Monday, 18 July 2016

Markus Reuter - Fool In Music

Markus Reuter is a name you may have heard of, but likely as not, you haven't. Those of you to whom the name is unfamiliar are in for a treat, as Markus Reuter is one of the most innovative musicians of our time, and has played with many, many people, and composed hundreds of pieces of music. His favoured instrument is nominally the touch guitar, but that is only the start of it. Markus has extracted noises out of his various stringed instruments via all kinds of manipulations and in tandem with varied exotic electronica, that those of us musically challenged twangers who barely got beyond 12-bar blooze have nary the capacity to even dream of.

Those of you who are familiar with the name will, like me initially, probably know him as a member of Stick Men, where he plays the studious foil to founder members Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto's more animated presence, and on this compilation his trusty touch guitar never seems too far from the picture.

What really grabbed my attention was catching Markus' documentary on the recording of his modern classical tone piece Todmorden 513. The documentary was broadcast a few years ago on BBC4, and is a captivating if understated film, rather in tune with Markus' low-key personality, telling the story of a truly fascinating piece of music, composed for a full orchestra by our unassuming hero.

Here's the full documentary...well worth watching, save it for later!

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there for a moment! The point of this article is Fool In Music, which is a two and a half hour long career-spanning compilation, naturally including one of the movements of Todmorden 513. Everything on this compilation is a delight to listen to, and all facets of Markus' many-sided musical personality are revealed. Beginning with the Rypdalesque creeping black wash of ambience that is Mundo Nuevo, Part 2 from the titular album of collaborative soundcscapes released last year, we are taken on a journey guided by the satnav of Markus' never obvious muse into strange but always interesting sonic lands.

Getting the more well known Stick Men in early, this time featuring David Cross, is a good attention-grabbing move. From last year's rather fine Midori live album, the second track on this compilation is the rollicking Hide The Trees, and it tells you everything you need to know about this great band's intuitive chemistry.

In case you were worried that I was going to go through this thing track by track, fear not, I am not that cruel, or of an inkling to write endless Joycean-length sentences in that prosaic reviewing style, you will no doubt be pleased to hear! No, suffice to say in summary that everything between the two opposite poles of those first two tracks is present and correct on Fool In Music. I will however make honourable mentions for a few highlights, which in itself is difficult enough as there are no obvious low points to goes:

The Inner Voice is from Lee Fletcher's Faith In Worthless Things, a fab album to which Markus contributed a major part of the writing, and on this track we hear his touch guitars doing their thang with aplomb. This tune is a the first of only a handful of fully fledged songs on the compilation, which for the most part is entirely instrumental. This time out, we find Lisa Fletcher's lovely unaffected vocal taking centre stage. If Lee is reading this, please get out from behind that mixing console and make another album!

The Wedding is the first of four tracks by Markus' post-everything electronic experimental band Centrozoon, who first peeked over the horizon in 1999, and who are still occasionally releasing music, their last album being the tumescently titled Boner in 2012, which I have yet to hear. Obstensibly a duo, with Markus' touch guitars and electronic manipulations being joined by fellow German Bernhard Wöstheinrich on synths, electronic percussion and other weird and wonderful effects, Centrozoon have added guests along the way including Tim Bowness, Tobias Reber, and Markus' long-time musical colleague Pat Mastelotto. Pat crops up on numerous offerings on this compilation.

How Things Turned Out, Part 7 is taken from a nine-part rule-based minimalistic improv, and perhaps points the way to Markus' grand opus Todmorden 513. For me the best example of ambient here is Markus' collaboration with Zero Ohms aka Richard Roberts whose "wind-controlled synthesisers & over 50 various flutes, saxes, & other woodwinds" added to Markus' touch guitars and some weird thing called a "recursive accumulation device" create a stately construction of meditative contemplation during the unfolding mystery of Indescribable. This is contrasted completely with the following brief atonal cacophony of Amsterdam. Modus 7, from the superbly named Quartet for The End of Time play out an Escher staircase of strange ascending scales that reaches a plateaux nervous thrumming pent up energy, before carrying on ever upwards.

Colour Vision sees Markus teaming up with renowned alt-electronica figure Ian Boddy, a collaboration that has produced many albums over the years. It is another twist on ambient technique, that unusually features a guitar...that sounds like a guitar. Icily calm and crystalline, it is another dreamscape of seemingly effortless assemblage.

TUNER are Markus and Pat Mastelotto, and they function both as a production team and as a wilfully strange "rock" band, the unsettling rhythmically propelled lurch of Up, Down Forward and Return being yet another compilation highlight. Centrozoon return with the slinky funk of Pop Killer, featuring the last vocal on the album, delivered in typical swoonsome fashion by the unmistakable Tim Bowness.

Most, if not all these tunes seem to come from Markus' more recent output of the last few years, and Velveteen by Nocturne Blue is part of a work in progress, being a song-by-song release as they are individually crowdfunded. Aiming to be completed by 1st October 2016, the album is titled I Came for the Light and Stayed for the Shadows. Nocturne Blue are Markus, Adrian Belew Power Trio bassist Julie Slick and audio-visual artist Dutch Rail. The track itself is an unhurried revelation of serenity, giving one pause for thought.

Ehkor by Namgar is a fusion of traditional Mongolian instrumentation, with Namgar's haunting vocal, married to modern studio techniques. The end result is quite beguiling, and draws inevitable comparisons with Peter Gabriel's "world music" (gawd, I hate that term, how about "Non-Anglo"?) influenced output.

After the atypically heavy Impulse Response by Adrian Benavides, we end where we almost began, in the more familiar terrain of the Stick Men. Despite promising not to do a "track-by-track" dissection, it has been hard omitting anything, as these two and a half hours have flown by, and none of it is wasted time. I have highlighted less than half the album's 28 tracks, but hopefully that has been enough to tempt you to at least follow the link below and give Fool In Music a listen.

Get this FREE compilation of a truly individualistic talent, pick your favourite and buy a download, it's the least Markus Reuter deserves.

No chance! Go to Bandcamp and get it HERE.

