Sunday, 21 February 2021

Prog Rock miscellaneous (part two)

Hawkwind - In Search Of Space (1971)

You Shouldn't Do That/You Know You're Only Dreaming/Master Of The Universe/We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago/Adjust Me/Children Of The Sun

Hawkwind, best known for their excellent 1972 single Silver Machine, were obsessed with space travel and it dominates much of their material, both in lyrics and sound. They were thought of as prog rock pioneers, and in man ways that is true, but their music, particularly on this album, is far more proto-electro rock.

Take, for example, the fifteen-minute opener to this album, You Shouldn't Do That, which is a marvellous maelstrom of sound - throbbing bass, pounding drums, swirling keyboards, wailing saxophone (which surely influenced early Roxy Music) and a Kraftwerk-esque Autobahn-style insistent beat that gets into your system. It also features some droning, repetitive, atonal vocals. Played with an irrepressible vibrancy, this actually is really good stuff, despite its length. I can't help but like it. So many bands will have taken bits of this and adapted them, in shorter form, to their own music. 

I have to say, though, that when the vocals properly arrive, on You Know You're Only Dreaming they are are not great - monotone and dreary, with dreaming pronounced as "drea-man". The music is good though - psychedelic and freaky, with flute and bass combining all over the place with intermittent guitars if that makes sense. I love the sound on this, despite its unshackled, improvisational druggy wildness. 

Listen to Master Of The Universe and tell me that the lead riff is not a classic punk-post punk one, and the drum sound too. It, together with the vocal, sounds a lot like Joy Division would do some eight years later. The track is full of great riffs and a deep bass line. This is rock, for me, proper dark, brooding rock, not prog. This had a big influence on much post punk, even though many of them may not have admitted it at the time. 

We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago is a freaky acoustic swirl, with spacey noises all around while Adjust Me is a little to experimental for my liking, not really getting anywhere, despite some interesting guitar noises, riffs and an infectious cowbell rhythm. Children Of The Sun is a comparatively low-key acoustic-driven closer to an album that runs out of inspiration a bit at the end but is certainly not without is ground-breaking, innovative good points.

Caravan - If I Could Do It Again, I'd Do It All Over You (1970)

If I Could Do It Again, I'd Do It All Over You/And I Wish I Were Stoned-Don't Worry/As I Feel I Die/With An Ear To The Ground/Hello Hello/Asforteri 25/Can't Be Long Now/Limits

I always thought of Canterbury band Caravan as more of a folk rock group than a prog one, particularly at the beginning of their career and this, their second album carries many folky feelings inside it, along with some solid but catchy rock instincts that make it a classic early prog album with considerable folky aspects, one very typical of 1969-70. It is also quite psychedelic too, again, something very much of that particular period. 

If I Could Do It Again, I'd Do It All Over You is a simply marvellous, vibrant piece of vaguely folky rock fun. I remember it as a single and it still sounds great today -full of freshness and youthful enthusiasm. And I Wish I Were Stoned-Don't Worry is slower in pace but no less inventive and appealing, featuring some great bass, keyboards and drums. Yes, it is slightly proggy, but it has a folky melodiousness and a conciseness to it that makes it most accessible. The vocal harmonies are lovely, too as is the mid-song guitar solo. The Don't Worry part is beautiful, with a sumptuous bass. I can hear some of Paul Weller's Wild Wood album here and there on this album, you know.

As I Feel I Die is a gentle, reflective acoustic number at the beginning that suddenly breaks out into frantic jazzy, psychedelic rock. In true Jethro Tull-ish early seventies prog style, the next track, With An Ear To The Ground, is an eight-minute plus amalgam of several different passages, with a typically proggy emphasis on changes in tempo. Whatever, it is played immaculately. 

Hello Hello is very 1969 folky in its feel, particularly in its behind the ledge-hedge lyrics and its staccato, quirky rhythm. Can't Be Long Now is another extended suite that alternates between bucolic folky acoustic fare and big, chunky rock riffs. The guitar and saxophone soloing is excellent as is the drumming at the end. This is where they got proto-prog.

Limits ends on a sleepy, groovy note, a sort of slower version of the album's opener. This was really quite an adventurous, unusual album for its time and one that I have enjoyed properly discovering. 

** Also enjoyable is the early Pink Floyd-esque non-album track, A Day In The Life Of Maurice Haylett.

Colosseum - Valentyne Suite (1969)

The Kettle/Elegy/Butty’s Blues/The Machine Demands A Sacrifice/The Valentyne Suite

Featuring Dave Greenslade on keyboards, this was an interesting mix of avant-garde, prog jazz rock, with pre-early Roxy Music and contemporary for 1969 King Crimson saxophone, hints of Van Der Graaf Generator and lots of Keith Emerson meets Deep Purple keyboards. The highlight is the sixteen minute extended groove of The Valentyne Suite. It was well received at the time, but retrospectively not so much. I actually quite like it. There is a loose, melodic feel to it and the saxophone from Dick Heckstall-Smith is simply superb, as is future Greenslade member Tony Reeves’ bass. It is a bit of a forgotten gem. I first heard it on a prog rock playlist and it blew me away and is a track worthy of being in any best of prog list. 

Regarding the first part of the album, The Kettle is a gloriously heavy, psychedelic-influenced opener, with searing pysch guitar interjecting itself all over the place. This was the heavy rock type of prog that I really dug, man. It is heavy as fuck and I love it. 

Elegy, on the other hand, is deliciously jazzy and funky, featuring a totally infectious shuffling drum rhythm, some killer clarinet and an overall breezy appeal that makes it hard to resist. Butty's Blues, with its deep rumbling bassline and slow-burning Hammond organ showed that the band had not forgotten their old sixties blues roots. Any band that can play the blues gets my vote. Some fine saxophone enhances the middle of the track too.

The Machine Demands A Sacrifice is a great bit of psychedelic jazzy rock which again is most pleasing on the ear - I love the carefree jazziness of this album. While the track The Valentyne Suite qualifies as a hidden nugget, so indeed does the whole album.

** The bonus non-album tracks include more jazzy stuff in Arthur's Moustache and the sax-driven Lost Angeles. Both are excellent.

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