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Preacher Boy  (US)

Gutters & Pews  (1996,  44.32)  ***½

Eagle-Eye Cherry collaborator Christopher "Preacher Boy" Watkins is an author, poet, songwriter, musician and singer, whose second album, 1996's Gutters & Pews, reminds the listener of a less extreme Tom Waits, if he concentrated more on old-time country and blues and less on being deliberately weird. Watkins is a superb guitarist, who clearly loves his raft of vintage instruments, playing them to perfection across the album, better tracks including Something Is Wrong, the energetic Buckshot and Back Then We Only Cared For Hell. Watkins supposedly plays Mellotron, but whatever he might've added to the album is effectively inaudible. Anyway, this is a fine Americana record from the old school, but you're not going to bother for the Mellotron.

Predmestje  (Yugoslavia)

Brez Naslova  (1977,  34.49)  ***

Predmestje were a Yugoslav (actually Slovenian) fusion outfit, incorporating vocals into their style, possibly in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Brez Naslova was their debut and I'd be lying if I said it was the most exciting album I'd ever heard, or even heard today. It's... OK, but their second-hand jazz moves get a mite tiresome after a while, which isn't to denigrate their playing in any way, which is as good as you'd expect from musicians who had probably spent the previous decade playing clubs several nights a week (listen to Aleksander Malahovsky's sax squawking on closer Sled Sonca). Bum notes are simply not an option... Andrej Pompe's 'Mellotron', as with albums from several other more obscure countries, turns out to be nothing more exciting than a string synth. A nice string synth, but a string synth nonetheless, heard to reasonable effect on Brez Besed and Svit. String synth, guys, not Mellotron. Very different.

Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM)  (Italy)  see:

Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM)

Presence of Soul  (Japan)

Blinds  (2008,  58.26)  **½

Despite releasing their 2008 debut, Blinds, on French progressive label Muséa, Presence of Soul (led by vocalist/guitarist and alleged Mellotronist Yuki) are far more post-rock than prog. OK, so there's a distinct musical crossover, but even the longer material on the album bears few real prog hallmarks, mostly shifting between crushingly loud sections and ethereal floaty ones, few with any real musical development. The 'Mellotron' (notably the string part that opens Rule and the flutes on closer Tightrope) is clearly nothing of the sort, although Yuki largely refuses to overuse it, thankfully. I'm afraid to say that, while a couple of tracks of this stuff might work in a progressive environment, an hour of it becomes rather tedious; I can't say I really know why Muséa have even released this. Strange.

Pressgang  (UK)

Mappa Mundi  (1997,  46.45)  ****

Pressgang have been chugging along for many years now, brandishing their own, raucous take on UK folk-rock at the general public, some of whom have been seduced by the band's raw, uncompromising but fun approach to the genre. I hesitate to say this, but there are at least slight similarities between their sound and that of the tedious 'folk-punk' crowd, including the Levellers and the appalling New Model Army, although Pressgang beat the competition hands down, largely by not being boring politicos, having brains and knowing how to write a tune. I first heard Mappa Mundi some years ago and was quite surprised to see a credit for 'Mellotron' on three tracks, as all I could hear was a weird sort of drone, unlike any Mellotron sound I'd ever heard. The album itself is actually bloody impressive; doom-laden opener The Sylkie sets the tone nicely, with several other darker pieces scattered throughout the record. There are more 'trad' folk numbers, too, plus a handful of more modern folk-rock efforts, making for a varied and interesting album that nonetheless fits firmly within the boundaries of English folk.

