Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Perfection Of Prog- 9.30 Fly The Best Album EverTo Come From England Or Anywhere

Well, I can no longer say "Hi All, I'm 35 Years Old" as I have now for a little over the past month been 36 and as I should have known it is no fun at all. My entire life has fallen apart with seemingly no center, no gravity, no nothing. I have to be careful of the music I listen to because I get easily depressed, but at the same time I'm preferring a lot of very moody music to listen to- very dark. If you read my last post it was a rave about a band called Hokus Poke whom I truly did at the time think were awesome. Still, there is some kind of curse around anything to do with my 36th birthday as when an old friend (Ashley Johnson- record dealer extraordinaire and now undergoing throat cancer treatment so wish him well) and I hooked up together again the records he sent me way eclipsed anything on my birthday and led to the selling of Hokus Poke for the princely sum of $700!
       I am trying to get away from the painful memories that have been haunting me since I turned 36. Since my life has been shite for the past 7 years I shouldn't have been surprised that 36 would get off to a horrible start. Something had to give and something I did receive as a very special surprise  has made my darkest moments something I have not caved into and my life more bearable. Wouldn't you just guess it would be a record or two or 20? I'm addicted, that I admit. I make no bones about my compulsive addiction to collecting, but I only keep the best and that's what 9.30 Fly's one album release from 1972 is.
                                                     -9.30 Fly-
     You may wonder what kind of a band would come up with a moniker as strange and mysterious as 9.30 Fly which doesn't make any sense or have any real meaning except a name you remember once you've heard it. Released in 1972 on the small Ember label and recorded at Rockfield Studios Monmouth Wales which gave us the previous year's moody progressive nifty job Spring the front cover of 9.30 Fly is very striking indeed. The textured brown cover has a vibe like something from a long lost past come back to life with a picture of an ornate clock at 9.30 and a fly all of this in gold backed by a golden spider's web approaching the clock. You open it up and the band (4 guys and a girl) are in some of the worst clothes ever worn by a rock band. Their fashion sense was nonsense and unfortunately a lot of stupid reviewers have said the same thing about their music. Having heard this album around 8 times by now it is shocking how wrong and how vicious the self-loving music-scorning critics' attacks are on this band. For a band who can lay claim to recording the most exciting and original album ever made in the history of music we have to hope that someone finds these stupid people and socks them in the jaw.
    9.30 Fly unlike some other bands who made obscure and highly valuable records of their era were a band where their lack of success could be attributed to their revolutionary music. There is no other album like this from anywhere on earth and it would only be England that could produce something so richly steeped in medieval, arcane, and haunting imagery that conveys both a lushness like The Moody Blues and a kind of plaintive darkness that centers around influences from late 60s folkrock such as Fairport Convention and strangely late 60s American West Coast psychedelia. You can't categorize 9.30 Fly's music. I'm putting them and the nearly as amazing brilliant debut Livestock by Australian band Fraternity who featured the late, much missed and cherished Bon Scott as their vocalist before he joined AC/DC under progressive, but really it is much more than that. Progressive is a word that should mean exactly the root word it comes from- progress. Most progressive music is a bit of a double edged sword with bands like Cressida or Beggar's Opera more overblown and rotting than anything that's going to revolutionize music. Gracious!, Spring, Czar, Still Life, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Northwind, The Parlour Band now these bands are among the better and among the best. Indeed Genesis and Yes spawned from the same free association and theatricality that would give us both King Crimson and David Bowie, but if you can picture a more musically together and cohesive Genesis with a singer who sounds both distant and menacing more like Bowie then you are beginning to comprehend what goes on on 9.30 Fly's 7 song sole release.
