Reviews: Icarus Peel's Acid Reign, The Sweet, Kraut Rock, Fleur de Lys, 70s Classic Rock, Global Village Trucking Company, Duke Reid

by Dave Thompson
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Icarus Peel’s Acid Reign

Shallow Oceans (CD/LP)

(Billywitch Records)

Mr Peel, of Honeypot and Crystal Jacqueline fame, has been absent from these pages for a while now - indeed, it’s more than two years since his Acid Reign alter-ego last strutted its raucous stuff. But Shallow Oceans makes up for lost time with one of the finest guitar rock albums of recent memory… and that’s Guitar with a capital aaaaarrrrggghhhh, and Rock with the headful of concrete that Peel is clearly banging against the wall whenever he needs a drum break. (With apologies, of course, to percussionist Jay Robertson.)

The opening “Divided” gets things off to a ferocious start, a thunderous thrash of punkoid guitars and roaring vocals that kicks Peel’s “psyechedelic” reputation into the long grass, and then runs it over with a 4x4 emblazoned with Robin Trower stickers. And while “Snakes,” later in the sequence, will dial things back a little, with an indeed psych-tinged acousticy ballad about snakes, you have a lot of boulders to clamber over first, including “Dance Upon the Moon” which melds Jeff Becky guitar flashes with spacey grooves and Gongy bass;… and “Symphony of Groove,” which lesser beings might have transformed into metallic funk, but which Peel twists to become funky metal.

“Wishful Thinking” keeps the space rock quotient blazing; and nowwe’re into the album’s epics - the eight minutes of colliding rhythms, seismic bass (courtesy the virtuoso Andy Budge) and bleeding guitars that make up “Half Space”; the pulsing, eight minute title track, with its devilish stereo and atmospheres; and, finally, ten minutes of “We Come In Peace” which is anything but peaceful, an artful assault that feels like something the Edgar Broughton Band might have opened with, in a muddy field fifty years back. So, still psych, but scarcely delicate, and if its subject matter touches on the street protests that have marked the last year or so, that’s probably not an accident.

Exquisitely paced, energetically performed, and altogether a fitting successor to whichever seventies power trio you hold in the highest esteem, Shallow Oceans is certainly one of Peel’s finest offerings to date, and one of the most thrilling rides we’ve been offered all year.

Just don’t forget your diving suit. The oceans might be shallow, but you’re still going to feel the pressure.

2

The Sweet

Isolation Boulevard (CD)

(Prudential Music Group)

It’s been a while since the last all-new Sweet album - and the wait is not over yet. With a title that gleefully recaptures memories of the British glammers’ third studio album, from 1974, Isolation Boulevard certainly looks like a classic-in-the-waiting. But it sounds like another greatest hits collection… yet another greatest hits collection.

Across thirteen tracks, newly recorded during, indeed, isolation, but newly-written sometime around the early-mid 1970s, sole surviving member Andy Scott leads his merry men through… deep breath… “Hell Raiser,” “Blockbuster,” “Ballroom Blitz,” “The Six Teens,” “Fox on the Run,” “Action,” “Love is Like Oxygen” - oh, you get the picture.

Even the token offering from more recent years, the title cut from 2015’s New York Groove, was a UK hit for fellow UK glittermen Hello forty years earlier (and Ace Frehley too, lest we forget). Te sole other recent inclusion, “Still Got the Rock,” was a single around the same time.

Don’t get it wrong, the album itself is tremendous fun, all meaty fists waving and spangled boots stomping. Vocalist Paul Manzi has a voice that’s ideally suited to the material, and Scott is still thrashing on all cylinders. And maybe we do need regular reminders of just how fabulous the old songs were, rerecorded and re-energized, if not especially rearranged. In fact, we definitely do.

How much more fun, though, if the band was to come up with a new album of fresh material of similar quality… It’s what lockdowns are for, after all.

3

Various

Head Rush (3 LPs)

(Fruits de Mer)

Continuing FdM’s long-running love affair with pulling classic Kraut Rock into the new century, Head Rush sprawls across six sides of vinyl (plus a bonus CD) to bring us fresh interpretations not of the original music, but where that music might have moved had time only passed slower than it did back then. If the likes of Neu!, Kraftwerk, Amon Düül II and Can had made twice as many albums as they actually did. Preferably with Giorgio Moroder pressing the button marked Motorik.

This isn’t altogether untapped territory for the label - last year’s Head in the Clouds compilation made a similar gesture. But this is less a continuation of that as it is a wholesale revision of the concept. Livelier, maybe… moodier, certainly. And utterly compulsive, as the likes of the Lost Stoned Pandas, Silver Vials, Moon Goose, Jay Tausig, Taras Bulba and Icarus Peel take their places in the twenty band line-up to reimagine what might have been. And, just to muddy the waters, it’s all wrapped up by a genuine cover version, as the Legendary Pink Dots spend thirty minutes exploring Harmonia’s “Watussi.”

As always with FdM’s excursions in this direction, Head Rush will no doubt turn out to be eminently collectible - the first pressing has already sold out on the strength of pre-orders alone. The label website does offer options, however, so hurry hurry!

4

Fleur de Lys

Circles: The Ultimate Fleur De Lys (CD / 2LP))

(54321 Countdown/Acid Jazz)

It’s been said a thousand times but… oh, forget it. If you know Fleur de Lys, then you do. If you don’t, then you should, and the fact that their “Gong with the Luminous Nose” 45 was not one of the prime hits of 1968 is simply one of those historical injustices with which we have to live. Back around 1974-75, journalist Charles Shaar Murray rated it among the primal sounds of the psychedelic age, and maybe that’s legacy enough.

