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.
10/10

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

More aimless jazzy noodling in the land of Crowley. Best avoided.
3/10

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 record...no, not telling!
6/10

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.
6/10

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.
6/10

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.
6/10

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.
5/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
5/10

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!
5/10

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.
5/10

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.
6/10

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.
5/10

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!
6/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

6360 063
Legend - Moonshine

vertigoswirl.com 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.
6/10

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...
4/10

6360 065 - Not used


Last part next week! Phew!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

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.
4/10

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.
6/10

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.
5/10

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.
9/10

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.
4/10

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.
7/10

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!
9/10

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.
6/10

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.
5/10

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.
6/10

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.
10/10

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.
7/10

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.
6/10

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.
5/10

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.
5/10

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.
7/10

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
6/10


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

Part One

Part Two

Part Four







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.
7/10

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.
9/10

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.
5/10

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.
7/10

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!
6/10

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!
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
6/10

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!
6/10

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.
10/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
4/10

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.
9/10

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.
6/10


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.
5/10

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.
9/10

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!
8/10




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

Part One

Part Three

Part Four

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Vertiginous Musings - Part One


My pride and joy is my small but perfectly formed record collection, which consists of around 1000 fragrant slabs of vinyl. The sun around which it all spins on the turntable of life (woah, blimey!) is the section reserved for albums released on the famous Vertigo "swirl" or "spiral" label, the underground subsidiary of Philips, set up in the hope of rivalling Island, Harvest, Deram etc in the burgeoning underground rock scene of the time. No genres back then, it was "underground" or "pop"...ah, simple times!

The first proper record collecting I did was as an almost-teen in early 70s Wellingborough, a sleepy little town in a sleepy little county hidden in the middle of our then sleepy sceptered isle. Tucked away on the periphery of the town centre was a seedy department store-come-supermarket run by a local chancer. The store was located at the back of the town cattle market, itself the site of much childhood nefarious activities, and if you visited the store on or near livestock auction days in the summer you soon became aware of a somewhat distinctive odour. Inevitably, the store and the cattle market are both long gone and the land is now the site of a block of flats, I believe. Within those hallowed portals there was a remainder bin stuffed with vinyl goodies by bands so obscure, even their mums didn't know they existed. A fair few of these were on the Vertigo label, and being an impoverished boychild, funds were tight, so it was fortunate that firstly the prices of those goodies ranged from 25p to a heady £1.50, and secondly that the price stickers were...ahem...easily swapped. Among other gems on the RCA Neon label, B&C, etc, my first and last forays into a life of crime got me albums by Gracious!, Patto, Legend, Cressida, Manfred Mann's Chapter Three and others for as little as I could get away with, as long as the overweight and limping store detective was not in the vicinity.

Sigh...right, snapping myself out of the nostalgic reverie it's back to the here and now and the task in hand. Of the 88 spirals released here in the UK between November 1969 and the summer of 1972 - there were a few non-UK releases too - I have all but one, the ever elusive self-titled album by early fusion band Ben, copies of which now change hands for ridiculous amounts of money*. I have consoled myself with an Arkarma exact repro, as it is highly unlikely I will ever consider spending upwards of £750 on a 12" vinyl record to be justified expenditure.

Most if not all of those albums were purchased back in the swirling (heheh) mists of time purely on the attraction of their gatefold cover designs, as there was little or no chance you would hear the majority of these bands on the radio or on the only TV programme that catered for the underground scene, The Old Grey Whistle Test, these then being the only sources of "try before you buy". Sumptuous gatefold covers were the rule, and even the occasional massive fold out designs appeared, despite the average band promo budget being about 5p. That last fact explains why a few real gems sunk without trace. Many of these eye-catching designs were by Marcus Keef, better known simply by his last name. All the covers are on the Vertigo website, so go feast your peepers on some classic work.

Around two-thirds of the 87 Vertigo spiral LPs I have accumulated over the years, mostly in a mad spree in the latter half of the 1990s, are UK pressings. The ultimate source of reference for the serious Spiral collector is vertigoswirl.com where you will find all the information you will ever need and then some, as well as links to all the original vinyl releases in all formats from all over the globe on this relatively short-lived label design. Here I will concentrate on those UK LP issues, and I will give my own short summaries of each release, followed by an entirely subjective mark out of 10. 

* "...ridiculous amounts of money" in the record collecting world is anything over £500. I've never understood why rare records are valued far less than rare comics, both artforms being reflections of popular culture and equally as valid...or as trashy, depending on your viewpoint.

This first part will cover as many as is feasible before my better half tells me I should be doing something useful. The list is in chronological order of release, with the catalogue number included for any vinyl collecting nerds out there.

