Urbanus van Anus
Us & Them
Use of Ashes
Ceux du Dehors (1981, 50.14) ****/TDense
La Corne du Bois des Pendus
Bonjour Chez Vous
La Musique d'Erich Zann
La Tete du Corbeau
Triomphe des Mouches
Univers Zero could easily be mistaken for a Crimson/Henry Cow influenced outfit, but I suspect it's more likely that they just listened to the same early 20th-century composers. Notably, however, there's no jazz in their sound whatsoever, or, for that matter, much actual rock. Ceux du Dehors is dense, difficult music, instrumental, with lengthy drumless passages utilising various members of the woodwind family. Suffice to say, Marillion it ain't. Thankfully. It's the sort of album that repays repeated plays, but unless you're already well into the avant-garde, don't expect to 'get it' first time.
Andy Kirk plays Mellotron on the two longest tracks, the appropriately-named Dense and Combat, although there's not an awful lot to be heard on either. A brief string part on the former and some flute chords on the latter, with possibly a few string chords, and that's it, although I'm sure I can hear some 'Tron strings on the improvised La Musique d'Erich Zann, which, for some reason, doesn't have any musicians' credits. So; a very good album, if slightly hard work, but not really one for the Mellotron fan.
See: Samples | Present
Lovin' Feeling (1973, 36.17) ***/TKeep on Trippin'
Another Funky Tune
Being at War With Each Other
You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
I Still Love You
You've Been Around Too Long
Phil Upchurch is an American jazz guitarist, active since the late '50s, who's worked with Stan Getz and B.B. King, amongst many others. His eighth solo album, 1973's Lovin' Feeling, is a pretty straight jazz/soul/funk effort of the time, quite unlike Ben Sidran's Puttin' in Time on Planet Earth from the same year, on which Upchurch guests. Most of the album's instrumental, featuring Upchurch's phenomenal playing, the only familiar tune being his reworking of The Walker Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling as a Latinesque, jazzy instrumental.
The superbly-named Tennyson Stephens plays Mellotron, with background strings on opener Keep On Trippin' and I Still Love You, clearly intended to dep for an absent orchestra. I think it's fair to say that this one's strictly for jazz fans; it doesn't even feature enough Mellotron to be worth hearing on that account.
Upp (1975, 37.17) ***½/TT½Bad Stuff
It's a Mystery
Get Down in the Dirt
Give it to You
Count to Ten
After recording several albums with south coast blues-boomers Clark Hutchinson, multi-instrumentalist Andy Clark put Upp together in the mid-'70s, calling on the talents of none other than an uncredited Jeff Beck on their self-titled debut. Upp is a funny sort of record; very '70s, it's that mixture of soul, funk and blues that went out of fashion very quickly, assuming it had ever been in. The playing is fantastic, with Rhodes, clavinet and Moog work to die for, and (presumably) Clark has a fantastic 'soul shouter' voice, sounding more like a low-budget Isaac Hayes than a white kid from the south (coast). Not so sure about the material, but then, anything in the soul area is well outside my normal taste boundaries, unless it falls into the 'psychedelic funk' territory of Chairmen of the Board or Edwin Birdsong.
Clark plays background 'Tron strings on opener Bad Stuff and It's A Mystery, with a more upfront part on the, er, 'low down and dirty' Give It To You. Closer Count To Ten adds flutes to the mix, making for a couple of good 'Tron tracks, although I suspect that a lack of orchestral budget is the probable reason, rather than a love of the Mellotron for itself. Or maybe not? Now there seems to be some confusion here: an Andy Clark joined Be-Bop Deluxe in late 1975, in time to tour their Futurama opus (also playing 'Tron on stage, at least initially), but it seems I (and others) have made a bit of an assumption by linking the two. According to the sleevenotes in Get Down in the Dirt: The Complete Upp, they're two different people, which figures, given the timescale. The Be-Bop chap would've been far too busy to have any other projects running concurrently and (the real giveaway), none of the blokes pictured in the Upp anthology look anything like him. So, two keyboard-playing Andy Clarks around at the same time; odd, but far from impossible.
