Some artists stubbornly resist pigeonholing. I could put any number of Jon Hassell records on (and I have a fair number) at a social gathering, and I’d bet that at least one listener would come up and say, “What the heck is THIS?” It’s strange music, that’s all. And being helpful by saying “it occupies a space between ambient, Miles Davis-type jazz and world music” may or may not prepare the uninitiated. Hassell himself would eventually start branding his recordings as “Fourth World,” to signify a kind of foreign, multi-ethnic sound that, while centered around his very distinct trumpet style, would also take you somewhere new. A sort of “traditional” sound from a country that doesn’t truly exist.
JON HASSELL (David Rosenboom, Jon Hassell in 1977) (uncredited photo)
His first official album was VERNAL EQUINOX, which initially came out in 1977. It has now been remastered and reissued on Hassell’s own label. It’s kind of a disorienting little beast of a record, but it was original enough to catch the ears of Brian Eno, who wrote liner notes for this edition. Eno, of course, would go on to collaborate with Hassell on POSSIBLE MUSICS in 1980, and to produce a few records for the artist after that. For whatever it might illustrate, the noted music website Pitchfork included VERNAL EQUINOX as one of their “50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time” (it was listed at #47). And the evocative, often spacious quality of Hassell’s compositions does indeed fit comfortably into an ambient (albeit the edgy reaches of the genre) mode.
JON HASSELL (photo credit: ROMAN KOVAL)
Most of the six pieces here are exotic, a bit misty-sounding and in thrall to the otherworldly timbre of Hassell’s trumpet. The instrument is sometimes processed to sound either partially muted, or vaporous, wafting through the air of whatever planet it’s coming from. “Viva Shona” features birdsong and sparse background instrumentation, the trumpet placed front and center. “Hex” lets Hassell carry on a very distinctive conversation, his tones developing in such a lively manner that you listen close to catch the amazing process as it evolves. What sounds like rainstick and bass adorns the background. Most listeners will be especially riveted by the two centerpiece tracks “Blues Nile” and the title track. The former piece gives us a slightly distorted, granular-sounding drone over which Hassell delivers sonic bursts that sound for all the world like a warning or “call to attention” for the citizens of an alien culture. Could be a pending invasion from that tribe over the hill! The clear separation between the trumpet and the sharp-edged drone is dramatic and compelling. Around the climax of the piece, Hassell lets loose a series of notes going up and down the scale of his chosen key, and you’ll likely stop whatever you’re doing to listen closely. As for the nearly 22-minute “Vernal Equinox,” it’s thoroughly engrossing, setting up a sparse but hypnotic landscape of background drone, hand drumming and a casually meandering trumpet, as though Hassell were patiently walking a lush rainforest trail, stopping to observe here and there but recording his observations in music with great passion at appropriate intervals. It’s a marvel, this track. I can only imagine the reactions of listeners encountering it for the first time. Things finish off with the short closer “Caracas Night,” with nocturnal nature sounds and some Miles-style blowing to bid you adieu in a slightly more traditional manner. It’s not a long album, this outing, but it will definitely make you feel like you’ve been somewhere.
JON HASSELL (photo credit: ROMAN KOVAL)
Hassell’s later outings with Eno would bring him more acclaim (POWER SPOT is one of those distinct offerings), and there is more textural richness on the dramatically titled THE SURGEON OF THE NIGHT SKY RESTORES DEAD THINGS BY THE POWER OF SOUND and DREAM THEORY IN MALAYA, to name just a couple of gems. But it started here, with …EQUINOX. He’s a genuinely visionary player who took a much featured instrument and did things with it no one had ever done before. That takes a special kind of musicality and love of exploration that should certainly be celebrated.
Eleven years ago, Ryan Patterson of Louisville three-piece Coliseum released a split EP on his Auxiliary label, sharing the slab with a Boston band called Doomriders, one of Nate Newton’s many side projects when he isn’t playing bass for Converge. The intent of NOT OF THIS WORLD was to pay tribute to Glenn Danzig’s eponymous metal monster, Danzig. Each choosing one song from Danzig’s 1988 debut, the bands added some originals – very much in a similar vein to Danzig’s dark metal – to the mix (Coliseum, two tracks; Doomriders, one). Now, as part of their twentieth anniversary celebration, Magic Bullet Records has taken the two tribute tracks and stuck ‘em on a special 7” reissue. I wouldn’t have minded hearing the whole thing, but… I will definitely take what I can get.
Coliseum (Matt Jaha, Mike Pascal, Ryan Patterson, circa 2005) (uncredited photo)
Coliseum’s contribution, “Am I Demon,” comes across as standard-issue lo-fi heavy rock… you know, the good stuff. It’s kinda like Mountain and Blue Cheer tag-teaming with Lemmy, taking the low road while the ref’s not looking to retain their championship belts. Patterson offers suitably dark and gravelly vocals, as well as some brilliant guitar work; bassist Mike Pascal and bassist Matt Jaha lay down an underpinningthat is so brutish, so heavy that you could caulk a window with it. If you like what you hear – and who wouldn’t? – check out the band’s latest release, 2015’s ANXIETY’S KISS, available here.
Doomriders (Chris Bevilacqua, Nate Newton, Jebb Riley, Chris Pupecki, circa 2008) (uncredited photo)
“Possession” comes from Doomriders… DUH! The track starts with a wicked backward guitar that leads into a riff that reminds me of “Battle Axe” by Billion Dollar Babies, with sort of a minimalist (for a metal band, anyway) percussion thing from Chris Bevilacqua and Jebb Riley’s sonorous bass groove; the guitars, supplied by Newton and Chris Pupecki, are more akin to Tony Iommi’s dense slabs of tonality than anything else. Danzig’s punk pedigree is definitely on display on this one, particularly with the Misfits style gang vocals on the chorus. You gotta go back to 2013 to find new music from the quartet with the album GRAND BLOOD. You can find that and everything else Doomriders at this location.
NOT OF THIS WORLD original packaging.
So, short and sweet… just like this awesome blast from the past. Any fan of pure metal, hardcore or any type of aggressive music, really, will want this limited edition release in their collection; likewise, if you’re a fan of any of Glenn Danzig’s previous work, whether it be the Misfits, Samhain or Danzig, this record will fit in nicely with those, as well. It’s available on black, white or clear vinyl from Magic Bullet or any of the usual suspects.
(REPERTOIRE RECORDS/COLUMBIA RECORDS; reissue 2016, original release 1966)
Throughout the early 1960s, popular music was a “singles” medium. Sure, full-length albums were part of the mix but, by and large, these collections consisted of up to one half recent single releases and massive doses of filler and cover tunes. However, by the spring and summer of 1966, album rock music was going full force, with classic records being released by the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, the Beatles, the Kinks and the Jefferson Airplane, among others. One of the “others” was the first official studio album by a band called the Yardbirds, who had generated a string of hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic beginning in 1964. The album, released as YARDBIRDS in the United Kingdom and most of the world, was renamed OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN for North American release (as well as in France, Germany and Italy); the Australian mono release was dubbed ROGER THE ENGINEER.
The Yardbirds, 1966 (Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith, Jim McCarty, Keith Relf, Jeff Beck) (publicity photo)
The record featured the vocal prowess of Keith Relf, Chris Dreja’s rhythm guitar, Paul Samwell-Smith on bass, Jim McCarty on drums and… oh, yeah… some guy by the name of Jeff Beck playing lead guitar. Jim McCarty’s original liner notes opines, “It has often been said that Jeff Beck is one of the leading guitarists in the country, and I am inclined to agree with him.” This is a terrific, classic 1960s rock album, with plenty of something for everyone: Fuzz guitar, Middle Eastern influences and straight-on boogie rock in the form of “Beck’s Boogie,” performed by a true master. It’s also one of the first albums to highlight a new sound, a sound that would become known as psychedelic rock.
The Yardbirds, 1966 (Paul Samwell-Smith, Chris Dreja, Keith Relf, Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty) (uncredited photo)
This 2016 two disc remaster features both monaural and stereo mixes of the album and is chock full of bonus tracks. The mono disc (which was still the most common configuration for mass consumption fifty years ago) contains the more interesting bonus material, including the two singles (and accompanying B-sides) from Relf’s short-lived solo career. Also on board – and of more interest – are a pair of songs recorded after the departure of bassist Samwell-Smith: “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Psycho Daisies,” released in the UK as a single. The B-side, “Psycho Daisies,” features the final line-up before the implosion that ultimately led to the formation of a legendary monster of rock; the track has a rare lead vocal from Beck, as well as a lad named Jimmy Page playing bass. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” is a guitar-lover’s wet dream, with Jeff and Jimmy sharing lead duties. Also playing on the session was a young bassist by the name of John Paul Jones. When Page inherited the Yardbirds name, he enlisted Jones as a member of what would become the New Yardbirds before morphing into another band you might have heard of… Led Zeppelin.
