While Peter Hammill was off and busy with his solo career, The Long Hello offered a rare glimpse into Van der Graaf Generator without him. The initial impetus for the project revolved around Guy Evans and Dave Anderson's Foel Studio. Along with David Jackson, they got together in Wales with some Italian friends to record the resulting album. Jackson wrote most of the material and graces the record with sax and flute, while Nic Potter lends his bass. Hugh Banton's role was primarily technical in nature, although he does contribute one rather lackluster track, "Brain Seizure," in its entirety. The instrumental album trades the fury of VdGG for a melodic beauty that, no doubt, reflected the environment in which it was recorded. Highly original, the album defies categorization. It has jazz elements, but is most certainly not jazz. It rocks, but again, it's not really rock music. "The O Flat Session" approaches the sonic challenges of Henry Cow, but there's nothing that highbrow here. "Morris to Cape Wrath" captures the immediacy of VdGG, but avoids any chaotic digression. The acoustic guitar of Piero Messina is one of the album's charms, providing an understated rhythmic element on the second side. In particular, "Fairhazel Gardens" is a highlight. The album was issued several times in small numbers, ranging from a near-white label pressing in the UK to a full-color Italian issue. Three other volumes under the Long Hello umbrella would see release in the early 80s, each under the direction of a former VdGG member.
In 1971, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius moved camp to the idyllic rural setting of Forst in Weserbergland, Lower Saxony. Michael Rother came to visit the duo, ostensibly looking to expand Neu!'s lineup for live shows, yet ended up staying and forming the trio Harmonia with them. On their debut, the electronic noises start to take shape and roughly form songs. Backed by a drum machine, "Watussi" plods along happily over its six minutes. The ambient texture of "Sehr Kosmisch" is indeed cosmic, while "Sonnenschein" skips over its brisk beat. Rhythmically, the tracks tend to be built from a drum pattern and short sequences, with longer, sweeping electronic and guitar passages laid over the top. "Dino" and "Veterano" have that motorik beat, but "Ohrwurm" harks back to the Cluster of old. "Ahoi!" follows a minimal piano line, while the closing "Hausmusik" ebbs and flows over large washes of sound. Certainly improvisational, Harmonia signals another progression in the music of Roedelius and Moebius. Although released as a Cluster album, the upbeat Zuckerzeit was recorded next and featured Rother as a producer. Harmonia's second album, Deluxe, released again on Brain in 1975, was more substantial, with Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru providing drums and, for the first time, Harmonia offers vocals. It's a rousing, even rocking album at times; yet another chapter in the history of both Cluster and Rother would soon be written with the arrival of Brian Eno in Forst in late 1976.
Story has it that after listening to Jade Warrior's music, Steve Winwood convinced Chris Blackwell to sign the band to his Island Records. Now reduced to the core of Tony Duhig and Jon Field, the duo left most of their musical past behind, including vocals and any trace of psychedelia. On their 1974 release, Floating World, each track is presented as wide and cinematic in sound as it is descriptive in title. After the introductory "Clouds," "Mountain of Fruits and Flowers" emerges with a stirring bass line. "Waterfall" flows like a river, before descending into a cataclysm of conga drums. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, "Red Lotus" erupts with Duhig's heavily distorted guitar! The second side courses about the same as the first. "Rainflower" is a gentle guitar number, while the jazzy "Easty" adds rhythm underneath. "Monkey Chant" features Duhig's brother Dave on lead guitar and is another improbable (but welcome) heavy number. The plaintive "Memories of a Distant Sea" closes, briefly reprised on "Quba." Characterized by dynamics and world influences, Jade Warrior use their instruments like paintbrushes, yet never completely fill the canvas. And like the oriental-flavored album art, their music is both restive and contemplative, and generally avoids all clichés but their own. The duo also presage the instrumental "fourth world" and new age genre that would rise to some commercial prominence in the 1980s. Jade Warrior would release another three albums of much similar effect for Island before splitting up in 1979; and little would be heard from either musician during the 80s.
