Here I get my boots muddy as I trawl along the deepest depths of the prog rock trench to unearth some splendid obscurities and some not so obscure, from the first wave of UK prog, up to 31st December 1973. Some are now well known, some remain beneath the radar.
Part Three - 10th October 1969
In my opinion the first true 100% UK prog rock album by a 100% prog band was King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, released on the 10th of October 1969. I consider that King Crimson were the first band formed specifically to create something entirely different both in lyrical scope and in musical structure and ambition, and did so using musicians who were not necessarily rock musicians by choice or instinct. The Nice may have released prog albums before this, but ITCOTCK stunned the rock underground at the time with its grand ambition and vast scope in a way that no other album had before.
There were albums released before that auspicious date by bands that were already in existence and later became solidly identified as "prog", apart from the aforementioned The Nice, specifically the first albums by Caravan and The Soft Machine, both released in 1968, and both heavily psychedelic in tone. Of those two albums, The Soft Machine comes closest to being prog, but as it was not released in the UK at the time, that's my get out clause!
Here's a few early UK prog albums that were sadly neglected at the time, and some that still are. All are worth a listen, and maybe the more obscure will lead you to some hitherto undiscovered backwater...
Kevin Ayers - Whatevershebringsweswing
If this was a modern release, it would have ".com" as a suffix. If only Kevin had known! A collision of styles and a stellar cast conspire to produce an eclectic collection of off-the-wall songs from Our Man in Nice. Starring David Bedford, Mike Oldfield (on bass!), Robert Wyatt, Didier Malherbe and others. This is my Ayers favourite, but all his albums are worth a listen.
Jack Bruce - Songs For A Tailor
Continuing his partnership with Pete Brown and letting his jazz instincts take centre stage, still my favourite JB solo effort.
Caravan - For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night
OK, so these first three are not exactly obscure, but they deserved to be far more successful than they were at the time. This band should need no introduction, and against the accepted opinion that In The Land Of The Grey And Pink was their peak, I reckon it's this.
Clark-Hutchinson - A=MH²
Power trio blues rock given an exotic twist with Indian musical scales. Strange.
Clear Blue Sky - Clear Blue Sky
Now we're getting obscure! Power trio rock collides with proto spacerock. Read my old review of this here.
Clouds - Watercolour Days
Keyboard led to the point where there are no guitars on the album (I think - it's a while since I've played it), songwriting takes precedence over soloing. A nice album.
Cressida - Cressida/Asylum
Both these albums are fine examples of mellotron and keyboard led pop-prog.
Edgar Broughton Band - Sing Brother Sing
"Don't touch the liddle birdy nest, you'll break da liddle birdy eggs". Utterly mad minimalist space blues, with some very non-PC lyrics. Bonkers but great.
Egg - Egg/The Polite Force
After the split of Khan (see below) keyboard maestro Dave Stewart formed these cerebral art-rockers with Mont Campbell & Clive Brooks. Now well liked amongst Canterbury fans they were sadly largely ignored at the time. These, their first two albums, are a must.
Fields - Fields
Formed by Graham Field after he left the far more well known Rare Bird, Fields' sole 1971 album continues in the vein of Rare Bird's early keyboard dominated prog. An underrated gem.
Family - Family Entertainment
In which the acid rock of their first album, while still present, takes a back seat to a sort of R&B/prog/folk hybrid. Unique and underrated band.
Fruup - Future Legends
Fine classic symphonic prog from Ireland.
Gracious! - Gracious!
This band should have been big. Arguably the missing musical link between The Moody Blues and King Crimson MK1, this album is by turns beautiful and frightening.
Gravy Train - Ballad Of A Peaceful Man
Releasing four albums between 1970 and 1974, this, in my opinion their best effort from '71 is a fine example of its era, with Norman Barratt's (no relation) psych guitar led songs accompanied by mucho sax and flute. Nice.
Peter Hammill - In Camera
I don't really need to tell you anything about Mr Hammill, surely? My favourite solo album of his, and quite strange it is too!
Hannibal - Hannibal
So obscure they're not even on Wikipedia or Prog Archives, and unusually for the time this jazz based band had a funk beat going on. I believe they were from Birmingham. If you can find it, check it out, as it's refreshingly different.
Hatfield & The North - Hatfield & The North
Marvellously unhinged Canterbury jazz-prog. Who can argue with titles like Shaving Is Boring and Gigantic Land-Crabs In Earth Takeover Bid, played by a stellar lineup of Canterbury luminaries? Second band so far in this list to feature Dave Stewart.
Heaven - Brass Rock I
The British Chicago (early version) - left behind this double album and then disappeared without trace never getting to make Brass Rock II. Not subtle!
High Tide - Sea Shanties/High Tide
Respectively starring the psych tinged guitar and violin of Tony Hill and Simon House, who later joined Hawkwind, these two albums released in 1969* & 70 are well worth checking out.
Horslips - The Tain
The first Celtic folk-prog band, released two albums in '73, the second being The Tain, a full on concept album based around an Irish legend. Timeless, and great stuff!
