Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"Sleeping For Years: The Studio Recordings 1970-1974" by ATOMIC ROOSTER (December 2017 Esoteric Recordings 4CD Box Set - Ben Wiseman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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I'm fast thinking that Cherry Red's 'Esoteric Recording' could soon pip 'Ace Records' as being the best re-issue label England has (traitor you say). They've gotten frightfully good at this 'sort of thing' - they really have. And 2017's "Sleeping For Years..." is adding even more fuel to that retrospective fire.

ATOMIC ROOSTER came out of the ashes of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown when VINCENT CRANE and ELP master-drummer CARL PALMER formed the band in early 1970. Palmer left of course for bigger more Proggy pastures becoming EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER on Island Records scoring number one albums galore whilst AR had to settle for two hit singles (the fondly remembered "Tomorrow Night" and "Devil's Answer") and low placed albums - the first of which lasted one whole week on the British LP charts. But that's not to say that those who dig their Rock with a bit of Head in the Sky Prog, Friday the 13th Doom and screeching men in unfeasibly tight-trousers don't remember Vincent Crane's rocking Atomic Rooster with huge affection. They do. Hell they even went AWB-Funky for the Chris Farlowe albums on Dawn Records – overlooked little nuggets in my books.

So what do you get - five hard-to-find British vinyl albums in full from 1970 to 1973 (the bank won't thank if you're looking for Mint originals), alternate takes for an American debut LP that never materialised and different versions put on German, French and US albums, two Demos as well as five non-album single-sides - and all of it newly remastered into one clamshell box for under an apple core. Made in England indeed. Let's get in hearing of...

UK released Friday, 1 December 2017 (8 December 2017 in the USA)- "Sleeping For Years: The Studio Recordings 1970-1974" by ATOMIC ROOSTER on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 42612 (Barcode 5013929471207) is a 4CD clamshell-shaped Box Set containing five newly remastered studio albums, single sides and other rarities. It plays out as follows...

Disc 1 (66:44 minutes):
1. Friday The 13th
2. And So To Bed
3. Winter
4. Decline And Fall
5. Banstead
6. S.L.Y.
7. Broken Wings
8. Before Tomorrow
Tracks 1 to 8 are their debut album "Atomic Rooster" - released February 1970 in the UK on B&C Records CAS 1010 (no US release).
The original British album running order can be sequenced as follows:
Side 1: Tracks 1, 2, 7 and 8
Side 2: Tracks 5, 6, 3 and 4
Three tracks had guitars overdubbed for a planned US-album variant but it was never released (see Bonus tracks 9, 10 and 11)

9. Friday The 13th (US Album Version)
10. S.L.Y. (US Album Version)
11. Beyond Tomorrow (US Album Version)
12. VUG (1970 Demo with Carl Palmer)
13. Devil's Answer (1970 Demo Version)
14. Tomorrow Night (Single Version) - released September 1970 as a UK 7" single on B&C Records CB 131 with "Play The Game" as the B-side (see Disc 2). Charted February 1971 and rose to No. 11

Disc 2 (73:22 minutes):
1. Death Walks Behind You [Side 1]
2. VUG
3. Tomorrow Night (Album Version)
4. 7 Streets
5. Sleeping For Years [Side 2]
6. I Can't take No More
7. Nobody Else
8. Gerschatzer
Tracks 1 to 8 are their second studio album "Death Walks Behind You" - released September 1970 in the UK on B&C Records CAS 1026 and June 1971 in the USA on Elektra Records EKS-74094 in a different sleeve

9. Play The Game - non-album B-side of "Tomorrow Night" - see Track 14 on Disc 1
10. Devil's Answer (Single Version) - A-side of a May 1971 UK 7" single on B&C Records CB 157 ("The Rock" was its B-side)

11. Breakthrough
12. Break The Ice
13. Decision/Indecision
14. A Spoonful Of Bromide Helps The Pulse Rate Go Down
Tracks 11 to 14 are Side 1 of the album "In Hearing Of" - released August 1971 in the UK on Pegasus Records PEG 1 and November 1971 in the USA on Elektra Records EKS 74109 (see also Track 5 on Disc 2 - an extra on the American LP)

Disc 3 (65:47 minutes):
1. Black Snake
2. Head In The Sky
3. The Rock
4. The Price
Tracks 1 to 4 are Side 2 of the album "In Hearing Of" - released August 1971 in the UK on Pegasus Records PEG 1 and November 1971 in the USA on Elektra Records EKS 74109 (see also Track 5 below)

5. Devil's Answer (Pete French Vocal Version) - appeared as Track 5 on Side 1 of the US LP for "In Hearing Of" on Elektra EKS 74109

