Us and Them
Fading Within the Dwindling Sun (10-inch EP)
(Fruits de Mer CRUSTACEAN 75)
Love her or loathe her, there is no denying that Sandy Denny left a monstrous footprint upon the soul of traditional music, one of the precious few songwriters (former Fairport bandmate Richard Thompson is another) whose own work was often indistinguishable from, and is frequently still confused with, the folk tunes within whose shadow she wove.
The careers and catalogs of both Fairport and Fotheringay ricochet with compositions that are oft-regarded as neither one-thing-or-the-other, and one cannot help but glance with pitying scorn at those so-called caring record company voices who convinced her to delve into poppier tones… or even cover other people’s pop hits… in their quest for the hit they all swore she deserved. As if the public, given the choice between hearing her sing Elton John or Trad Arr., would ever take “Candle in the Wind” over “Banks of the Nile.”
Fading Within the Dwindling Sun is Swedish duo Us and Them’s five track tribute to Denny in all her chosen guises - songwriter, interpreter and, via Fairport’s “Farewell Farewell,” the voice of one of Richard Thompson’s most frequently miscredited compositions - “Farewell Farewell” matched a fresh lyric to the tune to the traditional “Willie O’Winsbury,” and slowed here to a eulegiac fraction of its original pace, it pinpoints both the majesty of Denny’s original delivery, and that which Us and Them bring to this project.
Britt Ronnholm’s vocals lend themselves perfectly to the words that Denny made her own - meaning that, unlike so many other tributes, she does not even try to emulate the original’s perfect phrasing, preferring to rely on her own exquisite tones. The breathy “Next Time Around,” haunted by instrumentation that itself is as redolent as the words, might be the EP’s highlight; but “Winter Winds,” the opener, chills as it ought to, and the brief “Take Away the Load” is a fitting coda to the collection.
The true piece de resistance, however, is “The Banks of the Nile,” the EP’s one traditional song. In Denny and Fotheringay’s hands, it is sounded out with defiance, even anger; Ronnholm voices it with a tremulous softness, her focus on the sentiment of the song as opposed to the performance that dominated Fotheringay’s version.
Mellotron and strings add to the atmosphere, trepidation and doomed determination enfolding the lyric as they draw the listener ever deeper into the unfolding story.Which is all that these songs have ever asked of either performer or audience.
Is this Fruits de Mer’s finest ever release?
It’s certainly one of them.
The RCA Active Years, 1981-1982 (3CD box)
(Atomhenge ATOMCD 31042)
Following on from the boxed edition of Hawkwind’s late 1970s/Charisma label output reviewed last month, the RCA Active Years picks up the story with the band’s shift to a new label, a new direction and a whole new era.
Sonic Attack, Church of Hawkwind and Choose Your Masques are rarely ranked among the doughty old spacemen’s finest albums… beyond isolated pockets of the fan club, in fact, few of the band’s post-seventies albums are. But while the group was undeniably in a transitional phase during this era, and prone to more missteps than usual (unnecessary remakes of “Sonic Attack” and “Silver Machine” among them), still they dance through three albums with all the aplomb you could demand.
Indeed, having been so warmly welcomed into the arms of the then-prevalent New Wave of British Heavy Metal, one might also say the band had a whole new outlook on life - one that was determined to continue marching to its own drum, but which was not averse to its new following either.
They were also enjoying a rare spell of stability in the line-up department; Sonic Attack sees eternal frontman Dave Brock joined by bassist Harvey Bainbridge - now into his forth year on board; drummer Martin Griffin, destined for an almost-decade long stint with the group; and guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton, who all but co-founded the band in the first place, now three albums into his long-heralded return.
It is a more riff conscious band than before - a legacy, perhaps, of Lloyd Langton’s stint with Widowmaker; and, perhaps, one that is more lyrically self-conscious of its sci-fi reputation whilst not quite having the writing chops to truly do it justice.
But that’s a subjective criticism - “Angels of Death,” “Coded Languages,” “Star Cannibal,” “Looking in the Future,” “Void City” and “Solitary Mind Games” might line up like titles on the cheesiest pulp sci-fi bookshelf, but when has that ever been a cause for concern? Hawkwind are what Hawkwind is, and three more albums ticked off the wants list is nothing to sniff at, either.
