UK, and the label put out a compilation album, Nature, featuring material from the first two albums. Other European territories signed up, Long recalls. “We got to go to all these cool places. We often supported other artists, like Chris Isaak. We did six weeks supporting Simple Minds. They were on the decline but could still draw 5,000 people.” Intensive touring would gradually take its toll on the band’s internal relationships, he says. “Everyone in the band just wanted to be away from each other, but I feel we were still playing really well. Onstage everything was gelling.” Prior to working on their third album, The Mutton Birds went into South London studio Blackwing to record a self-produced song for the Danny Elfman-scored soundtrack of upcoming Peter Jackson movie The Frighteners. They were brave enough to tackle Blue Oyster Cult classic '(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, and their fresh take helped win them some fans internationally when the 1996 flick became a decent-sized hit.

The third album "Envy Of Angels" sported the highest recording budget of any Mutton Birds record. Virgin in the UK clearly had high hopes for the band, introducing them to some big name producers. “That never happens in New Zealand,” Don says. “We auditioned a bunch. That was a really cool process, though some just said how great they were. They disappeared into the bathroom and came out talking really fast! Hugh Jones basically sat down and said ‘what films do you like ?' He connected with us as people and aesthetically. He seemed like an intelligent thoughtful man to spend a few weeks with. Hugh had an incredible pedigree and he liked our stuff.” Decision made. To record the album, Jones (Simple Minds, The Saints, Echo and The Bunnymen) and The Mutton Birds set up shop in 1996 in famed rural Wales studio Rockfield, used by everyone from Oasis to Dave Edmunds to Queen. “They made 'Bohemian Rhapsody' there, using that same piano,” says McGlashan. “It wasn’t flashy, but it had good gear,” says Long. “They had the 2-inch tape machines. People had started talking about digital stuff but Hugh was old school.”

"I was a bit slow on the uptake of how Hugh wanted to work," says McGlashan. "We were used to the whole process being fluid and collective up to the mix. With Hugh, the pre-production in a rehearsal room is when you negotiate everything and have everything totally fixed in place. Then basically you come in, play your parts, then go to the pub. I think it made us focus on our playing. We played well on that record. It was a beautiful place to be. We learnt a lot and I think we made a good record. It wasn’t a happy time for me or David back then. I think he’d already decided he was going to leave the band.” The impending UK release of the album caught the attention of music biz bible Billboard. In the March 22, 1997 edition, a story by Paul Sexton was entitled “Virgin helps Kiwi act Mutton Birds fly in UK.” It noted that “The Kiwi band, stars in their home country for more than five years, have spent most of the past few months living, recording and playing in the UK in the build up to the European release of Envy Of Angels." The group's NZ following had remained, and, on its November 1996 release there, the album reached No.4, although the singles 'She's Been Talking' (No.19) and 'Come Around' (No.35) were moderate hits only.

Prior to the UK/Europe release, the band gigged extensively around London, toured Ireland for a month, then supported Billy Bragg on a chilly six-week tour around the UK. The album came out in there in June, but the love affair with Virgin proved short-lived. Early UK airplay for the first single, the catchy Gregg tune 'Come Around,' was encouraging, but album sales proved disappointing (peak UK chart position No.64). The label then kicked the Mutton Birds out of their nest, dropping them just a few months later. As Alan Gregg succinctly told Real Groove (April 1998), “We’ve been dropped. Old story. Good reviews, low sales. We don’t care. We say it’s very liberating.” In that story, McGlashan noted “Virgin gave us a platform in the UK other bands would kill for. We’re underdogs now and that could make it easier for us. Our live audience is pumping over in London, and we could live off royalties and T-shirts for a while. We’re back to a more cottage industry level now.” One regret they had from the Virgin era was over videos. "We had huge amounts spent on our videos – and they’re just rubbish,” Gregg told Real Groove. Don concurred, adding “the videos probably cost what a reasonably nice house in Auckland would. Considering they’re nothing to be proud of, and they didn’t get played, it does rankle.” Some major Brit music mags and daily papers raved about the album. It made the Top 10 best of 1997 list in the Sunday Times, while Mojo named it fifth best album of the year in their readers poll. In a January 1998 interview with the Sunday News’ Mike Alexander, McGlashan said “we were really chuffed by the readers’ poll. The main thing that keeps you going is the one to one thing with your fans.

