Tuesday, 10 September 2019

"Lullabies For Catatonics: A Journey Through The British Avant-Pop/Art Rock Scene 1967-74" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (May 2019 Grapefruit 3CD Clamshell Box Set – Simon Murphy Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Tramcar To Frankenstein..."

On Page 3 of the 40-leaf chunky-monkey info fest that is the booklet to this latest 3CD Clamshell Mini Box Set vaults-trawl from those provocative and fruity types over at Grapefruit Records - there's a tiny period advert for the Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge first line-up of Soft Machine soon to play Edinburgh - entitled "Lullaby For Catatonics". At the bottom it helpfully adds - and for no other reason you suspect than its funny and its going to mess with someone’s establishment head - "Literary Societies Give Me The Shits".

In short - and in their devil-may-care adventurous way - the inexperienced but ballsy London Art House boys were informing a still culturally uptight world that we're playing this Underground Music man (or Prog Rock or Art Rock or Psych or whatever else phrase you want to call it) and if you don't like it son, you can bugger off. Now let’s get the beers in and brush up on the agricultural maintenance of unfeasibly large mushrooms in suburbia.

As you can no doubt tell, I like these sort of catch-all sets and as other collectors like me have noticed in the last few years - Cherry Red's Grapefruit Records label has become rather good at it. Time to don the multi-coloured shirt and hat, put some casters on the Mellotron and head out at dawn to Stonehenge (or some place with camels maybe). Here are the windy song details...

UK released 31 May 2019 - "Lullabies For Catatonics:  A Journey Through The British Avant-Pop/Art Rock Scene 1967-74" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Grapefruit Records CRSEGBOX056 (Barcode 5013929185609) is a 3CD Clamshell Box Set of 49 Remastered Tracks that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Spontaneous Underground" (78:47 minutes):
1. I Should've Known - THE SOFT MACHINE (Not originally issued, recorded April 1967)
2. I'm Waiting For The Man - THE RIOT SQUAD featuring DAVID BOWIE (Not originally issued, recorded April 1967)
3. Conquistador - PROCOL HARUM (from the September 1967 US Debut LP "Procol Harum" on Decca DES 18008)
4. Bypass The By-Pass - THE END (not originally issued, recorded October 1967)
5. World War Three - DANTALIAN'S CHARIOT (Not originally issued, recorded January 1968)
6. Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914) - THE ZOMBIES (from the April 1968 debut album "Odyssey & Oracle" on CBS Records S BPG 63280 in Stereo)
7. I Talk To The Wind - GILES, GILES & FRIPP [pre King Crimson] (Not originally issued, recorded September 1968)
8. Tramcar To Frankenstein - THE LIVERPOOL SCENE (from their November 1968 second UK LP "Amazing Adventures Of The Liverpool Scene" on RCA Victor SF 7995 in Stereo)
9. The Battle - THE STRAWBS (Not originally issued alternative version, recorded December 1968)
10. Xoanon Bay - WOODY KERN (from the January 1969 debut album "The Awful Disclosures Of Maria Monk" on Pye Records NSPL 18273 in Stereo)
11. In The Beginning - GENESIS (from their March 1969 debut album "From Genesis To Revelation" on Decca SKL 4990 in Stereo)
12. Wasted Ground (Memento Mori) - THE VELVET FROGS (Not originally issued, recorded mid 1969)
13. Beyond And Before - YES (from their July 1969 UK debut LP "Yes" on Atlantic Records 588 190 in Stereo)
14. Druid One - THIRD EAR BAND (from their July 1969 debut album "Alchemy" on Harvest SHVL 756 in Stereo)
15. Through The Eyes Of A Child - BACHDENKEL (Not originally issued, recorded September 1969)
16. All Over The Country - THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN (Not originally issued, recorded late 1969)
17. Merry Go Round - EYES OF BLUE (from their October 1969 second album "In Fields Of Ardath" on Mercury SMCL 20164 in Stereo)