Three more classic albums, too.
Get Out The Sun
(Spectacle Music Firstspectacle)
(Spectacle Music SPEC02CD)
In strictly linear, release-date, terms, these two albums precede the recent release of the Folk Devils’ much adored Beautiful Monsters collection, and Ski Patrol’s Versions of a Life before it. Chronologically, however, they fall in their wake, and you probably missed them the first time around anyway.
So ignore the 2014 and 2015 dates on the back, and let’s step back further, to the late eighties and into the mid-1990s, when the late Ian Lowery - frontman with both the aforementioned bands - was pursuing a solo career with the same disregard for the niceties of… well, of niceness.,. that had hallmarked his work all along.
There’s no real chronological order to the two albums… Ironic pulls its seventeen tracks from five sessions, Sun from eight (for a total of ten different dates)… but Lowery’s own approach delivers both a cohesion and a progression that tracks one of the age’s most unforgivably under-rated songwriters through what might well have been his most creative period yet.
Stylistically, Lowery never lost his love for what we could lazily term edgy post-punk; spiky guitars and snarling lyrics remain to the fore, yet not once does his music feel locked into that (or any other) particular period… rather, imagine if Kevin Coyne had emerged in the late seventies, as opposed to the late sixties, and then followed the exact same instincts through landscapes shaped not by blues and folk, but more electric currents.
Whether that’s a comparison that Lowery himself would have appreciated is immaterial… I’m not even certain whether I agree with it. What is certain, however, is that there’s a uniqueness, belligerence and self-assurance to Lowery’s writing and performance that struggles to align itself with any of rock’s more “conventional” heroes, and probably wouldn’t want to anyway.
Riffs are concocted and then abandoned, grooves groove and then drop away. Vocals shift from stentorian to shattered. “Sucker Punch” sounds like the baddest seeds you’ve ever heard, but “If I Could Sleep Forever” might have spiraled off a mid-period Triffids record, if Leonard Cohen was at the controls.
“The Crutch That Cripples Me” is as crunchy as its acoustic bed can bear, with Lowery’s vocal hanging eerily disconnected in a space somewhere between your brain and the shards of brittle guitar that creeps around the backdrop; and “Dumptruck Manna” is as frothed and frenzied as its title demands it ought to be.
All that really matters is that you hunt down these albums, play them as loud as your surroundings will allow, and listen as carefully ditto. One of the most crucial songwriting talents of the age lived and died without you probably even noticing, and the four albums that have appeared over the last two years are more than he ever saw released throughout his lifetime.
We wonder what else is left in the archive?
“Nite Flights” (7-inch 45)
(Fruits de Mer CRUSTACEAN 76)
Anyone with a memory for the late 1970s will doubtless recall the visceral shock with which Scott Walker broke from his Brothers - four songs on their latest, final, album, that owed more to Bowie-in-Berlin, and New Wave electronica than to anything that the others could ever envisage.
Since then, of course, subsequent Scott Walker albums have pushed so far beyond that territory that “Nite Flights” (the title track), “The Electrician,” “Fat Mama Kick” and “Shut Out” sound positively quaint by comparison - a point that Bowie himself inadvertently amplified when he included a lackluster “Nite Flights” on Black Tie White Noise.
Sendelica, on the other hand, have snatched it back to the edge, crashing “Nite Flights” into their own, so-distinctive (and utterly unique) blend of space rock, and then driving sonic asteroids around the ensuing dust storm. All of which is then given even darker overtones on the b-side, as Astralasia unleash a self-styled “tabla mix” across the soundscape.
This is the label’s first ever journey into the world of Scott Walker. One hopes there will be more.
(Esoteric ECLEC 2564)
Remastered and replete with bonus tracks, this was the one and only album by a band best remembered as Steve Hackett’s day job before he joined Genesis, but standing, too, as a primo example of how eclectically ambitious the fringes of British prog could be at the very dawn of the seventies.
Formed by the British-born, South African bred brothers John, Lea and Neil Heather, Quiet World were among the first acts signed to Dawn, the progressive rock offshoot of Pye Records.
