Reviews – Esoteric Reissue Round Up – Hawkwind, Atomic Rooster & Curved Air – By James R Turner

There have been plenty of reissue of classic rock and progressive albums hitting the desk here at the Bristol branch of Progradar recently, so, without further ado (and in the sense of catching up after having moved house and had no wi-fi for over a month) let me draw your attention to a few that those nice people at Esoteric have been kind enough to send for our perusal and enjoyment.

Hawkwind – The Emergency Broadcast Years: 1994-1997

First up they continue their collection of clamshell boxes collecting classic remastered Hawkwind Albums, The Emergency Broadcast Years 1994-1997 (ATOMCD51044), the latest in a fantastic budget series gives you the opportunity to grab 4 albums released in the mid 90’s where the line up had coalesced around the ever present Dave Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick, and the first two in the box 1994’s ‘The Business Trip Live’ and ‘Alien 4’ showcase the best this tightly honed trio could achieve.

Does the world need another Hawkwind live album? was the question back in 1994, and the answer, undoubtedly was yes, the fact that the line up has been so fluid over the bands history has meant that each new line up, and musician who has stepped aboard the good ship Hawkwind has brought something new to the party, and so the three piece line up that brought us the brilliant ‘It is the Business of the Future to be Dangerous’, get to show us how tight they were on stage as they blitzed their way through a set full of classics like Quark, Strangeness and Charm, Void of Golden Light and Wastelands mingled with newer material like This Future, LSD and Berlin Axis and show how they could reinterpret classics with style and aplomb.

1995’s studio album ‘Alien 4’ with it’s overarching theme of alien lifeforms seemed to chime with popular culture at the time (this was the era of the original X-Files after all) and sees the band, augmented by guitarist Jeremy Richards, pull together one of their finest latter day concept albums, mixing a wonderful re-working of Death Trap with new future classics like Beam Me Up and the 7 minute plus Alien (I am). It shows the band giving it all and finding new ground, even as they released this, their 20th studio album.

‘Love in Space’, another live album from 1996, this time a mighty double, sees Ron Tree joining the band as vocalist and taking some of the heavy lifting from Dave Brock and Alan Davey. The band run through a set that cherry picks the majority from the ‘Alien 4’ album with some classics like Silver Machine and a blinding version of Assassins/Space is their Palestine. Hawkwind have always been a fantastic live band who put out some cracking studio albums and the joys of these live albums, despite them only being a couple of years apart is that the interpretations of some of the same songs are so different and that is what makes it worthwhile.

Finally, from 1997 is ‘Distant Horizons’ which sees Jeremy Richards on board as a full-time member, his guitar fleshing out the distinctive sound, whilst Alan Davey left, with Ron Tree picking up the bass. Again, this is classic modern Hawkwind with some great tracks on here like the opening title track and Clouded Vision leading into the epic Reptoid Vision.

5 great discs in a clamshell box at budget price shining a light into a lesser known quarter of the Hawkwind universe, this collection is great for anyone who’s after the music and interested in discovering albums they haven’t heard before.

Hawkwind: The Emergency Broadcast Years 1994 – 1997, 5CD Remastered Clamshell BoxsetHawkwind

Atomic Rooster – Sleeping For Years: The Studio Recordings 1970-1974

In another box and from another time comes ‘Sleeping for Years by Atomic Rooster, the studio recordings 1970-1974 (ECLEC42612)’, across these four discs are the complete output of British blues rockers Atomic Rooster. My only slight niggle is that they’ve shoehorned 5 albums across 4 discs, meaning you have to change discs to hear 1971’s ‘In Hearing Of…’ in it’s entirety. But that’s a mere quibble.

As you probably know judging from the releases they have lined up, Esoteric are the Classic Rock reissue label du jour, and with the care that’s gone into this package, great remastered sound, fantastic sleeve notes from Malcolm Dome (& contributions from the members of the band) this is a fantastic collection that pulls together the whole gamut of Atomic Rooster’s output.

You may know the band for their hit singles Tomorrow Night and Devils Answer, two stone cold classic hits from the early 70’s, but there’s far more going on here that that.