Before the end of the 60s, former Zombie Rod Argent and his bassist cousin Jim Rodford drafted drummer Bob Henrit and guitarist Russ Ballard from the pop band Unit 4 + 2 to form Argent. The band clearly centered on the keyboard talents of its namesake, but also had gifted songwriters in Ballard and ex-Zombie Chris White. "Lothlorien" and the second side of 1971's Rings Of Fire pointed to the progressive, but it would take the Argent a few more albums before they consummated the direction. In the meantime, they scored a massive hit with "Hold Your Head Up" b/w "Keep on Rollin'" in 1972, reaching No. 5 on both sides of the Atlantic. The accompanying album All Together Now also charted well, as did its follow up, 1973's In Deep. Argent was an undisputed master of the Hammond organ, and both albums oozed "classic rock"—albeit more on the blues-inspired end of heavy rock, with one foot still in the 60s. Thus, it wasn't until 1974's Nexus that the band delivered a bona fide prog rock album. The album opens with a "celestial" suite of three instrumentals, all written by Argent and White. "The Coming of Kohoutek" opens imposingly, before descending into a nice little vamp. "Once Around the Sun" goes majestic, with Argent's keyboards paving the way; while "Infinite Wanderer" playfully winds up the suite. Ballard's "Love" features a tender and sympathetic vocal from Argent. Yet "Music From the Spheres" is the album's cornerstone. The band descends into a killer jam, anchored by the Rodford/Henrit rhythm section, then finish it off with a long, hypnotic coda. The second side, written primarily by Ballard, switches gears to a few earthier, funky numbers, like "Thunder And Lightning" and "Gonna Meet My Maker." Despite the strong showing, the album did not chart.
Tempest recorded a second album, Living In Fear, in late 1973. Ollie Halsall, fresh from a defunct Patto, brought a more immediate guitar as well as lead vocals to the band. The album was produced by Gerry Bron, with Geoff Emerick behind the controls. Halsall's "Funeral Empire" opens, a solid rocker with some creative synthesizer and a great break, while a cover of The Beatles' "Paperback Writer," featured in their live set, follows. The album is a far more successful heavy rock album than their debut, with Mark Clarke's compositions, including the excellent "Stargazer" and "Dance to My Tune," the cream of a very good crop. The latter track features an extended guitar solo from Halsall, over Clarke and Jon Hiseman's heavy, solid rhythm. The title track is another of Halsall's tunes, with the guitarist adding piano. Written with Hiseman, the poppy "Yeah Yeah Yeah" swings a bit, while "Waiting for a Miracle" offers both a nice acoustic touch, and Halsall's fine vocals. Clarke's "Turn Around" closes with power. Big riffing, it again showcases Halsall's legato technique on guitar. Live recordings from the period confirm that this power trio was the band's peak, and it also may have been Halsall's apex as a guitar god. However, major success found neither Halsall nor Tempest; and by the middle of 1974, the band was done. Hiseman put together a new band the following year, christening them Colosseum II. Mark Clarke left to join Natural Gas (with Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley and Badfinger's Joey Molland). Ollie Halsall would split the next few years between a long and fruitful collaboration with Kevin Ayers (whom he met while recording the album at AIR Studios), and again with Mike Patto in the more straightforward rock band Boxer.
Hailing from the Finland, Blues Section was (you guessed it) a blues-inspired band fronted by British expatriate Jim Pembroke, drummer Ronnie Österberg, bassist Måns Groundstroem and others. They released an eponymous album in 1967, on the Finnish Love Records. But soon after Pembroke and Österberg left, and after a few more singles, the band broke up. Österberg then set out to form Wigwam, drafting Pembroke and organist Jukka Gustavson, with bassist Pekka Pohjola arriving in 1968 for their second album, Tombstone Valentine. It featured Kim Fowley in the producer's chair, and even managed to secure a US release on MGM's Verve Forecast. The band's music (roughly a cross between Traffic and The Band) matured into a more progressive sound for 1971's double-album Fairyport. By all accounts the sprawling jam, "Rave-Up for the Roadies," with guest Jukka Tolonen on guitar, was more indicative of their live set: nothing like their records! Both Pembroke and Pohjola then cut solo albums (the former, as Hot Thumbs O'Riley, released the whacked-out Wicked Ivories for Charisma in 1972), leaving Gustavson to mostly pen the epic 1974 release, Being. His "Proletarian" kicks off, rolling straight into the short "Inspired Machine;" immediately, it's evident that the band has refined their music to the point of being immaculate, while Gustavson's grasp of the English language is second to none. The more playful melody of Pembroke's "Petty-Bourgeois" follows; the contrast between the two composers is pronounced, but the band performs both with equanimity. "Pride of the Biosphere" gets heavy into the album's concept (life, death, religion and the meaning of it all), while the musicality of "Pedagogue," including the wonderfully resplendent horn arrangement, reveals the enormous technical talent contained within the band. "Crisader" continues the story, with Pohjola's brief "Planetist" swinging with abandon. Pembroke offers another of his lush melodies on "Maestro Mercy" and the following "Prophet" offers Gustavson a chance to show his considerable keyboard talents again. Finally, Pembroke's transcendent "Marvelry Skimmer" concludes the story. All told, the album is one of the most unique and perfectly crafted albums in the timeline. Yet perfection pays a price, and the band would barely weather the tumultuous sessions recording the masterpiece.
Despite being relative latecomers to the scene, Camel eventually earned a considerable reputation as a progressive rock band. Their modest commercial success kept the band busy, but just outside of the big league. Hailing from Surrey, guitarist Andy Latimer formed The Brew in the late 60s. Bassist Doug Ferguson brought in drummer Andy Ward and the band landed a gig in 1971 backing singer-songwriter Phillip Goodhand-Tait. However, this proved unsatisfactory; so in a bid to make it on their own, the band secured the services of Pete Bardens on organ from a Melody Maker advertisement. Bardens, of course, had a long history in the London rock scene, having already worked with Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Rod Stewart and Van Morrison. Camel's debut album was released by MCA in February 1973, but the band was quickly dropped from the label, despite successful tours with Barclay James Harvest and Stackridge. Live recordings from the period confirm that Camel did have a jam-band feel; just check out the Santana-esque "God of Light." Camel then signed on with Gama management, who secured the band a record deal with Decca Records. Produced by David Hitchcock, Mirage was their issue. The straight-up "Freefall" opens, revealing the band's unpretentious and dynamic sound. The instrumental "Supertwister" takes its inspiration from the Dutch group Supersister, whom Camel toured with throughout Europe. Camel then attempts their first stab at interpreting sci-fantasy literature; here, Latimer offers the "Nimrodel" suite (taken from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings). The instrumental "Earthrise" has a bit of Caravan sound to it, but the similarity is merely coincidental. The "Lady Fantasy" suite lightens up with a Focus-like middle section and reprise, while Bardens's overdriven organ solo winds down the suite. Despite significant touring, including almost six months in the US, the album failed to chart. And yes, the original album cover was initially proposed as a marketing campaign for the European branch of the tobacco company of the same name.
The roots of Hatfield and the North go back to the Miller brothers-guitarist Phil and keyboardist Steve-and the final days of Delivery in mid-1972. In early 1973, keyboard player and Dave Stewart replaced Steve, joining the core of Phil, bassist Richard Sinclair (ex-Caravan) and drummer Pip Pyle (ex-Gong). Stewart had previously been in Egg and replaced keyboard player Dave Sinclair, who returned to Caravan. The band spent most of 1973 touring, including several visits to the Continent. One of the first of the Canterbury bands to sign with Virgin Records, their self-titled debut album was recorded by Tom Newman at The Manor Studio the previous winter. It's easy to see what the fuss is about. Hatfield's music is instantly recognizable—highly arranged, mathematical in structure and definitely not in 4/4 time! Composition credits are to the individual members, yet each track flows effortlessly into the next, serving as another testament to the band's cerebral virtuosity. Stewart's keyboards are central, but Miller's thick-toned guitar and Sinclair's soothing voice are also distinct signatures of the band. The debut includes several classics, including Robert Wyatt's ethereal vocalizing on "Calyx" and the rolling instrumental "(Son Of) There's No Place like Homerton." Sinclair's "Licks for the Ladies" kicks off a small batch of vocal efforts on the second side, culminating with the angelic Northettes on "Lobster in Cleavage Probe." A single, "Let's Eat (Real Soon)" b/w "Fitter Stoke Has a Bath," was released in November. Hatfield, meanwhile, stayed on the road.
