Mellotron solos! Lyrics about women selling tea! Scary chord changes! Folk music...
Chris Jones 2002
Sometimes perfection is a real bore. In an age where karaoke puppets and corporate niche marketing have rubbed any rough edges from our aural diet, it comes as quite a shock to hear stuff like this. For, while most of this material stems from a timeframe and genre that prided itself on its musical ability, it's by no means a smooth and unchallenging ride. Even Richard Madeley's favourite band, the Moody Blues (who provide the title track to this anthology) sound edgy and mysterious to modern ears. And yet it all fell under the banner of the mighty Decca label.
By late 1967 something was happening, and (to paraphrase Dylan) it wasn't just Mr Jones who didn't know what it was. Major labels were faced by an audience who now wanted something considerably more challenging than three minutes of the Hollies singing about bus stops. Those pesky Beatles had opened Pandora's musical box and it wasn't unreasonable to ask for at least three time signature changes in the space of one song. Mellotron solos! Lyrics about women selling tea! Scary chord changes! Folk music played on electrical instruments! Blues played backwards! It was all legal tender in them days and Decca wanted a piece of the action. Signing acts left, right and centre to their subsidiary, Deram, the label inadvertently set loose some of the strangest music known to man. It's all here...
To be fair most of this music's fascination lies in its position somewhere between psychedelia and progressive. It's some evolutionary stop-gap, like a musical sabre-toothed mongoose and, on the whole, clumsy and not a little pretentious. Let's face it, there's a reason why you've probably never heard of Human Beast, Clark-Hutchinson or Aardvark. But for every Keef Hartley obscurity there's a lost gem waiting to blow your mind.
Revel in the jazz exotica of the Johnny Almond Music Machine (featuring a fledgling Alan White). Be dazzled by the young Robert Fripp on Giles, Giles and Fripp's ''Suite No.1''. Realise why the folksy intricacy of Mellow Candle has won them cult status. To lump it all under prog or underground seems utterly pointless; Ten Years After's blues owes just as much to Wes Montgomery as to Freddie King, while the Canterbury sounds of Egg, Khan and Caravan juggle complexity with a self-deprecating homeliness (and how many modern bands even bother to sing with an English accent these days?).
3 CDs may seem daunting, yet such is the passion and vaulting ambition (9 times out of 10 falling charmingly short of ability) that you merely wish that major labels could still be this adventurous. Those days are long gone but, thanks to this fine compilation, far from forgotten.