Rare on Air
Red Hot + Blue
Rime of the Ancient Sampler
Roqueting Through Space
Rare on Air, Vol.1: KCRW Live Performances (1994, 63.51) ***/T
Silent All These Years
Always in Disguise
Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield:
My Drug Buddy
Arms for Hostages
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds:
Never Going Back Again
The Captive Heart
How You've Grown
Chet Baker's Unsung Swan Song
KCRW is a Santa Monica-based community radio station, although as a non-American, I'm not entirely sure what that means. Non-commercial? No matter. The station not only apparently provides a worthwhile service in its area, but has released several volumes of its Rare on Air series, containing tracks culled from live sessions. 1994's Vol.1 features an eclectic range of artists, from singer-songwriters Tori Amos, Michael Penn and Natalie Merchant through to the jazzy Mark Isham and the almost-uncategorisable Beck and Nick Cave, with exclusive performances from all concerned.
Patrick Warren turns up with Michael Penn, adding real Chamberlin to Coal, with string, flute and pedal steel parts, although, to my knowledge, it's the only tape-replay work to be heard across the entire, several-volume series. While this probably isn't worth hearing for a single (albeit nicely upfront) Chamby track, fans of any of the artists concerned might wish to hear these beautifully-recorded, largely stripped-down performances.
See: Tori Amos | Juliana Hatfield | Michael Penn | X | Beck | Los Lobos | Natalie Merchant | Lucinda Williams
Reading Festival 1973 (1973, 48.25) ***/T
Don't Waste My Time
Long Legged Linda
Hang on to a Dream
Person to Person
Reading Rock Volume One (1982) ***/T
Walking in the Shadow of the Blues
I Want Your Body
He Knows You Know
I Wanna See You Tonight
Come on Woman
There and Back
Shoot 'em Down
Attack of the Mad Axeman
Three Boats Down From the Candy
Turn Me Loose
Just Good Friends:
You Really Got Me
Hot and Ready
Panzer Division Destroyed
Keep on Believin'
All the Time
Caught on the Wrong Side
Although the Reading Festival (originally the National Jazz & Blues Festival) has been going, on and off, since the early '60s, I only know of two years where albums of the event were released, 1973 and 1982. The '73 LP, Reading Festival 1973, was released by GM (Gaff/Masters) Records, the recording imprint of Rod Stewart's management company, Gaff Management, so it should come as absolutely no surprise to find that almost all (all?) of the eight artists represented had a clear GM connection in one form or another, with several cases of inter-band co-operation, too. Fair enough - it's their album... Despite containing an artistically pretty mixed bag, the album's chiefly of interest these days for its otherwise unavailable live tracks, although, surprisingly, it not only had a vinyl reissue in 1990, but has also made it onto CD via those nice See for Miles people.
So, what do you get for your dosh? Live Rory Gallagher, Status Quo, Faces and Tim Hardin tracks, none (to my knowledge) available elsewhere, plus less collectable ones from Lesley Duncan, Strider, Andy Bown (uselessly credited as 'Brown' by his own bloody management, with a track he later recorded with the Quo) and the reason this album's here at all, Greenslade. The tracks are worth hearing for their curiosity value, at least, although (to my ears) side one easily outclasses the flip, Duncan and Hardin's tracks skating perilously close to MOR. Greenslade's Feathered Friends is the set's one Mellotron track, Dave Greenslade adding a strong string part to the song, although the strings on Duncan and Hardin's tracks are real (real strings at Reading? Huh?). Since this is actually available, unusually for such an album, it's probably worth it should you see it cheap and want to fill in small gaps in your Quo/Rory/Faces collections, or would simply like to hear a sort-of cross-section of the kind of acts that played Reading in the early '70s. For what it's worth, the 1990 version (and the CD) is titled Reading Festival '73 and the sleeve features some great pics from the weekend not on the original LP.
The 1982 double LP was optimistically entitled Reading Rock Volume One, although I'm quite sure it was the last of its kind. By this point in the festival's history, it was a solid heavy rock event, although as the '80s wore on, it assimilated other contemporary styles before the 'big crash' of 1988, when it failed spectacularly, was bought out by the well-named Mean Fiddler Group (think about it) and eventually, went on to its current huge success. The album is, unsurprisingly, the usual mixed bag, even sticking in a couple of tracks from earlier years (Whitesnake's rip-roaring Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues is from '79 and UFO's Hot And Ready, released as a b-side at the time, is from '80), with long-forgotten third-raters such as Chinatown (with TWO tracks?), Spider (fun, but ultimately forgettable) and Just Good Friends (WHO?), rubbing shoulders with the likes of Budgie, Twisted Sister, Quo mate Jackie Lynton (supported him once, y'know) and Stampede.