Upp released one more album, the 'Tron-free This Way Upp, which is largely dull with one great instrumental track; both albums and some later demos, often bootlegged as being by Jeff Beck, are contained on the aforementioned Get Down in the Dirt: The Complete Upp. Anyway, Upp seems to be pretty good at what it does, but if you're not into UK soul, you're unlikely to like the bulk of it, with the possible exception of the epic Give It To You. Decent 'Tron work on two songs, and background stuff on a couple of others, making this a passable 'Tron album, to my surprise.
Urbanus van Anus Leevend (1974, 37.16) ***/T
De Konijnekotelaar (a)
De Konijnekotelaar (b)
In het Midden van de Nacht
De Wereld is om Zeep
Simfonieke van den Uitkomen
So what kind of a name is Urbanus van Anus? Also known as Urbanus and other noms de plume, Urbain Joseph Servranckx is a Flemish-speaking Belgian comedian/musician/actor/author, vaguely comparable with, say, Billy Connolly, although his songs are better-known. In Belgium, anyway. Side one of 1974's Urbanus van Anus Leevend is a document of his live show, combining music and stand-up, recorded at Stadsschouwburg van Brugge (Bruges) in October of that year; listening to this not speaking a word of Flemish (essentially Dutch) feels like being the uninvited guest, but then, Urbanus didn't make this for Brits, did he? Side two is studio, with a full band, although the style essentially remains the same, a jovial 'massed male voice' kind of thing, that hasn't aged especially well.
Jean Blaute plays Mellotron on closer Simfonieke Van Den Uitkomen, with overdubbed string and flute parts, always welcome, if a tad inessential. Students of Low Countries humour (low humour?) might be interested in hearing this, but I think the rest of us can probably pass.
Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (1970, 40.25/50.49) ***½/TT½
Walking in Your Shadow
Come Away Melinda
Real Turned on
I'll Keep on Trying
Wake Up (Set Your Sights)
Bird of Prey (US album version)
Born in a Trunk
Come Away Melinda (unreleased version)
Gypsy (extended version)
Wake Up (Set Your Sights) (unreleased version)
Born in a Trunk (unreleased version)
Dreammare (BBC session)
Gypsy (BBC session)]
Salisbury (1970, 38.45/45.25) ****½/T½Bird of Prey
Time to Live
Lady in Black
Simon the Bullet Freak
High Priestess (single edit)]
Return to Fantasy (1975, 40.37/57.49) **½/T
|Return to Fantasy
Your Turn to Remember
Why Did You Go
|A Year or a Day
Shout it Out
The Time Will Come
Beautiful Dream (unreleased version)
Return to Fantasy (edit)]
High and Mighty (1976) **/T
|One Way or Another
Weep in Silence
Can't Keep a Good Band Down
Woman of the World
Footprints in the Snow
Can't Stop Singing
|Make a Little Love
The Lansdowne Tapes (1993, recorded 1969-71, 77.26) ***/T
|Born in a Trunk
Simon the Bullet Freak
Here am I
What's Within My Heart
What Should Be Done
I Want You Babe
Born in a Trunk (instrumental)
Look at Yourself
Uriah Heep have become an institution on the British rock scene; over thirty years in the business, with nearly as many albums. Notorious for their ever-changing personnel, they've kept the same lineup now for well over a decade, and have actually increased their public profile of recent years. Oddly enough, they've had two separate bursts of Mellotronic activity during their career, starting with the late-'60s pre-Heep outfit Spice. Their debut, Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (a not very good pun on their Dickensian name) began as a Spice session, and ended as a Uriah Heep album, with organist Ken Hensley brought in fairly late in the proceedings. As a result, some of the keyboard work, including the Mellotron, was played by a session guy, Colin Wood; I believe Wood played on Come Away Melinda and Wake Up, with Hensley on I'll Keep On Trying.
