record reviews

these reviews first appeared in issue 18 in May 1998

Voiceprint VP165 CD

Former collaborator with Peter Blegvad in the Slapp Happy/Henry Cow alliance, now perhaps better known as latter day lyricist for the Pink Floyd.

Moore recorded this album in 1977, but: it was deemed unsuitable for release during the punk boom and has languished in the vaults until now. Among those involved in its creation were Kevin Ayers, Andy Summers, Eddie Sparrow, David Bedford, Amanda Parsons and Peter Blegvad.

As often, Voiceprint offer no hard data - no recording dates or musicians involved on individual tracks - even the track listing is wrong (sigh). The accompanying blurb describes 'Out' to be a stunning showcase of musical textures riffs and lyrical wonderment - a -somewhat over-the-top assessment, but fairly accurate.

Three of the most noteworthy efforts are the opening track, 'Stitch in Time, featuring an oriental riff of compelling complexity, 'Johnny's Dead; the old Slapp Happy single possibly revamped, and a cover of fifties crooner Perry Como's 'Catch A Falling Star'. Bedford certainly did the string arrangements for these last two numbers, so it's possible Ayers was involved as well. It certainly sounds like his lumpy base playing on the latter (no lumpy vocals unfortunately).
The rest of 'Out' features left-field pop with overlaid vocal harmonies of the sort Eno was doing in 1975. No wonder Moore changed his style so drastically on the follow-up album, but that's another story.

Barry H King

Canterbury Knights
Voiceprint VP187CD

Although this is the first time any of this material has reached the racks, hearing these tracks piped through the CD player is like revisiting an old friend, as anyone shrewd enough to have checked out Mark Hewins Canteresque cassettes will tell you. Putting it into some sort of historical perspective is, even more revealing: think what was happening back In 1976-7, when these recordings, date from, amongst the bands we all know and love. The Soft Machine and Gong were shedding their last remaining founder member, and carving out structured jazz rock far removed from their roots. Most of Caravan had disappeared off into Camel, whilst Robert Wyatt had just disappeared. The Hatfields had disbanded, National Health were still finding their feet and most of the best jazzy stuff from the Hopper/Dean/Gowen/Pyle axis was still to come.

Meanwhile, where better to look  for the thriving soul of the Canterbury scene than in Canterbury itself? I'm not sure many people did. If they had done, they would have found a collection of musicians performing locally and producing some excellent music, rock-based, but with a nimble jazz touch about it. With credentials too: Graham Flight had been an original member of the Wilde Flowers, Dave. Sinclair (of course) from the Flowers, Hatfields, Matching Mole and principally Caravan. 20 years on other names are now familiar: Mark Hewins, then 'just' a guitarist but now so much more him the whole Canterbury scene, and Vince Clarke, a drumer who would crop up again with Golng Going in the early Nineties.  Hewins, Clarke and Flight (on bass) underpin every track perrformed here - the appeances of Dave Sinclair, Max Metto and Geoff Corner (saxes) and Jon  Rowe (flute) are more sporadic, but there's a homogenous feel to the entire album, whatever the personnel. Even the name has its history - 'The Polite Force', pun and all, was the title of the second Egg album.

I'm sure that 'Birdworld', which kicks off the album, was chosen as such because it is pure 'Canterbury'-style - almost Hatfields -with-horns, with its quirky tune and rhythm. But that's maybe a bit misleading - this band has its own particular trademarks: on earliest recording tracks they are the dry, slightly flattened tones of Max  Metto, a Cameroon sax player who exudes feeling. Dave Sinclair too, on electric piano, accompanies with a looseness not always evident with Caravan, but still finds space to squeeze in solos on, say, 'Childsplay'. Hls contributions are ironically closest to those of his replacement in Caravan, Steve Miller on 'Waterloo Lily' - listen to 'They shoot Indians (in Brazil)' under Mark Hewins' Santana-like soloing and you'll see what I mean. Hewins reveals himself as an extremely fluid jazz/blues guitarist (look no further than 'Solitude' or 'Arabadnaz' ), something you'd neither associate with the Canterbury scene, as a whole, or even the direction his own work takes nowadays. As the band progressed, they clearly gained in confidence and polish, as a cursory glance at the two versions of 'Food of the Gods' - the second entitled `Gruel for the Slobs (!) will reveal. Hewins adds effects to his guitar, Flight and Clarke fancy frills to their rhythm work, and Metto's replacement Geoff Corner is just as effortless. The early recordings are probably still more memorable, however, thanks to Metto's so distinctive style, and the extra dimension of having Dave Sinclair on board.

