Children of Hum
Time Moth Eye and the Spectral Light
Knowing the category that a band is usually placed into is not the same as knowing what they sound like. Especially when the album to hand is almost exactly one year old. So we will brush past the sign reading “psychedelic folk,” and look instead at twelve songs that return Stone Breath to the duo format (Timothy and Prydwyn), but which are stripped down even further than that.
The Children of Hum album consumes only half the disc; the remaining six songs are labeled as bonus tracks, and include a fabulous version of “The Famous Flower of Serving Men.” By the time you get there, however, you will already have the measure of this album, sparse acoustics that add in hollow majesty what they lack in embellishment. Vocals hang with spoken solemnity, and it’s probably not an album you’ll be listening to on your way home from the circus. But when the wind is pouring and the rain is howling, and branches tap the panes in your window, haunted flutes will call your name and even the duets sound like ghostly echoes.
Grave Needs, recorded with a fuller line-up of Timothy, Jo Cosgrove, Sarada, Neddal Ayad, Æ Hoskin, Brian Magar, and Grey Malkin, offers up more of the same and comes closer to the Incredible String Band ideal that other commentators prefer. Instrumentation, still spartan, is more rambunctious (relatively speaking, of course), and Time Moth Eye, who of course is Stone Breath’s Timothy, remains a stentorian vocalist, chilling in his delivery, abrupt in his imagery.
Released earlier this year, but not necessarily a successor to the Stone Breath set, two CDs pack twenty-seven tracks, and it’s futile playing favorites because they shift with the breeze that blows through old bones. But outsized packaging takes you back to the days when an album’s artwork was full of surprises, with a sew-on patch (!) and a thick, illustrated lyric book effectively serving up a gatefold sleeve.
Private Parts and Pieces I – IV
Originally released on vinyl between 1978-1984, the first four volumes of Phillips’ odds-and-ends collections represent something of a motherlode for collectors, capturing the essence, the out-takes and the associated oddities that track him from the early days of Genesis (“Stranger,” “Silver Song”), through the half decade incubation of The Geese and the Ghost, and then on through the studio sets that led up to Invisible Men.
All four are mixed bags; the nature of the material demands that. Phillips is experimenting on some, doodling on others, improvising on more. Familiar themes may or may not surface, ideas shift from one piece to a better-known other. He toys with tunings, unearths old soundtracks, pillages his work for music libraries. Familiar names and faces float by – Mike Rutherford, Rupert Hine, Michael Giles, Enrique Berro Garcia (with whom volume three in its entirety was recorded) – while bonus tracks appended to each of the discs are then supplemented by a fifth disc, titled Private Parts and Extra Pieces, which dips through the years with frenetic abandon, to become a fresh instalment in its own right.
A clamshell box, a chunky booklet, and an eye for the original artwork lines this up smartly alongside the earlier reissue of The Geese and the Ghost, and while there’s still a lot left in the archive (expanded editions of The Archive Collection would make a fabulous companion piece), the last year has left Phillips fans with nothing at all to complain about.
Casino Classics Complete Collection
(Soul Time/Cherry Red)
Between 1978 and 1981, the Casino Classics label was one of the most intrepid concerns on the UK indy scene. Run out of the Wigan Casino, spiritual home of the Northern Soul movement as it lived through its final flourish, the label specialized in reissuing the records (or reviving the performers) that made the greatest splash on the club’s own dancefloor; but which, through the force of the venue’s reputation, had impacted further afield, too.
The Spark label had already tested the same waters, and scored a hit with the not-coincidentally-named Wigan’s Ovation’s “Skiing in the Snow”; now, Casino Classics stepped out with the Three Before Eight EP, serving up the last three records played before each Saturday All Nighter’s 8am finish: Jimmy Radcliffe’s “Long After Tonight is All Over,” Tobi Legend’s “Time Will Pass You By” and Dean Parrish’s “I’m On My Way.” And from thereon in, Casino Classics dragged the dancehall into every home that needed it.
That’s what makes this such a crucial collection. The shelves are overloaded now with so-called Northern Soul compilations, most of which are predicated on the belief that if a record is old, obscure, American and soul, then it’s automatically qualified for inclusion. Not true. A lot of songs that fit that bill might never have been spun even once in the clubs; others might have been rejected outright by the dancers.
Besides, just as Wigan was not the only town that hosted a major Northern Soul scene, so soul was not the only genre that slipped into its preserve. The Ron Grainer Orchestra’s “A Touch of Velvet” opens disc one, and “Playing it Cool” is here as well. Len Barry, Jackie Trent and the Rainbow People all appear later.
New recordings by favorite artists – Tommy Hunt, Diana Foster, Samantha Jones and more – cleaned the cobwebs on a regular basis, and it would be a twisted mind indeed that described the likes of the Tams’ “Hey Girl, Don’t Bither Me,” Nosmo King’s “Goodbye, Nothin’ to Say” and the Toys’ “A Lover’s Concerto” as obscure. Likewise Gloria Jones’s “Tainted Love,” Al Wilson’s masterful “The Snake” and, again from the Ron Grainer Orchestra, “Theme from Joe 90.”
Contemporary tastes were brushed by Mods ’79, a reminder of how influential the Northern Soul scene was to prove on the Mod revival that most people blame on the Jam, and every single song here was a major success on the Casino dance floor. There’s a lot of comps, again, that claim to recreate the excitement of the Northern Soul scene. But this box set (and the three original LPs from which it was cast) really is a genuine time capsule.
Troxy Music: Fifties and Sixties Film Music
(Croydon Municipal/Cherry Red)
One more collection of forgotten Anglo-American movie themes, excavated from the vaults by perhaps the most obtusely enterprising of all UK indy labels – the Bob Stanley supervised dusty vault dance club from which a universe of torch, jazz, pop, kitsch, easy listening and frank absurdities have poured for so many albums.