Line up:

Markus Reuter website
Markus Reuter Bandcamp
Centrozoon Bandcamp
Stick Men Bandcamp
Lee Fletcher Bandcamp
Nocturne Blue Bandcamp

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Bevis Frond - New River Head

At the end of the 1980s I discovered this strange psychedelic rock band called The Bevis Frond. I cannot now remember how or exactly when I came across this fabulous noise, it was the 80s you see. That decade was my version of the old mantra about the 60s "if you can remember them, you weren't there". The Bevis Frond was actually one bloke and a portable studio, at least for the first couple of albums, not that I knew that then. They/he made a noise out of time, transposing 1967 psychedelia with a heavy Hendrix fixation into the modern age with the help of Nick Saloman's world weary lyrics and careworn nasal London intonation. The second album proper Inner Marshlands released in 1987 remains a classic of the psych genre.

By 1991, and by now a proper touring band, the Frond were up to their fifth album, and when you include two additional collections of early and unreleased recordings, this prolific songsmith had released seven albums in four years! With New River Head, the Frond hit creative heights, cramming every imaginable style into four sides of vinyl, from folk influenced tunes featuring violinist Barry Dransfield, to Stoogian punkarama with honking sax, to grungy pop, and angry psych-punk, via full on guitar freakouts, to reflective singer-songwriter fare, and not forgetting a lysergic ambient trip though imaginary landscapes. Those latter lunar undulations feature in the ten minute plus excursion on side three under the title of The Miskatonik Variations II, probably the trippiest thing heard back in 1991 since well before punk broke cover.

Ramalamafafafa...with chips...

The universe in eight minutes...

Producing countless albums and playing hundreds of gigs up to a hiatus in 2004 brought on by the death of his mother, Nick Saloman and his trusty band of cosmic warriors played music that was simultaneously nostalgic for scuzzy late 60s hippy/proto-punk noise, but brought bang up to date with the furious energy of modenistic outsider blues narrated with a drawn out sigh, or a cynical sneer. all played out well below the radar, the preserve of a select few. Consequently, The Bevis Frond have been something of a best kept secret, but with Fire Records ongoing reissue program getting attention in the mainstream music press, hopefully Saloman's rightful place in Rock's Rich Tapestry is now assured with the re-release of New River Head, his most all-encompassing work.

Side 1
1. White Sun
2. Drowned
3. She's Entitled To
4. Waving
5. Down In The Well
6. New River Head
Side 2
1, Solar Marmalade
2. Wild Jack Hammer
3. He'd Be A Diamond
4. Undertaker
5. Stain On The Sun
Side 3
1. Motherdust
2. Cuvie
3. Thankless Task
4. The Miskatonic Variations II
Side 4
1. It Won't Come Again
2. Blurred Vision
3. Son Of Many Mothers
4. Chinese Burn
5. God Speed You To Earth

This track listing is from my original Woronzow double LP. The tracklisting on the Bandcamp download after the end of "Side 2" is in a different order, and also includes bonus material.

Line up:
Nick Saloman - All instruments, principally guitar, vocals
Martin Crowley - Drums
Cyke Bancroft - Sax, Harp 1.1, 3.4, 4.4
Barry Dransfield - Violin 1.4, 3.3, 3.4
Adrian Shaw - Bass 2.1, 3.4
Bari Watts - Lead guitar 2.2, 3.4, 4.2
David Tibet - Chanting 3.4

Fire Records Facebook
The Bevis Frond Bandcamp

"I got no point I wish to make. I just wanna be your undertaker"

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The MOJO CD - Blonde On Blonde Revisited

The best MOJO covers CDs are usually their classic album reinterpretation extravaganzas. This time around it's an album that probably gets in every Bob Dylan fan's top five, the iconic and groundbreaking Blonde On Blonde, half a century old this year. This artist is a natural for the MOJO treatment, as it has often been the case that Dylan's more accessible songs in particular often sound better performed by someone else. I mean, even the most fanatical Dylanologist cannot deny that Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower takes that song into another universe. That's probably the most obvious example, and as you know, there are several others.

However, some Dylan songs can and should only be played by the Minnesota Bard himself, and there are many of those on this classic album, so let's see how it rolls...

Malcolm Middleton - Rainy Day Women #12 & #35

As ever, the best way to cover an iconic tune is to reinvent it, and here Middleton does just that, turning Dylan's stoned showband stagger into a menacing electro-drone march of the undead, which I would imagine is an atypical approach for the indie-folkie. You don't have to be stoned but it probably helps. A promising start.

My Darling Clementine - Pledging My Time

MOJO being a mainstream magazine, and me being buried deep within the obscuranist culture bunker, it comes as no surprise that most of the artists on this CD are names hitherto unknown to me, and this country duo are no exception to that rule. This is so stripped back and downhome, you can almost see the porch of the tumbledown shack from which these two strum and croon their thang. Yee-ha!

Steve Gunn - Visions of Johanna

His voice may sound like this anyway, I wouldn't know, but Gunn's otherwise warm-hearted countryfied cover of this song struggles with and occasionally fails in its task to not become an admittedly decent Zim impersonation, but an impersonation nonetheless.

Chip Taylor - One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)

A funereal atmosphere pervades a claustrophobic version of the tune from the songwriter best known for penning Wild Thing. Unusually for the Zim the song contains a relatively literal lyric that is not much open to interpretation. Taylor turns up the melancholy to 11. Pass the hankies. One of the better covers on this album.

Phosphorescent - I Want You

Dylan's allegorical paen to desire given a subtle treatment by American singer-songwriter Matthew Houk aka Phosphorescent. Although there is nothing particularly remarkable about this version, as with others on this CD, the strength of the song easily overcomes any tendency by the artist in question to meekly follow in Bob's footsteps. Quite nice actually

Promised Land Sound - Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

Ah, this is more like it, someone with the cojones to stamp their own identity on a well-known tune. Country-psych reverb-heavy wigginess makes this a joyful little romp that while not as radical as Malcolm Middleton's approach does enough to be different, flying off into the cosmos at the end in a heady swirl of sound.

Michael Chapman - Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

One wilful and highly individualistic talent covers another, and such is Chapman's weight of experience, the tune becomes instantly his. Some great slide work at the end of this 12 bar boogie-shuffle is a delight to behold.

