Hawkwind The Charisma Years 1976-1979 The RCA Active Years 1981-1982 Atomhenge ATOMCD41041 Atomhenge ATOMCD31042
Between them, these two clamshell box sets collect seven albums of classic late seventies and early eighties Hawkwind. Whilst the timescales are not too far apart, the collections display a distinct difference in sound, and show how the space rock pioneers led by Dave Brock have continued to change and evolve. The first box, The Charisma Years, picks up after Lemmy had left the band due to a disagreement, and the albums included here are Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music (1976), Quark, Strangeness and Charm (1977), Hawklords: 25 Years On (1978) and PXR 5 from 1979.
This period is rightly considered the Robert Calvert era. With his distinctive vocals, unique worldview and intense performances, he became the band’s frontman during the time when all of Hawkwind’s contemporaries were being battered by punk. Part of the reason that Hawkwind continued to do so well was probably that they were always on the punk/out-there fringes of prog rock anyway, so that their anarchic attitude and dystopian ideas fitted perfectly with the prevailing mood of the time. These four albums capture the band at the peak of their powers on such classics as Reefer Madness, Spirit of the Age, Damnation Alleyway, High Rise and Robot, all live favourites which make their debut here. This is generally regarded as a golden age for the band and their fans, and this budget box contains remastered versions of the original releases. Though it does not feature any bonus tracks, it is still an essential bargain purchase.
By 1981 the band was down to a reduced line-up and on a new label. The albums Sonic Attack (1981), Church of Hawkwind (1982), and Choose Your Masques (also 1982) showcase a new direction. With mainstay Dave Brock (guitar/keys/vocals), Huw Lloyd-Langton (guitar/vocals), Harvey Bainbridge (bass/vocals/keys), and Martin Griffin (drums) on all three albums, there was a consistency to the sound in this era, whilst long-term collaborator and science fiction writer Michael Moorcock made a welcome return to providing lyrics for the band.
With more of an emphasis on keyboards and samples, this work signposted the electrical work that the band would do in the early nineties. Living On a Knife Edge, Nuclear Drive, Choose Your Masques and Fahrenheit 451 (featuring unused Robert Calvert lyrics) show the band in a transition period, as they adapted the unique space-rock sound of Hawkwind to modern synthesiser technology. Again, there are no bonus tracks (if you’re interested in how these songs work live, the Coded Languages live set on Atomhenge is a comprehensive double-disc companion piece to these albums), but it is a fantastic bargain for Hawkwind fans. For those who want more, there is always the option to get the individual remastered discs.
Anthony Phillips 1984 Esoteric Recordings ECLEC32550
Part of Esoteric’s reissuing of legendary musician and former Genesis member Anthony Phillips, here is this musical interpretation of George Orwell’s famous book.
1984 has inspired many musicians over the years. David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, for instance, was intended to be a 1984 musical, but the Orwell Estate refused permission. With the advent of new technologies and the cultural and political revolutions that occurred at the start of the 1980s, Orwell’s work started to seem more and more prescient, and this is again the case today. There is no better time than the present to revisit Ant’s 1981 masterpiece, presented in an amazing 5.1 mix by Simon Heyworth which really brings the work to life.
This album marked a new approach for Ant —he was primarily known as a guitarist, but the synthesiser takes centre stage throughout this ambitious concept suite, which used the most up-to-date technology then available. His long-term collaborator Richard Scott and the renowned percussionist Morris Pert round off the core band.
The album was recorded at a time when Ant was also making music for an ATV series called Rule Britannia, and the triple-disc pack contains this soundtrack music too. It and 1984 dovetail nicely, and provide a complete picture of this stage in Ant’s career. 1984 is radically different from his previous work, and fans were alienated and confused by it. They shouldn’t have been —Ant has a classical style in all of his work, and a lot of depth as a composer and performer. The fact that this album uses electronic equipment instead of guitar does not mean that it is lacking any of the customary emotion. A lot of synth albums depend on the contrast between the cold, almost sterile sound of the pure electronic music mixed with the warmth of the vocals, but here the music itself is what ties the two together. This album is basically a classical symphony played on keys instead of with an orchestra, and the 5.1 mix highlights this beautifully, surrounding you with layers of intricate and haunting sound. The work here is eclectic and interesting, and it is fantastic to have this album available again.
