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...
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.