    Led by a husband and wife duo of lead vocalist/songwriter (he wrote all the tracks) Michael Wainright and vocalist/keyboard player Barbara Wainright and featuring a brilliant rhythm section on par with your Crimson or Genesis their music is very unusual, dark, haunting, rainy, and very moody. Like Spring they convey a strong atmosphere, but instead of rapping themselves up in dreamy mellotron arrangements the dreamy, moody passages are just part of their long, highly complex songs. The opening track "Life And Times" begins like Fairport if they dispensed with all traditional English/Celtic folk leanings and went psychedelic complete with Lyn Oakey's scathing ferocious guitar passages, but the song then mixes up that psychedelic folkrock influence with full blown Yes/Crimson level complex progressive rock. There is, like all songs on the album, a nod to American psych of the highest level namely Kak, Wizards From Kansas, and the best of them all combined together Gandalf.  You don't know where you are by the time the song is in the middle section. You think you've wandered into some other world. It's inviting, even if the implications in the voice are menacing. The lyrics tend towards the philosophical, often full of questions in a less naive way yet similar to The Moody Blues. Mike Wainright has a strong if somewhat mysterious, cosmic voice that recalls both David Bowie and Justin Hayward- a very odd pairing indeed! The second track "Summerdays" is one of the most outstanding tracks ever laid down. It bashes your senses in. It splits your mind up and then reassembles it. From its soft, quiet, pastoral beginnings to shouted powerful vocal sections and heavy guitar/keyboard interplay this is about the best ever track made by a band at this time or any time entering into the genre we call prog/psych. At first you may be shocked to hear the onslaught of the screams of "SUMMER DAYS!!!" by Mike and Barbara Wainright with Mike wailing soulfully on top, but no sooner have you gotten used to it than the entire song shifts back into the slow dreamy pastoral world of its opening only to attack you with a venemous brew again later on. "September" is a lovely pastoral folkrock pop song with a polar opposite atmosphere to "Summerdays." It is one of only two short songs on the album, and a song that could have given this band a huge hit had they just had better luck. From a folksy beginning to very sweet somewhat rural leaning melodic rock with lovable vocals from Mike it's a nice one to be sure- a catchy, bright, tuneful track with good lyrics and a cheerful feel. "Unhinged" then pulls the carpet or whatever you are standing on out from under you and is one of the darkest, most haunting songs on the whole album. The mournful female voices and Mike's freaky slow delivery of the main vocal lines combine with a musical structure very much like that of "Epitaph" or "Cirkus" by King Crimson combined with the kind of lonely longing sad psychedelia of Gandalf and the darker moments on Kak (I'm thinking chiefly of "Golgotha" at the beginning of "Truelogy"). You feel a bit scared at times even by this track, but you come into the world it inhabits which is shadowy and strange to by the end feel more a friend than an outsider. I don't know exactly how 9.30 Fly came up with these revolutionary songs that are unlike so much boring drivel that we hear today as "progressive music" (Don't even get me started on "Neo Prog" I hate all of it and would do better with a heavy dose of Portishead thank you) both from recent years and the 70s. The whole idea behind progressive rock is supposed to mean that it's new and fresh so why do we have to wade through a roomful of rotting vegetation to get to something this good!? The reason is a sad one. Most people don't have it in them to be truly creative and so they will come up with barely a semblance even of a structure and then once they've moaned their tonsils out like Iron Butterfly or Jefferson Airplane we got "Progressive Rock Radio" in the 60s. This damned the word "Progressive" at the time it was born. Notice how the truly creative bands ranging anywhere from Fairport Convention to Matthews Southern Comfort to Danny Kirwan era Fleetwood Mac to King Crimson didn't get much notice at all on these phony stations. The Doors got there and before they ruined their music with pretensions and Jim Morrison lost his creative brilliance it looked like progressive rock really was progressive. Then you had Cream. Then you had a lot of other really good bands laying the bedrock upon which a band like 9.30 Fly is built, but Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge wrecked everything. Soon we'd get David Clayton Thomas which would invariably lead to horrible singers like Beggars Opera's histrionic idiot Martin Griffiths- all of them floundering around like an overstuffed walrus. And people have the nerve to say 9.30 Fly can't sing or play or write!!!!! Drugs may be the answer, but if it ain't that there is no excuse at all and it all is just plain stupidity. "Unhinged" in the right world would have been a song you could turn on late at night on the radio and just get yourself lost in the arcane dark framework it creates- almost like "The End" by The Doors without the murdering aspects of the lyrics. While I'm on The Doors I consider Jim Morrison to be the master of crystalline beauty and knife-edge terror at the same time when he was at his best which were the first two Doors albums and Mike Wainright is very close sometimes to a poet who writes songs- an English magical Jim Morrison. Like Morrison or King Crimson's music there is both beauty and a netherworld of shadowy creepy Gothic majesty in 9.30 Fly,  but they do it better even than the very best who made it.
