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Reviews: Can the Glam!, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Hawkwind, Dave Brock Presents, Family, Renaissance

Space Rockers, Glam Rock and Prog - oh my! Dave Thompson loses himself in a 1970s Oz.
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Various

Can the Glam! 80 Glambusters - Rockers, Shockers and Teenyboppers from the 70s!

(7t’s - 4 CDs)

In a box set designed to look as though it fell off the back of a K-Tel delivery van; with a track listing that blithely mixes the biggest hits of the era with hopefuls whom even their mothers have forgotten; Can the Glam! is the kind of “greatest hits” package that no collector can resist, no matter how many misses it also packs.

“Metal Guru,” “Jealous Mind,” “Juke Box Jive,” “Baby I Love You OK”… yeah, yeah, yeah. But how good it is to hear them like we did in the day, floating among the flotsam and jetsam of the week’s new releases, of whom a few would march on to matching glory, and the rest would sink like a stone. Ah, Squeek, Pheon Bear, Shabam, Bobby Dazzler, where art thou now?

Knowledgable souls with their noses to the hip critic grindstone will be stroking their beards around about now, and declaring, “Ah yes. Junkshop Glam.” But it isn’t, not really. Rightly or (mostly) wrongly, every song in this collection was regarded as a potential hit single, and at a time when the UK chart was as wildly unpredictable as it has ever been, why not?

An alien coming to land and wondering what these Earthlings were listening to circa 1972-1977 is no more likely to distinguish between, say, “Gimme Some” at the end of disc four (a number 14 hit in 1977 - so much for all you stickybeaks who reckon the entire world turned punk rock the moment the year began), and the American Jam Band’s “Jam Jam,” back on disc one - a number nothing at all in 1973.

Equally, Shabby Tiger’s “Devil Rides Tonight” and “The Cat Crept In” by Mud have a lot more in common than a certain feline quality, and while “junkshop glam” is a super marketing tag, that’s all it is. When you’re actually trawling the aisles and filling your cart, Can the Glam is more like a trip to Harrods than a quick pop-in to the Dollar Store.

So uncan the glam, and can your expectations, instead. Not every track among these eighty is the greatest thing you’ve ever heard, and a few of them aren’t really glam to begin with, and would doubtless be surprised to find themselves on board (Johnny Wakelin, we’re looking at you). But Can The Glam is a lot of fun, four hours plus of pounding, resounding and heart-stopping poppiness, and an antidote to all that concerns you regarding the state of music today.

We will probably never see another movement like glam again. But gather this box and its predecessors in the 7Ts catalog, and you won’t need to. The original is still going strong.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex

Strange Orchestra

(Easy Action 2 CDs)

First off, look away if you’re hoping for a fresh horde of vintage unreleased Marc Bolan. That horse surely galloped away long ago, and Strange Orchestras has very different pixies to poke.

Two CDs and 67 tracks are, instead, a carefully curated and chronologically sound survey of the original Tyrannosaurus Rex line up of Bolan and Steve Took, viewed from behind the screens that were their three LPs. Yes, it’s a compilation of material that has been out before, usually as extras on reissues and box sets. But it tells a story that no bunch of bonus tracks have ever been able to complete.

Opening in July 1967, with the newly united twosome recording a bunch of demos for producer Simon Napier Bell; moving on to work with Joe Boyd a few months later; dipping then into demos, out-takes and even the occasional live track, Strange Orchestra illustrates just how electrifying the union between Bolan and Took was, regardless of whether that same electricity was allowed to carry over to their LPs.

As the liner notes point out, compare the Boyd material with the duo’s Tony Visconti-produced My People Were Fair… debut album. Even if you disregard Bolan’s own unhappiness with the finished waxing (“as a production, I can’t listen to it”), it’s clear that the vision Tyrannosaurus Rex presented to Boyd was very different to that which Visconti offered to the world.

Now, then, we’re into the world of alternate Bolanic history, cherry picking those moments when a session recording hinted at ambitions that the finished LPs would whittle down. The most dramatic of these, for the casual listener, would be Took taking lead vocals on the future b-side “Do You Remember” - even the man’s biggest fans will admit that Bolan would have done (and ultimately did do) a far better job.

