Tag Archives: 1970s

R.I.P. Chris Squire (1948 – 2015)

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I was very sad to learn of the passing of Yes bassist, Chris Squire, who had been fighting leukemia. He was only 67 years old.

Squire was often called the ‘linchpin’ of the band and is the only band member to appear on every album that Yes released. He began his life in music much the same as a lot of British rockers – playing in R&B cover bands, with a few Beatles tunes thrown in for good measure. He joined The Syndicate, which shortened their name to The Syn and released two psychedelic 45s in 1967 called “Created By Clive” and “Flowerman” (which was backed with their hommage to the counter-culture event at Alexandria Palace in 1967, called “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream“). The band split shortly after and Squire joined another psychedelic outfit, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, in 1968. He soon met Jon Anderson and the two decided to form a new group – which was called Yes, after a suggestion from original guitarist, Peter Banks.

Yes released their first LP in 1969 and showcased a longer-song format, with flourishes of classical music and jazz – what eventually became known as ‘progressive rock’. Squire’s bass-playing was unique in that he played it almost as a lead guitar, with fluid lines and hitting notes in the upper register of the instrument. After a second LP, “Time And A Word“, released in 1970 – Peter Banks was asked to leave, as the sessions for the second LP were frought with tension. Steve Howe, formerly of Tomorrow and Bodast, stepped in for the third album (and the one considered to be the first ‘classic’ Yes record), called “The Yes Album“. It was released in 1971 and placed the band at the forefront of prog rock groups. Jon Anderson managed to poach our Rick from The Strawbs (abandoning Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) for the fourth Yes LP, “Fragile“, which made them one of the top bands in the UK and even got them attention in the U.S., due to the radio-friendly tune, “Roundabout“.

Close To The Edge“, considered to be the best Yes album in the band’s catalogue, was released in 1972. Original drummer Bill Bruford left during the tour for the album and was replaced by former drummer in John Lennon‘s backing band, Alan White. A live album of the tour was released, called “Yessongs” (along with a film of the same name, directed by Peter Neal, shot at a Yes show in London). Back in the studio, they started recording what they considered to be their magnum opus, “Tales From Topographic Oceans“, based on Shastric scriptures that Anderson and Howe were reading. The final album was a sprwaling two-record set and even longtime fans thought it was too self-indulgent. Rick left after the tour and was replaced by Patrick Moraz, for the follow-up, “Relayer“.

The band took a break in 1975 and a lot of the members released solo albums. Squire’s was “Fish Out Of Water“, referring to his nick-name and to his ‘solo’ piece on “Fragile”, “The Fish (schindleria praematurus)“. It sold well and is reckoned to be one of the better solo outings from members of the group. Yes reconvened in 1976 when Rick re-joined. “Going For The One” was released in 1977 and the band enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, even during the punk explosion. “Tormato” followed in 1978, but was not received as well and Anderson and Wakeman both left the band in 1979. A stop-gap live set, “Yesshows“, was released in late 1979. The band, with Squire, Howe and White soldiered on, adding Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, from new-wavers The Buggles. They released one album together, “Drama“, before a disastrous tour in 1980. It looked like Yes, like many prog-rock bands of the 1970s, wouldn’t make it into the new decade.

Jon Anderson started to work on some new demos in 1981 with Trevor Horn, original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and eventually Chris Squire and a new guitarist, Trevor Rabin. They were brought in to help fill out the sound. The new project was to be called Cinema – but was changed to Yes, as it seemed a more sound commercial appeal. This version of the band released the “90125” (after the Atlantic Records catalogue number assigned to it) and had a few hit singles. They toured again, playing some of the ‘classic’ songs alongside the new ones. Another studio LP, “Big Generator“, was released in 1987. The band split once again. Anderson reunited with Steve Howe, Rick and Bill Bruford (who had left the 1980s King Crimson line-up after Robert Fripp split that band once again). Squire owned part of the rights to the “Yes” name, so the collaboration was called “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe” and released one album in 1989. A year later, it was decided to record an album with both of the 1970s and 1980s line-ups. The result, “Union“, was a bit too much of a mish-mash and contained too many tracks. I did get to see them live in Hartford, Connecticut on that tour in 1991 and I enjoyed the show. I preferred the 70s tunes more, but the ‘in the round’ set-up of the show and the revolving stage were pretty cool, too.

