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Birth Control: Backdoor Possibilities (1976)

Birth Control was a German group that was only considered marginally progressive, much of the time they were in the Deep Purple or Uriah Heep vein, lots of heavy guitar and organ work, although a lot of their music often had prog tendencies. I have to admit they made their share of great albums, 1972’s Hoodoo Man being perhaps their finest from their earlier, more hard rock phase. By 1975, the group consisted of drummer/vocalist Bernd Noske, bassist/vocalist Peter Föller, keyboardist Zeus B. Held, and guitarist Bruno Frenzel. At this time, they released the album Plastic People which found the group dropping most of the hard rock for full-on progressive rock. “Rockin’ Rollin’ Roller” off that album does harken back to their more hard rocking days, while “This Song is Just For You” is a horn-driven rock song not unlike Chicago, while the rest is full-on prog rock. The prog rock was taken to an even higher degree with their following album, Backdoor Possibilities. The band switched from CBS to Brain, and this album ended up as one of the final releases on the green Brain label (after that, the label changed to the orange label). You’d find it hard to believe this was the same band that gave us albums like Operation (1971) and Hoodoo Man (actually, the only members in common to Plastic People and Backdoor Possibilities to those earlier albums were Bernd Noske and Bruno Frenzel). No more reminders of Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, instead strong reminders of Gentle Giant, with complex instrumental and vocal arrangements.

Backdoor Possibilities is a concept album regarding a New York businessman named Adam Striver who meets Death (aka. Mr. Scheleton, that is Skeleton, but spelled “Scheleton” in the album lyrics included in the LP gatefold) in the subway, who plays him flashbacks to his childhood and tells Mr. Striver that his yuppie life was pretty much meaningless. Basically, I get the impression the lyrics were regarding about the lost childhood innocence during adulthood as Mr. Striver becomes a bureaucratic businessman. The album’s concept was rather half-sketched, but I was able to get the message still the same (many Birth Control albums and songs often had strong social messages in their lyrics). Also the album cover art depicts scenes that hardly look like any place in New York, or America in general, but much more like Europe. I guess I can’t be totally surprised, given Birth Control was a German band, but even in Germany, people are familiar with how New York looks even if they never been there. The album consisted of a bunch of suites demonstrating that there was going to be little in the way of straightforward material. And you’ll know that right away from hearing “One First of April” which you’ll notice that Gentle Giant influence right away, with lots of compex instrumental and vocal arrangements. Zeus B. Held’s keyboard work was heavily influenced by Kerry Minnear at this point, with lots of Minimoog, clavinet, Hammond organ, string synths and electric piano. Drummer Bernd Noske used not only drums, but tons of percussion at his disposal, so a lot of the album used all sorts of percussion. “Beedeepees” starts off rather calm, with dominant string synths, but then gets rocking in a Gentle Giant-like manner, before the second second part kicks in (called “Childhood Flash-Back”) with an extended drone on string synths, the sounds of children playing, and great vocal arrangements showing that Birth Control was able to pull off a lot of the same things Gentle Giant were also doing. “Futile Prayer” is generally a mellower piece, with lush string synths and nice use of Moog. “La Cigüena de Zaragoza” is a three piece suite, and the album’s only instrumental piece that has some jazzy sections, including use of sax, as well as some nice synth passages. “No Time to Die” is a great closing piece, especially those vocal harmonies as well as those mellow lush passages.

OK, this is probably the least typical Birth Control album you’ll ever hear. If you want a more hard rocking Birth Control, Operation or Hoodoo Man would be your best bet. For adventurous progheads who don’t mind another band trying their stab at the Gentle Giant sound, then Backdoor Possibilities would be more up your alley. The album has been frequently slagged, many people even call it a disappointing followup to Plastic People but I hardly see that myself. It’s that the band was doing something way more ambitious than ever before. This album really does require a few listens to let it sink in (but then so does Gentle Giant). And I actually find myself humming parts of this album (especially “No Time to Die”), so the band actually didn’t abandon melody amidst the complex arrangements. Aside from Canada’s Et Cetera, I really think this is one of the finest examples of another band trying their stab at the GG sound. Unfortunately, Birth Control never repeated this experiment again (can’t be too surprised, Gentle Giant themselves were starting to record straightforward material starting with The Missing Piece, and the fact the second half of the ’70s wasn’t as so prog friendly to begin with). I really think Backdoor Possibilities is one of the most underrated albums I have ever heard in a long time, and comes highly recommended by me!
– Bernd Noske: drums, percussion, vocals
– Peter Föller: bass, vocals
– Zeus B. Held: keyboards, vocals
– Bruno Frenzel: guitars, vocals

Scorpions: Lonesome Crow (1972)

The Scorpions, for many, will give one guaranteed nightmares of ’80s pop metal and cheesy anthems as “Rock Your Like a Hurricane”. But the band has a history that predates that song (or the album in question, 1984’s Love at First Sting) by almost two decades. They actually formed around 1965, but wasn’t until around 1971 that they got a chance to record. No matter who was in the band, or how the band’s sound changed through the years, it was always vocalist Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker.