The Yardbirds, 1966 (Chris Dreja, Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty, Jimmy Page, Keith Relf) (publicity photo)
The Yardbirds may, of course, be best known for having Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton playing with them at one time or another during their brief run; they didn’t achieve the same elevated status as some of their counterparts, but they did have their share of great music and have proven to be quite influential over the last half-century. The band’s first proper album, affectionately called ROGER THE ENGINEER (after Chris Dreja’s cover art, depicting the man who engineered the sessions), is a great place to start delving into the genesis of not only psychedelic rock, but two of the most iconic guitar players ever, as well as the group the Who’s John Entwistle said would “go over like a lead balloon”; it is, truly, one of the great rock albums of any generation.
(MAILBOAT RECORDS/PASCO MELVIN MUSIC; reissue 2016, original release 2015)
During the recording sessions for Aerosmith’s NIGHT IN THE RUTS, the excesses fostered by the 1970s Rock and Roll lifestyle (primarily perpetuated by vocalist Steven Tyler) had taken their toll: Joe Perry exited before the album was completed, with his stage-right counterpart, Brad Whitford, following him out the door after nearly two years of inactivity and in-fighting. Derek Saint Holmes had been “let go” from Ted Nugent’s band at least twice between 1975 and 1978 because… well, because he wasn’t Ted Nugent; while the ‘Smith fell apart in 1979, Derek formed Saint Paradise, releasing an excellent record before hooking up with the newly bandless Whitford for 1981’s WHITFORD/SAINT HOLMES album. With another album recorded and ready for release, the project was (seemingly) shelved permanently when Brad returned to a presumably clean and sober Aerosmith and Saint Holmes went back for another round of abuse from Uncle Ted. Now, three-and-a-half decades late, the pair have come together again to clean up a little unfinished business. That unfinished business has manifested in the form of REUNION.
REUNION is exactly that, with the two living in the same town just outside of Nashville, Derek and Brad got together and started writing at least an album’s worth of new songs. And what a fine record it is, drawing on a combined 80-plus years of rockin’ experience. “Shapes” kicks things off nicely, offering all of the best parts of the namesake’s previous bands – Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Saint Paradise – with none of the excesses (the drugs, the loincloths, the over-the-top frontman). The guys still sound great together and Saint Holmes hasn’t lost the vocal prowess that made so many of those early Nugent records (and, indeed, the sole Saint Paradise release) so memorable. Surrounding themselves with a group of like-minded players (bassist Chopper Anderson, drummer Troy Luccketta and keyboardist Buck Johnson) is also a plus, with Luccketta’s presence, in particular, paying immediate dividends, as the drums crack and pop, adding just the right amount of heavy bounce. A bluesy little slice of Americana, “Tender Is the Night” finds Saint Holmes doing his best Bob Seger. The guitars jangle and shine, while Johnson’s keyboards and Anderson’s bass take the tune to completely unexpected heights. This song could easily be a hit on Classic Rock or Country (yeah, I said it!) radio, making it an early favorite. On “Rock All Day,” a dirty “Hooligan’s Holiday” guitar riff leads into an ‘80s hair metal groove featuring a wicked slide part. For some reason, Derek’s vocals remind me of Steve Walsh’s Kansas heyday. With Motley Crue and Kansas musical references tossed into the mix, this one is some really good stuff!
“Hot For You” is a slice of Stones-style Rhythm and Blues that hits on Brad’s Aerosmith ancestry more than anything else so far on this album. More of that magnificent slide guitar, a boogie-woogie piano from Johnson, a memorable hook and some funky horns all add up to another great tune. A power ballad, “Hell Is On Fire” brings to mind certain MTV juggernauts like Snookie and… just kidding! Those juggernauts would be late ‘80s/early ‘90s Aerosmith and Uncle Ted’s super-group, Damn Yankees, with this song’s lyrics coming closer in feel to that band’s Tommy Shaw. Derek also recalls the melody to one of Saint Paradise’s better tunes, “Jesse James.” On “Catch My Fall,” pounding drums and chiming guitars lead into a track that reminds me of Pat Benatar for some reason. It’s probably the most disposable number here and, having said that, maybe one of the tunes most likely to be a radio hit.
WHITFORD/SAINT HOLMES (Derek Saint Holmes) (photo courtesy: STRAIGHT 8 ENTERTAINMENT)
Steve, is that you? “Shake It” is the most Aerosmith-sounding track on the album, right down to Saint Holmes’ vocal histrionics and phrasing. As guitarists, neither Derek nor Whitford have lost any of the sting for which they’ve been known and, this is not a bad little tune, with some nice piano and a killer drum groove (a la Joey Kramer on “Rag Doll”). With its infectious, funky groove, “Gotta Keep On Movin’” could have been the follow-up single to Ray Parker Junior’s “The Other Woman,” or at least the B-side. Chopper Anderson and Troy Luccketta really shine, as do Derek’s vocals; the song also features one of the best solos on the entire record. “Flood of Lies” is another big Rock song. So big, in fact, that it could be mistaken for an outtake from ROCKS. The number is led by Buck Johnson’s organ and fueled by the singer’s passionate performance. Saint Holmes spent so much time as Nugent’s side man that it has caused many to miss (or dismiss) just what a powerful voice he possesses and, like a fine wine, he seems to have improved with age.
It took almost 35 years for these two men to reconnect in any sort of creative way. As far as I’m concerned, it was well worth the wait. This reissue revisits that first record with a bonus disc featuring a remastered version; as a small, gentle reminder of how Derek and Brad sounded in 1981 with a quick rundown of the cuts on WHITFORD/SAINT HOLMES…
“I Need Love” kicks things off. The song is anthemic and poppy; very much a product of its time. “Whiskey Woman” has turned out to be the record’s most enduring number, an AOR staple then, a Classic Rock radio staple now. “Hold On” is your standard-issue marketable pop ballad with a bouncy New Wave groove, courtesy of drummer Steve Pace and bassist Dave Hewitt. “Sharpshooter” is a muscular, Sammy Hagar style rocker that woulda done really well on the fledgling MTV network. “Every Morning” takes the best parts of the two previous cuts and tosses in an absolutely massive drum sound. “Action” is a power-pop sorta thing that’s actually pretty good, if a bit repetitive. Columbia Records chose “Shy Away” as the record’s first (and only) single, though I’m not sure it was ever officially released (even if it was given a catalog number). It’s a great piece of (Greg) Kihnsian pop. “Does It Really Matter?,” like much of the record, is an AOR/pop anthem. In a bit of a departure for the duo’s debut, “Spanish Boy” is a nice slab of hard rock. “Mystery Girl” continues in the same vein. In fact, it’s probably the hardest rocking track on the entire set. It’s a very nice way to close out a pretty solid ‘80s rock album.
(MAGIC BULLET RECORDS/VICTORY RECORDS/DARK EMPIRE/SPOOK CITY RECORDS; reissues 2015, original releases 1995/1993/2006)
Cleveland, Ohio’s Integrity have been crushing the masses with their signature brand of occult tinged metallic hardcore for nearly 30 years. Along with Earth Crisis and fellow Clevelandites Ringworm, Dwid Hellion and Company essentially created the metalcore sub genre (though all of those acts shun the overused term today). Naturally, when I heard that Magic Bullet Records would be releasing a remastered version of the seminal HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL, along with a collection of rarities and demos called DEN OF INIQUITY and a live offering from 1992 (which wasn’t unleashed upon the world until 2006) entitled PALM SUNDAY, I was beyond stoked.
Integrity, 1995 (photo credit TINA BRUGNOLETTI)
HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL sees Integrity embracing their metal influences to the fullest. Crushing riffs are brutally weaved with dynamic drum beats, only to be crowned with Hellion’s maniacal growl and conceptually dark lyrics. The punk aspects aren’t completely absent from HUMANITY… , but they’re definitely overpowered by the metallic riffage and more complex song arrangements commonly found in the annals of mid ’90s metal. The real treat of this reissue is the clarity and cohesiveness of the remaster. The guitars are brought to the forefront, with the vocals being dialed back from their original overpowering state. Tracks such as “Hollow” and “Jagged Visions” have a much more dynamic feel, finding their true sound twenty years after their initial release. The album is brought to an end with an apocalyptic sermon narrated by Hellion, backed by an eerie soundscape that is creepy enough to make Damien Thorn piss his jam-jams.
Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2011) (uncredited photo)
Second up in this trilogy of Holy Terror is DEN OF INIQUITY. A collection of EPs, splits, live cuts and rarities, DEN… , by nature, is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the songs here are solid, hiccuped with the occasional misstep. The problem isn’t the content itself, but due to being a compilation of songs spanning over a decade, the pacing, at times, feels wonky and disjointed; live tracks mingle amongst studio recordings, with stylistic changes laced throughout leaving the listener feeling a bit confused.
Finally, PALM SUNDAY is a live set recorded in 1992 at the now defunct Peabody’s in the band’s hometown of Cleveland. Antagonistic and vehement, Hellion whips the crowd into a fervor whilst belting out an array of tunes from the bands 1991 effort THOSE WHO FEAR TOMORROW, along with the rarities “Rebirth” and “Live It Down” (both of which are included on the aforementioned DEN OF INIQUITY collection).
Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2013) (uncredited photo)
Integrity are one of the most legendary acts in all of underground heavy music. They’ve influenced countless acts the world over and have remained a cornerstone in the aggressive music scene for nearly three decades. If you’re a fan of punk, metal or hardcore, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this reissue of the iconic HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL, with DEN OF INIQUITY and PALM SUNDAY being reserved for die hard Integrity completists only. All three records are available at www.magicbulletrecords.com.
(HIGH MOON RECORDS/RSO RECORDS; reissue 2015, original release 1974)
Love’s seventh official album, REEL-TO-REAL, was seven years removed from the classic psychedelia of the brilliant FOREVER CHANGES and, seemingly, light years away musically. Arthur Lee had steered the Love boat (sorry… couldn’t resist the bad pun) solo since the original group disintegrated due to in-fighting and drug abuse after FOREVER CHANGES and, while each subsequent album featured a song or two that evoked the first three records, Lee had a tendency to ramble without Love’s other songwriter and vocalist, Bryan MacLean, taking at least some of the creative load off. After four years (and four albums) with Elektra and two records for Blue Thumb in 1969 and 1970, Arthur put the Love name to bed and recorded the hard-rocking solo record, VINDICATOR. In 1973, Lee put together a new Love and recorded an album called BLACK BEAUTY; unfortunately, the label, Buffalo Records, went belly-up before the record could be released (a remastered version of BLACK BEAUTY finally saw release through Half Moon Records in 2013). Invigorated by the sound of the new Love, Arthur Lee began work on what would become REEL-TO-REAL, released on RSO Records in 1974. Now, following the success of BLACK BEAUTY, High Moon has released a deluxe reissue of that 1974record, complete with 12 bonus tracks of outtakes, demos and alternate versions. “But,” you ask, “was it worth it?” The short answer is, “Yes. Yes, it was.”
Love (Melvan Whittington, Robert Rozelle, Arthur Lee, Joe Blocker) (photo credit: HERBERT W WORTHINGTON)
The album kicks off with “Time Is Like a River,” a signal call that this Love is gonna be a funkier proposition than the band’s late ’60s heyday. The song is highlighted by a soulful Arthur Lee vocal with Motown-style female backing vocals. The number also features a galloping drum track from Joey Blocker and great, funky horns; for those jonesing for a touch of the old guard, the psychedelic dual leads and solos – provided by the tandem of Melvan Whittington and John Sterling – more than fit the bill. “Stop the Music” is kind of an old Rhythm and Blues stroll, with some cool slide work from Sterling, a nice, hard rocking solo and a honkin’ bit of harp from Lee. The surprising use of tuba adds a slight New Orleans Jazz flavor, whileArthur does his best Otis Redding. Love channels Stevie and Earth Wind and Fire on “Who Are You?,” with Philip Bailey-like falsetto vocals and a lot of Wonder-ous clavinet effects from Bobby Lyle. “Good Old Fashion Dream” is a great Southern Soul rocker. Almost as a contrast, Lee’s vocals are raspy and urgent, with Sherwood Akuna’s spongy bass line holding the groove together throughout. The acoustic Blues of “Which Witch Is Which” features a few elements of electric rock and roll, most noticeably an awesome backward guitar by guest Harvey Mandel. “With a Little Energy” is a total James Brown funk workout, with the rhythm section of Blocker and Robert Rozelle propelling the tune forward. Arthur’s vocals have a distinct Sly Stone vibe here.
Love (Arthur Lee) (photo credit: MICHAEL PUTLAND)
What was originally the first cut on Side Two of the 1974 record, “Singing Cowboy” is probably the closest in feel to the original Love’s sound. Sterling’s slide and Blocker’s heavy drums once again shine. The next track had more of an organic beginning, with Akuna, Blocker and Whittington messing with the rhythm in the studio and Lee joining in with some lyrics; “Man, let’s record that,” said Lee. Producer Skip Taylor rolled tape and “Be Thankful For What You Got” was born. Though it isn’t my favorite song on the record, it does feature a funky, rather Caribbean groove; unfortunately, the bass and some faux orchestra parts push it into a proto-Disco sound. “You Said You Would” was one of the more controversial songs as it was being recorded. The chorus of “You said you would/You said you would/Now you’re gone” features gunshot before the last line; everybody but Arthur thought that using the sound effect throughout the tune was… well, overkill, but he wouldn’t budge and that’s how the number was released. The song itself is a return to the poppy psychedelic sound of early Love, with snarky lyrics from Lee, giving it a John Lennon or Harry Nilsson vibe. Hendrixian in scope, if not in execution, “Busted Feet” is a throbbing, pulsating hard rocker. Arthur’s vocals sound urgent and strained to his limits. It’s a cool, welcome departure from the general feel of the album. A ragged acoustic Blues, “Everybody’s Gotta Live,” closes the album proper, reminding me somehow of early, folky Dylan. A nice song and a great way to end a record.
Love (Robert Rozelle, Melvan Whittington, Arthur Lee, Joe Blocker) (photo credit: HERBERT W WORTHINGTON)
This nicely packaged reissue clocks in at a hefty 72 minutes plus. The original album was an economical 33 minutes, which means there are nearly forty minutes of extras here… it ain’t all essential but… well, there ya go. The outtakes are pretty cool to hear and the rehearsal stuff is fun… I just kinda think that including a live show from that era woulda been a better choice. Having said that, the first outtake, “Do It Yourself,” is interesting on a couple of different fronts: The shuffling rhythm, funky horns and country-fried psychedelic guitar gives the song the feel of a hard rock version of Earth Wind and Fire; the aforementioned guitar parts are quite reminiscent of the band’s then-label mate, Eric Clapton, a sound and tone and style that, apparently, Arthur Lee loathed. “I Gotta Remember” is a straight on rocker, with Lee’s lyrics and vocals putting one in mind of Jimi. It has a sort of circular arrangement and could have been the hit that RSO label president Bill Oakes was looking for from Love; instead, the song remained unreleased at the time. More Hendrix-like lyrics inform “Someday,” a nifty little Sly and the Family Stone work out with minimal, rather simple instrumentation that focuses more on the basic groove than anything else. “You Gotta Feel It” is a Fats Domino New Orleans stroll with nice guitar and a solid Lee vocal over a rolling, popping bass line. I like the basic premise of the numberbut, at 3:38, it goes on about two minutes too long.
Love (John Sterling, Sherwood Akuna, Joe Blocker, Arthur Lee, Herman McCormick, Melvan Whittington) (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)
The alternate versions of “With a Little Energy” and an electric “Everybody’s Gotta Live,” as well as the single mix of “You Said You Would,” are just okay. The alternate “Busted Feet” is nearly two minutes longer than the version released in 1974, with extended breaks, more vocal histrionics and a wicked, heavy guitar solo. “Stop the Music” uses Arthur’s slightly off-key guitar line as the lead and removes the horns, tuba and harmonica. Lee does a bit of vocal scatting in place of the harmonica. The extended length comes from some pretty funny studio banter. Perhaps the alternate take that differs most from the original album version is “Singing Cowboy.” This version features a faster tempo, as well as a more urgent and upfrontslide guitar; there’s also an unhinged wah-infused solo toward the end. The studio rehearsals (more of a warm-up or, in some cases, just goofing around while Lee decided what he wanted to do during a particular session) are nice additions. “Graveyard Hop” is a weird snippet of “Jailhouse Rock,” with reworked lyrics. The piece sounds really ragged and cool. Maybe the most intriguing bonus cut is the band rehearsing the FOREVER CHANGES outtake, “Wonder People (I Do Wonder).” Even though it kind of sounds like an unfinished San Francisco hippie ballad, it does show that Arthur was a bit more receptive to returning to those songs… at least, in the confines of a recording studio. The song actually features a solid guitar solo, even if Lee’s vocals weren’t much more than incoherent scatting. Overall, the re-release of this woefully ignored album is well worth the price of admission and, spotty though it is, holds up really well.