Of the three tracks on the original release, I'll Keep On Trying has a little 'Tron flute, and Wake Up features quite a bit of strings work, but it's the album's big ballad, Come Away Melinda which really does the business. Starting with overdubbed flutes and strings, this is a marvellous piece of work; very emotive, and well worth anyone's time. Melinda wasn't a band original, and was recorded by several different people at the time, including the early post-psychedelic UFO. Heep themselves re-recorded it recently, sans 'Tron, of course... Irritatingly, a new version of the remastered CD has appeared recently, with loads more bonus tracks than the original. Funnily enough, I'd just been alerted to the fact that the US version of the album, released the following year and called simply Uriah Heep dropped Lucy Blues and added a remixed version of Bird Of Prey from the UK Salisbury, including some tasteful 'Tron overdubs on the chorus. There's also another stunning version of Melinda, definitely with Wood on 'Tron, almost certainly a Mark II, and a different mix of Wake Up (Set Your Sights).
Very 'Eavy's follow-up, Salisbury is an excellent album, particularly the 16-minute title track, the nearest Heep ever got to out-and-out prog, utilising woodwind and brass sections. It was only recently, however, that I noticed the bit of Mellotron that had crept onto the album; major acoustic guitar workout Lady In Black features a nice single-note string line throughout much of the song, and even more recently that I spotted the low-in-the-mix strings on Bird Of Prey, meaning that the US version isn't so different to the UK after all.
There was no more 'Tron to be heard on a Heep album for some years; not until, in fact, their slight return to form after the abysmal Wonderworld (**), '75's Return to Fantasy. After relatively long-term bassist New Zealander Gary Thain left under a cloud after an unfortunate on-stage electrocution incident (not the cause of his subsequent death, incidentally), he was replaced by recently ex-King Crimson man John Wetton, who brought one of Crimson's old M400s with him, which Heep magnanimously allowed him to play on one track each of the two albums he made with them. Why Did You Go is a rather lightweight countryish song, with some fairly nice strings, while Midnight, from the following year's High and Mighty is a rather average mid-paced rocker (like much of its parent album, it has to be said) with some flutes and strings in the middle. Neither album is especially strong, I'm afraid, although Return to Fantasy's title track is a real cast-iron classic, recently resuscitated by the band as their set opener. Good move, chaps.
In 1993, a fascinating CD appeared rounding up all the old Spice demos, The Lansdowne Tapes, including outtakes from Very 'Eavy. One of these, I Want You Babe, featuring Colin Wood again, is the only unreleased 'Tron track in the Heep vaults, it seems; it features a little flute, in a similar manner to Very 'Eavy's I'll Keep On Trying, but it's easy to see why the latter made their first album when the former didn't.
So, to sum up: the only Uriah Heep album even slightly worth buying for its Mellotron use is Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble, particularly the 2003 remaster, although their next few releases, Salisbury, Look at Yourself (****½), the magnificent Demons and Wizards (*****) and possibly The Magician's Birthday (***½) and Sweet Freedom (***½) are all worth hearing. None of the other three listed here are worth it for the 'Tron, or that much of the music, to be honest. The Lansdowne Tapes has some good moments, but one of the best, Born In A Trunk, is available in a different version on the remaster of Very 'Eavy anyway.
See: David Byron | John Wetton | The Gods
Slain By Urusei Yatsura (1998, 43.35) **½/T½
No 1 Cheesecake
No No Girl
Slain By Elf
|King of Lazy
Skull in Action
Scotland's Urusei Yatsura, confusingly known as Yatsura in the States and Japan for legal reasons, were named for a Japanese manga comic, opting to play a fairly raucous brand of British indie. Slain By Urusei Yatsura (or Slain By Yatsura) is the second of their three albums and while fans of the style probably rate it, the rest of us are more likely to sit there mystified, wondering why they bothered. OK, there's a few amusing lyrical twists, but musically, it's more of that 'yeah, we've heard the Velvets' stuff that has almost entirely consumed the alternative scene in the Western world. Who'd'a thunk it, eh? Lou's boys becoming so influential? The Velvets are fine, it's just 99.9% of the bands that followed.