Indian Summer - Indian Summer
More keyboard led prog that was mostly ignored at the time. Quite intense in places.
Jade Warrior - Jade Warrior/Released/Last Autumn's Dream
Eastern (Japanese rather than Middle Eastern) tinged guitar prog, with all sorts of world music influences added to the mix before that idiom had been defined. Criminally ignored.
Kingdom Come - Galactic Zoo Dossier/Kingdom Come/Journey
All three of these albums are a must for any self-respecting left-field early prog fan. Songs about traffic lights and lower colonic irrigation and space travel all delivered in Arthur Brown's operatic baritone, accompanied by spacerock freakouts, Zappa-esque in places. What more could you ask?
Khan - Space Shanty
The first sighting of Steve Hillage's glissando guitar. A space rock monster. Third album with Mr Dave Stewart in the list.
Man - Greasy Truckers Party
OK, so not a Man album as such, and I could have chosen any of eight (!) albums released up to the end of 1973 from the Welsh Quicksilver Messenger Service (only better in my book). This just happens to be one of my all time favourite live recordings by anyone, ever. So there! Read more about the album here.
Manfred Mann's Chapter Three - Volume 1 & Volume 2
Before the far more commercially successful Earth Band, this was the keyboard wiz and band leader Mann's highly entertaining attempt at big band jazz-prog. It worked.
Matching Mole - Matching Mole/Little Red Record
Robert Wyatt's fusion band post Softs and before the accident. Equally charming and fierce, built around Phil Miller's scorching guitar, and....you guessed it, Dave Stewart's keyboards. Those of you with a little knowledge of the French language will see what RW did there with his new group's name. :)
McDonald & Giles - McDonald & Giles
Another that was ignored at the time, but has since received the attention it deserves. Some of the songs on this album were destined for King Crimson's second album before KC MK1's implosion on a US tour. Nuff said.
Nucleus - Elastic Rock/Solar Plexus/We'll Talk About It Later/Belladonna (the latter credited to Ian Carr, but using the same line up)
Highly influential early UK fusion band, led by trumpeter Ian Carr. Chris Spedding started here, along with all of the later incarnations of Soft Machine apart from John Etheridge, and a later album featured Allan Holdsworth, but as far as I can ascertain Dave Stewart is nowhere to be seen!
Patto - Patto/Hold Your Fire
Featuring Mike Patto's gravelly tones and Ollie Halsall's jazz guitar from space, a great improv band who sounded like it could all collapse at any time, but never did. Tight but loose, as they say.
Pink Fairies - What A Bunch Of Sweeties
More stoner rock than prog, but Twink's on it so it has a lineage.
Pete Sinfield - Still
Typically verbose and grandiose album of classic prog with a pastoral touch in places, the former King Crimson lyricist used his connections to entice a supporting cast of tens including past and future members of KC, to make this, his sole solo effort of the seventies.
Skin Alley - Skin Alley/To Pagham And Beyond
Two albums both released in 1970 both of a proto fusion/jazz rock construction with much sax and flute playing heavily featured over guitar and organ. Of its time, but good nonetheless.
Skid Row - Skid
Crazy skewed blues based prog with a very young Gary Moore on the geetar. Loud and mad.
Spooky Tooth (with Pierre Henry) - Ceremony
Were Spooky Tooth prog? Possibly, possibly not, but with this album they teamed up with French musique concretè pioneer Pierre Henry and made this weird and out-there album, definitely prog, no question. Marvellous!
Spring - Spring
Well crafted melodic mellotron prog with acid guitar. The singer's idiosyncratic style takes some getting used to though! Amongst their number was Dire Straits' first drummer, but don't hold that against them.
Three Man Army - A Third Of A Lifetime
The Gurvitz (or Curtis) brothers, fresh from psych rockers Gun ditched the drummer, found another one, and reinvented themselves as a power trio with prog leanings. Big in Germany, should have done better over here. Would have given Budgie a run for their money.
Tonton Macoute - Tonton Macoute
Mostly laid back jazz influenced prog with a big acid rock hangover and some classical influences, has some nice flute and sax breaks. Sounds a mess? It may well be, but I like it.
Trees - Trees/The Garden Of Jane Delawney
Marvellous folk with crazed acid guitar. Highly recommended.
Tudor Lodge - Tudor Lodge
Great psych folk to go with Trees above. Slightly more pastoral. Like the Trees albums, originals are as rare as Elton John's real hair.
There are literally dozens more I could include, but we'd be here all day. Feel free to add your own suggestions, with the proviso that they must have been first released between the 10th October 1969 and 31st December 1973.
*Addendum: As I couldn't find the actual release date of High Tide's Sea Shanties, released on Liberty in 1969, there's every chance it may well have come out before 10/10/69, but obviously it did not have the impact of KC's debut, so I'm sticking to my original date as "The Beginning Of UK Prog"!
Next, the final part - The band that almost killed prog without realising it, and the band that did kill prog and didn't give a damn. Pass the silver spoon, Alice!
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