Stackridge, 1971 (Mike Evans, Andy Davis, Michael “Mutter” Slater, Jim “Crun” Walter, James Warren and Billy Bent ) (publicity photo)
Growing up in The Middle of Nowhere, Illinois as I did, it was hard enough finding a store that stocked the popular music of the day, much less the fringe releases I preferred, by such artists as the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Captain Beefheart or Fireballet. The special order became a way of life for me, allowing me to be the only kid on my block to own the latest releases by Fanny or Osibisa or the odder-than-usual concept album, FLASH FEARLESS VERSUS THE ZORG WOMEN PARTS FIVE AND SIX; actually, I may have been the only kid on my block that wanted those albums… but, you get my point. Anyway, with all of that, the band Stackridge somehow slipped under my radar. Naturally, I was familiar with the name. After all, I could and did read a lot of music publications as a young impressionable pup (still can and do, as an old impressionable hound); it just seemed that there was always something that interested me more.
Stackridge, 2015 (Eddie John, James Warren, Andy Davis, Clare Lindley, Glenn Tommey) (publicity photo)
So, I said all of that so I could say this: I eventually did manage to get my grubby fingers on a Stackridge album – EXTRAVAGANZA, I believe – and I was hooked. I was ecstatic when England’s Angel Air Records began their painstakingly comprehensive reissue campaign of the band’s back catalog, along with a live album and a couple of collections peppered in among them. When I decided to get back into the review game, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was an interview with the two-headed beast that led and continue to lead Stackridge: James Warren and Andy Davis. In early 2014, I contacted their manager, supplied him with a few questions via e-mail and awaited a reply. Fast forward approximately ten months and, I am finally in receipt of answers from Mister Warren. Fast forward another couple of months and, with no reply from Mister Davis, the decision was made to move ahead with a revamped format, using James’ answers. Now, nearly a full two years since my initial request, here – so to speak – is the finished product. There are several questions and answers that allude to the 45th anniversary of the band and the chances of them recording another album of new material, as well as an extensive mention of the Korgis (the other band fronted by Andy and James) that may sound redundant, but please keep in mind that questions were posed and answers were given in 2014. Following the interview, we’re gonna delve into some of the best from both Stackridge and the Korgis, so stick around.
THE MULE: The original band got together in 1969, making this your 45th anniversary. The current line-up still features both of the primary songwriters and vocalists of the various incarnations of the group. Aside from the occasional break-up or vacation from each other, to what do you attribute the longevity of Stackridge?
JAMES:I think the longevity is due to the fact that the repertoire is so stimulating and diverse. It’s great to be able to perform songs as varied as “Fish In a Glass,” “Anyone For Tennis,” “The Road To Venezuela” and “Something About the Beatles” all in the same set. I’ve never been in any other musical combination that offers anything as fun or challenging.
THE MULE:Aside from Andy Davis and yourself, who is involved in the current version of Stackridge? Are the musicians – comparatively speaking – young guns or do you all enjoy a certain advanced… uh… musical acuity. Can we get a feel of the players’ musical pedigree?
JAMES:So, we have Glenn Tommey on keyboards – we’ve known Glenn since 1978. He’s a multi-instrumentalist but, when we met him, he was a recording engineer who worked on the first Korgis album and even sang backing vocals on “If I Had You,” a top twenty hit for the band in the UK. Clare Lindley is on violin, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. We only met her around seven years ago but ,she’s a veteran of the folk and classical circuit. She’s from Aberdeen, in Scotland. Eddie John is on drums and has been a very well-known and respected player on the Bristol scene since the 1980s. Clare and Eddie are in their 40s, Glenn, myself and Andy have all made it beyond 60!
THE MULE:The last album of new material, A VICTORY FOR COMMON SENSE, was released in 2009, after a long lay-off from recording. That album featured two more original members, Michael “Mutter” Slater and Jim “Crun” Walter. How did the album come about? How was it to work with Crun and Mutter in the studio again?
JAMES:The album was produced by Chris Hughes, original drummer with Adam and the Ants and producer of Tears For Fears and we recorded it at his home studio just outside of Bath. We’d known Chris for many years and the idea was suggested at a birthday party we were all attending. Because both Crun and Mutter had full-time day jobs and Mutter had the additional problem of living about 40 miles away from Bath, at least 75% of the work was performed by Andy and I. Crun is a lovely bloke but wildly eccentric, so creating music with him is never easy-going – he continually suggested completely perverse and off-the-wall ideas that we had to try then, inevitably, discard – and Mutter hardly participated at all except to sing his songs. So, it was a very different situation to how we worked together in the 1970s.
Stackridge, 2008 (Andy Davis, Michael “Mutter” Slater, Jim “Crun” Walter, James Warren) (publicity photo)
THE MULE:Did the Angel Air reissue program rekindle a kind of warm fuzzy spot for you regarding the group? Did it tempt you to reform some version of the band and get out on the boards and into the studio again? Have the reissues raised the public awareness of Stackridge, bringing along new fans? Or, is it just geezers like me looking to upgrade from that scratchy old vinyl?
JAMES:I think we never wanted to rule out the thought of a reformation. A handful of new fans have appeared but, to be honest, it’s essentially the “old guard” re-living their youth!
THE MULE:Can we expect to see new Stackridge music soon… or ever? If so, who will be involved in the project? Are you and Andy game to play with the “old guys” again?
JAMES:Sadly, I have to report that September 2015 will see the farewell tour of Stackridge. We’ve now pretty much exhausted the back catalogue in a live performance situation and it no longer makes any economic sense to record new material. There just isn’t sufficient demand for Stackridge music in the modern world! So, come and see us for the last time in 2015!
THE MULE:The group’s sound has always been the epitome of British “outsider” music, taking in bits of free jazz, traditional folk, Northern Soul, Beatles pop, the Incredible String Band and Frank Zappa. How have your musical tastes and influences changed over the years? When you are on holiday or have down time, what can we generally find you listening to?
Stackridge, 2012 (James Warren) (photo credit: MATTHEW REES/HAM LIFE)
JAMES:My wife, Clare, and I have sixteen year old twins, so when I do the school run in the mornings, me and the kids always listen to CD compilations of the latest top 20 hits – so I’m right up-to-date with contemporary pop! And I like a lot of it. Clean Bandit are one of my current favourites. I hate the typical middle-age attitude of only being able to appreciate the music you grew up with – I’m not sentimental about past musical eras in that way. I still adore and listen to the Beatles; don’t listen to the Incredibles any more, but THE HANGMAN’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER will always be a work of genius for me. I listen to a lot more classical and jazz these days. I’m especially fascinated by 20th century composers like Stravinsky, Ravel and Satie. One of my treasured possessions is a 22-CD box set of STRAVINSKY CONDUCTING STRAVINSKY.
THE MULE:Your fans were and are, if not legion, very loyal. What is the profile of the standard Stack-fan? Do they now tend to bring along the kiddies (or grand-kids), to introduce them to the music of their youth?
JAMES:Don’t think there is a standard profile – they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s rare to see youngsters in the audience, although there are a few. I know when I was a teenager I wouldn’t be seen dead going to a concert of music my parents were into!
THE MULE:Forty-five years in, what keeps bringing you back to Stackridge? Is it the musical intricacies, the fans or some other intangible?
JAMES:I can’t improve on the answer I gave to your first question. The Stackridge repertoire is so wonderfully diverse and challenging so it’s like a musical holiday to go out and perform that stuff.
THE MULE:Certainly, over the years – particularly the first run – you have released some great albums (FRIENDLINESS, THE MAN WITH THE BOWLER HAT) and some very memorable tunes. Do you have any favorites, individual tracks or full albums? How about least favorites? Are there some albums or tracks that you thought were great at the outset but have since come to loathe?
