Thursday, 9 February 2017

"Witness" by SPOOKY TOOTH (2016 Universal/Island 'Expanded Edition' CD with One Bonus Track - Paschal Byrne and Ben Wiseman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...More Than An Ocean Of Power..."

Like Mott The Hoople and The Pretty Things - England's SPOOKY TOOTH have never really received the accolades they deserve. Between 1968 and 1974 they produced seven studio albums (six on Island - one on Goodear) as well as a posthumous Island Records 'Best Of' in 1976 - yet I defy even knowledgeable Rock types to name just two of those original LPs.

Spooky's sixth studio album is the same. Released only a half-dozen months after its January 1973 predecessor - it came at Blighty customers in July 1973 with a big-eyed pyramid-on-a-banknote sleeve and the mysterious moniker "Witness" – something few LP buyers did. Our pals in American had to wait until November 1973 for Capitol to issue Island SW-9337 and in different front cover artwork – the band stood in front of three crosses – one of the photos used on the rear collage of the British LP sleeve.

Four of the five-piece line-up that had made January 1973's delightfully entitled "You Broke My Heart So...I Busted Your Jaw" (Island ILPS 9227) such a rocking success were back – Singers Mike Harrison and Gary Wright with future Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones ably aided by Bassist Chris Stewart and new Drummer replacement – Mike Kellie. Gary Wright's songwriting hand was in all nine tracks – six solo and three co-writes - "Don't Ever Stray Away" with Chris Stewart, "All Sewn Up" with Mick Jones and "Pyramids" with Drummer and Percussionist Mike Kellie.

Long-suffering fans will know that none of Spooky Tooth's Rock, Blues-Rock, Prog-Rock albums ever bothered the British LP charts (not even a nostalgia 'Best Of' in 1976) and though founder member and songwriter Gary Wright did some commercial welly in the mid Seventies (especially in the USA with his "Dream Weaver" LP) - Luther Grosvenor and Mike Harrison had solo careers also but few seemed to care nor notice. The band is not even in Martin C. Strong's stunning 'Great Rock Discography' Books (and almost everyone is in there). And now the final facial slap...

These new CD Reissues and Remasters on UMC's Universal/Island with truly superb Audio and a wad of good bonus tracks on most (only one for "Witness" unfortunately) have already quietly slipped under the radar only months after release in September and October of 2016. Time to rectify this horrid 2017 anomaly on the part of an uncaring pre-Valentine Day public - here are the eerie dental details...

UK released 30 September 2016 (7 October 2016 in the USA) - "Witness" by SPOOKY TOOTH on Universal/Island 570 547-7 (Barcode 602557054774) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of the 9-track 1973 Island Records album with One Bonus Track and plays out as follows (40:13 minutes):

1. Ocean Of Power
2. Wings On My Heart
3. As Long As The World Keeps Turning
4. Don't Ever Stray Away
5. Things Change
6. All Sewn Up [Side 2]
7. Dream Me A Mountain
8. Sunlight On My Mind
9. Pyramids
Tracks 1 to 9 are their sixth studio album "Witness" - released July 1973 in the UK on Island ILPS 9255 and November 1973 in the USA on Island SW-9337. Recorded at Olympic and Apple Studios in London - it was produced by SPOOKY TOOTH and the LP peaked at No. 99 in the USA but didn't chart in the UK.

10. All Sewn Up (Alternative Mix, February 1973)

GARY WRIGHT – Lead and Backing Vocals, Keyboards and Synthesiser
MIKE HARRISON – Lead and Backing Vocals and Percussion
MICK JONES – Electric and Acoustic Guitar and Percussion
MIKE KELLIE – Drums and Percussion

The 12-page booklet is researched, co-ordinated and produced by MARK POWELL of England's much-revered reissue label Esoteric Recordings who have issued absolute wads of CD Remasters – re-presenting Sixties and Seventies music and artists in a quality way. You get the usual black and white band photos (posed and live) – a nice colour shot of the group sat on some rocks spread across the two inner pages and a repro of a September 1973 Tour Poster. Complimenting that are new Mark Powell liner notes covering the band's history on Island Records (including stuff about The V.I.P's and Art). With contributions from Wright and Harrison- Powell explains how the arrival of Mick Jones into the ever-changing line-up and the re-emergence of Gary Wright as principal songwriter brought out the best in them - even if (like Badfinger) – the public seemed not to care in their native land.

The CD is coloured Pink when in fact it was a Orange Palm-Tree label by mid 1973 (all the reissues I've bought in this series are like this - Pink labels regardless of the time frame) and there's a close-up photo of the album artwork 'symbol' beneath the see-through CD tray. But the big news is new PASCHAL BYRNE and BEN WISEMAN Remasters from original tapes - wonderful chunky sound on the accomplished "Ocean Of Power" and the very Bad Company chug of "All Sewn Up".

There's proper riffage in tracks like "Ocean Of Power" where Wright seems to have discovered the Lord and won't be held in contempt for such beliefs. There's lovely warmth in the Bass and Piano bottom end and when Harrison's voice blends with the others - it feels so damn good - meaty like it didn't before. "Wings On My Heart" is a 'feeling like I'm free' churchy organ song and is prettier than I remember it back in the day. Treated piano notes open "As Long As The World Keeps Turning" - a deceptively musical song and one I return to again and again (why hasn't someone covered this?). Power chords ala Montrose open "Don't Ever Stray Away" - a 'don't throw the magic away' plea to his girly - huge guitars panning across your speakers. Side 1 ends with the Acoustic-Rock of "Things Change" where Spooky Tooth sound American - like Spirit or Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner - and again with great axe work from the boys.

Side 2's "All Sewn Up" is presented to us in two forms - the original album rocker where ST come across like a more boogiefied ACE with Paul Carrack on the Vocals - and a brilliant 'Alternate Mix' that could (and should have been) an American single. I'm sure fans will be chewing up this lone but truly excellent Bonus Track. "Dream Me A Mountain" is another wicked Wright hooky melody - a Rock song with warmth that lifts it up above the average (and dig that just-right guitar solo). More James Gang grunge guitars open "Sunlight On My Mind" - a 'shine a light on me' plea with Harrison's echoed vocals giving the whole thing pathos. Drummer Mike Kellie co-wrote the Soulful piano-led "Pyramids" with Wright - ending the album on a building ballad with big voices and perhaps too much melodrama. To sum up - I like "Witness" as an album. It's true that nothing grabs you by the short 'n' curlies immediately - but I like the overall musicality of it. There are real growers on here and this new CD Remaster has only elevated that.

1973’s duo "You Broke My Heart So...I Busted Your Jaw" and "Witness" are both Classic 1970s Rock albums that cry out for re-discovery. And at last they’ve received the aural makeover they’ve both long needed and deserved.

With the April 2015 "Island Years: 1967-1974" 9CD Box Set now fetching huge prices after deletion – these 2016 individual CD Remasters are welcome. Well done to everyone involved for giving SPOOKY TOOTH this late dental polish. Time indeed to bear witness...

PS: Reissue Titles for SPOOKY TOOTH - 2016 Universal/Island CD Remaster Series:
1. It's All About (1968 Debut) - 30 Sep 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-1 (Barcode 602557054712) with 10 Bonus Tracks
2. Spooky Two (1969 2nd LP) - 7 Oct 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-3 (Barcode 602557054736) with 9 Bonus Tracks
3. Ceremony: An Electronic Mass (1969 3rd LP with Pierre Henry)
- 7 Oct 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-0 (Barcode 602557054705) with 6 Bonus Tracks
4. The Last Puff (1970 4th LP) - 7 Oct 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-5 (Barcode 602557054750) with 6 Bonus Tracks
5. You Broke My Heart...So I Busted Your Jaw (1973 5th LP) - 30 Sep 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-8 (Barcode 602557054781)
6. Witness (1973 6th LP) - 30 Sep 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-7 (Barcode 602557054774) with 1 Bonus Track
7. The Mirror (1974 7th LP) - 30 Sep 2016 CD release on Universal/Island 570 547-6 (Barcode 602557054767)

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