But there’s little quirks all over the place; some notable only if you’ve spent the last fifty years acquainting yourself with every moment of music on the original albums; others, however, lifting themselves off the CD’s surface to demand “hey, what do you think of these apples, then?”And you will reply, happily, “well, they’re really crunchy and ever so delicious.” Because they are.

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Hawkwind

Dreamworkers of Time - The BBC Recordings 1985-1995

(Atomhenge - 3 CDs)

Will the Hawkwind archive never be exhausted? Long time fans and collectors, of course, know the answer to that, and the internet forums reverberate with demands for this, that or the other treasure to be exhumed for the delectation of the hungry hordes.

And occasionally, their demands are heard.

After years of circulating on mis-identified bootlegs, the bulk of the band’s 1970s BBC output is now commonplace enough that it’s easy to yawn as another reissue comes around. This package, then, skips forward a decade, to round up two studio sessions, from 1985 and 1995, and two live performances, from 1986 and 1988. And, while the mid-late 1980s are seldom regarded as a peak within Hawkwind’s fifty-plus year existence (and the mid-90s even less so), this is a dynamite package.

With an unchanged line-up across the three earliest broadcasts (a rarity in Hawkwind terms), the star of the show is guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton - never under-rated by the faithful, he drives the two live shows with effortless elan and energy, although his bandmates are scarcely slouches, either.

The Reading Festival show, from 1986, captures Hawkwind in their open air element, and serves up a gloriously crowd pleasing set that includes a deathless “Master of the Universe,” “Brainstorm,” “Assassins of Allah,” a terrific “Needle Gun” and, to round it off, a “Silver Machine” encore that reintroduces ex-bassist Lemmy to the pack.

The Hammersmith gig (1988) is less immediately thrilling, in that the band (understandably) are more interested in promoting their new material than appeasing the audience’s need to hear the oldies one more time. But still it’s a strong set, with a welcome airing for “Shot Down in the Night,” an electrifying “Sonic Attack,” and a soaring “Rocky Paths” before the inevitable swing back to the seventies and the closing “Brainstorm.”

Of the two sessions, the 1985 set lingers in the memory as one of most exciting things Radio One had aired in years, and it retains that power today. And the 1995 broadcast sounds great as well, built around the recently released Alien 4 album; and, if you’ve not listened to that for a while, playing this will make you want to.

Arriving so soon after the six CD Dust of Time anthology (four of the tracks here were previewed in that package), it feels as though we could be about to enter a new golden age for Hawkwind repackages and rarities. But, even if we’re not, Dreamworkers of Time at least takes a bit of a bite out of the aficionado’s wishlist.

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Various

Dave Brock Presents… This Was Your Future: Space Rock (And Other Psychedelics) 1978-1998

(Cherry Red - 3 CDs)

And just like embarrassing rashes, you wait all year (or thereabouts) for a new Hawkwind compilation, and along come three at once. This one, though, is surely the most unpredictable of them all, a Dave Brock-curated collection of the multitude of fellow travelers who have accompanied the Hawks across their half century journey. Or a lot of it, anyway.

Chronologically, the story starts with Hawkwind, and a couple of mothership marvels that reach back to the late 1970s. From there, 1980 singles by Robert Calvert and Michael Moorcock, first heard on the fabulous Flicknife label, nod towards the Friends and Relations albums with which the same label intrigued is elsewhere that decade - Brock and Calvert’s Sonic Assassins hail from that source. A few solo Brock excursions add further heft to the Hawkwind quotient and later, the 1990s Psychedelic Warlords spin-off get a look in, along with sometime crew members Tim Blake and Huw Lloyd Langton.

We dip into the fan club’s Hawkfan label; and Bucketful of Brains’ shortlived Acid Tapes. There’s a glance back at the earliest days of Ozric Tentacles - described in the accompanying booklet as “arguably second only to Hawkwind in their importance in the development of space rock,” and that sounds about right. “Velmwend” opened the Ozrics’ debut self-released cassette and an entire universe opens out of it.

Idealistically, one half hopes that the old, but similarly-themed Travellers Aid Trust album might make an appearance, but no. In its stead, however, key cuts from the Magic Mushroom Band, Omnia Opera, Here and Now and Boris and his Bolshie Balalaika fly the flag for the free festival crew of the late 1980s and early 1990s. .