      Side Two is almost even more impressive than Side One and "Mr. 509" goes between the folk/psych sounds of the West Coast and the undeniable fact that when need be 9.30 Fly can rock. Mike is particularly strong here in the rocking sections- never too dramatic yet singing with a lot of grit and force. His female counterpart Barbara Wainright is not only one of the only keyboard players who could get magic out of an electric piano, but a loving counterpart to Mike Wainright's voice. "Mr 509" deals with the plight of an office worker everyday Englishman in a way that very readily recalls Ray Davis and the Kinks in "Shangri La" without any of the bittersweet humourous irony. This is straight and raw stuff- yet not overbearing. The song is really all about the evils of big business and how it swallows up the lives of everyday workers who see nothing from their toil for big companies. There is definitely a sense of being "Lost" in 9.30 Fly's music. In most of the songs Mike Wainright has trouble relating to the outside world and seems very much an intellectual introverted person. "Brooklyn Thoughts" is a somewhat more sentimental way to look at everything not really making sense and life seeming empty with the line "Maybe Thoughts Of Suicide/Can Keep Me Back In Line" or it may be "Maybe Thoughts Of Suicide Can Keep Me Living Life" something like that and something as dark as that. Nothing is more cowardly than suicide and I would hope that Mike Wainright never succumbed to it. He thankfully seems to be merely musing about disillusionment. "Brooklyn Thoughts" features the only use of a mellotron on the album and is together with "September" the only short track. Clocking in at over 8 minutes the albums' most epic track is the closing brilliance of "Time Of War." This song is very complex, very tricky, and also the darkest lyric on the album. A confused soldier deserts during a heavy battle hoping to escape to peace only to be persecuted and nearly killed. The paranoid episodes of scathing atonal fuzz guitars and menacing bass patterns are combined with slow then somewhat faster vocal passages to offset peace and war. The lyrics get more and more about alienation as they go on and you are caught up in the soldier's trying to flee to safety. I'm reminded a bit of some of Genesis at their most exciting here, but the main influences are definitely King Crimson and The Moody Blues. Like all the songs on the album there's that Fairport vibe lurking around in the background with the psychedelia somewhere, a distant happy memory of warm summery loving hours. "Time Of War" goes from the first part for the first half into wordless wailing vocals into a beautiful melodic vocal where the soldier from what I can gather is saved by another soldier after his long and exhausting attempt to get away from the war. For an anti war song there is something very refreshing here- no blood and no violence. The whole thing is all about a subtle poem that a real soldier could have written and is very sympathetic. The ending of the track is medieval folk meets martial drumming- a cross between Fairport and Spring. What we end with is evocative and beautiful and that is the best way to sum up this wonderful album. It's up there with the greats- up there with Oddesey And Oracle by The Zombies, up there with Asgard, up there with Crimson's first and 3rd, up there with Northwind and The Parlour Band yet heavier, darker than anything I've mentioned bar Asgard. It's a dark and haunting record, but it has soul and it has a lot of feeling in it and boy is it beautiful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NIGEL's Ocean Of DROSS Destroyed By SPYS Expert Espionage- Music That Sucks And Music That's Real

I recently, say a few weeks ago, went back to visit the best record store we have left on the East Coast Double Decker records in Allentown. This store is situated in one of the most depressing towns/cities I can think of where you can feel the poverty almost breathing down your neck. Once you are in the store, however, you forget all that. It's a really nice place run by Jamie and Ray- who aren't a dying breed of kind and outgoing record dealers, but rather one of THE FEW EXCEPTIONS where a record dealer is kind, outgoing, and generous. I had gone last year and walked off with a lot of really good music and this time I didn't do quite as well- largely because I rushed everything and couldn't think.
                  -Really Bad Music And Nigel From Philadelphia's Role In DIY Disaster Land-
    Ah well, that's besides the point. Some people relish my put downs and think they are better than when I praise something even. I can get a good laugh and get thought of as "clever." Honestly, I don't like to focus on bad music or bad anything because it takes away from the great/good music and good things. I'm not one who likes to moan, but for all of those of you who want a good laugh here is a brief little thing about an awful guy from Philadelphia who called himself Nigel and made one very bad excuse for a DIY psych album in the mid 80s as so many of these DIY records (that means Do it Yourself chi'dren) are. I mean, does it get more miserable than Marcus House Of Trax and Stone Harbour? Why do these guys get it into their thick skull that they have to make a record!!!! I could mention Kenneth Higney's Attic Demonstration as a sort of pinnacle of bad DIY ineptitude. Thing here is, Higney is really something entertaining and you do get a few good laughs out of him. Nigel is worth picking up if you see it for something so wrong it's hard to contemplate how he'd manage to record this record at all except to purposefully force his Politically Incorrectly Politically Correct rhetoric down your throat and turn a bad record that could have just been boring into a laugh-riot for one spin. (that was all I could handle of this one and I pretty much threw it away- well selling anything to the Princeton Record Exchange is throwing it away as you probably know)
    Nigel was having a bad hair day when me made this record. His over-sensitive face is matched by a  kind of Prince meets phony Goth/Metal look and he looks like a nobody trying to pawn himself off as a really important dude. That's just what he does, but he's a protest singer. His intents about anti-war philosophies and animal rights are all very right, but he gets mental with them and twists them to an unbearable level of extremism. If you've ever wondered about the words "anal" or "uptight" he's beyond constipated and beyond wound so tight he'll turn into a human screw in a bad renovation of 60s politico/social commentary for the 80s.