Fergus Lawrie plays Mellotron, with a screechy pitchbent strings part on No No Girl and (presumably 'Tron) cellos on King Of Lazy and closer Amber, although only No No Girl does anything you haven't necessarily heard before. So; rowdy indie, not much 'Tron, go elsewhere. Easy.
Summerisle EP (2011, 12.48) ***½/TTCorn Rigs
Although Swedish psych/folk duo Us & Them (can't imagine where they got their moniker) have only released one album to date, they have several EPs to their name, making me think they may be happier working in the abbreviated format. The fifth of these, Summerisle, is, of course, the band's tribute to the iconic The Wicker Man (no, you fool, not the shitty remake), although a friend 'in the know' tells me that their versions of four songs from the soundtrack aren't a patch on the originals. To my ears, they're pretty good takes on the material, though, Corn Rigs being a highlight.
Tony "Frobisher Neck" Swettenham guests on dulcimer and Mellotron, although the only definite use are a sparse flute part on Fire Leap and flutes and strings on the lengthy(ish) Willow's Song, more obviously on the latter. Worth buying this for? Barely, to be honest. What's more, I'm not even sure whether this is still in print; there have been several vinyl editions, but the only CD version appears to be a promo.
An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place (2001, 62.35) **/½
|An Ordinary Day in an Unusual
Place (part 1)
You Can't Hold Me Down
Let My Dreams Come True
Sittin' on My Park Bench
Dead End Street
Enough (Bonus Beats)
World No More
Sugar Sugar (She She Wah Wah)
An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place (part 2)
I didn't realise how much I'd dislike Us3's An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place until I stuck the disc in the player. Aargh! Hip-hop! OK, jazzy, Latin-flavoured hip-hop, but still hip-hop... However hard I try, I simply cannot understand why this is supposed to be a pleasurable listening experience; the two central tenets of hip-hop are rhythm and rhyme, whereas mine are melody and harmony, so it's hardly surprising that even when it isn't a tuneless racket, it still irritates me intensely. India and An Ordinary Day In An Unusual Place (part 2) were the only tracks that didn't have me reaching for the 'skip' button, but that isn't actually a recommendation.
Tim Vine plays various interesting keyboards on Sugar Sugar (She She Wah Wah), including a great MiniMoog solo, but the only Mellotron I can even possibly hear is a faint string line about halfway through the song. As a result, unless you like the sound of the band, steer well clear.
The Castle of Fair Welcome (1988, 53.30) ****/TT½
Eve of Separation
Gallant White Horses
Five Lucky Hands
|The Forest is Still
On a Gloomy Afternoon
An Owl Told Us
Where the Fish Can Sing
Twelfth Night, a White Spider
Albion Moonlight (1998, 26.13/32.38) ***½/T½The Smell of Burning Wings
Under the Icemoon
My Pale Friend
A White Horse
The Use of Ashes mutated out of the cheekily-named Mekanik Kommando in the mid-'80s, emerging as early players in the darkwave game, although I doubt if they ever thought of themselves in those terms. 1988's The Castle of Fair Welcome was originally released under the Mekanik Kommando name, before the trio dropped some of their electronics for more acoustic instrumentation and changed their name, reissuing it as UoA in 2005.
It's a drifting record, occasionally breaking into a gallop, though always briefly, before slipping back into its dreamlike state, with impossibly gothic (note: not Goth) subject matter. Would anyone try to get away with calling songs An Owl Told Us or Twelfth Night, A White Spider these days? I doubt it. The overall effect is of a waking dream, maybe, resting yet restless... Er, sorry, it seems to be catching. Trying to pick out individual tracks for praise is almost pointless. The whole point of the album is its cohesiveness; this is meant to be listened to as a whole. All three band members play Mellotron: Simon and Peter Van Vliet and Jack Kaat, who tell me this is their most 'Tron-heavy release. What you get for your dosh is faint choirs on opener Spring's Green, strings on Gallant White Horses and (more overtly) Five Lucky Hands and On A Gloomy Afternoon, with phased strings and choirs on An Owl Told Us. All in all, a very listenable record, thankfully now available on CD, with a decent helping of Mellotron from a low-'Tron era.