Peter Bruntnell - Just Like A Woman

A common approach on this album is for the artist to strip away the music and expose Dylan's lyrics for the wonderful things they are, and this is another that takes that route, slowing the tune down to a crawl into the bargain. The trouble is, it seems to suck the life out of the thing. A good cure for insomnia, methinks.

Thomas Cohen - Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine

Whereas the last one was soporific, this fizzes with attitude and a funky swagger and is far better as a result. Another of the better ones on here.

Kevin Morby - Temporary Like Achilles

Kevin Morby and his acoustic guitar do Woody Guthrie covering Dylan, and given the obvious connection it works just fine. Sounds like it was recorded on one microphone in his kitchen, which only adds to the atmosphere.

Marissa Nadler - Absolutely Sweet Marie

This CD is somewhat lacking in female representation, and here we have only the second female voice on the album. Marissa Nadler, who has already released an album of cover versions that included two Dylan songs turns in an ethereal version of the tune with an elegiac feel. Spooky.

As for the lack of female interpretations, I would have loved to have heard The Unthanks cover one of these tunes.

Ryley Walker - 4th Time Around

American folkie Ryley Walker plays out a respectful and atmospheric cover of Dylan paying homage to Lennon paying homage to Dylan...or summat.

Night Beats - Obviously 5 Believers

This version of the energetic Obviously 5 Believers by Night Beats, whom MOJO describe as a "psych-soul" band fair zips along with youthful zeal. Sounds like an 18-year old Dr John, heavy on the voodoo gumbo.

Jim O'Rourke - Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

...and we end with only the fifth artist I'd heard of before on this compilation. The multi-talented O'Rourke is a natural to cover the "epic" on the album, Dylan's song of awe to his then new wife Sara Lownds. Mixing found sounds with simple but effective instrumentation over its gently unfolding 13 minutes, this is a great way to end a largely successful album of reinterpretations.

MOJO Magazine

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Vertiginous Musings - Part Five

And so we reach the final part of my Vertigo "swirly" reappraisal. It has been fun revisiting these albums, most of which had not been played in many years, and some gems have been rediscovered, as well as some real clunkers. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

6360 066
Warhorse - Red Sea

Not difficult, but an improvement on the first album, but still sounds both dreadfully dated and derivative, the title track being a complete lift from the Purps version of Hush, for example. Elsewhere the riffage still plods wearily, more like an asthmatic pit pony than a warhorse.

6360 067
Jackson Heights - Fifth Avenue Bus

Having been uncermoniously dumped by Keith Emerson, it's no surprise that Lee Jackson's next band would turn away from the overwrought classical bombast of his former leader in The Nice. I'd not played this album in years before writing this, which is a shame as it contains some nice loose-limbed West Coast flavoured pop featuring intricate arrangements and harmonies. Mike Giles occupies the drum stool.

6360 068
Magna Carta - In Concert

My one and only contribution to the vertigoswirl website, I came across an Indian release of this otherwise nondescript folk album from the steadfastly uninteresting Magna Carta.

6360 069
Gordon - Gordon

Rumoured to be the lowest selling swirly, and justifiably so, as this is very dull singer-songwriter fare performed by the lesser known half of Peter & Gordon. There is absolutely no reason to own this poor waste of resources unless you've been bitten by the collecting bug. Sometimes old records sold next to no copies for good reason. I'll give it a mark for turning up...

6360 070
Gentle Giant - Three Friends

After the stunning Acquiring The Taste it is unsurprising that such lofty heights were not quite attained for the follow up, a loose concept album on the development of friendship. Peel The Paint contains Gary Green's greatest exhibition of plank spanking for the group, and this album while not a "10/10" is still stonkingly good!

6360 071
Black Sabbath - Vol. 4 say this is the "best Sabbath album on Vertigo". No it isn't, obviously that was Paranoid. To my uncouth ears, this is too slick by half, and the innocent Mary Jane of Sweet Leaf has been replaced by the cynical superstar marching powder of Snowblind. All a tad too smooth, but it still rocks like a beast. The penultimate great Sabs album.

6360 072
Freedom - Freedom Is More Than A Word

More varied instrumentation, better tuneage and less plodding boogie make this a far better album than the debut. Still not much to write home about.

6360 073
Beggars Opera - Pathfinder

The third album from the Scottish proggers shows that the small advances made on the previous release were as good as it was going to get, which was slightly below average. This is another distinctly unremarkable album, replete with a rather pointless cover of MacArthur Park, a supremely daft piece of nonsense in the place!

Another lavish six-panel cover showcasing Peter Goodfellow's fantastical painting of a spaceman astride a rabid horse in a futuristic scene. This is the album's only redeeming feature.

6360 074
Catapilla - Changes

The Gothic psychedelic jazz-rock band return with a second and if anything, even starker album. Anna Meek is on fine form, her sometimes wordless vocals conjuring dystopian images as the rest of the band do their bare bones swamp jazz thang. Play this loud with the lights out! Great lurid die-cut cover from Roger Dean's brother Martyn tops it off.

6360 075 - assigned to Paul Jones' unfinished second album

6360 076
Ian Carr - Belladonna

Karl Jenkins and John Marshall have departed for Soft Machine, and Jeff Clyne's bass has been picked up by another future-Soft, Roy Babbington. With all these changes Carr has ditched the Nucleus name and taken over most of the composing duties. There's a thirteen-minute long riff in one key and one tempo on this record, and that's the opening and title track. In lesser skilled hands than these it would degenerate into a dirge, but this thing is hypnotic. Also features one Allan Holdsworth on surprisingly low-key guitar. Marvellous!

6360 077
Jackson Heights - Ragamuffin's Fool

Second album from Lee Jackson's band seems to indicate that they were running out of gas. The first side is full of great prog-pop, but the second is an aimless affair, and even includes a cover of a Nice song. It's never a good idea to go back, in any area of life.

Tastefully embossed single cover, with a poster. The only UK Vertigo swirly in a single cover, the Atlantis album (see the last entry in this list) being a Vertigo Germany release originally.

6360 078 - Various artists compilation "Superheavy Vol 2" released in Peru

6360 079
Jade Warrior - Last Autumn's Dream

Now up to their third album, the formula has been perfected. Soon to de-camp for Island where they became far more meditative, toning down the Hendrix guitar flourishes. I much prefer their raucous Vertigo period.

6360 080
Gentle Giant - Octopus

Could the Giant get back to the peaks of musical achievement attained on Acquiring The Taste? Yes, with knobs on! Now with the "classic" line up, John Weathers having taken over the drum stool, nothing is left to chance. Rhythmically mind-boggling, tight as a nut, and boundlessly energetic Octopus is another prog rock golden nugget from this most eclectic of bands, crammed with classics of the genre. If you consider yourself a prog rock fan, you already have this in your collection, surely? A great Roger Dean cover too, that for some reason was not used on the USA version.

It may be even better than Acquiring The Taste, but this isn't Spinal Tap, I'm not about to give a score of 11!!

6360 081
Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed

One of a handful of really well known albums on the label, this was the LP that thrust Alex Harvey's bunch of Glasgae hard cases into the spotlight. As hard as nails, the "Are ye starin' at me pint?" threatening air is established right from the opening blast of 12-bar aggro that is the title track. Fabbo!

6360 082
Status Quo - Piledriver

Gu-dunga-dunga-dunga, before it became boring. Includes the hit single Paper Plane.

6360 083
John Dummer's Oobleedooblee Band - Oobleedooblee Jubilee

One of only two releases on the soon to be shelved UK version of the the Vertigo swirly label design in 1973, and the only UK-originated release, so therefore the it has the honour of being The Last Official UK Swirly.

This somewhat prosaic country rock/R&B band features the guitar of Dave Kelly, and his skill on the instrument is the only thing that lifts this album above "entirely forgettable". John Dummer is, fittingly enough, the drummer, and the keyboard player is one Kingsley Ward, presumably he of Rockfield studios fame?

...and there ends any logical sequence of chronological catalogue numbers. What follows is a seemingly random selection of numbers assigned to other releases on the "swirl" Vertigo label:

6360 500
Rod Stewart - Gasoline Alley

Rod's second solo album is every bit as classy as the first. This time around the backing band is The Faces and no-one else, and the end result has that familiar classic about to fall apart effortless boozy rock'n'roll swagger synonymous with the leery lads. It helps that Rod has picked some classic tunes to cover too.

6499 407/408 (6657 001)
Various Artists - Vertigo Annual 1970

If you only search out one Vertigo compilation, this is the one to go for. Not a bad track on its two LPs, and a great introduction to the label. The iconic Keef cover tops it off. Marvellous!

6342 010
Lighthouse - One Fine Morning

Guess who designed that cover? That apart, this is a mostly failed experiment in the large ensemble mould. An 11-member band consisting of rock instruments, brass and string sections, with poorly arranged multiple vocalists sounds like a mess on paper and that's what it is on record. Some of the tunes show promise and some of the brass/sax solos are good, but it's not an album I play often, if at all. In fact before writing this I couldn't recall anything about it!

6325 250
Thomas F. Browne - Wednesday's Child

Who he? I have no idea, but he has some names in his backing band - Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson, Gary Wright (I assume it's the Spooky Tooth keyboard player) who, despite their pedigree cannot lift these dull songs out of their slough of despond. A singer/songwriter cash-in by the label that fails to realise that it helps to have at least some half-decent songs as a starting point.

6342 011
Lighthouse - Thoughts Of Movin' On

Less than a year after the debut comes Lighthouse's second album. The tunes are more consistent, but it's somehow less involving. The sprawling mess of the debut now seems to be a plus point!

6333 500/501 (6673 001)
Aphrodite's Child - 666

Every self-respecting prog or psych fan knows this record. A trail blazing acid concept album about the apocalypse, including screaming orgasms. Demis Roussos soon left all this behind to become the suburban housewives' favourite, as immortalised in the withering Mike Leigh play Abigail's Party, and Vangelis became a one-man musical industry. Neither surpassed this marvellous double album. The spiky acid-fried guitar of Silver Koulouris is the star, leading these anti-Beatles compositions down the Styx. A true classic!

6360 700
Jim Croce - You Don't Mess Around With Jim

Pretty nondescript country rock from American singer songwriter backed by a competent bunch of session musos. Not a lot more to be said, really.

6360 701
Jim Croce - Life And Times

THIS IS BLOODY ANNOYING! Last time I looked at before writing this series was a few years ago, and back then this was only credited as a rumoured release on swirl, but it now appears to be a bona fide ultra-rarity, and therefore means that my collection now falls not one but two short of the total. Dang!

Musically, this is a big improvement on the previous rather undynamic album and is quite fun. Includes the Sinatra-covered Big, Bad Leroy Brown, royally ripped off and camped up...err, Queen for their Bring Back That Leroy Brown.

6499 268/269 (6641 077)
Kraftwerk - Kraftwerk

A genuine musical landmark, in two parts. The first two Krafwerk albums, released separately in Germany on Philips as Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2, and here put out as a budget double album for the princely sum of £3 are landmark releases in the formative years of Krautrock, and far more interesting and utterly different from the band's later trademark "robot" music, if somewhat less musical.

1 features the motorik drums of Klaus Dinger and much flute and primitive elctronics, lending it a hypnotic air. The music has hints of the scale repitition honed to perfection with the introduction of synths a few years down the line. By 2 Dinger's services had been dispensed with, and the visceral organic nature if the debut is replaced by a far less rhythmic and more disparate and experimental sound, epitomised by Atem, which consists of three minutes of treated breathing. 

This album gets a high mark more for its importance in an emerging sound culture than for its content, if I'm honest. However, it is definintely worth a listen.

6360 609
Atlantis - Atlantis 

The rump (heheh) of the Big Brother-blusey German rock band formerly known as Frumpy re-convene as Atlantis, with a rockier and frankly less exciting sound. "An average band with outstanding vocals" says, and this time they're dead right. Inga Rumpf provides the full-throated Joplinesque singing, and it's the only thing that makes this record vaguely interesting.

Thw dullness is compounded by the disappointingly simple single cover. A direct lift from the German Vertigo run of releases, possibly in the hope that a UK release would spark interest. It didn't.

