Artist: Consortium 13th Hour, release date 8th February 2010
Artist: ZZebra Zzebra/Panic, release date 8th February 2010
Artist: Medicine Head: Radio Sessions 1971-1977, release date 8th February 2010
Artist: David Byron: Album: Lost & Found Released January 2010
Artist: David Courtney: Album: First Day Released November 2009
Artist: Adam Faith: Album: I Survive Released January 2010
Label: Angel Air Records
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: November 2009 - February 2010
Barring the Consortium cd, These recordings all hail from the past. Mind you, the drum track on 3 cuts of 13th Hour were laid down by drummer John Parker 36 years ago, while the rest of the ensemble recorded 9 years after his death. So they all represent a legacy and reinforce the credentials of Angel Air Records' self appointed status as a heritage label. With two Davids and an Adam, the Angel Air Records heritage mission sounds almost biblical. Best of all, these recordings are true to their genres and their period. Whether you'll like them is entirely a matter of musical taste because the production form matches the performances.
Mint enough to reveal some production decisions that seem a little dated 27 and 33 years after the events of the latter three and clever in the Consortium case, flawless for Zzebra, and classic BBC live capture vitality for Medicine Head with classic BBC EQ for AM on some. These really are heritage products in every sense, except the feeble standard issue cd jewel cases. Given that several companies have managed superior cases (the cd equivalent of the 'better mousetrap') I cannot comprehend why the original flimsy compact cassette style prototype remains in production; its like fitting Austin 7 tyres on a current Golf GTi - even cardboard sleeves are better. Extract the silver discs from their flimsy coffins, press play and only the lack of vinyl swoosh detracts from the 70s experience.
Anyone with an extensive collection of 70s and 80s rock and no awareness of changing taste will simply regard these as top class productions, recorded and transferred to cd immaculately. To criticise would be anachronistic. They haven't been audiophiled with pretentious guff about magic mastering techniques, snake oil, preserved phase integrity (do bass drums suck or blow?) soundfield mics or 24ct gold plating.
Here's a recording challenge: take some 36 year old 16 track 1" analogue tapes (half the track width of the more usual 2" 16 track, so potentially half the data), unplayed in years, retrieve the recordings without trashing the playback heads and shedding all the precious oxide containing the priceless information (requiring careful baking and cooling cycles by archive specialists) and then isolate the drum tacks to rerecord the other parts in 2009. Why go to all that trouble? Drummer John Parker died in 2001 and the rest of the band, on finding these precious recordings were determined to complete their legacy by releasing these recordings in homage to their dead friend. There can be no finer tribute to an old muso than this.
The late John Parker counts the band in on the opening track Where in traditional rock drummer style and the band take off sounding vaguely reminiscent of Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and even Boxer at different times in this 8 track outing (a ninth is just a radio edit of the full length title track). Guest drummer Darren Chrome comes close to matching John's drumming style inviting consistency from bassist Ken Brown. This must've been a fascinating and moving project for the musicians. The one track where the ancient drum track couldn't be isolated from an even earlier 2 track 1/4" demo is obviously much reduced in sound quality, but has the feel of a live track pasted into a studio album and is not the weak track on the album (I'll leave buyers to guess that one). Consortium last charted in the UK in 1969 but only released their 1975 album in 2006 finding belated success as no less than 4 tracks from it have been used in movie soundtracks. The dark title track 13th Hour has already been included in film And Now, due for release later in 2010, closing the album with a superb call and response guitar duet.
On my way to hear my friend's funked up fusion outfit Squib at splendid Nottingham music pub The Hubb I slot the Zzebra CD into the factory fitted player in my car. Immediately I'm transported to delights reminiscent of the best of Return to Forever, Weather Report, Bootsy Collins, Funkadelic etc. For sound quality and production values this hits my spot. The Hubb is an excellent unpretentious venue run by an enthusiastic landlord who works the room and makes everyone welcome, so we had a great night and didn't want to leave after Squib's high energy set featuring flawless new takes on Billy Cobham standards I can't resist. Rarely can I come out from a live gig and play tunes in the car, recordings are usually too pale and insignificant in comparison, but this kept the funky fusion vibe alive all the way home.
Zzebra/Panic is a double cd in this reissue, cd1 the eponymous Zzebra debut plus 3 bonus tracks (OK 1 newbie and 2 remixes), cd2 Panic including 3 bonus tracks of remixes and a live take. The recordings span Zzebra's '72 debut recorded at Esacape Studios in Kent, members comprising former members of Osibisa, Love Affair and If, so subsequent touring with Return to Forever and Soft Machine seemed inevitable, followed by that difficult second album, Panic, recorded in '74 also at Escape, but lsited as '75 and '76 on Angel Air's website.
Regular readers will know my killer test vinyl bass definition LP is The Last Record Album by Little Feat; Zzebra offer Panic as the digital equivalent, John McCoy's bass (later serving in the first Gillan line-up) driving fast and deep with Karrola (2 mixes) and La Si Si-La So So. Panic even features Jeff Beck on previously unreleased bonus version of Put A Light On Me. Both cds are great recordings of technically excellent and enjoyably played funky fusuion, immaculately tyransferred to cd; what more can my system ask?
One And One Is One charted at number 3 in the UK in 1973 and a 1973 BBC live recording appears here from the same year and their other hit single Rising Sun is also here. These recordings span 6 years from '71-'77 and suffer some EQ inconsistency as a consequence. What they don't suffer is any loss of that live atmosphere the BBC have been so effective at capturing. In 1988 Radio 1 moved to FM so all these recordings would have their first airings on AM 247metres Medium Wave! They were one of the few bands to have recorded for John Peel's label Dandelion Records and were championed by him as well as fellow musicians and DJs. Regular readers will know I owe over half my record collection to Peelie's influence who spotted them at Club Lafayette in Wolverhampton where legend has it they hadn't even been booked to play, and where years later I vaguely recall I walked out of a Pistols gig there.