Presto Ballet  (US)

Peace Among the Ruins  (2005,  47.15)  ****
The Lost Art of Time Travel  (2008,  60.24)  ****
Invisible Places  (2011,  61.45)  ****
Love What You've Done With the Place  (2011,  40.38)  ***½
Relic of the Modern World  (2012,  41.53)  ****

Presto Ballet is the latest project from Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, who gleefully admits to having been a vintage keyboard collector for some years. Peace Among the Ruins is a curious mixture of '70s progressive hard rock and Vanderhoof's roots, '80s metal, so this isn't going to appeal to everyone into Zeppelin, Heep et al, although many of you will get off on at least some of it. Find The Time is particularly retro, with a No Quarter-style piano part and swirling synths (rock reviewer cliché no. 37 - sorry about that), while Sunshine is an acoustic strum-along kind of thing, with upfront samplotron strings and flutes, although most of the other material is heavier, in that '70s-crossed-with-'80s way that Vanderhoof seems to have made his own. The sampled Mellotron and Chamberlin are everywhere you look, high-points including the flutes'n'strings pitchbending at the end of Sunshine, the point in closer Bring' It On where he finally uses the choirs and just about every point where the strings lurch up out of the mix and kick you in the teeth. Three years on, they follow up with The Lost Art of Time Travel, possibly a less heavy album than its predecessor, although certain production tricks pronounce it a modern album, not a long-lost classic. It's as good as its predecessor, too, albeit rather different, which means (wait for it...) THEY'VE PROGRESSED! Well, shiver me timbers and fuck my old boots! It's such a rarity to see a band in the progressive area actually, y'know, move on these days that I feel it had to be remarked upon. Slightly less samplotron than on Peace..., with two tracks entirely free of it, but plenty of good, tasteful use on most of the record makes this another worthwhile effort.

2011 brings two releases, the hour-long Invisible Places and the forty-minute 'EP' (huh?) Love What You've Done With the Place. Although they're both recognisably Presto Ballet, most of the band has been replaced and they take a sharp left turn, going for that late '70s pomp thing, sounding not unlike Styx in the process. Is this a good thing? Depends on whether or not you like The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight, really; I do, but I'm sure many US readers tired of them after radioplay overkill at the time. The end result is quite excellent, only falling very slightly short of an extra half star, highlights including upbeat opener Between The Lines, All In All (particularly the sequencer/guitar interplay section) and parts of closing epic No End To Begin. New keys man Kerry Shacklett plays samplotron, with strings on opener Between The Lines, Sundancer and No End To Begin, strings and choirs on Of Grand Design and flutes on One Perfect Moment. Love What You've Done With the Place, while good, smells like outtakes, although the Wurlitzer-driven Deep Black Blue is as good as anything on the album. Material that wouldn't (and indeed, didn't) make the cut includes the cheesily-riffing Looking Glass, which incorporates the Peter Gunn Theme, for no apparent reason and their cover of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's immortal Faith Healer, which channels the live version, rather than the original studio take. Shacklett adds samplotron strings to the first four tracks, notably on The Clock.

Clearly on a major roll, 2012 brought yet another Presto Ballet release, Relic of the Modern World, on which the band have backed away a little from their prevailing pomp influences, going back to a more 'typically' rock/prog (as against the abomination of prog metal) approach. It's impossible to pick out any 'best tracks'; they're all excellent, although the 'side-long' title track, veering between detailed, Genesis-like 12-string work, Spock's Beard riffery and a plethora of other styles is possibly the stand-out. Shacklett (and Vanderhoof?) presumably play samplotron, with strings on opener The Chemical Age, playing solo at the end of track, plus more of the same on Watching The Radio and the title track, the last-named adding choirs.

Pretty Reckless  (US)

Light Me Up  (2010,  34.13)  ***

The Pretty Reckless (great name) are a female-fronted powerpop/alt.rock crew, whose debut, Light Me Up, gives us gems such as opener My Medicine, Miss Nothing and Goin' Down, while nothing here genuinely disappoints. Maybe one thing: those are obviously sampled 'Mellotron' flutes on Make Me Wanna Die.

Bobby Previte  (US)

Coalition of the Willing  (2006,  47.05)  ***½

Drummer Bobby Previte is one of the central figures in the New York jazz/avant-garde scene, frequently working with luminaries such as Charlie Hunter (in Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte as Groundtruther) and John Medeski. Jazz discographies are notoriously convoluted, making it near impossible to work out how many solo albums Previte's released. Step 1: define 'solo'. Step 2: define 'released'. You get the picture... Suffice to say, 2006's Coalition of the Willing is a jazzy ((blue) note: not 'jazz') instrumental album, stuffed to the gills with Hunter's guitar (the album's outstanding feature, I'd say), working on a regular six-string instrument for once. Why is it so many jazz bandleaders are drummers, huh? Then they give all the solos to tuned instruments? Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, son. Jamie Saft (Matt Maneri) plays Mellotron, alongside Hammond, Moog and guitar and bass, although it only gets a look-in on one track, closer Anthem For Andrea, although it's near-impossible to tell what it might be doing. Samples, then.