Of the rest, Terraplane, a.k.a. Terrible Pain, were tipped for greatness, only actually (allegedly) achieving it after a split, reformation and name change to Thunder, Michael Schenker was at the peak of his post-UFO solo career, Bernie Marsden appears twice, with Whitesnake in '79 and solo in '82 (guess which is better), while Marillion's set was their breakthrough after a year of solid touring. It's the latter outfit's contributions that interest us here (for once), despite the shoddy drumming (poor old Mick); he very noticeably speeds up on He Knows You Know... Anyway, Mark Kelly, in probably one of the last times he used their Mellotron in anger, adds strings to He Knows You Know (replaced by synth on the following year's album version, of course) and the same string part to Three Boats Down From The Candy as on the Market Square Heroes EP.
Do you bother with either of these? Are you a big enough fan of enough of the featured artists to want to shell out for a handful of live tracks you can't get anywhere else? Then yes. Do you bother for the Mellotron? Probably not.
See: Strider | Greenslade | Andy Bown | Marillion | Budgie | Stampede | UFO
Red Hot + Blue: a Tribute to Cole Porter (1990, 77.46) ***/½
I've Got You Under My Skin
In the Still of the Night
You Do Something to Me
Begin the Beguine
Fine Young Cannibals:
Love for Sale
Deborah Harry & Iggy Pop:
Well, Did You Evah!
The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl:
Miss Otis Regrets/Just One of Those Things
Don't Fence Me in
It's All Right With Me
Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye
Night and Day
Les Negresses Vertes:
I Love Paris
So in Love
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Too Darn Hot
I Get a Kick
Down in the Depths
From This Moment on
After You, Who?
Do I Love You?
It's 2009. You're producing a tribute album. Which names do you pursue? The Thompson Twins? The Fine Young Cannibals? Erasure? It just goes to prove how ephemeral some artists are, and how difficult it is at any given point to work out just who will last and who won't. Cole Porter's lasted... Whether or not you feel any affinity at all with his songwriting, it defines its era, while much of it is jaw-droppingly audacious, not to mention piss-funny. It really was another time, where tunes and arrangements were almost entirely subservient to lyrics, starting the tradition of rating lyricists as highly as the poor sods who write the tunes, despite the practice's frequent irrelevance in the pop and rock world. I mean, who cares what most bands write about? The level of wit and invention in most modern songwriting is rock-bottom, making it a pleasure to hear a whole album of songs written when it was a real craft and lyricists would spend months agonising over a single line. Maybe.
Red Hot + Blue: a Tribute to Cole Porter works about as well as most similar efforts, i.e. it's a complete ragbag of artists and styles, only vaguely held together by Porter's inimitable writing style. Some artists (k.d. lang, Jody Watley) opt for the 'trad' route, playing the songs pretty much as they were written, while others (Neneh Cherry, U2, The Thompson Twins) tackle them as they would their own compositions, which, while it can be heavily hit'n'miss, at least makes for something new. Highlights include Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry's Well, Did You Evah!, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's Miss Otis Regrets/Just One Of Those Things medley and, of course, Tom Waits' It's All Right With Me.
Said track, frankly, sounds like just about everything else he's done over the last two or three decades. There's credited Chamberlin, but if you can tell exactly what it's doing, then mister, you're a better man than I (sorry, wrong songwriting era). I think someone's playing bowed saw, while the Chamby's apparently set to the female voice with all the treble filtered out. So; you're not going to get this for its tape-replay content, but for a quick skip through 1990's great and good tackling songs way beyond their comprehension, it's possibly worth hearing. Oh, and for Waits completists, of course.
See: David Byrne | Tom Waits | U2
Rime of the Ancient Sampler: The Mellotron Album (1993, 77.42) ***/TTTTT
Then and Now
Waters Beneath the Bridge
Mello Blue's Blues
Night of the Condor
Attack of the Azimuths
1964 Mellotron Demonstration Disc:
Very quietly, in the early '90s, bathroom fitter Martin Smith and John 'son of Les' Bradley opened for business as Streetly Electronics, just outside Birmingham, helping to kickstart the revival of Mellotron use in the UK. They brought my own machine back from the dead in 1993, coincidentally the same year they compiled Rime of the Ancient Sampler: The Mellotron Album, released on Voiceprint. Now long out of print, copies change hands for considerable sums on the 'Tron fan circuit although, if I'm going to be utterly, brutally honest, it's not quite the classic it's made out to be. What's more, although Martin and John spent some weeks trundling a Mark II all over the country for artists to use, only ten of the sixteen tracks recorded especially for the album actually use real 'Tron, one of the sample casualties being Martin's own track, Engulfed. No, I don't know why either.