Disc 2 "Tea On The Lawn" (79:03 minutes):
1. Egyptian Tomb - MIGHTY BABY [ex The Action] (from their November 1969 debut album "Mighty Baby" on Head Records HDLS 6002)
2. Banquet - AUDIENCE (from their December 1969 UK debut LP "Audience" on Polydor 583 065 in Stereo)
3. To Play Your Little Game - CRESSIDA (from their February 1970 UK debut LP "Cressida" on Vertigo VO 7)
4. Parachute - PRETTY THINGS (from their June 1970 fifth studio album "Parachute" on Harvest SHVL 774)
5. Crytallised Petard - RUSTIC HINGE (not originally issued, recorded mid 1970)
6. Vivaldi - CURVED AIR (from their November 1970 debut album "Air Conditioning" on Warner Brothers WS 3012)
7. World Of Ice - SWEET SLAG (from their January 1971 debut and only album "Tracking With Close-Ups" on President PTLS 1042)
8. Mocking Bird - BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST (from their February 1971 second album "Once Again" on Harvest SHVL 788)
9. The Prisoner - COMUS (from their February 1971 UK debut LP "First Utterance" on Dawn DNLS 3019)
10. Home (Reconstruction) - NIRVANA (from their March 1971 third studio album "Local Anaesthetic" on Vertigo 6360 031)
11. Death May Be Your Santa Claus - SECOND HAND (from their April 1971 LP "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" on Mushroom Records 200 MR 6)
12. The Prisoner (Eight by Ten) - SPRING (from their May 1971 debut album "Spring" on RCA Neon NE 6)
13. Don Alfonso - THE COXHILL-BEDFORD DUO [Lol Coxhill and David Bedford - ex Kevin Ayers Band] (from the June 1971 Lol Coxhill double-album "Ear Of Beholder" on Dandelion DSD 8008)
14. Grande Piano - STACKRIDGE (from their August 1971 debut album "Stackridge" on MCA Records MDKS 8002)
15. Saving It Up For So Long - SAMURAI (from their August 1971 debut album "Samurai" on Greenwich Gramophone Co. Records GSLP 1003)
16. No. 2 Psychological Decontamination Unit - BLONDE ON BLONDE (from their October 1971 debut album "Reflections On A life" on Ember Records NR 5058)
17. Me And My Kite - FUCHSIA (from their October 1971 UK debut LP "Fuchsia" on Pegasus Records PEG 8)

Disc 3 "The Wind Sings Winter Songs" (79:50 minutes):
1. Welcome For A Soldier - DEEP FEELING (from their November 1971 debut album "Deep Feeling" on DJM Records DJLP 419)
2. Can I See You - OPEN ROAD (Previously Unreleased recording, early 1972)
3. O Caroline - MATCHING MOLE (from their February 1972 UK debut album "Matching Mole" on CBS Records S 64850)
4. Unhinged - 9.30 FLY (from their June 1972 UK debut LP "9.30 Fly" on Ember Records NR 5062)
5. The Machine Grinds On - GNOME SWEET GNOME (Previously Unreleased, recorded July 1972)
6. No More Sunshine Until May - AS YOU LIKE IT (Previously Unreleased, recorded circa 1972)
7. A Winter's Tale - JADE WARRIOR (from their December 1972 third studio album "Last Autumn's Dream" on Vertigo 6360 079)
8. C.F.D.T. (Colonel Fright's Dancing Terrapins) - BOND & BROWN [Graham Bond and Pete Brown] (from the December 1972 UK LP "Two Heads Are Better Than One" on Chapter One Records CHS-R-813)
9. Ship - GNIDROLOG (from their December 1972 second UK LP "Lady Lake" on RCA Victor SF 8322)
10. Anvils In Fire - RUPERT HINE (from the March 1973 UK LP "Unfinished Picture" on Purple Records TPSA 7509)
11. Upon Composition - RON GEESIN (from the April 1973 self-published LP  "As He Stands" on (No Label) RON 28)
12. Growing Up And I'm Fine - MICK RONSON (from the March 1974 UK debut album "Slaughter On 10th Avenue" on RCA Victor APL-1 0353)
13. Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape - BE-BOP DELUXE [featuring Bill Nelson] (from their June 1974 UK Debut album "Axe Victim" on Harvest SHVL 813)
14. Somewhere In Hollywood - 10cc (from their May 1974 second UK LP "Sheet Music" on UK Records UKAL 1007)
15. Mother Russia - RENAISSANCE (from their May 1974 US LP "Turn Of The Cards" on Sire Records SAS 7502, issued March 1975 in the UK on RCA/BYM Records BTM 1000)