Colosseum Live Esoteric Recordings ECLEC22545
The classic Colosseum line-up of Jon Hiseman, Dave Greenslade, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson, Chris Farlowe and Mark Clarke were one of the most inventive musical-melting-pot bands to emerge in the late 1960s, and their infectious brand of jazz, rock and blues came across well on albums like The Valentyne Suite. However, their power was displayed best in live performances, and this is a double-disc expanded set of the legendary double album from 1971.
This recording confirms their skill, as they work their way through a collection of classic tracks: Rope Ladder to the Moon, Skellington, and Tanglewood ’63. The musicianship throughout is superb, as Hiseman’s drums and Clarke’s bass anchor the sound, allowing Greenslade’s organ and Heckstall-Smith’s sax free range. Clempson’s guitar work is excellent, and as you would expect, Chris Farlowe's voice is never less than magnificent. On the second disc of additional live material we get a full performance of their Valentyne Suite, which alone is worth the price of admission.
This was a highly regarded live album when originally released, and with the bonus tracks, it is a potent reminder of how outstanding Colosseum were.
Three Man Army A Third of a Lifetime Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2558
The legendary musical siblings Adrian and Paul Gurvitz were members of the band Gun, and latterly the Baker/Gurvitz army (with Ginger Baker). In between, however, they were Three Man Army, with Mike Kelly on drums and Buddy Miller joining them on drums and keyboards.
This album was originally released in 1971. The brothers had honed and refined their sound through Gun and whilst working in various other bands, and they decided that Three Man Army would be a studio project. It rather flew under the radar at the time, which is a shame, as there is so much to recommend this album that I’m not sure where to start. The Gurvitz brothers have an innate sixth sense when it comes to working together. I’ve always said that siblings who collaborate are more intuitive musicians, and this is shown here by fine tracks such as the superb Together. This is a record that brings together the best of psychedelia, hard rock, and the symphonic styles that prog bands were starting to refine in the seventies. The depth of the musical performances here is sublime, and tracks like A Third of a Lifetime and See What I Took should be better known. This release should be celebrated as more than a footnote in the brothers’ careers.
Regime Push Regimesound.com
Bristol based ska-punk band Regime have been developing their unique sound on the live circuit, and this, their debut album, is in effect their well-received live show, crowd-funded and brought to life in the studio.
Writing from a contemporary perspective, the band are unsurprisingly at the forefront of the new wave of protest song, with tracks like Big Brother and Great Britain featuring lyrics to match the increasing sense of disenfranchisement and alienation that is sweeping the youth of this land. The generalised anger at the lack of political leadership and opportunities comes through in this well-produced, lively and energetic music.
Ska and punk rose from the political indignations of the late 1970s, the spiritual successors to the protest songs of previous generations that have become established as folk classics. Music like this is the voice of the people, and with Regime, a new voice has started speaking loudly and clearly.
Jody Grind One Step On Far Canal Esoteric ECLEC2567 Esoteric ECLEC2568
Formed in 1968 by organist Tim Hinckley, Jody Grind were a power prog trio along the lines of The Nice and Cream. The line-up on 1968’s One Step On comprised Hinckley, guitarist Ivan Zagni and drummer Barry Wilson. Unusually, this debut album was released on Transatlantic, better known for folk music.
The opening title track is a powerful song suite that takes up the first side of the album, with Hinckley’s organ to the fore, and a powerful hard-rock groove. This is one of those records that were released at a time when musical ambition and ability were unchecked — bands could just go for it, and see what would happen. Out of these bursts of creativity and expression, progressive rock was born. Rounding off the One Step On suite is one of the most rip-roaringly incendiary versions of Paint It Black that you’re ever likely to hear, far darker than the Stones managed.
