Audion #56 (Spring 2010) A4, 40pp
A KRAUTROCKER'S GUIDE
TO NDW: Neue Deutsche Welle
out of print / sold out!
EGG & STEVE HILLAGE STORY - Canterbury
Scene pioneers 3 written byAlan Freeman
Commonly thought of as a Canterbury band, or at least as a key part of that scene, Egg were actually a London group. They did however have many of the trademarks of the "Canterbury sound" in a music that was reliant on keyboards, and a penchant for innovative exploration and experimentation that has earned them just cult status amongst prog and experimental music fans.
The roots of Egg go back to the unlikely named Uriel (in that it comes from Hebrew meaning "God is my light" and the name of an archangel it seems) was founded by three friends at The City of London School in early-1968 (or late-1967 according to some sources). The front-man and guitarist was one Steve Hillage (born Stephen Simpson Hillage, 2 August 1951, Chingford, London), along with Mont Campbell on bass (born Hugo Martin Montgomery Campbell, 30 December 1950 in Ismalia, Egypt) and Dave Stewart (also documented as born 30 December 1950, in Waterloo, London). They were then joined by Clive Brooks (born Clive Colin Brooks, 28 December 1949, in Bow, East London) after he replied to a drummer wanted ad in the Melody Maker music paper.
Until recently we could only really guess as to what the original Uriel sound was like. Although, as it is said that they started by playing covers of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and The Nice material, they obviously moved on very quickly to finding their own sound. A story about these early days features as the lyrics to A Visit To Newport Hospital on the second Egg album. Obviously Uriel's experimental music was too far out for regular concert venues.
The recent Uriel/Arzachel Collectors Edition CD contains four unreleased Uriel studio demos and a live track. Egoman is a pure proto-Egg song, as is Swooping Bill which has choppy organ and riffs along at great pace. The Salesman Song is a little different. Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age is a nice rendition of the classic Holst composition. It is said that Steve Hillage plays on two of these bonus tracks, but I can only hear guitar on little live snippet called The Stumble that closes the disc.
After Hillage left in summer 1968 to attend university, the remaining trio (confident that they could continue without a guitarist) went on to develop their own style further, working on original material penned by Campbell and Stewart. After disinterest in Uriel by prospective record companies, they decided to rename themselves simply as "Egg" as their intention was to "give birth to" a new music, a wise move it seems as a record deal with Decca soon followed.
a diversion: Arzachel
Almost unknown for a decade, we now encounter one of those weird diversions in Egg history: Arzachel. A management company called "Zackariya Enterprises" wanted to release a Uriel/Egg record on the new psychedelic exploitation label Evolution. They promised to pay the studio fees and a one-off payment for the release. I guess they jumped at the chance as they needed the money! A snag though, they couldn't use the name Egg or Uriel, nor their real names due to Egg now being under contract with Decca, so they decided on a new name for this project: Arzachel (the Latin name for an ancient Muslim scientist Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Zarqali, and also the name of a recent impact crater on the moon!).
Steve Hillage is credited as Simon Sasparella, Mont Campbell as Njerogi Gategaka, Clive Brooks as Basil Dowling, and Dave Stewart as Sam Lee-Uff . The accompanying cover notes are quite hilarious. Yet, in essence, the Arzachel LP is Uriel unbound by any commercial restrictions, and a gem of the British psychedelic underground.
Like many, I guess, I'd never heard of Arzachel until seeing the name on the Nurse With Wound list. I then found a copy of the original LP (sans cover) for a pound in a local bargain bin! I was quite gob-smacked I can tell you when I first played it. An amazing record that I already reviewed (the Satori LP reissue) in Audion #22...
So, forgetting the superlatives, what was Arzachel like? Actually it's a very varied album with very notable Steve Hillage presence, he was yet to master his echo-space guitar style, here donning the psychedelic mantle of fuzz and distortion. The first side features four very contrasting tracks: Garden of Earthly Delights - a fully blown slice of heavy psychedelia with a weird twist; Azathoth - a more typically Egg-like piece with Mont Campbell on vocals; Queen St. Gang - an instrumental featuring organ sounding like laid-back The Nice; and the blitzer Leg - a powerful blues number, with screeching keyboards, Hillage wailing in an almost drunken manner and trying to out-do Hendrix on the guitar. But, you ain't heard nothing yet! The second side has but two tracks in 27 minutes: Clean Innocent Fun again features Steve's vocals, and a song reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin, a touch bluesy and fragmented, however the centre section moves into overdrive, thunderous riffing like a cross between Egg and Group 1850. And if that weren't enough, we're really plunged into the deep end with Metempsychosis, a furious instrumental trek into deep space, travelling from Egg territory, via Pink Floyd and Ash Ra Tempel, and beyond onto the sizzling, bubbling atmospheric space-outs of early Tangerine Dream - a phenomenal work that would have been enough to give the album legendary status alone!
