This is another three disc box set from Grapefruit Records. The baroque pop/art sensibility of these songs still sounds fresh and imaginative 50 years later. Gary Brooker of Procol Harum is quoted in the sleevenotes as saying “There didn’t seem to be any boundaries and if there were, you completely ignored them”. Ignoring boundaries: brilliant. Unless you go to a Supermarket where you must wear a mask.
Disc 1: “Spontaneous Underground”
Disc 1 Track 1 “I Should Have Known” by The Soft Machine. In 1967, this band were known as The Soft Machine but in 1970, they changed their name to Soft Machine. They were named after “The Soft Machine”, a book by William Burroughs using the cut up technique that David Bowie used when recording “Low” and “Heroes”. The theme of the book is how control mechanisms invade the body. This previously unreleased recording exemplifies the cut up technique (the musical parts don’t always seem to fit together well) and the unsettling feeling of the body being invaded by spooky electronic sounds. At the time of recording, the great Kevin Ayers was still a member of the band which had been formed in Canterbury. This was before he quit The Soft Machine (or was fired) after an extensive and exhausting tour of the USA. This track also includes a drum solo from Robert Wyatt. The sessions that produced this track were produced by Georgio Gomelsky who owned The Crawdaddy Club where The Rolling Stones were the house band. He also owned Marmalade records, releasing albums by Brian Augur, Julie Driscoll and members of 10cc. He managed The Yardbirds and produced sessions by Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Graham Bond and Alexis Korner. These sessions were cut short when The Soft Machine’s manager, Mike Jefferies, refused to pay for the studio time. The Soft Machine, along with Pink Floyd, played at The Roundhouse in October 1968 at an event to celebrate the first publication of International Times. An advertising board for IT is still on display at Lewes Football Club. The event was part funded by Barry Miles and Paul McCartney and, as well as the musical events, included a happening by Yoko Ono (two months before she first met John Lennon) as well as readings by William Burroughs.
Disc 1 Track 2 “I’m Waiting For The Man” by The Riot Squad featuring David Bowie. Ken Pitt was responsible for publicising the U.K. tours of Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Jerry Lee Lewis. He moved into management and was successful with Manfred Mann and Cristian St. Peters. In 1967 he became David Bowie’s manager and on a trip to New York in 1966, he met Andy Warhol and Lou Reed who were seeking publicity in the U.K. They gave him an acetate copy of The Velvet Underground first album which Ken Pitt gave to David Bowie on his return. The Riot Squad was a London based band whose membership at various times in their career included Mitch Mitchell (of The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Graham Bonney (who had a Top 20 hit in 1966 with “Super Girl”). At the time of recording this cover, they were a six piece band with David Bowie playing guitar and mouth-harp in a style not dissimilar “Jean Genie”. This was 1966 and do it was quite witty to sing “I’m just looking for a good friendly behind” instead of “I’m just looking for a dear dear friend of mine”. David Bowie also sung “ He gives you sweet taste, then you’ve gotta spit” instead of “then you’ve gotta split” – was this a little joke or did he mishear the lyric?
Disc 1 Track 3 “Conquistador” by Procol Harum. A conquistador was either a knight, soldier or explorer from Spain or Portugal who opened trade routes and/or conquered new territories. In the song, the singer at first mocks a dead conquistador and jeers at his failure but by the end of the song offers pity for a lonely death. This version was on Procol Harum’s first eponymous album and a live version, taken from their 1971 collaboration with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, reached the U.K. Top 30. Gary Brooker, the lead singer and pianist, wrote the music and Keith Reid wrote the lyrics. It wasn’t unusual for bands to have a non-playing member writing lyrics. Pete Sinfield did this for King Crimson, Pete Brown wrote the lyrics for many Cream songs and Larry Beckett co-wrote many songs by Tim Buckley. Gary Brooker is a member of The Countryside Alliance. Matthew Fisher, the organist with Procol Harum win a 2009 court case in which he successfully claimed part writing credits for “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. Five of the members of Procol Harum in 1967 are still alive. Drummer B.J. Wilson died in 1990.