VO1
Colosseum - Valentyne Suite

A cracking combination of hard rock and jazz rock from the now well known line up of Hiseman/Greenslade/Heckstall-Smith, with more than capable back up from guitarist James Litherland. The majority of spirals are debut releases and some show their naivety. This however was the band's second album, after the fabulous and if I'm honest even better debut For Those About To Die We Salute You on Fontana. It rocks, and there's a side-long epic. What's not to like?
7/10

VO2
Juicy Lucy - Juicy Lucy

Band formed by gruff voiced pedal steel player Glen Campbell (obviously not that one) after the collapse of Peel favourites The Misunderstood. An album of rollicking R&B perhaps best known for the hit cover of Bo Diddely's Who Do You Love, and of course for having the most gross album cover on the label. It cannot be unseen.
6/10

VO3
Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Manfred Mann Chapter Three



Rarely spoken of, even by Manfred fans was his and bandmate Mike Hugg's excursion into jazz rock that lasted for two albums, both on the spiral label. Why these albums are so overlooked is anyone's guess as they are both prime examples of the then popular genre. Big band arrangements with a rock sensibility allied to instrumental freedom make this album in particular one my favourites on the label.
8/10

VO4
Rod Stewart - An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down

Rod The Mod's first solo album before fame beckoned. Backed by a stellar cast, including two of his bandmates from The Faces, Rod turns his hand to a mixture of self-penned rockers and ballads, and a handful of covers, including Mike D'Abo's Handbags And Gladrags made famous decades later as the theme tune to Ricky Gervais' wonderfully cringeworthy comedy The Office. Not a bad album, it has its moments.
7/10

VO5 - not released

VO6
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath


The band and the album that invented heavy metal...'nuff said.
9/10

VO7
Cressida - Cressida


This was one of those albums I found in that bargain bin, and it's a bit of a classic. Classy songwriting married to an early pop-prog hybrid sound, dominated by keyboards, all done with a complete absence of bombast, too. Very nice indeedy, and still a favourite.
8/10


We have now reached the end of the "VO" run of catalogue numbers, so here would be a good place to end Part One...more to follow.

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Friday, 8 April 2016

"Sing" spelt backwards is "Gnis"


There are quite a few bands around that might be described as "Marmite" - note for non-Brits, it means you love them or can't stand them, the usual reaction to the tangy yeast-extract paste of the same name. Some who don't know what they're missing would describe VdGG and even the mighty Crim thus. For me it's Rush and Dweem Thweeter...I'd rather skick pins in my ears. Anyway, another "Marmite" are Cardiacs. For years I've tried to like them and failed. It's not that I can't stand them, it's simply that their impenetrably dense sound has never let me in despite my past attempts at meekly knocking on the door, rising to vainly attempting to pick the lock, and finally a futile try at simply kicking the bleedin' door in.

That was until a week or so ago, when I got hold of a copy of their magnum opus Sing To God. You see, I like to keep plugging away at bands I don't understand. The penny has dropped!

Sing To God is, as I'm sure all you "in the know" will agree, a work of genius. Just listen to this and tell me you prefer some dull prog band, and...well, I'll just sigh at your lack of imagination.



Have no fear, this will not be turning into a review, as everything that can possibly be said about this album has already been committed to print and to the ether, from the delirious fawnication of the supplicants (hmmm...good album title, there!) all the way down to raging negativity in words of less than one syllable, but I will say that the guitar solo on Fiery Gun Hand is either a work of undiluted genius, or maybe just a glorious mistake.

If like me you consider that judging by your otherwise eclectic and skewed musical tastes you should feel at home in Cardiacsworld but don't, just keep playing this fabulous mess of an album where chaos and order are one and the same, until you are hit by that Eureka Moment. You won't look back...

Monday, 28 March 2016

Stick Men + - Midori

This brief missive is a to make you aware of a rather fab double live album by those masterful purveyors of Crim, and of course their own classy compositions and improvs, the mighty Stick Men. Midori is a document of one of four shows the band did in Japan in April 2015, previously only available in that country, but now out as a CD limited edition of 1000 on MoonJune Records.

The "+" added to group name is none other than David Cross, who seems to be in the midst of something of a renaissance at the moment, much to our delight. David adds his violin textures to interpetations of the timeless Starless theme, and makes other contributions to what is in effect a ProjeKct, in all but name.

Stick Men are also rightly reknowned for their imrovs, something lacking to any great degree other than the percussive interludes provided by the current line-up of the parent band, and there are some great examples here. Not forgetting the band's own compositions, which carry on the ethos of the Stick-based line ups of latter day Crim, the two strands weaving together seamlessly.

