Ian A. Anderson Please Re-Adjust Your Time: The Early Blues & Psych-Folk Years, 1967-1972 Cherry Red/Cherry Tree CRTREEBOX025
Ian A. Anderson is well-known as the editor of FRoots magazine and an authority on English folk and world music. This comprehensive four-disc box-set of his music career pulls together his debut albums and charts his transformation from English bluesman to today’s folk performer.
Hailing from Weston-Super-Mare (famous for John Cleese, Jeffrey Archer, and Ritchie Blackmore), Anderson cut his teeth in the burgeoning West Country folk and blues scene. He moved to Bristol in 1965 and established a highly successful club, and by the time his debut album (Stereo Death Breakdown by Ian Anderson’s Country Band) was recorded in 1968, he was living in London. The album was picked up by Island Records, and a track was included on the Island sampler You Can All Join In. At this point Jethro Tull’s management told Island that they couldn’t have a solo artist with the same name as their own band’s leader on the label, and Anderson was dropped. The release was taken up by Liberty Records (and an A was added to Anderson’s name so as to avoid further confusion with Tull’s flautist bandleader).
Superficially, Stereo Death Breakdown doesn’t look to have much in common with the companion albums in this well-curated box. However, they are all united by Anderson’s superb finger-picking technique. Although on his first album the twenty-one-year-old West Country singer channels the spirit of the Mississippi Delta, he wasn’t the only traveller on this journey: the purer blues form kick-started the careers of Fleetwood Mac, the aforementioned Jethro Tull and Earth (later to become Black Sabbath). This album is an enjoyable romp through classic blues filtered via the West Country and London, and the disc’s bonus tracks include the EPs that Ian recorded during this period. It’s fascinating to hear how fully-rounded his guitar technique already was at this stage.
Moving back to Bristol in 1969 and immersing himself in the more English side of the contemporary music scene, Anderson abandoned his major record deal with Liberty. He jettisoned his second album project (although some tracks from it appear on disc two and three as bonus material), and by 1970 he had founded an independent label in Bristol, The Village Thing, with John Turner (no relation), manager of the Troubadour and bassist in the Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra. The resulting album Royal York Crescent, named after a famous road in Clifton Village where the label was based, contained the first signs of the singer-songwriter skill that he would later hone. The music on this album was debuted (pre-release) in a performance with Ian Hunt at Worthy Farm for the first Glastonbury Festival. The album track that gives the anthology its name is a standout, as is Working Man. The lo-fi recording technique brings all the material to life in great style and gives the album an intimate feel: it sounds as if he is in the room with you. Amongst the bonus tracks, Combustion Engine Rag testifies to Anderson’s developing environmentalism.
A Vulture Is Not a Bird You Can Trust, released in 1971 and recorded at the legendary Rockfield studios, refines Anderson’s new sound and highly individual songwriting approach —particularly on tracks One More Chance, The Survivor, and Number 61. He is joined by musicians including drummer Pick Withers (later of Dire Straits), in a fusion of diverse influences that creates an album of great music.
The mix of folk and psych is particularly impressive on disc four, the album Singer Sleeps on as Blaze Rages (the title was taken from a Bristol Post headline about a house fire that Anderson had slept through). It contains the wonderful Shirley Temple Meets Hawkwind, which blends all his influences into one esoteric whole, whilst the cover version of the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black is also a triumph of musical dexterity. Partly recorded at Rockfield Studios and The Village Thing’s Bristol studio, this is the culmination of Anderson’s solo journey to date, a record both of its time and timeless. After this stage of his career Anderson joined Maggie Holland to form the duo Hot Vultures. Their previously unreleased early demos finish off the box set.
This is a fantastic collection, highlighting someone who had the imagination to move away from his major record’s label vision and follow his own instinct. After performing in many different bands, Anderson has come full circle: since 2017 he has once again been pursuing a successful solo career in Bristol. This epic box tells the first part of his musical story.
Family A Song For Me Esoteric/Cherry Red ECLEC22790
From Esoteric, purveyors of fine remasters, comes a newly restored double disc edition of Family’s third album, originally released in 1970.
After blasting onto the scene with the powerhouse vocals of Roger Chapman and bassist Ric Grech, the band faced a turbulent few months following the success of their first two albums. Grech left the group to join Eric Clapton’s Blind Faith project, and after replacing him with Jim Weider, they returned to the studio to record this album. However, founder member Jim King then left halfway through, and so he was replaced with John ‘Poli’ Palmer, who had been in both Blossom Toes and Eclection. The change in sound is evident across the album: although King had recorded some sax parts, the band wiped them all and replaced them with Palmer’s vibes and flute. The rocky Love’s a Sleeper is a duel between Palmer’s vibes and Robert Townsend’s drums, accompanied by Chapman’s unique vocals, while the powerful opening track Drowned in Wine contrasts with the instrumental OK J, reminiscent of guitarists like John Renbourn.