Stackridge, 1971 (Andy Davis, Michael “Mutter” Slater, Billy Bent, James Warren, Micahel Evans) (photo credit: JORGEN ANGEL)
JAMES:The first album (STACKRIDGE) is a problem for me. I can’t listen to most of it any more. My singing is so fragile and under-confident, especially the falsetto bits and, most of the lyrics are painfully adolescent in a ridiculously self-indulgent sense. But, it was 1971 and I was only 20 so that explains a lot. I think there are some lovely tunes on FRIENDLINESS; the title track, “There Is No Refuge,” “Father Frankenstein,” “Lummy Days.” …BOWLER HAT still holds up well except for “To the Sun and Moon” (because of my singing). I think “Venezuela,” “Galloping Gaucho,” “Humiliation” and “Fundamentally Yours” are great. And “God Speed the Plough” is an absolute classic. I like almost all the tracks on EXTRAVAGANZA and MISTER MICK. SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND I still love. It’s more whacky and harks back to the original Stackridge mainly due to my extensive collaboration with John Miller, an incredibly eccentric keyboard player full of brilliant unconventional ideas. Wish I hadn’t lost touch with him.
THE MULE:I think that my favorites probably mirror those of most fans: “Dora the Female Explorer,” “Slark,” “Syracuse the Elephant.” The list could go on but, for brevity’s sake, what are your memories regarding the writing and recording processes of these fan favorites? Were they kinda instant favorites or do you remember them slowly taking on a life of their own to eventually become essential?
JAMES:“Dora… ,” “Slark” and “Syracuse… ” were “first generation” Stackridge compositions. Andy and Crun had the basic ideas then we would rehearse and rehearse to hammer out the arrangements. It was tremendous fun. The FRIENDLINESS songs I contributed were pretty much already mapped-out before I introduced them to the band but, then again, with …BOWLER HAT and beyond we would work hard as a unit to make a finished track from one person’s basic idea. I think the “favourites” sounded special from the outset.
THE MULE:You are one of the few bands, aside from the Beatles, to boast a production job by Sir George Martin. What was it like to work with him? How much – before, during and after THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT – has his work been an influence to you, personally, and the band, as a whole?
Stackridge, Cropredy Convention 2008 (James Warren, Michael “Mutter” Slater, Andy Davis) (uncredited photo)
JAMES:It was fantastic working with George. I’m happy to report he was as gentlemanly and effortlessly competent as one expected him to be. The …BOWLER HAT experience was very brief (about three weeks) but very intense. It’s a wonderful production. Even now I love and am influenced by his very simple but strong arrangement style.
THE MULE:Through the years, Andy and you have both worked on projects outside of Stackridge, both during the band’s heyday and following the original break-up. Did you use those instances – your solo album, Andy’s work on John Lennon’s IMAGINE, the Korgis, – to refresh the batteries, so to speak, or as a chance to branch out into something completely different from Stackridge? Can we expect to see something coming from either of you soon, outside of the usual Stackridge lunacy and the Korgis reunion gigs?
JAMES:Can’t speak for Andy but, our various alternative projects are, for me, both a refreshment process and an opportunity to investigate something completely different. I think Andy has been working on an album, whereas I’ve just been trying to come up with “coverable” commercial material.
THE MULE:Speaking of the Korgis, the other band that you have both been with since the beginning, is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, as well. The Korgis have been called “the pop side of Stackridge.” How do you view the Korgis, in comparison to the “mother” group?
JAMES:The Korgis is a way of expressing a more distilled, “radio-friendly” type of songwriting. I’m quite excited by the prospect of performing that material live. It’ll be the first time we’ve done it and, you never know, the project might “have legs” and lead on to an interesting new path.
THE MULE:Over the years, you’ve been able to slip out of one band and into the other rather seamlessly. How much of that ability to switch gears has to do with the dynamics of and differences in the musical styles?
Stackridge, 2008 (Rachel Hall, James Warren) (uncredited photo)
JAMES:We used to love the Kinks, the Hollies, 10CC – and it’s just easier to come up with and produce that kind of thing when it’s just the two of you, rather than having to take account of the whims and preferences of a whole band. Hence the need for the Korgis project.
THE MULE:A Korgis tour has been announced, the first in a while. Is it hard to get into a “Korgis state of mind” after such a long time off? What can fans expect to see from the Korgis as they celebrate their 35th anniversary?
JAMES:We’re about to start rehearsals, in January 2015. Basically we’ll be making the show up as we rehearse. But we’ll be aiming to provide an evening of dynamic and scintillating pure poptasticness!
THE MULE:Are there plans beyond this tour for more Korgis? A new album or more touring? Will you simply return to Stackridge to continue that group’s string of successful tours and live releases?
JAMES:As I mentioned above, we’ll be putting Stackridge to bed after September 2015. We’ll just have to see if there’s a public appetite for the Korgis. If there is, then I’m sure we’ll be inspired to record new material. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Thank you, James, for taking the time to fill us in on Stackridge, the Korgis and your plans for the future.
PART THREE: STACKRIDGE, ESSENTIALLY
When exploring adventurous music, it may be prudent to start with a “greatest hits” or “best of… ” collection. Even though most of Stackridge’s proper albums are definitely worth adding to your own personal collection, you may want to heed the above maxim and check out…
PURPLE SPACESHIPS OVER YATTON – BEST OF…
(ANGEL AIR RECORDS; 2006)
The 2006 Angel Air Records release features fifteen essentials from four of the band’s first five releases (not even “Spin ‘Round the Room,” the single from EXTRAVAGANZA made the cut) and heralded in the label’s brilliant reissue program of the band’s catalog. The collection was reissued in 2008 as ANYONE FOR TENNIS?, part of Angel Air’s Sound and Vision series, coupled with a DVD of the band’s April 1, 2007 show (25 songs, the audio of which has also been released as a double CD called THE FORBIDDEN CITY… got all of that?). The only flaw with this release is the exclusion of one of Stackridge’s best known and most loved tunes, “Slark.” But, we’ll be addressing that one later. The accompanying booklet for PURPLE SPACESHIPS… features a fine essay from author Michael Heatley (as do the subsequent reissue titles), archival photos and complete lyrics. The music itself is chock full of just-left-of-center fan favorites like “Dora, the Female Explorer,” “Do the Stanley,” “Fish In a Glass,” “Syracuse the Elephant” and a rerecorded version of the title track (originally a non-album B-side to the “Slark” single), all magnificently remastered under the watchful eyes (hearful ears?) of James Warren and Andy Davis. Having listened to this impressive sampler (in one of its various forms or another), you will undoubtedly want to check out the original albums to hear the tunes in their natural habitat, so to speak. Of course, that is best accomplished by re-starting at the beginning with…
(MCA RECORDS; 1971)
In 1971, everyone wanted to be the Beatles. James, Andy and the other members of Stackridge were no different. Well… maybe they were a little different; they also wanted to be Frank Zappa… and Bob Dylan… and King Crimson… and the Incredible String Band. The quintet of progressive folkies (or is that folky progressives?) are out of the gate with what must be declared “an instant classic,” with nine tracks of mesmerizing pop and rambunctious rock, including at least four that should be required listening.
Stackridge, 1971 (Andy Davis, James Warren, Michael “Mutter” Slater, Billy Bent, Michael Evans) (photo credit: JORGEN ANGEL)
The album kicks off with the elegant, ambitious “Grande Piano,” which features a great bass part from Warren (original bassist Jim “Crun” Walter, by the time the band began recording, had opted for a more reasonable career as a bricklayer before returning to the fold for FRIENDLINESS) and a memorable – dare I say, “grand?” – piano part from Davis. “Dora the Female Explorer” is the only song on the debut album credited to the entire band; with it’s bouncing, reeling music – highlighted by Michael Evans’ violin – and oddly engaging vocal melody, the tune has stood the test of time as well as any of the tracks from STACKRIDGE. “Dora… ” is followed by the instrumental “Essence of Porphyry,” an eight minute piece with several distinct movements, all of them quite operatic in their scope (despite the lack of lyrics). Evans’ violin is again a featured instrument, along with Michael “Mutter” Slater’s flute. The entire affair has an air of Zappa about it, the final section a prog rocker’s dream, evoking RED-era Crimson and Brian Eno’s Roxy Music. The centerpiece of the album (if not the career) is “Slark,” a fourteen plus minute “monster” that plays beautifully off the theme and melody of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and led once again by Davis’ piano, Mutter’s flute and Evans’ violin. The lyrics suggest a lonely “monster” looking for acceptance and love but, being rejected because he isn’t like everyone else. The other tunes on STACKRIDGE are all pleasant progressive folk numbers, with just enough oddball charm and sweet melodies to make the album, in its entirety, indispensable. Angel Air’s reissue apends a stomping, rousing traditional reel called “Let There Be Lids,” a B-side from an unreleased 1973 single, as well as the single version of “Slark,” to the original album.