The rest of the album carries on in this vein. Since the band had honed their sound live, its translation to disc resulted in a collection of coherent and well prepared songs, which are here enhanced by the arrangements of David Palmer (later to join Jethro Tull).
By 1970 the band had coalesced around Hinckley, Pete Gavin on drums and Bernie Holland on guitar/vocals, to release the brilliantly titled Far Canal. As before Hinckley’s organ is the major player on this record, and really makes it rock. The great opening We’ve Had It shows how much the group had grown as a live act and a songwriting force.
Like so many bands of this period, they never made it as big as they could have done. Sadly, they folded shortly after Far Canal was released. It’s a testament to the work of Esoteric Records that they keep finding gems like this —from one of the most creatively fertile periods in English rock— to reintroduce to the discerning listener.
Originally released in 1972 on the Ember label, this is another gem that slipped through the net at the time. Formed in Cheltenham, 9:30 Fly is highly regarded on the progressive folk scene, and when you listen to the vocal work of husband and wife duo Michael and Barbara Wainwright, it’s easy to see why.
On the wonderfully acoustic-driven opener Life and Times the band have a funky groove building behind the superb vocals, mixing elements from folk harmonies to jazzy grooves. This hooks the listener immediately: the musical interplay between Lyn Oakey (guitars), Gary Chapman (bass), and Mike Clark (drums) is a joy to listen to.
There are some fantastic prog folk epics on here that would give Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span a run for their money. The guitar work on the seven-minutes-plus Mr 509 is a joy, whilst the flitting between genres and sounds is subtle and dextrous. The original album closer, the over eight-minute-long Time of War (about the First World War) draws you in and keeps you mesmerised until the end — a powerful, brilliant piece of music.
Rounded out with a couple of bonus tracks, this is an absolute must-buy album, with some wonderful musical moments. It’s astonishing to think that when this was first released it made barely a ripple. Time and hindsight should give this album the reassessment that it deserves.
Steve Hackett Blues With a Feeling Esoteric ECLEC2553
Originally released back in 1994, this was former Genesis man Steve Hackett’s tribute to the music that first inspired him (and a load of other English guitar players): the blues.
Although this was released around the same time as Eric Clapton’s own blues tribute From the Cradle, the difference between the two couldn’t be more marked. Clapton sounds as if he is going through the motions and producing sterile copies of old blues material, but on this album we hear someone having an absolute blast with a white-hot band and revelling in reinterpreting the music that has meant so much to him.
As everyone knows, Steve is an incredibly talented and versatile guitarist, and he gets to cut loose here on tracks like Love of Another Kind. The mix of traditional old-school blues and original Hackett material here is fantastic. Even better, on this remastered edition are two new tracks recently recorded in the spirit of the original.
Steamhammer Mountains Esoteric ECLEC2549
Originally released back in 1971, this third album by prog outfit Steamhammer, saw the band stabilise around the line-up of founder member Kieran White (vocals/guitars), Martin Pugh (guitars), Steve Davy (basses/organs), and Mick Bradley (drums and percussion). It was originally going to be a live album, but instead it turned into a studio set, with only two tracks being recorded at the Lyceum.
This release mixes in some great progressive blues, such as on the slow-building Henry Lane and the fantastic title track. Live, Steamhammer were apparently a powerful group, and this energy is replicated here, with some excellent musical interplay between the members as they pull out all the stops to create some high class blues-rock. This album is also notable for the fact that it was engineered by recording legend Martin Birch, who went on to work with both Deep Purple and Iron Maiden. This release has a real raw synergy, underpinned by White’s fantastic vocals.
Gravy Train Staircase to the Day Esoteric ECLEC2565
Originally released back in 1974, this was the fourth and final album from St. Helens band Gravy Train, produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, who added his magic to the sound. Sadly, it was not a success for the band. They chose to quit in 1975, which is a real shame because the music here is a collection of some high quality mid-seventies melodic prog.
