Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Deep Feeling And The Guillotine Record- A Crazy, Amazing, And Tragic History + The Decline And Fall Of England

I finally had the courage to buy a copy of Deep Feeling's "GUILLOTINE" record after having it been my most despised and feared album in the universe and it was a strange experience to be completely knocked out by it again like I was in the very beginning and to know that this time it really does stay up there with the best of British progressive rock of the classic era.
   My history with Deep Feeling is unlike that of any other record or band in my collection especially in that sighting it on the wall of a record store called Venus now long since out of business in NYC in December of 1992 I didn't know what the fuck it was or that it would mean anything to me later on in life. I looked at it from the bins thinking it would have a high price tag on the wall. Paul Major used to sell their album for cheap in his lists, well really cheap at $35 compared to the $250 + asking price now! I first heard Deep Feeling as a trashed Australian non-gatefold copy and I was amazed by how dark the music was to match the cover. Anyone hearing this album for the first time would be in for a bit of a shock unless they knew from the cover depicting a tiny illustration of a head pushed through a guillotine and on the UK issue the inner gatefold is all to the right side an abstract illustration of the band members' heads in a pool of blood. This is disturbed symphonic prog, but in the end I've come to look at it as more disturbed than disturbing. Something this good and this high quality is actually quite a good educational instrument as well as a great passionate melodic solidly played and sung album.
    Unfortunately and tragically, I wished all the worst on poor Deep Feeling when I was a maniac off my medications 4 years ago and found out recently my friend and co-writer/co-founder Dave Green succumbed to cancer and died after suffering for the last over 10 years of his life with chronic illnesses. Mr. Green told me all about how he was heavily into meth during the writing of the album and how that influenced the dark vibe of the record. There never will be a reunion of East Anglia's Deep Feeling as of the original 5 only vocalist John Swail (AKA Guy Darrell as his pseudonym) and keyboardist/vocalist Derek Elson are still alive. Guitarist/vocalist Martin Jenner, Green (Bass/flute/vocals), and drummer/vocalist Graham Jarvis are all dead. It's really sad and really a shame. A lot of musicians who are famous have died in the past decade and a half and we never hear about the lesser famous ones like Deep Feeling. They must have been getting on, but that doesn't remedy or make any of the loss easier to live with. I wish they were still with us, but have to accept the fact that they are not.
   I'd rather not dwell on the negative here, though. Deep Feeling are too good for that even with a very negative take to their lyrics which actually are very intelligent and informative. They formed back in the late 60s out of several bands and were initially known as The Guy Darrell Syndicate. Guy Darrell (John Swail) had been a solo artist. Martin Jenner and Dave Green went way back in various bands and Derek Elson and Graham Jarvis completed the group. One of the most remarkable things about Deep Feeling is unlike a lot of other bands who only made one or two records they had a lot of very pop singles including a sizable hit with a cover of "Do You Love Me." They'd set out as a pop group produced by the genius pop production team of Roger Easterby and Des Champ. Easterby and Champ would produce their album where the band decided on a drastic change to capitalize on the overwhelming power of underground bands in the UK such as Yes, Genesis, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. There aren't too many similarities with the sludgy Sabbath, but Genesis and Yes are clearly a huge influence and Sabbath would have gawked at such morbid lyrical fare as "Welcome For A Soldier" and "Guillotine." It's an album like this that makes bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple sound ordinary, commonplace, and unimpressive. I really hate heavy metal and whilst I can appreciate Black Sabbath (only with Ozzy, though) I find their music cold and without enough variation.
    Later on Judas Priest would take the basic sound of Sabbath and make it into something operatic and oftentimes screechy in the vocal department, but all of that is avoided by Deep Feeling. Swail/Darrell can get dramatic, but prefers a soft and mystical sounding delivery to his vocals which is a really good way to get the message across. The first thing you'll probably notice about Deep Feeling are their tremendous 5 part vocal harmonies on the deadly "Welcome For A Soldier"which begins the album in style. A violent, ambitious, dreamlike, strange, and tragic song of the Vietnam war and the horrors of warfare in general there is the underlying current of the fact that the song's narrator gets killed because he shoots up heroin before a battle and goes on a delusional trip. This dark and powerful song is a mini movie of The Beach Boys on a bad trip crossed with Genesis and Uriah Heep, but Swail's gentle voice and the soaring harmonies are trademark Deep Feeling. The production job is very good with a lot of clarity and you can hear the sharp changes of mood, atmosphere, and dynamics in a shocking way. There essentially are 4 main parts to "Welcome For A Soldier" in the opening and closing wordless swirling harmonies, the laid back beautiful verse at the beginning which when repeated after a creepy choral section (meant to be the trip) towards the end concludes with a spine chilling scream, the two 5 part harmony melodic choruses, and also some amazing musical interplay between guitar and organ. Martin Jenner could probably be compared to Robin Trower, Jeff Beck, and Ritchie Blackmore and that is pretty good company to be in with!
