Music Reviews: Icarus Peel, King Blank, Curved Air, A Year In The Country, Desmond Dekker, C89, Sendelica, Gathered From Coincidence, Fuchsia, Toots and the Maytals

Icarus Peel’s Acid Reign

The Window On The Side Of Your Head (LP, CD)

(Mega Dodo)

The maiden voyage by Honey Potter Icarus’s latest side project has already been allied, by ears before ours, to the golden age of British power three-pieces, unholy noisemakers a la Cream, Taste and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  

Which may or may not be true.  But it’s a shade disingenuous, too.  For, though all is loud and power-packed too, and the Reign is indeed a trio, we must remember also that Peel, first and foremost, is a songwriter.  And this is an album of songs. 

Well, mostly.  True, the umbrella-opening “Eel Purr” sounds like something Neil Young might have snuck onto the Weld half of his Arc live album (or was it vice versa?  Who remembers any longer?).  But “Let’s Get It Together” has the shade of a Richard and Mimi Farina instrumental dancing around its mind, and “Marley’s Chains” feels like something the Stones might have fallen into, somewhere between “Fingerprint File” and “Hey Negritta.”  Probably after listening to the first two Robin Trower albums.

Actually, thats not a bad comparison, at least in places. There’s that same sense of lightbulbs and dark rooms, bluesy melody merged with hard rock might, and it’s either peculiar, or ironic, that “Gazing Up At Jimi,” which is the song that appears most in debt to the aforementioned trios, could just as easily be devoted to Trower, Jim Dewar and Reg Isidore.  And later, “Be Calmed, Becalmed” is to Twice Removed’s “Daydreamer” what “Somewhere Far From Anywhere” is to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” 

Elsewhere, however, energies shift.  “Way Out West” is a balls-out rocker, something you might have found on an early Stiff Records compilation, disguising either Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds beneath an inscrutable alias; and “Eyes Of Insomnia” borrows its keyboard sound from old Alex Harvey, and is all the more sensational for that.

So yeah, it’s a power trio and the acid does rain down.  But don’t be fooled by the statistics.  Icarus Peel is Icarus Peel, and though you wouldn’t want him making these noises in the midst of the next Crystal Jacqueline album… he may have done so already.

 

King Blank

The Real Dirt Album plus Singles A + B Sides

(Beggars Banquet)

Originally released in 1988 on Beggars’ Situation 2 subsidiary, The Real Dirt was one of the lost jewels of the decade’s end.  There were others… see the C89 review below for details.  But they were mostly singles.  This was an album plus, on this too-long-awaited reissue, the rest of the band’s output as well.

Ignited following the demise of the Folk Devils, King Blank was Ian Lowery moving into solo territory, and then revelling in the isolation.  

Poised somewhere between Jeffrey Lee rockabilly and Velvets chunkachunka (“Uptight” – think “Foggy Notion” with a headache), with eyes flashing mischievous glances towards primal Bad Seeds and a glowering Alex Harvey, The Real Dirt is a churning, leering, foreboding, forbidding swamp which feels like it couldn’t get darker, deeper or more desperately dangerous – until it does.  

Or until you reach the closing “Bulletproof Crucifix,” a sheet-keeking country ballad which breaks over the vista like the smarmiest smile of the day, complete with little kiddy backing chorus, and Lowery swaggering his finest Nashville twang.  It’s completely out of place here, which means it’s the perfect ending to the album.

Seven bonus tracks round up the Screaming Blue Messiahs-fired Mouth Off EP, together with the appropriate moments from two subsequent singles (“Uptight” and “Blind Box”).  Like the album, they capture Lowery in incendiary form,; like the album they remind us just how much we lost when the artist left the building in 2001.  

This is the latest in what has so far proved a spectacular, and often more-than-eye-opening sequence of reissues and archive releases, and it’s hard to play favorites with any of them.  Try one, buy them all really is the easiest option.  King Blank is definitely up there in Lowery’s top five.  But, to paraphrase the cover art, you should be bringing them all back home.

 

Curved Air

Phantasmagoria (CD/DVD)

(Esoteric)

Continuing one of the most welcome reissue campaigns of recent years, Curved Air’s superlative third album (the second will be with us shortly) reappears as a bonus stacked two disc package, the CD appending the album with three bonus tracks, the DVD rounding up a couple of period European TV performances.