Well, that's your lot. All that remains now is to give thanks to that invaluable resource tool, the best label-dedicated site I know of. How better to finish off than an interview with the founder of Vertigo Records, Olav Wyper, published in July last year in

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Vertiginous Musings - Part Four

Well, here we are at Part Four...not long to go now, honest!

6360 041
Gentle Giant - Acquiring The Taste

If you're looking for a defining original prog rock album away from the more obvious choices, this little beauty could well be it. Gentle Giant's debut was a good album, but this blows its socks off! 40 or so minutes of musical exploration allied to stunning arrangements by a bunch of incredibly talented musicians, this album set an early standard.

6360 042
Graham Bond With Magick - We Put Our Magick On You

More aimless jazzy noodling in the land of Crowley. Best avoided.

6360 043
Tudor Lodge - Tudor Lodge

Good folk record with occasional hints of acidity in the grooves that puts it at the lighter end of the same street as Trees and Comus, leavened by a touch of early Sandy-era Fairports.
The stunning six-panel fold-out die-cut cover probably outdoes the music in terms of inventiveness. The most I have ever paid for a, not telling!

6360 044 - Not released, white label promo copies only of Dave Kelly's self-titled album, which eventually saw the light of day on Mercury

6360 045
Various Artists - Heads Together, First Round

Odd compilation that has none of Vertigo's obvious bigger acts, and includes four tracks by artists who never released albums on the label, and a fifth by Jimmy Campbell not featured on his sole LP but easily as good as anything on there. Collectable novelty value aside, the majority of these cuts are all rather good.

6360 046
Ramases - Space Hymns

Ramases was a Sheffield-based plumber in his day job. I wonder if he ever worked with a local spark by the name of Joe Cocker? Our Egyptian mythology-obssessed pipe welder and his good lady can sing a bit, and here they are backed by the band that became 10CC. As a result the playing is naturally exemplary which lifts these otherwise average hippy cosmic workouts above ground, which is just as well given the massive six-panel foldout Roger Dean cover depicting a steeple-themed rocket ship at lift off.

6360 047 - Not released in the UK, this was a Brazil-only release of the first Sabs album

6360 048
Dr Z - Three Parts To My Soul "Spiritus, Manes Et Umbra"

Keyboards/Bass/Drums line up sees this sombre trio play out Keith Keyes philsophical concept album themed around the innner struggles of the soul. Better than that description makes it sound, honest!
One of the best covers on the label features a Barney Bubbles fold-out die-cut spectacular.

6360 049
Freedom - Through The Years

Blues-rock trio led by ex-Procol Harum  drummer Bobby Harrison. Fair to middling throughout, plods along and sounds terribly dated. Although well played the paucity of decent songwriting lets it down.

6360 050
Black Sabbath - Master Of Reality

Having hit the motherlode with Paranoid, the Brummie lads are now coasting. The stereo-panned cough that introduces Sweet Leaf still makes me smile every time I hear it. They may be treading water, but it still blows most of its competition out the way. It even sounds musically sophisticated at times, which won't do, surely?
You haven't "collected" this unless you've got the ellusive Keef poster by the way.

6360 051
Gravy Train - (A Ballad Of) A Peaceful Man

Great album full of Norman Barratt's acid-fried guitar over ensemble Jethro Tull styled prog, with Norm's distinctive pipes rattling the ornaments. Never a dull moment, and the band's best album.

6360 052
Ben - Ben

Fairly average and uninspiring jazz rock from a group of one-album-wonders. Notable mainly for being the only UK "swirly" not to include the Vertigo logo on the front cover. Stupidly expensive, I'll make do with my Arkarma exact repro.

6360 053
Mike Absalom - Mike Absalom

Storytelling urban folkie Mike Absalom is an atypical choice for Vertigo, and that may explain why this record is rumoured to have been one of the label's lowest sellers. Talking of atypical, you'd never guess that was a Roger Dean cover, would you?  Another massive six-panel fold-out job, too!

6360 054
Beggars Opera - Waters Of Change

Ah, it's those godawful third division Scottish proggers Beggars Opera, whom you recall got a pasting from me for their first LP. Have they improved? Thankfully yes, mostly by turning down the cheesy faux-classicisms. See the video above and make your own mind up! Waters Of Change sounds like an old wives' remedy for the hot flushes rather than a thrusting rawk album title, doncha think? Oddly, leader Ricky Gardiner later turned up playing guitar for Bowie on Low, and also on Iggy LPs from the same era.

6360 055
The John Dummer Band featuring Nick Pickett - Blue

It's now 1972, and here we have a proto-pubrock album of some style that sits somewhere between Savoy Brown's Looking In and early 70s Fleetwood Mac. Some sharp-suited R&B and blooze-soaked tuneage make for an enjoyable if unchallenging listen.
A lovely but fragile Roger Dean die-cut cover makes this hard to get hold of in good condition, a similar problem that befalls Nucleus's Elastic Rock.

6360 056
Ian Matthews - Tigers Will Survive

Another year, another backing band, including future Attraction Bruce Thomas on bass guitar, with "Woolfe Flywheel" on accordion, and why not? More balls than the debut, but somehow even more underwhelming.

6360 057 - Not used

6360 058 - Not released, white label promo copies only of Assagai's second album Zimbabwe which got a full release on Philips

6360 059
Paul Jones - Crucifix In A Horseshoe

Ex-Manfred Mann object of pubescent female lust makes an album of worthy singer-songwriter fare. With this LP being his fifth solo effort he had long shaken off his teenybop idol image, but has maybe ended up becoming far too earnest in the process. Great lyrics, all the same!

6360 060
Linda Hoyle - Pieces Of Me

Having left Affinity, Linda Hoyle employs most of Nucleus as her backing band, with Karl Jenkins writing the music and orchestrations to Linda's lyrics, and the end result is a classy product by an underrated singer.

6360 061 - Not released in the UK, this was a Peru-only release of a compilation of some of the heavier acts on the label, lead by a few Sabs tunes

6360 062
Jade Warrior - Released

Refining their Far Eastern/Afro percussive rock hybrid sound, Jade Warrior step up a gear for their second album which sees more of their now instantly reconisable hard-hitting and contrasting sparse arrangements creating their own unique soundstage. Groovy!
Percussionist and flute player Jon Field designed the lovely Japanese-styled six-panel fold out cover.

