So the question remains that the reader would like to ask me, ‘why in the hell would I want to buy a compilation when I’ve got some of favorite artists that were a part of my favorite label from the ‘70s?’ Well for the late Tony Stratton-Smith, he assembled Charisma Records and varied some bands either had success or a huge cult following in the underground circuit from it’s beginning in 1969 to the end of an era in 1978 until they were sold by Richard Branson’s label Virgin in 1983. Smith or Strat which was his nickname back then, was one of the chiefs to look for new talent in the London scenery during that time period in the late ‘60s. There are some great bands from the indie label of Charisma who have accomplished than any other fans of the music genre should really take notice of.
Tony Stratton-Smith was born in 1933 in Birmingham, England. He began to do journalism in the 1950s when his love of Sports came to him. One of his favorite sports was Football and he was working for Sports Magazine for a couple of years until the beginning of ‘60s where Music was calling for him. He was a band manager with bands including; Creation, The Nice, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and the prog-punks Van Der Graaf Generator. He tried to look for a label to sign these bands, but there was no luck. Then in 1970, he formed his own label, Charisma or “The Famous Charisma Label” and soon the label was born. That and this 3-CD anthology set consists of the tribute to where Stratton-Smith raging music from Rare Bird, Brian Davison, Alan Hull, Lindsifarne, and the comedy group, Monty Python to huge success. The title, Refugees An Anthology of the Famous Charisma Label sounds interesting to you? No? Maybe? Okay, a little bit. The first controversial number which begins the set of The Nice’s take of Leonard Bernstein’s 6-minute introduction to symphonic rock of America (Second Amendment) which was released as a single in 1968 before being banned at the Royal Albert Hall while keyboard maestro Keith Emerson burning an American flag set the audiences approval while it was a protest instrumental track against the Vietnam War. That said, almost everything here on the anthology compilation set is highly recommend, if you really admire the projects for Mark Powell since working on Label samplers for; Vertigo, Polydor, Decca, Harvest, Liberty/United Artists, Island, and now Pye/Dawn label which is going to be released in January, 2010. You have got to admit Powell does a lot of research and does a good job on his homework to searching his love of Prog labels to make everyone happy. You have some of the underground sounds of Jazz, Folk, and Experimental music sounds on disc one; Rare Bird’s eerie single Sympathy and Lindsifarne’s disturbing folk ballad Lady Eleanor, the quirky folk rock sounds of Topo D Bill’s Witchi Tai To while Heavy Jazz Fusion blues raging an homage to Bob Dylan and Bach with The Nice’s live version of Country Pie/Bradenburg Concerto No. 6, the sing-along comedic humor taste of Monty Python’s Spam Song and of course the controversial character dialogue fun of Mrs. N*****baiter, Genesis Tolkien-esque beauty of Looking For Someone, and Van Der Graaf Generator’s autobiographical background balladry based on Peter Hammill’s background with Refugees and an homage to George Martin with Theme One. All of these artists and bands just goes to show why they important to the label.
The second disc contains work from Charisma from 1970 to 1974 heavy duty music such as Hot Thumbs O’Riley which was lead vocalist Jim Pembroke of the Finnish jazz-prog fusion group, Wigwam. His bluesy soul take of Grass for Blades is very down to earth and dealing with the marijuana issue which I might be wrong on what the song is about.
Alongside Genesis, VDGG to name a few, you have some mind-boggling cats raging from folk from Alan Hull of Lindsifarne fame, Jack the Lad’s acoustic guitar country folk rocker homage to Fairport Convention’s Come All Ye with Why Can’t I Be Satisfied?
Capability Brown’s cover of Affinity’s I Am and So Are You is a funky breathtaking blues rocking number, Refugee which was a Post-Nice band featuring Lee Jackson, Brian Davison, and mad scientist of keyboardist Sweden’s own Patrick Moraz , of this freaky avant-garde freak-out fusionesque twist of Ritt Mickley is fucking shattering, whilst Clifford T. Ward does some calmness with the string quartet of Gaye, Keith Emerson did a jam session before ELP from the Music From Free Creek supergroup project with Mitch Mitchell and Chuck Rainey paying tribute to Eddie Harris with Freedom Jazz Dance that has a combination of Blues Hard Rock that would have made Jimi Hendrix enjoy it very much. Then the folk music becomes a dark and chambered hollow music with String Driven Thing’s sinister upbeat fiddle rocker homage to Darryl Way, Heartfeeder while Bo Hansson’s follow up to Lord of the Rings, Excursion with Complications is very much of a sequel to the Rings album but this time with a groovy twist of Goblin atmosphere setting to an Italian Horror film meets Spaghetti Western tuned big band swing as Peter Hammill closes the second set featuring guitarist Randy California of Spirit fame on this dalek beauty of hell with Red Shift.
The third disc covers the punk-prog bombast beauty and features lost classics like Hawkwind’s Space Rock homage to Herman Hesse with Steppenwolf, Peter Hammill’s glam-punk alter ego Rikki Nadir with a taste of the Sex Pistols as if they teamed up with VDGG with Nadir’s Big Chance, Virtuoso guitarist Steve Hackett of Genesis fame doing a classical guitar fantasy tale featuring Phil Collins on vocals with the lukewarm Star of Sirius, and Alan Parsons best known for his magnificent engineering work on Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic, Dark Side of the Moon, brings the Alan Parsons Project to a neo-classical background with the Cask of Amontillado. Other hands-down work featuring the Jazz Fusion project for Phil Collins with Brand X, Hawklords, Peter Gabriel, and Nik Turner’s Sphynx also appear to close up the album. The 3-CD set features an introduction liner note about the label by Mark Powell himself, photos of each band/artists that were a part of the Charisma family containing 46-page booklet, also ads of the albums, bands, raves, spring collection, and more. There’s more of the Charisma’s Mad Hatter tea party, even it’s been 41 years since Tony brought the label to bring it worth up to the table.