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Reviews: Sendelica, Steve Ashley, Tintern Abbey, Third Ear Band, Colin Scott, Keith Emerson, Underground Sounds of 1970, British Singer-Songwriters

by Dave Thompson
1

Sendelica

And Man Created God

(Fruits de Mer 2LP)

Can anybody even guess, let alone give an accurate total, how many Sendelica-and-related albums are out there? Certainly enough for them to have outgrown positively every one of the comparisons that used to fall like rain around the pagan world-jazz electronic space rock riffery that has grown incrementally more unique with every successive airing… and which would probably sound even better if there wasn’t some fool outside mowing his lawn,

On with the headphones and excuse me while my head explodes.

Actually, this is how Sendelica ought to be listened to, with the whole world blocked out of earshot and only their vision permitted to intrude. Hide the track listing, too. Sendelica song titles are rarely what you’d expect the attached piece of music to sound like, and the opening “Aeolian Sunset” feels more like the jungle at midnight, as scored by John Carpenter.

Which is not necessarily a mood the album ever escapes, assuming the jungle is a sub-diomorphic time-traveling shape-shifter, through which strolling players and heads down boogie merchants wander at will.

Propulsive here, pugnacious there, and maybe pestilent everywhere - work on the album commenced in that pre-Covid wonderland of which our elders speak so fondly, but Sendelican Pete Bingham recalls them continuing on “in a very remote manner,” and one should not necessarily assume he credits lockdown with that.

This is Sendelica at their most musically isolated and, while they have never pretended to be the cuddliest supernova to devour milky ways for breakfast, if this is still space rock, they’ve travelled so far that they don’t even remember where they’ve come from. And if it’s any other form of music that has a name of its own, it’s in a language that has never been spoken.

Maybe that’s why they do still have song titles. You need something familiar to lure you in. After that, you’re on your own.

2

Tintern Abbey

Beeside: The Complete Recordings

(Grapefruit - 2 CDs)

Tintern Abbey were one of those bands that sprang up for a single or so in the late 1960s, surfed the seas of psych for as long as they could, and then vanished into the history books, just another name for completists to conjure with, as they bid ever higher sums for a copy of the records.

Or record, in Tintern Abbey’s case, but what a record it was. “Beeside” (the a-side despite its title) is a warm, dark swirl of echo and bass, over which is intoned a paean to a busy bee buzzing all day long. Whimsical, weird and wonderful, it did absolutely nothing saleswise at the time. But if you want a copy now, there’s over 1,100 other people queueing up for one on Discogs, and copies tend to sell for well over a grand. And that’s a British grand… in 2015, eBay saw a promo copy go for $2,000.

We’re no strangers to Tintern Abbey today. Both sides of the single have been compiled until the cows come home, and there’s been occasional appearances for a few other tracks: a four song EP of a 1968 acetate appeared as an Oxfam benefit in 2006, an alternate version of the single, “Busy Bee,” appeared to surprisingly little fanfare on Grapefruit’s Love Poetry and Revolution box set in 2013, and the same label excavated “Tanya” for Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds in 2016.

Now, however, the motherlode splits open. Two CDs, thirty-six tracks, and all but the aforementioned being heard for the first time in over half a century.

So, was it worth the wait?

As with so many of these warts and all anthologies of psychedelia’s commercial also-rans, the answer is variable. Sometimes, it is easy to see why the band wasn’t invited to release another single; other times, it seems incredible that they weren’t sent into the studio with an unlimited budget, and told to make their own Sgt Pepper. Sometimes, you wish Grapefruit had taken a more curated approach, and made a single disc of the band’s very best; other times, it’s comforting to know that, with this box in hand, there’s probably nothing left that you need to hear.

Who, however, would do the deciding? Would a “best of’ this treasure trove focus on the most earnestly psychedelic of the band’s performances… led off by the fabulous “Snowman”? Or would it err towards the weirder fringes of “Nightfall,” with its tale of simple people cowering from the dark energies of a black mass; the mythic lope of “Magic Horsemen”; the aptly titled “Song of Despair”; the freakbeat “Witchcraft.”

That’s why you need everything. So you can try and guess what might have been included on what the liners describe as “Tintern Abbey’s Pop Album”… which not only was never recorded, they don’t even seem to have thought about what it would include.

So you can read Stuart Mackay describe “Strange Dame” as the band’s idea of a “big, ‘A Day in the Life’-style” finale, and wonder what the rest of Tintern Abbey’s Sgt Pepper might have sounded like.

So you can bathe in the knowledge that, as much as any recently resuscitated box of psych-era tapes and acetates, an evening spent in the company of Tintern Abbey is like rediscovering all the reasons why you like this kind of music in the first place.

3

Steve Ashley

Steve Ashley’s Family Album Revisited

(Talking Elephant - 1 CD)

Available again for the first time in a long while, Steve Ashley’s 1983 “comeback” album reappears beautifully packaged, and delightfully expanded with two new songs - a period out-take, “The Rough with the Smooth,” and a tribute to Bruce Rowland, the drummer throughout the rest of the set.