Appearing a little over a year after their last album, Starless And Bible Black was the second album from the new and improved King Crimson. Most of the record was based on live recordings from the previous fall in Amsterdam. It's no wonder, as Crimson spent the better part of March through November 1973 on the road, with only a few weeks in the summer to rest. The first side contains shorter instrumental pieces, as well as a few songs proper. Both "The Great Deceiver" and "We'll Let You Know" rely on fury to get their point across (which they do), while the gentler "The Night Watch" is simply resplendent. The other tracks on the first side are compositional fragments, the drum-less "Trio" being a throwback to the Islands era band. The second side houses the big pieces, beginning with the title track. After a slow start, it gains significant mass, rising to a glorious climax. With the added studio overdubbing, "Fracture" is far more structured but nonetheless exciting. The first half of the track hints at its potential, but it's not until its closing section that it fully erupts. Again, the key is the rhythm section of John Wetton and Bill Bruford; as Robert Fripp would later comment, they were "terrible to play over." Indeed. With only 12 minutes of studio recordings, the album is a little short on new material; but taken as a live record, it's another matter. The album charted in both the UK and US, at No. 28 and No. 64, respectively. King Crimson was back on the road after the album's release, and stayed there until their last concert on July 1st, 1974 in New York's Central Park.
Back in the 60s, the Iron Curtain split the divide between what was known as Eastern and Western Europe. As much of a cultural border as it was a political one, little music drifted from one side to the other. Yugoslavia, a conglomeration of several republics held together by Marshal Tito since the end of WWII, fell somewhere in between, just beyond the shadow of the USSR. The 60s saw most native groups, such as Yu Grupa or Bijelo Dugme, concentrate on pop singles; but by the early 70s, the more aggressive bands reached out toward the progressive, recording and releasing full-length albums for state-run record labels such as Jugoton or PGP-RTB. Korni Grupa formed in 1968 in Belgrade, but it wasn't until 1972 that their debut album saw the light of day. A curious mix of heavy rock and jazz leanings, the band was led by its namesake and keyboardist, Kornelije Kovac and new vocalist Zlatko Pejakovi?. With swinging melodies and positively electric guitar from Josip Bocek, the album held up to the standards of rock from the West. For the band's second album, Italian Dischi Ricordi stepped in, along with producer Carlo Alberto Rossi (CAR Juke Box label); the result was the English-language album Not An Ordinary Life under the name Kornelyans. The bright "Rising" introduces the band, while the longer title track offers brisk, shifting original progressive rock with a rousing instrumental workout. "Fall of the Land of Woman" features some pyrotechnic guitar and keys, while the "Man with a White Flag" is another well-constructed epic, again on par with anything from the West. Pejakovic's voice is particularly strong throughout, while Kovac is a top-shelf musician and composer. Also released as a single, "Generation 1942" works well with an extended arrangement here, but its memorable chorus is what steals the show. And yet, after a poor showing at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest and no international fortunes from the Ricordi deal, the band broke up in late 1974 after a series of farewell concerts—part of which was recorded and released as the double-album Mrtvo.
