Monday, 6 September 2010

The music's coming back #2

Here's two albums that changed my view of music. The first is an album that I discovered (or remember) retrospectively, and the second is an interesting one as I bought and sold it almost immediately!

Nursery Cryme 1971 - although I first heard it in 1974.

When I was at school there were several different camps of music listeners, rock and roll (*) or progressive-rock - there were more things than that, but it sums up the basic listening camps. The rock and roll category listened to Hendrix, Free, Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin, Groundhogs, Pink Fairies to name but a few. The intellectual prog rock crowd listened to Monty Python, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson, etc .... and Genesis. I should really add King Crimson's - Starless and Bible Black  to my list (  see later, and funny tale) due to the fact that I took some time to really fall under the spell of Crimson, but when I did. Anyhow, Nursery Cryme was album I heard around 1974 and somehow stayed with me until this day, yet I never owned a copy until a few weeks ago! Strangely enough I remember having this album recommended  to me by by a guy called Hans at my school. He had an excellent album collection, and I often popped by to borrow a few things. He was a few years above me and so had more sophisticated tastes ..... in comparison to my peers.

What struck me so recently about the music is the melodic complexity and tight playing of the band. Each song develops in a very natural way, keeping the listener engaged through the story (lyrics), which if I understand have often interesting hidden meanings (**). But the tunes themselves are all excellent from the opening Musical Box, which is one of the favorites (apparently) of the Genesis fans, all the way through to The Fountain of Salmacis, which somehow evokes King Crimson with the use of the mellotron which was apparently bought from the King Crimson crew. Peter Gabriel was a master of the  of the theatrical, spinning stories which mix Victoriana (such as the cover images at this time showed), Greek myths and 1970's imagery. The Musical Box, is a good example of how the band worked musically, moving between fine instrumental passages - combining Gabriel's flute, imaginative use of guitars, sometimes picked (a la classical), strummed or acoustic sounding - and the excellent use of dynamics. All this is being used to great effect whilst the story is being told by the vocals usually in sections, giving a pseudo classical form - i.e. sections that develop. Of course this method was not only used by Genesis, bands such as King Crimson and Yes among others also used this system of sections, something largely lacking in todays rock and pop music.

Starless and Bible Black - 1974.

King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black  is an excellent example of the two styles - long instrumentals and shorter songs. I remember this as my first introduction to KC, and far too advanced for my 13 year old ears at the time. I'd noticed this album in a local record shop 'Knights', where I wandered past every day to look through the LPs and see if something new took my fancy. This album was pinned up on the wall for show among the other new releases, and somehow it seemed intriguing and mysterious, although I didn't have a clue of what the music sounded like.  I finally bought the album on a whim and took it back to the school placed it on my turntable and blew my mind! That is to say, I didn't like it, it was very advanced for such a young listener as myself. I could relate to a couple of the songs - The Great Deceiver and The Night Watch and was also quite taken with a short track called The Mincer which had an interesting grungy feel at one point, plus a stop start thing with the drums and bass. But overall the two tracks on side 2 were just too much, and somehow I didn't see the point. The music was sophisticated and dense and didn't have recognizable guitar solos (aaahh), and I was listening (***) to more pop oriented music (everyday), so this music was difficult in comparison.

Anyhow, I sold the LP a couple of months later to someone in the school with more sophisticated tastes, yet the sound of the record stayed with me and I often thought about the music which I could hear in my mind. In between time my brother and I bought other Crimson albums which I grew to love. More recently I rediscovered the music in it's pure form on the Great Deceiver and Night Watch live CDs of these concerts. It was here that I realized that much of the music had been improvised and developed at a later stage (****).

(*) = My category due to the people I was hanging around with, although we were really just swapping LPs between us, so we heard everything. I remember hearing the likes of Gentle Giant and Kraftwerk (a great track called 'Ruckzuck') when they first appeared via an album called Suck it and See (a Vertigo Compilation) which we were all mad about.
(**) = Selling England By the Pound being a sly reference to Margaret Thatcher and her policies at that moment in time.
(***) = I was listening to the likes of Roxy Music, Free, Black Sabbath, The Faces/Rod Stewart, Slade, Ashton, Dyke and Gardener and other pop orientated music
(****) = It's interesting to realize how much of Crimson's work was in fact improvised, either completely or re-developed later as on the Starless and Red LPs. It seems that Teo Marcero was not the only one building collages out of live recorded improvisations, King Crimson used this technique on ; Larks Tongues in Aspic (the track of the same name Pt 1 on the album), on Starless and Bible Black - Trio and Fracture and on Red - Starless, just to name the few tracks that I remember. On the Night Watch live CD you'll be amazed to realize you're actually listening to the same tracks that are to be found on the studio albums as much of this material was cut a pasted in to various tracks!


  1. All my youth!!! I remember those albums. A friend of mine (two or three years older than me) often made me discover this music.
    Then I went to find by myself going to the Mediatheque. The first Genesis I bought was Trespass. But the one I like is "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". I read all the rock reviews in Tele Moustique (at the time it was a really good magazine!). So I rented to the Mediatheque Yes, ELP, Tangerine Dream, Procol Harum, Van Der Graf Generator, Soft Machine ...). Now, I bought everything on cd.

    Cheers :-)


  2. Hi Jacques

    Glad to see you also enjoy this type of music also. I love listening to this 'area' of rock music, which is a mix of rock, jazz, classical and in the case of Crimson 'improvised music'. It's funny how jazz only started using odd time signatures in the 80s (as a rule), whereas these guys - Gentle Giant, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Soft Machine etc were grooving in 5/4 and 7/4 way before Steve Coleman came along - no disrespect of course.


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