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Reviews: Lost in Catland, Iggy & the Stooges, The Grid/Fripp, Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come, Killed by John Peel, Greenslade, the Sorrows,  Underground Sounds of 1969

Dave Thompson reviews the month's best reissues and compilations, plus the most purr-fect benefit album.
1

Various

Lost in Catland - A Cat Compendium

(thehareandthemoon.bandcamp.com)

There can be no better way of introducing this wonderful album than to repeat its own introductory statement:

A compendium of cat songs, laments and wails in aid of cat shelters both in Belgium and Scotland. The Covid pandemic has left animal charities with a severe shortfall in their funds, as their usual routes of raising money have been limited over the last sixteen months. With this in mind, Grey Malkin (Scotland) and Sven Visterin (Belgium) contacted various friends, artists and performers to ask for contributions to a 'cat compilation', from which all proceeds will go to feline charities.

“Any proceeds will be shared amongst designated cat shelters and this will vary over time to better spread any funds. Initially any monies will go to the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, as well as Zwerfkat Wommelgem VZW.”

And with that, we fall into almost two dozen contributions from the likes of Tramasutra, a lovely piece by David Colohan (United Bible Studies), True Zebra, the Kitchen Cynics and the Floating World, while visiting or revisiting poles as far apart as Charles Baudelaire (The Thepahone’s spooky/playful rendition of his “Le Chat”), Syd Barrett (Grey Malkin and Michael Warren’s near-funereal “Lucifer Sam”); and even polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, and the heartbreaking fate of the ship’s cat on his final voyage. There’s a book about him (the cat, not Shackleton… although there’s probably some about him as well) if you care to learn more, but seriously… don’t read the last couple of pages. Alison O’Donnell’s “The Last Adventure of Mrs Chippy” brings it all back ….

There’s music for every mood. The Rowan Amber Mill deliver the delightfully dippy “The Good Ship Whiskers,” while Zool’s “Purr Love” plays melodically over the sound of a cat purring. The Kitchen Cynics introduce us to “The Witches’ Cat,”and Ashtoreth featuring Othello present a dreamy instrumental that surely boasts the greatest title of any song this year: “A Cat’s Dream of Catching Several Species of Small Furry Animals in a Cave and Striking like a Ferocious, Brobdingnagian Beast.” Which is also what it sounds like.

Bandcamp have Lost in Catland filed within their Haunted Folk category, which is as good a way of describing it as any. But don’t jump to sonic conclusions, and certainly don’t assume that any cats that might be in your life won’t want to listen to it as well. They probably will.

2

Iggy and the Stooges

Born in a Trailer: The Session & Rehearsal Tapes 72-73

(Cherry Red - 4 CDs))

This box set has been a long time coming. Forty-four years, in fact. That’s how long it is since the Siamese label slipped out a single of two previously unreleased out-takes from the already four year old Raw Power, “Gimme Some Skin” and “I Got a Right.”

The first glimpses of a cottage industry had already grown up around the Stooges’ live output, thanks to Metallic KO (1976) and the Jesus Loves the Stooges EP (1977), and that would blossom to elephantine proportions in the years to come. But now we were to see the band’s studio career take a similar journey, and it was compulsive stuff.

Bomp delivered the delicious Sick of You EP; the eighties dug into even deeper, rehearsal tape, archives for Death Trip and Open Up and Bleed, and after that, the gloves were off. Every time you turned around, there was another Stooges compilation coming out, rounding up much the same (but sometimes not) gaggle of out-takes, off cuts, rehearsals and odds. And that’s not even counting the plethora of alternate mixes of Raw Power itself that made their way out.

And, of course, we bought them because what else are you going to do with your money? It’s the Stooges, for goodness sake, the one American band who - even more than the Velvets - blueprinted where rock would go through the remainder of the seventies, and where it should have gone in the decades thereafter.

No matter that you ultimately lost count of how many ragged takes of “Head On” you owned, or which version of “Open Up and Bleed” was your favorite. No matter that most of it was a duplicate of a duplicate, vindicated by that one title that didn’t seem so familiar. Ah, heady days.