But things were way different in 1972 when the band released their debut album, Lonesome Crow (which was released on the Brain label, and the first ever release on that label). This album featured Rudolf Schenker’s younger brother, Michael Schenker on additional guitars (Michael was just 16 when this album came out) and is truly a very different album than what you expect from these guys. No cheesy heavy metal anthems to be found here, you won’t find anything remotely resembling “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. Instead you get treated with psychedelia, jazz, early hard rock, prog rock, even some Krautrock! “I’m Going Mad” is a fantastic opening piece with strong ’60s psychedelic overtones and great guitar playing from Michael Schenker! “It All Depends” has a stronger hard rock feel with some bluesy overtones, while “Leave Me Alone” has some bizarre sound effects and more of that great psychedelic sound you certainly don’t associate the Scorpions with! Plus this piece then later rocks with some heavy guitar solos. “In Search of the Piece of Mind” has a surprisingly folk-influenced sound, complete with acoustic guitars. The music then changes to more hard rocking territory where Klaus Meine shrieks. “Inheritance” starts off mellow, but then they get rocking more for a short time, then a really wonderful atmospheric passage with an almost Pink Floyd-like feel! Then the piece goes back to how it return. “Action” is a rather surprisingly jazzy piece, even the drummer at the time, Wolfgang Dziony provides some rather jazzy drumming! I can’t believe the Scorpions actually did stuff like this! Then comes the lengthiest piece, the title track. Starts off rather mellow, and then the music starts including lengthy guitar solos, and through several changes, and then eventually the music slows down near the end.

But of course, Michael Schenker left after this album to join UFO, and the Scorpions would witness many lineup changes (including Ulrich Roth, and future Eloy drummer Jürgen Rosenthal, plus many others), not to mention switching from Brain to RCA (and later on Harvest in Germany and Mercury in America when they changed to the arena act people associate them with).

What more can I say about Lonesome Crow? I never stop being amazed listening to this album. Even if you’re a non-fan or even run at the thought of them, I very much highly recommend this album if the description of the album sounds good to you!
– Klaus Meine: vocals
– Michael Schenker: guitars
– Rudolf Schenker: guitars
– Lothar Heimberg: bass
– Wolfgang Dziony: drums

Warm Dust: And It Came to Pass (1970)

Warm Dust was one of those obscure progressive rock bands that slipped through the cracks, but released three albums. This was an early band featuring Paul Carrack before he earned his fame with Ace (“How Long”), Sqeeze (“Tempted”), and of course Mike & the Mechanics, not to mention the solo albums he did in the ’80s. Now I understand the name Paul Carrack might make many of you run like hell, but what he’s done in Warm Dust is nothing like those groups I mentioned.

In 1970, they released their debut album And It Came to Pass, and like Chicago when they were still Chicago Transit Authority or the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out, is one of the rare examples of a double album debut. Aside from Paul Carrack, the group also featured vocalist/guitarist Dransfield “Les” Walker, John Surgey on wind instruments (flute, sax, oboe, clarinet), Alan Salomen on additional wind instruments, Terry “Tex” Comer on bass and guitars, and Dave Pepper on drums and percussion. Frequently this band was described as Chicago meets Caravan, but they really weren’t a brass rock band like Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and such British counterparts as The Greatest Show on Earth or IF, but musically they could also bring to mind such groups. For one thing, Warm Dust wasn’t really a horn rock band, but sax and flute, on top of Paul Carrack’s Hammond organ was what made up this band’s sound. If anything, they remind me a bit of Web/Samurai (Dave Lawson’s bands prior to Greenslade that had a sound dominated by wind instruments).

Cuts like “Turbulance”, “Achromasia” and “Circus” are full of pleasant use of sax, flute, and organ, often in a jazzy and bluesy manner, with some psychedelic overtones. “Keep on Truckin'” really is out of place on this album, a more boogie-oriented number, but the album goes back to familiar territory with the epic title track, which is in the vein of the first three cuts. It’s my opinion the second disc (the last five cuts) is even better. “Blues For Pete” is the perfect example of the band exploring the blues in a rather interesting way, while “Washing My Eyes” for some reason reminds me a bit of what the German group Birth Control did on “This Song is Just For You” off their 1975 album Plastic People, especially the organ work, although it’s a wonderful, extended piece. They also do a cover of the much covered Richie Havens song “Indian Rope Man” (that Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger & The Trinity and the German group Frumpy had also done) and did it in style with funky organ work and great use of wind instruments.

