My first discovery of reading about the Third Ear Band was back when I was a student at Houston Community College when I got a special issue of Classic Rock Magazine covering the story of Prog Rock in 2007. They were selected along with Greenslade, Jonesy, and Fruupp as The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard by Malcolm Dome. Their music was so hard to find and I nearly gave up on trying to buy their albums. Until either last year or this year when Esoteric Recordings were going to do the Third Ear Band’s music.
And so my ears told me to go ahead and jump into the bandwagon of the Third Ear Band’s music. They originally started out as a psychedelic band from Canterbury called The Giant Sun Trolley and then changing their names in to the Hydrogen Jukebox. But then they decided to move away from that scene into something that was a combination between Medieval, Classical, Avant-Garde, Raga, World, and Indian music.
Championed by the late great John Peel who played jaw harp on their first album Alchemy in 1969, when he first heard them in late 1968 at a concert in Guildford at a projected arts lab in which he wrote about them in an article of IT (International Times) issue 45 on November 29, 1968. After the releases of their previous albums including a score for a German TV special based on one of the most passionate true romantic love stories of the 12th century Abelard & Heloise in 1970, Richard Coff and Ursula Smith left the band.
Enter Paul Buckmaster (David Bowie, Elton John, Harry Nilsson) on Cello and Bass Guitar and Denim Bridges on Guitar. One of the Esoteric reissues that made me want to listen to again and again was their score for Roman Polanski’s film of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. It is perhaps one of the scariest, nightmarish, surreal, and intensive scores I’ve listened to from start to finish.
Music from Macbeth is not for the faint of heart, but for me, it was a challenge. It showed that the Third Ear Band’s idea to crack those doors open wider with textures of aleatoric music, folk, and some of the early structures of what would later be known as the Rock In Opposition movement (RIO). And with a little help from High Tide and Hawkwind’s Simon House on Violin and VCS3 after being recruited by the late great Glen Sweeney, it can make your skin crawl.
With Ambush/Banquo's Ghost, you get these sounds of chaotic noises of guitars, Minns’ Oboe, Sweeney’s percussion, and Buckmaster’s Bass, it goes into this crackling falling down structure by going into those rolling hills and channeling the minds of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. The Beach have these sound effects of seagulls and the waves before Simon’s violin screeches to make this noise of giving both the listener and the audience of what is to come in Shakespeare’s play.
The Overture has these aspects of between the early beginnings of Univers Zero and Present. You can imagine Roger Trigaux was listening to the band’s music to follow in their footsteps as if he wanted to make sure to honor them in Univers Zero’s music and breaking all the rules. Blaring guitars, bass lines, percussion, and Oboe’s that crawl through various corners of one room to another.
Fleance, sung by the late Keith Chegwin who was 12 years old at the time, brings this beauty and folk-like structures in the form of a waltz. It has these Acid Folk-sque sound as the son of Banquo sings to Duncan as he enjoys his feast with Macbeth before being killed. Simon’s VCS3 and Violin on The Cauldron sets up the witches potion that Macbeth drinks. The droning sounds from the violin, cello, and oboe sets up these alarming noises from the bubbling synths with some percussion and wah-wah guitars going back and forth.
Dagger and Death goes into this experimental approach for the Third Ear Band as they channel the Krautrock genre and honoring the styles of CAN’s early years to give Buckmaster a bit of a chance to channel the essence of Michael Karoli. The three bonus tracks contains the first versions of Court Dance, Groom Dance, and Fleance which were recorded at Trident Studios on December 5, 1970. Also in the reissue contains a 16-page booklet containing liner notes by Luca Chino Ferrari.
Ferrari is not only an underground writer covering folk/rock musicians including Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett, Tim Buckley, and Robyn Hitchock, but also an official archivist and biographer on the Third Ear Band’s music. He also contributed the reunion for them in the 1980s. He also runs an incredible website covering the band’s history entitled Ghettoraga Archive (http://ghettoraga.blogspot.com).
Also in the booklet, it contains the original sleeve text, biography, Japanese promo of the band, snapshot of the band’s appearance in the film, and a picture of Roman Polanski during the making of the movie who at the time in 1970 before it came out in 1971, was going through depression because of the way the media handled the incident from the loss of his second wife, Sharon Tate who was brutally murdered by members of the Manson family on August 9, 1969.
When The Tragedy of Macbeth was released in 1971, it premiered on January 31st at the Plaza cinema in London after receiving some excellent stasis from Movie Critics including the late great Roger Ebert who gave it four stars in his article on the first of January that same year in the Chicago Sun-Times by calling it, “the most pessimistic films ever made.”
But when it was released in the States, it tanked after losing $3.5 million dollars at the box office. The soundtrack however was very positive from the music press and even was nominated for the 1972 performance awards. The award went to Nino Rota for his score to the 1972 classic, The Godfather.
After listening to Music from Macbeth, my ears were intrigued from start to finish. It was like searching for the lost and hidden treasure that Long John Silver had hidden for many, many years. And I hope to discover more adventures to Third Ear Band’s music to come from Esoteric Recordings to see and hear what I was missing for many years.