Yes continued to release albums and tour up to now – with the line-ups ever-changing. Anderson finally left in the early 2000s, for what seems to be permanent. Squire was the one main-stay and now that he’s passed on, it seems to me that Yes has as well. They are going to tour with Billy Sherwood on bass duties – but to me, it’s just won’t be the same (it wasn’t the same without Anderson, either). Perhaps the remaining ‘classic’ 1970s line-up will re-form one last time and then call it a day. Rest in peace, Chris – thanks for all the music!

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Gryphon – Union Chapel, London – 29th May, 2015

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Gryphon, the 1970s, medieval folk-prog band, announced earlier this year that there would be a short tour of the UK. I’m not sure what prompted the tour (they didn’t mention in the promotional blurbs about it being a 40th anniversary of the release of the excellent Raindance album), but maybe they felt it was time to fire up the crumhorns and malleted drums again. They did play a one-off reunion show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2009 – but I wasn’t fortunate to get tickets to that one. I was determined to see one of the 2015 gigs and ordered a set of two for the Union Chapel show in London.

I met up with another Gryphon fan (Pixie did say that she wasn’t really up for the trek to The Big Smoke) and his missus near Soho and we drank a couple of pints at a pub I hadn’t been to – then grabbed a quick tube journey to Islington. I was hungry, so my friend’s wife and I ordered some grub at a Weatherspoons joint, almost right across the road from Union Chapel. The show was meant to start promptly at eight p.m., so we rocked up just before then.

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No sooner had we chosen a pew (literally, it is a still-used place of worship and the seating is in the pews), then the boys filed out to the stage to generous applause. It’s quite a lovely venue – high ceilings and stained-glass windows give a ‘sacred’ air, but somehow, it’s oddly secular at the same time. The band were arranged in front of the massive pulpit, with Richard Harvey on the right side of the stage, sat at a keyboard and Brian Gulland and drummer Dave Oberle on the left. Sandwiched in between were guitarist Graeme Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett. Bassist Jonathan Davie was a bit to the back, behind Gulland.

They opened with an energetic “Renaissance Dance Medley“, which never appeared on an LP – but was played in a BBC session in 1974. They followed that with a nice version of “The Astrologer“, from the first Gryphon LP, released in 1973. Gulland and Oberle traded vocals, as the characters in the song, and the rest of the group backed them through the tricky melody. A lively “Kemp’s Jig” was next, also from the first album. In fact, as Harvey announced in-between tunes, most of the first set would be from the debut. After a really spooky rendition of “The Unquiet Grave” (the tone of the song heightened by the concert setting), Graeme Taylor performed a guitar solo in a ‘mock-classical fashion’, as he put it, called “Crossing The Stiles” (also, you guessed it, from the first album). “Juniper Suite” followed, with Gulland deftly moving from bass crumhorn to harmonium and back. The first set concluded with “Dubbel Dutch“, the lone choice from their second LP, “Midnight Mushrumps“, first released in 1974.

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There was a 20-minute interval for people to head to the bar, or the toilets (or both). We got back to our pews in time for the second set to begin with “Midnight Mushrumps“, the entire 18-minute piece. It was so great hearing it live and almost note-perfect (actually, it may have been, as I’ve only listened to it a small number of times). Gulland again switched between crumhorn and bassoon and Harvey would swap his keyboard for a tin whistle. Spell-binding stuff! An ‘unreleased’ song followed. It’s called “Ashes“, written by Graeme Taylor during the “Raindance” sessions in 1975. Transatlantic Records decided it didn’t fit the album and it was cut from the LP. It was eventually released on the “Gryphon – The Collection II” CD. A nice wistful tune, Brian explained that Graeme wrote it on a nice spring day near to a river, where the recording studio was located it definitely has that vibe to it. It was then “Red Queen To Gryphon Three” time, which I was excited about, as it’s my fave Gryphon LP. First up was a really nice “Lament“, played beautifully, then a “muddle-y” (Harvey’s word) of “Red Queen…” themes. It was great seeing the interplay, particularly between Gulland and Harvey. I didn’t quite catch the title of the final tune in the set, I heard Harvey say something about “our roots” and thought he announced the tune as “Yulattis“, but it may have been “Estampie“, from the first album. No matter, ‘cos it was a great little jam.