(MCA RECORDS; 1972)
As essential as the band’s debut is, it is, perhaps, their second release that offers the absolute best of what Stackridge aspired to be: A traditional English folk band with progressive and slightly loopy leanings. The opening track, “Lummy Days,” is rollicking, rolling sort of instrumental reel featuring some impressively heavy drumming from Billy Bent, now calling himself “Billy Sparkle.” What surely would have been a dancehall fixture in the early-to-mid 1920s, “Anyone For Tennis” shows the boys’ affinity for the oblique. At nearly nine minutes, “Syracuse the Elephant” would appear to be the band’s attempt to recreate the mini-operatic feel of the first album’s “Slark.” The tune, however, is a majestic piece of childlike progressivity, the tale of a forlorn elephant, raised in captivity and wanting nothing more than to live out his days in the company of his trainer, eating his favorite herbs.
The second side of the original album features such oddball fare as “Amazingly Agnes,” about a mule lamenting the fact that she is, in fact, a mule. That one is followed by the ballad, “Doctor Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow,” an apparent leftover from the first record, and the Beatles-esque rocker, “Keep On Clucking,” which features a killer backwards guitar solo from Crun toward the end. The final track, “Teatime,” would not sound out of place on Jethro Tull’s MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY or SONGS FROM THE WOODS; it starts as a rather pastoral madrigal before erupting in frenzied progressive blues, with Evans’ flute front and center throughout. The Angel Air reissue features the bonus tracks “Everyman,” the B-side to the “Flora, the Female Explorer” single; the chaotic, occasionally dissonant “Slark” B-side, the previously alluded to “Purple Spaceship Over Yatton,” one of the single greatest progressive tracks ever put to tape; the single-only release, “Do the Stanley,” a non-dancecraze inducing stomper, and it’s accompanying B-side, the beautiful, lilting “C’est La Vie.”
THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT
(MCA RECORDS; 1974)
The third Stackridge album, the intended title of which was THE ROAD TO VENEZUELA (and was renamed PINAFORE DAYS – with a very different track listing – for consumption in North America), was something of a dream come true for the sextet, as legendary (even then!) Beatles producer George Martin came on board (with engineer Geoff Emerick in tow) to lead the lads to new heights. The group was particularly disappointed with the sound quality of the first two records; along with Martin and Emerick came Sir George’s (such is his current title) state-of-the-art Air Studios in London and the sparkling, vibrant production quality and the brilliant arrangements and orchestrations that was nearly as important as the music on those highly revered Beatles sides. The difference is immediately heard, with the opening track, the poppy romp “Fundamentally Yours,” with Martin adding some well-placed piano.
As with the Beatles’ albums, Martin’s handprints are all over the remaining nine tracks of …BOWLER HAT, as well, adding piano here and there, bringing in orchestration elsewhere and generally giving the lads the benefit of his vast knowledge and experience in musical arrangements and production. The essential cuts include “Pinafore Days,” with its somehow Victorian sounding waltz and lyrics that would not seem out of place in a Monty Python sketch; released as a single in advance of the album, “The Galloping Guacho” opened side two, with a swirling calliope of carnival music that would not have been out of place on a late-period Beatles offering; the sparkling pop of “Dangerous Bacon” features a galloping drum pattern, a great guitar solo and a guest spot from Roxy Music’s sax man, Andy Mackay; a shot of Andy Davis whimsy, “The Indifferent Hedgehog,” leads into the majestically orchestrated instrumental, “God Speed the Plough,” which again highlights the flute of Mutter and violin of Mike Evans to great effect. Unfortunately, Martin’s involvement with …BOWLER HAT did not result in increased sales. Equally regrettable is the fact that the recording session seems to have included only the ten tracks featured here, as both singles from the period (the second was “Dangerous Bacon”), as well as their respective B-sides (“Fundamentally Yours” and “The Last Plimsoll”), come from the album; as a result, this is the first Angel Air reissue to not feature bonus material.
(THE ROCKET RECORD COMPANY; 1974)
With a move to Elton John’s new vanity label and Tony Ashton (late of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke and a brief stint in Family) in tow as producer, Andy Davis and Mutter Slater (Mike Evans appears briefly, performing the solo on “The Volunteer”) introduced a radically reconfigured group to the stalwart Stackridge fans. Not that there was an appreciable change in the music, although, without James Warren’s charming compositional skills, Davis and Slater tended to lean toward the more cabaret-esque side of the Stackridge spectrum; the pair also seems to have abdicated their newly-minted leadership to Rod Bowkett, the band’s new keyboardist, who wrote or co-wrote seven of the record’s ten tracks. The album opens with Bowkett’s 1920s dancehall-styled single, “Spin ‘Round the Room.” Considering the prevailing musical climate in the United Kingdom, I find it virtually incomprehensible that neither this nor the pair of …BOWLER HAT singles were radio or chart hits. It isn’t until the third track, “The Volunteer,” that we here a song from Davis, one of three co-songwriting credits on EXTRAVAGANZA. The song moves between a somber waltz and a rollicking sort of reel, one of the very few tunes that harken back to the original Stackridgian joie de vivre.
Stackridge, 1974 (Andy Davis) (uncredited photo)
“Highbury Incident (Rainy July Morning)” follows, a jaunty little piece of Beatles-like pop written by Davis, Bowkett and Mutter, highlighted by rather Crimsonesque work (consider Ian McDonald’s work on IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING) from new woodwinds player Keith Gemmell. Side two of the original vinyl took a decidedly jazzy swerve into – cover your ears… uh… eyes, children, as I type that word that should never be typed – fusion territory with, incomprehensibly, three cuts out of four being instrumentals. Former King Crimson (there’s that name again!) bassist Gordon Haskell walked in the front door, dropping off “No One’s More Important Than the Earthworm,” the most progressive tune here (go figure, huh?), on his way out the back door, leaving the bass duties to Paul Karas, formerly of Rare Bird. The three instrumentals are adventurous but, aside from “Pocket Billiards,” sound out of place here. “Rufus T Firefly,” the side’s opening track, is mentioned here because… well… Groucho Marx! Like …BOWLER HAT, Angel Air’s reissue of EXTRAVAGANZA features no bonus material. The album isn’t terrible; it just doesn’t come off as a proper Stackridge record.
(THE ROCKET RCORDING COMPANY; 1976)
The fifth Stackridge full-length comes with an oddly familiar history behind it: Their record company didn’t like the concept and demanded changes be made. The record started life as a concept album, following the life of a cranky old man, with Mutter adding odd bits of dialogue – written by then-unknown children’s author, Steve Augarde – to move the story along. Rocket Records sent them back to the drawing board, basically telling the boys to “lose all this talking stuff, cut these songs and, by the way, where’s the single?” The resultant product looked and sounded quite different than the original, as did the band as Andy and Mutter welcomed back Crun Walter on the bass, with Keith Gemmell the only holdover from the EXTRAVAGANZA band; the lineup was completed with drummer Peter Van Hooke and former Greensalde member Dave Lawson adding synthesizer textures. As much as Stackridge had known a bit of success on the singles chart, it must have been quite humorous to be told, “We don’t hear a single. We need a single.” Another trip to the studio and the band had a single, a sort of Caribbean (or, if you rather, psuedo-Reggae) take on the Beatles’ “Hold Me Tight,” which was released several months before the MISTER MICK album. Rocket Records were immediately rewarded with a release that seemed to disappear from existence virtually before it was released due to a surging apathy for anything that could not be considered punk.