Spike Priggen  (US)

Stars After Stars After Stars  (2005,  43.29)  ***
There's No Sound in Flutes!  (2006,  57.16)  ***

Spike Priggen's melancholy powerpop on Stars After Stars After Stars is probably its best on Big Store, Questioningly and his blistering version of Alice Cooper's I'm Eighteen. Priggen and C.P. Roth allegedly play Chamberlin, with background strings on Be Married Song, How We Were Before and Nightime, although I'm not convinced. There's No Sound in Flutes! ups the ante a little, highlights including Everyone Loves Me But You, The Only Girl In The World and I'm So Glad (You Broke My Heart), while the fly-on-the-wall recording of a bandleader's excoriating putdown of his band (who is this?), inserted after a lengthy gap at the end, both names the album and leaves the listener open-mouthed. Roth is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin this time round, with combinations of strings, flutes (which do make a sound) and occasional choirs appearing on almost every track, given away as bogus by the ridiculously high notes at the end of Everyone Loves Me But You.

Primal Scream  (UK)

More Light  (2013,  69.03)  **½

Primal Scream's tenth album features one huge, obvious influence on its lead-off track and scattered throughout: Hawkwind. Sub-motorik beat, vocal 'melodies' of, er, limited range, squalling sax, whooshy synths... Sadly, many of its tracks slump into the band's default position of the world's leading exponents of indie-Stonesism, but the occasional ray of light shines through, notably aforementioned opener 2013 and bonus track (why is this not on the main release?) City Slang. Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes are both credited with Mellotron. Really?

Prince  (US)

Chaos & Disorder  (1996,  39.10)  ***

Chaos & Disorder seems to be generally regarded as the better of the two contractural obligation albums Prince made for Warner Bros in the mid-'90s, while in the middle of his 'symbol' phase and battle with Warners over his future. It's nowhere near as commercial as his major '80s albums, but is by no means a bad record, with several fun tracks such as I Like It There and I Rock, Therefore I Am. I'm probably not the best-qualified person to review Prince's music, but this album certainly didn't offend me. One apparently Mellotron track, with very upfront strings on brief closer Had U, although a close listen reveals identical attack portions on repeating notes and a repeating low E, well below the instrument's bottom note. While this was some years before the M-Tron and the other easily-available modern sample banks, Roland and E-Mu (or however you spell it) had both released PCM sample-based boxes containing the basic Mellotron sounds, so I'm sure that's what we're hearing.

I Profeti  (Italy)

Era Bella  (1971,  35.01)  **½

I Profeti (The Prophets, unsurprisingly) were a mainstream Italian pop group, moving from '60s beat to '70s balladry across their ten-year-plus career. Six of Era Bella's eleven tracks are singles or b-sides, bulked out with balladic filler, in the manner of pop albums of the day. Any highlights? The five-minute Odissea D'Amore is at least vaguely experimental, while the expanded CD's version of Gun's Race With The Devil, Il Diavolo Col Cuore, is amusingly lightweight. Despite references to organist Maurizio Bellini's Mellotron use, all the album's strings are clearly real.

The Proles  (US)

Good in Black & White  (2005,  43.37)  **½

The Proles play a kind of indie/garage/powerpop mash-up, sometimes listenable (100 Drinks, Mr. Postman), more often not. Jason Sewell's 'Mellotron'? The strings on Real Light Show nearly pass muster, but those are really obvious samples on Get Around.

