Sunday, 21 September 2008

“Ascension Heights” - A 1970 LP Rarity Is Finally Reissued by BLUE HORIZON with Superlative Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks and Remastered Sound

At the pimply age of 15, Surrey-born Anthony “Top” Topham stepped onto stage in May 1963 at the Eel Pie Island Club in Twickenham with his new blues-wailing band - THE YARDBIRDS. A few months later he was replaced with ERIC CLAPTON and after that a certain JEFF BECK and JIMMY PAGE also joined that volatile crew. When you consider what a staggering influence CREAM, BECK and LED ZEPPELIN have had on everything in rock then and now - it’s a damn shame that Top Topham got musically lost in the mix somehow and has never been given the catalyst credit he so deserves.

Maybe this superb and slightly odd release will change all that.

This 19-track September 2008 single CD is based around his obscure sole album for the UK cult Blue Horizon label released in early 1970; it also top-quality remastered STEREO sound and 7 previously unreleased MONO bonus cuts.

Here’s the breakdown (59:43 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 12 are “Ascension Heights”, his only album released on Blue Horizon Records 7-63857 in January 1970 (recorded in London at CBS STUDIOS in October 1969)
Tracks 13 and 14 are “Christmas Cracker” and “Cracking Up Over Christmas”, his lone 7” single on Blue Horizon 57-3167, which preceded the release of the album in November 1969
Track 15 is “Hop House” which is a previously unreleased live BBC session recorded at The Paris Theatre in London on 8 January 1970 for the ‘Blue Horizon Hour’ on the JOHN PEEL SHOW – it was aired on BBC Radio 1 on 11 January 1970. It’s a slow blues tune with lovely fretwork from Top complimented by PETE WINGFIELD’s tasty keyboard rolls.
Tracks 16 to 19 are previously unreleased tracks recorded in May 1969 by then unknown Blue Horizon signing LLOYD WATSON, a talented 20-year old guitar player (Jamaican mother and English Dad) who looked and played a little like SHUGGIE OTIS meets PETER GREEN. Three are his own compositions with “You’re Gonna Ruin Me Baby” being a rocking Leslie Johnson/Jerry West cover version.

The tapes were transferred and remastered by SEAN LYNCH at TORCH MUSIC – the sound quality is GORGEOUS – really clear and clean – all the instruments given a fab new lease of life – superb stuff. The 12-page booklet has detailed liner notes and stories about Topham’s life by the label founder MIKE VERNON, colour and black & white photos from the period, full session discographies and a even sports a dapper card wrap sleeve on the outside that gives the whole package a real air of class and event.

The album “Ascension Heights” has always been a £100+ vinyl rarity (I’ve seen only one copy of it in my life), so its reissue here is to be welcomed. But it has also divided Blues purists for years because - for a blues label release – it's a slightly strange record! Firstly it’s entirely instrumental – and not in a blues way either. It doesn’t seem to quite know what it is. One minute it has the playfulness of Django Reinhardt jazz noodlings on “Spider Drag”, the next minute it’s Sixties Chet Atkins on “Globetrottin’”, the next second its funky Blood, Sweat and Tears without the vocals on the brass filled “Mini-Minor-Mo” (a personal favourite and one that soul boys should check out pronto) which also features PETE WINGFIELD on Piano. There are even times on “Hot Ginger” where it sounds a soulful version of Fleetwood Mac’s debut album! A heady mix to say the least! It’s varied, daring too – a grower that bears repeated listening.

The funky backbeat of “Christmas Cracker” sounds like something Booker T & The MG’s would dash off as festivities filler. It’s good if not great.

The 4 LLOYD WATSON tracks however are a real find – he had an excellent voice and presence; they’re mostly rockin’ blues and make for a fab surprise after the dearth of instrumentals that precede them. “Anything For You” finishes the disc in great Yardbirds meets Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac kind of a way and will have fans of both loving this release.

Another winner from Blue Horizon- highly recommended.

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