    I can laugh at Nigel for all his discrepencies and the major mistake as with so much bad music is that he takes himself way too seriously. He has to start with the nerve to compose, arrange, produce, and perform everything with a kind of cockiness that turns his boring music and nasal, irritating voice already into something cringe-worthy. He then bashes you over the head with his beliefs and at the same time he has a musical identity crisis. He doesn't know what decade he is in so he apes every bad singer songwriter from Leonard Cohen or a more appropriate comparison would be a nightmare of Donovan to the 80s bubblegum self-serious musings of Richard Marx or Barry Manilow trying to make a big statement and even worse trying to be "hip." He claims to be non-violent and then writes a lyric like:
   "He chokes on his blood he can feel his own death/The only time I feel hate is when I smell that dead cow on your breath"
"Little plastic guns and itty bitty camouflage clothes/Are teaching our children war is really OK when it isn't"
This is only a sample. He says in his "animal rights" song "Innocent One," and I'm VERY Animal rights myself (but to Nigel I wouldn't count because I eat meat- oh how horrible of me! not), not only that we are the scum of the earth and he'll hurt us if we eat meat, but also that people who wear wool and leather should be shot for it. He is so serious and so humorless that he can do this all with a more than straight face, probably with a sneer. He goes on a tear about leather and wool in the winter which is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. Clearly Nigel has some serious issues and that is why nobody would work with him.
     What this ends up as is an album that is but a mere curiosity, but it serves to enforce my opinions on the next act, Spys, even more. The 1980s were a time of great invention musically and for some bands technology could actually be a good and not a bad thing. It could play right into their hands when they got creative and the arsenal of new equipment could be used as a tool not a toy. So now I'm talking about Spys. Let's hear what they had to say.....
              -Spys Timelessly Great Music From A Captivating Era In Espionage-
     If Spys is not a familiar name to you, but Foreigner is you are among the vast majority. If both bands strike a chord with your love of music on very different grounds you are me and anyone else with taste. What Spys were was a spin-off group from the original Foreigner, a band who hoped to achieve the same kind of huge success as their former background role in that band had done, yet would be totally different and strike out on its own.
     Once upon a time there was Foreigner. They made a lot of money, a lot of great music, they were a true super group with a lot of hits.  However, all was not well with the first recording line up (Lou Gramm had stepped in reluctantly for Ian Lloyd and now was laughing all the way to the bank in surprise) when keyboards player Al Greenwood and bass player Ed Gagliardi wanted more creative freedom. In fact, when they pressed their desire for the band to be more of a democracy and less about Mick Jones and Lou Gramm they ended up out of the band. Foreigner wouldn't be hurt very much by their departure and at first it seemed neither would they, but time would unfortunately prove that Spys would never quite hit the huge success of the band they came out of and that Foreigner would way outlive their promising career.