Or you could have just resisted the temptation throughout all those years, and picked up this. Cherry Red have already rounded up the bulk of the circulating live tapes that document the Stooges across this same time span; now they do the same for the studio recordings, and it’s glorious.

Sixty-one tracks may or may not corral every circulating recording from the period. The aforementioned Raw Power mixes and their own associated detritus are purposefully not included, and are probably worth a box in their own right, but from Olympic Studios in 1972 (disc one) to rehearsals in Ypsilanti (disc two), LA (disc three), New York (disc four) and Detroit (scattered throughout) the following year, Born in a Trailer effectively negates every seventies Stooges out-takes collection you had previously collected.

The actual source of individual performances remains cloudy, but that’s a nit-pickers observation. Likewise, writer Kris Needs’ text brings much-needed, and beautifully detailed context to the tapes themselves, and that despite a clutch of minor errors… the 1975 Kill City recordings were not a “set of Mainman demos,” “Scene of the Crime” was not “never heard of again” (it’s actually on Kill City) and the Stooges’ version of “I’m a Man” could hardly have blueprinted Bowie’s “Jean Genie,” being as it was taped around eight months later. Be garteful just to have this stuff documented.

So, four CDs to replace the… what, forty?… that are on your shelves already, and in terms of overall content, Born in a Trailer even out-punches Easy Action’s otherwise imperious Heavy Liquid digest of the same material (released in 2005) by adding nine further tracks - presumably the summer 1973 Detroit rehearsals.

There may be more of this material still out there somewhere, there may be the odd track or two that somehow missed the cut this time round. But for now, this is as complete as this particular legend has ever been.

Play it raw and play it powerfully.

3

The Grid/Fripp

Leviathan

(Inner Knot - 1 CD/1 DVD)

The roots of this album - a collaboration between electronic mavens the Grid and the King of all things Crimson, Robert Fripp - lay within the early 90s union that sparked the Grids’ second and third albums, 456 and Evolver. Namely, Fripp laying down a solid wall of textures, tones, drones and decibels, while the Grid wove their own magic within and around it all.

That was then, this is now. The tapes Fripp recorded back then were far from exhausted by those two albums, but they lay around the archive regardless. Until the Grid decided to revisit them… and Leviathan is the aptly-named consequence.

Presented in both stereo CD form and a 5.1 surround sound mix, Leviathan is background music for modern hyper-actives, dark atmospheres and movements that are as at-home with the babble and glare of technology as they are in the back yard with only the cicadas for company.

Fripp’s guitars are probably the glue that binds the album, but it’s difficult, sometimes, to distinguish just who is doing what - in that respect, Leviathan has a lot in common with No Pussyfooting, the 1973 Eno collaboration that is easy to describe as the birth of modern electronic music. There is definitely the same sense of adventure and surprise in store, and while Fripp’s own techniques have advanced considerably since the days of the Heavenly Music Corporation, so has everything else.

Circumstance dictates that Spin Cycle declares 5.1 to be the go-too experience, not only because it probably is, but because our copy of the album arrived with a great glob of something squished across the disc, rendering two tracks unplayable. Hopefully a one-off error as opposed to a systemic manufacturing defect, but truly, there’s been few worse aural experiences this month than hearing “Fire Tower” disintegrate into a succession of unpleasant bleeps, burps and buzzes.

Or is that how it’s supposed to sound? Haha. Joke.

4

Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come

Eternal Messenger: An Anthology 1970-1973

(Esoteric - 5 CDs)

Although popular wisdom insists that Arthur Brown was a one hit wonder who rose to mega-notice with his Crazy World’s “Fire” in 1968, and then vanished back into obscurity, reality was somewhat different.

True, Brown’s vision of “stardom” was starkly opposed to that employed by pop radio programmers, but he was among the headliners at the 1971 Glastonbury Fayre festival; a regular, too, on late night British radio; and he was responsible for three of the most captivatingly turbulent albums of the next few years.

