This 3-CD set pays tribute to the golden-era of the Pye and Dawn label from 1967 to 1975. The people at Esoteric Recordings have scored a huge compilation as they dig through the hidden gems on the bands and artists that some had achieved success while the others were unearthed that you are about to embark on. Mark Powell, the chief of the indie-prog label, is more like a music history teacher to give you a lecture on his sleeve notes about the history of the label and how the underground scene was as he says, “Much of the music is diverse, some of it truly outstanding and some perhaps naïve in its youthful innocence, but there is much to savour.” The compilation, Cave of Clear Light: The Pye and Dawn Records Underground Trip 1967-1975: A Cornucopia of Psychedelic and Progressive Sounds is one of the most amazing tribute to the scenery and the label as well as if it’s a magic carpet ride to hear what the music was like during that time period in the underground scene in England.
Disc One starts off with The Bystanders Egyptian-psych rock sound of the West Coast sound in the realm of the Monkees with the title track. This song has psychedelic pop flavor sound until they changed their sound and became the answer to the Grateful Dead simply known as Man. Now we have to admit, we have a love/hate relationship of English folk singer, Donovan who was known as England’s answer to Bob Dylan, but with the psych-folk rocker and the acid rock sound which featured session guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame on Season of the Witch and Hurdy Gurdy Man, he remains a part of the Pye scene and a huge influential part in the Beatles career.
Before the second mark of Deep Purple, there was Episode Six with their mind-blowing cover of Tim Rose’s Morning Dew. It’s very interesting to hear Ian Gillan and Roger Glover in this band that sounds very much in the realm of The Misunderstood meets a pop sound of The Attack. Status Quo, before they went hard rock, they were probably known for their psychedelic garage sound thanks to their hit, Pictures of Matchstick Men, but two of their tracks on Disc One and Three on the eerie single Paradise Flat, the quirky Mister Mind Detector, and the Acoustic Folk Middle-Eastern blues rocker Gerdundula shows that they were very different from their heavy metal sound in the 1970s. Neo Maya which was an alias for Episode Six had this bizarre yet percussion futuristic spoken-word sound of UFO that is disturbing yet twisted composition.
After the ashes of The Bystanders, the band became Man and the post-apocalyptic orchestral rocker, The Future Hides it’s Face off on their first album, Revelation in 1969 sees the band going for more of a Doors meets The Stones Satanic Majesties Request-era while Blonde on Blonde come in with their hard rocking sound on Ride With Captain Max and the folk-Indian tribe of All Day, All Night from the Contrasts album that sees the band having some potential before moving to sign with another indie label, Ember with release their follow up album with Contrasts to one of the most magnificent underrated masterpieces, Rebirth.
This took me by surprise about this unknown band, Velvett Fogg. The band featured Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi as he gives a psychedelic dooming guitar sound on this pounding yet disturbing piece on Yellow Cave Woman. The band sadly called it a day after the album tanked and the song itself remains ahead of its time and shows how the band could have been bigger than the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Woody Kern’s jazzy calmful flute sound of Tell You I’m Gone has the ingredients of Jethro Tull and carrying the Blues time change from soft to walking fast beat as for The Mooche goes early metal but with a psychedelic flavor with a pound-cake sound on the solos between guitar and bass and roaring vocals that is in the realm of Blossom Toes on their hit single, Hot Smoke & Sassafras.
Pesky Gee! Before becoming the doom prog band, Black Widow, pays tribute to Family and Roger Chapman with their explosive cover of the daring Peace of Mind. South African folk singer-songwriter John Kongos brings politics and power on Confusions about a Goldfish while the psych fuzz-tone jam session for Man to go full throttle on the 8-minute punch in the stomach feel on It Is As It Must Be. Fire featuring Dave Lambert brings a children’s story-line to a glorious psych-nugget classic on Flies Like A Bird and Tell You A Story from the concept album, The Magic Shoemaker. Then we come to Judy Dyble’s emotional yet heartfelt vocals while the mourning piano follows her vocals with Trader Horne on Velvet To Atone.
Disc Two is where we get into the beginning of the long suites. Starting the second disc off is Titus Groan’s 11-minute jazz rock freak out exercise of Hall of Bright Carvings which is one of the best centerpieces on the compilation. It has a lot of the ingredients of Psych, Free Jazz sax solos, and swirling guitar solos with a lot of the features for a prominent attribution. Atlantic Bridge’s homage to the Bebop Jazz mixed in with Soul Fusion thanks to the electric keyboard solo done by Mike McNaught and Jim Phillips cool flute solo while Darryl Runswick’s bass line and Mike Travis tribute to Elvin Jones of John Coltrane fame bring thunder to the glorious instrumental beauty of Hillary Dixon which was the B-Side to I Can’t Lie To You.
The reformed Comus (named after a poem by John Milton) bring a swinging axe to create a disturbance with the rape-in-the-woods song that makes it a perfect horror story that would have the camp kids scare shitless with the 7-minute acid folk rumble, Song To Comus. Familiar with the one-hit wonder quirky number In The Summertime? Well Mungo Jerry is going hard rock on our asses with his reindition of the garage rock attitude on Muddy Waters I Just Wanna Make Love to You. Former member of Them, Jackie McAuley brings a dosage again of Jazz and 15th century classical music to an unbelievable unearthed gem. Even though the album failed to sell because of his refusal to perform it live, Cameramen: Wilson and Holmes is very interesting, you have again the 15th century harpischord intro and then transformed into a jazz-free-for-all section while headed back to the finale with the harpischord that makes it a great ending.