For the most part there is something delightfully playful and relaxed about the Polite Force's style - borne, I'm sure, out of fairly regular gigging and rehearsing. Low-key it may seem, but it is remarkably good music. Shame they never made it big - they were certainly good enough in their own idiosyncatic way.

Blueprint BP246CD

A true classic of the Canterbury genre and it nearly didn't make it. Other than some long lost demos, Quiet Sun were never recorded during their life-time, it was only when guitarist Phil Manzanera became rich and famous after joining Roxy Music that a Quiet Sun album became possible.

Formed around 1970 whilst still at school in South London, the line-up was Manzanera with Bill MacCormick (bass) and Charles Hayward (drums), later augmented by Dave Jarrett (keyboards). Unfortunately, record companies were not interested in their brand of complex and highly arranged prog-rock and the band subsequently faded away after a couple of years. Bill MacCormick teamed up with old friend Robert Wyatt in Matching Mole, Charles Hayward pursued his won maverick musical direction and Dave Jarrett became a maths teacher. After a couple of successful years in the stylish rock'n'roll that was the early Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera took time out to record his first solo album, the excellent Diamond Head. He also decided to temporarily reform his old band, so in January 1975 between his own sessions, using off peak studio time and after several weeks of hard rehearsal, Quiet Sun finally recorded their debut album.

Their palette of sound was expansive mainly due to Phil Manzanera's innovative guitar techniques and producer Brian Eno's treatments. 'Sol Caliente' develops Into a Manzanera tour de force, his playing is rarely what you would call orthodox, scratchy riffs, clusters of single notes, distortion, feedback etc. The menacing opening section actually appears in its own right as 'Lagrima' on Diamond Head and also opens the '801 Live' album under the same title.
Overall the composing is split fairly evenly between all four musicians, Charles Hayward being responsible for the shortest and the longest. At 1.30 minutes 'Trumpets with Motherhood' is by some way the shortest piece and is a rather silly mix of drums and kazoos, or perhaps I missed the point. Two Dave Jarrett compositions follow. The main theme of `Bargain Classics' Is a Ratledge-esque fuzz organ riff interspersed with heavily distorted guitar noises and riffs, yet despite Manzanera's off the wall contributions the whole piece is actually a pretty formal arrangement.

This fades directly into 'RFD', a sublime Jarrett solo effort wherein multi tracked keyboards and minor chords produce a melancholy atmosphere in contrast to the high excitement of 'Bargain Classics' before. Alas Dave Jarrett is a now dormant musical talent, do his maths students know about his previous existence? `Mummy was an Asteroid, Daddy was a Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil' is t he bizarre title of the only Bill MacCormick tune. A chunky opening riff, also recycled on '801 Live', and lots of Eno treatments lead into a spiky organ solo from Dave Jarrett, again rather in the. Mike Ratledgemould, but that's no bad thing. The final coda is a host of harmonising guitars building to a harsh rounding climax with an abrupt ending.

Phil Manzanera's Fender Rhode piano Introduces 'Trot', followed by a superb distorted backwards guitar effect that brings in the main theme. A beautiful piano solo from Dave Jarrett in the middle section builds with ringing guitars to another intense Manzanera solo. Finally we have Charles Hayward's 'Rongwrong' the only song on the album and at 9.39 the longest piece. The opening section sounds a bit like Gentle Giant in places, a few stops and starts in true progrock fashion and notable for some excellent piano from the composer . The vocals put me in mind of Robert Wyatt and the lyrics appear to be from the Eno school of word association. I suppose what I am saying is that I don't know what he's singing about but it sounds good. The middle piano/organ/ bass section develops into a tour de force for the bass of MacCormick before returning to the vocals and final coda with Manzanera once again prominent.

So there we have it, at last available in digital format, a terrific album with a few familiar reference points but overall Quiet Sun never really sounded quite like anybody else. Within the band was a considerable amount of underrated talent, perhaps only Phil Manzanera really came close to fulfilling his potential. A compulsory purchase for Facelift readers.
Stephen Yarwood

In Search of A Simple Life

My first real introduction to the recorded  work of Mark Robson was probably the Magick Brothers, the collaboration between him, Daevid Allen and Graham Clark. However it's fair to say that his appeal didn't really truly strike home until I got hold of his three solo cassettes 'A Celtic Dreaming', 'Magental Moon', and 'Take Time To Dream'. Even allowing for the many charms, particularly live, of his band Kangaroo Moon, that early work is hard to beat.