Norman Barrett’s vocals and guitar are soulful and powerful. Bring My Life Back to Me has that piano-driven soul sound that Procol Harum perfected, and Staircase to the Day is as fine a slice of prog as you’re ever likely to hear. A mix of the blues, rock, and pure power are showcased on Never Wanted You. It is such a shame that this album was never appreciated at the time, particularly as the sound would suit anyone who loves Jethro Tull, Harum and other bands of that ilk.
Eclection Esoteric ECLEC2552
Eclection, the London-based band of Trevor Lucas, Georg Kajanus (known as Hultgreen), Kerrilee Male, Michael Rosen (no, not the writer), and drummer Gerry Conway were signed to the Electra label, and had a heck of a lot going for them.
Kerrilee, Trevor, Georg and Michael all provided vocals, but the dominant voice was Kerrilee’s. The harmonies, reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane or The Byrds, are one of the strengths of this unique band. Georg’s superb songwriting is in evidence on In Her Mind and Will Tomorrow Be the Same. The style is very typical for its time (1968) but also timeless, and it’s a shame that after Kerrilee left the group didn’t carry on. Georg went off to form Sailor, and Trevor and Gerry joined Fotheringay, followed by Fairport Convention.
Tiger Moth Tales Cocoon White Knight records
Now, this is an album and band that I had heard quite a lot about, but which had totally and utterly passed me by. For that I apologise —how could I have overlooked something as wonderful as this?
Tiger Moth Tales is the brainchild of musician Pete Jones, and this release, from November 2014, is Pete’s return to the music that he loved as a child: progressive rock. On this album Pete has created a beautiful musical world based around childhood memories and growing up, and it has some superbly epic songs, with a nice mixture of light and dark. The Isle of Witches brings back to mind classic seventies prog, with its conceptual storytelling. Pete’s keyboard work shines throughout the album, and his tongue-in-cheek knockabout The Merry Vicar is, I’m reliably informed, a highlight of Tiger Moth Tales shows. The piece that first got me hooked, via a YouTube clip, was the achingly reminiscent A Visit to Chigwick, with its evocative memories of classic childhood TV. On the strength of this debut, Pete was headhunted by Andy Latimer to play keys for Camel on tour recently. He is still a member of Camel, as well as maintaining his own progressive output.
Although I’m a bit late to the Tiger Moth Tales party, I’m very glad that I finally got here. A refreshing new voice in modern prog.
Quiet World The Road Esoteric ECLEC2564
Originally released back in 1970, this is one of those insane over-the-top concept albums that only the seventies seemed to bring forth. Founded by brothers John, Lea and Neil Heather, this studio-based project also features the guitar work of Genesis guitarist and musical legend Steve Hackett on his first studio foray.
It is an exhilarating concept in both scope and production, utilising a full orchestra. The story is based on the book The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ written by Levi H Dowling and first published in 1908. In the 1960s the book became a key New Age text. Tackling this huge concept required music and lyrics of epic proportions. The band was comprised of Eddy Hines (flute/sax), Sean O’Malley (drums), Dick Driver (basses), the Heather brothers and Steve Hackett (whose younger brother John gets a credit on one of the bonus tracks), supported by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The dense, lush orchestration, the vocal harmonies and the mammoth concept suggest more of a big-budget musical extravaganza than an album, and indeed the brothers would go on to write such celebrated musicals as Lust and A Slice of Saturday Night. However, this project was where the brothers honed their compositional skills, and where Hackett cut his teeth as a musician, leading to the offer of the Genesis job.
As a concept album this is rich and fulfilling, with songs that segue into each other, creating a listening experience that is completely immersive, full of the confidence of youth. It reminds me in parts of the later Jesus Christ Superstar and the debut Genesis album From Genesis to Revelation.
With such strong production values, an excellent concept and a song suite of sheer majesty, this album is truly extraordinary. Crossing genres and sounds, with elements of folk, rock, jazz and classical, this is a work of art in its own right, and one which has been highly sought after on the second -hand vinyl market. Now that it has been released on CD, you don’t have to pay a fortune to enjoy this piece of prime progressive rock. A timeless release. --James R. Turner