Chuck Prophet  (US)

The Hurting Business  (2000,  47.45)  ***½
Night Surfer  (2014,  46.31)  ***½

Ex-Green on Redder Chuck Prophet's 2000 release, The Hurting Business, strikes me as rather better than '93's Balinese Dancer, particularly lyrically, top efforts including Apology, I Couldn't Be Happier and the beautiful turnaround of Lucky. Three samplotron tracks from Jason Borger, with a distant, pitchbent string part on opener Rise and more fairly distant strings on the excellent Apology, with more upfront pitchbent strings and occasional flutes on God's Arms. Many years on and 2014's Night Surfer is a solid Americana release that shows Prophet's songwriting skills honed to a keen edge, highlights including Wish Me Luck, Laughing On The Inside, Ford Econoline and the powerpop of Tell Me Anything (Turn To Gold). Rusty Miller plays samplotron, with cellos (and real strings) on Wish Me Luck and polyphonic flutes on Lonely Desolation.

Proscriptor  (US)

The Venus Bellona  (1995,  50.04)  **½

Absu's drummer, Russ "Proscriptor (McGovern)" Givens, has been releasing solo albums under his nom de plume since the mid-'90s, giving him a creative outlet for his more eclectic material. His debut, 1995's The Venus Bellona, is certainly that, starting off as some kind of Scottish history concept album, before heading off into magic(k) territory, an area he has subsequently heavily explored. While some of the album's twenty mostly brief tracks are acoustic instrumentals, too many of them 'feature' Givens' rather peculiar vocal style, somewhere between someone auditioning for a minor role as an orc in the then-not-yet-filmed Lord of the Rings series and a man with a sore throat. Better efforts include the three-in-a-row of I Am The One, the mad, Highlandaphilia of Our Blood And Veins From The McGovern Regiment and Hi Ri Ri Tha E Tighinn, but all too much of the album strays a little too far from sanity for its own good. Givens plays obviously sampled Mellotron strings on Lady Day Eve and possibly a few other tracks, although the samples are so primitive (well, it was 1995) that it's hard to tell. An EP of the best material from this album would be worth hearing, but fifty minutes of slightly crazy stuff is more than this listener, at least, can bear. Incidentally, Givens shows his true colours on the album's final track, a bizarre version of A Flock of Seagulls' I Ran (So Far Away), unless it was included to show his lighter side (?!).

Prosser  (US)

Prosser  (2006,  58.11)  **

Prosser appear to be, effectively, Eric Woodruff's solo project, a handful of other musicians chipping in on his/their eponymous release, a kind of post-rock singer-songwriter effort, many of its rather tiresome songs too long for their content. Producer Paul Turpin is credited with Mellotron, although the strings on The Time Has Come and Today are clearly sampled. Seriously, I can not overstate the tediousness of this album. Just don't.

The Provenance  (Sweden)

How Would You Like to Be Spat at  (2005,  53.21)  **½
Red Flags  (2006,  47.48)  **

The Provenance fall into that non-category, 'modern prog', a kind of postmodern 'anything goes' area, where a track can start off in an indie vein, shift through ambient territory, finishing up with extreme heaviosity. A bit like modern Porcupine Tree, I suppose, albeit with female vocals; like what that band have become, I'm not sure the combination actually works that well, at least not over the length of an entire album.

Unfortuantely, on 2005's provocatively-titled How Would You Like to Be Spat at (what, no question mark?), substance seems to have been largely sacrificed in favour of style, although it's possible some of the material might grow on me were I able to give it enough time. Mellotron strings on most tracks, sometimes doubled with either fast-bowed string samples or a guitar delay effect, notably on opener Woh II TSC (huh?), although I'm pretty damn' sure they're all samples. Usual stuff: over-use of the strings, 'too-clean' and consistent sound... I haven't actually spotted any overlong notes (the ultimate giveaway), although the last, held note of Kick You So Hard cuts it close. Flutes here and there and even what sounds like brass on Going Down, but the choirs on Considering The Gawk, The Drool, The Bitch And The Fool are, again, too clean for their own good.

The following year's Red Flags ditches most of the Porcupine Tree influences for a more generic indie metal sound, presumably in keeping with their new label, Peaceville, adding male vocals to the mix in places. The material is universally tedious, making its predecessor almost sound good, with samplotron strings on several tracks, including Crash Course, Thanks To You and Deadened, to relatively little effect, to be honest.