Having recoiled from the music industry following his initial mid-seventies breakthrough, Ashley recorded Family Album in 1979 and, for those who had devoured his first two albums, it was a big deal at the time.

Which was made even bigger by the cast list - the album was recorded with a virtual Fairport Convention supergroup comprising Rowland, Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Chris Leslie, Martin Brinsford, Mark Powell and Trevor Foster. And the result is a lovely album, a fun album, a dogs barking, doors squeaking, granny rocking herself to sleep while the kitchen clatters at dinner time album, and one that Ashley himself recalled very fondly in his Fire and Wine autobiography.

“We were all very relaxed about the recordings and you can hear that everyone was having a good time. The [album] holds many happy memories for me—every time I hear the birds and bells on ‘Pancake Day,’ I get a picture of Peggy out in the garden at sunrise with microphone in hand, to record the bells of Cropredy church.”

It’s good to have it back.

4

Colin Scott

Colin Scott

(Esoteric - 1 CD)

Released to little more than a polite murmur in 1971, singer-songwriter Scott’s debut album swiftly rose to a degree of mid-seventies fame (if still not acclaim) as the sheer magnificence of its guest list became better known.

On guitar, Robert Fripp, Brinsley Schwarz and Davey Johnstone. On Bass, Nic Potter and Rod Clements. On sax, David Jackson. On drums, Guy Evans. keyboards, Rick Wakeman and Bob Andrews. And, on backing vocals, Peter Hammill, Steve Gould, David Kaffinetti, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Jane Relf, Jon Anderson, Linda Hoyle, Alan Hull. And Elton John’s guitarist (although he was in Magna Carta at the time).

Crimson, Genesis, Van der Graaf, Yes, Rare Bird, Renaissance, Lindisfarne, Affinity… that’s one helluva prog rock supergroup. All the more so since they were all effectively either friends, or friends-of-friends, of Scott’s, and did their bit for the record before Scott even had a deal. By the time United Artists picked it up for release, it was done.

In truth, Colin Scott does not even try to bask in the superstar glow - Scott’s voice and performance are front and center as he skips between three of his own songs, three more by friend Martin Hall, then covers of Neil Innes, Mike Newbury, Harvey Andrews and Davey Johnstone.

The mood is just on the proggy side of folk (Magna Carta were a big influence as well as being buddies) and, if it wasn’t for the fact that, for the past almost-fifty years, collectors having been hunting this down exclusively for the sidemen, it probably wouldn’t be seeing reissue today.

We should be thankful, however, that it is. Without breaking its back to impress the listener, it’s a quietly enjoyable album, sing-along-enough-able to require a few more listens even if, ultimately, it will probably spend more time on the shelf than on the turntable.

There were a lot of albums being released around that time, all with similar moods and good intentions, and there’s not too much separation between them. But Colin Scott’s address book has always given this an extra sparkle, and we should be grateful that it does so.

5

Various artists

The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert

(Cherry Red - 2 CDs, 2 DVDs)

Oh, we’re in two minds about this one.

One mind insists that Carl Palmer, as the last surviving member of ELP, has already offered the fallen Keith the greatest imaginable tribute via his own ELP Legacy’s 2018 Live album.

The other mind, however, says that Emerson touched more musicians than simply those who were fortunate enough to play alongside him, and this is their turn to wave his flag. Recorded in LA in May 2016, its twenty songs might not boast too many “headline” performers (Brian Auger, Eddie Jobson, Jeff Baxter, members of Dream Theatre and Toto), but Emerson’s own Keith Emerson Band are a solid backdrop over which a procession of guest keyboard players do their thing, and they’re terrific.

They roar through precisely the kind of set list you’d hope they would - “Karn Evil 9,” “The Barbarian,” “Hoedown,” “Endless Enigma” and all, some with the kind of style and panache that Emerson himself would admire, some in a more individual manner that at least offers a fresh interpretation.

Even those moments that look like they might be missteps dignify themselves, and so Rick Livingstone leading us through “Lucky Man” and “The Great Gates of Kiev” - two songs far better associated with Greg Lake than with Emerson - does indeed become a fitting way to approach the end of the night.

“Fanfare for the Common Man” is pure drama; “Take a Pebble” surprisingly luminous; and you can’t help but admire the more-or-less unadorned Emerson Band’s twenty minute take on “Tarkus,” key and note perfect, and as much a highlight of this package as the Welcome Back My Friends-era live version was a highlight of ELP’s entire career. The superb damp flatulence of the original “Aquatarkus”could, perhaps, have been damper. But that aside, it’s almost as good as…

In truth, Palmer’s Legacy will always have the musical edge on any outside attempt at playing this music. But, as a souvenir of a one-off tribute, and one that will likely never be repeated, every fan should experience it at least once.

If only to hear what the early, all-powerful ELP might have done to the Sugar Plum Fairy.

6

Various artists

Taking Some Time On - Underground Sounds of 1970

(Esoteric - 4 CDs)

You sometimes wonder whether box sets like this just compile themselves? They certainly could - if you look at what was considered the underground of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it’s difficult not to gravitate either to the names that would breaking commercial over within a year or two, or those who have ascended to legend for other reasons entirely.