The encore was an extended version of “Le Cabrioleur Et Dans Le Mouchoir“, from “Raindance” – it had a nice little rave-up at the coda, with Gulland firing out blasts from a trombone. The crowd (including myself) were on their feet for an ovation. So glad I was able to see them live! The fan I attended the concert with is an old friend of the group and he was able to get me into the after-party in the upstairs floor/bar of the chapel. I said “Hello” to Brian and Graeme and had brief chats with Dave Oberle and Jonathan Davie. Richard Harvey talked for a moment with the bloke I went to the show with, but I didn’t get to talk with him. We left quite late and the tubes had all finished by then, so I got a cab back to Victoria Station, and a coach back to Oxford. All in all, a brilliant show and night! Here’s to hoping they’ll do it again soon (with maybe an Oxford show thrown in).

Set-list:

First Set

Renaissance Dance Medley

The Astrologer

Kemp’s Jig

The Unquiet Grave

Crossing The Stiles (Greame Taylor solo)

Juniper Suite

Dubbel Dutch

Second Set

Midnight Mushrumps

Ashes

Lament

“Red Queen To Gryphon Three muddley”

“Eulatis” (Estampie?)

Encore

Le Cabriolet Et Dans Le Mouchoir

The Baysiders: Cults Within Cults

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A while ago, I was trying to explain the Bayside movement to a couple of friends. My mother was quite involved with the group for most of the 1980s and even in the first half of the 1990s. I think she still considers herself part of it, though she’s not actively involved to the extent she was.

For those not in the know, The ‘Baysiders’ came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based around the ‘visions’ of Veronica Leuken, a housewife based in Bayside, a neighbourhood of New York City. Leuken claimed to start having visions of Mary, Jesus’s mother, in 1968, just before the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. After that, the visions came thick and fast and soon, according to Leuken, she was speaking with Mary and a host of Catholic saints. They gave her messages about the state of the world and future predictions (none of which ever happened within the time predicted). She had her ‘ecstacies’ recorded on tape and transcribed, which were then distributed as flyers or newsletters by her rapidly growing group of followers.

The followers gathered at Leuken’s local parish in Bayside, until the crowds started to disturb the neighbourhood and were moved on by the local government. Eventually, they were granted a site which was part of the 1964 World’s Fair pavilion in Flushing Meadows. Leuken and her followers would gather for ‘Rosary Vigils’, in which they would say the rosary for the duration of the night, while Leuken would “channel” Mary or whichever saint chose to speak to the crowd.

That’s the basic gist of what they’re about. Ideologically, they were (and possibly still are) very conservative and were committed to oppose the ‘modern’ changes to the Catholic Church, specifically the Vatican II Council, held in 1962. According to Leuken, Mary and the others were very disappointed with the changes. In fact, if you read even a smattering of the ‘prophecies‘, Mary and the other celestial, omniscient beings sound a lot like garden-variety John Birch Society members. They’re obsessed with Communism, with ‘Satanic’ infiltration in the Church, the U.N., homosexuality, the wayward youth and the minutae of how to say the Mass (“No communion in the hand”, deacons can’t have priestly powers). It also seems that Mary & Co. aren’t that big on equal rights for women, or allowing women to wear trousers, in another ‘traditionalist’ bent. Add to all that a lot of apocalyptic warnings about comets and wars and natural disasters wiping out large swathes of the planet’s populations and you’re left scratching your head about Leuken’s “God” and his benevolence and loving nature. To me, ‘God’ sounds batshit crazy and conspiracy-theory prone: he warns about the Illuminati and the Freemasons, a conspiracy to replace the ‘Pope’ with an ‘anti-Pope’, about record companies being under control of Wicca (???!!) and a ‘one-world government’.

Bear in mind that the Baysiders never separated themselves from Catholicism, prefering to protest from within. They would wear their blue berets to Mass and, instead of having the communion wafer handed to them, would kneel down in front of the priest and have the wafer placed on their tongues (as allegedly instructed by the ‘Virgin Mary’, via Leuken). They were also notable by their conservative dress, with ankle-length skirts and formal trousers (trousers only for the men, though – women were forbidden to wear trousers).