Providence  (Japan)

And I'll Recite an Old Myth From...  (1989,  53.05)  ***½
There Once was a Night of "Choko-Muro" the Paradise  (1996,  52.49)  ***½

Providence are one of the lesser-known Japanese '80s prog outfits, although their albums seem to be about as available as anyone else's that haven't been reissued on Musea. Their only album released in their 'lifetime', And I'll Recite an Old Myth From..., is often described as 'neo-prog', which is an over-simplification. The second half of the album is, indeed fairly sophisticated neo- with female vocals from Yõko Kubota, but the first track, Galatea, is ripping fusion-influenced progressive with nary a trace of bad '80s-ness about it, assuming you ignore the slap bass solo half-way through. Er... Keys man Madoka Tsukada uses what sounds, on first listen, like Mellotron strings on three tracks, with a major part on Dream Seeker's Mirage, but upon closer scrutiny, it's this almost solo section that gives the game away; it's all in octaves (there was no two-octave string sound at the time) and the high notes are clearly stretched. They're good samples, but samples none the less. Their rather belated follow-up from 1996, There Once was a Night of "Choko-Muro" the Paradise (what is it with their titles?), follows roughly the same path as their debut, being a mixture of superior neo-prog and old-school symphonic, with a 20-minute epic in its title track. Less 'Mellotron' this time round, with the only noticeable stuff being strings on the title track and A Breeze In The Dawn.

Prowlers  (Italy)

Sweet Metamorfosi  (1997,  67.34)  ***

Sweet Metamorfosi was Prowlers' third and last album before their 2011 reformation; while this is better than many Italian '90s band's output, it features too many neo- touches for its own good. Better tracks include Dream Of Music and Oltre I Confini Del Mondo, although the sixteen-minute Simboli Strani, Musica Strana has nowhere near enough content for its length. Alfio Costa is credited with Mellotron from some years before he actually owned one, with occasional strings and flutes, notably on Simboli Strani, Musica Strana.

Prydwyn with Quickthorn  (UK)

Solitude Owes Me a Smile  (2009,  49.33)  ****

Prydwyn Olvardil Piper has been releasing albums sporadically for over twenty years now; if 2009's Solitude Owes Me a Smile (co-credited to his band, Quickthorn) is typical, I'm keen to hear more of his work. It's a beautiful, all-acoustic record that sounds 'traditional', although only three of its titles actually answer that description, the rest hailing from sources such as obscure 'Vertigo' band Dr Strangely Strange (opener Ashling), Shawn Colvin (Shotgun Down the Avalanche), Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (Closing My Eyes) and, of course, Pink Floyd (Ummagumma's serene Grantchester Meadows). Although someone calling themselves Wye is credited with Mellotron on Shotgun Down the Avalanche, I think I can state, with reasonable certainty, that it's nothing of the sort, sounding more like string section samples played on an M-Tron, possibly. The presence or otherwise of a Mellotron is, however, entirely irrelevant to the quality of this album, which is every bit as high as you might hope.

Psychic TV  (UK)

Hell is Invisible/Heaven is Her/e  (2007,  73.44)  **½
Alienist  (2016,  34.26)  ***

Although I've been aware of Neil "Genesis P-Orridge" Megson's projects (principally Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV) since the late '70s, I think this is the first time I've ever actually heard any of his work. 2007's Hell is Invisible/Heaven is Her/e is PTV's thirty-somethingth release, delving heavily into the ever-confrontational P-Orridge's gender-bending (or 'pandrogynous') lifestyle, also the last recorded work of his second wife and 'other half', Jacqueline "Lady Jaye" Breyer, before her untimely death in October of that year. I'm sure PTV fans will lap (or, more likely, have lapped) this up, but its eclectic approach is likely only to appeal to the select few.