Of 1972’s Phantasmagoria itself, what can be said?  Opening on the deathless melodic salvo of “Marie Antoinette” and “Melinda More Or Less,” before zooming into the realms of hyper-activity (“Ultra Vivaldi”), warped breakneck pop (the Airplane-y title track), epic bombast (“Over and Above”) and unabashed nut-cookie battiness (“Once A Ghost”), Phantasmagoria hangs so high and heavy over its era that it is probably singlehandedly responsible for every so-called “prog” album of the next twelve months.  After listening to this, everyone else had to up their game.

The bonus tracks give us, respectively, French and Italian language versions of “Marie” and “Melinda,” plus “Sarah’s Concern,” a stand-alone single released alongside the album.  It’s good to find it here, driving keyboard led blues that feel like a night in the Flamingo nightclub circa 1963, with a ton of added oomph.

For the DVD, visits to Belgium’s Pop Shop and Austria’s Spotlight TV shows aren’t the most exciting in terms of visuals, but the live rearrangements of both album and older faves are sensational and besides, any footage of this band, from this period, should be treasured.  As, indeed, should this entire album.  

 

A Year In The Country

The Shildham Hall Tapes

(A Year In The Country)

Imagine, if you will, a TV documentary team descending upon an English country mansion to investigate reports of, and we quote, “aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult.”  And imagine them completing a rough cut before the production company collapsed, and most of the people associated with it either retired from the industry or disappeared altogether.

What might the finished thing have sounded like?

Built around the fragments of soundtrack that survived the experience, The Shildham Hall Tapes draws in ten names, most familiar from past AYITC prolusions, to rebuild the musical themes and thoughts that could have accompanied the film.  

Gavino Morretti’s Dawn of a New Generation” is the opening theme, and the hint of Rosemary’s Baby that hangs around its edges does offer clues to some of what will follow; Sproatly Smith’s “Galloping Backwards,” too, has a wordless nursery rhyme feel.  

But Field Lines Cartographer offer eerie electronica, and atmospheres that the Heartwood Institute will echo with “Shildham Hall Seance,”while Vic Mars’ “Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden” is all knotweed and nettle, tendrils of melody and petals of expectation… it’s not quite “I Can Hear The Grass Grow,” but you can.  Just as Circle/Temple’s “Maze Sequence” leads you through the silent hedges, and leaves you in the middle.  You’ll find your own way out eventually.  Probably.

Contributions from David Colohan and AYITC itself add further darkened interludes to the production, but Listening Centre’s “Cultivation I” shifts the mood with a romping electro-seventies TV theme-alike… oddly, it feels a lot like something Jean Michel Jarre might have made, if “Oxygene” had been played at a different speed.  And we fade out with Pulselovers’ “The Green Leaves of Shildham Hall” exit music for an ending that was never actually completed.  

But it seems like it was. Comparable in both intent and execution to Rowan Amber Mill’s The Book of the Lost, itself the gold standard in the realm of Britain’s imaginary television heritage, The Shildham Hall Tapes leaves you convinced that you remember the show; can picture certain scenes; might even recall the unease you felt when you went up to bed when it finished.  Which is an startling achievement in itself.  The fact that you now have proof that it happened is even more amazing.

 

Desmond Dekker

You Can Get It If You Really Want

(Doctor Bird)

A one-stop shop for (almost) everything you need by Desmond Dekker… assuming you’ve already got the earlier hits.  No “Israelites” or “007,” no “It Mek.”  

But if you joined the party in 1970 and this was your first DD album, you do get the hit title track, and the fabulous “Pickney Gal” too, plus another album’s worth of bonus tracks that trace Desmond through the next five years, right the way up to “Sing A Little Song.”  

All of which, despite maybe not having the same historic heft as the earlier material, continue to prove why Dekker remained reggae royalty.  The man could not sing a bad song, even if you handed him one.  That voice alone made everything alright.

The 1970 You Can Get It album is the key ingredient here, as it ought to be.  “Perseverance,” “Peace On The Land,” “Cindy”… so much of this album could and should have followed the Jimmy Cliff-penned hit to glory, while a second Cliff number, “That’s The Way Life Goes,” is likewise something special (and a third, from 1975, “My World Is Blue,” is nothing to sniff at, either).  Dekker himself wrote the bulk of the remainder, though, and that’s also a parentage to be proud of. 