That’s the story told here. The Crazy World broke up in mid-1969 (their unreleased second album circulates elsewhere as Strangeland) and Brown relocated to the village of Puddletown to begin piecing together his next move. There, the tapes released as the Jam album back in 1995 were recorded, effectively as the demo that would land the new band a record deal. And what followed was sheer genius. Shaded, it should be cautioned, by sheer madness.

Galactic Zoo Dossier (1971), Kingdom Come (1972) and Journey (1973) are all very obvious successors to the Crazy World’s debut album… side one, thereof, at least; and, if you want to get really forensic about things, the so-called “alternate” mono mix which lay unreleased until the album’s early 1990s CD debut.

There, that same side is completely re-envisioned, more a soundtrack than a suite, and Galactic Zoo Dossier retains that vision, even as the musicians pursue what initially feels like a basic heavy rock direction… initially, until the Brown vocal kicks in, and we are suddenly thrust into a nightmarish landscape of shrieks and murmurs, portent and poison.

Songs are incapable of sitting still. A song might draw you in as a Purpley-Heep kind of rocker, only to detonate into anything but. “Space Plucks” is a brooding ballad; “Metal Monster” is blitzkrieged blues.

Spoken word, military marching, conversation, conflagration, Galactic Zoo Dossier is half sonic collage, half pulp rock mutant, and this was only the beginning. By the time of Journey, Brown had added drum machine and Mellotron to the arsenal, and his vision of even the furthest frontiers of rock birthed an album so out there that hushed reverence was simply the first stage of its reception.

All three are majestic. You only need to listen to “Sunrise,” another Galactic Zoo highlight - to know you’re into this box for the long haul. But the bonus material, too, is staggering. A 1971 single making its debut on CD. No less than nine alternate versions, three per album, with their own fascinating diversions; the 1970 Jam demos sounding better than ever before; and a BBC sessions disc that is almost wholly previously unreleased.

Even more excitingly, the remastering is spectacular throughout. There’s a great booklet, loaded with fabulous anecdotes and photos; and if you, like the vast majority of the human race, still think of Brown as merely the guy who did “Fire,” Eternal Messenger will burn out your brain.

5

Various

Killed by John Peel Volume Two: Punk Artifacts from John Peel’s BBC Sessions

(Vatican Radio - LP)

Taking its cue, of course, from the long running Killed by Death series of rare punk compilations, and the somewhat shorter-lived, but self-explanatory Killed by Glam, Killed by John Peel is exactly what it says on the cover - a delve into the deepest recesses of the BBC archive, in search of those bands who flourished during the first blaze of punk, and were rarely heard of again. Not so much the One Chord Wonders of punk, as the One Single, One Session, One Review Ragamuffins.

Actually, that’s unfair. The Prefects, the Piranhas, the Desperate Bicycles, Leyton Buzzards and Splodgenessabounds all enjoyed considerable name recognition, while Tanz Der Youth are remembered as guitarist Brian James’ first project after he quit the Damned.

The Gymslips and Icon AD, meanwhile, prove that punk was still kicking as late as 1982, but the bulk of the 13 track album dates from 1978-79, and is as much fun as it ought to be.

The Expelaires “Nasty Media,” the Molesters’ “Disco Love” and the Zeros’ “Hungry” (the sole representative of 1977), in particular, leap out at you, while Tanz Der Youth’s “I’m Sorry I’m Sorry” still sounds like the hit it deserved to be.

Sound quality is excellent, loud and in your face, and maybe more than any of the “official” Peel sessions releases that have filled our shelves over the years, Killed by John Peel is the one that truly reminds us just how important Peel’s show really was at the time. Because you certainly weren’t going to hear this stuff on any other show!

6

Greenslade

Temple Songs - The Albums 1973-1975

(Esoteric 4 CDs)

Greenslade - keyboard whizz Dave’s semi-eponymous post-Colosseum/If band - were one of the staples of the early-mid seventies prog UK scene, without ever catching the break that the loyal hordes insisted they deserved.

Four albums released between 1973-1975 certainly portrayed a group that merited many more plaudits than they ever received. Peaking, probably, with their second set Bedside Manners Are Extra, but excellent across all four, Greenslade specialized in gloriously baroque slabs of (obviously) organ-led sound, with the first two further dignified by Roger Dean sleeve designs that rank among his finest period works. No floating islands, for a start.