6360 063
Legend - Moonshine reckons this is better than the debut. It isn't. Still, it contains some decent dirty R'n'B and some downhome and slightly downbeat songs making for an interesting listen all the same. Bill Fifield, the drummer from the first album has left and is now Bill Legend of T. Rex fame, being screamed at by young girls the length of the land.

6360 064
Hokus Poke - Earth Harmony

Average looking bunch of hairies play average sounding rock'n'boogie music for longhairs. This is the sort of thing you'd be listening to at 4:00pm on a Friday afternoon free festival bill, monged off yer tits...

6360 065 - Not used

Last part next week! Phew!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Five

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Vertiginous Musings - Part Three

Part Three reveals an overall musical quality dip, unsurprising given the number of "underground" labels now resorting to hoovering up the average bands by the denim-clad bag load. Our trawl is redeemed by a couple of real gems by unknowns. Also my "bargain bin" finds did not stretch much past the end of 1970 as far as release dates go, sadly, so from here on in the majority of these were bought during my manic collecting phase in the latter half of the 1990s. Therefore there's less chance of my judgement being clouded by nostalgia.

Read on...

6360 021
Graham Bond - Holy Magick

Graham Bond was responsible for a large part of the birth of the British jazz-rock scene, giving Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Dick Heckstall-Smith their starts, among others. That was via his influential Graham Bond Organisation in the mid 60s, but by this album he had lost himself to Occultism, and Holy Magick is the first of two spiral LPs devoted to the dark arts. Obviously this is way off with the faeries, and musically Bond seems to have become a flabby Brit version of Sun Ra. The inner cover features several pictures of a be-robed and bare chested Bond waving a sword about in front of Stonehenge, natch, and attempting to repel the tides. It's not pretty.

6360 022 - Never issued

6360 023
Gravy Train - Gravy Train

Guitarist Norman Barratt and his band produce some nascent proto-prog dominated by the keyboards, sax and flute of co-founder John Hughes that serves to raise this debut album above the prosaic. Eye catching cover from Hipgnosis displaying hints of their style to come.

6360 024
Keith Tippett Group - Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening

The first Vertigo album out in 1971 in this list sees the already respected jazz pianist assemble a band consisting of the usual suspects from the jazz/rock crossover world including Robert Wyatt on the drums and a young Gary Boyle on guitar. Tippett puts together an album of typically left-field jazz-fusion tuneage. Enjoyable in places but not spectacular, and certainly less than the sum of its stellar cast list. An intriguing Roger & Martyn Dean cover completes the package.

6360 025
Cressida - Asylum

If anything, even better than the debut. This album exudes classy songwriting from every pore, and instrumentally Cressida were in no way lacking, either. Sad that they went the way of so many bands during this period, straight back to nowhere.

6360 026
Still Life - Still Life

Unimaginative clichéd organ-led rock by a band of unknowns who rightly stayed that way. And the lyrics, oh Jeez, the lyrics..."People in black run around in the night so they can't be seen". Yep, that good! The striking cover by Design Machine is about its only redeeming feature.

6360 027
Nucleus - We'll Talk About It Later

Another album of quality jazz-rock from Ian Carr's band, and like the debut it is dominated by Karl Jenkins compositions. Inevitably a very slight quality dip follows the stellar debut Elastic Rock, but similar amounts of fun can be had spotting which riffs or even whole tunes ended up on Jenkins' later Soft Machine albums. Another early Roger Dean cover completes the package.

6360 028
Uriah Heep - Salisbury

Leaps and bounds ahead of their steaming debut, Salisbury contains an almost side-long epic that includes an orchestra, for no good reason at all. Supremely daft and still lovably club-footed, Heep lurch on into the 70s hinterland, and never has a band felt so at home in an era, not that the press ever understood. The title track also contains Mick Box's second best guitar solo, finger blisterin' it is! Oh...and Bird Of Prey...if that doesn't make you at least think about headbanging, someone's switched your lights out. Completely OTT and bloody marvellous!

6360 029
Catapilla - Catapilla

Punky visceral jazz-rock fronted by the distinctive voice of one Anna Meek, who declaims in strident fashion throughout. Imagine Lene Lovich fronting a voodoo jazz band under the influence of the 'shrooms. It dares to be different! A winning and quite fittingly nasty cover, a large stylised painting of a rotting apple.

6360 030
Assagai - Assagai

Afro rockers led by Mongezi Feza and Dudu Pukwana, or at least they are the names I recognise, the former later having a long if occassional musical association with Robert Wyatt. Assagai produce fairly unspectacular afro-pop-rock, and with a mix of originals and covers including Hey Jude, this is all nice and poppy and obviously riding on the coat-tails of Osibisa's then success.

6360 031
Nirvana - Local Anaesthetic 

One half of late-60s psych pop duo Nirvana, by 1971 Patrick Campbell-Lyons was well esconced in his main role as Vertigo creator Olav Wyper's A&R man and in-house producer, carrying out knob twiddling for many a Vertigo band. However, he always kept the name Nirvana going, and this album proved to be the band's only outing on the spiral imprint. His partner in the original Nirvana was one Alex Spyropolous, who is nowhere to be seen on this sprawling record where Patrick is backed by fellow Vertigo acts Jade Warrior, Sunbird, and others, including a pre or just-Crim Mel Collins.

Consisting of two side-long song suites that take in everything from cosmic jams to English music hall, via some decent songwriting, to say that Local Anaesthetic lacks focus just about nails it. Another great and enigmatic Keef cover upon which we can feast our eyes is worth a mark on its own.

6360 032
Patto - Hold Your Fire

The first Patto album will always hold a nostalgic place in my affections, but if anything, this second effort, also produced by Muff Winwood is musically even better. A raw emotive energy is shot through these grooves, and even more than the debut that is the sole reason it doesn't all fall apart. Ollie Halsall is on fire throughout, and this is a prime example of music making while flying by on the seat of your pants. And tell me You, You Point Your Finger isn't at least as good as any ballad Paul Rodgers came up with for Free, and I'll tell you to keep listening until the penny drops. Possibly Mike Patto's finest five or so minutes.
This album is utterly brilliant!
An ultra-fragile tri-section foldout cover designed by the band and painted by Roger Dean makes this one of the hardest to acquire with the cover in anything approaching decent condition.