PFM traveled to Advision Studios in London to record their third album, with Claudio Fabi producing both an English and Italian version (Isola di Niente), and with Pete Sinfield again providing the English-language lyrics. Bassist Patrick Djivas, previously with Italian fusion protagonists Area, was new to the band. The World Became The World presents a significantly harder edge than previous efforts, due in part to Franco Mussida stepping to the fore on electric guitar; the result is certainly one of PFM's best. "The Mountain" opens with a foreboding choral section, followed quickly by a breakneck rhythm from Franz Di Cioccio and Djivas. Bold and intricate, it offers grandeur in the finest of Rock progressivo italiano tradition. The gentle "Just Look Away" is a throwback to their previous album, while the title track (only on the English LP) chimes over a huge, King Crimson-like chorus. The fantastical "Four Holes in the Ground" opens the second side; pacing through its several sections, Mussida adds prime electric guitar to this new take on the tarantella of "Celebration." "Is My Face on Straight" follows in similar tradition; lyrically, it's the strongest track on the record, and features a sweet accordion solo from Flavio Premoli. The album closes with the powerful instrumental "Have Your Cake and Beat It." Shifting through several moods, it is one of PFM's most refined compositions, featuring virtuoso soloing from Mauro Pagani. The album was commercially successful and thus afforded PFM the opportunity to tour North America for the first time, supporting the likes of Robin Trower, Poco and Dave Mason. Their self-professed highlight was playing before 250,000 fans at the Charlotte Speedway Festival in August. A live album from this period was issued on Manticore early the following year under the title Cook (a reference to their culinary abilities). Indeed, it was a capable showcase of their live performance.
After the breakup of The Nice in 1970, Brian Davison and Lee Jackson moved on to solo projects. Drummer Davison's jazz-tinged eponymous album Every Which Way was short-lived however; the only release was in 1970. Jackson's Jackson Heights fared folksier, and perhaps, better; he released an excellent debut, King Progress, in 1970 for Charisma, and a further three for Vertigo, with guitarist John McBurnie and keyboardist Brian Chatton (Michael Giles guested on drums). Lee approached the former Mainhorse keyboardist Patrick Moraz to replace Chatton; but with success out of reach, they opted for a new band, Refugee, with Davison added to the fold. Moraz was a keyboardist of some distinction, so it's no surprise that the band provided the prog rock style that Keith Emerson rode to success in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Signed by Charisma, Refugee released their self-titled debut album in 1974. The fiery instrumental "Papillon" opens with all guns blazing, especially from Moraz, who plays through an armory of keyboards. The ensuing "Someday" diverges, as Jackson's vocals can be an acquired taste. The lengthy "Grand Canyon" suite goes epic, traversing around various musical landscapes; while "Ritt Mickley" ("rhythmically") gets a little jazzy, though very much in Moraz's unique style. The closing "Credo" suite is another long-form track, passing the 18-minute mark. Davison and Jackson shine as the rhythm section and Moraz gives it his all; but whether this type of classically-inspired progressive rock is one's cup of tea or not will certainly temper one's reception to the album. With Rick Wakeman's sudden departure following the Tales From Topographic Oceans' tour, Yes put an end to Refugee by hiring Moraz away for close to a two-year stint. Davison would briefly join Gong, while Jackson quit the music industry altogether.
Formed in 1969 by ex-Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings and the duo of guitarist Tim Hart and singer Maddy Prior, Steeleye Span's first few albums were firmly rooted in an acoustic folk tradition. In 1972 Hutchings departed; and after adding bassist Rick Kemp and guitarist Bob Johnson, the band signed to the Chrysalis label for 1972's Below The Salt, scoring a hit single with the uncharacteristic "Gaudete" b/w "The Holly And The Ivy:" an a cappella Christmas carol sung entirely in Latin. It rose to No. 14 in the UK, while the album was their first to enter the UK charts. Parcel Of Rouges followed with similar results, but the arrival of ex-Gnidrolog drummer Nigel Pegrum on 1974's Now We Are Six saw their music take a nod towards the progressive. Of course, having Ian Anderson in the producer's chair certainly pushed things along: "Thomas the Rhymer" has that complex meter that is quite like Jethro Tull. Whether this is vindication of Steeleye Span's progressiveness or proof positive that Anderson was a folkie at heart is another matter. Whatever the setting, and despite rather strange production, the band presents first-rate music here. "Drink Down the Moon" has a somber tone that shines in the electric setting, while "Two Magicians" remains traditional. "Seven Hundred Elves" and "Edwin" both dial up the prog quotient on their folksy tunes; and throughout, Steeleye Span offer a lively dose of electric folk—though the inclusion of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and a rather languid cover of Phil Spector's "To Know Him Is to Love Him" (complete with David Bowie on saxophone) are dubious at best. Nonetheless, the album rose to No. 13 on the UK charts. Their second 1975 release, All Around My Hat—also the first in a series to be produced by ex-Womble Mike Batt—was a commercial success fueled by the title track, which rose to No. 6 on the UK single charts. However, their subsequent albums couldn't sustain the momentum, and after a live album in 1978, the band ostensibly broke up; though throughout the 1980s, recordings would occasionally appear. Prior would join Mike Oldfield's touring band in the late 70s.