Discussing the album on the occasion of its first (and, until now, last) CD remastering in 1999, label manager John Schroeder remembered it as “a lot of little musical things that were very catchy, changes that were very clever and, at the same time, [they had] this story going through it… a story on life, on love, on the value of love in its various ways. It’s a journey of love from an embryonic stage right the way through to Man” – and one could only wonder, once Hackett was confirmed as Genesis’ new guitarist, could any other band on earth declare that every one of its members made their recorded debut with a concept album?
Hackett himself described Quiet World’s sound as a mixture of musical cultures, merging to create a hybrid, a true “sound of the streets. I still use it as an influence.” His opinion, expressed thirty years on, that the album itself might now sound dated is negated, however, when one compares all that Quiet World achieved, with dabblings taking place elsewhere on the progressive scene.
At a time when both the Incredible String Band and the Third Ear Band were taking their own musical excursions ever deeper into foreign cultures, The Road is certainly no more (or less) a child of its times than them, with Hackett’s already stylish guitar playing not only predicting elements that he would later bring to Genesis, but also unknowingly echoing moments that Anthony Phillips had already bestowed upon the band.
The Road was completely ignored upon release, and even now is most typically lumped in alongside Phil Collins’s Flaming Youth as “just one of those things” that happened before the hogweeds returned. Beautifully repackaged with lyrics and liners, told by band members Hackett and Lea and John Heather, it now steps out as a masterpiece in its own right.
(Croydon Municipal CR9 018)
Girls Gonna Bop: ’ Girls from the Late 50s
(Croydon Municipal CR9 022)
Two more cunningly crafted jewels from Bob Stanley’s poptastic museum of pre-Moptopperized youth; two more installments in Croydon Municipal’s crusade to reanimate every last breath and beauty of that forgotten moment in time; two more glimpses of the Absolute Beginners hanging fire between the fury of rock’n’roll’s breakthrough and the flames of the swinging sixties.
It’s a series that you indulge on trust; one would require a more-than-encycylopediac knowledge of late fifties/early sixties pop to recognize even a handful of the names on the average Croydon Municipal release, and this latest pair - home to such talents as Maxine Daniels, Billy Boyl, Joe “Mr Piano” Henderson, Jackie Dee, Patsy Ruth Elshire (whose “Sugar Lump” is the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard) and Alvadean Coker - is no exception.
Yes, Eden Kane, Adam Faith, Jo Ann Campbell and Wanda Jackson shake up the obscurity factor a little, but it’s not the names that make these albums so essential, nor even the themes that title them. It’s the overall mood and moodiness that counts.
Soho Expresso drops you bodily into precisely what you imagine the 2 i’s coffee bar must have felt like when Harry Webb was just another customer, and Edna Savage danced in the strobe of a thousand camera flashes. Bad boys, badder girls (how has Suzy Cope’s “Teenage Delinquent” remained out of sight for so many years?), frothing cups and hissing percolators, an adolescence-long caffeine high that history had neither seen in the past nor would ever repeat in the future… this is the sound of the suburbs on a night out in a central London cellar, and it’ll keep you up and jerking all night long.
Girls Gonna Bop is less Anglocentric, as its subject matter demands… you can, after all, count on your fingers and toes the number of truly rockin’, rollin’ Brits who filled the record store racks of the period, and when you syphon the guys out of the equation, you’re left with… not much.
So across the ocean we fly, for twenty-five tracks that are gonna leave you breathless whether you’ve heard them before or not. Jo Ann Campbell backed by Bo Diddley is one treat; Martha Carson, who duetted onstage with Elvis during their tours together; and Charline Arthur, who was shared the Pelvis’s management, are two more.
Lorrie Collins, fresh from Ozzie & Harriet, Anita Carter of the eponymous family… this is fabulous stuff, the kind of collection you wish you’d already collected yourself, and that you might start looking for now. The liners, after all, are littered with the names of the singles that didn’t make it on here (hmmm… is there a volume two underway?), and the career highlights are brighter than a lot of bigger stars, too. Bop on!
Post Pop Depression - Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2CDs/1 DVD)
(Eagle Vision EVB 335569)
How many essential live albums can one man release in a career? In Iggy Pop’s case (and there’s a lot of concert audio to choose from), the answer always used to be two… Metallic KO, the crudely captured recording of the final Stooges show in 1974, all flying ice cubes, breaking glass, and the ultimate vision of “Louie Louie”; and TV Eye, three years later, with Pop locked in the studio with a wired David Bowie, transforming his last two tours’ soundboard tapes into a bathful of sonic porridge.