    The reason for Spys only having one hit in "Don't Run My Life" is pretty easy to see from a die hard Foreigner fan's perspective. Gagliardi on bass and vocals, Greenwood on keyboards and vocals joined forces with 3 New York State friends to form Spys- a band very unlike Foreigner. Joining them were guitarist/vocalist John Di Gaudio, drummer/vocalist Billy Milne, and lead vocalist John Blanco. This fivesome sprung up with an awesome debut album in 1982 that owed nothing to their past and was a shockingly different sound from Foreigner's. John Blanco's sometimes Russell Mael of Sparks meets Dave Davies showy yet not obtrusive voice is as far from Lou Gramm as you can get. Heavy progressive leanings with lots of complex keyboards and intellectually challenging lyrics make Spys even more different. Then there is the heavy Beatles influence in the harmonies and a lot of those there are. Clearly a band who would take advantage of getting clever in a recording studio future Shy producer Neil Kernon helped realize their hopes of a brand new start on their debut self-titled album. The production is clean and clear without being too much so. You get the feeling that a lot of passion is being put into their music, and Spys have found a comfortable medium between Pomp Rock and full on progressive leanings. If Marrillion are considered progressive that's an insult to early Genesis and all prog rock. That Spys truly are progressive way more so than their competition would be proven even more on their 2nd and final release Behind Enemy Lines. Here we get the insidiously catchy irresistible hit "Don't Run My Life" and thinking man's mini epics like the apocalyptic, amazing "Ice Age." Spys balance their two sides together well and occasionally they meet as in the album's second track "She Can't Wait." This song about hatred for an overbearing female is echoed throughout the album with many open references to a disgust for the opposite sex. I've found this common in AOR/Pomp. Whether it's the European take of Skagarack, the British firey hatred of Shy or Tobruk, or Spys a lot of melodic metal/AOR/pomp/progressive rock isn't too pleased with personal relations between males and females. "Danger" is a song about an invitation to disaster by provoking someone who is very insecure into a relationship whilst "Into The Night" is a truly creepy, malevolent ode to Jack The Ripper. In both songs Blanco is very believable, even sounding very at home with his split personalities. Perhaps the harmonies of Spys are their most enduring aspect. Rich multilayered vocals and a hugely sympathetic lead voice make for some really nice listening. Spys take on a lot here- it's not got the unsure vibe of a first album and rather sounds like a technologically advanced work of seasoned veterans. Sure, there's a clumsy line here or wrong note there, but funnily enough that's the only similarity with Foreigner. Fans must have been shocked, maybe even some found this new progressive direction impossible when compared to the no-nonsense melodic rock of the band Ed Gagliardi and Al Greenwood had helped to form.
     Instead of playing it safe Spys did the exact opposite. For Behind Enemy Lines they took over production chores between Ed and Al with the resulting album so progressive, so arty, so symphonically splendid that Foreigner was obviously a thing of the distant past in this new band. Tricks of all kinds are tried. There are more art rock lyrical concerns, rock opera with Russian language chanting in the title track, the bizarre Sparks meets a modern art Deep Purple of "Sheep Don't Talk Back," and the grandiose balladry of "Younger Days." John Blanco's voice is again a really good one that is somewhat high pitched,  but not screaming out like Tony Mills of Shy or Steve Perry influenced like Skagarack mainman Torben Schmidt. The emphasis is again put on harmonies and every new keyboard sound Al Greenwood could get at. This could have been a fatal error. However, Greenwood knew how to play his keyboards tastefully and he also knew exactly how to paint pictures not make dumb little noises with his synthesizers. The playing, writing, vocals, and production are stunningly professional.
    I wish these guys had been given a chance. I wish they could have been left to stand on their own as an entirely new and different band, but sales were not encouraging and when the second record didn't match up to the minor commercial success of the first soon they were no longer with us. It must have been a terrible blow. They must have been really depressed by their lack of huge sales when Foreigner were selling millions. What can be said about both Foreigner and Spys is that they have weathered time well. Both bands made great music and both should be seen as not a continuation of each other, but rather two opposites with one underlying thread to connect them- brilliant music with a lot of emotion and no compromises. Listen to Spys and don't even bother with Nigel. Unless you want to hear just how polarized the 80s were between amazing and total dreck.


Monday, May 14, 2012


In the early 1970s music was more polarized between quality and complete lack thereof than any time in the previous decade since the psychedelic era and the beat boom. England wasn't hit as hard as America, but there were regrettable, horrendous songs in the charts like "The Night Chicago Died" by the despicable Paper Lace and the like. I am not saying that all pop was bad, though, most was good, but the British could really laugh at us as we were going down the tubes with our charts and more bands everywhere felt the need to go "underground." Also, there was the retreat to the country, the need for open air. It had started in the 1960s as part of the counterculture and was fast becoming a trend in the 70s. A lot of bands just needed time to hone their skills as nothing is worse than going into the studio in a rush or with only the intent of selling a lot of copies of the record. It didn't work out so well for Paladin who apart from the occasional good track were very boring or the myriad of more folk than folkrock bands who signed to independent labels or who were snapped up when they jumped on the progressive bandwagon (see Barclay James Harvest, Magna Carta, The Strawbs). It was a thrilling time, but it could be sickening too. For instance I would believe that the worst record ever made Deep Feeling dragged in Roger Easterby and Des Champ to produce it and that you should just forget that sick blood bath and focus on what the production team really did well- high quality British pop and rock. Among their noble releases is Holy Mackerel, and among their best and most successful would be the highly underrated pop group Vanity Fare- a band who managed to be the best British pop in the world and score hits nearly worldwide. Now onto the main subject at hand. Holy Mackerel are a band who seem to be forgotten or ignored until now. Read on my mates and comrades read on...
