Monday, 3 August 2015

"The House On The Hill" by AUDIENCE (2015 Esoteric Recordings Expanded CD – Ben Wiseman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Light Through My Window Pane..."

If was to describe Audience's 3rd album for the eclectic Charisma Records label – it would be 'Beautiful Rock'. Sometimes a band that starts out thrashing about making their own unique kind of Roxy Music meets The Move meets The Electric Light Orchestra sound madness – settles down and actually produces that gorgeous melodic wonderwork everyone who signed them thought them capable of in the first place. Housed in its cool and striking Hipgnosis sleeve - 1971's "The House On The Hill" is that album.

Along with their uber-rare debut LP on Polydor Records in 1969 – Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red of the UK) have reissued all 4 of their albums in 2015 onto Expanded CDs – remastered from original master tapes – all with bonus cuts and involvement from Howard Werth of the band (see the list of 4 titles below).

"The House On The Hill" was Audience's 2nd LP for the Charisma Label in the spring of 1971. "Lunch" - their third record in 1972 would turn out to be their last - disbanding shortly after due to musical differences ("Lunch" actually troubled the American LP charts in July 1972 on Elektra Records rising to the lofty placing of 175 – none of their other albums charted there including this one). Here are the back door details...

UK released 25 May 2015 (June 2015 in the USA) – "The House On The Hill" by AUDIENCE is an Expanded 11-track CD on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2492 (Barcode 5013929459243) and breaks down as follows (51:11 minutes):

1. Jackdaw
2. You're Not Smiling
3. I Had A Dream
4. Raviole
5. Nancy [Side 2]
6. Eye To Eye
7. I Put A Spell On You
8. House On The Hill
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 3rd studio album "The House On The Hill" – released April 1971 in the UK on Charisma Recordings CAS 1032 and in the USA on Elektra Records EKS 74100. Produced by Gus Dudgeon of Elton John and Hookfoot fame - Tracks 1 and 2 are written by Werth and Gemmell, Tracks 3, 5, 6 and 8 are written by Werth and Williams, the largely instrumental Track 4 is written by Werth with the Strings Arranged by Robert Kirby conducting members of the LSO and finally Track 7 is an Acoustic cover version of the famous Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic "I Put A Spell On You" from 1957.

9. You're Not Smiling (Single Mix) - see paragraphs below
10. Indian Summer - see paragraphs below
11. You’re Not Smiling (Promotional Radio Version) – Previously Unreleased

HOWARD WERTH - Vocals and Electric Classical Guitar
KEITH GEMMELL – Tenor Sax, Clarinet and Flute
TONY CONNOR – Percussion and Vibes

In a roundabout kind of a way - Charisma actually pushed out four 7" singles surrounding the album. First up (and before the LP hit the racks) came the non-album "Indian Summer" in March 1971 as a 3-track EP in a rare picture sleeve (Charisma CB 141). A2 was "It Brings A Tear" with "Priestess" as its B – both cuts from their 2nd album "Friend's, Friend's, Friend" from 1970. A 7" Single Edit/Remix of the album cut "You're Not Smiling" at 4:19 minutes (the LP version is 5:22 minutes) was issued as an A-side on Charisma CB 156 in July 1971 with the LP track "Eye To Eye" as its flipside (some rare copies list "Eye To Eye" on both sides in error). 45 No. 3 showed up November 1972 when they put the gorgeous "Raviole" on the A of Charisma CB 196 with the non-album "Hard Cruel World" on the flip ("Hard Cruel World" is available as a bonus on the Extended "Lunch" CD). The fourth and final 7" single came in February 1973 when Charisma were plugging the budget-priced Audience compilation LP "You Can't Beat 'Em" released in the same month on Charisma CS 7. They lumped "You're Not Smiling" with "Raviole" on the B-side – credited them to Howard Werth and Audience on Charisma CB 204.

Recorded at Trident Studios in London and Produced by the legendary GUS DUDGEON - the wonderful gatefold album artwork became something of a cause celebre on release. Done by Storm Thorgerson and Pip of Hipgnosis sleeve-art fame – it turns out the man dragging the dead body by the stairs (inner gatefold) is the butler of the house they shot the cover in - while the dead body is the band’s roadie (it was actually a black and white photo hand-tainted to get that 1930s and 1940s look).

