Further evidence that someone else out there is trying to spread the Canterbury word came in the usual roundabout way concerning the Central TV series 'BEDROCK'. Some enlightened soul in Nottingham had seemingly decided that it would be a good idea to channel some funds away from Bullseye, Bob Holness et al, and use then to persuade various Seventies bands to reform, play under blinding stage lights in front of audiences attracted despite dismal publicity, and ultimately to appear on the small screen in the early hours of some midweek morning. As a venture it seems to have met with some degree of success, if we take as examples the three bands which will principally interest readers of FACELIFT, namely HATFIELD AND THE NORTH, GONG and CARAVAN.
Perhaps with the air of disputing Dave Stewart's refutal of any possible Hatfields revival in the last issue, Central TV set about trying to effect exactly such a phenomenon. An extraordinarily bold move: Hatfield and the North, although in their day critically acclaimed, could never have been seen as a big commercial draw, and unlike some of the other bands wooed by Central, had very definitely pulled the plug on any collective output long since. Dave Stewart was contacted initially, and although personally not tempted by the idea, was happy to pass on the news to the other 3 members of the celebrated line-up. And so, the band that appeared in front of the cameras consisted of Richard Sinciair, Phil Miller and Pip Pyle with keyboard player Sophia Domancich. Sophia has appeared alongside Canterbury musicians in the past, most notably with Equip Out and Anaid. She is also Pip Pyle's girlfriend. The Hatfields connoisseur will be sceptical at the absence of Dave Stewart, seen by many as the leading light in the band. However, unlike Caravan this quartet was one of musicians still actively involved in creating new material. Moreover, as Dave Stewart put it, "for the first time ever, Hatfield and the North actually made some money!"
Billed by the TV Times, that noted cultural organ, as 'Jazz at its best', the screening amounted to over an album's worth of original pieces, spliced in between snippets of recognisable ditties such as 'Share It' and 'Didn't Matter Anyway'. The absence of Stewart's distinctive keyboard style, Richard Sinclair's use of a largely fretless bass and a very un-Hatfield style of composition marked the band out as an outfit holding a tenuous musical claim to the Hatfield name, but other elements remained the same as ever: Pip Pyle's omnipresent drumming, the gorgeous voice of Richard Sinclair and Phil Miller's haunting guitar. Miller may be happier seated behind a stack of monitors these days, but hasn't lost his unique talent for grotesque facial histrionics.
'Shipwrecked', a Pip Pyle number, is a good example of the new Hatfields approach, neatly divided into 3 sections: the first, with undulating keyboards, was saved from obscurity by a beautiful vocal melody; the second, a jazz diversion featuring soloing by Sophia Domancich (immediate proof of her talents for the uninitiated): and the third, most definitely the highlight, centred around a grunge bass line with Phil Miller finding new swamps and cesspits for his guitar to wallow in. Pip Pyle's prominent drumming and. some atmospheric keyboards recall recent In Cahoots line-ups.
'Blot', a Sophia Domancich composition emphasised her influence on the band: I found the central theme annoyingly catchy, but as a rhythmic jam under laid-back solos it worked well at times. Again the highpoint was a coda which came almost as an afterthought: beautifully textured waves of sound that faded away far too soon.
Richard Sinclair's 'Going For A Song' seemed a little out of context with much of the rest of the set, comparing unfavourably with more recognised Hatfields' songs and even with other Sinclair -penned ditties of recent years. Perhaps it lacked, as had the divine 'Share It', the keyboards of Dave Stewart to lend it weight. 'Halfway Between Heaven And Earth' on the other hand, a much older track (although new to me), contained all the classic ingredients: a biting guitar solo (doctored to sound like a trumpet), an unusual vocal line punctuated by characteristically throwaway lyrics, and instrumental breaks taking off at tangents. More than one reader has commented since the gig about the studious approach of the 4 musicians to the performance, and the lack of Hatfields humour. At least for- this piece we saw an impromptu jam between drums and bass. 'Didn't Matter Anyway' rounded the set off in a grand manner.
Since the Bedrock gigs have generally extended to a couple of hours before being pared down for the small screen, it would be interesting to know what was omitted from the full set. Whilst the spirit of Hatfield and the North and National Health has been continued in the guise of In Cahoots, a gig such as this remains very such a rarity, particularly with such a large proportion of new material. As far as I know, the band does not intend to continue to work in this format. although since the musicians work together in various other bands (In Cahoots, Equip Out), we may yet see some of the material aired here resurface.
Gong's appearance on Bedrock a couple of weeks later (it was actually filmed on the 20th April) was probably the closest we have come to the full Gong re-union we were promised a couple of years back. The Gong Maison band which went out on the road the following month played largely different set but demonstrated the phenomenal interest the band is attracting at the moment.
