U.K. Prog, Volume 10: 1972b Space Is Deep (Notes)

This is the second and final volume covering 1972.

Download the mix here.

1. Kingdom Come: Time Captives 8:18 

From the Polydor LP Journey

After the demise of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the band’s leader established Kingdom Come—we heard from them back on Volume Seven, which covered 1971. Just a year later, the band’s sound was almost completely different. Drummer Martin Steer had left after the band’s second album, and rather than replace, the band picked up a Bentley Rhythm Ace drum machine—I have read but can’t confirm that Journey was the first rock album on which all of the drums were handled by a machine. The drum machine was only part of it, though—new keyboardist Victor Peraino abandoned the heavy organ sound that had characterized Brown’s music to that point in favor of Mellotron, VCS3, and the Arp 2600, which gets a major showcase on the album’s opener. The sound the band produced here was strikingly forward-looking, and, truth be told, more of a piece with what was going on in Germany at the time than anything else happening in British prog. I think it’s aged amazingly well.

2. Stackridge: Purple Spaceships Over Yatton 6:40 

From the b-side of MCA MKS-5091

Stackridge were, by and large, not among my favorite bands usually included in surveys of British progressive rock. Their Friendliness LP is as much a prototype for soft rock as anything else, but delivered in a way that evades the earnest charm of a lot of soft rock. This b-side, though, takes that sound to some interesting places, particularly in the Holst-y orchestral mid-section, where the band comes back in after the fake-out ending. Yatton is a small town in Somerset not far from Bristol, which was the band’s home—I suppose listening to this, you can hear a narrative thrust running through the instrumental, weird that passage is the spaceships landing or blasting things with laser beams. This group offers an intriguing example of the way popular memory selects what endures—today, they’re considered a pretty obscure group, but in 1970, they were a big deal. They closed that year’s Glastonbury Festival, Renaissance opened for them, and George Martin produced their third album a couple years after that. For some reason, they didn’t stick, though, and lost out in the popular memory sweepstakes.

3. Matching Mole: Instant Kitten 4:59 

From the CBS LP Matching Mole

Robert Wyatt made four albums with Soft Machine, but parted ways with the group in 1971 over artistic differences. He dubbed the new band he started Matching Mole after the French phrase machine molle, which means soft machine. This band continued in much the same vein as the early Soft Machine albums, playing somewhat free-form instrumental rock, but where Soft Machine went fully into jazz-rock, Matching Mole stuck to knotty post-psych. The band was sticked with canterbury regulars, including Caravan’s Dave Sinclair and guitarist Phil Miller, previously of Delivery and later of Caravan, Hatfield & the North and National Health, among others. In 1973, Wyatt was in the early stages of planning a third Matching Mole album when he fell out a window and was paralyzed from the waist down. We’ll visit his early solo career a few volumes from now.

4. Hawkwind: Space Is Deep 6:23 

From the United Artists LP Doremi Fasol Latido

We first heard Hawkwind back on Volume Six, and one thing I noted then and will repeat now is that the band’s peculiar brand of psychedelic jamming didn’t really fit the UK prog mold, having more in common with Germany’s kosmische rock bands (more often referred to as krautrock). “Space Is Deep” tempers the band’s one-chord jamming a bit by couching it inside a rather taut, acoustic song. The brief drone-jam in the middle showcases the band’s then-new rhythm section of drummer Simon King and bassist Lemmy Kilmister, the latter of whom would one day found the early metal band Mötörhead. This is still Dave Brock’s show, though, and it’s his guitar that frames the heavy psychedelics and gives them form while Dik Mik and Del Dettmar use their synthesizers and noise generators to create atmospheric sounds.

5. Khan: Space Shanty (including the Cobalt Sequence and March of the Sine Squadrons) 9:00 

From the Deram LP Space Shanty

OK, so this volume has been pretty spaced-out and relatively chaotic so far. Here’s where that changes. Khan was a one-album band that found its way past the atmosphere in an entirely different manner to Hawkwind, and “Space Shanty” is their wildest ride. The instrumental passage that begins after three minutes (one presumes that this might be the “Cobalt Sequence” referred to in the parenthetical title) whips through one crazy solo after another, with Dave Stewart switching between an array of keyboards. That’s the same Dave Stewart we’ve heard in Egg and Arzachel, and will later hear in National Health and Hatfield & the North, and he was joined by a couple other guys with a lot of connections. Steve Hillage had a very successful solo career in the late 70s after stints with this band, Gong, and System Seven, and bassist Nick Greenwood had played with Arthur Brown, while original drummer Pip Pyle, who didn’t play on the album, was in Gong, Delivery, Hatfield and National Health.

This might all sound like cataloging or name-droppng, but I think this kind of exchange and fluidity is one of the things that contributed to the health and longevity of the UK’s progressive rock scene. Whereas in the United States prog bands tended to work in isolation and disappear completely when they split, in the UK, and particularly in southern England, your band splitting often meant you just joined another band. People knew each other and grew together as musicians, collaborating at multiple points in their careers, and it made a difference to the music.

6. Bram Stoker: Fast Decay 3:46 

From the Windmill LP Heavy Rock Spectacular

Bram Stoker is an odd case, but one that demonstrates just how important progressive rock was to the British music industry in 1972. They were a manufactured band, studio cats brought together to make a progressive rock album, because if you were trying to sell a rock album in 1972, a heavy prog record would be likely to accomplish your goal. Indeed, Windmill Records was owned by Woolworth’s, and most of the label’s other releases were things like The Beatles’ Golden Songs by the Studio Five Orchestra Singers and Chorus and various artist Parade of Pops sets. And really, everything about this is generic, from the fact that no musicians are credited apart from composer “T. Brodson,” to the album title, to the quick quasi-classical flights on the organ, to the project’s attempt to gain a bit of edge by naming itself for the author of Dracula. Funny thing about coat-tail riding projects like this: their attempts to ride someone else’s waves can wind up generating a compelling energy of their own, and while “Fast Decay” isn’t innovative, it’s engaging and entertaining in its own right. The cash-in attempt failed, though—Heavy Rock Spectacular is actually a pretty rare find these days.

7. CMU: Archway 272 6:19 

From the Transatlantic LP Space Cabaret

CMU stands for Contemporary Music Unit, and while that certainly sounds like it could be the recipe for another Bram Stoker-style attempt at a cash-in, it wasn’t. The first CMU album, released in 1971, was a latter-day psych record, but for their second and final album, the band’s lineup changed considerably, with Leary Hasson’s keyboards assuming a dominant role in the band’s sound. Guitarist/vocalist Lorraine Odell was a rarity in British prog, a female instrumentalist working in an overwhelmingly male-dominated form. She shared lead vocals with Richard Joseph, and their joint singing on the chorus creates a memorable hook to hang the song’s jazz-inflected verses on. Hasson (formerly of Marsupilami) mixes Rhodes and Mellotron, and the pairing is so natural it’s a wonder more bands didn’t hit upon it. Never stable, CMU broke up soon after this album, and as far as I know, drummer Roger Odell was the only one to have any kind of high-profile musical career, joining smooth jazz/funk act Shakatak in 1980.

8. Gentle Giant: A Cry for Everyone 4:06

From the Vertigo LP Octopus

This is one of Gentle Giant’s most straightforward rockers, from the band’s heaviest rock album, but even it has the jump cuts, knotty passages and strangely syncopated melodies that were the band’s trademarks. Kerry Minnear’s very brief synth lead in the instrumental midsection is perhaps the strangest detail in a song jam-packed with oddball details, but I think that overall, this song shows the band coming to grips with how to make their incredibly heady mix of styles more direct and accessible and succeeding. This album had one of Roger Dean’s cooler mid-70s album covers, featuring a particularly sinister-looking octopus—oddly, it was replaced with a much less striking image on the North American issues of the album.

9. Man: Keep on Crinting 8:18 

From the United Artists LP Be Good to Yourself at Least Once a Day

Man was a quintet from South Wales that embraced a spacey, jam-oriented prog style built around synthesizer leads that at the time must have sounded completely out of this world. Here, they’re handed by Phil Ryan, who was new to the band. Like plenty of its contemporaries, Man was a bit of a revolving door. Guitarist Clive John was in the midst of his second stint with the band on this album, while guitarist Deke Leonard was temporarily out of the band (not the only time he’d leave). “Keep on Crinting” is one of the band’s signature jams, with very little in the way of composed melodies; their songs tended to be pretty open-ended, and when played live would stretch out to twice their studio lengths. I’m a little shaky on the meaning of the word “crinting.” I assume it’s Welsh slang (the word appears in Aussie slang); otherwise, the definition I’m most familiar with is a type of woven bamboo fence made in rural Kenyan villages—I’m just guessing this isn’t what the band had in mind.

10. Curved Air: Cheetah 3:31

From the Warner Brothers LP Phantasmagoria

Curved Air was coming apart at the seams as it recorded its third album, which would be the last one made by the band in its original configuration. Violinist Darryl Way and keyboardist Francis Monkman was at odds over what direction the band’s music should take, with Way on the side of tightly controlled compositions and Monkman more interested in experimentation and open structures. The band even split the album between the two, with Way dominating side one and Monkman side two. “Cheetah” is a concise instrumental from Way’s side; he’d leave the band soon after recording to form Wolf. Vocalist Sonja Kristina revived the band without Way or Monkman, and with a much more rock-oriented sound—this version of the band was the first prominent group to feature violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson, who would go on to play in a parade of major bands, including Roxy Music, UK, Jethro Tull, and Frank Zappa’s band. That version of Curved Air didn’t last, either, and Way and Monkman both came back—this reconstituted Curved Air briefly featured a pre-Police Stewart Copeland on drums.

11. Diabolus: Three Piece Suite 7:11

From the Bellaphon LP Diabolus

Diabolus is a true lost gem of the British progressive rock scene; their only album features an original and very nicely realized jazz/symphonic sound laced with sax and flute and full of strong compositions. The fact their record label deemed the record uncommercial and refused to release it in 1972 beggars belief, really. The band broke up and came back for a time under the name Sunfly. What they didn’t know was that in Germany, a label called Bellaphon had illegally released their album, having somehow got hold of the tapes and knowing a good thing when they heard it. So this band finds itself thrust into this conversation through the back door, their excellent, sole album entirely worth tracking down. “Three Piece Suite” uses the same punning title as several other progressive rock songs, but the band justifies the title by actually delivering a series of well-constructed and highly memorable mini-songs strung together into one truly excellent epic. This band deserved to have its music heard the first time around, and it certainly deserved better than to have it released overseas behind their backs.

12. Nektar: Desolation Valley 5:16 

From the United Artists LP A Tab in the Ocean

Nektar is often included in discussions of German progressive rock, as it was formed in Hamburg by English musicians, and their sound does indeed fall somewhere between the symphonic tendencies of British prog and the more abstract, psychedelic sound of the early 70s German rock scene, with not a little debt to Pink Floyd. Side One of the band’s second LP was entirely given over to the title track; “Desolation Valley” opens Side Two, which also flows seamlessly from track to track, though on this side, the songs aren’t clearly related. Derek Moore’s bass line in particular stands out on the intro, but the whole band gels well as the song slips into its subdued jazz-psych verses. A couple years later, the band scored a hit with its Remember the Future concept album about a blind boy who communicates with aliens (British bands liked their concept albums about blind kids with extraordinary powers).

13. Flash: Children of the Universe 8:57 

From the Sovereign LP Flash

After guitarist Peter Banks parted with Yes, he formed Flash with vocalist Colin Carter, bassist Ray Bennett and drummer Mike Hough. Keyboardist Tony Kaye, who had also recently departed Yes, played on the band’s first album but declined to join, founding his own band, Badger, instead (more on them on Volume Twelve). The band’s debut yielded a small hit on both sides of the Atlantic in the form of “Small Beginnings,” but that was really it for the band on the charts, though they managed three albums before Banks went solo. “Children of the Universe” is one of the band’s most ambitious prog cuts, and reflects some of Yes’ early style, particularly in the sudden shift to a much harder instrumental passage just before the five minute mark. Capitol Records (which owned Sovereign) probably hoped that Flash’s star would rise in tandem with Yes’, but ultimately the band just wasn’t as distinctive or powerful as the band Yes became.

14. Jackson Heights: Catch a Thief 4:50 

From the Vertigo LP Ragamuffins Fool

Speaking of guys that got left behind by former colleagues, when Keith Emerson left The Nice to form Emerson Lake & Palmer (amicably, it should be noted—Emerson even loaned his keyboards to Jackson on occasion), bassist Lee Jackson and drummer Brian Davison each started his own group, too. Davison’s Every Which Way stalled after one album, but Jackson’s Jackson Heights, which he built around keyboardist/composer Brian Chatton, made four albums, the best of which was their third, Ragamuffins Fool. King Crimson’s Michael Giles joined the band on drums for their final three albums, making this among the highest-profile bands to sign to Vertigo. “Catch A Thief” finds them at their most dynamic, with Chatton’s piano and Giles’ highly creative drumming putting a serious rhythmic charge into Jackson’s surging late psych tune. Jackson Heights ran its course with its next album, as Jackson left to reunite with Davison in Refugee, a keys/bass/drums outfit in the mold of The Nice that only managed one album.