Tuesday, 24 January 2017

"Friend's Friend's Friend" by AUDIENCE (2015 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue - Ben Wiseman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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There are some who hold the view that Audience's 2nd platter on that pretty-looking Pink Scroll Famous Charisma Records label is a bit of an unsung Proggy meisterwork – I'd say that's only partially true. But if you like your Jethro Tull flute, your Roxy Music Saxophone, your Van Der Graaf Generator squalling Moog and all of it sung by a man with a ten-inch noose around his jugular (Werth's voice is a high end acquired taste) – then the quirkily titled "Friend's Friend's Friend" by AUDIENCE is the dirty baby for you. Others might want to taste the bathwater first – or steer clear and wash somewhere else entirely.

Having said that - this is actually one of those CD reissues that pushes up a very dated 3-star Prog LP (from the spring of 1970) into 4-star territory by a combo of all the right things – superb new audio – quality presentation by a company that gives a damn – and Previously Unreleased extras that enhance rather than test your patience (almost the entire album remixed by Elton John's Gus Dudgeon in February 1971 and an impossible-to-find non-album B-side).

In my book Esoteric Recordings CD Reissues are always a sign of quality – a British company that gives vent once again to lost musical stuff that deserves a second go-round. And Audience’s second album deserves just that. Here are the Belladonna Moonshines and the Ebony Variations...

UK released 29 June 2015 (14 July 2015 in the USA) – "Friend's Friend's Friend" by AUDIENCE on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2499 (Barcode 5013929459946) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Seven Bonus Tracks and breaks down as follows (73:42 minutes):

1. Nothing To Do
2. Belladonna Moonshine
3. It Brings A Tear
4. The Raid
5. Right On Their Side [Side 2]
6. Ebony Variations
7. Priestess
8. Friend's Friend's Friend
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd studio album "Friend's Friend's Friend" – released May 1970 in the UK on Charisma Recordings CAS 1012 (no USA issue). Produced by AUDIENCE - Tracks 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8 are written by Werth and Williams, Tracks 4 and 7 are written by Gemmell and Connor with Track 6 written by all four – Gemmell, Connor, Werth and Williams

9. The Big Spell – Non-album B-side to "Belladonna Moonshine" – a UK 7" single released 26 June 1970 on Charisma CB 126
10. Nothing To Do (1971 Remix)
11. Belladonna Moonshine (1971 Remix)
12. It Brings A Tear (1971 Remix)
13. The Raid (1971 Remix)
14. Ebony Variations (1971 Remix)
15. Priestess (1971 Remix)

HOWARD WERTH - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar and Banjo
KEITH GEMMELL – Saxophones and All Woodwind
TREVOR WILLIAMS – Bass Guitar and Vocals
TONY CONNOR – Drums, Percussion and Piano

Recorded at Morgan and Olympic Studios in London and self-produced - the wonderful gatefold album artwork designed by the band and CCS Advertising is more 60ts Psych than 70ts Prog. At least the 16-page booklet repro’s all of it – the front and rear gatefold – the lyrics on the inner spread and also comes with March 2015 liner notes by noted freelance writer and reviewer SID SMITH that features new interviews with Howard Werth. The hard-to-find "Belladonna Moonshine" British 45 on Pink Charisma CB 126 is pictured on Page 13 alongside an even rarer Euro Picture Sleeve for the single - and there's two live photos of the boys with Acoustic Guitar and Flute. Smith's liner notes go into the history of the band and are finished off with the usual re-issue credits.

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/Tull soundscapes on tracks like "It Brings A Tear" and the near 9-minuteProg Romp that is "The Raid". This remaster is superb.

It opens with "Nothing To Do" and the audio on the Drums and Bass is fantastically clear. Once you've navigated past Howard Werth's strangulated nasal whine – you begin to hear the clever musical breaks - that woodbine background - their very Prog sound that's anchored by a gentle acoustic guitar - like Duncan Browne fronting Focus. You can so hear why someone thought the jolly sing-a-long Lindisfarne vibe to "Belladonna Moonshine" would make for an acceptable single - a tale of Jeremiah's home-brewed paint-stripper setting the strings of his guitar on fire and the crowd loving every drunken minute (St. Peter at the Gates has promised not to touch the stuff either). "It Brings A Tear" could be the beginning of an eleven-minute Genesis track - an acoustic guitar and flute intro soon crashes into life - a song about a favourite toy as a child - our singer was happy then - until he decided to write the Viking tale of maurading in "The Raid". Complete with Nordic references and Werth sing 'ha ha' which he rhymes with 'war' - it's hard to take now - but it has a redeeming final two thirds - a wild saxophone whig out is followed by strummed acoustic guitar as the sax solos and echoes. It's so early Roxy Music and a clever way to end the last three minutes of the song.

Side 2 opens with "Right On Their Side" - a five-minute 'palace in the hills' tune of ye olde knights wielding swords in the name of the Lord. With Werth sounding not unlike Ozzy Osbourne - the acoustic breaks and saxophone duelling with vocals are very good and lead well into the England’s green and pleasant land instrumental "Ebony Variations". More dodgy worship comes in the shape of the murderess "Priestess" - a tedious tale of crowd's eager to witness torture - which is only saved by an Acoustic Guitar/Flute passage as the song limps to its six-minute finish. It ends on the short acoustic title track where Werth sounds like the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang singing for his cage (oh dear). Lyrics from it title this review. The B-side is surprisingly good - but the February 1971 remixes from Gus Dudgeon will thrill fans - extra oomph given to those acoustic guitars and saxophone flourishes like hearing six-eights of the album in a better version.

"The House On The Hill" - Audience's 3rd album for the eclectic Charisma label in April 1971 - would finally realise that 'Beautiful Rock' sound they made. Their 4th and last studio album  "Lunch" followed in July 1972 showing even more maturity. Along with their uber-rare debut LP on Polydor Records in 1969 – Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red of the UK) have reissued all of their albums in 2015 onto Expanded Edition CDs (see the list of 4 titles below).

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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