The Mutton Birds faced some challenging times during this period, ones that would have derailed a band with less fortitude. David Long had left the band in late 1996, choosing to return to New Zealand. He told AudioCulture problems with management decisions were a key factor, along with the breakup of his marriage. “I don't know what you've heard in the way of rumours, but we [the band] fell out. Part of my leaving was to do with our manager, Daniel Keighley. There's a long back story there." Long’s misgivings about management were clearly justified. Following Long's departure, as Don told AudioCulture, “Our manager went back to New Zealand leaving us in really bad shape.” Keighley went onto further notoriety in New Zealand, following his ill-fated Sweetwaters Festival in January 1999. A NZ Listener story (Feb 20, 1999) noted, “Hurricane Daniel cut a trail of devastation through the music industry.” In that piece, Long said “I wasn’t surprised at all when Sweetwaters turned to shit." Long rejoined his comrades for a final New Zealand tour in early 1997. He was then replaced by London-based expat guitarist Chris Sheehan, formerly of Dance Exponents then Anglo-New Zealand band The Starlings. Salvation for the band came in the form of Steve Hedges, McGlashan recalls. “He had been co-managing us, and he rather came out of retirement to rescue us and was a real angel. He got us going, financed our next record, and toured us up and down the country, helping us keep building an audience.”

Such support was crucial, for a band left label-less in London. Helping lift their spirits was another Canadian foray. That country’s top rock band, The Tragically Hip, had shared UK and European gigs with the group, and then invited them to join their star-studded travelling summer festival, Another Roadside Attraction. Check the impressive cast: Wilco, Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow, The Mutton Birds and Ron Sexsmith. "It was wonderful to do that tour across Canada with those fantastic artists,” says Don. "I kept in contact with the Wilco guys and worked with them again later on the 7 Worlds Collide project." He regrets they lacked the resources to return to Canada on their own and to build on this momentum. Despite their struggles, the band put on a brave face for the folks back home. In the The Sunday News (Jan 18, 1998), Mike Alexander declared that “Three years after leaving these shores, The Mutton Birds are flying high in their adopted homeland of England.” More personnel changes were a-wing. The next casualty from the original line-up was Alan Gregg, who left in mid-1998, replaced by Tony Fisher, the first Brit Bird. Gregg has remained in London, recording under the name Marshmallow, writing music for TV, and working as a producer and musician. His production credits include an album by The Stereo Bus. This new configuration then began recording the fourth official Mutton Birds album, "Rain, Steam & Speed".

Being independent meant a much-restricted budget for their 1999 album, but McGlashan is justifiably proud of the results. “We made it for a lot less in a much smaller studio than "Envy Of Angels". I think there are some good songs on that record and it was great to make a record with Chris Sheehan. We were never able to bring him back to NZ for touring but we played a lot around Europe and the UK with him.” The recording locale was, once more, Blackwing. As with the first album, this one was self-produced and solely comprised McGlashan compositions. It had a more experimental approach than Envy of Angels. In an interview with The Evening Post’s Lindsay Davis (May 20,1999), McGlashan noted “This album has more of a sense of England about it, the atmosphere and colours.” Ironically, he made those comments shortly after making the move back to New Zealand with his young family (kids aged seven and four). "Rain, Steam & Speed" was released in February 1999 on manager Steve Hedges' own Shhhh! label to positive reviews. Despite further touring in support and the use of first single 'Pulled Along By Love' in Channel 4 ads in the UK, it was far from a commercial hit. Still, McGlashan notes, “It actually sold more than Envy Of Angels.” In New Zealand it reached No.10 on the charts. The Mutton Birds remained in London for two years after being dropped by Virgin. Survival as a full-time band there without a label demonstrates they’d earned a sizeable audience through sheer hard work and the consistent quality of their output.

“Nothing can take away from the fact that we lived in England and were a fulltime band for four years,” says Don. “The audience kept building through those years to the point where we could get 1,500 to 2,000 people at Shepherds Bush. We weren't just playing to expats. There was a decent sized audience in Scotland and the north of England too. When I go back and play solo there, I meet some of those same dedicated fans.” During their post-Virgin period, The Mutton Birds released a couple of other low-profile albums. 1997’s Angle of Entry was an acoustic live album, while 1999’s Too Hard Basket: B-sides and Bastards contained various rarities. When McGlashan returned to New Zealand in early 1999, their career started winding down. "We had a couple of tours of Australia and NZ, but in those instances we didn't have the full band. When we went back to England in 2000, we picked up a different guitarist (Andrew “Clanger” Claridge, ex-Garageland), and on the NZ tour we had Matthew Bannister (Sneaky Feelings, Dribbling Darts of Love) with us on guitar.”

The Mutton Birds' final UK tour, in late 2000, was capped off by a sold-out December show at the Shepherds Bush Empire. In 2002, the band played a couple of final NZ gigs, as McGlashan recalls. “One was in Auckland for the arrival of the Volvo Cup on January 5. We played on a barge in the middle of Viaduct basin (other acts included Dave Dobbyn and Stellar, and the free concert drew 100,000 people). We did another one for the opening of The Lord of the Rings film, and that was with the original line-up. Then it was 10 years of not doing anything." As seems inevitable for a band calling it quits, The Mutton Birds released a Best Of compilation as their swansong. Out in November 2002, Flock, The Best Of The Mutton Birds featured selections from all four studio albums, along with a new recording of the Sneaky Feelings track 'Not To Take Sides’. The Brit music press’ love affair with the group remained intact. Mojo’s David Hepworth wrote "In the first five songs on this record, there's more melody and harmonic reverberation than on the last album by more or less anyone you'd care to name.”

As seems inevitable these days, The Mutton Birds did reunite, in 2012. This one seemed for the right reasons, not as a cash grab for the retirement plan. The idea was raised by Brent Eccles and Campbell Smith, promoters of the popular winery tours for top NZ artists. "They enticed us back onstage," says McGlashan. "It was a really good tour. Well-run and we really had fun practising." David Long was pleasantly surprised by the instantly renewed chemistry. "After the first song at rehearsal we all stood there, just buzzing. This was like a hand in the glove fit. Don and I both felt we were actually playing better as a band, being older maybe. Coming back we all remembered the reasons we did it in the first place.” Long loved the autograph signings after each show … "People would say 'you meant so much to me'. You realise you did have an impact.” The hard graft they put in during the 1990s paid off with an impressive turnout for their October 2012 reunion gig in London, back at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. “We got 1,200 people there, and the promoter reckoned half were English,” David told AudioCulture. Unfortunately, the gig was not the triumph McGlashan hoped for. “We played well, but it was sad that the sound wasn't good for that show. We made the mistake of not taking our own sound crew over. I felt really badly for the audience. I'm still a bit sad about that. Still, in New Zealand we made a really good live album and we took that over to England.” That album, "Free Range - The Mutton Birds Live 2012", was recorded in the intimate setting of Auckland's King's Arms. The song selection does favour the early recorded in NZ material over later songs, but it was a natural move to concentrate on tunes recorded by the original line-up. Reflecting on the band's career, David Long now notes "I think it's odd we did as well as we did really. We were a slightly heady band, never the hip band. That meant it didn't feel dated when we went out again." The Mutton Birds remain one of New Zealand music's most formidable exports. As with the best NZ films, they demonstrated that work deeply rooted in your own culture and landscape can resonate beyond.