Tangerine Dream had recorded five albums before signing to Richard Branson's fledgling Virgin Records label in 1973. Upon arriving at The Manor Studio in late 1973, their lineup was the classic, triple-keyboard one, with Edgar Froese and Chris Franke complimented by Peter Baumann. Using their sizable advance, the band purchased a Moog modular synthesizer and set out to record Phaedra. Over the course of their previous recordings for the Ohr label, Tangerine Dream created archetypical krautrock; but while their earlier works for Ohr were mostly audio monoliths, the introduction of the arpeggio sequencer here, in what would become the classic trademark of the so-called Berlin School sound, marks the beginning of a new era for the band. "Phaedra," comprising the first side of the album, gurgles and chugs over its 16-plus minutes, and is constantly propelled by Franke's sequenced rhythms. The second side offers three shorter tracks. On "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares," the sinuous and romantic washes of melody hurl forward without rhythm. "Movements of a Visionary" starts otherworldly before descending into a deep sequence; it stands as the new archetypal TD composition. Finally, "Sequent C" closes the album with a lonely Mellotron line, proving that few were as accomplished on the instrument as Froese. He'd go on record claiming that Tangerine Dream never played "electronic" music; in any case, it sure was something original and spectacular. Considering the band had yet to play live in the UK, the album rose to a respectable No. 15 and sold a reputed 100,000 records there. The band's profile had profited from DJ John Peel's naming their previous release Atem his import record of the year, as well as from the influence that Virgin Records was now beginning to exude.
Hailing from Torino, Arti e Mestieri ("Art and Crafts") combined the talents of keyboardist Beppe Crovella and drummer Furio Chirico. The latter had spent time in The Trip, an odd Anglo-Italian group that once featured Ritchie Blackmore. The rest of the bandmates had previously played in a local Turin group, Il Sogno di Archimede, and included guitarist (and main composer) Gigi Venegoni, bassist Marco Gallesi, violinist and vocalist Giovanni Vigliar and Arturo Vitale on wind instruments and vibes. Following their live debut, the band signed with the Cramps label and entered the studio, with Area's Paolo Tofani producing. Tilt - Immagini Per Un Orecchio combines the soaring unison lines from fusion, the intensity of prog rock and a palette straight from the analog era. "Gravità 9.81" opens, propelled by Chirico's fervent drumming. The music is both light and complex, structured and yet never strict. "Strips" continues, adding a gentle, Italian vocal section, while "Corrosione" offers a majestic melody. The band make great use of space, with each ensuing composition flowing effortlessly into the next. Everything "joins" together for the 13-minute "Articolazioni," including some nice King-Crimson inspired passages; while "Tilt" is exactly that; everything turned sideways. The band supported the excellent album by touring, opening for PFM and Gentle Giant. Released in 1975, their second album, Giro di valzer per domani, added a new vocalist, Gianfranco Gaza, and is another solid effort. However, the band then splintered, with Venegoni going on to form his own group, Venegoni & Co, also signed to the Cramps label. By the time that their final effort, Quinto Stato, was released in 1979, the band was a different musical beast altogether, with Chirico and Gallesi being the only members from the original lineup. The early 1980s saw a few live-in-the-studio albums, but they were only distributed privately.