The actual material veers between funk, rock, ambient, various dance sub-genres and avant-garde, although whether or not it's actually any good can only be a matter of very personal opinion. There's something about opener Higher And Higher that reminds me horribly of Bros' When Will I Be Famous? (remember them? Thought not), full of appalling, dated slap-bass. Lies, And Then is somewhat leaden rock, the lengthy I Don't Think So a sort-of harrowing exposition of P-Orridge's childhood, Just Because is what a whiny punk number would sound like if it were ten minutes long, while just about every other track on this rather overlong album sounds like something different again. Kosta Cross plays a distant samplotron string part on Lies, And Then.

2016's Alienist has more of an early '70s, hard rock jamming sound about it, much more cohesive than Hell is Invisible.... Opener Jump Into The Fire is actually pretty awful, but the other three tracks on this barely-over-EP length release are improvements, particularly Looking For You. Saying that, Genesis' chanted, presumably improvised vocals are pretty terrible; I'm not sure we should forgive the repeating couplet, "It doesn't matter, you're a hatter..." any time soon... John Weingarten plays samplotron, with strings improvising around E major all over Looking For You.

Psycho Lemon  (France)

A Mouse & John  (2005,  39.18)  **½

Rem Austin's Psycho Lemon play a form of pre-psych '60s-inspired indie; dull, but less offensive than many. Austin's Mellotron credit turns out to be a samplotron flute solo and cellos on opener Mr. PI Meet The Avengers, with more flutes and cellos elsewhere.

Psychomuzak  (UK)

Send  (1997,  50.22)  ***

I remember Dean Carter doing his Hammill-esque thing in London clubs in the mid-'90s, although he had trouble making an impression on what I'm told is one of the world's toughest crowds. Maybe sensibly, he turned to space-rock soon after with Psychomuzak, getting a deal with notorious space cadets Delerium, then still home to Porcupine Tree. It seems Carter only released two albums under this moniker, though, 1994's The Extasie and Send, from three years later. A bewildering blend of styles, Send sounds as much like the Ozric Tentacles as Gong or Steve Hillage and very little like Peter Hammill or Van der Graaf. '70s Pink Floyd are utilised as a jumping-off point on opener Keep Breathing (even sounds like a late-period Floyd title), complete with Camel/Bevis Frond drummer Andy Ward, while Deep Heat is an Ozrics-style dub excursion. The album's longest track, the trippy Send itself features David Cross (ex-Crimson, of course) on violin, leaving the relatively brief Sea Of Tranquility as possibly the most coherent piece here, six minutes of fittingly tranquil guitar overdubs.

Carter's credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, although it's perfectly possible he's using the same sample set as Steven Wilson's crew. Actually, it's perfectly possible he didn't use anything at all, as there's nothing here that actually sounds like a Mellotron. The strings on Keep Breathing? Nope. Female voices on Deep Heat? Definitely nope, not to mention that Carter's also credited with 'choirs'. Anything else? Not really, no. Where is it, Dean? Overall, then, a reasonable spacey effort, should you be into such things. It makes good background music (the dub bits aside), but actually sitting down and listening to it is a bit of a chore, at least to this listener. No obvious Mellotron, either, so I'd really have trouble recommending this to you lot.

Publius  (US)

Publius  (2007,  45.41)  ***

I can't tell you much about Publius, their name being a Google search nightmare, but Publius is an example of how to play driving, indie-influenced, psychedelic space-rock without sounding anything like Hawkwind, at its best on Leitmotif and woozy closer My Heart Says Yes. Dave McNally plays samplotron cellos on I'd Love To Love You Better, strings on Change Your Mind, choirs on I Thought I Knew You and Feeling Kind Of Low, plus other use dotted around here and there.

Alex Puddu & the Butterfly Collectors  (Denmark)

Chasing the Scorpion's Tail  (2004,  50.49)  **

Although Italian, Alex Puddu moved to Denmark, aged twenty, Chasing the Scorpion's Tail being his debut release, some years later. Most of its contents are best categorised as soul with a dash of funk, apparently at the softer end of Italian 'Giallo' pseudo-soundtrack music, although you'll find little in common with the likes of Goblin, sadly. Any better tracks? The slightly rockier Step Out Of Your Mind and the jammed-out title track, but I'm afraid the bulk of this release left this listener stone cold. Puddu is credited with Mellotron on opener All The Colours Of The Dark. Why? Why is he credited with it, when all that's there is a string synth and generic choir samples?

