Formed in 1970 in their native Ulm, Kraan quickly migrated to Berlin before eventually settling at an artists' commune in Wintrup. They recorded two albums for the German Spiegelei label prior to this; their self-titled debut, released in 1972, was a little more musical than most krautrock of the time, while their second, 1973's Wintrup, was their most discrete offering of heavy rock songs. Kraan featured the superb instrumental talents of bassist Hellmut Hattler, saxophonist Johannes "Alto" Pappert and brothers Jan (Fride) on drums and Peter (Wolbrandt) on guitar and vocals. Their third record, Andy Nogger, was their first recorded with legendary producer Conny Plank. As the excellent "Stars" demonstrates, Kraan has a highly energetic and original sound, somewhere between rock and jazz, but nowhere around the then current idiom of fusion. "Son of the Sun" and "Yellow Bamboo" are typical of the Kraan formula, one that revolves around the extremely tight interplay between the band members, and in particular the rhythm section of Hattler and Fride. Melodic and subtly flavored by world-ethnic influences, Kraan never descends into pointless soloing or unnecessary complication in their arrangements. Both "Andy Nogger" (a mildly disturbing tale of a pervert) and "Home" have enough charm and conviction in the delivery of their English language lyrics to rate them as highly as the other instrumental numbers on the album. Kraan's forte however was on stage, as they were a formidable live band. Their next release, Kraan Live, recorded in Berlin's Latin Quarter capitalized on that. The double-album saw release in the UK on the Gull label and would go on to be their best selling in Germany. Both "Nam Nam" and "Holiday am Marterhorn" received the expanded instrumental treatment, and would continue to feature prominently in their live set. The album was their first international release, on the Gull label in the UK, and on the Passport label in the US.
Like most of their albums, down To earth saw Nektar back in the UK at Chipping Norton Studios to record, with producer Peter Hauke in tow. The album revolves around the concept of a circus; Nektar's music was often more in sync with their German counterparts, as Grobschnitt offered a similar concept right around the same time. This time however, the band ditched much of their previous trappings to create a very original, if not classic album. The lively "Astral Man" glibly sets the stage; these British ex-patriots may have been taking a stab at their countrymen's otherworldly opuses, or a little of their own. But whatever the pretense, they deliver a perfect slab of art rock. The album's highlight is the killer riff of "Nelly The Elephant". The band rides the groove hard and heavy, complimented perfectly with Robert Calvert's ringmaster recitation and a massive horn section. The Yes inspired "Early Morning Clown" and lively "That's Life" are a little more reflective, but no less effective. "Fidgety Queen" features another big arrangement, and even adds a little funk to the equation, while "Oh Willy" simply rocks out. No unnecessary frills or fills here, Nektar leave the excess off of the album, presenting their most consistent and accessible work. The production throughout is clean and uncluttered, Mo Moore's bass high up in Dieter Dierks' mix. "Show Me The Way" closes the album in suitable style, with Roye Albrighton delivering a fine vocal and some excellent guitar work. As he would later remark, the album was their Magical Mystery Tour and I'll agree: the nine tracks on the album are a more than worthy descendant. The album again charted in the US, reaching No. 32. The single "Astral Man" even managed the lower reaches of the Top 100.