It’s good, too, to see the Hawks’ American offspring show up, in the form of Pressurehed, Don Falcone’s Spaceship Eyes. F/i and ST37, even if the absence of Chrome and/or Helios Creed weighs heavy. And there are sufficient others on display to compensate for any further absentees.… Ethereal Counterbalance, featuring former Magic Muscle frontman Rod Goodway; the Outskirts of Infinity, the Sons of Selina, and more more more. And while not everything here fully fits the dictionary definition of “space rock,” neither does space rock itself, half the time. What matters is that the whole thing adds up to the kind of snapshot that makes you wish for a box twice the size, and a DVD companion as well.

There has to be a second volume coming up?

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Family

A Song for Me

(Esoteric - 2 CDs)

For whatever reason, Family - the Leicester-based band formed by Roger Chapman, Charlie Whitney, Ric Grech, Robert Townsend and Jim King in 1966 - have never been regarded among the uppermost echelon of British rock bands, and that despite still possessing a vocal following that unhesitatingly rates them as such.

Too unpredictable, too esoteric, too determined to follow their own path, the seven studio albums Family released between 1968 and 1974 remain shimmering jewels in the annals of prog, while UK hit singles “The Weaver’s Answer,” Burlesque” and “In My Own Time” belong on every jukebox in the land. But, somehow, you rarely hear people talk of them, and rarely hear them cited as a major influence on… well, anyone.

And that’s probably not going to change, despite the quality of reissues like this. A Song for Me was Family’s third album, released in January 1970 following bassist Grech’s departure for Blind Faith and saxophonist King’s health-related farewell. There was also the matter of what history recalls as a disastrous American tour, but the band was undeterred, responding instead with their most remarkable album yet.

New members Poli Palmer and John Weider shine, with the former introducing keyboards and flute to the arsenal and completely opening up the sound. Songs like the opening “Drowned in Wine,” “Wheels” and the title track, too., bring a whole new dimension to the band.

Maybe there’s something faintly Jethro Tullish about the first-named, but that was scarcely to Family’s disadvantage. Besides, such trappings were swiftly shrugged away; Family were over their growing pains now. Henceforth every new album would be a corker.

Two CDs tell the record’s story, with bonus tracks pulled from promos and period singles (including the stellar “No Mule’s Fool”), while nine BBC recordings from 1969-1970 present appearances on both the studio-bound Top Gear and, most rousingly, the live Sunday Show.

None will be strangers to anyone who picked up the band’s BBC box set four years ago, but it’s nice to have them here as well. Seven of the album’s ten tracks are reprised among them, and there are moments when they sound even better than their LP counterparts.

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Renaissance

Scheherazade and Other Stories

(Esoteric - 3 CDs)

Some bands were born for surround sound, and Renaissance were certainly one of them. Every one of their core albums has been demanding such treatment for as long as the technology has existed, and the release of Turn of the Cards two years ago proves that Esoteric were right to be listening.

It’s with Scheherazade and Other Stories, however, that the format truly comes into its own. The most adventurous of all Renaissance’s albums, with a sidelong title track that drops you bodily into the heart of The Arabian Nights, it’s an astonishing album whose only fault is, it was released at a time when prog was losing its hold on the popular musical imagination, and received but the merest iota of the acclaim it truly deserved.

The show opens with the portentous piano that welcomes us to “Trip to the Fair,” a multi-textured ten minute epic in whose wake the next couple of tracks (“The Vultures Fly High” and “Ocean Gypsy”) sound almost slight. But then comes the title track and, for the next twenty-five minutes, we are transported. And that’s just in stereo. The surround mix takes the music even further afield.

A neat clamshell box enfolds the treat, with a nicely-done remaster of the stereo album and a January 1976 live show completing the package, and the latter, too, is a joy to behold - and that despite all but duplicating the contents of the later Carnegie Hall live album (two songs are missing, one is shifted in sequence).

The venue may be less grand this time around (Nottingham University), and the sound a little rougher, but both work to the band’s advantage. There’s an energy here that the Carnegie set always lacked, and the closing “Ashes Are Burning” is dynamism personified.

Also included is a short video sequence, the three shortest album cuts shot live for a period promo film, and the booklet is a lot of fun, too. Renaissance’s most adventurous album just became even more of a thrill.