So it's perhaps fitting that his first CD to enjoy a release outside the Kangas' own network reverts to the solo format, all haunting whistles, didgeridoo growls and Robson's sensitive piano work. Not that this is strictly a 'solo' piece, but the album's feel is often different to those of Kangaroo Moon. From the start, with 'The Enchanted Place, building layer upon layer of Robson's own instrumentation, the mood is tranquil and reflective. When the pulse does quicken, the celtic airs are to the tunes of pipes, rather than violins - witness the superb break-out from the bagpipes on 'Duke Gordon's Reel', from the piece's initial drone. The few genuine songs on this album in contrast are downbeat and balladeering, best of which are the harmonics on 'The Philosopher's Stone'.

But my copy of this CD is semi-permanently  programmed to t rack 4 - the wonderful 'Fluoro Buffalo', which immediately departs from any norm with its gentle African rhythmic theme (whether this is percussive or string-based I still cannot decipher) and builds into a beautifully orchestrated collage. of sounds, king of which is the gliss guitar of Daevid Allen. Of Daevid's many talents, I still maintain that one of this greatest (and certainly the most underrated), is the unique voice he gives the glissando - and her is probably the finest moment of this instrument's finest exponent. This being the keypoint of the album, the piece even has time to quicken in pace into a stirring percussive number, before drifting off on layers of synths into the distance.

Another high point is, scarcely creditably, 2 minutes of a single didgeridoo note entitled 'Water Tank' - listen to Robson go through the full range of tones, textures and sound effects and marvel. In spirit, the ideas are repeated on `The Roaring Forties', when to the didg are added wild percussion and whistles: there's an untamed spirit in there trying to get out. But then that's always been the Mark Robson mix, alternating between the celtic polarities of jig and ballad. If Kangaroo Moon are happier doing the former, Mark Robson's solo forte is the latter, and on `In Search of a Simple Life' he adds so much more besides.

Rogue  Element
Ogun OGCD103 B

Mark Hewins once memorably described Soft Heap as 'a living branch of the Soft Machine'. And quite possibly they were (and occasionally still are), even though in their most recent incarnation they contained only Elton Dean from the many banks of machinists past and present. Not underrating their many merits, but I'd put Soft Head (note the subtle difference in name) in a more direct lineage.

'Rogue Element', a delicious slice of late Seventies, Canterbury crossover, recorded live somewhere in France, has finally surfaced on CD for the first time, complete with additional sections from the performance.. Lucky us! The Soft Heap band (Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, Alan Gowen, Pip Pyle) had formed in early 1978 (and would return in this format later in the year to record a studio album), but, shorn of their drummer, recruited Dave Sheen for a French tour including this recording. And so 'heap' became 'head', and here is the evidence of a loose, extremely relaxed band going very much down the jazz road.

It's an extremely 'up' album (and I'd say Pip Pyle's album of that name is its closest parallel and manages to convey a free spirit without ever straying too far from the tighter structures you'd associate with Hopper and Gowen in particular. And that means that whilst Dean and Gowen take time out to solo melodically, the rest of the band are deftly keeping everything else in place.

'Seven For Lee' kicks off the album in wonderful style. Elton Dean's tune, splendidly enough performed with massed brass on his 'Happy Daze' album is here immediately pared down to quartet size, with Gowen's crashing electric piano providing more of a jazz-rock feel than the original. Not that Dean disapproves, judging by the break-out from one of his finest themes into a perfectly weighted solo. This is perhaps Soft Machine's 'Fifth' album taken seven years forward, with the exuberance of Dave Sheen's drumming showing just a hint of the spirit of Wyatt the drummer from even further back. That spirit is carried through into the final track, another Elton Dean composition 'One Three Nine', with again a delightfully light touch.

In between there are elements familiar and otherwise to those knowledgeable about this era of the Hopper/Dean chronology - 'Seven Drone', first aired on their 'Cruel But Fair' album with Tippett/Gallivan, starts off with scattered keyboard effects, hints at a dip into the Hatfields track 'Calyx' and then, just when it seems to be going off the rails, dives off into a short moment of typical Alan  Gowen - 'Remain So' - one moment tightly choreographed, with bass, drums and sax all tapping out an intricate theme, and the next allowing the keyboards and then bass to the fore.