Given what Paul Carrack had later involved himself musically, he finds Warm Dust an embarrassment from his youth (he was just 18 when they recorded And It Came to Pass), and strongly encourages everyone to avoid Warm Dust like a plague. I’m sorry I can’t agree with him on this opinion, this is perfectly good progressive rock, it’s his only real foray into this kind of music (Mike & the Mechanics hardly counts despite the Genesis connection, they were simply a pop group, much like Genesis was at that point). The great thing about listening to a Warm Dust album is you get completely no reminders of “How Long”, “All I Need is a Miracle” or “The Living Years” whatsoever, which is a good thing.

The reason Warm Dust didn’t get much notice was it was released on a small label called Trend, meaning they probably didn’t have the means to promote the band properly (even those little known British horn bands like IF and The Greatest Show on Earth had the benefit of being on major labels like Island and Harvest).

Even if Paul Carrack gets you running, but you enjoy groups like Web/Samurai, IF, The Greatest Show On Earth, and the likes, you really can’t go wrong here!
– Dransfield Les Walker: lead vocals, g

Chicago: Chicago III (1971)

Chicago was a band that really threw their credibility in the crapper with those cheesy ballads. Peter Cetera obviously laying a lot to blame, many of their cheesy hits, if they were not necessarily written by him, they were sung by him.

You can be thankful in the early ’70s Chicago had so much better to offer. Although it’s easy to get scared off even by these early albums mainly because they all sport their cheesy trademark logo (Chicago Transit Authority aside, although you can still see elements of what would become their trademark logo). I really felt as Chicago later went the route of Genesis or Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship, each group had major success in the mid ’80s, receiving lots of money, but sacrificing creative credibility to do it. 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority proves that the group had plenty to offer without the commercial restraints that would later bind themselves into with an often aggressive bluesy sound on many of their songs, with Terry Kath allowed to stretch on his guitar, sometimes showing that Hendrix influence (Kath openly admired Hendrix and he never hid that fact). Their second album, just called Chicago (1970) (after a shortened name change to just Chicago after some legal wrangling with the real Chicago Transit Authority, the city’s public transportation system) was a mellower album over all, more emphasizing the horns and less of Terry Kath, with some experimentation with classical, and giving us three popular hits with “Make Me Smile”, “25 or 6 to 4” and “Colour My World” (strange an American band would spell the British way, again, spelled that way on “Fancy Colours” off the same album).

Next year comes yet another double album, Chicago III, and proved that Chicago still had plenty to offer, and avoiding those cheesy ballads that the band was later famous for. They went for a more eclectic approach (meaning they were all over the place), some of the cuts you might have a hard time believing it’s Chicago! There’s an often more experimental approach as well, and Terry Kath gets more time than their predecessor, and even the blues influence of Chicago Transit Authority had returned. “Sing a Mean Tune Kid” has a rather funky feel, with an extended solo on electric piano and guitar, with a rather jazzy feel. Robert Lamm’s “Loneliness is Just a Word” is a fantastic jazzy piece, showing Lamm’s organ work, and no denying it’s not played in 4/4. Peter Cetera’s “What Else Can I Say” has a country feel, complete with steel guitar, but it’s more country rock. Strange for Chicago. Then comes Robert Lamm and Terry Kath’s “I Don’t Want You Money”, which is a blues song, with Chicago’s trademark horns dominating, but giving it sound more that of a British blues band (like what Savoy Brown did on their 1970 album Raw Sienna, they incorporated Chicago-like horns with their British blues sound on that album). I wouldn’t be surprised if they were inspired by very early Jethro Tull or Raw Sienna-era Savoy Brown on “I Don’t Want Your Money”. Next is “Travel Suite” divided into several movements. “Flight 602” finds Chicago sounding much more like Crosby, Stills & Nash than you can ever imagine, right down to Graham Nash-like vocals. The lyrics deal with homesickness and the difficult life on the road. Drummer Danny Seraphine gives us “Motorboat to Mars”, which unsurprisingly is a short drum solo. Next is “Free” which is probably the most familiar song, as it received some radio airplay. It’s a rather short piece, but a highlight for me. Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, and Walter Parazaider gives us the highly experimental “Free Country”, featuring Parazaider’s flute work, plus use of vibes, and musically it reminds me a bit of King Crimson’s more experimental work (it’s almost like Chicago’s own “Moonchild”, but nowhere as lengthy). Lamm’s own “At the Sunrise” has a more pop-oriented feel, while “Happy Cause’ I’m Going Home” (also written by Lamm) has a rather extended us of electric piano, this song does overstay its welcome a bit, but hardly weakens the album. That ends “Travel Suite”. “Mother” is another fantastic highlight, showing Chicago at their best with great horn and vocal arrangements. “Lowdown” is the other song (besides “Free”) to receive radio airplay, unsurprisingly more pop-oriented, but has some interesting twists so not to be like later Chicago. Terry Kath gives us “An Hour in the Shower” suite, which is basically “A Hard Risin’ Morning Without Breakfast”, “Off to Work”, “Fallin’ Out”, “Dreamin’ Home”, and “Morning Blues Again”. This all has an oddly Southern rock feel, having more in common with the Allman Brothers than Chicago. Told you how this album was all over the place, and how this group succeeded with flying colors. Then come the side-length instrumental suite “Elegy”. Starts off with some spoken dialog, some medieval-like fanfare on the horns, before starting off with some mellow flute-dominated passages, then the sounds of horns blowing like the sound of Chicago (the city) traffic, and some highly experimental passages, before Terry Kath starts giving some guitar solos, as well as horn solos from James Pankow and Lee Loughnaine.