Disc 1 Track 4 “Bypass The By-Pass” by The End. Bill Wyman managed The End and sessions for their “Introspection” included Charlie Watts on tabla and Nicky Hopkins on piano. Despite being recorded in 1967, the album was not released until December 1969 by which time they had changed their name to Tucky Buzzard who went on to release five albums between 1971 and 1973. Terry Taylor was the guitarist with The End. He co-founded The Rhythm Kings with Bill Wyman in 1997 and is still a member. In 1976 he joined The Arrows for their weekly teenage TV programme. Nicky Graham, the keyboard player with The End played on the Ziggy Stardust tour with David Bowie before writing hit songs for The Nolans, Bros and Art & Dec.
Disc 1 Track 5 “World War Three” by Dantalian’s Chariot. This band consisted of Zoot Money, Andy Somers, Pat Donaldson and Colin Allen. Zoot Money was heavily involved with many well known acts in “The Swinging Sixties” (The Animals, Fleetwood Mac, Kevin Ayers etc). He later became the musical director for the BBC series “Tutti Frutti”, starring Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Richard Wilson and the brilliant Maurice Roeves. He also became an actor, appearing in episodes of “Shoestring”, “Bergerac” and that lost classic “Travelling Man”. Andy Somers later changed his name to Andy Summers and was a member of The Police. Pat Donaldson went on to join Fotheringay, Sandy Denny’s post-Fairport band. Drummer Colin Allen went on to join Stone The Crows with Maggie Bell and his Wikipedia page shows him drumming with Focus in 1974.
Disc 1 Track 6 “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” by The Zombies. The 100th best album of all time (according to Rolling Stone in 2003) is “Odessey and Oracle” by The Zombies. They called the baroque psychedelic-pop arrangements “still fresh”, 36 years after its recording. The song was written by Chris White and he was annoyed to find a typo in the song’s title with 1916 mistakenly written as 1914. The battles in 1916 took place in Gommecourt, Thiepval and Mametz Wood and these place names are all mentioned in the song along with a reversed sample of a piece of music written by French composer Pierre Boulez. The song was released as a single in the USA, as the record company thought it would sell to anti Vietnam War protestors.
Disc 1 Track 7 “I Talk To The Wind” by Giles, Giles & Fripp. Brothers Peter and Michael Giles were looking for a keyboard/vocalist to join their band so they hired Robert Fripp who couldn’t sing and played guitar. After releasing one album, Peter Giles dropped out and Greg Lake joined the band who renamed themselves King Crimson. Their first album, “In The Court Of The Crimson King” includes a different version of this song.
Disc 1 Track 8 “Tramcar To Frankenstein” by The Liverpool Scene. The sleeve notes describe The Liverpool Scene as “an anarchic blend of poetry, art, jazz, rock and folk”. Adrian Henri was one of the three poets in the anthology “The Mersey Sound” along with Roger McGough (who was a member of The Scaffold along with Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike). The poem on this track was written and is read by saxophonist Mike Evans. The musical arrangement is by guitarist Andy Roberts, who later went on to form Plainsong with ex-Fairport member, Iain Matthews.
Disc 1 Track 9 “The Battle” by The Strawbs. Everything is connected. Here is how this song connects Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin plays bass. Nicky Hopkins (of everybody but particularly The Rolling Stones) plays piano (he also played on “Bypass The By-Pass” by The End (track 4)). This is an alternative version of the song that closed The Strawbs eponymous first album which was produced by Tony Visconti who produced the vast majority of David Bowie’s albums. The engineer on the album was Gus Dudgeon who produced many of Elton John’s albums. The sleeve photography was by Barry Feinstein who shot the iconic photos for the cover of “All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison as well as the front cover of “The Times They Are A’Changin’” by Bob Dylan. The song features cello player Lionel Ross who also played on “I Am The Walrus”.
Disc 1 Track 10 “Xoanan Bay” by Woody Kern. The lead singer of Woody Kern was Rik Kenton who played bass with Roxy Music for a while and appeared with them when they played “Virginia Plain” on “Top Of The Pops”.
