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OHO, 'Okinawa' OHO, 'Okinawa' reissue

Okinawa  (1974,  40.47/73.55)  ***½/TT (TT½)

Laughing
Duva
Hyphenate Iceless
Horse Remorse
Parts & Ponds
Ain't Life Dumb?
A Frog for You
Hogshead
Manic Detective
Brown Algae is Attractive
Plymouth Ascendants
The Salient Sickle Sucker
Hairy Bag
Fast Bananas
The Unfortunate Frankfurter Vendor
Last Dance
Fill the Sheet
The Still Nite (sic)

Dance of the Ivy Dog
Gotta Write a Poem
The Insipid City of York
Board Organ (edit)

The Continuing Story of Cragwheel
  the Corpse, part 2
Lemon Flowers
Corrective Shoes

Pale Hippo
Sorry
Chess is Boring

The Plague
OHO, 'Vitamin OHO'

Vitamin OHO  (1991, recorded 1975,  39.35)  ****/TT½

Seldom Bought
Hyphenate Ice-less
Lemon Flowers
No Fewer Days
Fwombat
Lois Jane

Hogshead
Nocturnal Recurrence
Tinker's Damn
OHO, 'Ecce OHO'

Ecce OHO!  (1998, recorded 1974-5,  42.44)  ***½/TT

On
Motion of Motion
The Plague
Per Ipsum
Here Come(s) the Oysters
Maiden Voyage

Duva [live]
Rock Song (a.k.a. We Never Wanted This)
Cragwheel
Hogshead [live]
OHO, 'Recollections'

Recollections (1974-1976)  (2002, recorded 1974-76,  73.07)  ****/TTT½

Tinker's Damn
Parade/Charade
The Salient Sickle Sucker
The Three
Lez Lee
Hyphenate Ice-less
No Fewer Days
Nocturnal Recurrence
The Plague
Dance of The Ivy Dog
Fwombat
Albumblatt
Ms Mouse
Snow Lady pt II
Naming OHO
The Hand Over Isaac's Head

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

According to their website, OHO (from the initial three members' initials: O'Connor/Heck/O'Sullivan) coalesced around 1973, releasing the rare-as-rocking-horse-shit Okinawa independently a year later, losing a fair bit of money in the process. It's more than a little off-the-wall, with a vein of dark humour running through most of the lyrics (sample: "They buried her mother today"); it's probably a rather overworked comparison, but I detect some distinctly Zappa-esque nuttiness, with fewer knob gags. OK, none. I'd swear blind that Akron's finest, Devo, heard the middle section of The Continuing Story Of Cragwheel The Corpse somewhere down the line, and there's any number of other bits here that remind one of later acts, most of whom can't possibly have heard OHO. Mark O'Connor plays Mellotron, with The Salient Sickle Sucker managing some rather un-'Tronlike strings, although the choirs give the game away. The other highlighted tracks feature the string sound again (string section?), with a more upfront part in Gotta Write A Poem, though it's certainly not one of the album's chief components. A 1995 reissue of the album, on five 10" EPs (!), adds another 15 tracks, a few of which turn up on Vitamin OHO (italicised in tracklisting above). Minor extra 'Tron, with faint choir and strings on Hyphenate Iceless, choir on Lemon Flowers and strings on Sorry.

Many years and many lineup changes down the line, not to mention an eponymous 1989 album, Vitamin OHO was released on Germany's Little Wing of Refugees label, and seems to be the first of several attempts to collate the band's somewhat disparate history. Compared to Okinawa, it contains fairly straightforward material, although that has to be taken in the context of OHO, so we're not exactly talking top 30 stuff here. Actually, several of these tracks are exemplars of interesting song-based progressive (notably the fabulous Tinker's Damn), making it all the odder that the band are so little known in progressive circles. It's actually quite difficult to work out what's going on here, Mellotronically speaking; the band had clearly bought some form of string synth which wasn't a Solina, which I believe can be heard on Hyphenate Ice-less, but are those Mellotron choirs on Lemon Flowers? And strings on No Fewer Days and Fwombat? Definitely brass on Lois Jane, and plenty of strings on Tinker's Damn, a song written after seeing Genesis in 1974 as mentioned on the band's site - clock the opening lyric: "Tales and nursery crymes [sic], fill my head this hour...". Cheeky buggers. Incidentally, I can't hear Nocturnal Recurrence on my copy, although assuming it's the same version as on Recollections below, it seems to have some slight Mellotronic input.

Some years on again, 1998's Ecce OHO collects more odds'n'sods together, including several live tracks that don't add that much to the band's legend, to be honest. Not bad, just not that amazing, either. A couple of the studio tracks are especially worth hearing, but overall, this is a rather lesser collection than its predecessor. On the 'Tron front, I think that's strings on The Plague, and it definitely is on Per Ipsum and Here Come(s) The Oysters, and probably on Maiden Voyage, with an unexpected few seconds of choir on the live version of Hogshead, meaning they used it on stage, if only occasionally.