Really, this is probably Chicago’s most underrated and overlooked of their early albums, but full of great material, and certainly one of their finest, in my opinion!
– Robert Lamm: vocals, organ, piano, ele

Klaus Schulze: Irrlicht (1972)

Klaus Schulze sure played an important role in the world of electronic music and Krautrock. First by being a member of Tangerine Dream and appearing on the album Electronic Meditation (1970), and then moving on to Ash Ra Tempel and appearing on their self-entitled 1971 debut. He left the group shortly thereafter to embark on a solo career, but up until 1974, he sporadically involved himself in other groups like the Cosmic Jokers (a unintentional Krautrock supergroup involving late night jam sessions that got released behind the backs of everyone involved), Code III, who released an obscure album called Planet of Man (1974), and let’s not forget the one-off reunion of the original Ash Ra Tempel in December 1972 that made up the Join Inn (1973) album. Schulze discovered it was increasingly difficult to deal with a group because he found it a pain in the ass to get everyone to decide what to play, and to him, felt like it took more time doing that than actually playing the music, so that’s why he went solo.

Schulze had a career parallel to that of Tangerine Dream. Like TD, his earlier works tended to be very experimental and not always easily pigeonholed, although many call this early phase “Krautrock”, and after about 1974 started recording electronic albums on the Brain label after being dissatisfied with Rolf Urich Kaiser and his label Ohr (after 1973, Kosmische Musik), thanks to the Cosmic Jokers fiasco that brought an end to Kaiser’s career and label.

Anyways, Irrlicht was Schulze’s first ever solo effort, released after his initial departure from Ash Ra Tempel. He was initially a drummer (as you know from Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel’s debut albums), but by this point was losing interest in drumming so he decided to be a full-time keyboardist. It’s interesting to note he didn’t even use a synthesizer on this album, he had yet the funds to acquire one, so he made due with what he got. He had an organ and rigged it up, along with the amplifier, to get it do things they would not normally do, including a bunch of sound effects synthesizers could do. Unfortunately this caused the amplifier to be fried after the recording of this album. He called this album “Quadrophonische Symphonie für Orchester und E-Maschine” (“Quadrophonic Symphony for Orchestra and E-Machine”), because aside from Schulze himself on organ, guitar, voice, percussion, and so on, he had the Colloquium Musica Orchestra as well, but the strings end up so distorted you could swear it was a Mellotron! Aside from the organ and orchestra, you really have a hard time recognizing the other instruments being used, as I seriously doubt he used the guitar or percussion in the normal way on this album.

Anyway, the album starts off with “Satz: Ebene”, a very interesting experiment with droning organ. The orchestra peeks through from time to time. He does some changes in the droning, as well as getting some pulsing effects too. After 23 minutes of droning, he settles down with “Satz: Gewitter (Energy Rise – Energy Collaps)” which has a mellower, spacy feel, in that rather sinister feel. This is perhaps the piece that sounds closest to the Ash Ra Tempel of old (but no guitar). “Satz: Exil Sils Maria” is a nice experiment in ambient sounds, making it really difficult how he produced those sounds. Pretty tripped out stuff. It’s not all that difficult to say that the early stuff of Schulze isn’t too far off from what Tangerine Dream was doing around the same time (like Zeit), but he had his own approach distinguishing him from TD.

Schulze newbies are probably advised to check out one of his mid ’70s electronic works like Timewind (1975), but this early album certainly is a great album to have to see the origins of one of the masters of electronic music!
– Klaus Schulze: organ, guitar, percussion, zither, voice, etc.

with: Colloquium Musica Orchestra

Machiavel: Jester (1977)

Machiavel was apparently one of the best known and most successful progressive rock bands to ever come out of Belgium. From 1976 to 1978 they released three progressive rock albums, Machiavel (1976), Jester (1977), and Mechanical Moonbeams (1978). Most of their reputation lies on the last two mentioned albums. Starting with Urban Games (1979) they went a more mainstream direction (not unlike Genesis), and they actually had a hit with “Fly” off the album New Lines (1980), but for the progressive rock fan (to my understanding), it’s pretty safe to avoid the stuff after Mechanical Moonbeams.

