James Blood Ulmer
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
Urbanus van Anus
Us & Them
Use of Ashes
Force it (1975, 37.42) ****/TTLet it Roll
Love Lost Love
Out in the Street
Too Much of Nothing
Dance Your Life Away
This Kid's/Between the Walls
No Heavy Petting (1976, 35.23) ****/TNatural Thing
I'm a Loser
Can You Roll Her
On With the Action
A Fool in Love
North London-based UFO started life as a bad space-rock band, releasing a couple of albums which only sold in Germany and Japan, but in 1973 they went through a series of guitarist changes, ending up with 17 year-old German wunderkind Michael Schenker, nicked from support act the Scorpions. I doubt if Schenker was actually responsible for the immediate stylistic change; I suspect the band had been wanting to head in a more mainstream direction anyway, and utilised young Michael's considerable talents to that end.
'74's Phenomenon (***) is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, although it contains future classics Doctor Doctor and the mighty Rock Bottom. By the following year, the band had really got their act together, and Force it has nary a duff track on it, with no less than five songs finding their way onto their superb live double of a few years later, Strangers in the Night (*****). High Flyer is the album's ballad, with some Mellotron strings under Schenker's (melodic, as always) guitar solo. Producer Leo Lyons, from Ten Years After (non-coincidentally also on Chrysalis), brought in TYA's keyboard player Chick Churchill on keys; he adds some particularly effective 'Tron choir onto Between The Walls, a beautiful instrumental piece by the guitarist, presumably referring to the still-extant Berlin wall, segueing in from This Kid's.
The band brought in a full-time keyboard player, Danny Peyronel (from the Heavy Metal Kids) for their follow-up, '76's No Heavy Petting, a move which appeared to be only sporadically successful on stage. The album's pretty much as good as its predecessor, although fewer of the tracks became live favourites; talking of which, is the fantastic live b-side version of On With The Action ever going to be made available on CD? Anyway, I've only just decided that there's definitely Mellotron on the thing, with strings on Belladonna that I'm still not entirely sure about, and a definite (if background) choir part on Peyronel's Martian Landscape.
UFO kept the quality up through their next handful of releases, until Schenker left in 1978, and the band started their irreversible decline. They're still (technically) going today, back with Schenker (note: he's gone again), but their glory days are sadly long behind them. As far as Force it (dreadful pun!) and No Heavy Petting go, if you like UK hard rock, they're two of the five or six essential UFO albums, although 'Tron fans probably need not apply.
Be There (1999, 16.53/40.31) ***/TTBe There
Be There (underdog remix)
The Knock on Effect
[Japanese ed. adds:
Be There (KZA & DJ Kent remix)
Celestial Annihilation (dub version)
The Knock (indopepsychics remix)
Celestial Annihilation (DJ Assault remix)
Celestial Annihilation (the committee remix)]
Never, Never, Land (2003, 59.39) ***/½
|Back and Forth
Eye for an Eye
In a State
Safe in Mind (Please Get This Gun
From Out My Face)
I Need Something Stronger
What Are You to Me?
End Titles... Stories for Film (2008, 73.44) ***/½
|End Titles (Odyssey in Rome)
Cut Me Loose
Ghosts (string reprise)
Kaned and Abel (Odyssey in Rome)
Blade in the Back (Odyssey in Rome)
Synthetic Water (Odyssey in Rome)
Cut Me Loose (string reprise)
Against the Grain
Even Balance (part two) (Odyssey in Rome)
Trouble in Paradise (Variation on a Theme)
In a Broken Dream (Odyssey in Rome)
Open Up Your Eyes (Odyssey in Rome)
Romeo Void (Odyssey in Rome)
Heaven (Odyssey in Rome)
The Piano Echoes (Odyssey in Rome)
UNKLE are a British electronica outfit, shifting about within the dance spectrum from release to release as they see fit. Originally a duo, they now seem to be essentially James Lavelle's solo project plus various collaborators, some of whom stay in the set-up for years, including members of (amongst many others), Radiohead, Metallica (Jason Newstead, of course), Badly Drawn Boy, The Verve, Queens of the Stone Age, Masters of Reality... You get the picture.