If you’re still undecided, but you’re close to YouTube, catch Greenslade’s November 1973 Old Grey Whistle Test performance of the first album’s “Drowning Man,” and then stick around for the rest of the set, with material from both that year’s releases. Then seek out the third album’s take on “Theme for an Imaginary Western.” You’ll be hooked.

All that said, this box is very basic… just the albums, with not a sniff of the (predominantly BBC) bonus tracks that packed out the last reissue-go-round during 2018/2019. But it’s a chunky package regardless, with a terrific booklet and identical (excellent) remastering to the existing sets.

7

The Sorrows

Pink Purple Yellow and Red: The Complete Sorrows

(Grapefruit 4 CDs)

For all their modern day acclaim among the pioneers of freakbeat, the Sorrows have been sadly, and strangely, overlooked by the reissue market… an odd circumstance given that, at their best, they gave each and every one of their peers a serious run for their money.

Two albums dominate their discography, alongside a slew of singles and - and this is where things get very interesting from a collectors’ point of view - sufficient foreign language recordings to fill a CD of their own (the Sorrows spent much of their career based in Italy). And this package rounds up them all, and then some.

The big deal here, for some of us at least, is the inclusion of five tracks recorded with Joe Meek in 1964, of which just one, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” has seen the light of day in the past. The four remaining numbers were all discovered among Meek’s legendary “tea-chest tapes,” so recently purchased by Cherry Red, and now in the process of being sorted out.

They’re not brilliant, it must be admitted; they won;’t cause you to re-evaluate your position on either the Sorrows or Meek. But it’s great, after all these years, to know the tapes are finally squeaking out, and this is as good a place for them to start as any.

From there, we swing into the Sorrows’ vinyl story, as expertly retold in the accompanying booklet. Disc one rounds up their first seven singles, plus a clutch of mono album tracks and further unreleased material; disc two gives us the Take A Heart LP in stereo, and the first helping of Italian and German language recordings (there’s also a terrific version of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich’s “Zabadak,” which of course means much the same in any language you like).

Disc three offers the opportunity to hear the band’s second album, Old Songs New Songs, alongside a couple more Italian singles and then a clutch of post-band projects that take us into 1974; while the final disc captures the 1969 demo that could have become the band’s third LP, and finds them visiting the likes of “Dear Mr Fantasy,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “New York Mining Disaster.”

The package concludes with what is probably the least essential part of the set, a live recording from the band’s 1980 reunion. But it sounds great and there’s no loss of energy or strength. Let the Sorrows bring you some joy today.

8

Various artists

Banquet: Underground Sounds of 1969

(Esoteric - 3 CDs)

Speaking, as we were (see the Greenslade review, above), of “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” Jack Bruce’s original version is also revisited this month, among the 52-string contents of Banquet - a box set that reminds us just how “overground” the “underground” was becoming at the end of the sixties.

Yes, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Barclay James Harvest, Man, Fairport Convention, Fleetwood Mac, the Strawbs, Colosseum, Spooky Tooth, the Jeff Beck Group, the Moody Blues, Renaissance, Family, Kevin Ayers, Deep Purple…

Forget the fact that, when these songs were recorded, not one of the performers had any idea of what the future held in store for them, and this box could well add up to some of prog rock’s greatest hits. Or, at least, bits. And some hits, courtesy of Thunderclap Newman (“Something in the Air”), Procol Harum (“A Salty Dog”) and Juicy Lucy (“Who Do You Love”).

All of that, of course, are balanced by the weight of bands who would never get that same break, but even amongst their number, there’s few who were truly doomed to obscurity. The Third Ear Band, High Tide, Eyes of Blue, Locomotive, Mighty Baby, Jody Grind - they had their adherents then and they still have them today. And Banquet is surely dedicated to anyone who wants to hear what a great year 1969 turned out to be… while we wonder whether, in fifty-odd years time, there’ll be the same kind of fascinations to be drawn from a similar set celebrating 2019?