Compiled and Annotated by DAVID WELLS with Project Management from the legendary JOHN REED – long standing Audio Engineer SIMON MURPHY has done the mastering for Another Planet Music and as you can imagine with so many sources, it’s a mixed bag of gruff vs. gorgeous with thankfully the emphasis more on the latter. The 40-page booklet is a stunning achievement – rammed to the gunnels with facts and memory-jogging details, black and white and colour promo photos of every band and artist (I’ve never seen a photo of the band Woody Kern who featured Rik Kenton, the one-time Bassist for Roxy Music and the one seen as they played “Virginia Plain” on Top Of The Pops in 1972. There are trade adverts from Cream Magazine, NME and Melody Maker - the disastrous reverse-psychology Purple Records campaign for Rupert Hine’s LP advising punters to not buy it if they didn’t like it, and it worked - or an interview with Patrick Campbell-Lyons of Nirvana on their third platter and latest incarnation.

You get lesser-seen LP covers like Samurai, Liverpool Scene and Comus, foreign picture sleeves for obscuro singles from Mighty Baby and their Egyptian Tomb or Procol Harum’s Conquistador in its Yank sleeve. There is a two-page colour spread of gig posters and festival art adorning the centre - famous venues like The Roundhouse in London and Mothers in Birmingham as well as the lowly but cute Adam And Eve Folk Club in Bradford Street where you could ogle The Strawbs on 26 September 1969 for the frankly iMac extortionate fee of six schillings and six pence (who got the six pence gravy, that’s what I want to know). Each CD card is fronted by a band of the time, Giles, Giles & Fripp for Disc 1, Mighty Baby for Disc 2 and 10cc as we enter into 1974. As you can imagine - its fab stuff – now to the music...

Proceedings on CD1 open strongly, two well-recorded and period-groovy unissued recordings from April 1967 - Soft Machine and none other than David Bowie on his short stint with The Riot Squad. The first is even Mod Soulful (should've known it wouldn't last type lyrics) whilst Twig the Wonder Kid does his best Lou Reed drawl on their cover of The Velvet Undergrounds more-dead-than-alive drugs song "I'm Waiting For The Man". While I appreciate its place in musical history (arrangements and sound) - I never want to hear Procol Harum's hammy "Conquistador" ever again. Far better is Bill Wyman's involvement in The End and their surprisingly good unissued "Bypass The By-Pass" - great audio on a tune about people drinking and the authorities downing on them with breathalysers. But then things kick up a real Heavy Psych notch with the "World War Three" from Dantalian's Chariot - future Police guitarist Andy Summers screaming on those effects peddles with thunderous and genuinely exciting effect. Speaking of bizarre, probably because of its war references and pleading "Please let me go home..." lyrics, Epic issued The Zombies "Odyssey & Oracle" track "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" as a 45 in the USA - whatever you look at the politics behind that - its an extraordinary song on an album that only grows in stature as the decades pass (much like The Pretty Things material over on Disc 2).

Other corkers include an alternate take on the whimsical but sweet pre Crimson version of "I Talk To The Wind" by Giles, Giles & Fripp that would of course re-emerge on their October 1969 debut "In The Court Of The Crimson King" over on Island Records - a landmark LP itself due yet another multi-disc Anniversary issue this October 2019. While the song choices made for obscuro bands like Woody Kern, The Velvet frogs and even the darling Eyes Of Blue leave me a bit cold, no such thing with the genuinely chilling and brilliant "Tramcar To Frankenstein" by The Liverpool Scene (with Andy Roberts) sounding almost like pre Sabbath. A real discovery also comes in "Through The Eyes Of A Child" by Bachdenkel (brilliant) and dare we say it - the weird baroque and almost uncatagorizeable cool of Third Ear Band stringing it up on "Druid One". And you can so hear why bands like Yes and Genesis went on to true genius (even if the Gabriel debut LP only sold 645 copies on Decca) - the greatness and tune-craft was already there right from the start. I would say though that audio-wise the Strawbs alternate for "The Battle" is intrusively hissy and some may find entries on CD1 more noodle than song.

After the slightly disjointed CD1 – the largely Prog-based Disc 2 ups the brilliance level considerably opening with an absolute corker from Mighty Baby - their "Egyptian Tomb" - pictured in its Dutch Philips Records picture sleeve on Page 16 in the booklet. Amazing sound - Eastern and Western influences converging - the ex Action boys did more than good and were surely a strong rival to Yes for syncopated rhythms and sheer musicality. Howard Werth's Audience and the Shakespearian named Cressida trump up two goodies from their debuts - melodies and fine playing (Iain Clark from Cressida later joined Uriah Heep for their 1971 platter "Look At Yourself"). Superb Beach Boys harmonies come next in Phil May's brilliant "Parachute" - The Pretty Things proving that 1968's "P. F. Sorrow" wasn't just a one-off masterpiece. Ex World Of Arthur Brown, its clear Rustic Hinge have been absolutely pigging out on Captain Beefheart's 1969 double-opus "Trout Mask Replica" - their "Crystallised Petard" meshing Stockhausen with the Mighty Beef in no uncertain terms (unreleased at the time, the LP would eventually see UK light of day in 1988 on Reckless Records RECK 3 as "Replicas" - now where do I know that label from - oh yes I worked for the buggers for 20 years). Other corkers include Fuchsia (see my separate review for their self-titled LP) and the amazing debut of Comus - their "First Utterance" horror gatefold artwork completely undermining the Dando Shaft meets Steve Marriott brilliance contained within. Lysergic plant name or not, I can't say I liked Sweet Slag, or the childish misplaced nonsense of Lol Coxhill and David Bedford, nor the three Mellotrons of Spring - already feeling like a wildly dated sound by at least 4 years when issued in 1971.

CD3 comes stomping in with Deep Feeling's musically accomplished take on the Vietnam War in "Welcome For A Soldier" - an A Cappella centre section that will have Harmony Vocals fans nodding a cap. Part of Donovan's musical crew for the 1970 Dawn Records album "Open Road" (incredibly his ninth studio album by that time) – several members of the ensemble including writer John Carr took the name for their own band. After Open Road's "Windy Daze" debut album on Greenwich Gramophone Company Records hit the shops in 1971 – they recruited Bassist and Singer Tony Reeves (soon-to-be the front man for Greenslade) for a completed second album but on TR’s departure, it never got released. Here we get the opening track – the impressive "Can I See You?" Ex Soft Machine, Matching Mole made two revered albums for CBS Records in 1972, with the pretty Robert Wyatt-sung "O Caroline" being a highlight on the April debut (Bob Stanley featured it on the "English Weather" CD compilation he did in 2017 for Ace Records - see my review). Other winners include Jade Warrior with their touching "A Winter's Tale" - Mick Ronson contemplating David Cassidy fame on "Growing Up And I'm Fine" - while 10cc and Renaissance bring it all home with complicated Rock brilliance from their superb "Sheet Music" and "Turn Of The Cards" albums.

I can imagine some will feel that much of "Lullabies For Catatonics:  A Journey Through The British Avant-Pop/Art Rock Scene 1967-74" is interesting noodle, but not much else. I'd argue they'd be wrong (the good far outweighs the dud big time) and once again Grapefruit Records have kicked out another 3CD reissue winner – the kind of catchall Box Set that will have you chasing down those obscuro albums with glee (time to get your Be-Bop Deluxe and Gnidrolog fetishes quenched boys).

If your ears are up for Ealing Art College musical adventures and hairy-bottomed Mellotron romps in the Yorkshire, Canterbury and Gloucestershire landscape with your third-eye tackle out – then look no further...

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