The mammoth nine-minute-plus title track was recorded live in the studio. Roger Chapman says in the sleeve notes that they had worked it out on stage, developing it from a jam into the track that we hear on the album, all the superfluous soloing excised. It sounds raw and vibrant, a remarkable piece of music with plenty of funk, rock, and everything else thrown in to create a dramatic close to an album considered one of their finest. This expanded edition includes the two singles and B-sides released in 1969 and 1970, whilst the second disc features two sessions recorded in 1969 and 1970 respectively for BBC radio. These performances give us an idea of how the band came across on stage. If Family’s studio recordings convey a barely-controlled power, the live versions don’t just showcase the quality of the songwriting, but also capture an awe-inspiring stage presence.
The debate still rages as to whether Family were rock, blues, progressive, or other, but in the end the label doesn’t really matter. This superb material speaks for itself.
Hawkwind Dreamworkers of Time: The BBC Recordings 1985-1995 Cherry Red/Atomhenge ATOMCD31049
Now heading past their fiftieth anniversary, legendary space-rockers Hawkwind show no signs of slowing down. Part of Atomhenge’s remastering of their recorded output from 1976 onwards, this brand new three-disc boxed set contains everything that the band recorded for the BBC between 1985 and 1995. After a rocky start to the eighties, by 1985 the band had found a renewed sense of purpose and a stable line-up, with founder Dave Brock firmly in control.
Newly remastered, with sixteen previously unreleased tracks, this set is a real treat. It contains two complete concerts on separate discs: their barnstorming Reading Festival set recorded in 1986 for the Radio One Rock Show, and a gig at the Hammersmith Apollo recorded for BBC Radio One In Concert. The one-hour-long Reading Festival set allowed them to interweave old and new into a sublime performance, blowing the audience away with classics Assault and Battery, Silver Machine and Needle Gun alongside more recent tracks like Brainstorm and Magnu/Angels of Death. Both band and crowd sound like they’re having a fantastic time.
Disc two, recorded on the Xenon Codex 1988 tour, features tracks from that album alongside a sprinkling of older material like Sonic Attack. Long-standing drummer Richard Chadwick anchors the band, who perform as a tight unit. The mix of guitar and synths (the latter particularly important for this version of Sonic Attack, which shows how the improvement in technology over the years shaped the band’s sound) gives tracks like The War I Survived an immense live impact. With Brock fronting on vocals, the band had removed the theatrics of the Calvert era to focus purely on the show. The box-set is essential purely on the basis that it contains this concert’s first CD release.
Disc three mops up sessions for the Friday Rock Show in 1985 and the Mark Radcliffe Show in 1995, containing newer material from Hawkwind’s later albums. The collection’s title track signposts the band’s direction towards the end of the decade, when they would reclaim their place at the forefront of space-rock. By the time of the Mark Radcliffe sessions, the band was down to Brock, bassist Alan Davey, and drummer Richard Chadwick, with Ron Tree on vocals. They blaze through a cracking session including the blinding The Right to Decide, and an absolute belter of an eight-minute medley (Death-Trap/Wastelands of Sleep/Are You Losing Your Mind?) This is another meticulously curated addition to the Hawkwind back catalogue from Cherry Red/Atomhenge, showcasing a band whose live performances never disappoint.
Caravan It’s None of Your Business MADFISH SMACD1212
Canterbury legends Caravan, another band who have been going for half a century, returned last October with their first studio album in eight years.
Led by founding member Pye Hastings (guitar/vocals), with long-standing members Geoffrey Richardson (viola, mandolin, guitar), Jan Schellhaas (keyboards), Mark Walker on drums, and guest bassist Lee Pomeroy, the album was recorded in July 2021 near Sittingbourne in Kent.
These ten new tracks show that the band have lost none of their energy, with Hastings’ song-writing as strong as ever. The opener Down from London celebrates freedom from lockdown, whilst the title track sounds as good as anything Caravan have ever recorded: ten minutes of beautifully pastoral progressive rock, with the trademark viola, wonderful keyboard work, flute played by Jimmy Hastings (Pye’s brother), and suitably acerbic lyrics from Pye himself.
This album is an absolute gem from start to finish, the beautiful If I Were to Fly nestling alongside pieces such as Every Precious Little Thing and There is You. There’s lots here for Caravan aficionados and newcomers alike to love.