Kansas' roots are in the unlikely place of... you guessed it - Kansas. In the late '60s, high school classmates Phil Ehart and Kerry Livgren led two competing bands in their native Topeka. By 1970, they united as Kansas, only to split the following year. Drummer Ehart then went to England to look for musical inspiration (which he didn't find), and quickly returned to reform his original band, White Clover. Recruiting Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt on the way, bassist Dave Hope and guitarist Rich Williams joined in 1972. Livgren's group (referred to as Kansas II) had continued all the while, yet by 1973, he too was persuaded to joined White Clover, fufillng their need for a second songwriter. In 1973, the six-piece band, now called Kansas, signed to rock promoter Don Kirshner’s label and released three albums in the space of two years, each incrementally more successful, the result of continuous touring. Their 1974 self-titled debut starts like the crack of a whip; "Can I Tell You" was one of the demos that got the band signed. Set apart from the their British contemporaries, Kansas reveals more influence from heavy rock outfits such as Deep Purple, yet their music remains as a true original. Taking cues from southern rock, their music is certainly American, but their "three parts to the ensemble” of guitar, violin, keyboard, is completely unique and firebrand. Released in 1975, the band's second album Song For America featured the excellent title track, also released as a single. It's a veritable Kansas classic that shifts through each classically-influenced and punctuated by a driving beat. Creating the band's signature are Robby Steinhardt’s virtuoso violin and Steve Walsh’s distinct and soaring voice. "Lamplight Symphony" follows a similar path. The second side's "The Devil's Game" is a blistering rocker, while "Incomudro Hymn to the Atman" displays the instrumental prowess of the band. The album reached No. 57 in the US charts and was the first to feature their distinct logo, designed by Peter Lloyd.
Hailing from Munich, saxophonist Klaus Doldinger had an illustrious career throughout the 1960s, playing with such jazz luminaries as Don Ellis and Donald Byrd. But in the late '60s, he hooked up with the younger generation to explore jazz-rock terrains. He recorded two albums on the Liberty label with Motherhood, a band including the yet-to-be-famous Udo Lindenberg on drums and Amon Düül II's Lothar Meid on bass. Adding Jimmy Jackson on organ and Olaf Kübler on tenor saxophone, they morphed into Passport in 1971. Amidst ever-changing lineups, Doldinger would release another couple of albums (the first two compiled as Doldinger in the US), as he refined his jazz-rock compositions into his own brew of fusion. The great breakthrough came on the fourth album, Looking Thru, in 1973. Here, Doldinger had assembled his formidable all-German team: bassist Wolfgang Schmid, drummer Curt Cress and Kristian Schultze on keyboards. Doldinger's soloing style is quite lyrical as are his melodies, and Passport always delivered jazz-rock that was easy to digest: never dense or overly technical, yet with significant enough weight to avoid fluff. It all reached a peak here on Cross-Collateral. "Homunculus" soars high above its huge bass line. The title track gets quite hyperkinetic, but after Cress' break, it slows down into a funkier groove, before again being propelled by the drummer's quick tempo. The second side follows in similar style; "Will-O'The-Wisp" sways to its crispy electric pianos, while "Albatros Song" floats through its more open arrangement. The following year saw the band release the like-minded Infinity Machine. Doldinger took the band to Brazil for their next record and despite the obvious Latin flavor, the album, as the cover art would suggest, signaled the start of a more commercial slant that Doldinger would pursue well into the '80s.
Following the break-up of VDGG in late 1972, Hammill pursued his solo career in earnest. Released in 1973 and 1974 respectively, both Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night and Silent Corner and the Empty Stage were primarily acoustic affairs, showcasing Hammill's one-man show (but not without contributions from the other former VDGG members). There's no license in labeling them a love/hate affair; his voice could reach manic proportions, often bordering on the unlistenable: check out the former's "In The End". In Camera, also released in 1974, was more experimental. Its highlight was the VDGG-like "Gog", which sank into the murky tape loops of "Magog". On Nadir's Big Chance, however, Hammill gathered Banton, Evans and Jackson, and assumed the role as protagonist Rikki Nadir. It's definitely a band effort and in fact the quartet agreed to reform VDGG during the recording of the album. Here Hammill trades in his usual one-man pallor for an altogether livelier and electric set. The album alternates between the urgency of the title track or angst-ridden "Nobody's Business", and the contemplative "Shingle Song" or languorous "Pompeii". "The Institute Of Mental Health Burning" though is particularly inventive; backwards and panning guitars certainly add to the arrangement. Hammill reprises "People You Were Going To" from VDGG's first single, as well as Chris Judge Smith's "Been Alone So Long". The album concludes with the funky electric piano of "Two Or Three Spectres", a perfect example of Hammill's newfound attitude. The proto-punk album would garner near mythical status, with kudos from artists as diverse as David Bowie and John Lydon. Hammill then put his solo career on hold as the second generation of VDGG was just months from again taking the stage.