I can't fault that review at all, nor better it! Except to say that over 40 years on ARZACHEL is still fresh and vital, and Metempsychosis still sends shivers down the spine. The true sign of a classic.
back to the Egg
Basically an organ, bass & drums trio (plus vocals) Egg always sounded much more than that, in that they did those tricks well-known to Canterbury scene fans, adding copious amounts of effects to the bass and organ: distortion, fuzz, ring-modulation, echo, etc., fleshing out the sound and instrumental scope of what they could create. Dave Stewart also used a mysterious "tone generator".
As was typical with major labels at the time, Decca wanted an Egg single to test the water, and see what reaction they would get. A charming and iconic record Seven Is A Jolly Good Time / You Are All Princes. Although a catchy A-side Seven Is... referred to Egg's penchant for playing in odd time signatures, it jerks along merrily, but would be a pig to dance to. The B-side was more indicative of what we were to expect from the Egg song style, delivered in a vaguely classical/operatic style by Mont Campbell. I don't think it was a hit, but they quickly got kudos, with appearances on a number of BBC radio shows, and a regular gig residency at The Roebuck, Tottenham Court Road, central London.
Sessions for the first Egg album started in October 1969, and live they started to spread their wings a little further around London and even Redhill (outside London, but still nowhere near Canterbury!). Egg's simply eponymous debut appeared in shops on the 13th May 1970, but they soon ran into problems over legal copyright issues with the classical adaptation used in side 2's "Symphony No.2" Third Movement and a hasty repress was done omitting that, with the revised track information pasted onto the already printed LP covers!
Seemingly aiming for commercial suicide, the LP bore the following cover notes "The music on this L.P. is not dancing music, but basically music for listening to. It is harmonically and rhythmically complex, designed to be as original as possible within the confines of the instrumental line-up; so it's pretty demanding on the listener's attention." Of course that gained my interest! I tend to like what most people find "demanding".
The LP opens with the almighty echoed shattering of Bulb - a little 9 second jolt to the senses! Then we have a couple of patent Egg songs While Growing My Hair and I Will Be Absorbed, which could have been another single. In these tracks Mont's deep slightly warbled vocals are immediately recognisable from Arzachel. All change next with an adaptation of Bach's Fugue In D Minor, the closest Egg ever got to instrumental The Nice. The aptly titled They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano starts with someone shouting "oi!" and then a piano in classical mode, accompanied by weird squiggly electronic sound on left channel. An odd joke track indeed. Then we have another Egg song, with the rather cumbersome title The Song of McGillicudie The Pusillanimous (Or Don't Worry James, Your Socks Are Hanging In The Coal Cellar With Thomas) which flows along with pacey organ (kind of d-d-da, with odd skips and time changes) and very odd lyrics, it trundles along with gusto, then goes spacey, before it freaks out at the end. Next we have the first 58 second instalment of Boilk with backwards Mellotron and squiggly noise, abruptly edited into a mechanical harpsichord/bass clutter.
Side two was taken up by the aforementioned Symphony No.2 (what happened to No.1 I wonder?) a run-through of many well-known classical themes, all altered a little, given little extra twists and turns, one would have to be a classical expert to identify them all, actually separate tracks with slight pauses. "Movement 2" gets weirder towards the end in a dirge phase with ring modulation and electronics, but doesn't prepare us for "Blane" as that takes us elsewhere, completely! Here effects and processing take the front seat, a ring-modulation fans delight! a collage, it goes through many phases, with voice/effects loops and percussion, but mostly seems to be organ. "Movement 4" is the first to feature that patent "fuzz" on the organ, well-known to Caravan and Soft Machine fans, which we hear more of on further releases.