Few of the titles are familiar; few of the movies are even remembered. Screened exclusively during those halycon days when there wasn’t at least one television in everybody’s house, crouching like a one-eyed toad to fill your brains with mass-produced garbage, these movies were never built to last.
They were ephemeral popcorn, low budget cheapies whose subject matter alone challenged all that TV could fight back with. Sexy comedies, shocking dramas, juvenile delinquents, kitchen sink scandal, they were the story of the universal underclasses in an age before marketing made that sound crass. And they all packed theme tunes to match.
So settle back, close your eyes, and let the pictures play out on your eyelids. Maybe you’ve seen A Taste of Honey, because that one has lived on in legend. But how about The Revolt of Mamie Stover? The Melandrinos Affair? Jukebox Rhythm? Probably not. But you’ll want to now.
EP 1: The Blue One
Three questions. 1: Why is this a self-released project? 2: Why are there not more than four songs? And 3: why are you reading this, when you should be at Bandcamp, buying the EP? (You even get two bonus downloads when you do.)
Jones is already renowned as one half of The Book of the Lost, that so-scintillating soundtrack to the TV show that never was, cut with Rowan Amber Mill in 2013, and an utterly bewitching solo album, Autumn Eye; Morrison, too, has recorded with the Mill ((the mid-winter chiller Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter’s Evening), Frootful, Lack of Afro, the Ambassadors of Sorrow and the Mighty Sceptres, while also making her solo debut with Are You Ready Cat?
All of which ought to prepare you for the sheer loveliness of this collection, and if it doesn’t, then you’re deaf. Two songs apiece, played, recorded and sung in exquisite harmony, it’s Simone and Ma-funkel for folk who love atrocious puns.
Morrison’s “I Cannot Find the Eye” is a haunting opener, as its title probably suggests. Reading the liner notes’ claim that the entire package is the work of two long ago dolls named Emily and Angeline, who “pretended to be human so that they could play strange, sweet music together,” it’s not hard to allow a certain mystery to sweep over the proceedings, and the insistent melody here conjures nothing so much as the forgotten theme to a lost TV show. About two long ago dolls named Emily and Angeline….
Jones’s “The Hive,” led by a vocal of unrepentant frailty, chills softly in the same dark vein, beautiful but dangerous, like there’s something going on round here, but you don’t know what it is (do you, Mr Jones?). But then the mood shifts just enough to make you jump; “The Pursuit of a Seed” has a melancholy nursery feel, and “The Closer You Are” closes on wistful hopefulness, the last dance at the end of the season.
So, time to answer the questions. 1: Because the world is stupid. 2: Because they’ve left us wanting much, much more. And 3: because… oh you’re already there.
Hatwise Choice: Archive Recordings 1973-1975, Volume One
Hattitude: Archive Recordings 1973-1975, Volume Two
Arzachel Collectors Edition
The Metronomical Society: Archive Recordings 1969-1972
Unchained from the bands’ respective archives, but umbilically linked by membership and mood, four CDs are effectively the holy grail for fans of one of the early 1970s’ most astonishing bands, plus two of the most remarkable precursors.
Both the formative Uriel and the electrifying Egg were children of the Canterbury scene as it grew up around Soft Machine and its own fractured family tree, but neither followed even the vaguest of the routes that community conjured.
Bound throughout by keyboardist Dave Stewart, while the likes of Steve Hillage (Uriel), Clive Brooks, Mont Campbell (Egg), Richard Sinclair, Pip Pyle and Phil Miller (the Hatfields) added their own distinctive signatures, it’s a story that ought to have been told long ago; Egg, in particular, have taken on vast dimensions in recent years, as albums that once were scarcer than fish lips soak into the compact disc psyche, and a stunning live-at-the-Roundhouse 1972 bootleg does the internet rounds. Uriel have always fascinated via the presence of Hillage, and the Hatfields were always the Hatfields, named for a road sign, but signposting directions that few people had taken before.
Expanding upon the band’s one and only LP, Arzachel adds demos and live cuts to the original production, and already the music sounds fully formed, a psychedelic smorgasbord that belied its tiny budget by doing big things with little pieces.
Egg, on the other hand, are represented by a remarkable round-up of hitherto lost radio sessions, four tracks from the aforementioned live show, and one more from a show six months earlier. Lined up against the band’s three original albums, the change of venue is immediately apparent – on vinyl Egg were extraordinarily complicated; on air, they were looser, but more challenging still; and live, they flew off at so many tangents that nothing could ever be quite what it seemed. Seven, as they insisted, was indeed a jolly good time.
The Hatfields represented a break from the more overtly fiendish aspects of the Egg repertoire, occasionally even tickling commercial-ish concerns. Two studio albums were never enough for all that the Hatfields had to offer, though, and two collections of live cuts, radio and out-takes only amplify the wish that they had released more. A lot of bands are called pioneers, especially those that lurked on the fringe of the seventies prog scene and probably pulled wry faces at ELP’s excesses. But the Hatfields weren’t simply pioneers. They were so far out on their own that the word has yet to be coined that can truly describe their brilliance. Again, the Hatfields were the Hatfields. Let’s leave it at that.
Booklets with all four CDs are phenomenal, but the Egg story is told, too, in a remarkable accompanying booklet (available separately), a sixty page history that documents the story in the words of (many of) the participants.
Maybe there’s more that could be said, maybe there’s more to listen to. But for now, this rates among the most lovingly curated archive collections around. The Lonely Bubbling Song is lonely no longer.