Thursday, 12 January 2017

"Aardvark" by AARDVARK (2011 Esoteric Recordings CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It..."

Calling your band after a burrowing nocturnal African mammal (of the Tubulidentata family if you must know) and denying your group guitars of 'any' kind was probably not the smartest of moves. And just to annoy punters even further - you release the damn thing in Mono and Stereo at the beginning of a decade when Mono was so last - well - last decade. But then it was early 1970 and this was Prog Rock.

As Jon Wright's hugely informative and level-headed liner notes tell us - AARDVARK hailed from the Midlands of England and were the brainchild of principal Songwriter and Vocalist DAVE SKILLIN who along with trio of hard-shelled hairy-men signed to Decca's Prog and Avant Garde label 'Deram Nova' and released their eponymous and lone album in March 1970 to deafening disinterest and equally cruel sales charts.

However heroes of all things Prog Reissue - 'Esoteric Recordings' of the UK (part of Cherry Red's label roster) feel there's a reason for those £350 and £250 price tags in the latest Record Collector Price Guide (2018 issue) - and its not just that either format is ludicrously rare (£350 for the Mono in its famous Red Inner Bag) - but that the music actually warrants a second look. And I think they're partially right. There’s some genuinely great stuff on offer here for genre lovers - shades of Van Der Graaf Generator, Focus and Rare Bird with a driving Hammond-Organ anchoring the sound. If that grabs you by the Prehistoric Species – then here are long-nosed details...

UK released 25 July 2011 (2 August 2011 in the USA) - "Aardvark" by AARDVARK on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2286 (Barcode 5013929738621) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of their 1970 debut album and plays out as follows (43:04 minutes):

1. Copper Sunset
2. Very Nice Of You To Call
3. Many Things To Do
4. The Greencap
5. I Can't Stop
6. The Outing - Yes [Side 2]
7. Once Upon A Hill
8. Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It
Tracks 1 to 8 are their debut (and only) album "Aardvark" - released March 1970 in the UK on Deram Nova DN 17 (Mono) and Deram Nova SDN 17 (Stereo) - the Stereo mix is used for this CD. Produced by DAVID HITCHCOCK - All songs are written by David Skillin except "Once Upon A Hill" which is by Steve Aldous.

STEVE MILLINER - Organ, Piano, Celeste, Vibes, Marimba & Recorders
FRANK CLARK - Drums and Percussion

Co-ordinated by the label's head honcho MARK POWELL - the 18-page booklet is the usual feast of rare photos (Biography Pages, Tape Boxes, the cute Aardvark logo and a bunch of publicity photos of the four-piece looking like students of Tolkien in need of a good wash and a proper day job). The CD is a picture disc and there’s an advert photo beneath the see-through tray for other like-minded bands reissued by Esoteric (Home, Dog Soldier, Earth And Fire and Tudor Lodge) - the album is also available digitally from

It's a shame the Mono Mix isn't here as it was the last LP apparently put out by Deram Nova in that format (no room of course). But that mix absence is more than made up for by an amazing Remaster from original tapes by BEN WISEMAN and PASCHAL BYRNE of the Stereo Version. Wiseman and Byrne are Audio Engineers who've handling huge numbers of Rock Reissues both for Esoteric and other labels. This CD sounds incredible - punchy, clear and in amazing clarity...

The music borders on brilliance and boredom - the opening song "Copper Sunset" features a Jon Lord keyboard raunch - like "Fireball" Deep Purple but without Blackmore's guitar. But that's let down by silly knob like "The Outing - Yes" where they sing "we're going away" repeatedly against a swirling backdrop of mad keyboards - the kind of Prog nonsense that stretches your patience at a full ten-minutes. But then there's the very cool Piano shuffle of "Very Nice Of You To Call" when suddenly they're Caravan or even Soft Machine. "Many Things To Do" is very swirling Prog with treated drums and a great underlying Hammond Organ drive.

There's no doubting the chops of Keyboardist Steve Milliner who'd played with the much-revered Black Cat Bones (featured Simon Kirke and Paul Kossoff of Free) - his soloing on "The Greencap" is superb - while even Bassist Steve Aldous gets a go on the track making his instrument sound like a fuzzed-up guitar (very Jack Bruce from Cream or Chris Squire from Yes). The three-minute "Once Upon A Hill" is a whimsical instrumental dance and comes complete with fairy-lore Celeste and Recorder sounds wafting above the C.S. Lewis soundscape. It ends on the near eight-minutes of "Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It" - a full-on keyboard swirling Prog whig out - all doom laden keys - thumping fuzzy bass and thrashing drums. Proper out-there Prog - but not for the faint hearted frankly...

It's all dreadfully dated of course - but like so much Progressive Rock - there is always something worth returning to and much of it is just so imaginative. Snout down - armour on - once more into the Midlands clay for Aardvark and their truly eclectic underground rarity...

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