In retrospect, some of the artists seem rather odd choices. Bill Nelson? (Be-Bop Deluxe only ever used one sparingly). Julian Colbeck? Several lesser-known singer-songwriters/session men? To be fair, the project was put together pretty quickly, and several high-profile names wouldn't commit, and there are a few classic names from Mellotron history. The booklet helpfully lists every sound used by each musician (trainspotters? Us?), even when those sounds are now known to be samples, and there's a good selection, apart from the ubiquitous violins/flutes/choir, including mixed brass, trumpet, sax, oboe, Hammond and Patrick Moraz' special FX set.
The music. Hmmm. This is where it gets a bit difficult for me. I know several of the people involved with the project (like the namedropper I am), so it's with a heavy heart that I say: it's not very good. All but two of the tracks were written specially for the record, the artists being given complete carte blanche, and most of them sound like '80s-hangover session muso stuff, I'm afraid. You know; programmed drums, nasty digital synth patches, no discernable tune. That sort of thing. It's not all bad; The Strawbs' Blue Weaver plays a nice bluesy thing in Mello Blue's Blues, although you can hear the samples at a couple of points, and Moraz' Owner's Guide is intentionally amusing, but most of the material has a rather rushed feel about it, as though the artists were only given a couple of days' notice to come up with something. A few tracks quote from 'Tron classics of yesteryear, notably the Climax Blues Band's Derek Holt, on Resurrection, and my old friend Dave Etheridge, on Mighty Tron. A quick aside here, to say a public 'thank you' to Dave for a) letting me play his Mark II back in the mid-'80s - the first Mellotron I ever laid hands on, and b) ringing me excitedly at work one day in '93 to tell me he'd found someone to get my 'Tron working again. Enter Martin...
However... unsurprisingly, there is some mighty 'Tron work here, with Ken Freeman going completely bonkers with the choirs on Attack Of The Azimuths (you can tell this man's worked on the machine's innards), while the violins (plus his real one) on David Cross' Not So are as in-yer-face as you could ever want; the track's not bad, either. David Kean (US 'Tron resurrector) shows off shamelessly by playing Mellotron, Chamberlin and Birotron on Lift, named for his fave obscure US prog outfit, and Dave Etheridge's Mighty Tron cops The Beatles, The Moody Blues and Genesis, and why not? And Dave, 'Watcher' is in F#, not G...
Whither the two tracks not actually recorded for the album, I hear you ask? Ex-Barclay James Harvester Woolly Wolstenholme's Deceivers All is the best song 'proper' on the album, being recorded for his second solo album in the early '80s, finally seeing the light of day on Black Box, which came out the year after Rime, also on Voiceprint. It's swamped in M300 strings, and not only has a tune, but a damn' good one, and is the only track here available elsewhere, for what it's worth. Apart from Woolly's track, the highlight of the album has to be El Cumbanchero, the original '64 'Tron demo disc; in fact, the album's (almost) worth it for this alone, though only almost. It consists of a cleaned-up 7" single of an unknown musician playing some cheesy Mark II string chords over a left-hand manual rhythm, with some dweeb with a slightly mid-Atlantic accent extolling its virtues, before a further selection of rhythm tapes and some wild Hammond soloing on the right-hand manual. Stupendous. No, I mean it; well, very nearly...
So; it's rather academic whether or not I recommend this, as it's almost impossible to find, especially outside the UK, and if you're a Mellotron nut, it's probably at the top of your 'wants' list, whatever I have to say about it. A reissue is apparently a no-no, permanently, so if you're absolutely hell-bent on owning a copy, keep your eyes open, and good luck.