I don’t remember how my mother became part of this cult – I was still really young and in the haze of childhood. I didn’t really pay much attention to the ‘grown-ups’ and their doings. Suddenly, it seemed, she was spending time with a few Baysiders and adopting their views and mannerisms. She be-friended a strange old woman, who would bring over photo albums full of Polaroid photos with different coloured squiggles on them which contained ‘messages’, according to this woman. You see, they were taken at the World’s Fair site during these rosary vigils and ‘God’ had caused the shapes to appear on the film. It is interesting to note that Polaroid attorneys never really released a statement saying the photos were faked. The ‘zines printed by the group starting appearing in the house and my mother began to stock up on ‘holy water’ (water blessed by a priest).

My mother would tell my older sister and I (our other siblings were deemed too young, at that time, to understand) about prophecies like the “Plague Of Children” and “The Warning” and “The Chastisement”. It sounded scary as shit, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me that much. My sister was really frightened and, it seems to me, carried around that fright for a long time. When I was 11, my mother asked if I wanted to go to a vigil. I agreed, mainly as an excuse to stay up late. We got on a coach in Hartford and on the two-hour trip to Flushing Meadows, I was sat with my mother and surrounded by Baysiders. At one point, someone shouted “Look at the sun! It’s spinning!”, everyone immediately looked over to the setting sun and agreed that it was indeed spinning. I didn’t see it spinning, but it did seem to change from a orange-ish to green colour for a few seconds. That may have been my eyesight, though. I didn’t count it as a ‘miracle’.

At the pavilion – there were hundreds of people setting up deck chairs and blankets and clutching rosary beads. There was a statue of the Virgin Mary at one end of the pavilion and that end was already crowded with believers. Then, they started saying the rosary…and saying the rosary…and saying the rosary. This went on until midnight or maybe 1 a.m. I can’t quite remember because I grew bored and fell asleep. It definitely wasn’t worth getting to stay up late for. I can’t remember if my mother had brought our Polaroid to take ‘miraculous photos’. I was woken by my mother and wearily got back on the coach to go home.

I think I may have gone one other time about a year later, but after that, I eschewed any involvement with the gatherings. I couldn’t see the point in saying prayers over and over and nothing seemed to happen. The problem was, I still couldn’t escape their influence on my mother. I went to a Catholic middle-school and in my sixth-grade year, my mother kept me out of sex education class (in a Catholic school!!!) – which was pretty humiliating at the time. She used to hector my sister and brother and I about listening to rock music (which she claimed was ‘the devil’s music’). She tried to keep me from hanging out with a friend who lived down the street because his family were a bit too secular and liberal for her liking (at least, that’s what I suspected back then).

Eventually, as I grew into my late teens, I was finally able to shuck off any trappings of Bayside. My mother continued to see her ‘Sider buddies and go to the vigils – but I stopped taking any of it seriously (not that I had taken it that seriously in the first place). While I still considered myself a Catholic, I was a liberal Catholic and getting moreso all the time. In my mid-twenties, I gave up on the Church altogether, having decided that I really didn’t believe in it’s teachings anymore. I chose agnosticism as my path and have strived to keep to it as much as possible – getting rid of any long-held dogma.

Leuken passed away in 1995, which led to a schism in the Bayside movement. Her husband continued the vigils, but ousted one of his wife’s assistants – who promptly formed a rival Baysider sect. Mr Leuken passed away in 2002 and another woman has stepped up to lead the ‘original’ group. The Catholic Church still denies any authenticity to the prophecies…and the beat goes on. The strangest thing about the Baysiders, it seems to me, is that they’re more conservative than the main religious organisation they branch off from. Unlike certain sects of Sufism, which branches from Islam and Zen, which parts ways some from Buddhism – the Baysiders seem to want to turn back the clock with Catholicism and return it to a perceived earlier, ‘better’ period. They’re sincere, but ultimately misguided, as the world is passing them by. I suspect they’re all up in arms about the recent gay marriage vote in Ireland and still predicting that ‘great comet of fire’ is just around the corner. But hey, at least they probably agree with the current ‘Pope’ regarding the matter.

Lou Reed: Farewell To A Rock-N-Roll Animal

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“Maybe only a thousand people bought the record…but they all went out and formed bands…”  –Brian Eno on “The Velvet Underground & Nico”

You may or may not have heard, but Lou Reed has left the planet, at age 71. While ol’ Lou could have been cut from the same cloth as some of the ’27 Club’, he stuck around long enough to have more than a few highs and some really deep troughs. Sure, he coulda pegged out in the early 70s (and probably nearly did), but somehow, it didn’t seem like his style.