1999's Be There single is a remake of Unreal from their debut from the previous year, Psyence Fiction, featuring ex-Stone Rose Ian Brown. To my ears, it typifies the indie/dance crossover, not that I know an awful lot about the scene. Imagine an indie single with a dance backing... Yup, that easy. The 'b'-side, so to speak, The Knock On Effect, does the same trick even better, rocking out in grand style with programmed beats. It can be done, folks... The original single was a three-track affair, expanded to album length in Japan through the addition of another five remixes and other pertinent stuff, although the extra material really is only for the faithful. Guy Sigsworth is credited with Mellotron on both versions of Be There, but it's only audible on the lead track, with ethereal choirs (sorry) all the way through. Sigsworth isn't credited on Psyence Fiction, so I suspect the 'Tron was added as part of the rebuilding procedure.
The wittily-titled Never, Never, Land followed four years later and despite the collective's reputation for keeping ahead of the pack, it doesn't sound a million miles away from some of the material on the expanded Be There. Another impressive list of collaborators this time round, including Graham Gouldman, Eno and Jarvis Cocker, some more obviously than others. Lavelle plays 'Tron on one track, with the most minuscule amount of choir on What Are You To Me?, sung by the very ordinary Joel Cadbury of South.
2008's lengthy End Titles... Stories for Film is usually listed as a compilation, but seems to be largely new work. Lavelle's shifted even further towards the rock/dance area with this release, distorted guitar audible on more than half its tracks, the rest sounding like, unsurprisingly, film music, contributors including Robbie Furze from The Big Pink and several members of Big in Japan/Lake Trout. Although several tracks contain what could be a Mellotron, it's only actually credited on one, with a vague string part on Heaven (Odyssey In Rome) from Lavelle's brother Aidan.
UNKLE are presumably of considerable interest to anyone involved in the dance scene, such as it is these days. They're listenable to a non-fan of the genre, even if the programming gets a bit much occasionally; this is intelligently-constructed music that sounds like it isn't solely designed to dance to. Only one passable 'Tron track across three releases, though, while non-fans aren't going to be impressed anyway.
See: James Lavelle | Garbage | Sasha
Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions (2007, 48.48) ***½/½
|Survivors of the Hurricane
Sad Days, Lonely Nights
Let's Talk About Jesus
This Land is Nobody's Land
Commit a Crime
Grinnin' in Your Face
|There is Power in the Blues
Old Slave Master
James "Blood" Ulmer's career didn't kick off properly until his late twenties, when he joined Ornette Coleman's band at the beginning of the '70s, releasing his first solo album in 1977. 2007's New Orleans-recorded Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions is something like his twentieth, an appealing mélange of blues, rock, funk and a smattering of jazz, Ulmer's raw vocals and ripping guitar work driving the whole shebang. Lyrically, at least two tracks deal with the fallout from the then-recent Hurricane Katrina, while covers include Willie Dixon's amusing Dead Presidents and material by John Lee Hooker and Junior Kimbrough.
Leon Gruenbaum plays Mellotron, with distant strings on Let's Talk About Jesus, although that would appear to be it. Blues fans probably already know this album, but if you're looking for a modern title from the oeuvre to enhance your collection, I can heartily recommend this as an example of how to successfully merge tradition and contemporary influences, without heading down the dreaded 'R&B' route.
|CDS (1998, 20.27) ***½/TT½
Underwater Love Story
Can't Say No
|CDS (1998, 32.41) ***½/T½
I'll Show You Mine
One Plus One
I'll Show You Mine
|CDS (1999, 10.52) ***½/T
Death of a Drag Racer
Everything Picture (1999, 87.29) ***½/TTT½
|Cross My Heart
Happy Times (Are Coming)
Aire & Calder
My Impossible Dream
Ultrasound's roots lie in wonderfully eclectic Newcastle combo Sleepy People (later Blue Apple Boy), via the short-lived Pop-a-Cat-a-Petal; vocalist Tiny Wood and guitarist/songwriter Richard Green played in both bands, Green switching from bass for the new outfit. Ultrasound took what they learned and applied it to late-'90s UK indie, creating a crossover I can only describe as indie/prog, for its sins. They released a handful of singles before their sole album, Everything Picture, after which they imploded. Tiny (guess what: he isn't) was last seen guesting with Blue Apple Boy, but the rest of the band's whereabouts are currently unknown.