Disc 1 Track 11 “In The Beginning” by Genesis. I know this track really well because it is on the awesome Decca Sampler “Wowie Zowie. The World Of Progressive Music”. Quite possibly, this is the only song by Genesis that I like. The members of the band were 18 years old when this album was recorded.
Disc 1 Track 12 “Wasted Ground (Memento Mori)” by The Velvet Frogs. It’s hard to believe that only two or three acetate copies of this remarkable song were ever manufactured. The song is a successful attempt to reproduce the mood achieved on Nico’s “The Marble Index”. The group were inspired to take their name by their love of The Velvet Underground and Private Eye’s description of Charles Aznavour (which was a parody of Mel Torme’s “Velvet Fog” nickname).
Disc 1 Track 13 “Beyond And Before” by Yes. YES
Disc 1 Track 14 “Druid One” by Third Ear Band. Third Ear Band’s first album, from which this is taken, was produced by Ron Geesin who was heavily involved in the composition of Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother”.
Disc 1 Track 15 “Through The Eyes Of A Child” by Bachdenkel. Not The Moody Blues’ song from “To Our Children’s Children’s Children”, this terrific unreleased single was recorded by a band from Birmingham, whose name was generated by a computer and who spent ten years in France, releasing two albums which were ignored in their own country.
Disc 1 Track 16 “All Over The Country” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. When Arthur Brown submitted this to Polydor for release, they told him “You haven’t got the fucking material. You’re off your fucking rocker”. Surely that was the point? I must ask Peter to discuss this with his good friend Arthur.
Disc 1 Track 17 “Merry Go Round” by Eyes Of Blue. “Up Your Teddy Bear” is a sex satire film starring Julie Newmar (Catwoman in the 60s Batman TV shows). Quincy Jones arranged for Eyes Of Blue to provide the music for the film and this nine minute song was a centrepiece. They later changed their name to The Bloody Welsh.
Disc 2: “Tea On The Lawn”
Disc 2 Track 1 Egyptian Tomb by Mighty Baby. When Mighty Baby played on the same bill as Richard And Linda Thompson at The Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970, members of the band introduced the duo to Sufism. This is a beautiful lilting rock song with harmonies that Teenage Fan Club would be proud of.
Disc 2 Track 2 Banquet by Audience. This group recorded three albums for Charisma with sleeve design by Hipgnosis (who designed seminal album covers for Pink Floyd) and arrangements by Robert Kirby (a friend of Nick Drake’s who arranged his first two albums).
Disc 2 Track 3 To Play Your Little Game by Cressida. Their first gig, in1969, after changing their name from Charge was at The Star Club in Hamburg on a Bill with East Of Eden and Colosseum. The Star Club is famous because it is one of the clubs that The Beatles played in before their recording career started.
Disc 2 Track 4 Parachute by Pretty Things. After recording the first rock opera, “S.F. Sorrow”, Pretty Things recorded an album which was heavily influenced by Side Two of “Abbey Road”. Neither of these albums sold well although they were regarded as masterpieces at the time and still sound great.
Disc 2 Track 5 Crystallised Petard by Rustic Hinge. If anyone ever wondered what would emerge from a band who were heavily influenced by Captain Beefheart and Stockhausen and used to have Arthur Brown as their lead singer, here’s the result. Progressive music at its most tuneless.
Disc 2 Track 6 Vivaldi by Curved Air. The album “Air Conditioning” was the first picture disc album released in the U.K. Darryl Way was the violinist and his seven minute virtuoso playing on “Vivaldi” was widely admired at the time. It’s certainly not lacking in brevity.
Disc 2 Track 7 World Of Ice by Sweet Slag. This band were named after a North Asian plant (sometimes referred to as “sweet flag”) which was commonly used as a psychotropic drug. They were told by the record company that one of the reasons for their lack of success was their name, so they shortened it to Slag. Mick Wright, the leader of the band, described their music as “stock-rock” because of the band’s love of Stockhausen.
