October 12th, 2013
So I haven’t been blogging or been much online this week, mostly because my brain turned to snot early in the week due to a heavy cold and I haven’t been able to concentrate on much ever since. I’m now finally getting somewhat better but it has been horrendous. But never mind all that, let’s look at a prog rock classic that turned forty this year, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which he created almost singlehandedly, playing every instrument on the record. For the BBC performance of side A, which online sources say was broadcast in 1973, the BBC says was done in 1974 and IMDB gives as 1975, for Mervyn Bragg’s 2nd House artshow, he assembled a group of friends to help him with doing it live:
Apart from himself (bass and acoustic guitar) and his brother Jerry (flute), that group of friends turned out to consist of about half the people involved with the Canterbury Scene, a loose grouping of prog rock/jazz fusion/avant garde/downright weird bands from around there.
So for example Fred Frith (guitar), John Greaves (Keyboards & bass), Tim Hodgkinson (keyboards) and Geoff Leigh (flute) were all members of Henry Cow, one of the more hardcore avantgarde bands (loosely) connected to the Canterbury scene, who’d later temporarily fused with German-English avant-pop band Slapp Happy for some even more abstract albums.
Then there’s Steve Hillage (guitar), who started off in Uriel, moved on to Khan, but is best known for being part of the classic lineup of Gong, one of the key Canterbury bands and was present for the recordings of the Radio Gnome trilogy of albums (Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You). After Gong he went solo, moving from prog rock into more ambient music, providing an inspiration to e.g The Orb, which in turn inspired Hillage to form his own electronic dance act, System 7, in the early 1990s.
Another Gongster, Pierre Moerlen (percussion), was their drummer and after the classic lineup had imploded in 74-75, became its leader. That incarnation of the band was also known as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, which released several albums of jazz fusion inspired music. Sadly Moerlen died in 2005.
Then there’s Mike Ratledge (keyboards), a founding member of quintessential Canterbury band Soft Machine, who left in 1976 dissatisfied with the direction the band had taken, as it moved from prog rock to jazz fusion and beyond.
Karl Jenkins (oboe) meanwhile was partially responsible for that direction Soft Machine undertook, as its driving force after all founding members including Ratledge had left. Jenkins is often blamed for the decline of the Softs, but has perhaps found redemption in a second career as a composer.
Not part of the scene was John Field (flute), who as Jon Field, together with David Duhig released four albums of instrumental prog rock as Jade Warrior for Virgin Records.
Also not part of Canterbury: Mick Taylor (guitar), who you of course already know as the guitarist in the last incarnation of tthe Rolling Stones worth paying attention to. He was also in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and has had a long solo career ever since he left the Stones in 1974.