Friday, May 13, 2011

The Amazingly Short Brilliant Career Of Rab Munro

Back Again now with someone's music that's been with me a very long time- that of the Scottish vocalist Rab Munro who's time in the annals of recording history was way too short and deserves some serious reappraisal for fans of progrock and straight forward British melodic rock.
Rab (Ne' Robert) began his career in the 60s singing with various Glasgow bands where his deep and resonant belting voice was popular on the R&B circuit. He probably sang in competition with the likes of the cream of that city's rock vocalists- Dean Ford (Thomas MacAleese is his real name) and Marmalade had already departed for London and stardom, but Scotland was a hotbed of talent that would see Alex Harvey, Mike Patto, Tear Gas (who actually I think were one of the lesser Scottish bands truth be told), and Maggie Bell go onto cult fame throughout the UK.
Come 1969 Mr. Munro was singing in the progressive/psych group House Of Lords not to be confused with the dreadful wet noodle hair plod rock band of the late 80s/90s from America who are still churning out schlock today. The original House Of Lords contained ex Three's A Crowd drummer Alan Pratt and made only one single- "Land Of Dreams" the A Side ( I believe) is on a Rubble compilation CD I've had since 1995 and is an amazing song. For a one off the song is full of rich Procol Harum like organ work, strong vocals from Rab whose melodic, deep, and warm voice is perfect for the early progressive sound of the track with its phasing signalling an influence of several years earlier. With success not coming and the single going on to become an expensive rarity here is where things get interesting and a bit of something only I myself seem to be aware of. Just how House Of Lords had been tipping their caps to the progressive era with R&B taking a backseat they would go Underground in 1970 and change their name to the rather odd moniker of Hate.
Signed to Famous Records/Regal Zonophone (an EMI imprint with many classy releases including fellow Scots Northwind) and miraculously Paramount in the US sometime in 1970 or early 1971 their lone album was released and just as soon they vanished without a trace. Sporting a frightening cover of a contorted-in-rage old man slamming his fist into a violently graffiti sprayed brick wall and in large white letters the album title "HATE KILLS" this is a really down and depressed effort that shows all the signs of change into progressive underground early 1970s British rock although I should point out that the songs are shortish and long solos weren't in Hate's repertoire. The album did not benefit from dubbed in brass arrangements, but that's where any flaws end. The songwriting of organist Neil Bruce and guitarist Jim Lacey together with an excellent job done by Lenny Graham (Bass) and Alan Pratt (Drums) and Rab's emotional voice made for a very impressive debut. Opening track "Come Along" sets the pace for a dark yet delightful album and Rab Munro shines as the quiet verses break into belting choruses. If I were to compare Hate to another band just imagine Genesis with Peter Gabriel if they wrote shorter songs and meandered less. You also could point to an unlikely pairing of 3 bands- Genesis, Free, and Procol Harum!!!! Yes, these guys were unique. In the United Kingdom unlike in the States you almost had to be good to make an album and the competition was full of great bands. I would say there was magic going on then that we'll probably never see again. Hate share with us an album that stands among the best of the early progressive era and is miles ahead of bands like the worst pile of sick and gory shite ever Deep Feeling (the "Guillotine" group- not to be confused with Jim Capaldi's band of the same name), Beggar's Opera's horrendous equally grim output, and Barclay James Harvest to name a few unworthy bands. For a band in league with Hate think of all the great music coming out then- Black Widow with my good buddy Kip Trevor on lead vocals, Stonehouse, Spirogyra, Indian Summer, Free, Dog That Bit People, Procol Harum, Genesis, Uriah Heep, all of the great ones! The lyrics to nearly all the songs are as deep and depressed as the cover ranging from anti war emotive Gothic rockers like "Come Along" to songs of illness and anger to the gruesome tale of suicide "Realization" which is really scary even after having heard the track some I would estimate 500 times by now!. People laugh at me for loving this album, but American audiences could for whatever reason never understand British or European rock. This album is British in every sense of what that Island stands for. Instead of obnoxious and gimmicky music made to sell big with the top 40 and radio crowds here you get deep, meaningful, soulful, and dynamic songs with Rab an absolute gem and the songs songs where you just have to dig deeper and let the music talk to you not you to it. Rab Munro wouldn't make it like Paul Rodgers had or Cliff Bennett had before him in commercial terms, but he certainly could match anything Rodgers or other strong bluesy singers came up with. There is but one dud on this album- "It's Alright To Run" and its pretty bad. The horn arrangement really fucks things up, the guitar sounds embarrassing like it was done it about half a take, and Rab Munro can't fight against the obnoxious girly harmonies. You worry about Side Two with an opener like that, but never fear Hate come back storming with "She Needs Me" and after the graphically violent "Realization" the last song is the somewhat more upbeat "I'll Live My Life For My Own Pleasure" anthem "I'm Moving Down." which closes with thunder sound effects as they walk away into the shadowy world of forgotten obscurity. Hate's album is a near perfect great album, but it just didn't sell and the disillusioned band called it quits with all but Rab Munro disappearing back into day job or dole queue land.
Years later in 1974 Rab would attempt a come back with a sort of super group called Ruby. Signed to Chrysalis UK and featuring former Procol Harum bass player David Knights together with guitarists John Abbott and Mike Lentin they were a much, much different band than Hate. Again a masterpiece would come out and again it would vanish. I don't know why the power pop/melodic British rocker from the band with Rab's rough and ready vocals would go down the tubes like Hate did, but again the same result occurred. Ruby's only album Red Crystal Fantasies bears more in common with Badfinger, Van Morrison, Shape Of The Rain (yes I'll be writing this one up soon), Rolling Stones, and The Band even, but in a good way, than Hate and would be recommended to a different audience if you don't have an open mind that is. There are no depressing lyrics or flirtations with progressive underground, but arguably Rab sings even better here. He is allowed a greater variety of material and the album benefits from a much better production job. I do miss a bit of the old Hate progrock vibe,  but with songs of this hugely high quality I'm in some kind of paradise with this one. Rab Munro never over does it. He gets pretty in your face, but judging by these two albums and the one single he deserved way more recognition and if I could track the man down and convince him into it I would have him singing for us again. If you love Paul Rodgers, John Lawton, early Mike Patto, Cliff Bennett's Toe Fat, and Procol Harum or if you just crave honest down to earth great music of all kinds give these recordings and give Rab Munro the respect he deserves. I promise a very rewarding experience to you.
Signing off for now, but I'll have some more great music to tell you all about soon.
Till then keep on rockin'
BEN

4 comments:

  1. Interesting to read this - I shared a flat with Rab off Byres Road in Glasgow between 1999 and 2001. He was in good shape, fond of a pint as I was and would often play his old records to me. He would also sing along very loudly in the pub to old songs he liked - the voice was still there.

    He was also then a born-again Christian who would occasionally play tapes of his favourite evangelical sermons when we got back from the pub (at least for the few seconds before I yanked them out). Haven't seen him since 2001 but I hope he's doing well.

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  2. Back in the late 60s,early 70s I was with a London based agency, Ultimate Management, set up to manage the band Trifle. For a few glorious months we took on the House of Lords before they disappeared back to Scotland - great days indeed.

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  3. FIRST HEARD RAB IN GLASGOW MARYLAND , THOUGHT HE IS GOING TO BE A STAR BUT RAB WAS RAB. WE HAD MANY GREAT BANDS LIKE CLEWSY PATHFINDERS, MARMS, FRANKIE MILLER. MAGGIE B. EARLY POETS.

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  4. You may find Rab in the Clutha on Friday 1 December in the afternoon. He might even sing. Still got the voice and the moves.

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