6. Take Your Time [Side 1]
7. Stand By Me
8. Little Bit Of Inner Air
9. Don't Know What Went Wrong
10. Never To Lose
11. Introduction /Breathless [Side 2]
12. Space Cowboy
13. People You Can't Trust
14. All In Satan's Name
15. Close Your Eyes
Tracks 6 to 15 are their fourth studio album "Made In England" - released October 1972 in the UK on Dawn Records DNLS 3038 and October 1972 in the USA on Elektra Records EKS 75039. Initial copies of the UK LP came in a stitched denim sleeve hiding an insert and the LP inside (no cover art. The 1972 US LP has cover art, which was eventually used in 1973 in the UK also to replace the limited edition denim sleeve.

Disc 4 (58:48 minutes):
1. All Across The Country [Side 1]
2. Save Me
3. Voodoo To You
4. Goodbye Planet Earth
5. Take One Toke [Side 2]
6. Can't Find A Reason
7. Ear In The Snow
8. Satan's Wheel
Tracks 1 to 8 are their fifth studio album "Nice 'n' Greasy" - released September 1973 in the UK on Dawn Records DNLS 3049 and December 1973 in the USA as "IV" on Elektra Records EKS 75074. The American LP replaced "Goodbye Planet Earth" with "Moods" as fourth and last track on Side 1 whilst "Satan's Wheel" was replaced with "What You Gonna Do?" as fourth and last track on Side 2

9. What You Gonna Do?
10. Moods
The American LP of "Nice 'n' Greasy" was called "IV" and replaced "Goodbye Planet Earth" with "Moods" as the fourth and last track on Side 1 – with "What You Gonna Do?" replacing "Satan's Wheel" as the fourth and last track on Side 2

11. Tell Your Story (Sing your Song)
12. O.D.
Tracks 11 and 12 are the non-album A&B-sides of a March 1974 UK 7" single on Decca FR 13503 credited to Vincent Crane's Atomic Rooster

I dig these clamshell box sets - they allow a label to spread out and Esoteric has done so here. The four card sleeves reflect the artwork of four albums - the exception being the denim cover of "Made In England" which is pictured in German and US forms on Pages 21 and 22. The whole 32-page booklet is a feast of colour photos of the band in its many incarnations whilst rare Euro, US and Japanese 7" single picture sleeves pepper the text. The band's long and tangled history is tackled in September 2017 liner notes from noted writer MALCOLM DOME - where he describes Vincent Crane (the band's backbone for all five albums and after that too) as a 'troubled genius' - sadly succumbing to his mental demons in February 1989 when he took his own life. Particularly good is the albums pictured and discussed towards the end where Dome calls on previous Crane interviews to explain almost every song. It's properly in-depth and you feel Dome's enthusiasm as he makes the case for this unfairly sidelined British band.

Compiled and co-ordinated by Mark and Vicky Powell - the big news is new 24-bit digital remasters from original tapes by an experienced Audio Engineer - BEN WISEMAN. Ben has handled wads of reissues - The Flock, Audience, Help Yourself, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Patto, Unicorn, Spooky Tooth and many more. I had the "Heavy Soul" 2CD Atomic Rooster set from 2002 and to my ears these masters are meatier - more bang for your buck. The sound is really great.

The "Atomic Rooster" debut felt like the three-piece band was a variant of Focus vs. ELP - way more Prog Fusion than Hard Rock. And with Carl Palmer's involvement and Crane's ever-looming organ and piano (no guitars) - songs like "Before Tomorrow" could easily have been outtakes from ELP's self-titled first outing on Island Records (also in 1970). In amongst the Vincent Crane, Carl Palmer and Nick Graham originals - I love the cover of John Mayall's "Broken Wings" (from his 1967 set "The Blues Alone" on Decca's Ace Of Clubs label) where ex Skin Alley frontman Nick Graham lets rip on throaty vocals while Crane gets all soulful come the solo. You get the pretty 'flute' version of "Winter" and I actually prefer the overdubbed guitars of ex Andromeda axeman John Cann on the 'US Version' of "S.L.Y." (his guitars replace Crane's piano parts). The demo of "Devil's Answer" is a fascinating slice - the grungy guitar on this rough cut rightly replaced with a more direct axe attack and that slide-intro sharpened up. The "Tomorrow Night" single version is fab too - what a Rock winner. And I’m a complete sucker for a cool B-side - the wickedly Funky instrumental "The Rock" delivering my crave.