Jester is regarded as their first great album, and apparently the band benefitted greatly with the addition of vocalist Mario Guccio, who also played some flute, sax, and clarinet. Keyboardist Albert Letecheur really steals the show here with lots of electric piano, string synths, Minimoog, Mellotron and piano, while Roland De Greef provides bass, Marc Ysaye provides drums, and Jean Paul Delvaux provides guitars.

The band gets constantly compared with Genesis and Supertramp, and while the Supertramp comparisons might get some running, it mainly lies within Albert Letecheur’s electric piano work, which are much in the same style as what Rick Davies did with “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song”. Machiavel was nowhere as obsessed with studio perfection as Supertramp, neither were they anywhere as mainstream or pop-oriented (Machiavel only started going mainstream by 1979). “Wisdom” starts off with some pulsing synth sounds, then the string synths and guitar kick in. Some rather dramatic vocals kick in. It’s a great piece and a great way to open the album. “Sparkling Jaw” starts off with some spacy synths, in a rather slow manner, but then when the music kicks speed, the Supertramp influence (the electric piano) surfaces. “Moments” is a nice acoustic ballad done prog rock style, this reminds me most of Genesis during their more acoustic moments. The Mellotron rears it’s head for the first time on this album here, and the Mellotron would be heard for the remainder of the album. “In the Reign of Queen Pollution” has lyrics that don’t exactly need a rocket scientist to understand: about pollution and genetic mutation thanks to the consequence of pollution (including how after a thousand years children were born with the face in the shape of a gas mask). The song appropriately starts off in a rather dark and sinster matter with the string synths dominating. But the music starts picking up, Letecheur gives a nice Moog solo, then the music gets upbeat, for some strange reason, but the music is quite catchy. The title track has more of that Supertramp influence, but then at the end more nice synths that end this piece. “Mr. Street Fair” is a nice spacy piece dominated by string synths, with a circus-like atmosphere. “Rock, Sea and Tree” is the ending piece that has more great creative passages. What I admire is Machiavel is they also didn’t forget to create great songs, and make them interesting by including some great creative passages. It’s probably little wonder why they did so well in their native Belgium.

It’s amazing how this album even got released! I’m not referring to the music, of course, it’s the artwork inside the gatefold of the LP. The gatefold has very sexually explicit artwork, with lots of reference to oral sex and masturbation, and even a penis. Even so, the artwork is done surrealistically, as often you would see on many ’70s prog rock albums, just this one is perhaps the most sexually explicit art I ever seen on a prog rock album, even the cover to Frank Zappa’s Over-Nite Sensation is nothing compared to this! EMI (actually its division, Harvest, a label known for acts like Pink Floyd, Eloy, Triumvirat, Barclay James Harvest, etc.) actually released this album despite the artwork. I’m glad they did regardless of how controversial the artwork, at the risk of being banned.

There is no doubt about it, Jester is a great album to start if you don’t know Machiavel. And if you were turned off by them thanks to a later release such as New Lines, you’ll be glad to know Jester is much better. It comes highly recommended!
– Albert Letecheur: Grand piano, Electric piano, Honky tonk piano, Harpsichord, Solina String Ensemble, Mellotron, Synthesizers, Tubular bells, Glockenspiel
– Roland De Greef: Bass, Cellobass, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar, Carillon, Bells, Whistle, Comb, Tape effects, vocals
– Marc Ysaye: Drums, Vocals, Tambourine, Maracas, Gong, Wood blocks, Glass blocks, Broken glass, Bells tree, Sleigh bells, Flextone, Nutcracker
– Mario Guccio: Vocals, Flute, Sax, Clarinet
– Jean Paul Delvaux: Electric guitar, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar, Vocals

Samurai: Samurai (1971)

Samurai was previously known as Web. Web released three albums, Fully Interlocking (1968), Theraphosa Blondi (1970), and I Spider (1970). The first two featured American singer John L. Watson, and were released on Deram. I Spider was released on Polydor and Watson was replaced by future Greenslade vocalist/keyboardist Dave Lawson. The Deram albums are said to be more pop/psychedelic offerings, but I’ve not heard them (a little hard to come by and apparently neither reissued on CD). I Spider is considered the best and where Web’s reputation in progressive rock circles rests on. But for some odd reason, when Tom Harris left and they brought in two new wind players, Tony Roberts and Don Fay, they were now called Samurai. Legal reasons? Did Tom Harris have the rights to the Web name? I really can’t say, since finding info on bands like this is often very difficult to come by.

Once Web became Samurai, the band was no longer recording for Polydor, but for a far more obscure label, Greenwich. Finding an original LP these days, of course, is practically, forget it, find the CD reissue (Akarma in Italy had most recently reissued it). Honestly I really think Samurai is by and far the finest album Dave Lawson ever played in. I even highly recommend this to those who aren’t much for Greenslade. Greenslade’s music could end up as cheesy at times to some listeners, Samurai avoided all of Greenslade’s cheesy-tendencies. Let’s not forget Dave Lawson’s voice. On those Greenslade albums his singing was often high pitched and strained, here he has a much more pleasant voice in Samurai which really fits the style of music just great.

I’m sure you might detect some of that future Greenslade, but you don’t have Dave Greenslade’s keyboard style, and you also get treated with vibraphone and various wind instruments (saxes, mainly) and nice organ work throughout. This is early ’70s, where many progressive rock bands were still making song-based material, and Samurai was one of them. In fact, I really think the reason progressive rock got such a bad reputation later on was many people felt too many bands abandoned writing great songs in place of showing off their instrumental abilities and how complex they can make their music. I really think this group could’ve ended up being better known were it not for the label they were on. It’s hard for me to describe the album on a song to song basis, but I’ll pick out some of my favorites. “More Rain” is a nice, laid-back piece with nice use of flute. I really like the acoustic passages too. I get reminded a bit of Jade Warrior here. “Maudie James” and “Holy Padlock” are just plain great catchy songs, while “Give a Little Love” has a more aggressive edge. I really like the sax and organ work. “Face in the Mirror” is one of those songs that really grew on me big time, I really like the mellow nature of this song. “As I Dried the Tears Away” is a wonderful, epic closing piece with some great creative passages to go with it.

Samurai broke up after this album. No surprise given they recorded for such a short-lived and obscure label as Greenwich, and probably no longer had the finances to continue one. But that didn’t stop Dave Lawson. Ex-Colosseum members Dave Greenslade and Tony Reeves, with ex-King Crimson and Fields drummer Andy McCulloch brought in Dave Lawson to form Greenslade, who managed four albums between 1973 and 1975, before throwing in the towel at the right time (just right before punk rock came in).

Samurai is truly another great, lost gem of early British progressive rock. I really like the jazzy feel that goes with it, and this is one progressive rock album you can’t call “pretentious” (and we all know every prog rock detractor out there calls this kind of music “pretentious”). It’s nothing but a collection of great songs with interesting use of instruments (organ, wind instruments, and the way the vibraphone is integrated in the music, rather than using it during jazzy solos like many other bands did at the time). I really highly recommend this album!
– Dave Lawson: vocals, keyboards
– Tony Edwards: electric and acoustic guitars
– John Eaton: bass guitar
– Kenny Beveridge: drums
– Lennie Wright: vibes, drums, percussion
– Tony Roberts: tenor sax, concert & alto flutes, bass clarinet
– Don Fay: tenor, alto & baritone sax, concert flute

Julian Jay Savarin: Waiters on the Dance (1971)

Julian Jay Savarin is better known as a sci-fi author, but for a short time, he involved himself in music. He first founded a band called Julian’s Treatment, which was a progressive rock band with lots of ’60s psychedelic overtones. They released an album called A Time Before This (which I have reviewed here on this site), but the group then broke up, with female vocalist Cathy Pruden apparently returning to her native Australia. Julian then recorded that followup to A Time Before This, called Waiters on the Dance, this time under his own name. This time, he recruited ex-Catapilla vocalist Lady Jo Meek. Contrary to popular belief, Lady Jo Meek is not Anna Meek, Jo was Anna’s sister. So there’s no such person as a Lady Anna Jo Meek, as I have often seen in many other reviews of Waiters on the Dance (I should know, because my copy of Catapilla’s self-entitled debut is the 1993 German CD reissue on Repertoire, and it clearly mentioned that Jo Meek left the group to be replaced by Anna). Anna replaced Jo in Catapilla when Jo came to Julian Jay Savarin, and it was Anna who was the one that was on the two albums that group released. Others helping out were bassist John Dover, guitarist Nigel “Zed” Jenkins, and drummer Roger Odell. The album got released on the Birth label, although I hear varying sources say this album was released in 1969 (very doubtful), 1971, or 1973. 1971 sounds about right to me, although there might have been a possibility the album’s released was delayed until 1973 (if so, I’m not surprised, given how difficult it was for lesser known prog rock acts to find a label willing to release their stuff, although the Italian Akarma reissue does say 1971).