The Strawbs The Broken Hearted Bride Esoteric ECLEC2783
Part of Esoteric’s project to remaster and reissue The Strawbs’ Witchwood Media catalogue, The Broken Hearted Bride was a studio album made in 2008 by the legendary Hero & Heroine line-up of David Cousins, Dave Lambert, Chas Cronk, John Hawken, and Rod Coombes.
After this configuration reunited to tour in 2004 (nearly thirty years after they had last recorded together on Ghosts), this line-up of The Strawbs hit the live arenas and festivals, including a blinding performance at 2007’s Cropredy Festival which I was lucky enough to see. Buoyed by this success, they returned to the studio with producer Chris Tsangarides. The influence of the trio The Acoustic Strawbs (Cronk, Cousins, and Lambert) can be felt, a live vibe coming through in the studio recordings.
This record is the first classic Strawbs album of the twenty-first century. Every song is a winner, beginning with the strident opener The Call to Action, a fine piece of observational writing by Cousins in which the Gulf War and the 2005 London terror attacks loom large. The emotive Deep in the Darkest Night was written as a tribute to Cousins’ brother, who had recently passed away. Dave Lambert’s Shadowland is a wonderfully brooding rock song, while the Cousins-Cronk collaboration Too Many Angels is a joy. This tour de force line-up had no desire to rehash past glories and instead built on their mid-seventies legacy, in the process enhancing it. John Hawken was unwell during the album’s recording, so the re-recording of the classic track We’ll Meet Again Sometime was included for him. The bonus tracks include the original demo of Cronk’s Too Many Angels, and Dave Lambert’s home demo of You Know As Well As I.
This excellent remaster, with copious sleeve notes by David Cousins, captures The Strawbs as a continuing musical force fifty-odd years after they first formed. As last year’s excellent album Settlement shows, this is a band who still have a lot to say.
Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley Marscape Esoteric ECLEC2782
Recorded and released in 1976 by composers and jazz musicians Jack Lancaster (sax and flutes) and Robin Lumley (piano/keyboards), with guest musicians including Phil Collins (drums/percussion), Morris Pert (percussion), John Goodsall (guitars), and Percy Jones (bass), this album is often seen as a forerunner of the English jazz fusion group Brand X (of which Jones, Lancaster, Lumley, and Collins were founder members). However, as the informative sleeve notes point out, this album was recorded long before Brand X were thought of, and it was only natural that these members of the small jazz fusion scene would come together again later on. Lancaster and Lumley had previously worked on a recording of Peter and the Wolf for RSO Records, and Marscape was their follow-up.
The album was inspired by the planet Mars, and the duo did their research (which included talking to Sir Patrick Moore). The musical compositions are incredibly visual and evocative. In fact, if I had to compare this release to anything else from that era, I’d say that Neil Ardley’s Music of the Spheres occupies very similar ground. The record very clearly departs from the traditional jazz fusion sound in favour of something far more symphonic. It is obvious that the album was scored and arranged prior to recording, designed to be appreciated as one conceptual piece. Whilst piano and sax are dominant voices at different points, the album’s sound was a collective endeavour. Lancaster’s sax work on With a Great Feeling of Love is one of those late-night blues bars solos, underpinned gently by Lumley (second cousin of Joanna, by the way) with beautifully understated piano. The brilliant Olympus Mons features some powerhouse Phil Collins drumming, as the band build and swirl into an epic finish. This album is definitely a hidden gem. It is wonderful that records like this are being remastered and re-released, bringing new life to music of great depth and originality.
Michael Weston King The Struggle Cherry Red Records CDBRED854
Following on from his work with bands including the Good Sons and My Darling Clementine, The Struggle is Weston King's first solo album in ten years. Born in Derbyshire, Weston King came up through the Liverpool punk scene in a career spanning over thirty years, and this release was produced by long-term collaborator Colin Elliot (known for his work with Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker).
Featuring Weston King’s wife Lou Dalgliesh on vocals and his daughter Mabel Dalgleish King, as well as names like Steve Nieve and Barnaby Dickinson, this wonderfully emotive album mixes the best of English folk and country across ten tracks, including the superb Theory of Truthmakers, built around previously unrecorded lyrics written by his old friend, the late Jackie Levin.
Weston King has a wonderfully warm, world-weary voice imbued with experience, and all these songs are inhabited by his life. The beautiful ballad The Old Soft Shoe reminisces about an old dancing partner through the eyes of someone left on their own. Indeed, heartbreak runs through this album like ‘Scarborough’ through a stick of rock, from the beautiful The Final Reel to the struggles encapsulated in songs such as The Hardest Thing of All and Another Dying Day.
Weston King is a consummate songwriter, and this album is chock-full of feeling, skill, and haunting beauty --a welcome addition to a fine canon of work.--James R. Turner