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Box set compilations: Complete Spirogyra, 1972 prog and L.A.'s late '60s

Reviews of recent box sets that grant compilations to the complete Spirogyra, the 1972 prog rock scene and L.A.'s late 1960s sounds.


The Future Won’t Be Long: The Albums 1971-1973

Esoteric Recordings (3-CD Set)

Spirogyra were one of the great Could Have Beens of the British folk-rock boom of the early 1970s. Formed in Canterbury, and thus an integral part of that city’s prog rock scene as well (Steve Hillage introduced singer Barbara Gaskin to the band), they then came under the aegis of September Productions chief Sandy Roberton, stablemates to the early Steeleye Span, and released three excellent albums before parting.

Those albums are collected here, in identical form to the stand-alone reissues of a decade back — that is, with four bonus tracks appended to the second album, Old Boot Wine, and the non-album single “I Hear You’re Going Somewhere” added to the final Bells, Boots and Shambles. Sparse offerings, then, but though Spirogyra were not especially prolific, the sheer quality of the music more than compensates for the absence of quantity.

Indeed, the fact that they could afford to leave the Old Boot Wine bonuses off the parent album testifies to the embarrassment of riches that peoples the LP itself. All four rate among the band’s finest recordings.

Of the albums themselves, the debut St Radiguns is the most enthralling, simply because the sound was so fresh — the epic closing “The Duke of Beaufort,” and the wonderfully titled “Cogheads, Crutches and Cyanide” are earworms for the ages.

But all three are more than satisfying and, again, if Spirogyra had become enormous, it’s unlikely anyone would have complained. In the event… oh well.



Various Artists

Blowing Free - Underground & Progressive Sounds of 1972

Esoteric Recordings  (4-CD Set)

Or, the continuing saga of how even the roughest, toughest prog, jam or metal band couldn’t resist releasing singles in the early 1970s — or, at least, writing songs that could have been singles. And how, occasionally, they even scored a hit.

There’s less of the latter in this latest collection, although Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey In the Jar” was a sizable smash; Family’s rolling, reeling “Burlesque” and Procol Harum’s live “Conquistafor” likewise. And Hawkwind’s “Seven By Seven” was the b-side of “Silver Machine,” of whose enormity none need to be reminded.

Elsewhere across four discs and 55 tracks, the opening two cuts from Curved Air’s Phantasmagoria remind us that it might be time to play that whole album again, and there’s some glorious stabs at 45rpm glory from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Nektar, Barclay James Harvest and Man.

Collectors of curios might also remember Yes’ “And You And I” appearing, in its unedited entirety, as an uncommon 33rpm single, and we pause as we wonder how that would have sounded in the hands of an inattentive DJ.

Or what would have happened to history had the BBC not banned Van Der Graaf Generator’s cover of “Theme One,” because they were concerned people might confuse it with Radio One’s nightly closedown music. The idea of Van Der Graaf on Top of the Pops every week, churning out, say, episodic excerpt from “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers” is too surreal by even modern standards.

And so we travel from ELP’s “Hoedown” to Khan’s “Hollow Stone” via Wishbone Ash, Savoy Brown, the Pretty Things, Vinegar Joe, Rare Bird, the Edgar Broughton Band, Matching Mole, the Pink Fairies — yes! All long haired, greatcoat-draped, flared-denim life is here, and while you’re not going to bop your socks off to every track on the album… or maybe you are? It’s good stuff, after all… if you ever need a crash course in why 1972 wasn’t all glam rock and The Osmonds, this is for you.



Various Artists

Heroes and Villains - The Sound of Los Angeles 1965-68

Grapefruit (3-CD Set)

That’s one helluva time span they’re covering here, from the end of the beat boom to the height of psych, and the first stirrings, too, of singer-songwriter hell. But it works, for the same reason that — love it or loathe it — the LA scene has always worked, a succession of scenes that bleed into one another, while a handful of outsiders throw cabbages at the crowd.

That role here is taken up by the Mothers and Captain Beefheart, while the Monkees and Sonny & Cher stand poised on the far side of the divide, watching the kids go wild in between.

Love, the Misunderstood, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly and Kim Fowley are the headline attractions across the three discs, but the real delights are the ones that fell through the cracks in the historical pavement. Who knew Moorpark Intersection were such a great band?

It’s all here, from the Byrds to Tim Buckley and back again. Gram Parson’s International Submarine Band with the astonishing “LuXury Liner”; the Grass Roots hit “Let’s Live for Today,” The Syndicate, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Children of the Mushroom, the Velvet Illusions… and, of course, the Electric Prunes, whose “The Great Banana Hoax” sounds as phenomenal now as it ever did, and is delivered in its extended mix as well.

It’s probably not unwise to keep the CD remote alongside you, not only for those moments when you can’t help but click “forward” — but also for when you need to rewind as well, because there’s more than a few songs that demand repeat listens, and if you don’t do it now, you might never remember. Because it’ll definitely be happening again and again.

There’s an excellent info-crammed booklet to read, and a world of discovery therein as well. I mean, who knew…. Oh never mind. You’ll find out for yourself.


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