At a time when so-called “live” albums were sounding more and more like long-labored studio creations (and a lot of them, it transpired, were), TV Eye hit the racks like a fistful of cowpats - and forget about it being Iggy’s (joint-)best live album. It’s probably the greatest sounding live album ever made, not because it transports you back to the night, but because it also drops you into the front row of the audience, sweaty, hot and bruised by flying elbows, while Pop hangs like a malevolent crane-fly, poised to bellyflop onto your head.
Oh, gig-going was so much fun in those days.
Fast forward forty years and, if it’s true that Post Pop Depression is Iggy Pop’s last studio album, then this ought to be his last live record. In which case, chalk up essential live album number three.
For a start, it’s noisy as hell. Backed by the same band that cut Post Pop itself, which means they were raised on the records you’d want them to be, Pop turns the clock back to the same age as TV Eye.
No less than thirteen of the twenty-two tracks here are pulled from either The Idiot or Lust for Life, all hauled along by a rhythm section that doesn’t simply channel the originals’ Hunt and Tony Sales, it echoes them so gloriously that, if you dropped the later songs from the set, this could easily be the TV’s other Eye. The one that he and Bowie didn’t mix into magnificent mush.
And how good is the live version of “Mass Production”? Oh, you won’t believe your ears, and it doesn’t matter where you stand on that song’s claim to be the most effervescent distillation of everything that Pop and Bowie achieved during their Berlin years. Still you will never eclipse the moment of heart-stopping disbelief that erupts as slinkiest, sexiest, scariest guitar-line-as-air-raid-siren of all time first slips into earshot.
“American Valhalla” is the first of the later songs to emerge, leaping out of the one-two punch of “Lust for Life” and “Sister Midnight” and, in keeping with the mood of its Post-Pop parent, it merges perfectly with its surroundings. It has oft been said elsewhere that Iggy’s last studio offering was the one we were waiting for back in 1979, before he went off the rails with New Values et al, and the sense that the nearly-four decades since then were simply his way of softening us up for the trilogy’s final phase bangs brutally into focus here.
Only a suitably, savagely, restyled “Repo Man” steps out of the interregnum (and there’s no Stooges favorites on display either); and if the arrangements are a little less prone to play with themselves a la, for example, TV Eye’s take on “Nightclubbing” (or Metallic KO’s “Rich Bitch”), the energy levels are compensation enough.
“China Girl” is restored to all its original menace and mystery, in the days before Bowie took Iggy’s condemnation of the westernization of the east, and transformed it into a song about a librarian (“she says “ssshhh”); “Fall In Love With Me” is the same twisted disco you always thought it was; and “Paraguay” confirms its claim as one of the finest codas any career could ever demand - which makes the encore “Success” all the more triumphant.
Al this, and we’ve not even mentioned the full concert live disc that accompanies the two CDs worth of show. But you already know how good that is.
(High Moon HMRCD 06)
If you remember Terry Dolan, you’ve been awaiting this release for a long time. If you don’t, then one of the east coast sixties’ furthest-sighted former folkies is a discovery you’ve been waiting to make for just as long.
Dolan’s career is amply sketched out in the accompanying booklet; suffice to say, this is the debut album that Dolan spent half of 1972 recording with producers Pete Sears and Nicky Hopkins (four tracks apiece); the one that was lined up for release in February 1973; that was wrapped up in a Herb Greene photographed sleeve; and spread across a full page in Warner Brothers’ retail magazine Circular.
And then cancelled without even a word to the artist. Forty-plus years later, people are still wondering why.
Cast very comfortably into the realm of west coast folky country poppy rock, with enough of an edge to defuse any negative connotations that those terms might now arouse, you play it and you can feel the Laurel Canyon sun on your shoulders… watch Jackson Browne nipping out to borrow some eggs from Glenn Frey… hear David Crosby pulling faces at his barber.
The production… both sides of it… is crystal period clear; Hopkins, doubling up on piano (of course) is in dynamic form, and Dolan’s songwriting is good enough to justify the comparisons with Elton John that were occasionally dropped his way - the autobiographical “Inlaws and Outlaws” especially.