The 16-page booklet is coloured in the same tint as the original artwork (a nice touch) with 2015 liner notes by noted freelance writer and reviewer SID SMITH that features new interviews with Howard Werth. It goes into the history of the album (Werth feels its all good and he’s right) and how they revisited the song “The House On The Hill” which was actually on their first LP in 1969 on Polydor. But the big news for fans (as it is with all the other issues) is a 24-bit remaster from original Charisma master tapes by Sound Engineer BEN WISEMAN who has done loads of great work for a large number of reissue labels. The audio is wonderful – giving truly lovely clarity to those classical acoustic guitar passages and the Move/Roy Wood soundscapes on tracks like "Jackdaw" and near 8-minute title track. This remaster is superb.

"House" opens with "Jackdaw" which is just 7:31 minutes of brilliance with what has to be Werth's best-ever vocal performance. Their sound is a strange mixture of Mott The Hoople meets Lindisfarne meets Roxy Music meets Duncan Browne on RAK – Werth's vocals sounding like the lovechild of Roy Wood and Lindisfarne's Alan Hull - while the Saxophones and layered vocals give it a lovely musicality. I've never really liked "You're Not Smiling" in any of the three variants offered here – but the stunning acoustic genius of "I Had A Dream" is a different matter entirely. What a wonderful song this is - and one with real gut feeling. His acoustic guitar is kept sparse for most of the duration until layered backing vocals and a restrained Saxophone compliment the centre passage. I love this song and it's on my 70's Fest CD-R of "Forgotten Gems" like a bullet. And as if that's not good enough – Side One ends with the largely instrumental acoustic beauty of "Raviole" – another absolute corker in the style of Gordon Giltrap and easy to hear why someone thought it worthy of A-side status on a Charisma 45.

Side 2 opens with the jaunty "Nancy" which feels like the Andy McKay Saxophone of Roxy Music going all soppy alongside a furiously strummed Classic Acoustic Guitar – it's a great sound and one that feels fresh to this day. "Eye To Eye" is the closet they get to Jethro Tull circa "Stand Up" and "Benefit" – Gemmell's breathy Flute dominating the track. We then enter into an area of unexpected inspiration – a slow-at-first-then-fast acoustic cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins 1957 Okeh Records classic "I Put A Spell On You" where Werth makes his arrangement sound like he's Jose Feliciano on fire. His vocal is wicked too – wailing one moment then reining it in again – brilliant. It ends on the most Prog song on the LP – the 7:33 minutes of the title track. His vocals quiver at times like Donovan doing Hurdy Gurdy Man – it’s great stuff and sounds ahead of its 1971 timeframe. The non-album "Indian Summer" is a another pretty Acoustic Folk-Rock track in the vein of Lindisfarne – a track you feel that should have done better business...

Sticks man Tony Connor joined Hot Chocolate, Trevor Williams did stints with Jonathan Kelly’s Outside and Judas Jump and has been a part of the Audience reunion gigs while Keith Gemmell moved into Stackridge and spent many years with The Pasadena Roof Orchestra. The band’s main man and principal songwriter Howard Werth released a solo album "King Brilliant" in September 1975 (Charisma CAS 1104) trading as Howard Werth & The Moonbeams. They regrouped briefly and successfully in 2004 and Audience retain huge affection amongst fans to this day (they were monster in Europe in 1972 – Number 1 in Italy in fact).

Audience’s music is never going to be everyone’s favourite tipple if I'm honest (none of their albums charted in the UK) - but there’s beauty and Rock wonder on here – and more than once or twice too. A top job done by Esoteric Recordings and an absolute must-buy for fans...

AUDIENCE Expanded CD Remasters on Esoteric Recordings:

1. Audience (1969 debut LP on Polydor 583 065)
29 June 2015 Expanded CD Remaster with 3 Bonus Tracks on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2494 (Barcode 5013929459441)

2. Friend’s Friend’s Friend (May 1970 2nd LP on Charisma CAS 1012)
29 June 2015 Expanded CD Remaster with 7 Bonus Tracks on Esoteric Records ECLEC 2499 (Barcode 5013929459946)

3. The House On The Hill (April 1971 3rd LP on Charisma CAS 1032)
25 May 2015 Expanded CD Remaster with 3 Bonus Tracks on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2492 (Barcode 5013929459243)

4. Lunch (July 1972 4th and final studio LP on Charisma CAS 1054)

25 May 2015 Expanded CD Remaster with 3 Bonus Tracks on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2493 (Barcode 5013929459342)

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