Hailing from Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Grobschnitt was formed by drummer Joachim "Eroc" Ehrig in 1971. Eroc was previously in a beat-era band called The Crew, with lead guitarist Gerd-Otto "Lupo" Kuhn and vocalist/guitarist Stefan "Wildschwein" Danielak. An interim group Charing Cross added bassist Bernhard "Bär" Uhlemann and a second drummer Axel "Felix" Harlos, but by May, they had changed their name to Kapelle Elias Grobschnitt, later shortened to Grobschnitt ("rough cut") after a brand of tobacco. Their self-titled debut album was released in early 1972 on Brain Records and delivered an infectious blend of heavy jamming and psychedelic weirdness. Prior to their second album, Volker "Mist" Kahrs joined on keyboards, replacing Hermann "Quecksilber" Quetting. His addition would prove to be the catalyst in the development of band's symphonic signature. Released by Brain in April 1974, the double-album Ballerman opens with "Sahara;" it's exactly this type of lunacy that would hallmark Grobschnitt's live performances, always interspersed with comedic sketches from band members and roadies alike. "Nickel-Odeon" next kicks off with a grinding Hammond and trebly bass; Grobschnitt don't quite have the arrangement precision of their British counterparts, but their music is all the more organic for it. The track draws some similarities to what Yes were doing a few years earlier, and it's certainly as spirited and energetic. Immediately evident is the bane of most German rock groups: English-language vocals. Whether you dig Wildschwein's accented singing (I absolutely do) or not, you may not fall anywhere in between. While a nod is in order to their British counterparts, the remainder of the first record is first-rate prog rock: Both melodic and symphonic, it stands uniquely as Grobschnitt. But hold onto your pants: the album's second disc contains Grobschnitt's stunning instrumental achievement "Solar Music." Presented first as "Suntrip" on their debut record, the suite would be the apex of their concerts. Although the analogy to long-form Pink Floyd is bound to reverberate, Grobschnitt are just as talented. For nearly 30 minutes, they hover at stasis; locked high into a musical stratosphere, providing a wildly original take on space rock. Essential listening!
Following the New Trolls break up, guitarist Nico Di Palo—plus former members Maurizio Salvi, Frank Laugelli and Gianni Belleno—released Canti D'Innocenza, Canti D'Esperienca, with a big question mark and their names on the cover; for legal reasons, they couldn't release it as the New Trolls. It's very much a hard rock album, based on Di Palo's hard-riffing guitar. A reader's poll gave the group their new name, Ibis; and British drummer Ric Parnell, fresh from a defunct Atomic Rooster, replaced Bellano for their second album, Sun Supreme. Now signed to Polydor, the band switched to English-language lyrics, offering a song cycle on each side of the record; and some Nigerian mysticism too! Di Palo's acoustic guitar opens the first side, but "Travelling the Spectrum of the Soul" fires on all cylinders, delivering some heady prog rock. "The Valley of Mists," though, is the high point: After the acoustic intro, the band erupt on a classic riff and prove their metal. "Vision Fulfilled" resolves the cycle, reprising a few themes along the way. The second side offers the three-part "Divinity," an instrumental number that inches much closer to fusion. "Part 2" shows off the band's dexterity, but also includes a lengthy drum solo; while the last section gently fades away. A final album, Ibis, featuring Di Palo and Laugelli and a couple of new players, saw release in 1975. As the band went back to singing mostly in Italian, the album didn't have much of a chance outside of Italy; and Di Palo went back to the New Trolls.
