Cally Callomon lends his ears to the latest Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs compilation on Ace Records.
When the prog rule book is finally published we will find the Grandmaster Genesis, King Crimson, ELP, & Yes holding forth, but moving down through their gentlemen-giants-in-waiting; the Greenslades, Supertramps, Van Der Camels and Caravan, and you soon end up in the vast borderlands to be found in this excellent new compilation.
Back in 1980 Phil Smee and myself started the Bam Caruso label, where we championed the hitherto-ignored UK Psychedelic releases by lesser-known bands. I became engrossed in those once-beat groups who took a puff, watched the Beatles speed up, and decided to move away from their Mersey-led sound into the sticky foreign climes of mellotrons and the compulsory flute. For this I invented the portmanteau ‘Freakbeat’, and Phil did much the same with ‘Popsike’ for those sunny sunshine pop harmony groups who sampled the delights to be found in English Weirdtown.
We were admiring those changes, often hated by the record company, and never knowingly tried by Freddie or his Dreamers; those changes when a band either chucks it in or moves on, hence the term ‘progressive’. In the Melody Maker, Dave Dee reported that ‘we tried that psychedelia, it doesn’t work’ (what else would a copper say?) and our own chum, the notable ‘rock’ journalist John Tobler, reviewed our releases as ‘mainly shit’ as they didn’t conform to the bible of mid-70s soft rock acceptance. Fortunately for us, a mass of younger listeners lapped up the adventure and obscurity (hello Damon Albarn) and we all rode the crest of Jason, Kaleidoscopic Eyes and Mirrors — bands who decided that weird was where it was at, and rushed out for bongos and flutes, and progressed.
Not content with the musical motorway network of this country, Stanley and Wiggs tread the edgelands, those abandoned paths on which so many hopes were hoped and so many careers careered off main roads due to the lack of a steadying compass of any kind. Here we find meandering beat and psychedelic groups progressing into unknown territory that may later be deemed ‘prog’; often slanderously, often without justification, often by pub-rock no-hopers just waiting for punk to grab hold of. Our heroes emerged into 1970, blinking in the light, confident in new travels and their new eight track recording devices.
Musicians are often prone to claim that they are ‘pushing the boundary’ but the truth is the terrain is boundless. These limits are usually set by the musicians themselves (often the lippy drummer) but here we have 20 unbridled tracks, not definitive by any means, more selected to make for a fine listen, many from the north (where it always rains) and all of it innocent and adventurous, with flutes.
The stage was set by Wiggs and Stanley’s English Weather compilation (as reviewed here) and in many ways this follows on but down even muddier tracks. That’s not to say that the odd behemouth is ignored — progfathers do feature here — but when one hears the bucol of ‘Hidden Treasure’ by Traffic, ‘Out And In’ by the ‘Moodies’ (flutes included in both) and ‘Sweetness’ by Yes, next to Skin Alley, Cressida, ‘Igginbottom and the unfortunately named The Exchange And Mart, and if one closes one’s eyes, you can almost see yourself on the bench outside the Cinema on the front cover, in the pouring rain, greatcoat collar turned up, and roll-up extinguished. This is no Californian escape; there remains a bruised brutality to these tracks, so many coming from the Great North Country.
1970 proved to be a watershed of sorts: some sixties bewildered musicians escaped into folk soul or the dreaded be-flaired soft rock oil slick that was drifting over from the Americas. One of my final reissues was an album by The Open Mind, who I insisted were unknowingly there at the birth of what was to become ‘Heavy Metal’ (a term applied much later) and so I hope for a third in this series to include pagan devil witchcraft haunting pre-sabs black metal. For now though, this will do fine, thank you very much.