Like so many bands from this era the line up was always in a state of flux, the one constant being the powerful and driving Hammond Organ and piano playing (& latterly vocals) from founder and former Crazy World of Arthur Brown member Vincent Crane.

Whilst Atomic Rooster was his vision, the list of musicians that ran through the ranks looks like a whose who of 70’s rock, with the self-titled debut album from 1970 featuring the talents of Carl Palmer on drums and Nick Graham on bass, vocals and flute, with songs like Friday 13th, Decline and Fall and Before Tomorrow, it’s a superb slice of 1970, the performances exemplary and the distinctive mix of blues, rock and Crane’s Hammond work, make this a very satisfying album indeed, and as is obligatory the album is rounded up with versions from the American album that differ slightly in that John Cann was involved in reworking, and it provides an interesting counterpoint to the originals.

Moving forward, and with Crane needing to assemble a new line up due to Carl leaving for ELP, and Graham being edged out in favour John Cann as a guitarist and replacement drummer Paul Hammond, the band’s sound evolved on ‘Death Walks Behind You’ (again 1970), if nothing else you have to admire the creativity and determination of bands who could release two albums of this quality in the same year, with two different line ups, that wouldn’t happen in this day and age. With the single Tomorrow Night nestling alongside the powerful title track and tracks like Sleeping for Years, it was clear the Rooster wasn’t missing its founder members, as this groove and style propelled the band to number 6 in the charts, with the non-album track Devils Answer here as a bonus on the 2nd disc.

For 1971’s ‘In Hearing of…’ the trio became a quartet as Vincent wanted Pete French in on vocals (& an interesting alternative is a version of Devils Answer with Pete on vocals), this freed up Cann on guitarand the resulting album is a superb piece of heavy rock,

With Vincent’s song writing dominating the band, he takes the lead vocal on the intensely personal Black Snake, a song about his mental struggles that would ultimately lead him to take his own life in the late 80’s.

Other tracks like the superb Decision/Indecision and Head in the Sky showcase how Atomic Rooster took the power trio sound and moved it on, Vincent Crane deserves to be recognised as one of the keyboard players of the 1970’s prog/rock movement, and like the work Jon Lord was doing with Deep Purple, he has a distinctive sound, so you know that you are listening to Atomic Rooster.

It would have been nice for this set to have included some live tracks to get a feel for how they translated to the stage, but you can’t have everything.

By 1972 the line-up had fractured again, and ‘Made in England’ featured the vocal talent of Chris Farlowe, fresh out of Colosseum who had split up earlier that year, with his bluesier vocal sound seeing the band moving in a more bluesy direction. This encapsulated the musical experimentation that runs throughout this set, with new guitarist Steve Bolton and Ric Parnell on drums completing this line up. Again, there is plenty of darker edges with songs like all in Satan’s Name for instance, but when you have a vocalist like Chris Farlowe on board, the band step up, and this has some superb musical moments, although other parts of the album sound like a new line up finding its feet.

By the last Atomic Rooster album of the 70’s, 1973’s ‘Nice ‘n’ Greasy’, Bolton has moved on, replaced by Johnny Mandala, and their musical feet had been well and truly found, with a re-working of the debut albums track Friday 13th, retitled as Save Me (with a vocal tour de force Farlowe is renowned for) and Farlowes’ personal favourite Can’t find a Reason, which again showcases not only Farlowe’s powerful voice, but also Crane’s superb keyboard work. This, when you look at the mighty informative booklet, is one of those wonderful records that are let down by a godawful sleeve (a cigarette stubbed out in a fried egg, lovely) despite an odd single, included here at the end by Vincent with a group of session musicians, ‘Nice ‘n’ Greasy’ was the bands last gasp in the 1970’s.

This is a fantastic collection that showcases the evolution in sound throughout the early part of the 1970’s and the ethos that bands like Atomic Rooster had, in that anything musically was possible, and so they did what felt right.