Along with a host of guests from the French progressive scene, Cyrille Verdeaux recorded a series of albums under the umbrella of Clearlight. The Parisian born keyboardist had a formal musical education (Conservatoire de Paris), one that certainly shaped his compositions. Signed to Virgin in the wake of Tubular Bells' success, the similarities between the two are purely topical: if Oldfield represented a folksy, hippie vibe, Clearlight was clearly the opposite: the French sophisticate. As its title suggests, Symphony is indeed a large-scale concerto and one of the earliest works that truly earns the description "symphonic". On one side of the album, guitarist Christian Boule and drummer Gilbert Artman aid Verdeaux, the latter the leader of Lard Free. Propelled by the rhythm section of Artman and bassist Martin Isaacs, Verdeaux's excellent keyboard work favors piano and Mellotron. His composition hints at minimalism and jazz, but the work is far denser, driven by massive motifs and rich instrumentation. The other side of the album features a drum-less piece recorded at Virgin's Manor studio with Gong members Steve Hillage, Didier Malherbe and Tim Blake, the latter also sharing production duties. There's more openness to this side with Blake's synthesizer work lending a cosmic edge. Guided by piano, the piece rolls through each section's theme with intensity and a modicum of weirdness (something I always like). But with Verdeaux's work rooted in composition and the classics, the side ends in a resplendent finale. The album saw release almost a year after it was recorded, when Virgin put Clearlight on tour with Gong. In between, Verdeaux hosted the psychedelic Delired Chameleon Family album, a soundtrack for the Pierre Clementi film, "Visa de censure no. X".
Hatfield And The North's second album appeared a year after their debut. The Rotters Club offers more of their jazzy inventions and supports a fine cast of guests, including Virgin label-mates Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson from Henry Cow. Again Dave Stewart's keyboards are central, particularly his use of the electric piano and organ. Phil Miller offers his highly sustained guitar, especially on the excellent "The Yes No Interlude". One of the band's finer elements is the incredible rhythm section of Pip Pyle and Richard Sinclair; they handled the ever-changing meters with absolute precision. "Fiter Stoke Has A Bath" drifts into one of Sinclair's finest compositions, the cheerfully somber "Didn't Matter Anyway". "Underdub", a jazzy number from Pyle, opens the second side, but it's Stewart's multi-section "Mumps" that dominates. The Northettes open the track with "Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut", but Miller's guitar leads the larger section, "Lumps". The track is ever changing; it's certainly jazz-like in structure, but definitely not jazz or fusion. In another typical Canterbury trait, Hatfield succeed in harnessing an incredible amount of talent without ever succumbing to flash. While their music may never get you up and kicking your heels, it more than likely will sit you down for a good, long listen. The album ventured into the UK charts, racking up to No. 43. However, by early summer Richard Sinclair had had enough of touring and left the band, while the others would eventually regroup as National Health. A posthumous compilation, Afters, appeared in 1979, solving the puzzle of their choice of band name.