Circles is not the first Fleur de Lys compilation, and it probably won’t be the last. It’s definitely the best sounding one, though, and 25 tracks isn’t bad for a group that only released seven singles under their own name. Which is why we also encounter offerings from Rupert’s People, Shyster, Chocolate Frog and Tony & Tandy with the Fleur de Lys, plus a couple of demos.

It’s all sterling stuff, though. “Gong,” a recounting of the Edward Lear poem of near-identical title, is an absolute joy, while fellow 45s “Circles” (the Pete Townsend song) and “Moondreams” also shine brightly. But those, in the world of die-hard psych collectors, are simply the band’s greatest hits.

Just as worthy are “Hammerhead,” “Prodigal Son…” the history books may regard a lot of these tracks as forgotten a-sides and lost b-sides, but an accounting of all Fleur de Lys’s original singles would have added up to one of the key LPs of the age. Add the remainder of the material here and The Ultimate Fleur de Lys is just as easily regarded among the ultimate comps of its age.

5

Various

Riding the Rock Machine: British Seventies Classic Rock (3CDs)

(Grapefruit)

Yikes! This is a weird one. “Classic Rock” is a broad church at the best of times, but the aisles have grown even wider when the likes of Nazareth, Status Quo, Rainbow and ELO start rubbing bedenim-ed shoulders with National Flag, Rococo, Blackfoot Sue and Agnes Strange. When you can flip from Foghat to Yvonne Elliman; from the Alan Parsons Project to Hello; from Thin Lizzy to Sad Cafe.

And not even, always, with their best known numbers…. Yes, we get a few of the usual suspects - “Jailbreak,” “Feels Like The First Time,”“Life is a Minestrone,” “Bungle in the Jungle.” But the Who weigh in with “Success Story,” Medicine Head with “Back to the Wall,” Curved Air with “UHF,” and it’s a heroic compiler indeed who could decide what the most representative numbers for Tucky Buzzard, Bullfrog and Maggot might be.

But titles involving the dread term “rock and/’n’ roll” are mercifully kept to a minimum, with just Rainbow, Heep, Duffy and, fractiionally, Fancy feeling the need to rattle on about their dayjobs, and if classic rock truly is in the eye of the beholder, then Ridng the Rock Machine does a bang-up job of telling its tale without too many false steps. Plus, any album that includes Smokestack Crumble’s “Got a Bad Leg,” the Winkies’ take on “Fever” and offerings from Babe Ruth, Stray, Free and Roxy Music is always going to be worth investigating.

6

Global Village Trucking Company

Smiling Revolution (2 CDs)

(Esoteric)

Gloval Village Trucking Company are effectively the forgotten field of the early-mid 70s British festival scene, a band that popped up on stages with all the big hitters of the age (Hawkwind, Man, the Broughtons, the Fairies) but whom history has done a very good job of burying at the bottom of the bill.

It’s not too hard to see why. Live, the band could bludgeon with the best of them. In the studio, however, they were a very different proposition, caught somewhere between Brinsley Schwarz and any of many similarly pub rocky country-tinged outfits that were around at the time - a far cry from the long haired loons who should have started life with a live album, and just spread out from there. Unfortunately, their finest recorded moments were buried away on the second Greasy Truckers album, and other indications of the band’s might remained on the shelf. Until now.

Disc one here effectively rounds up the bulk of the band’s one and only album, and from the opening poppy silliness of “Judgement Day,” it’s solid frivolity and fun,. Disc two, however, dips into the vault, with the four Truckers tracks joined by a couple of BBC recordings, a demo and a glorious twelve minute “Watch Out There’s a Mind About,” from an Oxford show in 1975. And it’s here that we truly taste what a great band this was - and how much greater they could have been, if they’d only pushed their way up the bill a little further.

Two CDs tell the story well. But there’s more BBC material sitting in the vault and presumably more live material too. A second volume would be most welcome….

7

Duke Reid International

Disco Series: The Complete Collection (3CDs)

(Doctor Bird)

Duke Reid, in case you don’t know, was one of Jamaica’s most influential, pioneering and visionary producers. The Disco Series was one of his Treasure Isle label’s most glorious bursts of creativity and elan. And this three disc set is exactly what it says on the box - “the first ever comprehensive collection of Treasure Isle disco mixes, comprising virtually every 12” single issued, plus four previously unissued recordings.”

It was a period of incredible activity Almost every one of the 38 tracks here was recorded during 1977, targeted of course at the disco scene that embraced even the Jamaican dancehalls of the time, but flavored nevertheless towards the reggae market that Reid had not only sustained for almost two decades, he all but invented it in the first place.

The format across the singles was generally the same throughout - three (or so) minutes of vocal performance, blending into three minutes (or so) of dub. But it ever grew stale, you never grew tired. Across both original material, redrawn back catalog and the occasional soul/R&B cover, the veteran likes of Alton Ellis, Phyllis Dillon, the Techniques, the Paragons and John Holt were joined by Ranking Trevor, Jah Stone, Papa Ritchie and more, while Reid’s customary crack studio crew, the Supersonics, never had a weak moment.

Nora Dean reprises her essential “Barb Wire,” Phyllis Thomas warns once again not to touch her tomato, the Techniques still admire “Queen Majesty,” and at least part of the key to the success of these records is down to the effortless blending of stone cold classic oldies with modern techniques. In fact, if “Barbwire” had been double the length it turns out here (a meager 4.50), it still would have been too short.

But, there again, you can say much the same for every other track in the box.