    Deep Feeling are heavy and heavier than many bands lyrically, but not a far stretch from some of Peter Gabriel's paranoid ramblings in early Genesis. Genesis with the virtuosity of Yes are a starting point, but you keep getting reminders that Deep Feeling are a harmony pop group gone progressive. The attention to melodic detail is second to almost none and if you love British progressive rock look no further for quality. There are a lot of things that impress me here. "Old People's Home" is something I could go on about in a metaphorical way with the way it's the passing of a generation to another younger generation. A stark contrast to "Welcome For A Soldier" the only instrument is an acoustic guitar with the harmonies and Swail/Darrell doing all the rest. The bass, drums, and keyboards don't make one entrance. At the time of the song's writing in 1971 "Youth Power" was all the rage and you'd get a thumbs down for any sympathy with the polar opposite old generation. Deep Feeling take a different, sympathetic spin on that and there is one of the best lines on the album in the second verse:
    "One long last look at the room they had known for so long/Wallpaper faded from days of an era now gone"
   That era had gone, but in a tragic way when I listen to the music I love I know that the era in which it was created has been replaced by an era of apathy, selfishness, violence, hatred, and complete and total unawareness of what matters in life. The first two tracks are very downcast lyrically, but the next track is 10 minutes of "Classical Gas" in a stunning instrumental showcase worthy of King Crimson if they didn't go into 10 minutes of noodling on their experimental tracks. Crank the volume, relax, this one is a nice change with brilliant acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums and thankfully not a drum solo. Jarvis could be compared to Bill Bruford and Mike Giles throughout- he was that good! "Classical Gas" goes into a hard rock section with some heavy riffing and the whole of Side One is like some kind of musical movie where it is evocative and poignant. You think it can't get any better, but then you get to Side Two!
    Side Two is where Deep Feeling really take off with 3 strong and emotive vocal numbers including the first track on the side the title track "Guillotine." Already an interest in darker, somber, and more serious lyrical themes has been shown, but "Guillotine" is very different. The story is a failed escape from The French Revolution which was the bloodiest and most pointless of all revolutions and it's a bit weird to hear a British band from the country that hates the French basing a whole song around Paris and The French Revolution! Unlike the freakishness of "Welcome For A Soldier" "Guillotine" is another mini movie with a different way of presenting its concept. Swail/Darrell's mellow vocal at the beginning is brilliant against the Gothic organ heavy backdrop and you can hear Spring, Procol Harum, and Fantasy all of the classics of prog rock yet with that infectious pop foundation beneath it all. Jenner's solo after the first chorus battles it out with the organ before he goes crazy and turns his guitar into a million permutations of apocalyptic destructiveness making Robert Fripp sound like nothing! When Swail/Darrell comes back in finally he sings harder than before with a brief powerful vocal before the repeat of the chorus and the ending of the longest vocal track on the album.
     "Country Heir" is a beautiful song and a vibrant contrast to the darkness and menacing disturbed prog of what came previous to it. The softly strummed acoustic guitars, swirling pedal steel, and lazy melodic sweetly sung vocal harmonies create the perfect atmosphere of a beautiful day- very Hollies meets Heron and I got a mint original of the first Heron in the big bunch that also included Deep Feeling and that is a monster of the melodic pop/folk psych/progressive genre. Deep Feeling tried really hard to put together an album that you'd keep coming back to and "Country Heir" continues the top level lyric and songwriting in a mellower, happier style than the other original vocal tracks, but with the same determination to prove that the hit had led to the band deciding to go more into very progressive experimentation. They couldn't have been more successful in their attempt to show that they could play prog rock with the best of them. "Lucille" the Little Richard rock and roll standard closes the album with howling vocals, crushing guitars and organ, thick heavy bass, and mind bashing drums in a heavy metal assault that makes Sabbath look tame! Crazy as this will sound to some of you I've really grown out of all heavy metal with a scant few exceptions when you get to the later stuff. It all had been done better before the 80s era and I prefer melodic rock bands like Grand Prix, Lionheart, well you can see that I'm no "Aluminum Foil Head" which is how I refer to metalheads. If you played Deep Feeling for a hard core metal freak their squeamish side would come out! Deep Feeling, having said that, have a wider appeal than many with great songs and fantastic vocals that are very much a change from the overblown pomposity of many better known progressive rock collector's items. Find this album and give it a chance. Don't let the freaky lyrics put you off. I did for a long time and that was one of my biggest errors I ever made. Deep Feeling is a classic.
      Each generation that comes has the chance to take the best of the previous one, learn from the worst, and build on that, but a disturbing change has occurred. As I look at the world it is crumbling to dust, the same mistakes are being made, and there is a lot of dying off of very important things in life. We have forgotten or forsaken love. We have become so self-absorbed that we don't do anything but moan about our problems and our own greatness, and England is a hard hit nation. America and England got dragged into two pointless wars by politicians and nationalistic bullshit, but the protest movement that existed and gave birth to songs like "Welcome For A Soldier" seems nonexistent. Also, the tearing down of the good things while we make glaring errors and champion foolishness is really getting to me. England needs help. America desperately needs help. So you ask yourself "What Can I Give?" It better be a whole lot. The wars and environmental destruction, overpopulation are decimating the world. You'd better get out there and do something about it if you can. I would do anything I could to make the world more what it was before my birth. I've always been like that. Trapped in the wrong place at a very awkward time for me. I've never been able to fully understand the world around me. Deep Feeling seem to have had the same vibe of alienation and so has the master Ray Davis. Maybe being out of style is a good thing. Something is glaringly obvious- there is a whole lot to think about and a whole lot that needs to be rectified.

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