Pugwash  (Ireland)

Almanac  (2002,  48.05)  ****½
This Could Be Good/To My Maker/Home to Me CDS  (2005,  8.27)  ****
Play This Intimately (as if Among Friends)  (2015,  42.16)  ***½

As you can see from their 'regular reviews', Pugwash are an absolute joy, an 'intelligent pop' band who refuse to compromise their ideals, sticking out another great album every three years, regular as clockwork.

They use samples from a real Novatron plus more generic Mellotron/Chamby samples on all fourteen tracks of their second album, Almanac which, incidentally, is truly excellent, stuffed with great songs, indelible hooks and sublime harmony vocal work. So this stuff's unfashionable? And? Amongst the dreck of most contemporary music, Pugwash stand out like a diamond in the, er, dirt. With nary a bad track on the album, it's almost impossible to pick out highlights, although personal favourites include Monorail and Omega Man. The samples were played by main man Thomas Walsh, Keith Farrell and occasionally Duncan Maitland, often layering two sounds from the Chamby and the Mellotron, with strings (from both), Chamby brass and Mellotron flutes and vibes splattered all over the album, not to mention the credited Mark II rhythm samples on Monorail. They manage a serious coup by getting Jason Falkner (ex-Jellyfish and a host of cool sessions) to play on several tracks, although he resists the temptation to play anything crankier than a Vox Continental.

One of the Mellotronless' tracks from 2005's mostly-sampled Jollity, This Could Be Good, has actually been released as a single, with another two Mellotron' tracks on the, er, b-side (so to speak). To My Maker has a vague Dylan vibe about it, while Home to Me's distorted vocal and generally rockness stands out as a rarity in the all-too-small Pugwash catalogue, although someone (Walsh?) still manages a beautiful fakeotron part in the middle, complete with pitchbend and is that choirs I hear at one point? If you're going to buy the album, make sure you get this, too.

After a couple of albums featuring real Mellotron, followed by a long gap, 2015's Play This Intimately (as if Among Friends) is a welcome return for Pugwash. Thomas Walsh's musical emphasis has clearly changed over the years, as this is less powerpop, more classic '60s pop, influenced more by Burt Bacharach, say, than The Beatles. Is this a bad thing? Probably a little less to my personal taste, but it's still a fine album of thoughtful, introspective songs of the quality of Feed His Heart With Coal, The Fool I Had Become and Hung Myself Out to Dry, while that Bacharach influence turns up on Just So You Know, Clouds and the trumpet solo on We Are Everywhere, to name but three. Funnily enough, You Could Always Cry sounds exactly like early Beatles, just to complete the circle. Walsh and Tosh Flood are credited with Mellotron, but it doesn't sound especially authentic to my ears; let me know if I'm wrong, chaps! The samples (if samples they are) aren't overused, either, with flutes on Clouds, faint strings on Oh Happy Days and upfront parts on All The Way From Love and We Are Everywhere, plus flutes on the latter, amongst other use.

Puppet Show  (US)

Traumatized  (1997,  55.24)  **½
The Tale of Woe  (2006,  60.04)  ***

Puppet Show (a Spinal Tap joke?) released their debut, Traumatized, in 1997, apparently aiming for a '70s prog sound; unfortunately, they fell well short, their overreaching ambition coming across as second-rate IQ for much of the album. Possibly the most infuriating thing about it is the odd decent idea surrounded by a wasteland of neo-prog mediocrity; couldn't you have worked on those good bits a little longer, chaps? Mike Grimes adds samplotron to a couple of tracks, notably the choirs and flute part on As Ye Hath Sown and strings on closer The Ring Of Truth, but they're not that central to the band's sound.