 

various artists

C89 (3 CDs)

(Cherry Red)

Another ongoing series on-goes… this time, the string of boxes that pick up on the original C86 concept by adding volumes for the rest of that decade.  

We’re up to the end now, which means  it’s time for shoegaze, rave and, of course, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – the one band who not only truly bridged the decades, but also did it with such style and panache that they effectively rewrote British pop history, only for history to forget to tell us. “Sheriff Fatman,” their second single, closes disc one and a more glorious sound you will not hear all night.

Not that C89 is a slacker, by any means.  The Stone Roses, the La’s and the New Fast Automatic Daffodils rank high, too, among those bands that would march on to greater things (at least in commercial terms).  

Delve, however, deeper into the three discs and there’s any number of would-bes and could-have-beens on display.  And that includes the dishevelled blitzkrieg of King of the Slums, the Peruvian Hipsters’ magisterial “Tony Hadley,” Said Liquidator’s lo-fi “Say What You Feel” and, as with previous volumes, a healthy crop of Sarah label singles, madly flying all over the place but forging the base line around which late eighties indy would revolve.

The big bang booms for which ’89 is now recalled get a look-in too, of course, but what C89 is best addressing is the sheer variety that was out there as the Decade That Should Never Have Happened finally did the decent thing and dried up.  Variety, verve and vivacity.  We can argue all night as to whether the musical mainstream did improve once the calendar clicked over to the nineties.  But C89 proves that at least people tried.

 

Sendelica

Cromlech Chronicles 3 (vinyl/CD/download)

(Regal Crabomophone/Fruits de Mer)

It’s become something of a tradition these last few years, despatching Sendelica to the studio by the standing stones, and telling them to do whatever feels right.  And it’s become just as much of a tradition for the end results to go sparking off on tangents that the regular releases seldom look towards.  

The realignment doesn’t go too far, of course… or, rather, it does, but that’s long been a part of this remarkable band’s appeal.  

There’s the Sabbath (circa “Into The Void”) guitar sound that underpins “BS”… so yes, the joke was intentional. The slowburn that is “Slow Burner” – at least for a little while.  It soon rages out of control, though.  The ten minute mantra that is haunted by “12 Shades Revisited”… six new tracks altogether, with three of them advancing on epic territory, and the rest aspiring just as high.

A handful of guests on the album; a 3D sleeve on the limited edition CD; the all-time high that is the fourteen minute fusion of “Sunflower Blossom.”  Another Sendelica album, another unmissable joy.

 

various artists

Gathered From Coincidence: The British Folk-Pop Sound of 1965-66 (3CDs)

(Grapefruit)

How many hours, do you think, could a person spend listening to sixties psych/folk/freakbeat/pop compilations before they realized they’d missed most of whichever decade they happen to be living in at the moment.  And would they have missed it?  Or would they simply have replaced it with something more palatable?

That’s a question for later but, emerging from this latest 3CD excavation of a sainted past and place, it’s certainly a tempting prospect.  No matter that the “folk pop” labelling rounds up names as far afield as the Zombies, the Searchers, the Shadows and the Pretty Things, none of whom would fall into most people’s designation of the field; no matter, either, that Marc Bolan, Olivia Newton John, Justin Hayward and Dana Gillespie would all go onto far better things later.  

The fact is, there was a prevalent mood to the age, and if the Jonathan King-masterminded “It’s Good News Week” cannot be taken seriously as a slice of burning protest music, neither really can reformed skiffler Chas McDevitt’s take on “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”  And he, as much as anyone, genuinely belongs here.

It’s a scattershot collection, seventy eight tracks that do indeed peer into the depths of the British folkie file (Jon Mark, Davy Graham, Folk Blues Inc., Donovan, Marianne Faithful), but expand that brief to lap up, too, the Manfreds do Dylan, Chad & Jeremy sing Ian & Sylvia, Adam Faith plays Bob Lind and Silkie do the Beatles.  

There’s a glimpse into Morrissey’s future, with Twinkle’s original version of the Smiths’ “Golden Lights” b-side, another Jonathan King parody, Alan Klein’s marvellous “Age of Corruption,” and enough Dylan covers (nine) to tape up a basement with.  They’re usually good ones, as well.