Ten years on, Albion Moonlight, originally released on 10" vinyl (the italicised tracks above denote those only available on the later CD issue), is a more rhythmic proposition all round, even ignoring the bonus tracks. More 'indie', less 'darkwave', for those who like The Castle of Fair Welcome and were hoping to hear more of the same. Highlights? Under The Icemoon's about the nearest you'll get to their previous style, while closer A White Horse features a fantastic, overwhelming piece of delay effect use. Just Peter Van Vliet on Mellotron this time round, with high, distant strings on Under The Icemoon, morphing into more upfront use, with more upfront strings on Flowerman, for what it's worth.
The Use of Ashes have used their machine on a handful of other releases: more news when I get to hear them.
See: Mekanik Kommando
Days of Plenty (2000, 43.40) ****/TT½
|Smoke That Kiss
I'm Not Gonna Be Around
Days of Plenty
The End and the Beginning
|Baby, Where'd You Go?
I Feel a Struggle Comin' on
Long Long Never
2000's Days of Plenty is George Usher's third and (to my knowledge) last Mellotron album, its two predecessors being 1997's Miracle School and the following year's Dutch April. Days of Plenty is a classic powerpop album, pretty much every track being a winner, notably I'm Not Gonna Be Around, Our World and closer Long Long Never, all featuring everything you could ask for from the style: memorable melodies, gorgeous harmonies and much guitar jangle.
Usher plays Mellotron himself, with a nice, full string part on the title track, strings accenting the riff on Crowded Mind and polyphonic flutes on Unfinished Prayer and both sounds on Long Long Never, although the cellos and violin on The End And The Beginning are real. Overall, vastly better than other, more fêted artists and more than worthy of your purchasing power. Four good 'Tron tracks merely add to the album's appeal, especially given that it sounds real (hurrah!).
Utopia (1973, 35.57) ***½/TT½What You Gonna Do?
The Wolfman Jack Show
Utopia No. 1
Utopia were an Amon Düül II offshoot, probably better described as a breakaway faction after violent rows within the band. Both sides had made up by the time they recorded Utopia, so both it and Düül's Wolf City feature members of both bands, and the CD version of the album actually credits it to Amon Düül II (doubtless to increase sales), adding to the confusion. Unsurprisingly, it has a lot in common with Düül (Utopia No.1 and Nasi Goreng could easily be the parent band), but is different enough to be treated as a band in its own right. What You Gonna Do? sounds next to nothing like Düül, ditto the balladic Alice, but, er, well, the rest of the album could be. Not that different then, really.
Lothar Meid is credited with Mellotron, but it's hard to know what's being used at times, to be honest. The Wolfman Jack Show has what sounds like solo female voice tapes, but since the Mellotron library has never offered the sound, confusion reigns. More 'standard' flutes on Alice, though I'm beginning to suspect a Chamberlin here. In Germany? In 1973? Well, a handful made their way to Europe (French outfits Magma and Dan Ar Bras both used one), but I've never heard of any German use before. Of course, Utopia's parent band used the infamous 'choir-organ' on albums recorded around the same time (reviewed here), but that doesn't account for the flute tapes. Anyway, separate male and female voices on the bonkers Deutsch Nepal and Utopia No. 1, sounding like they might be the choir-organ again, and that's your lot, leaving us none the wiser as to what was actually being played here.
So; if you like Amon Düül II, I think it's fair to say you'll like Utopia and you'll probably find the CD filed with Düül anyway. Pretty good use of something involving tapes, but whether or not it's actually a Mellotron will have to remain a mystery, at least for the moment.
See: Amon Düül II