The Velvet Underground, the group he formed with John Cale and Sterling Morrison, seemed so outside of the zeitgeist of the late 1960s it was nearly comical. An American band (well, nearly – Cale hailed from Wales (Ha HA!)), they didn’t rely so much on the jazz and blues traditions, but more on European avant-classical stylings. They had a female drummer who looked every bit as snarly as the guys and she wasn’t a flashy player either. No showboating – straight to the beat. Maureen Tucker, the VU drummer, has said that one of her main influences was African drummer Babatunde Olatunji. On the first VU LP, released in 1967, the quartet was joined by German singer Nico. Her Teutonic tones were morose and guttural, nowhere near the higher-pitched warbling of Joan Baez or the icy-breathed shimmer of Grace Slick.

The album hit the racks without much fanfare – 1967 was dominated by the pastoral English sounds of The Beatles and the U.S. West Coast bands – flower-power was in and Reed & Co’s gritty NYC decadence was viewed with suspicion, even hostility. Eventually, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” would become a cultural touchstone, the yin to “Sgt. Pepper”s yang. The VU toured that year as part of Andy Warhol‘s “Plastic Exploding Inevitable” multi-media show. Again, they were largely ignored. First, Nico left for a solo career. Cale departed after the second LP, “White Light/White Heat“, was released. “WL/WH” does seem to owe a bit to the burgeoning acid-rock scene and shows that the VU were listening to their peers somewhat, while still retaining the rough edges of the first album.

Doug Yule replaced Cale and brought more of a pop sensibility to the band. The self-titled third album featured some gentler tunes and even a bit of optimism in the lyrics. They toured and even played a few of the West Coast psychedelic haunts like the Avalon Ballroom. The band carried on for a couple more albums – I don’t even think Lou participated on the final one, “Squeeze”.

He officially went solo in 1972 and from there got involved in the androgynous/glam scene, his “Transformer” LP being produced by David Bowie (who borrowed the VU’s style on a few of his tunes, such as Queen Bitch). “Transformer” gave him his first ‘hit single’ in the form of Take A Walk On The Wild Side, which seems to be still his most well-known song. His 1973 ‘concept’ album, “Berlin“, was a critical hit, but again, didn’t make much of an impact upon it’s release. He confounded even his most ardent fans (including noted rock scribbler Lester Bangs) in 1975 by releasing “Metal Machine Music“, 2 LPs of constructed guitar feedback with no vocals or song structures, possibly a first for a major-label recording artist.

After that, Lou sorta disappeared into the late 70s and 80s miasma. He continued to create records, with diminishing returns – though I note that “The Blue Mask“, released in 1982, did get some accolades at the time. His “New York” album, released in 1989, was a comeback of sorts and in a sense, came full-circle back to the realism of the first VU LP. Eventually, but perhaps not inevitably, the original VU (minus Nico, who had tragically passed away) re-grouped for a tour in 1993. A live album was issued, but some thought that a bit of the old magic was gone. Still, you can’t blame them for capitalising on their now-legendary status. The rest of the world had finally caught up to them and they were being name-checked as an influence left and right.

They split yet again and Lou continued on…well, being Lou. He dated, then married NYC musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson, made some new albums and saw Perfect Day, from “Berlin”, become popular again after appearing on the Trainspotting soundtrack, He was as cantankerous as ever and still made interviewing him a grueling experience for the hapless journos sent to ask about his latest offerings. His final release, a collaboration with metal main-streamers Metallica, called “Lulu“, was poorly received. I myself only heard one track and I found it a chore to get through. Seems a shame he had to go out on that one, but, like Bob Dylan, he probably delighted in side-stepping his fans yet again.

What else can you say, really? Much more, I suspect – but others will say it more eloquently than I’m able. The guy was uncompromising and had little time to explain himself and his music. More popular as an influence than in the commercial realm (“Walk On The Wild Side” seemed more of an anomaly than anything) – a rock-n-roller to the core. Here’s Bangs on why he loved Lou so much: “Lou Reed is my own hero principally because he stands for all the most fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of. Which probably only shows the limits of my imagination.”

Happy Autumn Equinox

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We’re already into the final quarter of Gregorian calendar year 2013 – another one almost over. I admit to liking early autumn. It’s still fairly warm and the foliage on the trees looks lovely. It’s a bittersweet time of year – even though I’ve not been in school in twenty years, I still get that “summer’s over” feeling in September. You know, that ‘oh man, what a drag’ sentiment mixed with ‘but hey, a new (Gregorian) year is on the way’. Like I say, bittersweet.