Reputedly all the Gong Maison shows were Sell-Outs, despite the step-up to intermediate venues such as Manchester's International made from previous tours. If the Manchester crowd was typical, then Gong Maison might been better-advised to have played the sort of retrospective material that appearedas the Bedrock gig: of all Daevid Allen's musical offerings (Gong Maison played a contrasting set of acoustics and electronics, not to mention poetry), the perennial favourites are taken from 'Camembert Electrique' and the 'Trilogy' albums. The 're-union' line-up was eventually settled as Daevid Allen (glissando and rhythm stepped in when Pierre Moerlen was too ill to appear, allowing the band to subtly change their billing from the 'classic' to the 'original' line-up. At the sane time, there was also a strong Here and Now element: Keith Missile provided the bass as he's done on Gong Maison tours, and it was good to see two musicians from more meaningful line-ups of Here and Now than today's jaded clubtrotters. Twink, the replacement on the night for another distant Gong relative, Ed Ozric, pre-dated Gavin da Blitz op keyboards in the original Here and Now, and has also been involved with Hawkwind and Steve Hillage. He is not to be confused with psychedelic guru Twink, of the incomparable Fairies, also enjoying something of a revival.
I digress. The full gig featured huge chunks of material from the Trilogy albums, although lamentably little from 'You', except for the unscreened 'Master Builder', preceded by swirling keyboards and some Gilli Smyth poetry before the more familiar chanting.
Those present at Central TV studios care away describing the gig in various degrees of superlatives; on screen I think many people were a little shocked by the advanced ages of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth which seers a fairly 'odd way to judge the merits of the band. The visual side of Gong has always been important. Again, as with Hatfield and the North, the musicians with Gong are still very such involved with live performances, and for Daevid Allen this appearance could well have been the fruits of 2 years of considerable energy and hard graft which has seen the popularity of Gong rise to new heights.
The televised version of events probably didn't really take off until the second half of the show, when the long medley from 'Angel's Egg' and the track 'Flying Teapot' allowed the band to develop the sort of cosmic Jan most people would associate then with: all-embracing layers of sound incorporating space whisper, glissando guitar and keyboards, but most particularly the expressive soloing of Didier Malherbe. With Twink and Steffysuch employed to create backdrops, Malherbe was given frequent centrestage, most dynamically during the encore using a heavily treated sax to put create all the trappings of a classic keyboard solo. A dispensation was given to more recent Gong directions with the closing chant 'You Are I And I Am You', a piece ancient in origin but wholly relevant to the homeliness of recent Daevid Allen gigs. A truly moving finale.
Caravan's appearance at the Central studios on 24th July will be screened as part of the second Bedrock series along with the likes of Asia, Rick Wakeman and Curved Air. The original line-up of Richard and David Sinclair, Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan was featured, with timely additions from Jimmy Hastings on sax and flute. Given the fact that only Richard Sinclair from this band is still predominantly involved with music, the band played a blinding set that showed little sign of rustiness. This was no doubt helped by the fact that the band had played a handful of warm-up gigs, including the Canterbury festival.
This was the only one of the Bedrock gigs I was able to get to, and as the first time I'd oen Caravan was always going to make an impression. That said, it was an indisputably fine performance: both vocalists have retained strong voices, with Pye Hastings particularly surprising me in soaring uninhibited through the opener 'Behind You'. Selection of material was happily dominated by pieces from the original collaborations, with the bands playing all the tracks from 'In the Land Of The Grey and Pink', and the highlight was, as expected, 'For Richard'. The lengthy crescendo towards the celebrated keyboard riff provided the night's most uplifting moment. I'll always be biased towards the lengthier instrumental compositions and any excuse to hear that Sinclatr voice ('Winter Wine' was as a
outstanding), but the whole set was superb.
The live sound during the first half of the performance seemeed to favour rhythm guitar detriment of organ and saxophone, but I was lucky enough to see Central's tape after the gig and presumably this will be rectified for the screening. The mix was a shame, because it obscured the vibrant soloing of Jimmy Hastings, very such an integral part of the show (and who ono reader, with some degree of accuracy, compared to John Gielgud!)
Unlike the Hatfields' performance (which attracted reputedly only 40 people, many there under the impression that it was a heavy metal gig!), the appearance of Caravan was well publicised and one presses that there will be no need for the audience overdubs which accompanied the former. Rumours abound that, quite separate to the Central transmission some of this gig nay appear as a live album. Caravan are continuing to play the occasional gig wherever it has been possible to promote them, and it's good to see that organisations such as Sonic Relief are active in this. Whether the band will be performing any new material in the future (as Richard Sinclair for one is certainly keen to do), remains to be seen.