Wednesday, 1 February 2017

"Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present ENGLISH WEATHER" by VARIOUS (2017 Ace Records CD Compilation - Nick Robbins Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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Featuring T2, John Cale, Aardvark and many more from 1970 releases

"...Edge Of The Sea..." 

In a sort of bleary-eyed screw-you Age of Aquarius mission statement - it says on the back inlay of the brilliantly exploratory CD compilation "English Weather" from those brave blokes over at Ace Records - "...with The Beatles gone and the pound sinking, a new and distinctive sound emerges, led by flutes and Mellotrons..."

I think what decent British chappies BOB STANLEY and PETE WIGGS (of Saint Etienne) are having us believe is that at the beginning of the Seventies over here in Blighty - something seriously Folk-Acid this way comes. Much of this compilation is incredibly mellow with only sporadic hints at Jazz Rock and complicated Prog stretching from early 1969 to mid 1976. But I hear you say (as you choke on your real ale that tastes like a Lindisfarne wetty on the wall) - I need another Prog-type CD compilation in my home like I need the phone number of Donald Trump's hairdresser. But actually there's much to love here and the dynamic duo have come up with an extraordinary set of tracks (generous too at nearly 79 minutes).

Many tracks and artists are obscure for reasons – pretty or know – but finds like the Prelude track "Edge Of The Sea", the pre-Pilot B-side "Pamela" and a pairing of obscure library track instrumentals will thrill lovers of melodic Rock like Mellow Candle, Keith Cross and Peter Ross, Trader Horne, Tudor Lodge and Spring. The Nick Robbins mastering is absolutely superb too - bringing out those acoustic flourishes and lovely melodies. And even as a fan of Prog and a long-time reviewer and collector - I can safely say that I've not heard at least 75% of this stuff before. Nice and I don't mean pre ELP. Here are the floatation tank details...

UK released 27 January 2017 (10 February 2017 in the USA) – "Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs present ENGLISH WEATHER" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Ace CDCHD 1484 (Barcode 029667077125) is a CD compilation of 18 Tracks and plays out as follows (78:35 minutes):

1. Love Song With Flute - CARAVAN (on their debut LP "Caravan" released February 1969 in the UK on Verve SVLP 6011 in Stereo)
2. Moon Bird - THE ROGER WEBB SOUND (instrumental on the Music Library LP "Vocal Patterns" released 1971 on Music De Wolfe DW/LP 3182)
3. Early Morning Eyes - THE PARLOUR BAND (on the studio album "Is A Friend?" released June 1972 on Deram SDL 10)
4. Pamela - SCOTCH MIST (non-album track, the 7" single B-side to "Ra-Ta-Ta" released July 1974 in the UK on EMI Records EMI 2208)
(Scotch Mist is Billy Lyall and Stuart Tosh before they formed Pilot)
5. Last Cloud Home - THE ORANGE BICYCLE (A-side to a June 1969 UK 7" single on Parlophone R 5789)
6. JLT - T2 (on the LP "It'll All Work Out In Boomland" released July 1970 in the UK on Decca SKL 5050)
7. 'Til The Christ Come Back - BILL FAY (on the LP "Time Of The Last Persecution" released January 1971 in the UK on Deram SML 1079)
8. Refugees - VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR (A-side to a UK 7" single released April 1970 on Charisma CB 122)
9. Very Nice Of You To Call - AARDVARK (on their debut LP "Aardvark" released March 1970 in the UK on Deram Nova SDN 17)
10. Big White Cloud - JOHN CALE (on his debut solo LP "Vintage Violence" released June 1970 in the USA on Columbia CS 1037)
11. Bottles - BELLE GONZALEZ (A-side of a UK 7" single released February 1972 on Columbia Records DB 8852)
12. Watching White Stars - THE WAY WE LIVE (1971 Tractor Recording - first appeared on the 1998 CD compilation "Before, During And After The Dandelion Years, Through To Deeply Vale" on Ozit/Morpheus OZITCD 0024)
13. Windfall - OFFSPRING (Non-Album A-side to a UK 7" single released April 1972 on RCA Records RCA 2198)
14. Never Let Go - CAMEL (A-side to a UK 7" single released January 1973 on MCA Records MUS 1177)
15. Wise Man In Your Heart - DAEVID ALLEN and EUTERPE (on the LP "Good Morning" released May 1976 in the UK on Virgin V 2054)
16. O Caroline - MATCHING MOLE (on their debut LP "Matching Mole" released April 1972 in the UK on CBS Records S 64850 - Robert Wyatt vocalist)
17. Edge Of The Sea - PRELUDE (A-side to a UK 7" single released March 1972 on Decca F 13292)
18. Evening Shade - ALAN PARKER and ALAN HAWKSHAW (instrumental on the Music Library LP "Alternatives" released 1971 on Music De Wolfe DW/LP 3219)