                                             -Holy Mackerel-
Not to be confused with the Paul Williams led American popsike/country rock band of the same name the British band Holy Mackerel evolved out of the spotty 1960s psychedelic outfit Jason Crest. This band had recorded some very uninteresting material and some very interesting material culminating in the excellent final single Black Mass/A Place In The Sun- a single that showed a move from their earlier pop ambitions towards heavier psych with A side a freaky slice of Arthur Brown meets Proto Metal.
Lead vocalist Terry Clarke, lead guitarist Derek Smallcombe (after a stint in the horrible German only hard/blues inept band Samuel Prody), and drummer Roger Siggery from the original Jason Crest put Holy Mackerel together in 1971 and they added second lead guitarist Chris Ware and bass player Tony Wood to fill out the lineup. Where Jason Crest had been hit and miss with their material this hard rocking new band called Holy Mackerel got it down to a science right away. After spending quite a bit of time in the Lancashire countryside honing their rural/melodic/hard rock sound they started to play live getting a reputation as an excellent live act. CBS signed the group and in 1972 they released their brilliant self titled album. This would be followed by a test press/acetate only second album Closer To Heaven which although the liner notes tell you otherwise is nowhere near as good.
   Holy Mackerel play with passion on their 1972 only official release. The harmonies are top class and Terry Clarke sounds like he's finally mastered his "heavy" vocals. Instead of going ape for much of the album he just sounds powerful and confident. The interplay between Ware and Smallcombe is amazing especially on the 3 long tracks "Spanish Attraction," "Oh!" and "The Boy And The Mekon." Two cover versions are included in the rocking harmonica and harmony lead opening track "Going To The Country" by Steve Miller/Ben Sidran and Cowboy's "Rock A Bye" both are excellent. Country rock is not a term that suits Holy Mackerel and the liner notes express this. Rural heavy hard rock with power, melody, and a clear sound are what they are. Like the Welsh Band Quicksand, Dog That Bit People, Northwind, Renia, Fable there are obvious leanings towards the laidback pastoral early 70s magic vibe, but Holy Mackerel are more of a hard rock band. A perfect example of this is the brilliant "Spanish Attraction" with very interesting well-written lyrics and strong vocals from its writer Terry Clarke. The guitars smoke, the Spanish vibe is great, and a crystal clear production job just makes it perfect. This track is amazing.
      There is not a weak moment on here. Whether it be the highly melodic Hollies esque "Virginia Water" or the screaming heavy metal onslaught of "Oh!" this is one of the best British albums and still a record you can find for a reasonable price. Holy Mackerel sound a lot more mature than Jason Crest and there is no more copying of other artists or trying too hard to follow trends- this band were about setting trends and rocking hard. Whether your taste be melodic power pop or hard rock this overlooked gem in a great band shot cover is essential. While many British albums from this era will cost you a huge amount of money for whatever reason (and no good one) this one is overlooked despite it's rarity. The going price in the UK is 25 to 30 pounds maximum, usually less. I got my copy for only around $33- a real bargain. This is an album I would recommend strongly to hard rock, psychedelic, power pop, and even glam rock enthusiasts as a brilliant achievement. They rock hard and they have great harmonies and great melodies. Nothing else is needed for perfection.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


After a horrendous nightmare of what seemed to be a perfect Birthday at the end of April I freaked and went stupid. I lost a lot of the best records from my collection and headed in a spiral towards self-destruction. Now I am pulling out of that spiral, but the Birthday wasn't all bad because the records that were in good condition mostly turned out to be great and this masterpiece from Hokus Poke must certainly be the best progressive/late psychedelic/melodic hard rock crossover ever to come out of anywhere- especially England. Also, Moonkyte are in here as their album makes it to the same heights as what I would call the best Great Britain produced- Northwind, The Parlour Band, Asgard, Renia, Fable, Moonkyte, and Hokus Poke the two in question here. All these bands came out at around the same time between 1971-1973 and it was a topsy turvy time for music, but also the best, most creative period.
                                                    -Moonkyte- a long time love-
There just aren't any other records quite like Bradford's Moonkyte. Privately released in England in 1971 and licensed to Metronome in Germany (I have the German copy and it sounds GREAT) they were unlike any other band yet there are traces of the kind of brilliance that flows through everything from The Kinks to UK Kaleidoscope around Faintly Blowing to Asgard to the softer side of British pastoral psychedelia where the main things to set Moonkyte apart from all the rest are several. In Dave Foster and Dave Stansfield they had two superb songwriters who knew their history back to front. The lyrics dare I say are practically a rock equivalent of Shakespeare's musings! The instrumentation is completely unique: two harmoniums, tin whistles, glockenspiel, sitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass and drums. The music they created is perhaps best described as a kind of late 60s influenced laidback psychedelic folk rock with elements of progressive rock, but the rich tapestries they create and the amazing stories they tell are unlike anything else around.