I haven't heard their debut single, Same Band and there's nothing Mellotronic on their first for Nude, '98's Best Wishes, but the first version of Stay Young from later that year (it was released in two different versions) features strings, flutes and cellos on one of its b-sides, the lengthy Can't Say No. The non-album I'll Show You Mine uses all three tracks on its last listed track, Lovesick, while one of the extra tracks on the first version of Floodlit World, the band's version of The Beatles' Getting Better, features the cellos.
My copy of Everything Picture is a double CD that says 'limited edition' on the cover; I believe the italicised tracks above aren't on the single-disc version (the timing is for the double only). Despite its sometime overt Indieisms, it's actually a pretty good album, although Tiny's vocal stylings can grate after a while; strange, since they didn't with his previous (and subsequent) bands. Oh well. Tracks lengths tend to veer between four and six minutes, with ambient links making them appear longer, apart from the title track, which is about six or seven minutes of song, followed by thirteen or fourteen of freeform noise, ebbing and flowing over its length. It's followed by nearly fifteen minutes of silence, with a short piano-led uncredited track at the end of the disc, à la some versions of Nirvana's Nevermind. I suspect this track is missing from the single-CD version, if it exists; the album length I've put above is minus the gap.
The Mellotron use is actually quite heavy; flute parts on Cross My Heart and Happy Times, and some excellent strings on Sentimental Song. There are more flutes on the song part of Everything Picture itself, then during the improv section, keyboard man Matt Jones utilises the strings superbly, particularly in the quiet section and then to the end. I believe Ultrasound bought an M400 from Streetly at considerable cost; I've no idea what's happened to it since the split, but hopefully it was passed on to a deserving case.
So; I have to recommend this, even to die-hard progheads. It's a good album, though 'great' eludes it, mainly due to the sometimes rather indifferent songwriting. Good record, good 'Tron. Don't spend a fortune, but pick it up if you see it at a sensible price (I did).
Demolotion (1997, 57.57) ***½/½
|Half Man Half Wrecking Ball
The Middle of Monday
The Walls You Walk Through
Girl Named God
My Weary Eyes
The Umajets are basically ex-Jellyfishers Tim Smith and Roger Manning's next project, and while they've carried some of their alma mater's talent over to the new outfit, the overall impression I get of Demolotion (listed as 'Demolition' everywhere, of course - I had to look twice) is of a band trying desperately to be as good as their previous outfit, and not quite making it. The excellent Half Man Half Wrecking Ball starts things off well, but so-so efforts such as No Mattress or Girl Named God fatally compromise the album. Actually, with a bit of editing, this would've made a far better 40-minute record. It could even have been pressed on LP...
Manning is credited with Mellotron on The Wannabees, but unless those are flutes hidden somewhere in the mix, it's effectively inaudible. However, suspiciously Mellotron-like lines crop up on a few other tracks (notably Daphne's Disease), but aren't mentioned in the exhaustive track-by-track credits, so who knows? Overall, this falls into the 'good not great' category, I'm afraid, so unless you're a powerpop obsessive, I'd only really bother if you see it cheap.
Blood Lust (2011, 47.36) ***½/TI'll Cut You Down
Over and Over Again
Curse in the Trees
I'm Here to Kill You
Withered Hand of Evil
Cambridge-based trio Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats began as a recording project, releasing the limited-edition Vol. 1 on their own label in 2010, following up with 2011's Blood Lust, also picked up for vinyl release by Rise Above. According to interviews, the album's supposed to be something of a concept effort involving a witchfinder type, his wrongdoings and eventual comeuppance, which is certainly backed up by the lyrics. Musically, the band have one basic influence: Black Sabbath. Unafraid to channel that early '70s boogie feel (or 'the pariah of modern doom'), the album comes across as a straight cross began pastiche and homage, tracks like opener I'll Cut You Down, Over And Over Again (great guitar hook) and the superb Withered Hand Of Evil displaying Uncle Acid's Ozzy-esque vocal style to its best advantage.