At the end of 1973, Pierre van der Linden left Focus to form Trace with Rick van der Linden from Ekseption; British drummer Colin Allen, previously with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Stone The Crows, was flown in as a replacement. Although it had been over two years since the band's last album, Hamburger Concerto again offers another installment of classic Focus music. The brief "Delitiae Musicae" opens, confirming both Thijs van Leer and Jan Akkerman's love of classical music—something they also pursued in contemporaneous solo works. The rocking "Harem Scarem" follows, tongue firmly in cheek. After its protracted introduction, "La Cathédrale de Strasbourg" swings beautifully with a Robert Wyatt-esque whistle solo from van Leer. With its trademark Focus melody, "Birth" reprises itself for another round before ending the side. Allen is sure-footed throughout, providing a solid bottom to the music. The title track spans the entire second side; and despite the regal intro, Focus remains grounded throughout, delivering one of their finest compositions and performances on record. The classical borrowings and instrumental acrobatics are certainly here, but so is a lot of restraint; neither the band's arrangement nor their delivery ever gets tedious. Van Leer's use of vocalizing on "Medium I" is completely effective; and there's also an orgy of analog sounds, including a classic Leslie-driven guitar riff from Akkerman opening "Rare" and Van Leer's saw-toothed ARP lead on the finale, "One for the Road." Unfortunately, this was the last charting album for the band, reaching No. 20 in the UK and No. 66 in the US. The Focus story pretty much ends here. Featuring much shorter tracks, the highly funky Mother Focus was recorded piecemeal in 1975, with minimal contribution from Akkerman. Worth seeking out however is the compilation Ship Of Memories, which contains some of the aborted recordings from 1973 and an early version of the track "Hamburger Concerto." Massive personnel changes ensued before a final, best-forgotten album with P.J. Proby was released in 1978.
Lindsay Cooper, previously with the folk band Comus, replaced Geoff Leigh for Henry Cow's second album, Unrest, released in May 1974, again for Virgin Records. The opener, "Bittern Storm Over Ulm," is somehow based on The Yardbirds' "Got to Hurry." Nevermind the how, it is one of the most listenable tracks on the album; "Half Asleep; Half Awake" is introduced by a somber piano, but as it unfolds with the band playing, it reveals a delightfully melodic tune, though one turned sideways once the improvisation begins. Inspired by Béla Bartók's use of Fibonacci sequences, the 12-minute "Ruins" is a monster track, at least the first four minutes of it. The second side turns to improvisation and studio trickery as a lack of material and pressure for the album's completion mounted (similar to Neu!'s debacle on their second album). Chris Cutler lets loose on "Upon Entering the Hotel Adion," while a plaintive tune barely surfaces from the chaos of "Deluge." The album cover again depicted a paint sock; the artist Ray Smith was a friend of the band from their days in Cambridge. There's little doubt that the members of Henry Cow were some of the most talented musicians of the progressive genre, but unfortunately the avant-garde of their oeuvre had little to do with rock ‘n' roll, at least to this listener's ears. Henry Cow would then collaborate with the similarly-minded Slapp Happy.
His contract with Harvest Records fulfilled, Kevin Ayers switched labels and management. The Confessions of Dr. Dream And Other Stories was his debut for Island Records, seeing release in May 1974. Ayers sounds fresh on the two numbers that open, "Day by Day" and "Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought of You;" brisk and tuneful, the latter reveals Ollie Halsall's lead guitar for the first time with Ayers, and the female backing vocals offer soul to both tracks. The trio of "It Begins with a Blessing/Once I Awakened/But It Ends with a Curse" is a psychedelic throwback to the Softs era, but with a monstrously big production here. The four-part title track then spans the second side of the album, presenting something much deeper, darker and more progressive than the first side. Nico adds her Teutonic "charm" to the first section, while the remainder of the suite is mostly instrumental. With its varied soundscape, it offers the same challenge and reward of Ayers's previous records. Throughout, Rupert Hine's production is Ayers's clearest and most accessible, anchored, of course, by Michael Giles and John G. Perry's superb rhythm section. Ayers's next studio record wasn't as fortunate. Sweet Deceiver saw release in March of 1975; but despite the backing of both Elton John's management and guest piano, plus straight-up production from Ayers and Ollie "Haircut" Halsall, it fizzled, both commercially and critically. The well-known live record June 1, 1974 also was released around this time on Island. A showcase gig boasting an impressive lineup (Brian Eno, Nico, John Cale, et. al.), it was musically unceremonious, containing just one side of Ayers's music and a second of cover versions. That same year, Ayers collaborated with Eno and David Vorhaus on Lady June's (aka June Campbell Cramer) Linguistic Leprosy. An album of her poetry set to music, it saw release on Caroline Records.