Disc 2 Track 8 Mocking Bird by Barclay James Harvest. One of the first signings to EMI’s underground label, Harvest, BJH have released 25 albums and 23 compilation albums. This song was orchestrated by Robert John Godfrey who went on to form The Enid who have had 35 different members during the 44 years of their existence, during which time they released 20 studio albums, 11 live albums and 10 compilation albums. The mellotron formed the basis of BJH’s sound and was played by Stuart (“Woolly”) Wolstenholme who was heavily influenced by Love, Vanilla Fudge and Mahler. It seems that the rock/classical divide was minimised during this era of inventive and experimental musical progression. Thank goodness for The Moody Blues.
Disc 2 Track 9 The Prisoner by Comus. Roger Wootton and Glenn Goring started out by playing acoustic versions of Velvet Underground tracks at folk clubs in Beckenham. Their (successful) audition with the Dawn label involved them playing “Venus In Furs” at a furious pace and climaxed with Roger Wootton cutting himself and splattering blood over the audience. This may have obviated the need to self-harm as a result of enduring the entire song. Lindsay Cooper played bassoon with Comus for a short while and is one of the few females to appear on this disc.
Disc 2 Track 10 Home (Reconstruction) by Nirvana. When Kurt Cobain named his band Nirvana, he was taken to court by this British band of the same name. They had had a hit with “Rainbow Chaser” and played this on French TV, whilst Salvador Dali sprayed black paint over them. Still widely regarded, their subsequent music doesn’t really live up to the possibilities of the single. In my opinion. The following producers/arrangers worked with Nirvana at some point: Tony Visconti (later to work with David Bowie); Chris Blackwell (Bob Marley); Jimmy Miller (The Rolling Stones); Chris Thomas (The Beatles); Brian Humphries (Pink Floyd).
Disc 2 Track 11 Death May Be Your Santa Claus by Second Hand. The title track from a 36 minute art house film written and directed by Frankie Dymon which is possibly the U.K.‘a only Black Power film. Not especially melodic.
Disc 2 Track 12 The Prisoner (Eight By Ten) by Spring. Before becoming Dire Strait’s drummer, Pick Withers was a member of Spring, possibly the only band to have three mellotron players. Disc And Music Echo reviewed their album by describing it as “Amazingly boring music”.
Disc 2 Track 13 Don Alfonso by The Coxhill-Bedford Duo. Lol Coxhill (“he played real good for free”) and David Bedford were members of Kevin Ayers’ backing band, The Whole World and they recorded this ridiculous song which Mike Oldfield (also in The Whole World) would record with David Bedford four years later.
Disc 2 Track 14 Grande Piano by Stackridge. The opening and closing act in the first Glastonbury festival, Stackridge were heavily influenced by The Beatles. Their first John Perl session included a version of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, their third album was produced by George Martin, they later covered “Hold Me Tight@ and when they reformed in the Nineties, they recorded a song called “Something About The Beatles”. This owes a lot to “You Never Give Me Your Money”.
Disc 2 Track 15 Saving It Up For So Long by Samurai. Dave Lawson joined members of The Web to make one album under the name Samurai. He later went on to join the band Greenslade and has subsequently become a well regarded composer of TV and film soundtracks including “Mississippi Burning” and “The Paradise Club”. Even more impressively, he wrote the string arrangement for “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush.
Disc 2 Track 16 No. 2 Psychological Decontamination Unit by Blonde On Blonde. The brilliant sleevenotes by David Wells describe this as “a dust turning sound village incorporating backward tapes and bloodcurdling screams”.
Disc 2 Track 17 Me And My Kite by Fuchsia. Progressive folk doesn’t get more progressive or folky than this.
Disc 3: “The Wind Sings Winter Songs”
Track 1 “Welcome For A soldier” by Deep Feeling. Inspired by King crimson and Yes, this band from Leytonstone sound heavily influenced by “Smile” even though it wasn’t released in 1971. This is not easy listening.
Track 2 “Can I See You” by Open Road. A lovely tuneful song from an unreleased album by Open Road. The band was put together to back Donovan on his 1970 album, “Open Road” and they used this experience as a springboard to form a band.
Track 3 “O Caroline” by Matching Mole. Robert Wyatt had just left Soft Machine. A French translation of “Soft Machine” is “Machine Molle” so he thought it would be amusing to name his new band “Matching Mole”. Also in Matching Mole were Phil Miller who went on to join Hatfield And The North and Dave Sinclair who had just quit Caravan. If you don’t mind Robert Wyatt’s weedy tuneless voice, this is lovely.