"The old scribe's nailing his colours to the mast today!" observe plebs, stage left.
Indeed this old hippie music is right up my street and I dearly wish I'd seen them live myself. However there's every chance that your teenage scribe actually heard the roiginal broadcasts on the BBC, intruduced by whispering Bob or Peelie. Having critiqued the original EQ, I have to praise the transfer for preserving the unique charatcter of this duo fronted band, that ES330 and Vox combo sounding much as my mate's 330 through his Tweed which is as good a compliment as a music fan can pay to a recording. A "rare treat" as Peelie called them.
Most recent of the three solo cds sounds like it could have been recorded earlier. The former front man for prog rockers Uriah Heap, David Byron was embarking on a solo career when he died from the allegedly alcohol related illnesses, epilepsy and/or liver and/or heart disease (different reports offer different versions). Whichever is true, it's very rock'n'roll.
Recorded '80-'82, released in 1983 and 2003 and rereleased at the tail end of the noughties, Lost & Found does reclaim Byron's Uriah Heap capacity for vocal dynamics and rock sensibilities, the usual themes of liquor, love and lust dominate these songs by Byron & co-writer Robin George, who also features on guitar. You'll remember Robin George is one third of Damage Control, whose cd RAW was recently reviewed here.
Courtney shared not only a hairstyle with his 70's protegé Leo Sayer but elements of songwriting and performance style too. However, before we can get to the songs we must endure an over the top overture more suited to a Broadway musical. It is followed by a selection of tracks that wouldn't have been out of place in the UK singles Top 20 in the early 70s. Courtney's chameleon production abilities render some tracks convincing homage to Phil Spector at his best and others that would have scored high chart positions had he fronted them with pretty boy bands in '72. However, as well as co-producing Adam Faith's cd on this page, David Courtney and Robin George put together these slick pop gems.
There is some superb playing by session players who are well known and established in their own right. No expense has been spared with lavish budgets for studio time, armies of excellent musicians from individuals to an orchestra on David Courtney's opus. The artist and the photographer were flown to Lanzarote for the cover shot; how come just a few years later after the punk revolution my music photography bookings were more like the sweaty box of CBGBs on the Bowery and my expense account amounted to a bar tab - in credit crunch 2010 I'm envious of those early 70s values! The music, for all its competence missed its opportunity and sounds too much like dated pop, which seems innappropriately too harsh 35 years later.
This 1974 return to the studio by crooner turned thespian saw the 34 year old in the capable production hands of the aforementioned Dave Courtney. The material will appeal to those who had aged more than their their teen idol, being more gentler and more sentimental in nature, some being concerned with mortlity. The lyrics concern issues of more concern to mature listeners than teenage eyes meeting accross an early 50s esspresso bar. There are a couple of bewildering moments of production lapse when the reverb machine was inadvertantly left switched to large underground public toilet acoustic setting for the response in a call-&-response. While the crash knocked out the power and energy of Adam's tennage voice (on hits like What Do You Want and Someone Else's Baby, it is replaced by a wistful quality way beyond his 34 years and to 2010 ears it is still better than some being touted today by the major record companies and reality shows.
Adam Faith's respect for theatre, musicals and stagecraft become evident at moments is less Buddy Holly inspired rock&roll and more Alfie. Not once does he indulge in his 50s emphatic pronounciation of "bey-beh" at the start of a string of chart hits that petered out in '66.
Adam Faith died in 2003, his notorious final words "Channel 5 [TV], it's all shit, isn't it? Christ, the crap they put on there. It's a waste of space" being better than any pretentious pseudo-poignant cr*p and worthy of a working class hero. This 1974 outing at the time he co-managed Leo Sayer with David Courtney, who Produced I Survive, was aptly titled after his TV acting career (Budgie) was interrupted by a serious motor accident in which he nearly lost a leg. It coincided with his appearance as a manipulative impressario in the hit 1974 movie Stardust so he was busy relaunching two careers at once. Three, as it happens, because earlier forays into financial management led to financial journalism too; maybe being injured so seriously left him feeling he had to prove himself too much. That he concentrated on other avenues demonstrates his astuteness. This is as unlikely to attract any new fans now as it was in '74, but that's not the point of Angel Air. This is competent stuff and if your thing is well crafted songs and you still have a soft spot for Adam Faith it'll hit the spot for completists.
If your heart is in a genre as represented by these 70s style outings then you won't be disappointed, but they're not going to attract new audiences. Whether it's Adam faith's latterday wistful peaen to survival after trauma or ultra-tight fusion coursing through a high energy funk set list the Angel Air commitment to heriatage recordings works. The genre choice is a matter of taste but the production decisions epitomise form following function.
The last three are re-releases spanning the decade from Adam Faith's '74 comeback and David Courtney's '74 solo debut recordings through to David Byron's 1983 swansong, and mainly of interest to completists and collectors.
"Why is the old fool droning on about these 6 cds?" complain plebs, stage left.
The only rational reason to own audio high resolution systems is to play music. The generation most likely to be interested in real stereo and wish to buy cds, probably cut their teeth on 70s, 80s and 90s music so these forgotten recordings re-released are just what they might be listening for.
Consortium 13th Hour, release date 8th February 2010
© 2010 Mark Wheeler - www.tnt-audio.com