Various Artists "A Visit To The Spaceship Factory: 20 Gems From The Early Years of Prog"
Nick Saloman steps aside as curator of the Psychic Circle compilation series and hands the reins over to Jamie Romer, who has painstakingly hunted down these 20 previously uncomped ?psycho prog stunners.? His selections hail from the early 70?s, with all the tracks recorded between 1970 and 1973. It opens with the heart pounding, Hammond-driven stomper ?Why Not Tonight? by Treetops. The Hammond?s presence also makes the marginal case for Mousetrap?s one-off single, ?Greenfields,? which is mostly a bluesy workout. However, Deadwood?s ?That Don?t Help Me None? is even more marginal: there?s nothing inherently bad about this hard rocker, featuring some excellent screaming guitar work, but I fail to grasp its progy tendencies, which is where most listeners may vote ?yay? or ?nay? to this collection. If they agree with Romer?s selections (which to my ear tend to focus on the bluesy, hard rock and proto-metal side of things), then this will be a welcome companion to Psychic Circle?s initial foray into the reissue scene, their first Saloman-curated compilation, ?Lovin? Fire.? Others may wish Romer had defined his criteria better so they?d know what to expect. But that?s nitpicking over genre definitions, which, as some wag once suggested is a little like ?dancing about architecture.? So let?s get back to the music itself.
Fuzzy Duck were an obscure early 70?s prog band that featured Mick Hawksworth from Andromeda and cult pop/psychsters, Five Day Week Straw People. ?Just Look Around You? features a great, organ solo from Roy Sharland, who previously played for the ubiquitous Arthur Brown! Jericho evolved out of the cult Israeli psych band, The Churchills, and cut two wonderful albums for A&M in the early 70?s. ?So Come On? is a wonderful, fist-pumping shouter, with throat-shredding vocals and an anthemic chorus that sounds more glitter-and-glamy, sorta like Kiss-meets-Slade! Again, it?s prog aspects are tenuous at best, but I?m glad Romer included it, as it?s the first track in the set that I?m gonna return to again and again! Mouse (not to be confused with the aforementioned Mousetrap) were the project of prolific guitarist, Ray Russell, known primarily for his many TV themes and library albums. ?It?s Happening To Me And You? features his trademark blistering guitar solos with a throbbing, Jethro Tull-styled backing; while Helter Skelter, which grew out of another cult 60?s pop band, The Clique, reminded me quite favorably of Deep Purple on ?I Need You.?
Scotland?s Beggars Opera were always more popular on the continent, having released 7 albums (the last three of which were only issued in Germany). ?Sarabande? (from 1970?s ?Waters Of Change?) bears all the earmarks of European-styled prog, from its elaborate, overly theatrical arrangements with Krautrockian organ solos to its totally over the top screeching vocals. Possibly an early inspiration for heavy metal hair bands that sprung up throughout the 70?s, I hear a lot of the Scorpions whirling around in there! And proving there is life after his ?crazy world? fell down, Arthur Brown?s Kingdom Come end the first half of this set with ?Spirit of Joy,? which highlights his trademark vocal acrobatics over swirling guitar and organ backing. Love him or hate him, there?s no one quite like Mr. Brown, although Alice Cooper comes pretty close on his contemporary albums like ?Love It To Death? and ?Killer.?
Legendary producer Tony Hatch (mostly known for the numerous hits he wrote/produced for Petula Clark) brings his pop sensibilities to Strange Fox?s ?Bring It On Home,? which is highlighted by an emotionally wrought vocal, a catchy chorus and some thrilling organ fills. And Onyx apparently never could settle on a name, having played under the names Rick and The Hayseeds and Salamander in addition to this compilation?s ?Air,? a rather spunky effort for 1971 that is predominantly a snappy instrumental occasionally broken up by some Chipmunky, Queen-like wordless vocal chants. A precursor, perhaps to later progy instros like Focus? ?Hocus Pocus? or Edgar Winter Band?s ?Frankenstein.? Spontaneous Combustion lend the compilation its name with ?Spaceship,? a poppy prog excursion produced by Greg Lake, although surprisingly it doesn?t feature any influences from his work with Crimson or ELP!
UFO may be the most recognizable band here, represented by their brief foray into prog, ?Evil.? It tracks the key elements in prog?s progression from blues into a more metallic arena, as figures in the many blues and heavy metal trappings of many of the tunes Romer has selected for inclusion. Romer admits he doesn?t have much info to share about Sheephouse, yet the flipside of their debut single that he included, ?Ladder,? with its hard driving, catchy melody that presages similar work on Hudson-Ford?s post-Strawbs albums (particularly ?Free Spirit?) suggests they deserved a much better fate. We mentioned Deep Purple earlier and their lead screamer, Ian Gillan produced Pussy?s ?Ska Child.? (It should be noted that this is not the band that released the cult fave, ?Pussy Plays,? but a different Pussy that was previously known as Jerusalem, whose 1972 hard rock album was also produced by Gillan. And I have to return to DP again as the obvious influence to Axe?s ?People Come, People Go,? a one-off single by another unknown band that were heavily influenced by the contemporaneous, ?Machine Head? album. So, if the bluesier and more metallic strands of prog are to your liking, you?re highly recommended to pay a visit to this spaceship factory. 6/10 -- Jeff Penczak (3 October, 2007)