The second platter is a massive jump forward - "Death Walks Behind You" - where a recognisable 'Atomic Rooster sound' emerges. As the seven minute title track opens you might be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled on a Hammer Horror haunted parlour scene where someone's gonna get a knife in the back (or some other unpleasant part of their anatomy) - but it soon settles down into a great Rock groove (new drummer Paul Hammond playing up a storm while John Cann makes his guitar presence known). The instrumental "VUG" is very Colosseum - a Prog jaunt dominated by Crane and Cann battling it out on Keyboards and Guitars. The full four-minute album cut of "Tomorrow Night" has amazing punch here - and 45-seconds more than the single edit is alright by me. The near seven-minutes of "Seven Streets" features Crane getting an almost church-like sound out of his Hammond while John Cann slashes away on an array of riffs. Love that faded guitar opening of the box set's namesake "Sleeping For Years" - how very Led Zeppelin - before it turns into a dirty gritty rocking monster. Some vocal madness precedes the clear-as-a-bell piano of "Nobody Else" - a surprisingly mellow and pretty offering for such a heavy album (Crane already finding his whole world is going away). Although a tad hissy in places - Drummer Paul Hammond gets his magnificent Bonzo moment on the lengthy but strangely beautiful "Gerschatzer" - a song you just know will have slaughtered 'live' as each member of the band gets to show what they can do during their solos (and it did).

Newly signed to Pegasus Records – the three piece of Crane, Cann and Hammond took on body number four - the ex Leafhound vocalist Pete French and quickly produced what many feel is their best moment – 1971's "In Hearing Of". It would be their last album to chart in the UK reaching No. 18 in August of that mercurial year. Sat nestling alongside The Who’s mighty “Who’s Next” and Vertigo Spiral Prog obscuros like Ben and Gravy Train in shop racks – the third Atomic Rooster album seemed to capture British Rock in all its grungy, snot-nosed swagger and came complete with 'an old dear' cover courtesy of Roger Dean - artwork man of the moment for those special years. Both "Breakthrough" and "Break The Ice" are excellent with the crushed-and-broken piano melody of "Decision/Indecision" sealing the album's greatness. Piano vs. Organ vs. Gee-tar Prog Rock comes roaring out of your speakers on the fantastic conclusion to Side 1 - the instrumental "A Spoonful Of Bromide Helps The Pulse Go Down" - an album highlight for me where everyone in the band plays a blinder.

Perhaps it seemed like a good idea in 1972 but the gimmick 'denim' sleeve for Rooster's fourth LP "Made In England" probably did for sales rather than encouraged them. Listed in the 2018 RC Price Guide at a cool £100 - I can honestly say I've seen a UK original maybe twice in my collecting/rarities manager life - which is a shame because I thought it was a worthy follow-up. Ex Colosseum lead vocalist Chris Farlowe joined Vincent along with Steve Bolton on Guitars and Ric Parnell on Drums. Two of Elton John’s fave backing singers Doris Troy and Liza Strike bolster up "Stand By Me" and "People You Can't Trust". I'm amazed Dawn didn't try the fabulous Soul-Rock of "Time Take My Life" as a lead-off 45 – not surprisingly they went instead for the hookier and just as Funky "Stand By Me" in May 1972 (Dawn DNS 1027 with "Never To Lose" on the B-side). Not to be confused with the Percy Sledge classic – Crane’s own "Stand By Me" was a Crane go by him at a Rotary Connection-type groove. Farlowe then goes Dr. John on the vocal to the R&B shuffler "Little Bit Of Inner Air" while he takes the false-preacher Michael on the introduction to the furious "Breathless". Said to be one of Crane's faves on the album (probably because his piano playing is on fire throughout) - "Breathless" also has Steve Bolton let fly with an amazing guitar solo worthy of Tommy Bolin. I also love the very American Rock Funk of "People You Can’t Trust" – another sleeper with the ladies giving it some Labelle in the background. Maybe because the LP seemed like a complete turnaround in sound - Fun to Funky and away from Prog – perhaps that saw "Made In England" fail. Their fourth is all but forgotten now when I'd argue that it shouldn't be.

Farlowe stayed for album number five "Nice ‘n’ Greasy" with Johnny Mandala replacing Steve Bolton on Guitar (Crane and Parnell made up the other two). Farlowe’s vocals now sounded like Bobby Harrison of Snafu as did the band’s sound – a sort of Blues, Funky, Rock-Soul combo. If "Made In England" is forgotten then so too is "Nice ‘n’ Greasy" – an album that feels like the cigarette butt in the friend egg on the cover. I like "Voodoo In You" and the impossibly funky "Take One Toke" – an encore number at gigs for years.

For sure Atomic Rooster are not going to be everyone’s idea of bliss on a Sunday morning – but this box set brings a Hell of lot of great Prog Rock and Funk-Rock-Soul into my home and I’m down with both. Well done to all involved...

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