Later in May 1970 Egg started work on their second album, cryptically titled THE POLITE FORCE. But Decca start to quibble about the band's lack of a manager and that they weren't really playing live enough to promote the debut LP. It took until February 1971 for Egg to visit Canterbury, after which THE POLITE FORCE was eventually released seemingly begrudgingly. That is in spite of two more prestigious BBC appearances!
Even more experimental than its predecessor, THE POLITE FORCE stands out now as one of those groundbreaking icon albums of the early-1970's. Opening almost like a continuation from the end of the first LP is the aforementioned A Visit To Newport Hospital in which the lyrics (that enter after 2'55" in, that is) muse on the early days of the band "...when we was Uriel..." - listen to the song for more on that! Adding a small group of guest winds players on Contrasong we move a little closer to Soft Machine territory, or maybe The Nice meets Colosseum, though the song is uniquely Egg! The track ends with the sound of a real old humming automatic turntable returning from an LP run-off, as if to symbolise that what follows is a different side of Egg. And it is! This second extended 9 minute Boilk is a real weird one! The sound of boiling water followed by reverbed vibes take into a collage of Mellotron and backwards sounds, rasping on bass guitar strings and all sorts of other noises, lots of it backwards, some of it not, and after severely ring-modulated organ enters, swirling, it ends with a classical theme that I'm reliably informed is "Durch Adams Fall Ist Ganz Verdebt" by J.S. Bach, played quite solemnly. Side 2's opus Long Piece No.3 (Parts 1-4) takes us back to more familiar territory, but with a new power and complexity, more distorted lead organ and even more changes and diversions in its near-on 21 minutes than it's possible to write about!
Although now without a record company Egg continued, with a tour around Britain, eventually venturing as far as Scotland. But, in spite of continued interest, and a further BBC "Top Gear" appearance Egg split in July 1972.
In the latter days of Egg all three members had also become involved in the Ottawa Music Company, a big troupe also involving Chris Cutler, Jeremy Baines, Bob Chudley and others, increasingly becoming a hybrid of Egg and Henry Cow. So, although the Egg musicians had all gone their separate ways, they still met at sporadic Ottawa Music Company gigs. Dave Stewart had also featured as a special guest with Khan, the Steve Hillage band (see later in this article). As a result of all this, and Dave Stewart now being in Hatfield & The North, Virgin Records agree to issue a new Egg album, and the band momentarily reform in August 1974 to record THE CIVIL SURFACE.
unbalanced album, THE CIVIL SURFACE has always been a challenging one, and
was my first experience of Egg. A lot of the material had been well tested
and refined during gigs in 1971-72, but they decided to bring the sound more
up-to-date, making use of new studio possibilities. A really comical opening
Germ Patrol has speeded up marching drum, winds and helium-ised voice, before
we move into what sounds as much like instrumental Hatfield & The North
as it does Egg. Mont Campbell had been studying winds and musical arrangement
at an academy before this, which resulted in two Wind Quartet's being
featured here (tracks 2 and 7). Really, these pieces are not Egg at all, and
are almost uncomfortably cold! Enneagram is the first pure Egg number, given
a more nimble feel with a wider range of keyboard sounds, and some fine fuzz
bass work. No big extended classical based works on this album, in fact the
only classical theme that I recognise is in the 4 minute long Prelude, which
goes through many changes, including a little wordless chorale from Amanda
Parsons & co. (aka "The Northettes"), leading into Wring Out
The Ground (Loosely Now) an odd song with many diversions, getting very
Hatfield's again, and then very Caravan! It also features a guest appearance
from Steve Hillage. Nearch is another odd one, a piece of chamber music
really in the fashion of RIO acts like Univers Zero. Admittedly, I rarely
play the closing Wind Quartet II. But, apart from that, it's a fine album.
That's not all from Egg though, and you can read a bit more on that in the end chapter of this feature, and then there's the legacy of Egg musicians. But more on that later. First we go over to the Steve Hillage story...
Always a talented and original guitarist, Steve is thus a rarity as a key figure in the wider Canterbury scene, in which guitarists were few and far between! After the Uriel/Arzachel days Steve began studies at Kent University in Canterbury, where he met local bands Caravan and Spirogyra. He is said to have jammed with Caravan, and inspired by these experiences formed his own new band Khan. It was Caravan's manager Terry King who secured a record deal with Deram.