This package, for instance. One more in what is now a glorious, and utterly compulsive series of albums that investigate, indeed, the state of the UK underground on a year-by-year basis, Taking Some Time On does not even try to surprise us with its contents.

And why should it? Look, after all, at its contents: Atomic Rooster, Kevin Ayers, Barclay James Harvest, Edgar Broughton Band, Caravan, Curved Air, Deep Purple, East of Eden, ELP, Family, Gentle Giant, Hawkwind, Lindisfarne, Rare Bird, Al Stewart, Ten Years After, Van der Graaf Generator, Wishbone Ash were all either there or thereabouts in the hustings that year, and some of them had just about broken through.

Others were already so big that they had literally to retrench and stop scoring so many hit singles in order to regain their underground kudos (Procol Harum, Status Quo, the Move, the Pretty Things, Fleetwood Mac, Love Sculpture, Traffic).

And others still would never make it monstrous, but are a key part of the year’s narrative regardless - T2, Blodwyn Pig, Egg, Patto, Locomotive, Stray, Quatermass, Pete Brown & Piblokto!, McDonald & Giles, Clewar Blue Sky, Brian Davison’s Every Which Way, Cressida, Affinity, High Tide, Michael Cjapman, Stray.

Chosen performances flip between the inevitable (“Green Manalishi,” “Hurry on Sundown,” “Black Night,” “Lady Eleanor,” “Refugees… and that’s just disc one) and the pleasant surprises - namely, any song which doesn’t start playing on your head the moment you see its name.

There’s nothing in the way of rarities here, at least if you have a decent period CD collection, and there’s little that you probably wouldn’t have included yourself if this was an mp3 playlist. But there’s something nice about having the job done for you, and the accompanying booklet is a lot of fun.

Collect the set!

7

Various artists

Separate Paths Together: An Anthology of British Male Singer/Songwriters 1965-1975

(Grapefruit - 3CDs)

This could have been horrible.

No less than the United States, the UK at the dawn of the seventies was swamped by earnest and predominantly male singer-songwriters, all folded origami style onto precarious bar stools, strumming painfully at their acoustic guitars and wittering on about how they’ve seen fire and they’ve seen rain cos that’s something that rhymes with pain, they’ve been so sad since their baby left, La-la-la I’m so bereft. Etcetera.

Thankfully, none of them are included here. Well, not many. Disc three does meander a little into such territory, but as we’ve already plowed through two that hold the hordes of hubris back, we’re willing to close our ears to them.

For this is indeed a box to behold even if… and this is, perhaps, the biggest drawback, the vast majority of featured artists could (and do) as easily fit onto any number of other, more specifically themed collections. Kevin Ayers, Kevin Coyne, Richard Thompson, Peter Hammill, Mike Heron, Ray Dorset, Graham Gouldman, Michael Chapman, Wizz Jones, Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell…

Yes, they’re male, they sing and they songwrite. Context, however, is everything, and it would be an entertaining exercise to take these sixty-six songs and redistribute them into more cohesive categories - a disc of folkies, a disc of proggies and a disc of the popsters who don’t quite fit the other two categories. Then, put the entire playlist onto random play and… this is what you get.

The moods skip all over the show. Ine has to admire the compiler who sat through Peter Hammill’s excoriating ‘Easy to Slip Away’ and decided to follow it with Graham Gouldnan’s solo rendition of ‘For Your Love.’ Who slid from Kevin Coyne’s ‘Mad Boy’ to Harvey Andrews’ ‘Sweet Little Fat Girl,’ or Ralph McTell’s ‘Daddy’s Here’ to Mick Audsley’s ‘Dark and Devil Waters.’

Stripping the contents of any chronological logic, too, was admirable. Donovan’s ‘Turquoise’ notwithstanding, little here actually stands up and waves a calendar in your face - and as that doesn’t appear until the end of disc three, it means the box as a whole has a gorgeously timeless feel.

So don’t let the title put you off; don’t feel as though you’ll need to pick up a box of tissues (or a gross of sick bags); and, most of all, don’t pass this by because you think it’s going to be soppy. A lot of it is anything but.

8

Third Ear Band

Mosaics - The Albums 1969-1972

Esoteric (3 CDs)

If you don’t know the Third Ear Band, stop reading and look them up on Youtube. We’ll see you back here in about thirty minutes.If, on the other hand, you do know their music… and have been waiting for a CD package that comes close to the quality of your original vinyl… this is what you’ve been looking for.

Effectively, Mosaics is a slimmed down version of the deluxe editions that appeared a few years back; it contains just the three basic albums (1969’s Alchemy, 1970’s Third Ear Band and 1972’s Music from MacBeth), without any of the bonus material, BBC sessions and out-takes, that accompanied them the last time around.

It’s a fascinating journey regardless; the first two albums in particular hang so far outside anything remotely approaching even the underground mainstream of the era that the most common description for them is “challenging.”

Nevertheless, the band’s haunting oboe/cello/violin/hand drum-led improv (more-or-less) transports you to places best described as the ultimate destination ofor everything that was happening musically at the end of the sixties. Flavoured with a vision that refuses point-blank to sit comfortably among your expectations.