The 14-page booklet has the usual plethora of rare 7”-single label-repro's (45s on Decca, MCA and CBS) alongside trade adverts for such obscuros as Billy Fay, The Parlour Band and T2. There's even a review of Caravan's Verve Records debut, A Roundhouse Benefit gig poster for Matching Mole with Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt and best of all - hugely informative and witty liner notes from compiler BOB STANLEY. I thought I knew my stuff (I've reviewed Aardvark and the Decca/Deram 3CD Box sets containing T2 and Camel and the like) - but Bob clearly goes deeper than most - offering up his knowledge with real affection for the subject matter (not just a blizzard of dry facts). But the best news is yet another stunning mastering job by NICK ROBBINS on a wide range of sound sources - his mastering of T2's superbly musical "JLT" is spot on. And as much of these songs are Acoustic based - the Audio rises to that challenge with aplomb. A top job done...

Despite the range of dates (February 1969 to May 1976) - the overall listen holds together very well. But as one other reviewer put it (and well) - there's good stuff on here but only a few genuinely stand out. The seven-minute "Watching White Stars" by Tractor saps your patience while I defy people who call the weedy Matching Mole ballad "O Caroline" gorgeous (Robert Wyatt or no) and I think there are better tracks on Bill Fay's album like the piano-beautiful  "I Hear You Calling". But I hadn't expected to be so impressed by the Van Der Graaf Generator single - which is a world away from their fearsome Moog anthems - five and half minutes of Peter Hammill pining for the sunshine of pretty London suburbs to the backdrop of violas, choral voices and unnervingly pretty melodies on strings.

Smart choices include running the Aardvark track immediately before the Velvet's John Cale song "Big White Cloud" – its huge Spector-esque production full of strings and longing and images of skies and trees – Cale's ragged druggy voice moaning his fate like Tim Rose on steroids. The Belle Gonzalez and Camel UK singles are rare as hen's teeth and again smart inclusions. Both display musical beauty and are bolstered up here by superb Nick Robbins mastering – especially on the Acoustic/Mellotron/Flute 'man must survive' eco-message song that is Andy Latimer's "Never Let Go". A clever slot-in is the African rhythms meets Kraut Rock feel of "Wise Man In Your Heart" by Gong's Daevid Allen and his band of the time Euterpe – a lengthy exercise in vibe with sonic rhythms predating those found on "Peter Gabriel 4" in September 1982.

But best of all for me is six and half minutes of Prelude's "Edge Of The Sea" - the only band on the compilation to brush the charts when they placed their beautiful Acapella cover version of Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush" in January 1974 on Dawn Records at the lofty heights of No. 21. Who thought this hippy-tastic acoustic folk tune with singing and spoken passages about mermaids and shaking the foam was a commercial 45 in 1972 was quietly off their rocker - but that doesn't stop "Edge Of The Sea" from being a fabulous slice of Mellow Candle Folk Rock with Acid tinges. And again - Robbins has mastered it so well. And there's no denying the musical brilliance also of Caravan's "Love Song With Flute" nor the truly lovely find in "Pamela" - an obscure B-side by Scotch Mist (Billy Lyall and Stuart Tosh) who would later become Pilot and have a UK No. 1 with "January" in January 1975 (again on EMI).

The Peter Mitchell photos on the front and rear of the booklet show a Britain in pain and even decay – crippling strikes - war overseas impacting here - the hippy dream of everyone loving each other fading fast in a cloud of three-day weeks and unemployment. Yet despite this backdrop of cold-chips and tepid teabags - English musicians produced extraordinary music in the early years of that decade - the Seventies – much of it hopeful. And some of it is here (man).

Not quite genius but brilliant in places (and changeable like its title) - "Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present ENGLISH WEATHER" is a rather cool little CD to start off 2017 with. Deserving of your moody post-Brexit spondulicks - well done to all involved...

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