Monday, 12 February 2018

"Death May Be Your Santa Claus" by SECOND HAND (June 2017 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue - Ben Wiseman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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Anyone who has slaved and slavered in the 'rare records' game (like me) will have come across Second Hand's two albums of Experimental Rock from the late Sixties and early Seventies - "Reality" on Polydor in 1968 and this - the cheerily titled and mad as a dingbat on acid "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" (Mushroom Records UK from the spring of 1971.)

Commercially both records tanked at the time but collectors have loved their Avant Garde grooves ever since - so the first LP is booked in 2018 at a mere £300 or you can have the second for a paltry £250 (but of course you may have to sell that Pok√©mon collection if your seeking good-copies on well-known auction sites). In fact three members of the disbanded band under the songwriting aliases Nek, Max Fish and (wait for it) Herr Von Tskutting (Ken Elliott, Kieran O’Connor and George Hart) - went on to make "Chillum" by Chillum which was released December 1971 on Mushroom Records 100 MR 11 in a sleeve that resembled a private pressing. That album too has been subject to CD reissue and British originals with its hand-stencilled sleeve and photo insert will set you back a trifling £150 – or more.

Some history first - the nucleus of SECOND HAND (or The Moving Finger as they were credited on early copies of "Reality") was Ken Elliott and Kieran O'Connor - multi-instrumentalists who would later morph into SEVENTH WAVE (on Gull Records). The first album on Polydor got no promotion and the second just as little - so both have been notorious rarities on the UK Prog collecting scene for decades. See For Miles had a bash at a CD reissue in 1997, UFO in 1991, Sunbeam in 2010 and now in late June 2017 we're getting the latest and greatest from a rising star in the reissue firmament - 'Esoteric Recordings' - part of England’s Cherry Red Records. Resplendent with a Ben Wiseman remaster, hallucinogenic liner notes from Malcolm Dome and three relevant Bonus Tracks - this weird and wonderful sucker has never sounded nor looked so good - or frankly ahead of its time. Here are the first hand funereal revelations...

UK released Friday, 30 June 2017 (7 July 2018 in the USA) - "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" by SECOND HAND on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2594 (Barcode 5013929469440) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue with Three Bonus Tracks and pans out as follows (44:19 minutes): 

1. Death May Be Your Santa Claus [Side 1]
2. Hangin' On An Eyelid
3. Lucifer And The Egg
4. Somethin' You Got
5. Cyclops [Side 2]
6. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
7. Revelations Ch. 16, Vs. 9-21
8. Take To The Skies
9. D.M.B.Y.S.C. (Reprise)
Tracks 1 to 9 are their second studio album "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" - released April 1971 in the UK on Mushroom Records 200 MR 6 (no US release).

ROB ELLIOTT - Lead Vocals
KEN ELLIOTT - Vocals, Organ, Mellotron and Piano
KIERAN O'CONNOR Vocals, Vibraphone, Percussion, Noises and Drums
GEORGE HART - Vocals, Bass and Violin
MOGGY MEAD - Guitar on "Cyclops"

10. Funeral
11. Dip It Out Of The Bog Fred
12. Baby RU Anudder Monster

PAUL GREEDUS - Vocals on "Funeral"
TONY McGILL - Guitar on "Funeral" 

Co-ordinated by Mark and Vicky Powell – this reissue features a 16-page booklet with new MALCOLM DOME liner notes including revealing interviews with original band member Ken Elliott (a mere 22 when he made the album with a 20-year old Kieran O’Connor) and Vic Keary who produced their debut album in 1968 and formed the British Independent label Mushroom Records which would house their second and third platters in 1971. The rare "Funeral" British 45 on Mushroom 50 MR 19 is pictured (released June 1972, the album track "Hangin' On An Eyelid" was its B-side) as are period band photos, tour dates, trade paper adverts and each set of double-pages features the smoke trails of the “Reality” album sleeve as a backdrop (nice touch).

But the big news is a BEN WISEMAN Remaster from original tapes. Ben has handled wads of reissues - The Flock, Audience, Help Yourself, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Patto, Unicorn, Spooky Tooth, Man, Juicy Lucy, Second Hand, Dada, Eyes Of Blue and many more. Another bang up job here.

It opens with a decidedly ELP vs. Greenslade moment in "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" complete with a rather overbearing vocal and mad keyboard tinkling from Elliott. The album's true experimental nature shows through with "Hangin' On An Eyelid" where it seems that hundreds of keyboards ideas are colliding with each other - the playing and sound stages amazing. The near eight minutes of "Lucifer And The Egg" is a Prog monster with treated screeching vocals and manic drumming - modern art meets keyboard radio workshop madness. Heavy Psych Fuzz Guitar lovers will head straight for "Somethin' You Got" while aficionados of doom-keyboards will dig the seven minutes of "Cyclops" - all in-and-out menace as it builds on layers and layers of Moog sounds. The 45-seconds of "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" is lunatic noises and throwaway madness. It leads into the difficult guitars and Magical Mystery Tour keys of "Revelations..." where someone's been reading too many underground leaflets about the end of the world and the Russians. "Take To The Skies" and the Reprise of the title track may test your patience but again others will secretly thrill to their BBC workshop sounds.

Mushroom Records also put out a rare album by Greek singer Andreas Thomopoulos called "Born Out Of The Tears Of The Sun" which apparently featured Ken Elliott, George Hart and Kieran O'Connor of Second Hand. Ken Elliott and Kieran O’Connor then formed the Synth band Seventh Wave and did two albums on Gull Records in 1974 - "Things To Come" and "Psi-Fi". Ken Elliott does soundtracks now while Kieran O'Connor sadly passed in 1991 due to alcohol related illnesses.

No matter how accomplished the paying may be – this is a difficult and at times trying listen and very much of the period (experiment and be damned) – so for sure SECOND HAND will not be for everyone. But those who love their Prog a bit mad and keyboard noises a tad workshop will find much to enjoy in this smorgasbord of soundscapes. Take me to the skies indeed...

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