    For instance the first track "Search" is haunting, melodic, beautiful, and completely has your mind tuned into all the different things going on. The vocal is rich and smooth and very inviting. It's like Dave Stansfield is saying "Come On In- Have a Bit of Tea and Listen To Our Music With Us." You can't help but accept the invitation. "It's The Same Thing" is the other side of Moonkyte's songwriting coin. Dave Foster supplies the more carefree and jovial songs like a jester to Stansfield's wise man. This is a blissful track. Serene, delicate, but solid. Then we are plunged into the strange, darker side of Moonkyte which keeps the rich layerings of instruments and warm sounding voices in "Way Out Hermit," and "Girl Who Came Out Of My Head." These songs have a resignation to them. They are saying that he is way out there and could care less, he is playing with you and saying "Don't you wish you had an imagination too?" Some of us do and we are the ones who love Moonkyte. Harmoniums and sitars together with eccentric vocals create a kind of madcap psychedelia somewhere between Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd days and the 1967/1968 period Kinks. The lyrics to all songs on this album are highly literate without being pretentious. They are too good spirited to be considered pretentious as they are not looking down at you. "Tapestry Girl" is one of the most amazing songs ever written where all sorts of weird and devilish things happen which seem out of the creations of a mad genius/poetic wizard and have me going "How did he come up with this?" wishing I came up with it!
  The story line of the song is that during a rainy afternoon a girl in a tapestry comes to life and then Victorian soldiers come to life and rape her of her virginity! A bit of Asgard spiciness in here, but unlike anything else!
    Most of Moonkyte's music is reflective yet upbeat, riveting lyrically and gentle musically: a kind of fragile psychedelic pop that avoids the twee and goes for something deeper, something more about the history of England and the eccentric behaviors of people. One song sounds almost country rock "Lead This Sinner On," but the ghostly harmonies deliver it from standard country rock to more of a gut feeling summed up by rusty old rotting-railroad tracks music. If you get what I mean. "Where Will The Grass Grow," well I could expound on every track here. The music and words are magical and it is a shame that Moonkyte were overlooked at the time because they were unable to get any kind of backing in the industry. They aren't folk. I would have to disagree with that genre pigeonholing except for the fact that this is folklore- ancient English folklore like in the grim, bloody "Blues For Boadicea" which is about before England really even was England- during the time of the Roman invasions. Moonkyte give you a creepy feeling for this one. A folkrock Oddesey And Oracle would describe the kind of passion and fervor in Moonkyte's music, but damn the term folkrock this is psychedelic as you can get. Everything gets jolly after "Boadicea" with "Happy Minstrel" and "Jelly Man" which closes the album on a loopy drugged out psyched note where the feeling of shaky jelly is echoed in shaky gelatinous vocals.
    Moonkyte's stay was all too brief. The fact they managed to record such a staggering masterpiece and not get noticed at the time is unbelievable. For everyone who loves music that defies description and categorization and can be only described as its very own unique hybrid of strange and wonderful inventions Moonkyte is an essential listen. This one will never leave my collection ever.
                -Hokus Poke The Band That Rocks The Band That Soars Into The Stratosphere-

     London Area Hokus Poke came out on Vertigo Swirl right around the time the label was about to change over to more standard releases in 1972 and the complete absence of copies when I looked for 18 years for it coupled with the fact that I got it for $400 which compared to the going price of a really clean copy (which mine is...) of $800 to $1500 makes this THE RAREST VERTIGO SWIRL. Never reissued except on CD ages ago by Repertoire and never properly described (online sources and the stupid Tapestry Of Delights are bollocks) here is Hokus Poke the way Hokus Poke really is!