Khan can be seen as a super-group of sorts, with Nick Greenwood (from the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and his own "Cold Cuts" project, and a nice if patchy album that I only encountered recently) and Eric Peachey (drums, from Dr. K's Blues Band - of no interest unless you're a blues fan), joined by special guest Egg's Dave Stewart. Dave had joined-in on an earlier demo session, which helped secure the record deal. But during their history Khan also featured others, like: Pip Pyle (drums), Dick Henningham (organ, also with "Cold Cuts"), and one Val Stevens (organ, formerly of the Canadian band Grant Smith & The Power). An interesting point of note is that Arthur Brown featured at some recent Canterbury scene festivals, and I often wondered what the connection was - which turns out to be Nick Greenwood - but I digress!
On the album SPACE SHANTY Dave Stewart was drafted in on keyboards for all the sessions, giving a strong Egg backbone to the music, with the style stepping on also from the Arzachel album, with Steve's guitar even more refined and pyrotechnical than before, and heavy on the trippy echo effects. A powerful prog concoction, with lead vocals from Steve and Nick. You'll find brief mentions about this legendary LP in old Audions, in issue #11 where I mention the German issue on Brain, and this little bit on the Mantra label in Audion #16 "Talking of Steve Hillage. The much sought after and excellent SPACE SHANTY by Khan has also been reissued by Mantra (CD-only), with Dave Stewart on keyboards, It’s a great delight for all Gong, space-rock, progressive rock collectors alike." and in Audion #52 reviewing the Eclectic CD issue I said "...a complex prog blend often closer early Camel (and, intriguingly, this is before Camel ever released anything) ... A long time favourite really, the Khan sound has always been somewhat anomalous in its mixture of diverse elements, not least the strong songs and lots of powerful lead guitar, not things usually found in this British genre." So, if you want some quintessential British progressive rock with excellent song-writing, great arrangements, keyboards and guitars, space trips, classical diversions and the like, SPACE SHANTY is it!
After the departure of Nick Greenwood due to musical differences, Steve got together a second version of Khan, with Eric Peachey, Dave Stewart (Egg had just disbanded) and one Nigel Griggs (bass). Yet nothing much came out of it, except for some material that would later be developed on Steve's debut solo some years later.
After this Steve joined Kevin Ayers' live band Decadence in 1973, touring the UK and France, where he stayed after falling in love with the music of Gong. He ended up joining the band for Gong's FLYING TEAPOT sessions, becoming an integral part of the classic "Radio Gnome Invisible" band. Increasingly Steve added his own characteristics to the Gong sound, with his distinctive lead guitar style acting as the perfect counterpoint to Daevid Allen's glissando. Steve had become the second leader really, after fronting a different version of the band under the guise of Paragong during Daevid's absence for a month or so in September 1973. Thus, when Daevid split from in April 1975, Steve was left holding the mantle, something he was apparently never happy with, and he handed over the reigns to Pierre Moerlen after Gong's SHAMAL.
In the meantime, like many other Virgin label and Canterbury family musicians, Steve had also featured in Mike Oldfield's live "Tubular Bells" band, and can be seen on the BBC2 TV "2nd House" broadcast from December 1973. He also guested on Egg's final album THE CIVIL SURFACE and features alongside other Gong musician on the excellent Clearlight SYMPHONY album.
Actually Steve never ever went totally solo, and always collaborated with his partner (girlfriend since 1973) Miquette Giraudy. Her history goes back to the late-1960's as an assistant to French film maker Jackie Raynal, and more famously with Barbet Schroeder on the films "More" and "La Vallée" (both films with Pink Floyd soundtracks). She's also known under the guises of Monique or Marsiale Giraudy in other films. How she got involved in music and joined Gong I don't know. I think it had something to do with meeting at Robert Graves' home in Deya. But, whatever, Steve and Miquette have been almost inseparable since.
Whilst still with Gong, Steve had already established his solo career, debuting with the album FISH RISING in early-1975. Many people comment that this album was in essence a continuation of the second incarnation of Khan, yet it was also heavily indebted to his experiences in Gong. It again reunited Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart, with an all-star cast of Gong friends: Pierre Moerlen (drums), Mike Howlett (bass), Tim Blake (synthesizers), Didier Malherbe (winds), plus Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, from Henry Cow).