Prior to Osanna’s 1974 album Landscape Of Life, Elio D’Anna and Danilo Rustici, with drummer Enzo Vallicelli, went to London to record one eponymous album, Uno. Then, after the demise of Osanna, the pair returned to London, and under the auspices of Pete Townsend, producer Rupert Hine and Arista Records, formed Nova. Two Italian musicians, Luciano Milanese and Franco LoPrevite, comprised the rhythm section, while joining on guitar was Rustici’s brother, Corrado. His previous band Cervello released one album of excellent progressive rock in 1973 entitled Melos. Produced by D’Anna and Danilo, it’s easy to see where the keyboard-less Blink got its start. “Taylor Made” immediately reveals both the high-energy fusion the band has to offer - and vocals. In fact, that’s one of the amazing things about the record: Nova is one of the few groups to combine instrumental fusion with vocals, successfully, with Corrado’s voice extremely well-suited for the music. On “Something Inside Keeps You Down”, once the twelve-string electric guitar kicks in gear the track locks onto a tight groove under a fidgety rhythm section, with D’Anna providing the lead instrument. “Nova”, an instrumental track of more typical fusion, features a dual guitar assault from the brothers Rustici, D’Anna’s sax often soaring in unison. The band then offers a little soul groove on “Used To Be Easy”, while another instrumental “Toy” gets all funky. However, Nova saves the best for last: “Stroll On” stands as a prime example of their hyper-kinetic fusion. The band is drop-dead perfect with each ever-shifting meter and both Rusticis provide fiery guitar solos. Corrado provides the angst-ridden vocal, again perfectly-suited for the very aggressive track. Certainly the album owes more than a nod to the type of music Mahavishnu Orchestra pioneered, but it remains one of the most electric and frenetic fusion albums ever produced, while never failing to rock out.
Banco is short for Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, or "Bank of the Mutual Trust". (The Italian progressives were certainly infamous for their band names!) The group hailed from Rome, and centered on the dual keyboards of the brothers Noncenzi and the classic Italian tenor of Francesco Di Giancomo. His "big" frame would grace the cover of this, their fourth album. The record is actually a re-recording of tracks from their previous albums, and like fellow countrymen PFM, saw release courtesy of ELP's Manticore label. "Chorale" opens rather unceremoniously, but is followed by "L'Albero Del Pane" - an unreleased Italian song. Go figure! Spirited, the track highlights the group's intricate arrangements (and a very ELP inspired break) as well as Di Giancomo's fine voice. However, the opening meters of "Metamorphosis" immediately grab attention - this is Italian-style progressive rock at its finest. Gianni's piano and brother Vittorio's Hammond organ feature prominent in this bold and diverse tour de force, along with the exceptional drumming of Pierluigi Calderoni. The second side features English language versions of their songs, with translation from Marva Jan Marrow. Unfortunately, they don't necessarily add anything to the equation - Di Giancomo's voice is a treat no matter what language he sings in. "Outside" gives guitarist Rodolfo Maltese some room to stretch before digressing into a Canto-style song. The gentle "Leave Me Alone" is reminiscent of PFM, and uncharacteristically acoustic. The liberal use of synthesizers adds a uniquely Banco feel to the constantly shifting arrangements of "Nothing's the Same", certainly another highlight. The final track "Traccia II" is throwaway - it sounds like a midi file! Without a doubt, Banco's first three records, the self-titled debut, Darwin, and Io Sono Nato libero, are more than worthy of further investigation than this compilation offers.
Steve Hillage was of course much more than Gong's guitarist. In the late '60s, he was part of London's underground, his groups playing alongside bands such as Pink Floyd and Tomorrow. While still a member of Gong, Hillage was afforded the opportunity by Virgin to record a solo album. It's no surprise then that Fish Rising contains most of the Gong cast, alongside partner Miquette Giraudy and former bandmate Dave Stewart. In fact, it's the latter's keyboards that gives "Solar Musick Suite" a none-too-subtle nod towards the so-called Canterbury sound. Beginning with a cheerful melody, the opening track travels through a few Gong-like instrumental sections before winding up. Hillage's distinctive echo-inflected lead guitar is ever prominent. Side two is more typical of the direction his music would eventually take. The main riff of "Salmon Song" is simple, repetitive but above all memorable, the anchor on which the song rests. Lindsay Cooper's oboe adds a foreign flavor, but the ever-present bubbling synthesizers and "space whisper" of Giraudy steer things more towards the Gong side of the fence. "Afterglid" demonstrates more of his prowess on guitar and Eventide delay. From the opening bell, Hillage adds his guitar lines over the extremely laid-back beat, before erupting with a massive lead guitar run; it's followed by a rare acoustic piece that evolves into an ethnic flavored section (courtesy the tabla) before the song again reprises itself. This would be his only album to feature Gong members and the last with such overt Gong influence. The album rose to a respectable No. 33 in the UK charts. Hillage then took his leave from Gong, and after a very brief stint with Dave Stewart's National Health, embarked on his solo career in earnest.
Originating from the German city of Cologne, Birth Control were one of the first German rock bands, releasing their debut album in 1970. They played heavy rock, with styling not unlike Vanilla Fudge or Deep Purple, and their self-titled debut album even saw a US release. The core of drummer Bernd Noske and guitarist Bruno Frenzel then led the band through a few well-executed but ultimately unspectacular albums. In 1974, keyboardist Bernd "Zeus" Held and bassist Peter Foeller joined for the Rebirth album, another heavy rocking affair. But this was all about to change: for their next album, Plastic People, Birth Control found inspiration in British prog rock. This was no cheap imitation either; Held certainly was the catalyst, his keyboards providing a rich addition to the heavy Birth Control sound. And despite the new complexity, the opening "Plastic People" still rocks hard. Held's command of the organ is first-class. "Tiny Flashlights" sees him switch to electric piano for its jazzier meter, while "My Mind" journeys into the classical realm. "Rockin' Rollin' Roller" lives up to its title with Frenzel stepping up front. Drummer 'Nossi' Noske's English language vocals are certainly good; perhaps the best of his slightly accented German contemporaries? Both "Trial Trip" and "This Song Is Just For You" hark back to their previous work, but the latter offers some fastidious string and brass arrangements. All in all, it was quite an original album, exceptionally recorded, and a positive change in direction. Birth Control was one of the most popular live acts in Germany at the time, now earning themselves an invitation for their first visit to the UK.
Camel's inspiration for their third album was a children's novella written by Paul Gallico, "The Snow Goose", for which the author won an O. Henry award in 1941. The band (somehow) did not receive the author's blessings and subsequent pressings would be re-titled "Music Inspired by" to avoid copyright infringement. The all-instrumental album was again produced by Genesis and Caravan cohort David Hitchcock, and featured orchestral arrangements from David Bedford. Set during WWII, the Gallico's short story concerns an old man who is befriended by a young girl and an injured goose. So it goes without saying that there's precious little heavy rock inside! Nonetheless, Camel uses concise arrangements to provide a cohesive uniformity to the album's sixteen vignettes and end up with one of prog rock's best-executed concept albums. "Rhayader" features a lite, melodic main theme, quite indicative of the album's direction. Latimer's lead guitar takes a rare spotlight on the following "Goes To Town", but in general the album forgoes soloing for tightly controlled arrangements. Barden's keyboard work is always first rate, offering a variety of textures. Ferguson and Ward never stretch out too much either, but provide a solid anchor throughout. The second side drifts towards a more introspective feel, with "Preparation" and "Epitaph" both reprising a simple, haunting melody. Bedford's orchestration of "Friendship" and "La Pricesse Perdue" are rich and judicious but not overfilling. The album maintains an open spaciousness, while the delivery is consistently inspired and relaxed. If not everything needed to rock out in the progressive era then The Snow Goose would certainly take top honors. The album was Camel's first in a long stretch of charting records, reaching No. 22 in the UK.
Since we last visited Hawkwind, their ranks continued to revolve: both Robert Calvert and Dik Mik left the band prior to 1974's Hall Of The Mountain Grill and Simon House, ex-Third Ear Band, joined on keyboards. The single "Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear In Smoke)" b/w "It's So Easy" failed to chart, but the album rose to No. 16 in the UK. Hawkwind then added second drummer Alan Powell but didn't replace the departing Del Dettmar before taking off to America in the fall. The ensuing album Warrior At The Edge Of Time enjoyed even better production though it's still replete with their murky underground haze. The opener "Assault & Battery Part 1" and the ensuing "The Golden Void" still retain that patented Hawkwind rhythm, but Turner's flute and sax and House's keyboards now add new texture to the band's sound. The Neu-ish "Opa-Loka" displays more of the band's new progression, while the atmosphere of Brock's "The Demented Man" sports a detail never before displayed on Hawkwind record. The second side's "Magnu" and "Spiral Galaxy", interspersed with Michael Moorcock's spoken-word soliloquies, further attest to the music's evolution. Though the proto-punk single "Kings Of Speed" b/w "Motorhead" didn't chart, the album, their last for United Artists, reached No. 13 in the UK. Lemmy was subsequently fired after a drug bust at the Canadian border; regardless, he would later drive his Motörhead to massive international success. Paul Rudolph, ex- Pink Fairies, replaced him on bass, but after headlining the Reading Festival in August, Hawkwind would end ties with their management, a new era for the band just on the horizon.
By time Hoelderlin got around to recording their second album, the band had changed considerably: Nanny De Ruig had departed and another pair of brothers, Peter and Joachim Kaseberg, on bass and guitar respectively, now augmented the band. But more significant than the personnel changes, was the new musical course Hoelderlin had adopted: British prog rock. Though there was a three-year gap since the last recording, the band had continued to play live all the while, clocking in hundreds of concerts over the years; no doubt this honed their skills and furthered the new direction. Hoelderlin begins with the fantastic instrumental "Schwebebahn" (titled after the monorail in their native Wuppertal). Although reminiscent of King Crimson, its sinister Mellotron and viola re-introduce Hoelderlin as an original prog rock act. A superb soloist, Nops Noppeney also lends a very distinctive and capable vocal. "I Love my Dog" too illustrates their command of the English language, perhaps firmer than any of their German contemporaries, and indeed many British! Along with "Honey Pot", it also harks back to their debut album's folk roots, but the execution and production here lend a whole new edge. The second side features the equally capable vocals (and keyboards) of Joachim Grumbkow on "Nürnberg". But "Death Watch Beetle", clocking in at nearly 18 minutes, is the tour de force, and nothing short of fantastic. The band's mix of acoustic and electric instruments builds on the solid arrangement in a British tradition, but with an identity all of its own. Released on the Spiegelei label, their albums would not see release outside Germany. However, the album was first in a trilogy for Hoelderlin that represents some of the finest and most original progressive rock of the era.
In 1974, Achim Reichel rediscovered Novalis for his Gorilla Musik production company. New to the band were two guitarists, Detlef Job and Carlo Karges. The latter, previously with Tomorrow’s Gift, would make a significant impact with both his songwriting and German language lyrics. In fact, Novalis would be one of the first German groups of the era to shun the prevailing trend of English lyrics to instead explore the lyricism of their native tongue. Back with the Brain label, they released their second album, simply titled Novalis. The instrumental “Sonnengeflecht” opens with a brisk melody and updated sound - no wonder the translation is “Solar Plexus”. “Wer Schmetterlinge lachen hört” (literally “who hears butterflies laugh”) begins with an air of formality, but quickly descends into a swift instrumental workout featuring both guitarists. Lutz Rahn’s Hammond organ is still central to the Novalis sound, but here he adds further texture with synthesizer. “Dronsz” is a treat: it bypasses their typically romantic arrangements for an indulgence in sound that’s slightly out of character for the band and certainly forward thinking. Taking its theme from Bruckner’s “Fifth Symphony”, the second side leads off with “Impressionen”. It contains more of the formality of their previous work, but with the addition of the two guitarists, again emphasizes their rocking dimension. The closing track, “Es Färbte Sich Die Wiese Grün” (“the meadow colors [itself] green”) also reaches out to the past, this time adapting its lyrics from the poetry of Karl Friedrich von Hardenberg - their namesake Novalis. Here the rhythm section of Jürgen Biereichel and Heino Schünzel, (the latter also provided vocals for the album), drives the song along. The arrangement is more diverse, but the melodies similarly classic. Karges would depart before Novalis’ next album and would eventually end up in Nena’s pop band.
Synergy was the nom de plume of Larry Fast's one-man synthesizer show. Hailing from New Jersey, he would rise to prominence as one of America's premier electronic musicians, largely through a series of albums released on the Passport label. His debut album, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra, released in 1975 on the Passport label, set the stage. "Legacy" unfolds in a familiar way, but the promise of the initial heavy sequence fades into something altogether lighter, much to this listener's chagrin. "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue" continues with a richer electronic texture, but the continually shifting melodies reveal the thing about Synergy: this was closer to light instrumental music than prog rock, and the second side continues in the same palatable fashion. Synergy's compositions here are ultimately conventional, but still full of dramatic suspense and one of the early examples of electronic music that would find commercial prominence in the 1980s. Fast used (mostly) a Mini Moog synthesizer and outboard gear to create the music, and as he would always state, "nobody played guitar". Certainly this was a technical feat, and in fact, Fast had a parallel career as an engineer working on early synthesizer and recording technologies, including building synthesizer modules for Rick Wakeman of Yes while still a student in the early '70s. In addition to future Windham Hill mainstay Shadowfax, Canadian's FM, and both Nektar and Peter Gabriel would later employ his talents as both musician and producer. His next album, Sequencer was similarly playful, but the darker and more rhythmic 1978 release, Cords, stands as a career highlight. Fast would release another handful of albums over the next decade, while also finding time to curate the electronic Audion label for Passport Records Group.
Finch were founded by bassist Peter Vink and drummer Beer (what a great first name!) Klaasse, both previously in Q65, one of the Netherlands’ original R&B bands. After a series of personnel changes, guitarist (and composer) Joop Van Nimwegen and keyboardist Cleem Determeijer were recruited. The band then inked a deal with EMI and recorded their first album, Glory Of The Inner Force. “Register Magister” presents the Finch sound. Immediately identifiable, the band is both effusive and relentless, and somewhere between the grandiosity of Yes and the complication of the then current fusion. The themes are very melodic, and above all, Finch never fails to rock out. “Paradoxical Moods” showcases the virtuoso talents of both Determeijer on organ and Nimwegen on guitar. “Pisces” opens the second side to a considerably slower pace, and reveals some influence from (you guessed it) Focus. The band gets heavy again on the closing “A Bridge To Alice”, but halfway through, an acoustic guitar takes over. As Dag Erik Asbjørnsen suggested in his “Scented Gardens Of The Mind” guide, Finch’s music “liv[ed] up to your best or worst expectations of this genre”. I have to agree. The album saw a US release on Atco Records and went on to sell an impressive 20,000 copies worldwide. Finch went on to record two further albums, Beyond Expression in 1976 and with a couple of new members (and label), their final Galleons Of Passion the following year. Both were credible, if similar efforts.
In 1974, a heavy tour schedule consumed Caravan. Perry left in July, being replaced at producer David Hitchcock's suggestion, by ex-Curved Air bassist Mike Wedgewood. After a switch to Miles Copeland's BTM agency, the band undertook their first tour of the US in September. They entered the studio in the spring of 1975 to record their sixth album. Cunning Stunts kicks off with the proud "The Show Of Our Lives" (with Wedgewood on lead vocal), before sliding into "Stuck in a Hole". The latter, along with "No Backstage Pass", would be the only compositions from Pye Hastings. Dave Sinclair's "The Dabsong Conshirtoe" dominates the album's second side. Again, it's another great Caravan epic and the first contribution from Sinclair in nearly four years. Immediately his sense of melody takes hold, as the Wedgewood sung "From Real to the Real" attests. The track paces easily through its six sections. "Sneaking Into the Bare Quare" swings a bit while the finale "All Sorts Of Unmentionable Things" ends in grand Caravan tradition, though augmented here by some heavy backing tapes. Known for their ever too clever song titles, the album's title unfortunately ranks as one of their worst literary inventions. Reportedly though, an American band, Aerosmith, had usurped the original "Toys In The Attic". After a BBC In Concert in June, Dave Sinclair left the band (again). Dutch keyboard player Jan Schelhaas would replace him just before the album's release. It would become the first in the Caravan catalog to enter the charts. In the UK, the album rose up to No. 50, while in the US it would just reach No. 124. Although the record ended their relationship with Decca, Caravan would record a few albums for Arista before the decade ended, but in an increasingly less interesting direction. Lineup changes would cause further upheaval, including the return and departure (again) of both Sinclairs.
Purportedly from a relationship the band made after touring with Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant was now signed to Chrysalis Records in the UK. On their first album for the label, Free Hand, the band replaces the uniformity of the previous effort with a much more playful and varied atmosphere. The first side revolves around the themes of broken relationships, personal and otherwise. "Just The Same" kicks things off with a rather choppy rhythm, but its highlight is the break - one minute soaring, the next quirky. "On Reflection" is a throwback to "Knots"; its a cappella rounds are arranged with mediaeval flavor, with a gentle vocal break from Kerry Minnear. "Free Hand" is the rocker, but unfortunately suffers from a protracted arrangement and an abrupt ending. The more concise live versions of these songs would bump the electricity up a notch and become concert favorites. After all, Gentle Giant were at their best live. The second side is less straightforward. Opening with a classic Atari Pong sample, "Time to Kill" (get it?) has a sharper tempo that lends a certain swing to the arrangement. Complex, multi-faceted, and ornate, "His Last Voyage" is Giant doing what they do best. The atypical break features a particularly haunting piano riff, followed by another great guitar solo from Gary Green. The instrumental "Talybont" is pure renaissance music. "Mobile" moves along with a jig's pace, although it has an air of earlier works, particularly in the interplay between violin and acoustic guitar, and the wah-wah break. The album barley scraped the lower reaches of the UK charts, but became their first and only album to break the Top 50 in the US. Further touring kept the band busy until they entered the studio for their next record in early 1976.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band completed their first tour of the US in 1974, where they probably discovered the track that would open their next album, 1975's Nightingales & Bombers. Bruce Springsteen's "Spirit In The Night" was also released as a single, but hold this space; they'd return to his well a year later for much greater fortunes. Two other covers graced the album: Joan Armatrading's "Visionary Mountains" and Bob Dylan's "Quit Your Low Down Ways". The band's talent is turning tracks from such diverse sources into Earth Band tunes, which of course they successfully do; try picking them apart from the band's own slightly funky, always hip songs, "Time Is Right" or "Fat Nelly". The remainder of the album intersperses several instrumental numbers between the vocal tracks, highlighting the technical prowess of the band: on "Countdown" and "Crossfade", Mann's synthesizer trades licks with Mick Roger's fiery lead guitar over the brisk rhythm section of bassist Colin Pattenden and drummer Chris Slade. The title track, written by Rogers, is the album's gem, offering a kind of fusion that's as good as any other of the day. The album did not chart, while the single barely scraped the Top 100 in the US. But all this was about to change: Rogers would leave the band in 1976, to be replaced by vocalist Chris Thompson and guitarist Dave Flett. The ensuing release, The Roaring Silence, spearheaded by another Springsteen cover, "Blinded by the Light", would carry the album to No. 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, with the song topping the charts in the US and rising to No.6 in the UK. From here, the Earth Band's music would move towards more commercial terrain, providing moderate chart success over the next several years, with Mann reorganizing the band after 1978's Watch.