The release, early last year, of a 180 gram vinyl edition of Gong’s landmark Camembert Electrique was widely regarded among the most significant prog reissues of recent seasons - and maybe it still is. Not in its own right, however, but as the precursor to one of the most gloriously packaged box sets of the entire year, a three LP remastering of the Anglo-French band’s entire Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy (Charly).
Three albums, Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You, were originally released between 1973-75, and told the tale indeed of Radio Gnome, an extra terrestrial radio station manned by Pothead Pixies, beaming messages of love, peace, sex and pussy cats to the planet Earth.
Opening with Flying Teapot, the song cycle followed the Pixies adventures from the moment their teapot touched down in Tibet, onto Lawrence the Alien's prayer mat, though their eruption on the world music stage (under the auspices of the Great Yogi Banana Ananda), and the arrival of their greatest fan, Zero the Hero.
"But the PHPs don't wanna be worshipped, so they take Zero through the Land of Scat and magnetic fields of Bad de Grass where he... meets the Witch Yoni." Can you follow the story without reading the sleeve notes, and the voluminous liners, souvenirs, reprint and doodlings that accompany the albums? Probably not. But so many elements of Flying Teapot were drawn from past Gong excursions; so many more (the introduction of Hi T Moonweed aka Tim Blake's Crystal Machine synth bank, for instance) would reappear later, that in retrospect it does all make sense... and as 1973 flowed on, the next installment of the saga was awaited with increasing impatience - and not a little wry amusement.
Angel's Egg, part two of the saga, was recorded in Gong's back garden, and released in November, promptly raising the group's UK profile to fresh new heights. Import shops bustled with copies of the early, French albums; a Gong theater tour was in the offing, and Allen was talking enthusiastically of publishing the entire history of the Planet Gong. Meanwhile, the new album seamlessly picked up from where Teapot left off, both in musical and narrative terms.
LIne-up changes shook Gong during the hiatus between parts two and three, which may be why You is a little more po-faced and disconnected than its predecessors. Gong's first conventional sleeve design (what happened to the pixie cartoons?) housed their first conventional album, one on which musicianship seemed finally to be getting the better of eccentricity. But still it bristles with exuberance; exuberance, daftness and jollity, rounding off the trilogy with a happy, gap-toothed grinning ending, and it is fabulous to welcome the three albums back.
Another welcome resurgence arrives in the form of Earth Records’ reissue of Trader Horne’s Morning Way, the first and sadly only album by former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, and Them renegade Jackie McAuley. Released on the shortlived Dawn label in 1970, it has been reissued before, and doubtless will be again. But sunset red vinyl and a free download of the duo’s non-LP single make it a worthwhile replacement for the box set version that appeared, expensively and briefly, a while back; plus, it makes a handsome companion to Earth’s other Dyble-related release, a vinyl pressing of the first disc from her Gathering the Threads 3CD anthology.
Anthology Part One begins at the beginning, with Dyble’s first ever band - Judy and the Folkmen, recorded in a living room in Christmas 1964; travels through her time with Fairport and Giles Giles & Fripp (via a fascinatingly of-its-era) improvisation featuring Richard Thompson, a piano and a watering can; digs into her work with GF Fitzgerald, then closes with sundry demos and rarities that take the story through to the early 1980s.
In musical terms, it’s not the strongest disc on the CD box, but a wealth of curios and weirdness are certainly alluring, and with Dyble’s most recent work and writings having reestablished her in a limelight that should have been hers’ all along, it’s a beautifully timely package. Hopefully parts two and three will be along soon.
Talk of bonus-stacked box sets, however, brings Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk into focus, an eight disc box that uses the sleeve of a new (and very nice) vinyl remaster to secrete… a CD of the same set, two discs of out-takes, demos and single mixes, two further discs of live performances and, finally, a surround sound mix that has to rank among the most exquisite sounding revisions any album has ever received.
The extended version of “Sara” is almost worth the cost of admission alone, but there are so many other treasures too - great alternates of “Sisters of the Moon” and “Brown Eyes” (overflowing with riffs from a passing Peter Green); surprisingly entertaining multiple takes of “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and “Tusk”; a great live “Rhiannon”; and, again, a remastering job that gives the vinyl pressing a lot more depth than modern retinkerings normally muster, and which certainly makes up for the disappointment of the matching Rumours box from a few years back. Now, as with the Judy Dyble disc, we await the next installment in the series - which, rumor insists, will either be the band’s own next album, Mirage, or the one that ignited Mac’s rebirth in the first place, 1975’s Fleetwood Mac. Spin Cycle hopes it’s the latter.
Reawakening our fascination with CDs that look like LPs, Culture Factory have unveiled an album sized box stuffed with eight classic Jefferson Airplane albums - that is, the full live and studio run that carried the band from Takes Off to Thirty Seconds Over Winterland, and in between times revisits the undisputed classics of that were Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing at Baxters, Crown of Creation and Volunteers, then delves into the lesser-loved, but just as deserving Bark and Long John Silver.
There’s no room, then, for the solo or spin-off albums that punctuated that same sequence (and Baron Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun certainly demands reappraisal), but a 28 page booklet, a 1969-style poster and attentively detailed mini-LP sleeves for each album round off a terrific package… you can even rebuild the cigar box that accompanied the original Bark!
No need to talk about the music here - none of these albums should be strangers to you, and half of them probably already nestle in your collection. But the remastering here is at least as good as any past CD reissue, and failing a similarly comprehensive, and caring examination of the same catalog on vinyl, this is probably all the Airplane you need.
Finally this month… in glorious 180 gram vinyl, alongside CD and download; the long-awaited reissue for the Pop Group’s For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, the band’s second album (from 1980), and significant not only because it was the band’s most potent LP, but also because this is the first time it has been reissued in any format since then.
Bolstered by the inclusion of the non-LP single “We Are All Prostitutes” (which is also being reissued, simultaneously, as a colored vinyl 7-inch 45), it’s a cliche to say this is not an album for the faint-hearted; the Pop Group was a brutal battering against all the negativity and violence that was stacked against the late 1970s/early 1980s… a sound that you didn’t merely like or dislike, but one that you needed to comprehend, too.
The sad thing is, it’s still relevant today and maybe that’s the reason why it has dated a whole lot better than one might have expected - thirty-plus year old politically inspired polemic is not traditionally allowed a long shelf-life. But the Pop Group are the exception that proves the rule.