Stackridge, 2008 (Andy Davis) (uncredited photo)
The reorganized and partially rerecorded version of the album featured a sound that owed more to 10CC, than it did to any of the original Stackridge’s influences or, indeed, to any of the previous four Stackridge records. Having missed the mark (chart-wise) with the band’s Beatles cover, Rocket decided to cut their losses and open their version of MISTER MICK with “Hold Me Tight.” This version really isn’t too bad but, with the more standard progressive pop featured throughout the remaining nine cuts, sounds very much out of place. Possibly, the most adventurous piece on the album is the B-side to “Hold Me Tight,” “Breakfast With Werner Von Braun,” a holdover from the original sessions, which could best be described as a Bedouin waltz. The incongruities rear their ugly heads rather quickly, as “The Steam Radio Song” features the accompanying narrative thread (written by then-unknown children’s author, Steve Augarde and delivered by Mutter) from the original recording; as sequenced by the record company, this bit of dialogue shows up about four tracks too soon. While the official version of MISTER MICK has its flaws, there are still enough nice moments to make it listenable, including the original album’s opening track, “Hey! Good Looking” and the Beatles-esque “Fish In a Glass,” also from the original, Stackridge version of the record. The Angel Air reissue pairs the Rocket Records release with the original, rejected twelve track version, which previously saw release as THE ORIGINAL MISTER MICK in 2000. Comparisons prove there are now stunning differences between the two but, with only seven overlapping tunes, the double disc release gives you five previously unheard (or, at least, very rarely heard) tracks.
PART FOUR: THE KORGIS, COLLECTIVELY
The Korgis, Andy’s and James’ other band, like Stackridge, got the “best of” treatment from Angel Air, first with 2005’s KOLLECTION, which, like a lot of Angel Air releases showed up a little later on in a Sound and Vision version as SOMETHING ABOUT THE KORGIS (a demo called “Make a Fuss About Us” was replaced with a new version of the Stackridge tune “Something About the Beatles”). The recent release of a much different package called …BY APPOINTMENT weeds out a few of the lesser tracks from KOLLECTION and adds a few cuts from an acoustic release called – naturally – UNPLUGGED. For essential music from the Korgis, I humbly suggest…
THE KORGIS… BY APPOINTMENT
(ANGEL AIR RECORDS; 2015)
After the MISTER MICK debacle, Andy Davis and Mutter Slater laid Stackridge to rest. Shortly thereafter, Andy and James Warren made nice and formed the Korgis, with violinist Stuart Gordon and keyboard player Phil Harrison along for the ride. The eponymous first album was released within two years of the demise of the mother band and garnered Warren and Davis something that had alluded them throughout the seven year career of Stackridge: An actual charting single… a hit, in the form of “If I Had You.”
The Korgis (James Warren, Andy Davis) (publicity photo)
The gently rocking “If I Had You” opens …BY APPOINTMENT, sounding for all the world like a George Harrison outtake. The group’s biggest hit, “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime,” follows; the languorous lead single from the second Korgis album, DUMB WAITERS, hit number five in the UK and was Top 20 in the States. The next single, the Beach Boys-lite of “If It’s Alright With You Baby,” barely nudged its way into the British charts, the last release from the group to see any such action. THE KORGIS… BY APPOINTMENT – by my calculations, the tenth compilation package from the group – features a mix of single releases and album tracks, rerecorded for this release, though a few are culled from 2005’s UNPLUGGED record; Andy and James are joined by long-time collaborator, John Baker. Highlights include the oddly appealing “True Life Confessions,” which is a bizarre combination of Mariachi horns, English pop and Caribbean percussion… truly an embracing of the “world music” vibe; a taught, tense “Lines,” from UNPLUGGED; the anthemic “One Life,” with its brilliant lead and harmony vocals, charging percussion track and massive organ leading the way.
The second half of the collection features “Mount Everest Sings the Blues,” a blast of old time rock ‘n’ roll and boogie-woogie; a beautiful, lush remake of “Something About the Beatles,” from the late-90s Warren-led Stackridge reunion (SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND also featured original members Crun Walter on bass and Michael Evans on violin); a cool version of the Korgis’ first single, “Young ‘n’ Russian,” from UNPLUGGED; a weird, faux-jazz Andy Davis tune called “Art School Annexe.” While the final half of …BY APPOINTMENT is more easy listening than the first half, overall, this is a solid introduction to the Korgis and their music.
PART FIVE: THE LAST WORD, FINALLY
With Stackridge calling it a career and Angel Air Records reissuing the original albums (with plenty of bonus material), now is definitely the time to jump on this band’s wagon. As mentioned above, a great starting place is the “best of” collection, PURPLE SPACESHIP OVER YATTON but, you really can’t go wrong with the group’s original run of albums (STACKRIDGE through to MISTER MICK). Other recorded highlights from the band’s reformative years include SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND (1999), THE FORBIDDEN CITY (2008’s double CD of the group’s April Fool’s Day show from the previous year) and their final album, A VICTORY FOR COMMON SENSE (2009). Any or all (as well as any of the Korgis collections – UNPLUGGED and …BY APPOINTMENT being personal favorites – and various James Warren and Andy Davis solo projects) are worthy of your attention.
UPDATE: Stackridge took their final bow in their hometown of Bristol on December 19, 2015. A film of that last show will be edited and released on DVD sometime in 2016. Of course, we know that – like comic book characters – rock bands never truly die and, sometime when we least expect it, Stackridge will mount another comeback. I’ll be waiting.
(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS/DISCO PIU; Italian import; reissue 2013, original release 1981)
Unless you are a truly smug, know-it-all kinda music reviewer, you don’t proceed totally independently in this game. You wanna find other opinions of weird or obscure offerings; you wanna find out WHERE something belongs in the scheme of things, you wanna discern anything you can about the “artistic intent” of an eccentric artist. Doris Norton is not your garden variety composer, though Discogs puts her in the “Electronica” category. At times like this, I like to go to Amazon to see if any fans chimed in, And God bless “Mr. Benac” for writing the single review that appears of this PARAPSYCHO project, a reissue of a recording that first appeared in Italy back in 1981. Benac writes: “Norton is a strange, strange person and there’s a possibility she’s trying to say something here. However, I cannot grasp it.” That kind of sentiment is catnip for me, so I dove right in. After an unrepresentative, caterwauling sort of opening rocker (the title track), what follows is more or less early prog-influenced instrumental music that leans at times in the direction of the kind of film music you hear in low budget ’70s horror films. This is certainly true of “Telepathia” and to a lesser extent, “Psychic Research.”
Doris Norton (photo courtesy: musikresearch.com)
It helps to know that Norton was sponsored by Apple Computer in the ’80s, and evidently created a music program for IBM USA. Almost all the music here was made on early synthesizers or keyboard programs, and it has that analogue sound that can sometimes sound quaint or simplistic. However, this is mostly listenable stuff. “Ludus” is a perfectly fine cinematic instrumental just a stone’s throw from MORE-era Pink Floyd, at least until a bit of wah-wah at the end. “Tears” is a straight-up European film music cue (presumably for a non-existent film) that features beguiling wordless female vocals. “Obsession” contains everything both annoying and promising about keyboard-heavy prog in one zippy three-minute burst. And “Precognition,” the last and possibly best track (and a bonus to this 32rd Anniversary Edition), enters Kraftwerk territory, with its forward-thrusting sequencers, occasional robotic vocals, and underlying sense of “something going wrong with machines,” with the ascending alarm-like sound at beginning and end somehow punctuating this. Honestly, this stuff is NOT that strange; Mr. Benac needs to come check out MY record collection sometime. Most of Norton’s stuff sits comfortably at the intersection of European film music and somewhat generic sequencer-based prog. Sure, the curiously titled “Hypnotized By Norton,” at just under 10 minutes, does a mash-up of new age, indie rock and prog that is all-over-the-map kooky, and the previously mentioned title track clubs you over the head in a manner not typical of the rest of what’s here. But I gotta admit, I kinda like most of these tracks. There is purposefulness and, more importantly, a playful, open attitude that comes through in Norton’s performances. I detect, also, a little bit of humor in her attitude towards the vast possibilities of the new technology emerging in music at the time. Come to think of it, most of the titles reflect something having to do with how music and immersion in technology may not always be a good match (“Tears,” “Obsession,” “Parapsycho” “Hypnotized… “
Doris Norton (uncredited photo)
Maybe I’m reaching here, but I’m betting that Norton is not so much “strange” as perhaps a woman who just travels to a different mental and emotional space when she makes music, and determinedly shuts out her husband, kids and everything else that gets in the way until she’s damn well satisfied, sonically. I don’t know her story overall, but she came up with some good stuff, only crossing the line into cloying self-indulgence a few times. Hell, if I were a film director, I’d give her a shot. “Controlled unpredictability” is a good trait in my book.
