A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Well now, lads and lasses, 'tis St. Paddy's Day in all it's gray and breezy glory (at least where I am)--I had a night of imbibing in the spirits and avoiding the Banshee's call and woke up this morning a bit worse for the wear..but it's almost evening now and I've recovered. I'll pick up where I left off....
I now have a copy (in the form of a Japanese mini-LP disc) of Tom Newman's Fearie Symphony, originally released by Decca Records in 1977. It's interesting that this album was even considered for release that year--what with punk on the rise and the ould progressive guard trying desparately to hold on, but often shooting themselves in the feet by foisting double and triple-record sets onto the record-buying public (ELP's Works--Vol. 1, Genesis' double-live Seconds Out). Tom Newman was a founding member of the British psychedelic outfit July, who released quite a classic album of the genre in 1968, only to be met with looming indifference. The band split in 1969 and Jon Field, the drummer in July and Tony Duhig, the lead guitarist, formed Jade Warrior, an Eastern-influenced prog rock band. Newman somehow hooked up with Richard Branson, a hippie-capitalist with big dreams of running a record label (and soon formed Virgin Records). Branson purchased an old mansion and converted it into Manor Studios, where Newman became his "in-house" producer/engineer. They weren't having much luck until a kid named Mike Oldfield played his demo tape of instrumental music he had been experimenting with (after he borrowed Kevin Ayers' 4-track tape recorder) for Branson. Intrigued, Branson set Oldfield up in Manor Studios with Newman, and they re-created Oldfield's demo tapes in the 24-track format..mixed it down..and it became Tubular Bells, one of progressive rock's crowning achievements. A snippet was used in the Exorcist soundtrack and nearly overnight, Oldfield was a prog superstar. Newman produced Oldfield's follow-up, Hergest Ridge, in 1974..but that didn't fare as well, with some critics dubbing it "Tubular Bells 2" or "Son Of Tubular Bells"..on a personal level, I prefer "Hergest.." to "Tubular Bells"...I think the melodies are more developed and the "guitar thunderstorm" sequence has no equal on "Tubular.." Tom tried his hand at making a solo album in 1975, called Fine Old Tom..a collection of pop-prog tracks. He didn't offer much in 1976, either production-wise or album-wise, but he returned in '77 with "Faerie Symphony" and it's not too far off to call it "Gaelic progressive" or even a prototype of Irish New Age, at least on some tracks..not that you can hold Newman responsible for Enya, but I do wonder if she owned a copy of this on vinyl. It's virtually all instrumental and Tom plays most of the instruments, aside from a mini-July reunion with Jon Field playing flutes and whistles on a lot of the tracks. It's an excellent record and sort-of a "concept" album about the Faerie folk..almost a 'journey' through their land, if you will. There are also some great Oldfield-like guitar flourishes on a couple of pieces, though Mike isn't credited, I'm sure it's him guesting--either that or Tom (a guitar-player himself) picked up a lot producing Oldfield's first two albums. I played this at the party I attended last night and it fit the mood perfectly. The cover is a cool, colorful painting/drawing by legendary Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick, of a faerie girl in the moonlight--the inside art is the exact same drawing, only it's a morning scene and no faerie girl. I think the original intention was that you could fold the album cover to have whichever one you wanted as the outer image--pretty clever, Jim.
The other obscure gem I got recently is Marjory Razorblade, by Kevin Coyne. Coyne is considered an English artist, but I believe he was born in Eire and moved to England in his teens. He worked as a social counselor in a psychiatric hospital and the various personalities he met inspired him to write songs about them and the nature of "insanity", which he was fascinated by. He fronted a band (which I can't recall the name of at the moment--it's in the Tapestry Of Delights)...but decided on a solo venture and the band split. He gathered a few musician friends around, and cut "Marjory.." in 1973. The production is sparse, though not necessarily lo-fi...with Coyne on acoustic and electric guitars and vocals...a bass player and some sporadic Hammond organ by another friend. The record starts with the title track, sung a capella in an eerie pinched nasal voice by Coyne, it's very weird the first time you hear it, but gets better with repeated listenings. Coyne's voice is like a slightly higher-pitched, more nasal Van Morrison...or try to imagine Morrison with a flu and you're close to Coyne's singing. The next tune, Marlene, sounds like a Morrison out-take, with jaunty guitars and a great beat...but this was '73 and Coyne's stuff is the stripped-down essence of Morrison in his Them days, not the Van Morrison in 1973, releasing mystical hoo-hah like Hard Nose The Highway and Veedon Fleece, which bordered on self-parody. Coyne's lyrics are far more social commentating also--like his biting Eastbourne Ladies or Old Soldier..or they are inquiring on the nature of relationships, like Talking To No-One. This was a 2-record set when released, so the CD-reissue includes the entire work, along with Coyne's October '73 single, Lovesick Fool b/w his cover of the 60s R&B standard, Sea Of Love. Virgin re-issued most of Coyne's 70s catalog in the early 90s, and I believe most of them are out-of-print now--but he did release a "comeback" album in 1999, called Sugar Candy Taxi. "Marjory Razorblade" is a difficult album to appreciate at first, but like all true classics, will hit you later on with it's particular/peculiar charm..this man is a genuine cult artist but a brilliant one at that...