Sleeping For Years – The Studio Recordings 1970-1974: 4CD Clamshell Box SetAtomic Rooster

Curved Air – Air Conditioning (1970) and Air Cut (1973)

Towards the end of last year, it was announced that Esoteric had picked up the rights to part of the vast Warner Music back catalogue, and the first fruits of this (with plenty of really exciting re-issues including Barclay James Harvest, Be-Bop Deluxe and Chris Squire coming soon) are the remasters of the Curved Air back catalogue from the early 1970’s. Starting with the first and last albums released by the band in it’s first run we get the album where it all started 1970’s ‘Air Conditioning’, and 1973’s ‘Air Cut’.

Formed out of the ashes of the band Sisyphus formed by Darryl Way and Francis Monkman (who later went on to form Darryl Way’s Wolves and Sky respectively) the band was completed by Rob Martin on bass and Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums, with the pre-eminent female prog vocalist of the 1970’s, the sublime and incredibly influential Sonja Kristina upfront.

The melting pot of Way’s violin, Monkman’s guitar and keyboard sounds, Sonja’s voice and the bands compositional and musical chops made them a massive live draw, and a record signing to Warner Brothers, championed by John Peel and the novelty of the debut album released on picture disc (the first in the UK) which is all well and good but the biggest question is how good is it?

As a record that is rightly described as ‘influential’ and ‘ground-breaking’ presented here in a double disc set, with a collection of alternative takes, single’s A&B sides and contemporary BBC live performances, this is the definitive edition of one of the definitive albums of 1970.

From the opener It Happened Today the band set out their stall, with the duelling violin of Way and keyboard pf Monkman providing a driving sound for the sensual and quite frankly amazing vocals of Kristina to weave her magic over the album. With strong compositional skills across the band and intelligent lyrics, this album also had the benefit of being honed on the road, so by the time it was recorded, it is a practically perfect debut album.

With Way’s mix of classical and rock comes the albums defining instrumental Vivaldi, which is still as stirring and powerful now as it was then, and in musical twist they revisited it at the end with Vivaldi with Cannons where Monkman and Way give the track and tweak and kick.

Tracks like Hide and Seek and Blind Man showcase Sonja’s amazing vocals skills, and it’s no wonder with the band this honed and tracks these refined and powerful, that ‘Air Conditioning’ was such an influential and successful album.

By 1973, the only remaining founder member was Sonja Kristina and she was joined by Mike Wedgewood on bass, the only remnants of the band that had made the third album ‘Phantasmagoria’. Unphased at having to put together a new band, they recruited the young Eddie Jobson whose electric violin playing, and keyboard skills could replace both Monkman and Way in the band, getting Kirby Gregory in on guitar and vocals and Jim Russell on drums. The result was 1973’s ‘Air Cut’, the bands fourth album, and the difference between the two is obvious. Hung together by the vocals of Kristina, this is undoubtedly Curved Air, but a very different beast with a different guitarist in the band and the skills of Jobson, the band push the boundaries and add a lot more of a rocking element.

Losing Way’s improvisational skills and Monkmans precision could have damaged the band, and whilst it didn’t, it’s very clear the compositional style is very different, from the rock tinged opening The Purple Speed Queen followed by the pared down Elfin Boy, where the star of the show is Sonja’s vocals.

This is 1973, so there’s an obligatory prog epic, Metamorphosis which makes the most use of Eddie Jobson’s keyboard and piano skills, this is more him than Sonja and listening to how adept he is, and how he weaves mood changes and soundscapes out of his instruments, it’s astonishing to believe he was only 17.

This is a truly democratic album, with all members contributing to the song writing, it certainly sounds fresh and vibrant, and showed how the band had been rebuilt. The energy that 19yr old Gregory and 17yr old Jobson brought adds so much to the album, from the epic Metamorphosis to Mike Wedgewood’s bluesy World and the violin driven Armin, where Jobson puts his musical stamp all over it.

The closing Easy encapsulates the power of this line up, and the beauty and grace in Sonja’s voice, and is a satisfyingly wonderful conclusion to this album, one which seemed to pass fans by at the time yet has so much to offer the listener.

A great set of reissues from Esoteric, and I am looking forward to the next batch of Curved Air remasters.

Air Conditioning: 2CD Remastered & Expanded EditionCurved Air

Air Cut: Newly Remastered Official EditionCurved Air

 

 

 

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