Friday, June 8, 2012

From Procol Harum To Bon Scott's Fraternity- A Lasting Influence And An Everlastingly Great Musical Invention

The day Bon Scott died I wasn't even old enough to know who Bon Scott was. It has been mentioned in the same kind of shockingly young, violent, and tragic endings as the deaths of Randy Rhodes and Jimi Hendrix both of which were horrible tragedies as with Bon they were all much loved people not just great musicians. Now having known more about Bon's music it was really a very awful thing he died so young. Like the also tragically short-lived Brian Connolly from Sweet Bon Scott was Scottish and liked his whiskey/alcohol too much. He was a binge drinker immortalized by another seriously over-the-top alcoholic Ozzy Osbourne in his much misrepresented "Suicide Solution" on Ozzy's first solo masterpiece Blizzard Of Oz. The song "Suicide Solution" is not about suicide at all in the literal sense, but accidentally killing yourself with substance abuse. As someone who can suffer from horrible cravings and urges linked only to my record selling/buying addiction I know that any kind of substance abuse is something where once you acknowledge the fact that you have it you better end it. Bon Scott couldn't end it- he went on an all-night drinking binge and died from choking to death in bed. He had led AC/DC to rock and roll legend status and really the band should have honored him more by not jumping right back onto their hard rock/blues voyage again with the much inferior Brian Jones- who screams instead of Bon's emotional toughness which made them a great band.
    AC/DC are a great band. Don't get me wrong that I don't like them at all since Bon Scott died. I still love the riffs/licks that the Young brothers (Malcolm and Angus) come up with and if you're gonna go for hard rock/metal overdose of excess no problem with me if AC/DC makes you feel good, but I'd prefer vintage Diamond Head myself. Thing is, when AC/DC got together they had a rich past that was only recently unveiled to me. I had known about the Easybeats connections and how the Youngs were the younger brothers of George Young of that sometimes brilliant group, but I didn't know how different Bon Scott was before he joined them. I didn't even have the faintest idea that Bon had recorded a full album with his pre-ACDC outfit Fraternity or that that band had made two records in total, both with him as the lead vocalist.
      If you hear Fraternity's masterful first album Livestock the last thing in the world you'll think of is AC/DC's bluesy hard rock. Fraternity were a band heavily influenced by Procol Harum- a group who changed my life forever when I first heard them too. The grandiose lushness goes from pop/rock glam tracks which bear no resemblance to P. Harum and more to the likes of Octopus (the British band) or Forever Amber to all-out epic psychedelic progressive Procol Harum influenced majesty. Together with Pirana's first record which I also got from my brilliant friend Ashley Johnson Livestock stands as Australia's largest progressive rock milestone.
                            -The Discovery Of The First  Procol Harum As A Musical Life Force-
    I was lucky in the beginning with getting into prog rock. Can you get any better than starting it off with Yes then Procol Harum then King Crimson? No you can't. I realized how much hot air and nonsense most metal is when I dived headlong into "Whiter Shade Of Pale." At this time in 1989 a lot was being made of Neo-Classical influences in the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and friends endlessly guitar wanking. Metal wasn't getting more progressive it was getting more pretentious just as progressive rock could become. Looking back on it all I preferred the classically inspired "Virtuoso Metal" to grunge, but I had long left anything to do with current heavy music behind when I got into Procol Harum's first two albums. I had read in an interview with the admittedly brilliant German blonde knockout heavy metal/melodic hard rocker Doro Pesch that Procol Harum were her favourite band. I thought Doro somebody who'd be a good teacher and took up on her rave about "Whiter Shade Of Pale." Thank you, thank you Doro! I pulled my father's copy of the first album out and gazed in awe at the front cover- a beautiful art nouveau illustration of a haunting girl and a tree. Thankfully, it's the American copy which doesn't omit "Whiter Shade Of Pale." When I heard the song I was blown away by it. I found it the most moving, most inventive, most strangely poetic song ever written and played the whole album. Soon I was an artist who could draw in December 1989 as if by magic and soon I was a Procol Harum fan for life. I got into playing and loving nearly all their records, but it was "Whiter Shade Of Pale" that set it all rolling for me.
                                -Fraternity's Livestock: An Unequaled Masterpiece-