2002's Recollections (1974-1976) is something of a grab-bag of previously released and unavailable material, thrown together in a random fashion. Several track titles will be familiar to you from the above albums (although at least one, Hyphenate Ice-less, is a different version), while Lez Lee was not only the b-side of 1975 single Seldom Bought (on Vitamin OHO above), but would also have been on an unreleased album from 1976, Dream of the Ridiculous Band (although I've no idea if it's the same version), along with Parade/Charade, Albumblatt, Ms Mouse, Snow Lady Pt II and The Hand Over Isaac's Head, which only leaves a few unreleased album selections still unavailable. The Three is a medley of Seldom Bought, Lois Jane and Hogshead, as performed live, and Naming OHO is a studio mess-about. Apart from the previously-available tracks, there's a little Mellotron on Parade/Charade, with some upfront strings on Lez Lee, strings on Ms Mouse and choir on The Hand Over Isaac's Head. Actually, you couldn't get much more of a full-on OHO 'Tron album if you tried, could you? So; heavily recommended for both music and Mellotron.

Well; took me a little while, but I got through 'em! Okinawa's good, but hard work, Vitamin OHO and ...Ridiculous Band are more straightforward (sort of), Ecce OHO is definitely odds'n'sods, and Recollections is possibly your best starting point. More Mellotron than expected across the board, although an awful lot of it doesn't actually sound that Mellotronic. Maybe it isn't? I'm confused.

As a footnote, OHO's Jay Grabowski very kindly sent me their entire works on CD, including the unreleased Crucifixion Lust: 4-Track Demos and Dream of the Ridiculous Band, reviewed below.

Here's a strange hybrid video of The Plague, with a recent performance intercut with the only known contemporary OHO footage, from 1975. That's Jay Graboski pushing their Mellotron out of the hall in the closing seconds, heard briefly during the track.


unreleased

Crucifixion Lust: The Basement Tapes  (Recorded 1974-75,  71.29)  ****/TTTT

Naming OHO
Here Come(s) the Oysters
Cragwheel in Spain
Horse Remorse
Tinker's Damn
Parade/Charade
Lemon Flowers
Seldom Bought
Lois Jane
Hogshead
Hyphenate Ice-Less
Fwombat
Maiden Voyage
No Fewer Days
The Plague
OHO, 'Dream of the Ridiculous Band'

Dream of the Ridiculous Band  (Recorded 1976,  44.24)  ****/TT½

Parade/Charade
Lez Lee

Hogshead (Slight Return)
We'll Be Famous When We're Dead
Albumblatt
Miss Mouse
Parties
Snow Lady (Part II)
I Crawled Back to Nothing When I Crawled Back to You
Paint Can
The Hand Over Isaac's Head

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

OHO were not only one of Baltimore's, but one of America's oddest bands in the '70s, at least that I've heard. See their main review for a better description of their sound; suffice to say, their music is unlikely to appeal to those whose taste strays towards (or entirely inhabits) the mainstream. Crucifixion Lust: The Basement Tapes is an unreleased document of the band's four-track demos from 1974-5, in the days when 'four-track' meant reel-to-reel (often a Revox), not crummy cassette, meaning that they sound pretty good, if not actually studio standard (there are minor dropouts on a couple of tracks, as if to prove the point). Of course, most of these tracks are available in studio-recorded versions, but these are invaluable for hearing the uncluttered instrumental parts, should you feel so inclined. Mellotron on most tracks, from Mark O'Connor, with strings on Here Come(s) The Oysters and (very clearly) on Tinker's Damn, with choir and strings on Parade/Charade. Hogshead features a quite bizarre 'underwater' 'Tron choir (male voice?), with more strings and choir on the remaining highlighted tracks, usually far clearer than on their studio recordings.

It seems that 1976's 'legendary unreleased' album, Dream of the Ridiculous Band, has leaked out on bootleg label Gott Discs, assuming you can find it. To say it's more 'mainstream' than the band's previous work is rather irrelevant; everything's relative, and this album is only 'relatively' normal. It's certainly an easier listen than their work from a couple of years earlier, although not specifically better for it, merely different. A couple of diversions from their standard ensemble playing are the under-a-minute snippet, Hogshead (Slight Return) and acoustic guitar solo Albumblatt, although most of the material fits their usual remit. Mellotron on Parade/Charade, Lez Lee, Miss Mouse, Paint Can and The Hand Over Isaac's Head, with chiefly fairly background strings and choir use. This could be a good entrée to the band's oeuvre (enough French already), so it's cool that Dream of the Ridiculous Band is sort-of available, although every track on it has been commercially released at some point on one format or another. If you don't feel like splashing out, the easiest way to hear half of the album is to get the Recollections (1974-1976) compilation, with most of the remainder on 2003's Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands II.

I can't tell you where you can find these, but who knows, they may appear officially at some point. It's always down to money in the end... Anyway, the demos are far more 'Tron-heavy than their 'produced' tracks, which probably isn't so surprising.

links

Official site

See: Dark Side | Food for Worms


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