Seven self-composed songs are joined by one cover, a rollicking take on JJ Cale’s “Magnolia,” while the stellar backing band includes a deep breath’s worth of greatness, from Spencer Dryden and Lonnie Turner to Neil Schon and the Pointer Sisters.
John Cipollina turns in a couple of tracks worth of stupendous guest guitar; while half a dozen bonus tracks from the Hopkins sessions include alternate takes on the whole of side one, plus an additional variation on the opening “See What Your Love Can Do” and… utterly unexpectedly, a wanna-have-your-head-blown-off version of “Inlaws and Outlaws.” all screaming guitars, howling slide, and a rampant jam that makes you wonder what might have been the album’s fate had the whole thing been recorded in similar style.
Warners might still have cancelled it. But they’d never have slept sound in their beds again.
Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967 (3CD box)
Grapefruit (CRSEGBOCX 033)
There is not, and never has been (not since the seventies, anyway), any shortage of compilations and box sets rounding up the sounds of psychedelic sixty-seven, the summer of love and fat cash cows as well. And a cursory glance through the ninety tracks here, generously spread across three jam-packed discs, probably doesn’t add much to what you’d expect.
The Purple Gang, the Pretty Things, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera, Felius Andromeda, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (“Give Him a Flower” - perhaps the greatest statement on peace, love and their most natural corollaries ever uttered), John’s Children, the Crocheted Doughnut Ring, all of our favorites are here.
But dig deeper, my child, and the vista varies - not, as is so often the case, in the form of the dubiously “alternate” mixes and takes that so often pop up in comps of this ilk, but more in the form of the ninety songs adding up to form a near-complete snapshot of a year in British pop. And a crucial year, at that.
Yes, there are omissions, most notably the Floyd, the Beatles, the Who and the Stones, without whom… etc. But who would you have dropped to make room for them? Not the Outer Limits, not the Flower Pot Men (represented here not by the expected “Let’s go To San Francisco,” but its doomed follow-up, “A Walk in the Sky”), and certainly not the Riot Squad, who back David Bowie through a “Toy Soldier” that takes the Velvets’ “Venus in Furs” to even greater extremes than the original did. The performance is familiar from a myriad bootlegs, of course, and an EP released a few years ago. But this might well be its first ever appearance on a legitimate album.
Bowie reappears as composer of the Slender Plenty’s “Silver Tree Top School for Boys,” and is related, too, to the Rats’ “The Rise and Fall of Bernie Gripstone,” featuring future red planet arachnoid Mick Ronson. And that’s another charming feature here, the way occasional songs slip and slide to one another… a little later, Dave Davies’s solo “Funny Face” is followed by the Brood’s rendition of “Village Green,” that was produced by Keith Moon and John Entwistle.
It’s not all psych. Or rather, it is, but as we all well know, there’s “psych,” as in songs that may or may no have been written under the influence of sundry substances; and there’s “psych,” as in someone looks at the chart and thinks, “oooh, I could write some flowery nonsense set to the twang of an out-of-tune sitar,” and then proceeds to do so.
You will listen for yourself and decide on whether this song or that is truly “authentic”; just as you will glance at some of the more veteran names in the running order - the Artwoods, Tony Rivers & the Castaways, the Downliners Sect, the Searchers, Big Jim Sullivan… even, if you want to forget what they got up to next, Paul and Barry Ryan and the Moody Blues… and wonder just how sincere their psilocybic illusions might have been.
It doesn’t matter. What does matter, and what rings true throughout this box, whether it’s “I’ve Been Hurt” soulster Guy Darrell bemoaning the same “Evil Woman” as would later haunt Spooky Tooth; John Williams racing Scott McKenzie to be first to wear some flowers in his hair; or an abandoned Move b-side, “Vote For Me,” is that everything feels like the year in question.
In fact, the only thing that might have improved the box… and you can fix this with your mp3 player… is if its contents had been spaced in chronological order, to trace and chase this remarkable span from”Finding It Rough” by Hat and Tie (precursors of future psych favorites Nirvana) to the Human Instinct’s “A Day in My Mind’s Mind.”
Or maybe not. Chronology is what chronology does, and the last thing psychedelia needs is someone imposing limits on it. You can’t blow you mind on a nine to five shift.