It took them nine years to follow up with 2006's The Tale of Woe (autobiographical? No, I'm not being rude), a little better than its predecessor, but not exactly a quantum leap forward, frankly. One of the band's bad points is Sean Frazier's vocals; he sings in tune, but tends to overemote, in true neo- style, not to mention the lyrics. There I was, listening to track two, the near-fifteen minute Seven Gentle Spirits, when... Oh no. He said it. He said "Masquerade". Only Rush are allowed to get away with that one and then only just. Once again infuriatingly, good moments (there are at least two particularly good bits in The Past Has Just Begun) are surrounded by not so good ones, although this time, the good bits are both better and more frequent and the not so good bits less obvious, which has to be an improvement. Also once again, samplotron here and there, but they aren't fooling anyone.

Purple Overdose  (Greece)

Reborn  (1999,  51.44)  ***½
The Salmon's Trip - Live  [CD]  (2000,  52.28)  ***
The Salmon's Trip - Live  [LP]  (2000,  85.48)  ***½

Purple Overdose are reputedly one of the most authentic psych bands of the last decade or two, making it a shame they're based in a country not known for such things, heavily reducing their accessibility to Western European and American fans of the genre. Led by vocalist/guitarist Costas Constantinou, they've been around since the late '80s, releasing seven albums (live and studio) over two decades, of which Reborn is the fifth. This isn't your mad, post-freakbeat 13th Floor Elevators type stuff, nor your whimsical, well-mannered British style; this is that dreamy, lysergic late-'60s thing that Pink Floyd mastered before heading off for pastures new, only Purple Overdose have stuck to it for their entire career, turning their noses up at anything as bourgeois as progressing. Top tracks include lengthy opener (It's A) Fortune Teller, the whacked-out acid guitar-fest of Gonna Be Tomorrow, Today and the title track, although the album never outstays its welcome, despite its length. Vasilis Kapanikis is credited with Mellotron and while it could be genuine, it doesn't sound particularly like it, with string parts on Fading Sound Of Lost Thoughts and the title track.

The band released The Salmon's Trip - Live the following year, in two entirely different versions, just to confuse their audience. Although the available material would fit nicely onto two CDs, somebody opted to compile a 50-odd minute CD and a lengthy double LP, just too long for single-CD issue. Irritating. Going by the CD's tracklisting, the joy seems to have gone out of it, somehow, at least to my ears. It's not a bad album, but fails to grab my attention the way their studio effort does, with a couple of tracks jammed out for far too long. Another couple of Mellotron' tracks, quite clearly sampled this time, not that that should come as any great surprise. For some reason, the LP set works rather better, although (or because?) it features all the longer, more jammed-out material. Again, little samplotron, but the sound's clearly secondary low on the band's priority list. So; three albums of new(-ish) yet ancient psych, seemingly better in the studio than live. Maybe we should think of them as two almost different bands, as the Floyd were early on; a more concise studio outfit and a jamming live band. Anyway, I may yet be proven wrong about the samples (or otherwise) on Reborn, but I won't be re. both versions of The Salmon's Trip.

Pip Pyle  (UK)

7 Year Itch  (1998,  56.48)  ***

Although best-known for his membership of Brit-jazz-rock mavens Hatfield & the North and National Health, drummer par excellence Pip Pyle's forty-year career encompassed the better part of a dozen different outfits, excluding his solo work. 1998's 7 Year Itch is actually his only solo project, featuring contributions from many of his former bandmates, not least Dave Stewart, Elton Dean, Phil Miller, Hugh Hopper and Barbara Gaskin, pretty much a Who's Who of the Canterbury scene from the '70s. As a result, if you're allergic to said scene, or jazz-rock (as against fusion) generally, you're probably not going to like it very much. Like so many similar albums, it veers from whimsy to fiery workouts, often within the same piece, but really isn't that accessible to those of us who prefer our thirteenths unflattened. Although Mellotron is rumoured, the pretty authentic flute that open the ensemble's strangely jazzy take on you-know-who's Strawberry Fields Forever is credited as 'keyboards programmed by' either Pyle himself or Stewart, so the chances of it being real are vanishingly small to nonexistent, I'd say. Sadly, Pyle died in 2006, robbing the world of one of another great percussionist; the eclecticism of 7 Year Itch is a fitting tribute to his memory.