    When Fraternity recorded the masterful Livestock they were a group who were both a psychedelic pop band and a heavily Procol influenced progressive band. There's also a bit of outdoors UK bluesy melodic hard rock in the track "Summerville" which they'd together with 3 other tracks re-record for their second release Flaming Galah- a hard rock record that turned out to be their last.
   Livestock is how I want to think of Fraternity. AC/DC fans be warned- he sounds like Gary Brooker here not like what you get in the AC/DC classics! Perfect pop begins the album's title track which is also the first track with a brilliant scathing fuzz guitar/wah-wah electric piano solo. Bon can't be heard at all here as in "Livestock" the song the vocals are all harmonies. Picture Octopus only even better or Fairfield Ski's lost masterpiece- that will start to get you there. "Summerville" is a solo vocal from Bon in the bluesy, classy, strong, confident style he would become known for. His vocal is devoid of any pretensions and so is this entire album. For far reaching progressive pop psych this record may well be the best ever made. Tracks like "Cool Spot" and "Jupiter's Landscape" are built around dreamy harmonies whereas the two epics "Reigan's Folly" and "It" are strongly influenced by Procol Harum's brilliant classical/progressive/solid rock nexus. "Reigan's Folly" is the heaviest of the two long tracks with a big hard hitting guitar/organ wall of sound and Bon sounding like a more forceful Gary Brooker. The shorter track "You Have A God" is a psychedelic reworking of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" very much so. The whole album is devoid of pretension and self-seriousness. It's catchy, bright, and tuneful with great musicianship and for once like Procol H. great lyrics on a progressive record. "It" is the only song not written or at least co-written by the band members, but closes the record with 8 minutes of lavish beauty. There's Bon Scott's powerful voice offset by amazing softer vocals and swirling organ work. For guitar fans like me there's no letdown when it comes to the musical abilities of the guitarist in the band which is a prog rock disease. See Gracious who are appalling. If I were to say who this album is an opposite of it would be all the horrible British progressive snot-nosed self-serious poseurs from Deep Feeling to Gracious to Samurai. Yes, Brit prog can be the worst music on the planet and also can be the best. For every one Gracious there are about 20 or 30 great bands out there who understand the meaning of the word "Progressive" in England and who don't write about violent death as their one major subject matter. There's Fantasy and The Parlour Band and Northwind- bands which I rave about. In order for prog to work it usually has to have some remnants of psychedelic pop/rock or at least the 60s influences in there. Some of the best British progressive music was made both with and with no use of the mellotron and Australian progressive doesn't seem to usually have that instrument used much on the records. I don't know a lot of Australian prog, but from what I've heard Fraternity are the most consistent whilst also the most British sounding.
    Remember that even Yes who broke every law there was for rock bands prior to their early 70s masterpieces began in Mod bands. All progressive rock of the 1970-1973 era was made by bands who had a psychedelic/Mod past,  but too many of them forgot all about it. With the likes of Gracious having a cool surface sound and no good songs plus the added disadvantage of horrible vocals/lyrics some of the best bands like Spring, Czar, or the non-progressive yet very 70s Stonehouse or their rural progressive pop labelmates Hooky are a really true testament to the fact that progressive music can be outstandingly good. If I played Livestock for you and you didn't know they were Aussies there's no way you'd ever guess they were. Whatever that means this is progressive psychedelic crossover rock of the highest order and could easily be the best album ever to come out of Down Under.
         Listening to Livestock and hearing what a fantastic voice Bon Scott had it really is a tragic thing we lost him so young. Now most of the best rock vocalists are either long-since retired or have died. It's a true testimony to how hard life can be for musicians and the heavy toll it can take, but let's not get all doom and gloom here- music lives forever. Good music and bad music alike are one of the few things that are immortal. Once a song, a 45, an EP, and an Album are recorded they last forever. Once I've heard something this good I have all my confidence and happiness to lift me into the heavens the way that Procol Harum did when I first heard them. This is a progressive/psych milestone- a really awespiring achievement. Very few copies were made and consequently this will be a very hard album to track down. Put it up at the top rarity top quality magical level and have the same kind of love for it that I do.

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