Audience weren’t very much Prog, but more of the sounds of Americana, Soul, and R&B thanks to the sounds of vocalist Howard Werth. I first heard their music back in 2005 on the Prog Archives website. And after hearing some of their music, I was blown away. Cut to 2009 that I got a 3-CD set compilation that I got as a Christmas/Hanukkah gift entitled Refugees: An Anthology of the Famous Charisma Label 1968-1978.
And after hearing some of the tracks, my jaw dropped to the floor. He sings powerfully. He wasn’t like Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury, but more in the realms of String Driven Thing’s Chris Adams and Van Morrison. This year, the good people from Esoteric Recordings are reissuing the Audience catalog starting off for the summer’s release of their third and their final album which was released at the end of May of this year (House on the Hill and Lunch) and their first two that is about to be released at the end of June also (Audience & Friend's Friend's Friend).
Their third album, originally released in 1971 on the Charisma label, it’s very laid-back and with a professional sound in their music. And with the late great producer of Gus Dudgeon, who worked with Locomotive and of course Elton John, shows no sign of pressure and giving Audience free rein.
Raviole sees a classical concerto guitar with a symphonic string quartet done by Robert Kirby who did the arrangements for this along with Nick Drake, he gives it a pastoral and orchestral vibe. Howard goes into town on his acoustic guitar to show a touch of intense pick-driven momentum that pays tribute not just to Nick himself, but also Jim Croce with a flamenco construction.
The flute improvisation done by Keith Gemmell on Eye to Eye, he really nails it in the styles of Ian Anderson. The song is almost about a conversation between the young and older version of themselves in different infinite universes as they argue about politics, agree/disagreeing on what’s right and wrong throughout the day and night. The rhythm is very bouncy and catchy and nails it down. Not to mention Trevor Williams bass line fitting the scenery on what’s going on.
The haunting and melodic yet thunderous take of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You is breathtaking. It just sends shivers down the spine for Howard to nail his take to pay tribute to the master and Werth just takes it to town while You’re Not Smiling is almost a single that would have been an FM smash. It has vocalization, chorus, and very much you can follow the bouncing ball on the lyrics.
Opener, Jackdaw begins with Werth’s vocals and Acoustic Guitar followed by Keith’s Tenor Sax, goes into almost a Brass-Rock sound as the melody and Trevor’s Bass follows each other as Howard comes in before the downtown soul midsection as Tony Connor’s drums lends a hand for dance-like feel, before getting back into the mid-thunder rock momentum. It almost has the same touches as Blodwyn Pig and essence of Elton Dean of the Soft Machine.
The 15-page booklet talks about the making of the album features an interview with Howard Werth himself on his experience and memories of House on the Hill. The liner notes are done by Sid Smith himself and he has done an incredible job along with Mark and Vicky Powell for bringing the Audience catalog to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The three bonus tracks on the album feature two different versions of You’re Not Smiling. Including the single mix and the promo radio version while the B-side of Indian Summer which didn’t do well in the single charts in the States, has a joyful clapping ascending rhythm, sing-along acoustic adventure that Werth and Williams wrote.
Ahead of their time, overlooked, it’s about time Audience deserve some recognition and this is highly recommended. Just sing the line, "When the young man/was talking to the old man/you know the old man/he wouldn't understand."