Track 4 “Unhinged” by 9.30 Fly. Despite appearing at The Pig Market in Leigh and The Station Hotel in Workington, this band split after just one album. James Honeyman-Scott was just 15 at the time and he later went on to be the highly regarded lead guitarist with The Pretenders before his death (due to “cocaine intolerance”), aged 25, in 1982. When The Pretenders were playing a gig in Milwaukee, Jimmy Scott, as he was know, saw The Violent Femmes busking on the street and he was so taken with them that he urged Chrissie Hynde to let them play a brief acoustic set before The Pretenders appeared. This was The Violent Femmes’ big break. “Unhinged” is a good slow-paced rambling song.
Track 5 “The Machine Grinds On” by Gnome Sweet Gnome. Yet another product of an art college (in this case Ealing), Gnome Sweet Gnome recorded two albums, neither of which got released. This is a humourous, jaunty if bitty song.
Track 6 “No More Sunshine Till May” by As You Like It. Another band who recorded two albums, neither of which was released. Laurence Juber was a member of As You Like It for a short while and subsequently he went on to be a member of Wings. The organ solo on this song is worthy of Keith Emerson.
Track 7 “A Winter’s Tale” by Jade Warrior. The opening track from Jade Warrior’s third album is a lovely, atmospheric relief after the pomp and prog of the previous track.
Track 8 “C. F. D. T. (Colonel Frights’ Dancing Terrapins)” by Bond & Brown. Graham Bond had been a member of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated before forming The Graham Bond Organisation. Pete brown had been the lyricist for Cream before forming Pete brown’s Battered Ornaments. This is a rather heavy song. If Robert Smith had been producing, he would have approved the guitar sound because it’s horrible.
Track 9 “Ship” by Gnidrolog. The band’s name is nearly an anagram of Goldring and they were led by brothers Colin and Stewart Goldring. This is an intense, serious progressive song.
Track 10 “Anvils In Five” by Rupert Hine. Folk duo Rupert and David consisted of David MacIver-Robinson and Rupert Hine, who produced a single by Jon Pertwee called “Who Is The Doctor”. They later went on to make “The Lone Ranger”, a Top 5 single in 1979, credited to Quantum Jump. Rupert Hine went on to produce albums by Kevin Ayers, Rush, Tina Turner, Bob Geldof and many others. The album “Unfinished Picture” was marketed by their record company with the tag “Why the hell should I buy a record I don’t like?” Whether the poor sales reflected a success or failure of their strategy is a moot point.
Track 11 “Upon Composition” by Ron Geesin. Having worked with Pete Townsend, The Third Ear Band and Bridget St. John, Ron Geesin made an extensive contribution to the title track “Atom Heart Mother” by Pink Floyd. This is described as an electro-melodic sound painting.
Track 12 “Growing Up And I’m Fine” by Mick Ronson. This song was written by David Bowie and sounds like it could have come from “Hunky Dory”. It’s excellent and my favourite track on this disc.
Track 13 “Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape” by Be-Bop Deluxe. Another excellent song towards the end of a rather unlikeable disc, the sleevenotes describe this song as “pitched somewhere between the voguish glam-rock sound and guitarist Bill Nelson’s prog-rock apprenticeship“. The video below was made in 2012, 38 years after the original.
Track 14 “Somewhere In Hollywood” by 10cc. Artistic peak or commercial peak? Take your pick. 1975’s “I’m Not In Love” from “The original Soundtrack” was a commercial smash but 1974’s “Sheet Music” is considered by many critics to be superior. Graham Gouldman claims that 10cc took The Beatles to a new direction. Hmmmm.
Track 15 “Mother Russia” by Renaissance. “Kings And Queens” from their first album is one of my all time favourite underground songs. The band was formed by Keith Relf and Jim McCarty from The Yardbirds but they had left the band by the time their fifth album was released. This song features singer Annie Haslam and pianist John Tout (from Rupert’s People who would go on to play piano on John Lennon’s “Crippled Inside”). This is a lengthy dramatic song.