So it’s not a forensic examination of a singular scene, and it’s not the lost roots of some movement that would later demand respect.  It’s just a box of songs that sounded good at the time, still sound great today, and which – with a little imagination, and a drop of common sense – do illustrate one of the multitude of currents that drifted through the British pop sixties.  One of the best of them, too.

 

Fuchsia

Fuchsia (2LPs)

(Fruits de Mer)

It wasn’t alone in such a fate, but this album was utterly ignored when it was first released, just another weirdy folky thing snuck out at the height of the eclectic prog boom, then buried until some future generation invested in a pair of decent ears.

It is, of course, a marvellous piece of work, something to align with Comus, Third Ear Band and the rest of that jolly crew.  But Tony Durant’s dreamchild was never going to be challenging for the toppermost of the poppermost – Fuchsia was,  as he admits, a very conscious attempt to “do something different, hence some of the more unusual song structures.”  

Maybe, as he insists, the band did start out as “a three-piece heavyish thing.”   But quickly came “the idea of adding strings to make it more interesting to play/listen to . On reflection, I think that was why Fuchsia was so different, the strings occupying their own space, rather than as an accompaniment/embellishment to a song already written. 

  “I’d never arranged strings, and couldn’t score music, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. I had an old Grundig tape machine I used to write songs on, only a single track. 

“But how does a music illiterate write string scores?  Having an idea of the song, I’d record chord sections with vocal, then play back, and on guitar, come up with and  play along a possible string idea. Then I’d  record the string idea  so as not to forget it. I’d check it, by playing along with the tape machine,  checking all the various parts one against the other. 

  “It took ages!  [But] hearing , say, ‘Gone with the Mouse’ for the first time was such an exhilarating experience!

“So, we had the songs all rehearsed and done,  then recorded a demo at a small studio, West of England Sound studio, in Torquay. A friend played the demo to Terry King at Pegasus and he signed us, and on summer break from uni in 1971, we headed up to London to Sound Techniques studios . We had about four days in there from memory.

“Our lack of experience made it quite a tricky process. It was done pretty well live, I think. The playing was actually quite demanding and  there is a certain edginess in it , a bit like walking a tightrope and trying to stay on.”  

Whether or not they succeeded is a matter of taste… at least at the time,  Today, however, Fuchsia is indeed sainted among the most revered relics of that bygone age, and this – its first official re-emergence – bolsters the original album with a second disc of demos (one of which tops fifteen minutes), and new recordings, a DVD interview, a poster… oh, buckets of stuff.  

Move quickly, though.  The Fruits army isn’t the only one that will be chasing this thing down.

(interview adapted from The Incomplete Angler: 10 Years of Fruits de Mer by Dave Thompson.  Available now.)

 

Toots & the Maytals

Monkey Man/From The Roots

(Doctor Bird)

The story of Toots & the Maytals is, in many ways, the archetypal tale of reggae through the sixties, a band that drifted around the city scene, cut a few sides with this producer, a few sides with that, rarely made a single false step, and the suddenly exploded to international prominence at around the same age as most Anglo-American combines would have simply given up trying.

Two albums capture that moment, albeit released three years apart – Monkey Man was, understandably, issued in the immediate wake of the title track’s UK chart success in 1970, and picks up both the best (“Monkey Man,” “Pressure Drop,” “Bla Bla Bla,” “The Preacher”) and the worst (no-one ever needed cover “Give Peace A Chance”) of their period output; From The Roots wandered along in 1973, with more of decade dawn’s 45s and b-sides, including a few that had never seen the light of day before.  Oh, and “Give Peace a Chance” turned up there as well, but has been mercifully omitted here.

Taken together, the two albums capture the Maytals at what would remain a towering peak.  Under the guidance of producer Lesley Kong, himself one of the key components in reggae’s late sixties/early seventies breakout, Toots and co blazed with both singular energy and communal glee – as if they knew the market was expanding fast, and wanted to encourage everyone to follow them in.  

The fact that both albums are all but self-composed (you know the exception) only adds to the group’s strength and purpose, and the liners burrow deep inside the magic that the Maytals wrought in that particular time and place.  All these decades later, it still resonates loudly.

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