Here’s one of my fave autumn tunes – it’s by the one-and-only Nick Drake. I love everything about it – the gentle finger-picked guitar chords, Drake’s melancholy-but-hopeful vocal and the lyrics. “Summer was gone and the heat died down/and Autumn reached for her golden crown…” and “Time goes by from year to year/and no-one asks why I’m standing here/but I have my answer/I look to the sky…for this is the time of no reply…” Beautiful and evocative. I often wondered what he is looking to the sky for. The space brothers? Angels? I love how he never says – I just picture him in comtemplation while the weather gets colder.

In contrast – here’s another autumn-type tune from Led Zeppelin, from their mystic-tinted fourth album. The title of the album is four symbols, representing the four members of the band. Consequently, it’s just been called “Led Zeppelin IV” or “The Symbols Album”. The song is called “Four Sticks”, allegedly because drummer John Bonham used two sets of drumsticks while playing the central beat. The main riff is a nice Page rocker, but the interesting bit is when they get to the chorus. The chords are minor, which gives a strange, haunted feel to the music. For me, it just conjures images of autumn evenings – especially with the lyrics: “When the owls fly in the night/and when the pines begin to cry..”. I still have no idea what Plant is singing toward the end. Some Tolkien-esque phrases, I reckon – something about strong shields and boots marching. Grok it in it’s fullness:

Two guitar-slingers head to the great gig in the sky

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Much as I was hoping not to turn this blog into an obituary page, it’s really not been a good couple of months for musicians. Maybe these things really do come in threes?

Kevin Ayers passed away last month and now we’ve lost both Alvin Lee, the fleet-fingered axeman for UK psych blooz band Ten Years After and Peter Banks, one of the founder members of UK prog-rock giants, Yes.

TYA formed in 1966, out of a couple of local Nottingham bands. Lee was enamoured of American blues and rock-and-roll and used those influences in his guitar-playing. The quartet moved to London and were offered a recording contract on Decca’s progressiveDeramlabel, also home to The Moody Blues, among others. Their first record was released in 1967 and while it was primarily a straight-forward R&B/blues collection, it did show off Lee’s lightning-fast guitar phrasing on a few of the tracks. Their second LP, Undead, was recorded live and Lee came to the fore with his playing, this time incorporating a bit of jazz into the mix.

The band went ‘underground’ during that time, playing in hippie clubs like Middle Earth. Their third album, Stonedhenge, released in early 1969, reflected the change with a more psychedelic tinge in it’s studio experimentation. Ssssh followed on in the same vein, but maybe a bit less experimental. They also went from a cult act to internationally famous after their appearance at the Woodstock festival in August 1969 (and the subsequent film, released in 1970).

In 1970, they again released two LPs, the first of which, Cricklewood Green, is considered to be one of their ‘classic’ records. They released a single from it, Love Like A Man, which made the upper reaches of the UK charts that year. Watt, their final album for Deram, was released late in the year and didn’t fare as well. A Space In Time (on Chrysalis Records) was dropped in August 1971 and is considered to be their finest album. They had another hit single with I’d Love To Change The World, which is their most well-known song (besides their Woodstock show-stopper, I’m Going Home).


After that – the band entered a slow decline, not helped by Lee’s alcohol intake. The last couple of studio records seemed uninspired and even a stopgap live set couldn’t slow the fragmentation. TYA split in 1974 and Lee embarked on a solo career. By the 1980s, even Lee was laying low, but the original TYA line-up reformed in 1989 for the About Time album, which was fairly well-received for a new record by a ‘dinosaur’ band. The reunion didn’t last long and soon Lee was back as a solo act. The others carried on as Ten Years After, with new guitarist, Joe Gooch.

While Lee is primarily remembered for just a couple of songs and super-fast soloing, he deserves a bit more credit for songwriting and being willing to stretch his band’s repertoire beyond just playin’ th’ blues.

Peter Banks started out in a few R&B bands, before getting together with future Yes bassist Chris Squire in The Syn, an R&B-turned-psychedelic group who released a couple of singles. One of them, Flowerman (with 14-Hour Technicolour Dream as the B-side), is considered a classic of UK psychedelia now. The Syn folded late in 1967 and Squire joined Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop, featuring Jon Anderson and Bill Bruford. Banks joined for a short while, then left. The band then broke up and Banks and some of the remaining members formed a new group with the ‘provisional’ name Yes. The new band gained a reputation on the live circuit and even played as a support act at the final Cream show in 1968.