See: Be-Bop Deluxe | Mike Pinder | The Moody Blues | Patrick Moraz | Strawbs | Climax Blues Band | Nick Magnus | Steve Hackett | Woolly Wolstenholme | Barclay James Harvest | Maestoso | King Crimson
Roqueting Through Space (2011, 46.25) ****/T
No Silver Bird
I Come From Another Planet, Baby
Cranium Pie with Baking Research Station:
The Luck of Eden Hall:
The Grand Astoria:
Sendelica with Nik Turner:
Fruits de Mer's LP/7" set Roqueting Through Space is a tribute to space rock in all its glory, the contributing artists all tackling the genre in their own inimitable styles. I don't know if the label rejected anything, but there's not a bad track here, from Vibravoid's take on the obscure Hooterville Trolley's No Silver Bird, through Helicon's lengthy Hallogallo (possibly Neu!'s best-known track), The Luck of Eden Hall's excellent Lucifer Sam (Pink Floyd, duh) to Diarmuid MacDiarmada's krautrock version of Joe Meek/The Tornados' Telstar, other covered acts including Can and Julian Cope. The 'bonus 7"' contains versions of two (actually three) Hawkwind tracks, Alpha Omega concocting an inventive mash-up of Transdimensional Man and the superb Paradox, while Sendelica actually get Nik Turner to play on their slightly dancey Urban Guerilla.
Tony "Frobisher Neck" Swettenham adds upfront Mellotron flutes and strings to Neu!'s Isi, although the strings on Cranium Pie/Baking Research Station's take on Brainticket's Blacksand are presumably sampled. The bad news is that this isn't available on CD and the vinyl's long sold out; come on, chaps, bugger all that 'vinyl is king' stuff and stick this out on a little shiny disc...
See: Vibravoid | Julian Cope | Pink Floyd | Hawkwind
SI Magazine: Compilation Disc (1991, 72.42) *½/½
Fallen Dreams and Angels
The Last Detail:
Man Out of Time
The Beginning and the End
For Absent Friends:
Back to the Silence
The Call of Nature
War of Words
One of the first independent progressive labels of the '90s, The Netherlands' S.I. (Sym-Info) are now largely forgotten, despite their groundbreaking work; they went to the wall in the middle of the decade, doubtless due to the standard cashflow problems encountered by labels run by fans, although most of their better releases have been reissued on other labels. Actually, if we're going to be brutally honest, S.I.'s roster was pretty awful, with the likes of neo-prog horrors For Absent Friends, Aragon and Egdon Heath, although they also gave Scots experimentalists-turned-neoproggers-turned-Genesis-copyists Citizen Cain a chance, and were the first label to reissue Twelfth Night's seminal Live & Let Live (*****), whilst also foisting several dreary Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) projects on the world, amongst other unpleasantnesses. Basically, with a handful of exceptions, they released then-current neo-prog by bands who were never going to get a deal with anyone else. Ever. See: Coda.
The wittily-titled SI Magazine: Compilation Disc (the large '10' on the cover refers to the mag's tenth anniversary) featured most of the early-'90s' neo-prog leading lights (such as they were), including some who never actually released anything else on the label, not to mention several exclusive and never reissued tracks. Among these are my good friend Nick May's only recorded work with Jadis, before being dropped like the proverbial hot potato, and the only thing Pallas released in their 12-year gap between albums, War Of Words. It's this last that interests us here, as it's also their last recorded Mellotron work, played by returning original keyboard player Mike Stobbie, who eventually left to be replaced by his original replacement, Ronnie Brown. With me so far? It's actually a piece of unmitigated AOR shite, to be quite honest and really should have been left unavailable, in my (very) 'umble opinion, featuring a brief and distant choir part that does nothing to dig the song out of its quagmire of slop. Unfortunately, in their completist zeal, the band elected to include it on their massive archive effort, Mythopoeia, albeit in MP3 form, although that does mean that completist fans won't have to shell out the sheckels for this dismal effort, if they simply can't bear to be without it.
The rest of the album's pretty awful, too, but as it's long-unavailable and exceedingly unlikely to be reissued, you're not going to find a copy anyway. Gandalf's hilariously-titled The Call Of Nature brings to mind Now (also present here)'s side-splitting debut, Complaint of the Wind, and Québecois Visible Wind's entire career. Want to use English idioms? Ask an expert. Or at least an English speaker. OK, for what it's worth, the only tracks which didn't trigger an overpowering urge in me to hit the 'skip' button were the ones by (maybe surprisingly) Landmarq, Jadis and Gandalf, although Now's effort had some nice Yes-like 'da da da's, although the track sounds a bit throwaway.
So; you're rather unlikely to find this, but in case you've actually got it on your 'wants' list for some strange reason, I can only urge you to delete it immediately. The bulk of this compilation is irredeemably horrible, and should never have been released. Unequivocal? Moi?
See: Jadis | Gandalf | Pallas