(HIGH MOON RECORDS/RSO RECORDS; reissue 2014, original release 1977)
Reading Gene Clark’s Wikipedia entry is an exercise in frustration, another classic case of a prominent musician suffering the pitfalls of inadequate promotion, dashed expectations, poor timing, et cetera. A founding member of the Byrds, one of the most influential bands of the ’60s, Clark surely deserved better than the checkered solo career he endured after essentially leaving that band in 1966. Clark wrote or co-wrote some of the best-known Byrds tunes, such as “Eight Miles High,” “She Don’t Care About Time” and “Set You Free This Time,” helping to pioneer some of the early country rock stylings with a twist that the Byrds became known for. But his solo work, although gaining critical favor in some circles with quality offerings like 1971’s WHITE LIGHT and 1974’s NO OTHER, seemed to always fall short commercially or have some record label “issue” that confounded Clark’s hopes. The 1977 release TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY was an introspective album that partially documented the fallout of Clark’s divorce at the time, and though very listenable, it was ill served by the first CD version in the early 90s, which many fans complained about (record labels tended to rush out CDs in the early days of that format with little concern about the sound or pressing issues; pun intended). But now TWO SIDES… has been given a deluxe remastering by High Moon, and Clark’s stellar songwriting shines through at last.
Gene Clark (photo credit: TORBJORN CALVERO)
Things kick off with the rousing banjo picking of “Home Run King,” and Clark’s engaging vocals. I was struck by how much Clark’s voice reminded me of Mike Nesmith’s from the Monkees. It’s well-known that Nesmith was a fan of country rock, and you gotta think he was a fan of stuff like Gene Clark and Gram Parsons in particular. “In the Pines” features classic fiddle, keyboards and female backing vocals, and is bursting with energy. Evidently, this is a traditional folk/blues song, although an online note says the song may have initially been composed by blues great Leadbelly. “Kansas City Southern” is a terrific train song that Clark had previously recorded with Dillard and Clark, and it rocks pretty madly here, with fiery guitar work. It’s also more than a little evocative of John Fogerty’s CCR stuff. A cover of the James Talley mining ballad “Give My Love to Marie” makes for one of the most achingly sad numbers here. Clark’s voice is way upfront, and the string section combines with it (and some very spartan drumming) to induce shivers. Truly beautiful, actually. The following “Sister Moon” suffers by comparison; it aims for subtlety, but the big backing vocals and strings again don’t serve it particularly well. “Mary Lou” is an overdone cover that, while energetic, is emotionally empty in context. The straight, traditional country numbers here such as “Lonely Saturday” and “Hear the Wind” are much better, the kind of tunes Clark was known for, with strong melodies and pleasing arrangements. “We talk and hear about loneliness/The cold blue hunger of the soul,” Clark sings on that latter track, which delivers its pathos with pedal steel and piano in timeless fashion. Sometimes a line like that can really overpower you, in a way you weren’t prepared for.
Gene Clark (uncredited photo)
“Past Addresses” and “Silent Crusade” are the sound of heartbreak; with slivers of haunted sentiments that Clark sometimes seems reluctant to fully release. “I am told that my life is a clipper/The sea of time has tossed about/And I know that there’s only one skipper/Who can guide that ship about, he wearily intones on “Silent Crusade,” as a lonesome keyboard punctuates his simple guitar picking. Nothing like a tough breakup to make you feel you’re adrift at sea, I guess. There is something timeless about this brand of Clark-ian songcraft, and when you realize the guy died at the tender age of 46, probably falling well short of his dreams, you’re in true melancholy territory. That distinctive voice and his often pioneering sound surely would’ve matured and given us so much more if he had lived a few more decades. At any rate, this is a fine reissue of a neglected album, and purchasers also get to download a generous selection of bonus live material. It’s not ALL wonderful, but there is definitely stuff here that is essential in grasping Gene Clark’s rightful place in the Americana/singer-songwriter scheme of things. He was there when both those categories were first being conceived, and that ain’t no small thing.
(INDIE RECORDINGS; reissue, 2014; original release, 2009)
Let’s just get this out of the way upfront. It IS okay to play favorites when you’re a music writer. I wouldn’t believe ANYONE who says they like everything the same; we all have our favorites. And while anyone bold enough to write about music or art in a public forum better at least be open-minded, it is normal and human to be drawn to certain things more than others. A whole host of factors determine one’s personal aesthetic and predilections, and these generally change as you grow older. So I just wanted to say all this by way of explaining my delirious response to the Norwegian group Wardruna. I’m well known for loving Scandinavian music, especially what comes out of Norway and the rustic forests of Finland. I also tend to love anything that’s weird and unclassifiable, and I am an avowed ambient music fanatic. So, imagine how enthralling it must be for me to encounter this Norse trio, who are plenty weird, plenty ambient, and absolutely committed to their quest to conjure up a sound that evokes old Viking mythology, the darkness along ancient rocky shores, and the fiery passions of a people so tied to a beautiful, cold, mountainous land far away that nothing else matters except their homes, their families, their lifestyle and their surroundings. The sound of this recording is not “unearthly” per se, although some may call it such. What it IS, though, is wild, untamed, eerie, primal, awe-inspiring and deeply mysterious. Parts of it sound like bits of the score from the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (it’s well-known that composer Howard Shore drew from Norse mythology for some elements of LOTR), parts are reminiscent of Dead Can Dance (only superficially, though) and most of it is rich in the traditional folk stylings of Norway’s boundless musical past.
Wardruna performs at Vikingskipshuset (The Viking Ship Museum) in Oslo Norway, 2010 (photo credit: wardruna.com)
So, who is behind this spellbinding sound? Let’s meet them, shall we? The chief visionary is Einar Kvitrafn Selvik, who apparently writes everything and plays most of the instruments, along with his deep-register vocalizing. Lindy-Fay Hella is the woman in the group, and she contributes amazing, much needed female vocals. And Gaahl is credited on vocals and “conceptual contributions.” This GAP VAR GINNUNGA project is part one of a planned trilogy about runes. What’s that, you ask? Let’s just quote right from the group’s website here: “The ongoing RUNALJOD trilogy is a musical rendition of the 24 runes in what is often referred to as the Elder Futhark. Some of the recordings are done outdoors in places or under circumstances of significance to each rune. Wardruna primarily use old and historical instruments such as primitive deer-hide frame drums, kraviklyra, tagelharpe, mouth harp, goat horn, lur and more. Non-traditional instruments and other sources of sound like trees, rocks, water and torches are also used.” Are you better prepared now, listeners? Well, I doubt it, because no description is truly apt for the mighty, immersive, sonic grandeur this trio has forged. And lemme tell you, “forged” is a better word than something as bland as “recorded.” You don’t sit down and “record” stuff like this. You sculpt and chisel it out of the very foundation of your SOUL, using materials tied more to the earth than anything the average musician picks up. The vocal incantations, drones, ancient horns, percussive THUMPS and thoroughly mysterious other instruments take you to another time, another place, a dreamscape so far away from your normal reality that you can’t believe it exists out there. This is a history lesson without the names or events, a trip to an exotic place without having to drive, fly or sail, an experience in unbridled passion without having to touch or question the motivations of your partner. Wardruna are making living, breathing, stirring musical art that anyone with even mildly adventurous musical taste should revel in. It’s unforgettable, music that is at one with the ancient power of nature in a manner unattainable by most recordings.
Wardruna (Lindy-Fay and Kvitrafn) (publicity photo)
And listen, picking out individual song titles is not particularly relevant in this case. It’s all of a piece, one track flowing into the next. The titles are in Norse anyway: “Hagal,” “Bjarkan,” “Jara,” “Laukr,” et cetera. Speaking of “Laukr,” by the time I got to that eighth track, I was already so deliriously grateful for what this group had laid down for us that I knew the kind of review I was going to write. This music renders most adjectives inadequate. Wardruna have power, majesty, the singular intent of all the best art, the confidence that what they are embarking on is more than worthy, and the musical skill to capture the organic ebb and flow common to the best listening experiences. This stuff isn’t for you if you only like pop or rock and roll. But if you liked being STIRRED, haunted and enthralled by music and the mysteries of life, check out Wardruna. You will NOT forget what you hear. Oh, and Norway? You keep raising the bar SO high for interesting aural creations, what are the rest of them out there gonna do? Not your problem, though… just keep on being beautiful, provocative and wildly yourself, dear. Some of us appreciate you a ton, and we’ll see to it that only the most DESERVING get to experience your secrets.