Are you a fan of Julian’s Treatement’s A Time Before This? It’s a no-brainer, you need Waiters on the Dance. It’s very much in the same style and sound, but this time around with a more aggressive, harder-edged approach, which I really like. That means I thought it was better than A Time Before This. Guitar is more dominate but Julian still uses plenty of that great organ in that same cosmic style of Julian’s Treatment! Not to mention Jo Meek sounds like Cathy Pruden with more punch (Annie Haslam is another valid comparison). “Child of the Night 1 & 2” starts off calmly enough, with mellow organ and vocals, but then the music really gets intense, with some great guitar playing from Nigel Jenkins. Mellotron pops up. “Stranger” is a short piece, with real strings (the only cut on the album with real strings, as the Mellotron is used elsewhere). “Dance of the Golden Flamingoes” is the album’s instrumental cut, demonstrating the harder-edged approach Julian favored on this album, with lots of nice changes, and some jazzy passages, and the Mellotron. “Cycle” features more great organ playing from Julian, for some reason the organ heard at the beginning reminds me of the title track to Web’s I Spider (1970) album (Web being an early British progressive rock band who changed their name to Samurai in 1971 that featured future Greenslade member Dave Lawson), but then once the female vocals kick in, it sounds like Julian’s Treatment with more punch. I really like that short, but intense bass and organ solo. The album closes with the wonderful “Soldiers of Time”, rather short, but a great way to close the album.

Too bad this was as far as Julian Jay Savarin went in his musical venture, after this he concentrated exclusively on writing novels, which he still does to this day.

This really is one of those great albums that too few know about. Original LPs of course are difficult to come by, but you can thank Akarma in Italy for reissuing this (be aware there was an early reissue of A Time Before This that included material from Waiters on the Dance as bonus cuts, although the more recent Akarma version of A Time Before This simply consisted of just that album). This album simply blew me away, and comes highly recommended.
– Julian Jay Savarin: organ, Mellotron, story, arrangements
– Lady Jo Meek: vocals
– Nigel Jenkins: guitar
– John Dover: bass
– Roger Odell: drums

Skin Alley: Skin Alley (1969)

Skin Alley was an early progressive rock band that consisted of both British and American bands, but residing in Britain. In 1969, the band released their debut album on CBS and they were sure quick to hop on the progressive rock bandwagon, all in the same year of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, Van der Graaf Generator’s The Aerosol Grey Machine, East of Eden’s Mercator Projected, and Colosseum’s Valentyne Suite.

Skin Alley’s debut is certainly a wonderful example of early British progressive rock. “Living in Sin” is a great opening cut, with lots of nice organ work from Krzysztof-Henryk Juskiewicz, flute and sax from Bob James, as well as guitar from Bob himself. It’s such a great opening cut, I can’t think of a better way to open the album! “Tell Me” is a great symphonic piece, complete with Mellotron (Mark II) with the classic strings, as well as brass. I really like how it started off as a ballad, but the pace quickens with the organ and tron brass! “Mother Please Help Your Child” has a more doomy, psychedelic feel with some rather dramatic vocals. “Marsha” is an instrumental jazzy piece dominated by Bob James’ jazzy sax playing and jazzy drumming from Alvin Pope. “Country Aire” is a nice instrumental piece with a baroque feel, complete with harpsichord and flute. “All Alone” has a blues influence, without quite being blues, with some nice trippy organ. “Night Time” is another great symphonic piece complete with Mellotron. I really dig those jazzy passages that end this piece. “Concerto Grosso (Take Heed)” is simply a short interlude on harpsichord that leads to the wonderful bluesy closer, “(Going down the) Highway”. This is one of the better combination of the blues and progressive rock.

Anyway, Skin Alley’s debut is certainly one of the finer examples of early British progressive rock I’ve heard. Constant comparisons go to Jethro Tull and Van der Graaf Generator. I can understand the VdGG comparisons because of the sax, but Tull, I can’t understand. Flute is used, but never in the style of Ian Anderson. I can hear similar style to bands (that existed a little later, around 1970-72) like Gracious, Cressida, Beggars Opera, and even Black Widow (minus the Satanic stuff), meaning if you like any of these groups, you should have no problem with Skin Alley’s debut. While the original CBS LP is very hard to get a hold of, it’s been reissued on CD. Warning: stay away from the 2-for-1 deal that featured this album as well as To Pagham and Beyond (1970), as the debut is missing a cut, that is “Mother Please Help Your Child” (likely because it couldn’t fit on all one CD, although they could’ve put them on two CDs and sold it as a 2-for-1 like BGO did when they reissued both albums from Gracious). Anyway, you’re better off with a CD reissue that contains simply their debut album, like the Akarma reissue.

