Sunday, 21 September 2008

“Ascension Heights - The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions” by TOP TOPHAM (2008 Sony/BMG 'Expanded' CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"Ascension Heights" by TOP TOPHAM (1970 Blue Horizon LP)

At the pimply age of 15 - Surrey-born Anthony 'Top' Topham stepped onto stage in May 1963 at the Eel Pie Island Club in Twickenham with his new wailing blues-band THE YARDBIRDS. A few months later he was replaced with Eric Clapton and after that - a certain Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page also joined that volatile crew. When you consider what a staggering influence CREAM, JEFF BECK, THE YARDBIRDS and LED ZEPPELIN have had on everything in rock then and now - it's a damn shame that Top Topham got musically lost in the mix somehow and has never been given the catalyst credit he so deserves. Maybe this superb and slightly odd release will change all that.

This 19-track September 2008 single CD on Sony/BMG 886973590829 is based around his obscure sole album “Ascension Heights” for the UK cult label Blue Horizon released in early 1970. It boasts top-quality remastered STEREO sound and 7 previously unreleased MONO bonus cuts.

Here's the breakdown (59:43 minutes)
1. Sawbuck
2. Mini-Minor-Mo
3. Hop House
4. Ridin’ The Blinds
5. Hot Ginger
6. Funks Elegy
7. Ascension Heights [Side 2]
8. Tuxedo Junction
9. Globetrottin’
10. Spider Drag
11. Mean Old Pullman
12. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
Tracks 1 to 12 are "Ascension Heights” - his only vinyl LP released on Blue Horizon Records 7-63857 in January 1970 (recorded in London at CBS STUDIOS in October 1969)

Tracks 13 and 14 are "Christmas Cracker" and "Cracking Up Over Christmas" - his lone UK 7" single on Blue Horizon 57-3167 released November 1969

Track 15 is "Hop House" which is a previously unreleased live BBC session recorded at The Paris Theatre in London on 8 January 1970 for the Blue Horizon Hour on the JOHN PEEL SHOW. It was aired 11 January 1970 on BBC Radio and is a slow blues tune with lovely fretwork from Top complimented by tasty keyboard rolls from PETE WINGFIELD (then with another BH signing Jellybread).

Tracks 16 to 19 are “Heart Of Stone”, “You Gonna Ruin Me Baby”, “Long And Lonely Year’ and “Anything For You” - previously unreleased tracks recorded in May 1969 by then unknown Blue Horizon signing - LLOYD WATSON – a very talented 20-year old guitar player (Jamaican mother and English Dad) who looked and played a little like Shuggie Otis meets Peter Green. "You're Gonna Ruin Me Baby" is a rocking Leslie Johnson/Jerry West cover version while the other three are Lloyd Watson originals.

The tapes were transferred and remastered by SEAN LYNCH at Torch Music and the sound quality is gorgeous - really clear and clean - all the instruments given a fab new lease of life. The 12-page booklet has detailed liner notes and stories about Topham's life by the label founder MIKE VERNON, colour and black & white photos from the period, full session discographies and it even sports a dapper card wrap sleeve on the outside that gives the whole package a real air of class and event.

The album "Ascension Heights" has always been a £100+ vinyl rarity (I've seen only one copy of it in my life), so its reissue here is to be welcomed. But it has also divided Blues purists for years because - for a blues label release - it's a slightly strange record! Firstly it's entirely instrumental - and not in a blues way either. It doesn't seem to quite know what it is. One minute it has the playfulness of Django Reinhardt jazz noodling on "Spider Drag", the next minute it's Sixties Chet Atkins on "Globetrottin'", the next second its funky Blood, Sweat and Tears without the vocals on the brass filled "Mini-Minor-Mo" (a personal favourite and one that funky rock enthusiasts should check out pronto). It also features PETE WINGFIELD on Piano. There are even times on "Hot Ginger" where it sounds like a soulful version of Fleetwood Mac's debut album. It's a varied record - daring in its choices and filled with original songs by Topham. "Ascension Heights" is a grower that bears repeated listening.

The extras are a mixed bag. The funky backbeat of "Christmas Cracker" sounds like something Booker T & The MG's would dash off as festivities filler. It's good - if not great. The live track is received well too by an enthusiastic British audience.

But the four LLOYD WATSON tracks are however - a real find. He had an excellent voice and presence; they're mostly rockin' blues and make for a fab vocal surprise after the dearth of instrumentals that preceded them.  "Anything For You" finishes the disc in a great Yardbirds meets Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac kind of a way and will have fans of both loving this release.

Another winner from Blue Horizon that’s thoughtfully put together - and full of surprises you wish there was more of...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 260 entries and 2450 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap).