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...
Fairfield 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.vertigoswirl.com for more info than you'll ever need on this Aladdin's Cave of a label.