Certainly this album is one of those obscure classics that deserve your attention, they really deserved more attention!
– Krzysztof-Henryk Juskiewiec: organ, piano, harpsichord, Mellotron, vocals
– Bob James: guitar, alto sax, flute, vocals
– Thomas Crimble: bass, Mellotron, vocals
– Alvin Pope: drums, congas, timpani

The Pentangle: Sweet Child (1968)

The Pentangle sure wasted no time following their great debut with a followup album, in fact, their second album was released later the same year (1968) as their self-entitled debut, and they went way further than you expect a band that barely got started. This second album, Sweet Child was a double album, the first have being a live album, recorded June 29, 1968 at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and the second half a studio effort, recorded at IBC Studios in London, August 1968. This ends up being a rather diverse album, showing the folk, jazz, and blues influences. On many cuts, it’s just vocalist Jacqui McShee with guitarist Bert Jansch, or Bert Jansch with guitarist John Renbourn, or a stand-up bass solo from Danny Thompson, and of course, full group interaction. It’s without a doubt their most daring album and I remembered having to listen to it a few times to “get it”.

OK, let’s start with the live half. Well, it’s common belief that their 1970 album Cruel Sister was their first album to use electric guitars (from John Renbourn), even I stated that in my review of that album on this site. Well, no, it was Sweet Child, as several cuts on the live half of this album features some unmistakable electric guitar from Renbourn, including the opening song, “Market Song”, where Bert and Jacqui share vocals. “No More My Lord” is a great cover of a spiritual, done in a rather nice bluesy fashion with Jacqui’s heavenly voice! “Turn Your Money Green” is the group doing a blues song, showing a more humorous side of the group. Danny Thompson takes on his version of a Charles Mingus song, “Haitian Fight Song”, which is largely a bass solo from Thompson, although drummer Terry Cox is there. Bert Jansch does “A Woman Like You”, perhaps one of the finest songs The Pentangle did without McShee’s voice. I can’t but be failed to be amazed whenever I listen to this! Another Charles Mingus cover is next, “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat”, which, unsurprisingly, is jazzy, where John Renbourn and Bert Jansch duel on guitar. “Three Dances” are a collection of Renaissance-era songs played on guitar, with Terry Cox on glockenspiel. These three songs are “Brenzel Gay”, from 16th century French composer Claude Gervaise, a 14th Century Italian estampie called “La Rotta” (a song I am quite familiar with from a cover done by a Swedish psychedelic/prog act called Älgarnas Trädgård), and 16th composer William Byrd’s “The Earle of Salisbury”. This latter piece sounds familiar like I’ve heard it somewhere else, whatever the case, it sounded like it was originally intended for lute, but works just great on guitar here. “Watch the Stars” is John and Jacqui singing an American children’s song, which has a rather lullaby feel. Jacqui does an unaccompanied Scottish traditional song, “So Early in the Spring”, and I find it just as stunning as “When I Was In My Prime” from Cruel Sister, proving she can hold her own without any band interaction. Bert and John does a remake of a song that appeared on their 1966 album Bert and John called “No Exit” which is obviously a duet. All the live material is brand new, aside from “No Exit”, and most importantly, “Bruton Town”, which appeared on The Pentangle’s self-entitled 1968 debut. This is a traditional English folk song, and it’s a highlight here live, just like it was the highlight on the studio original from their previous album.

Now comes the studio half. The band is back to being all-acoustic, but still being quite eclectic, starting off with the title track, with Bert and Jacqui singing, and John taking lead acoustic guitar. Bert shines on the Scottish traditional “I Loved a Lass”. This ain’t exactly a happy song, because the lyrics don’t have a happy ending, but it’s quite effective. The band experiments with three-part counterpoint, with Bert and John taking on guitar, with Danny Thompson bowing his double-bass this time on “Three Part Thing”. There’s a couple more great covers of traditional English folk songs, including “Sovay” and “The Trees They Do Grow High” with Jacqui’s great and lovely voice. “Moon Dog” is Terry Cox’s number, a percussive piece with him doing vocals. The album closes with an instrumental piece, an instrumental take on Ewan McColl’s “The Big Hewer” which they entitled “Hole in the Cole”, which has a rather jazzy feel and a nice way to end this album.

The gatefold of the original LP includes photos of the band members, including whatever kids they have, or who they’re married to. Danny Thompson is with (I presume) his wife, and a (then) 5-year old son named Danny Thompson, Jr., this Danny Thompson, Jr. would be known for Hawkwind fans as being a drummer for that band in the mid to late ’80s on such albums as The Chronicle of the Black Sword (1985) and The Xenon Codex (1988) (nice to see father and son pursue musical paths, even if they were drastically different).

The back of the LP gives a description of each and every song, making my review all that much easier.

It’s truly a wonderful collection of songs, to demonstrate that The Pentangle was not an ordinary folk act, to say the least!
– Jacqui McShee: vocals
– Bert Jansch: guitars, vocals
– John Renbourn: guitars, vocals
– Danny Thompson: double bass
– Terry Cox: drums, glockenspiel, vocals

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