6360 033
Jade Warrior - Jade Warrior

Patrick Campbell-Lyons' protegés and something of a Vertigo houseband Jade Warrior at last get to make their own record and a belter it is too. Stripped back instrumentation under Far Eastern and African influence combining with ethnic percussion and flute, plenty of classic instances of quiet/loud contrasts crop up throughout with quiet contemplative phases giving way to ballsy left-field rocking, and vice-versa. A class act.

6360 034
Ian Matthews - If You Saw Thro' My Eyes

Good album of West Coast folk rock that just shows how far behind his former Fairport bandmates had left him. Heck, there's even a cover of Reno Nevada on here! Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson appear here along with other Brit-folk luminaries of the day, and Keith Tippett, oddly enough. Despite Thompson's great guitar playing it never really gets out of second gear, which is a shame as there are some decent songs on this record.

6360 035 & 6360 036 - Released in Argentina - Manfred Mann's Chapter Three Vol One & Juicy Lucy's first if you're curious.

6360 037
May Blitz - 2nd Of May 

May Blitz split up soon after this, their second album. Just as well as 2nd Of May is the sound of a band rapidly running out of ideas.

6360 038
Daddy Longlegs - Oakdown Farm

Why would a bunch of ex-pat American downhome country types, led by Roy Orbison's former guitarist be living in a cottage in Hertfordshire? Nope, me neither. Pleasant enough but instantly forgettable hayseed dixie fare, somewhat out of whack with the rest of the label.

6360 039
Ian Carr with Nucleus - Solar Plexus

Whether it's "Nucleus", "Ian Carr with Nucleus", or simply just "Ian Carr" emblazoned on the cover, the "swirly" era band is largely similar, and the music they produce is the highest quality early jazz-fusion. Great cover, too, by "B.E. Ltd". As this was the group's third album in under two years, one suspects a lot of it was recorded at the same sessions.

6360 040
Magna Carta - Songs From Wasties Orchard

An improvement on the debut, with better instrumentation, and the songs have improved too. I know not how this band fared after the "swirly" era, but they never rose much above fair-to-middling during their time on the iconic imprint

Well, that's it for Part Three, same place for more, next week...

Part One

Part Two

Part Four

Part Five

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Vertiginous Musings - Part Two

My trawl through the formative years of the Vertigo label and its "spiral" imprint continues...

After VO7, the catalogue numbers have changed, as has the decade. We are now into 1970 and the music biz is growing apace. The major labels through their "underground" subsidiaries are signing up everything that moves, and some things that don't, such is their "relaxed" state. The bag here on in is as mixed as can be. Read on...

6360 001
Fairfiled Parlour - From Home To Home

Classy UK 60s pop-psych band Kaleidoscope emerge into the new decade with a new name and a slight style change, the former perhaps to allay confusion with their USA psychedelic namesakes. From Home To Home is a good collection of nicely orchestrated typically English quality songwriting with more than a touch of toyshop Brit-psych left over from the previous decade. Another quality textured cover design from Keef.

6360 002
Gracious! - Gracious!

Does the band name include the !, or is the title of the album just ! on its ownsome? Who knows, and frankly, who cares. This was one of the first LPs I dug out of that bargain bin (see Part One), and from its wonderful textured gatefold cover with lurid inner cover design, coutesy of one Barney Bubbles aka Teenburger, right through to the dense Mellotron-tastic early prog, this album is a belter. The missing link between the Moody Blues and King Crimson, this band should have been huge but unfortunately were one of many casualties of the record industry's then typically scattergun approach to signing followed by a subsequent almost complete lack of support. They made one more album that came out on Philips International, often mistakenly filed in the Religious section of record shops because of the band name and the unfortunate choice of a picture of a stained glass window on the no-expense-made single sleeve - in complete contrast to the debut - and consequently Gracious! disappeared without trace. A sad loss.
Search out the YouTube video of them in action at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

6360 003
Magna Carta - Seasons

Pleasant but not particularly memorable light folk music, including a certain Tony Visconti on bass guitar and one Rick Wakeman on occasional keyboards, but don't get excited. Redeemed somewhat by another rather nice sleeve, this time by Linda Glover, a name unfamiliar to me.

6360 004
Affinity - Affinity

A good collection of strong bluesy jazz rock from a band fronted by the marvellous pipes of Linda Hoyle. Arrangements by John Paul Jones underlines its class. Linda recently put out a rather fine comeback album, heavily involving Affinity's bass player Mo Foster. Another distinctive colour treated Keef cover design.

6360 005
Bob Downes Open Music - Electric City

The lack of apostrophe in the band name is not my typo, for once!
Flute player Bob Downes leads his collective through some energetic rough'n'ready jazz rock with a James Brown funky feel, enlivened by occasional incendiary guitar blasts from either Ray Russell or the ubiquitous Chris Spedding. The loose feel throughout gives the impression that it was recorded whilst well under the influence. Beatnik hippy jazz!

6360 006
Uriah Heep - Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble

It was the sales generated by Black Sabbath and to a lesser degree by Uriah Heep that for all intents and purposes financed the signing of the lesser known acts on the label. Here are the musically great but always lyrically cringeworthy Uriah Heep with their lumpen prole debut, which for all its lead-booted unsubtlety is actually quite enjoyable. Cringe at David Byron's shift into bare-chested crooner mode for an incongruous choice of cover in Come Away Melinda, previously tackled by the likes of Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins and Bobbie Gentry!

6360 007
May Blitz - May Blitz

If Cream had been a punk band, they wouldn't have sounded like this. Beefy agreesive power trio who never let up. A touch of the Pink Fairies, too. This was another one of those bargain bin purchases, and I still love it, probably mainly for nostalgic reasons as it could be quite horrible, I'm far too close to it to tell! Actually, listening to it again, it is not horrible at all and really rather good, being as rhythmically varied as you would expect from a band led by a drummer. Although self-produced, it has a wonderful ringing clarity to its sound. Smell the patchouli! The gross but eyecatching cover design is by one Tony Benyon, well known as the NME's Lone Groover penman.