Quite an extraordinary album, and with quite a wide range of influences too, FISH RISING is quintessential Canterbury meets Gong, that is complex progressive that meets tripped-out space-rock and psychedelia. Just five tracks, three of them rather big outings, the album opens with the near-on 17 minute opus Solar Musick Suite, a complex succession of ideas, diversions and themes/songs, strewn with guitar pyrotechnics and all sorts of electronics. This is followed by the quirky eccentric little Fish and Meditation Of The Snake ending side 1. It's then kind of back to Khan territory with The Salmon Song and then pure Hillage/Gong trip-out with the opus Aftaglid. An extraordinary album from start to end!
Seemingly in an attempt to break it in the USA, the next album simply titled "L" was recorded at Todd Rundgren's Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, and featured three of Todd Rundgren's Utopia as the band: Roger Powell (piano, synthesizer), Kasim Sulton (bass) and John Wilcox (drums). The album though was a bit hit and miss, opening and closing with cover versions: Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man (not a bad rendition) and George Harrison's It's All Too Much - which was clearly a bit of a sell-out! Also at odds with the rest is a quaint version of an Indian song Om Nama Shivaya. The other tracks: Hurdy Gurdy Glissando, Electrick Gypsies, and Lunar Musick Suite added up to an excellent 27½ minutes of classic Steve Hillage though, so it wasn't all a sell-out.
Again in the USA, a year-on, Steve went to Los Angeles to work with Malcolm Cecil of Tonto's Expanding Headband fame, and a new band with Joe Blocker on drums, who would stay on hand for the next few years. The album MOTIVATION RADIO was not so great though, although it did have its moments, like the quirky Light In The Sky with Miquette Giraudy providing an off-kilter chorus, and Saucer Surfing which went on to become a huge extended opus at live gigs (as on the excellent LIVE AT THE RAINBOW bootleg).
Back in Britain, and getting back to nature and his roots, 1978's GREEN again had numerous moments of brilliance, not least the return to Gong with The Glorious OM Riff. At this time Steve and Miquette also featured on the excellent Nik Turner's Sphynx album XITINTODAY. It was quite a departure for the ex-Hawkwind winds player, with lots of Gong traits, cavernous flute diversions, electronics, trippy psych/space-rock, etc.
A collection of live recordings called LIVE HERALD next appeared, with a bigger band notable for French guitarist Christian Boulé also joining the ranks. The more recently issued LIVE AT THE DEEPLY VALE FESTIVAL '78 is also worth investigation.
An odd diversion at this time was the LP of ambient guitar and synth called RAINBOW DOME MUSICK, a commissioned work for meditation consisting of just one track per LP side, it's a slowly unfolding work of beauty, now rightly judged as a classic.
Further Hillage albums after this did little for me, except the "free album" AND NOT OR that came as a bonus with 1983's FOR TO NEXT had some material of interest. But you could tell that in the 1980's Steve's attempts to embrace the new-wave ran him into a creative brick wall. Years later Steve and Miquette resurfaced with the ambient "techno" project System 7, worked with The Orb and had quite a bit of success, none or little of it to my taste though. And then, to everyone's surprise he joined Gong again for the 40th anniversary gig in Amsterdam 2008, and since a new Gong album, remarkably still playing guitar in his own inimitable fashion!
An Egg live archive CD appeared in 2007, the oddly titled: THE METRONOMICAL SOCIETY, which contained a few of the BBC appearances and live recordings. Egg were always an excellent live band it seems, and there are some excellent live bootlegs out there as well (if you can find them), including most of the BBC stuff in pretty good quality. Much such stuff can be auditioned via things like YouTube these days as well. Also, I may not have emphasised it much, but there was always an underlying humour in Egg's music, especially so on THE CIVIL SURFACE. But live they would often pull out the odd unexpected piece of wacky stage panto, with "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside" acting as vehicles for almost Zappa-like pastiche. Serious music and wry humour can be a great combination!
As time went on, the importance of Egg as part of the wider Canterbury scene became more and more apparent, as they increasingly became wound into the wider web - that's the tangled web of bands with Canterbury as the hub, all part of a much bigger/wider scene. With Egg it was not only the Steve Hillage axis and connections, via Gong, etc., but also in how Egg's music lived on in other bands, first with Hatfield & The North, and especially so in National Health, where Dave Stewart's trademarks carry the music beyond Egg to innovative pastures new. But that's all another story!