    I'd sampled a few tracks off here and been blown away by them prior to hearing the whole album, but what an album! A twin guitar led psychedelic rock into melodic progressive rock band centered around the talents of lead singer/guitarist Clive Blenkhorn, guitarist/steel guitarist Roger Clarke, bass player Smith Campbell, and drummer Johnnie Miles their album emphasizes the soaring guitar work of Blenkhorne and Clarke and unpredictable soft/hard contrasts where songs that begin relaxed such as their epic "Sunrise Sunset" turn into molten raving heavy guitar mind blowers where the savage axe work takes the songs into the sky and the whole soaring sound of their harmonies, guitars, and the rock solid rhythm section make for a great album with the added bonus of intelligent lyrics. "H P Boogie" begins the record with crystal clear guitar lines and driving rhythms and the call and response vocals in the chorus bring to mind The Small Faces and The Open Mind. Blenkhorne's jamming with Clarke and his appealing somewhat high and raspy voice are the other main features along with some unexpected changes and progressive inclinations.
      Hokus Poke most definitely are progressive, but without any of the pretensions. I can detect the influences of early Genesis, Yes, and Wishbone Ash together with their solid hard rock and psych credentials, but you never can predict any song on this album and where it's going to end up taking you. You'll be on quite a journey. I would put Hokus Poke in with the likes of Northwind and The Parlour Band when they are in a relaxed mood, but then there is the storming blasting guitars and bashing drums and bass which make them much heavier musically and leaning further towards hard rock, but you can't pigeonhole them. "Sunrise Sunset (The Sunset)" is a long track that begins with dreamy laidback beautiful shimmering guitars and very nice carefree vocals before going into a soaring chorus and then reflective again. You think that the song is just going to be a drifting lazy day by the sea when all of a sudden the guitar solo builds and builds then erupts. Blenkhorne and Clarke's passionate wailing guitars and the volcano of crazed rhythms build up into a veritable heavy psych storm with much classy use of wah-wah and fuzztone. I'd go right out there and say this is even more exciting than anything on the previously mentioned The Open Mind's album. "Big World Small Girl" is a gentle, happy, deceptively free easy number where all is calm and peace after "Sunrise Sunset" masking a put down lyric of a fame and fortune seeking ex girlfriend who he could care less about.
 Of course she learns her lesson the hard way and he says "Big world Small Girl." The vocals on this track are very intriguing- multilayered with a bit of a Pre Queen vibe like if Queen had started off a softer kind of a band. Maybe Queen unplugged is a good way to describe the harmonies which sound like they spent a lot of time on them. "Down In The Street" takes the laidback vibe of some of the album and mixes it with a clean rock groove complete with sassy vocals and crunchy guitar riffs.
     If ever there was a huge level band that missed out on huge level success it was these guys! The songs are so infectious! The energy level is so inspired! Unfortunately, Vertigo wouldn't do anything for this band and they really never even made it big on the club circuit although a club gig was what got them signed. Perhaps the adventuresome nature and changing times which should be said the band were very much abreast of just didn't gel for Hokus Poke, but as any underground band would have it they stayed close to their dream of making music and as long as they were recording the album nothing was going to fuck their dream up. "Hag Rag" (Side Two's first track) is I must admit a stupid title, but it's a song all about demons, human sacrifice, and "Then As The Air Turns Foul And Red The Goat Of Hell Is Seen." Very ominous, but also a bit tongue in cheek. It's the heaviest song on the album and really sounds like a precursor to Queen and it would be interesting if they ever shared the stage when one band was about to make it big and the other was about to head for obscurity. I love Queen. I love Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon. I firmly consider them a band who got the respect they deserved, but dare I say Hokus Poke are as good!? I would say that. You can't be any better than Queen or The Kinks so these guys are as good as the big ones. They are the big one. The most fun and creative adventurous rock and roll band there ever was or is likely to ever record an album. "Hag Rag" is really heavy with big harmonies, menacing lead vocals, and brilliant guitar work. It's the one number penned by drummer Johnnie Miles and I wonder what his trip was to write something this dark. "Living In Harmony" follows "Hag Rag" and couldn't be more opposite. It's the easiest most laidback track on the album with very pleasant vocals, a cool mellow bluesy feel, lyrics all about feeling good, and a certain really kind of nice quality about it that makes you just want to relax as much as they are. The album's two closers "Time And Space" and "The Poke" take all the differing influences, elements, and approaches of Hokus Poke and meld them together- very melodic, very driving, as good as you can get. I wish these guys would get more respect. They aren't a blues rock band and don't sound like Cream and that's all you get when you try to look them up online. While I may be a bit late to bring them to the light of the buying public I'm glad I could bring them to the light at all- they are an amazing band and these two stay in my collection forever no question.
     My final advice to myself? Don't make your life worse and don't freak out and go crazy because a few little things went wrong. I hope I won't have to be paying back for this decline much longer and these two masterpieces lift me out of any depression I'm in. Find them and cherish them as much as I do.