6360 008
Nucleus - Elastic Rock

Trumpeter Ian Carr was one of the prime movers in the creation of what became known as jazz fusion from the mid 70s onwards. All sorts of musicians passed through his band Nucleus, most of whom ended up at one time or another in future line ups of Soft Machine. This great album includes Karl Jenkins and John Marshall in its line up, and the guitar is supplied by guitarist for all seasons Chris Spedding. Jenkins has a hand in the composition of most of these tunes, and Elastic Rock is a timeless classic.

6360 009
Dr. Strangely Strange - Heavy Petting

Chaotic acid-folk in the manner of the Incredible String Band, produced by their mentor Joe Boyd, and sparsely featuring a young Gary Moore on electric guitar. The first Vertigo album to feature an elaborate foldout cover, designed by none other than Roger Dean, one of his many pre-Yes commissions.

6360 010
Jimmy Campbell - Half Baked

The Jimmy Campbell album has always been one of the cheapest from a collecting point of view, but I consider it is somewhat undervalued, as Jimmy is a better than average singer-songwriter with a penchant for barrelhouse stripped down rock'n'roll. Also, as long as you do not suffer from coulrophobia, it has a great cover by Keef!

6360 011
Black Sabbath - Paranoid

The mighty Sabs hit paydirt with this beast of a second album. This LP is so good that even Ozzy's "Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses" will here pass unremarked. Obviously, the best Sabs album.

6360 012
Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Volume Two

A slight step sideways here on the second album from Manfred's and Mike Hugg's short-lived jazz rock band, with more of an emphasis on the song than the first album. Still a cut above, all the same.

6360 013
Clear Blue Sky - Clear Blue Sky

A very young band, Clear Blue Sky were led by the then 17 year-old guitar player extraordinaire John Simms. Another "bargain bin special" for me, and an album that has lost none of its naive charm. Acid-fried power trio brouhaha with extended soloing from John is the order of the day, and it will burn a hole in your carpet if you leave it on the floor. Marvellous stuff! Another gorgeous pre-Yes Roger Dean cover, and by now you can see his signature style emerging.
Incidentally John Simms is still flying his fingers up and down the fretboard for those Cumbrian loons Census Of Hallucinations and their many offshoots.

6360 014
Juicy Lucy - Lie Back And Enjoy It

The addition of Micky Moody on guitar means this album is an improvement on the debut, and it fair belts along like a runaway boogie express train. I'd not listened to it for years before writing this, and I have to say it's far better than I remember. The cover doesn't have you running screaming for the hills, either.

6360 015
Warhorse - Warhorse

Having been ditched by Deep Purple in favour of Roger Glover, Nic Simper either formed or joined a band of lower league hard rockers that fall somewhere between his former employers and Uriah Heep, but a good division or two below both. Abel Lilac, if you will. Dull riffs cover a lack of melody, and the record displays all the familiar plodding hard rock clichés of the time. They try hard, boy do they just, but all the effort in the world cannot disguise their complete lack of imagination.

6360 016
Patto - Patto

Another bargain bin special, encased in a fantastic textured Benyon cover. Patto were the ultimate example of tight but loose, starring the gnarled pipes of frontman Mike Patto and of course, the fabulous guitar of Ollie Halsall, both allied to a rollercoaster rhythm section. The four of them often threatened musical collapse but always pulled back from the brink just in time. A few years later Ollie hitched up with Kevin Ayers for a long association, and some of you may know him from that, but whatever, Ollie Halsall was one of the best plank spankers of his generation, sadly underrated at the time, and now sadly missed.

6360 017
Colosseum - Daughter Of Time

A strange album that meanders a tad from the path taken by its predecessors, in itself not a bad thing, but the addition of Chris Farlowe's chest-beating vocal peacockery and an expanded brass section, not to mention a spoken word passage in the opening track lend the whole caboodle the feel of a brass-rock version of a thespian Moody Blues. The strength of the playing just about wins the day.

6360 018
Beggar's Opera - Act One

Scottish prog rock was relatively thin on the ground in the original era, probably because it tended to be an English middle class sport - all those keyboards don't come cheap, and it helps if daddy is a stockbroker. Anyway, Beggars Opera were Scottish, and here they deliver a completely over the top slab of faux-classical nonsense that makes The Nice seem subtle. This dated album is so much of its time it could be used in music degree courses as an example of the then infant genre's propensity to daft excesses, and amongst its lesser skilled practitioners its liking for hiding what are actually rather simple themes under layers of supposed compexity. However, as a result it has a skewed charm. Mind you, I always end up laughing at it, not with it.

6360 019
Legend - Legend

As I was barely into double figures at the time, it's difficult to know how out-on-a-limb an album of 12 original rock'n'roll tunes was in 1970. The famous "Red Boot" cover is one of the most well-known on the label, and from that right down into the rollickin' greaser tuneage, I loved it aged 12, and I still do..."Moany, moany..."
Sarfend legend Mickey Jupp, for it is he, could probably be credited with inventing pubrock with this record, a good four years before anyone cared.

6360 020
Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant

Too clever by half, and as they self-deprecatingly but knowingly later admitted themselves, pretentious for the sake of it, Gentle Giant were of course, utterly brilliant. It's probably safe to say that if you don't like Gentle Giant, you don't like progressive rock, and here they are emerging with their fist explorations into the belly of the prog beast having gone into hibernation as the psych-pop Simon Dupree & The Big Sound a year or two beforehand, and acquired guitarist Gary Green along the way. One wonders how aware they were of Crimson's explosion on to the scene a year earlier with what was the first true progressive rock album. Such was its impact, unless Gentle Giant developed in splendid isolation they must have known about it. I only ask because in a similar fashion to In The Court Of... Gentle Giant's debut also runs out of steam halfway in to side 2! (oooh...controversial).

That aside, like Crim's first, the opening side of this platter is simply stunning, and a good pointer for what was to come. Marvellous stuff!

Well, that's it for Part Two, see you next time. As ever, refer to for more info than you'll ever need on this Aladdin's Cave of a label.

Part One

Part Three

Part Four 

Part Five