Pluto was in the realm of the hard rock energy sound as Road To Glory is raw and straight-forward while Quiet World which feature future virtuoso of tapping guitarist Steve Hackett of Genesis fame of the band’s concept album, The Road. Now Body to the Mind, doesn’t feature any of the tapping styles, but you can get the picture of him moving away from the psych-pop sound into where he was as he begin to embark with Genesis that would give him creative freedom. Trifle’s homage to Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three on One Way Glass has more of the psych-pop flavor rather than the Jazz Rock sound, but it’s very fun and exciting to hear their cover of MM’s version. Now we get to Mike Cooper. This guy you might have mixed opinions on. On the 7-minute Pharaoh’s March, the first 4-minutes is his homage to Edgard Varese with screeching sax solos as if he’s VDGG’s David Jackson and then the country-western slide guitar sound comes in for a few minutes and then back into the Avant-Garde Sax finale that well let’s say might want you to be in Christian Vander’s views of Kobaia with Magma.
Soul-Prog band, Demon Fuzz, who are best known for their only debut album Afreaka!, their cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You, is very explosive while Status Quo comes back into the realm of heavy metal again with the 7-minute fox on the run track on Someone’s Learning. Atomic Rooster’s proto prog-metal sound thanks to Vincent Crane’s dooming organ sound, brings the roots of symphonic metal sound to close the second disc off with a bang on the suicidal Time Take My Life. The final and third disc begins with Paul Brett’s Sage Folk Rock sound with the psych-folk rock homage to a painting of 3D Mona Lisa and the roaring nugget of a drug dealer with Custom Angel Man. The shortest track is The Trio’s Billy The Kid. It’s a freaky avant-garde jazz tribute to Edgard Varese again with whoops, droning sound, and drums going haywire. Like Demon Fuzz, Noir was another progressive band featuring black musicians. Their touching yet emotional ballad of Hard Labour, is a tribute to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. This is another centerpiece that completely blew me away and hopefully will see the light at the end of the tunnel for a reissue next year in 2011.
Heron bring the British Folk sound to the English countryside. While they had a huge following in the underground circuit as if they could have been the answer to Seals and Crofts, Yellow Roses could have been a FM single on the radio from their self-titled debut album in 1970. Atomic Rooster is back again this time with vengeance with their re-work of Friday The 13th this time with a fast-mode with guitar solo and the bass line coming into the picture on Save Me. Then we get into Icarus as if Captain Beefheart had joined the Edgar Broughton Band. The band recorded a concept album of Marvel Comic Book super heroes in which they got approval from Stan “The Man” Lee to write lyrics about their childhood heroes. A perfect example is Fantastic Four is very bluesy and raunchy that you begin to wonder “How the hell did they do that?”
Then we get into the Blues shuffle rocker of Scotland’s Writing on the Wall who are known for their debut album, The Power of the Picts. They manage to release a party-like rock single with Man of Renown which was the A-side of Buffalo and this was the only single they released and tanked before the band decided to call it a day. It’s a shame it never saw the light on the charts, but it is one hell of a boogie-woogie kick-ass number. After leaving the swirling Vertigo Label for only two albums, Gravy Train went on to do one last final album for Dawn with the title track, Staircase to the Day, the 7-minute epic is in the realm of Fantasy and Tolkiensque-Rock. The album received well from the music press and a beautiful cover done by Yes’ Roger Dean, the music is strong, mellotron bliss, and classical prog folk as you can get while having Yes a run for their own money.
Jonesy, which could have been the next King Crimson with their dark, hidden passages come up with the funk and eerie passages by the help of the mellotron on the A-side for the criminal on the run of Ricochet while the closer of the 8-minute stop-and-go of the futuristic scenery of hell with No Alternative. The classical unearthed ballad Can’t Find a Reason by Vincent Crane & Chris Farlowe, which sounds like a concept piece that was left off the album for time restraints, it has this gentle orchestra and piano only. It sounds interesting that two members of Atomic Rooster to use, but it’s has a gospel feel that will blow you away.
Irish Symphonic Progster’s Fruupp come in with a bang with the 6-minute rumble turned a jazz orchestral dance rocker on Decision. Singer-Songwriter David McWilliams, who had a hit single in the Pirate Radio station charts of The Days of Pearly Spencer, brings a majestic 15th century yet explosive touch on Lord Offaly. It starts off with an Acid Folk arrangement at first, but then it becomes a dynamic rumble in the midsection and at the very end where it calms down for him to sing about the rise and fall of the knight and offaly himself. Another group from the South of Wales is Quicksand. The track, Flying, from the album, Home Is Where I Belong, carries in the realm of Man’s psychedelic power of the first two albums.
Even though it’s sounds strange, but it’s one amazing track with voices singing through a leslie speaker, wah-wah rhythm guitar, and a dynamic drum section that fills the eerie void with a mind-blowing psych freak out. Now, we’ve come to Stray, which I’m definitely getting into thanks to Iron Maiden’s homage one of their cover of their favorite track, All of Your Mind, well now we are getting into the lavish and rising beauty of the break through success with the release of the title-track, Stand Up and Be Continued. It has this almost sometimes Broadway meets Symphonic Rock sound, but dare I must say this was the only album they released through the Dawn label and it really gets your blood flowing.
Esoteric Recordings made one hell of a package and created a unique box set that pays a tribute to the Pye and Dawn label as picking the tracks that would fit the box set and see how the listener would appreciate this from start to finish. What is really interesting as I’ve mentioned before is that Esoteric is the Criterion Collection of Unearthed gems of ‘70s Progressive Music. And let me say this is one compilation that you need to get for Christmas. Let’s hope what the New Year will bring for Esoteric as they have more reissues coming out of the woodwork in 2011.