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May's CD reviews

Simon Evans reviews the pick of the latest CDs

Incident_at_a_Free_Festival_album_cover.Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs present Incident at a Free Festival


Together with Pete Wiggs, his bandmate in the retro-pop group Saint Etienne, pop historian Bob Stanley has curated a brilliant series of themed compilation albums, covering everything from the heatwave summer of 76 to the three-day week; unearthing records, both well-known and obscure, that perfectly sum up those particular moments in time.

This latest offering pinpoints the “thin world between the Aquarian late 60s and the early 70s glam takeover”, as Bob puts it in his sleevenotes. It more particularly celebrates the world of the early Seventies pop festival, especially “the mid-afternoon slots at Deeply Vale, Bickershaw, Krumlin, Weeley and Plumpton… that were rites of passage for thousands of kids. Bands lower down the bill would be charged with waking up the gentle hippies and appealing to both the greasy bikers and girls in knee-high boots who wanted to wiggle their hips.”

Many of the bands featured here were perfect for those muddy, rainy afternoons in Lancashire, Essex or Sussex, dealing, as they did, in “volume, riffs and heavy percussion”. The cast list ranges from festival favourites Pink Fairies, Hawkwind and The Edgar Broughton Band to the rather more obscure, but no less great, May Blitz, Andwella and Jonesy.

Barclay James Harvest’s atypical hard rocking Taking Some Time On also perfectly fits the bill as does Curved Air’s Back Street Love and Deep Purple’s Chasing Shadows, while Manfred Mann Chapter Three’s One Way Glass has, as Bob puts it, “a rainy early Seventies feel” perfectly in keeping with the rest of the 20 tracks.

Adding to the flavour of the time, Bob and Pete also include select items from the KPM music library used as background music for the kind of sexploitation films that portrayed rock festivals as bacchanalian love-ins. (The reality, of course, was very different, as anyone who sat through the Keef Hartley Band at 2am in a drizzly field in Lincolnshire would have told you). Which explains the presence here of the wonderfully titled Big Boobs Boogie. Different times.  


Frampton_comes_alive_album_coverPeter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive!


In 1976 Peter Frampton, formerly of The Herd and Humble Pie, appeared to be, at the age of just 25, all washed up. Since leaving Humble Pie in 1972 Frampton had released a series of pleasant but unremarkable solo albums that, while showcasing his undoubted gifts as a guitarist, singer and song-writer, seemed to lack focus. That all changed when Peter set out on tour in support of his most recent album Frampton, complete with his talkbox, the gizmo that looked like a life support system, made a strange quacking noise heard prominently on the single Show Me The Way, and became bafflingly popular for a few months in the mid-Seventies.

Long enough, certainly, for Frampton’s tour to be a big hit with audiences and so, albeit belatedly, his record company had the presence of mind to capture several shows on tape. Songs that had sounded limp in their studio versions seemed to take on a new immediacy and power in a live setting, although no one, least of all Frampton himself, could have imagined that the resulting double album Frampton Comes Alive!, when it was released in early 1976, would go on to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time.

It was one of those albums that was very much of its time, capturing a certain moment but not entirely able to transcend it, as Frampton’s post Comes Alive career demonstrated all too clearly.

The follow-up, I’m In You, was another big hit, but Peter was never again able to scale the heights of Frampton Comes Alive!, settling instead for a comfortable life of regular tours and albums, as well as turning up in his old pal David Bowie’s touring band for a few years.

Four years ago Peter announced a farewell tour following a diagnosis of a degenerative disease, but thankfully he is back with the aptly named Never EVER Say Never Tour and supervising this excellent new mix of the album he will always be remembered for.

Deep_Purple_Machine_HeadDeep Purple - Machine Head


Originally released in 1972, Machine Head would become Deep Purple’s most successful album, helped by the fact it included the band’s most celebrated song, Smoke On The Water. This was Deep Purple’s golden age; over the past two years they had released two big-selling albums, In Rock and Fireball, featuring an irresistible brand of sophisticated hard rock, and, along with Machine Head, those records would supply most of the tracks for the landmark Made in Japan live album, also released in 1972, and, indeed the band’s repertoire for the next 50 years and counting.

