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.


  1. Hello Blake... thank you so much for this review of the 9:30 Fly album. I was 18 at the time it was recorded. You have a unique talent for describing music. I wish you many blessings and I trust that 37 has been a much better year for you ;) Warmest regards, Barbara Wainwright.

  2. Absolutely fasinating ! I'm sold ! And good to see you there barbara ! Im off to buy the cd right now ! Many thanks to you both, martyn