Their first (self-titled) album was released in 1969 and was a melange of pop, psychedelia and stretched-out arrangements. Banks would often incorporate classical melodies and bits of show tunes and other snippets into his solos, much like Roy Wood of The Move. They were creating a fusion of rock and classical music (along with King Crimson, Genesis and a few other bands) in a distinctly British way that would eventually be called ‘progressive rock’.


By the second album, Time And A Word, in 1970 – Banks was becoming more critical of the direction of the band. He didn’t like the orchestral arrangements which effectively sidelined himself and keyboardist Tony Kaye. Banks was asked to leave the band in April 1970. He was replaced by former Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe and the band entered their ‘golden’ era of prog-rock. Banks formed Flash in 1972 and they released three albums of pop-prog which sounded very much like early Yes. The original incarnation of Flash split in 1973 and while Banks was trying to get a new line-up together, met Sydney Foxx. They were married and recorded three albums as Empire, though none of the material was released until the late 90s.


In the 1980s, much like Lee, Banks did a lot of session work and generally kept a low profile. He released his second full-length solo album in 1993 (his first was dropped in 1973), with another one following in 1995. He also was instrumental in getting the Yes BBC sessions from 1969 and 1970 released as a 2-CD set in 1997. Banks rejoined The Syn in 2004, but left again shortly after. Lately, he was playing in an improvisational trio called Harmony In Diversity.

Danny Baker has referred to Banks as the ‘Architect of Prog’. I’d say that’s a fairly accurate description, though Banks may have to split the title with Robert Fripp and Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues. Still, he was a talented guitarist with loads of great ideas. He certainly guided Yes to become a top-flight progressive band and for that, he should be given accolades.

All This Crazy Gift Of Time: R.I.P. Kevin Ayers

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I found out Wednesday evening that one of the founder members of the UK psychedelic band The Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, had passed away in his sleep. He was living in alone in an apartment in France.

Ayers was born in Kent, but spent part of his childhood in Malaysia, where his father was a district officer. When he returned to England, his family settled in Canterbury and he met his future band-mates, Robert Wyatt at school and later Mike Ratledge, through mutual friends. Ayers used to hang out at Wyatt’s parent’s house and listen to jazz and read beat poetry. They all met Daevid Allen, an Australian beat writer and musician and decided to form a group, playing mostly jazzy jams mixed with a bit of pop music. This early incarnation eventually coalesced into The Wilde Flowers, a legendary Canterbury band which featured most of the musicians who would later make up the ‘Canterbury Scene’. After a time, the line-up of Allen on guitar, Ayers on bass, Wyatt on drums and Ratledge on keyboards changed their name from “Mr. Head” to The Soft Machine – Allen having secured permission from the author of the original novel, William S. Burroughs. A second guitarist, American Larry Nolan, augmented some early jams.

After recording some demos in early 1967, Allen decamped to Paris and Deya, in Majorca for a short time, to work on poetry and visual performance. When he decided to return to the UK, it turned out that his visa had expired and he was forced to return to France, later forming the seminal psychedelic/progressive/space-rock band, Gong. Nolan drifted away after a few gigs and The Soft Machine were left as a trio of Ayers, Wyatt and Ratledge. A single, featuring Allen, called “Love Makes Sweet Music” (and “Reelin’ Feelin’ Squealin’” on the ‘B’-side) was released in February 1967, but it flopped, unfortunately – as it’s considered the first British psychedelic record issued.


Before Allen’s departure, the band’s live sets began attracting attention and when the UFO Club opened in London, The Softs were one of the ‘house bands’ along with friends/rivals The Pink Floyd (eventually to become just ‘Pink Floyd’). The trio were offered a recording deal and flew to New York City to create their first album. It was the first LP made at the legendary Record Plant studio and Dylan/Frank Zappa producer Tom Wilson was at the control board. It was later revealed that Wilson’s input was minimal, but the album, while maybe not sounding optimal, was a cracker and has become a classic of English psychedelia. The band also undertook a couple of greuling U.S. tours with The Jimi Hendrix Experience throughout 1968, while also returning to England and playing. Ayers tired of the treadmill lifestyle quickly and The Soft Machine split just as the first album was released in December 1968.

Ayers fled to Ibiza to ostensibly “get his head together”. Wyatt was approached by the label to reconvene the group to promote the album and when he couldn’t reach Ayers, drafted in Canterbury scenester Hugh Hopper on bass. Wyatt himself would eventually leave the Softs in 1971, after differences with Ratledge over the musical direction of the band and Hopper would leave shortly after the release of the Six live/studio double-album, in 1973. Ayers started writing songs and got enough together to get signed to the new EMI ‘progressive’ label, Harvest, also home to the Floyd and their erstwhile singer/guitarist Syd Barrett.

Joy Of A Toy was released in September 1969 and it seemed like a slice of whimsical psychedelia carried over from ‘The Summer Of Love’. The singalong melody of the title track (itself a nod to both Ornette Coleman and The Softs first album, which featured an identically-named instrumental), the melancholy of The Lady Rachel and Town Feeling, the trippy Stop This Train (Again Doing It) and the folksy All This Crazy Gift Of Time, which closes the LP.

The following year Ayers formed a new group, The Whole World, to be his backing band. Most were relative unknowns – keyboardist/arranger David Bedford (who passed away a short while ago), drummer Mick Fincher, free-jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill (we’ve lost him as well)…and a young guitarist/bass-player, fresh from a folk-duo with his sister, called Mike Oldfield. They gigged quite a bit on the festival circuit and in-between released the strange, prog-rock LP, Shooting At The Moon. Their legendary Hyde Park concert (featuring Robert Wyatt on drums) was finally released on CD in 2007. Whatevershebringwesing followed in 1972, containing one of Ayers’s best tunes, Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes (well, I think so, anyway). The Whole World split after that – Oldfield borrowing Ayers’s portable tape recorder to work on a piece of music he was calling “Opus 1”, which morphed into Tubular Bells.

Kevin returned in 1973 with Bananamour, his final LP for Harvest. He had a new backing band and some stellar guests, like Steve Hillage, then playing with Kevin’s chum Daevid Allen in Gong. Hillage adds his trademark spacey guitar to one of the highlights of the album, Decadence, allegedly written for Velvet Underground singer Nico. Oh! Wot A Dream is for his old friend Syd Barrett, who had returned to Cambridge and moved back into his parents’ house. Ayers toured a bit to promote it, but found himself still at odds with the music ‘business’. Signing to Island Records in 1974, he released the Confessions Of Dr. Dream LP, which, while having it’s moments, didn’t seem nearly as inspired as his Harvest albums. The collaboration with John Cale, Nico and Brian Eno fared a bit better and he showed he could still get a bit weird with the Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy album, which also featured Eno.

His late 70s albums dipped quite a bit in quality, despite ex-Patto guitarist Ollie Halsall stepping into the second guitar role. Ayers seemed lost in a fug of addiction and disillusionment that carried into the 1980s, occasionally surfacing for a live gig or a forgettable record. He made a comeback of sorts in 1992, with the well-received Still Life With Guitar album. By the mid-90s, a new crop of ‘neo-psychedelic’ bands began to appear, like the Welsh group Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The Gorkys titled one of their songs “Kevin Ayers“, on the Tatay album and covered “Why Are We Sleeping?, from the Softs’ debut album, on the Llanfwrog EP. Other bands name-checked Ayers or The Soft Machine as an influence and the SM and Ayers back-catalogue was reissued on CD.


Kevin still played the occasional show and I nearly got to see him at Brass City Records (good to know it’s still around) in the early 90s. In the last ten years, the Soft Machine’s influence continued to grow and EMI reissued Ayers’s 1970s back catalogue on CD, this time with several bonus tracks on each disc. In 2007, Kevin released The Unfairground, which would turn out to be his final album. He was backed by several of the bands who claimed him as an influence – Gorky’s, Teenage Fanclub and others. The album was well-received and there were hopes for a follow-up. Sadly, that’s no longer a possibility.

Here’s to a true British eccentric and wonderful musician and storyteller. He never played the ‘industry game’, but has left behind an excellent bunch of music. He seemed comfortable being a ‘cult artist’ – I think if he had hit Hendrix-style stardom, he would’ve quit for good, or he may have ended up like poor Syd Barrett, a casualty of fame and expectation. As it was, we were lucky enough to have him around for quite a while.