The recording of Machine Head was anything but easy, however; the Montreux Casino in Switzerland, where they had planned to record the album using the Rolling Stones mobile truck, burnt down when a fan fired a flare into the ceiling during a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. The whole sorry tale was documented in Smoke On The Water, with the band forced to reconvene at the Montreux Grand Hotel, where Machine Head was recorded during a frantic two-week window in December 1971.

It seems strangely appropriate then that, for this super deluxe edition, Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil has gone some way to repaying the debt by remixing the album for CD and Blu-ray, giving the recordings an added sheen and muscularity in the process.

The set also includes two live concerts, a March 9 1972 London set originally released as Deep Purple In Concert, and a previously unreleased April 1971 show recorded at the Montreux Casino, just months before it burned down. (It was rebuilt and reopened in 1975).


Eno Album CoverBrian Eno - Eno


Having first attracted attention with his Martian-has-landed attire as part of the first (and most creative) iteration of Roxy Music, Brian Eno has enjoyed a remarkable career encompassing music, film, art and literature. As producer his illustrious clients have included U2, Talking Heads and Paul Simon, while his collaborations with Robert Fripp, David Byrne, John Cale and countless others have resulted in albums that range from the ground-breaking to the almost wilfully experimental. He also almost single-handedly invented the genre known as ambient, which would prove so influential during the Nineties dance music revival.

There is much to celebrate then in the new documentary Eno, a tantalising taster for which is provided with this soundtrack album. No collection, even a recent box set, could possibly do justice to the range of Eno’s work but this makes a pretty good fist of it, featuring collaborations with David Byrne, Cluster, Daniel Lanois and brother Roger, as well as Eno’s own wide-ranging solo work that ranges from mutant pop, celestial instrumentals and ambient atmospherics to gnarly electronica, sometimes within the same track.

Occasionally challenging, often engaging, but never less than interesting this is the perfect tribute to pop’s great polymath.

Reimagining_Court_Crimson_King_album_coverVarious Artists - Reimagining In The Court of the Crimson King

(Cleopatra Records)

How can you reimagine an album as perfectly self-contained as King Crimson’s 1969 In The Court of the Crimson King? With some difficulty, as this well-intentioned mixed bag of an album attests. The problem is that In The Court of the Crimson King was born out of a particular set of young musicians during an era of remarkable hothouse creativity.

Robert Fripp’s most recent version of King Crimson largely sidestepped the problem by bringing imaginative new arrangements to bear on the material which, in all honesty, is the only way to proceed.

By cleaving so close to the original, for instance, Todd Rundgren’s take on 21st Century Schizoid Man, featured here, simply comes over as a rather more mannered copy of the original.

More successful, perhaps because more authentic, is I Talk To The Wind, a collaboration between Crimson alumni Mel Collins and Jakko Jakszyk that manages to fuse late Sixties dreaminess with an Eighties jazz swing (in a previous life Jakko was a member of Level 42). But the rest of the tracks desperately miss Greg Lake’s intense vocals; his rich choirboy-clear baritone, free of vibrato and other vocal tricks, is what these richly ornamented gothic poems need. In contrast the singers on Epitaph, Moonchild and the title track feel the need to impose their own character on the songs, with decidedly mixed results. Similarly, drummers Carmen Appice and Ian Paice bring a solid rock heft to proceedings but lack the intricate subtlety of Crimson’s extraordinary sticksman Michael Giles.

Guitarist Steve Hillage, a refugee from Seventies potheads Gong, is one of the only musicians from an admittedly accomplished throng, that also includes ex-Genesis drummer Chester Thompson and the fire god himself, Arthur Brown, who does not sound out of place here.

An interesting experiment then, that was, however, doomed to failure from the start. No one does Crimson like Crimson. 

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