For those of you with original copies of `Rogue Element', this is where things start to differ. Presumably true to the running order of this gig, we have spliced in here two extra tracks. 'Ranova' had me baffled - Elton Dean's sax theme painfully familiar, the track title not so, until I sussed the awful pun. The original, `Terra Nova', appears on the Soft Heap LP -'Ranova' is more rambling (stretching to nearly 17 minutes) and much more relaxed. The second new piece is 'C You Again', unusual for an Alan Gowen piece in that it is the sax that leads out, but much more familiar once the brooding Hopper/Gowen partnership starts to build up the backdrop. Something of a curio in how it finishes, this track, but we're back on surer ground with 'CRRC', a lazy, reflective piece for the most part, with warm sounds all round. Etton Dean sounds like he's playing in his sleep! It's effortless, almost background jazz (with one halfconvincing attempt to break away in the middle), but overall, wonderfully effective. And then on to the more upbeat finale with 'One Three Nine'.

In many ways, this mid/late Seventies period of Canterbury music is its most fascinating - if the early 80s were the lowest ebb, then at least the period before had a large number of low-key collaborations to titillate those who could reach them. With the likes of Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, Pip Pyle, Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair and Alan Gowen often converging at the jazzier end of the Canterbury scene there are a number of albums vying to be the best from a little known but fruitful era. I'd say `Rogue Element' wins by a short head.

Police Academy
Virgin CDV 2846

'Strontium 90, Strontium 90, I want to live to see 1989', ranted Sting on the one-off Radio Actors release 'Nuclear Waste'. And as anyone who's studied their Gong or Pete Frame family trees will tell you, the first time that the three members of the Police played together live was, was as a part of Strontium 90, the fourth member of whom was Gong bassist Mike Howlett. The gig was the May 1977 Gong reunion festival, where each member of the classic line-up brought along their current bands. It turns out that the four had already been into the studio to lay down a few tracks. This CD releases for the first time both live and studio tracks.

The irony of the Police's subsequent path to stardom was of course that these blonde bombshells, pin-ups on many an adolescent's bedroom wall, riding the new wave of the time, had mostly come out of the reviled prog rock era. Andy Summers with, amongst others Kevin Ayers and, much earlier, the Soft Machine; Stewart Copeland with  Curved Air. Only Sting's copybook wasn't blotted in that sense (although the Radio Act:ora single with musicians from Gong arid Hawkwind would come later in the summer), but then his background was equally unlikely - jazz.

'Police Academy' consists of 5 tracks which were presumably recorded as demos, (with their prog credentials no label would touch them), 3 taken from that May Paris gig, and one rather special addition, more of which later. Mike Howlett writes most of the tracks which nevertheless show some of the characteristics of later Police work - notably the aggressive streak (this is definitely no prog rock band) and the odd funk rhythm ('Electron Romance').

But equally this is a different band in many ways to the Police. For a start we have a different composer for most tracks, and if Sting's two group tracks ('Visions In the Night' and '3 O'clock Shot') are amongst the moat original compositions, then Howlett's 'Lady of Delight' for example, is fairly standard rock fare I wouldn't have associated with Police songwriting. Plus there is an extra body to add to the equation, leading to a different sound, one effect being that, with Mike.Howlett on bass, Sting doubles up on guitar, on bass, or concentrates on vocals. Certainly the Police of the future would have a much tighter, less cluttered sound.

Best of the Howlett tracks is 'Towers Tumble', a grumbling, spacious piece, where guitar effects and scattered drumming abound, and the vocalist, which I assume to be the author himself, treats his voice to a few echoes and then provides some memorable meandering bass solo lines. On the live version of 'Electron Romance', it is he again who provides the aquatic bass solo sounds, whilst Sting lays down the steady rhythm. In fact the live versions show the band in a different light, with Andy Summers becoming the soloing livewire that puts the listener more in mind of his previous work than what was up ahead.
The special addition mentioned above is in fact, an acoustic solo Sting version of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', fitted in the middle for no more reason than it was produced by Mike Howlett at the start of the two's musical relationship (and, dating from autumn "76, predates all other tracks). Whilst no great fan of Sting's often indulgent solo work, his occasional performance with just voice and acoustic guitar can be breathtaking, and this simple airing of a later Police standard is quite stunning.

In no way could you bracket 'Police Academy' alongside the music of the band who graduated and went on to dominate the charts in the late Seventies. But such a comparison might be a bit unfair. Better to enjoy this CD not only as a view into how they originated, but as a fleeting insight into Mike Howlett the bandleader.