This double CD will also be available at the band's gigs, and next month the group embark on a lengthy tour of North America. My heart lit up when I saw the name "Northampton" in the gig list, but sadly it's the MA version, not the original. Ho-hum, we'll just have to wait for a UK appearance, I suppose. In the meantime, all of us this side of the Pond can content ourselves with this fabulous document of what must have been two stunning performances out there in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Tracklist:
First set
1. Opening Sounscape - Gaudy (10:36)
2. Improv - Blacklight (7:14)
3. Hide The Trees (8:54)
4. Improv - Moth (9:07)
5. Industry (12:35)
6. Cusp (4:48)
7. Shades Of Starless (8:07)
8. The Talking Drum (4:52)
9. Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part 2 (6:30)

Total running time - 72:43

Second set
10. Opening Soundscape - Cyan (5:20)
11. Improv - Midori (7:07)
12. Breathless (4:16)
13. Improv - Moon (4:42)
14. Sartori In Tangier (6:51)
15. Crack In The Sky (5:37)
16. Shades Of Starless (7:18)
17. Firebird Suite (10:49)
18. The Talking Drum (5:52)
19. Lark's Tongues In Aspic (6:48)

Total running time - 65:40 

Line up:
Tony Levin - Stick and Voice
Pat Mastelotto - Acoustic and Electronic Drums and Percussion
Markus Reuter - Touch Guitars® AU8, Soundscaping and Keyboard
David Cross - Violin and Keyboard 

Links:
Buy the CD or download version at Stick Men Bandcamp

Stick Men North American tour dates

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Dream Theater - The Astonishing

Anyone who seriously considers themselves a critic, be it of music, fashion, high art, theatre (sic), cars, dishwashers, sex toys, whatever must push themselves into writing about something they consider to be a load of crap once in a while or risk falling into a far too comfortable luvvy-dovey relationship with the creators of the targets of their wordy fawning. Of course unlike Joe Public on Amazon, I can't and wouldn't want to get away with calling something "crap" and leaving it at that, a proper dissection is called for. Or so I reckon, anyway.

Earlier in the year the prog interwebs were stickily saturated by lengthy spurts of coverage of a new album by American ego-flexing exercise...sorry, band...Dream Theater. That wouldn't normally have bothered me a jot, but when it became clear that this strangely unlovable bunch had written a musical, my flagging interest got a tad perky. When you get to my age, you have to make the most of anything getting perky, so here goes...

You may guess from that opening salvo that Dream Theater do not not float my peculiar looking coracle, and you'd be dead right. This band to me have always been at best a triumph of technical flash over real content, and at worst dreary purveyors of artless unsubtle bombast.

As if that weren't enough, Dream Theater are often credited with inventing "prog metal", which swiftly became the first refuge of the musically stunted imagination in our particular brackish pop backwater. Yes, I know there is good prog metal out there, but most of it is about as interesting as watching a Manchester Utd football match - it's all dull recyling of the same old weary riffs and guitar sounds ad infinitum. And don't get me started on throat-shredders...

So, down to business. If there's one thing Dream Theater have never lacked it's self-belief. Calling an album The Astonishing shows no lack of confidence, but of course leaves it open to ridicule. The worst part of this self-inflicted torture is that I have to listen to the thing, as it is an interminable splurge that even fans seem to be saying is about a week too long. I do not expect any sympathy, of course.

After some opening space age ambience, the thing gets going with a typically bombastic  instrumental featuring lots of time signature changes and portentous playing, as a cheesy as can be, replete with a synthesised choir. Entitled Dystopian Overture, it is about as far removed from its titular implication as can be. "Tacky" does not begin to describe it. It sounds like what Andrew Lloyd Webber would come up with if asked to write "in the style of prog". This is a musical, so there is a story which so I'm told as I'm listening on Spotify and don't have the lyrics to hand, concerms a future where music has been outlawed, only to be saved by a Hollywood style "little guy" hero. Pete Townshend should sue.

The Gift Of Music is a sub-standard AOR rocker with dreadful lyrics and the drummer...Jeez, this guy sounds like he has about eight arms, none of them doing anything interesting. It's like listening to a speeded up jackhammer, and about as painful. The following The Answer is the first of several tub-thumping ballads, and the the trite lyrics continue: "Why am I afraid of facing the unknown?" enquires the singer. Is it because you are in a comfortable niche that hasn't moved forward - with a few notable exceptions - in two decades, perchance?

And so it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on.... fuck this I've got better things to do, as no doubt you have too. I highly recommend this album to anyone who is afraid of the dark, lives with mummy, and types angry missives on the internet while wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, unchanged in a week.

To conclude on a more serious note, the sad thing is, and I'll admit I'm not helping here, is that this steaming pile of faux thespian nonsense will garner far more attention than the genuinely progressive music that is out there, and anyone unfamiliar with "prog" will listen to this bombastic excess and have all their worst prejudices confirmed. Now, go away and do something useful...

Yours Witheringly, Roger McNasty