Mr Acid himself plays the upfront, real-sounding Mellotron strings on Withered Hand Of Evil and flutes on the untitled bonus track (is this missing from the vinyl version?); where did he source a real machine? Who knows? This knocks your average doom-by-numbers crew into the proverbial cocked hat; a band with a genuine love of an era, with the will and songwriting chops to carry it off, unlike others I could name, but shan't. The vinyl's long sold out, but this is still available on CD. Buy.
What an Experiment His Head Was (1991, 47.48) ***/T½
|I Always Knew You'd Come to Me
I Don't Know (I Just Wish)
I Don't Wanna Know About it
I'm Goin' Down
The Deal of a Lifetime
By the Way (Not Even Then)
I Won't Let it Drop
Don't Fix it if it Works
Book of Bad Thoughts (1992, 46.12) ***½/TT
|I Know All About You
I Don't Wanna Know About it
Wake Up Now
Look Into the Light
She's Storing it Up
You're Getting Into it
In Good Time
|He Woke Up Naked
The Blue Light
A Good Man
I Always Knew You'd Come to Me
Forming in 1980, power-popsters Uncle Green took six years to get an album out, 1991's What an Experiment His Head Was being their fourth release. It combines college rock sensibilities with powerpop (frequent bedfellows anyway), better tracks including the powerpop of I Don't Wanna Know About It, Misfit Mouth and Don't Fix It If It Works. Producer Brendan O'Brien (credited as 'Bud O'Brien & His Dog') plays Mellotron, with raucous cellos on opener I Always Knew You'd Come To Me, skronky strings on I Don't Know (I Just Wish) and great string pitchbends and flutes on Like Today.
The band were clearly on their last legs (at least in that incarnation) by their fifth album, 1992's Book of Bad Thoughts, which turned out to be their swansong. It's actually a pretty good record, far better than efforts I've heard by supposed deities of the genre, although it falls slightly short in places (so how many albums don't?). Best tracks? Possibly I Don't Wanna Know About It, He Woke Up Naked and A Good Man, despite its generic-boogie intro, with nothing actively cringeworthy on board. Band member Bill Decker and producer Brendan O'Brien both play Mellotron, with a strings solo on opener I Know All About You, pitchbends included, with more of the same on You're Getting Into it and massed cellos on closer I Always Knew You'd Come To Me, making for a medium-heavy 'Tron album, definitely worth it if you're a powerpop fan anyway.
Incidentally, after their mid-'90s split, the band regrouped as the awkwardly-named 3 Lb. Thrill, although I don't believe they used a Mellotron again.
MySpace fan page
War in the Night Before (1971, 37.14) ***½/TT½
|War in the Night Before
Hard to Group
For many years, the mysterious Underground Set were so anonymous that one usually well-informed expert listed them as being British. It seems they actually consisted of members of Nuova Idea, their material being composed by Le Orme's producer, Gian Piero Reverberi. 1971's instrumental War in the Night Before (their second and last release) has more than a whiff of soundtrack about it - in fact, tracks by the band were used in films - highlights including the dirty, heavy psych of the opening title track, the lethargic Cool Paradise and Oblivion, while the slothful Una Lettera is a dead ringer for Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade Of Pale.
It seems likely that the uncredited keyboard player was Nuova's Giorgio Usai; whoever he is, he adds Mellotron to several tracks, with MkII brass on the title track, a clicky, pitchbent flute solo on Cronic Illness [sic], more lead flute on the cinematic Car Driving and the gentle Oblivion and a final blast of unruly brass on closer Hopeless Train. I have no idea why an album like this, ripe for progressive collectors' circles, has never been released on CD, so here's hoping for a swift resolution to the issue.
See: Nuova Idea
Cosmic Truth (1975, 41.18) ***½/TEarthquake Shake
Down By the River
Lil' Red Ridin' Hood
Squeeze Me, Tease Me
Got to Get My Hands on Some Lovin'
(I Know) I'm Losing You
Motown master writer/producer Norman Whitfield, responsible for The Temptations' success, amongst others, formed The Undisputed Truth in the early '70s to further his psychedelic soul vision. Cosmic Truth was their fifth album (of six), and is certainly true to Whitfield's ideal; it opens with an outrageous slice of psych/funk/rock, Earthquake Shake, before 'souling-up' Neil Young's Down By The River, which responds surprisingly well to the treatment. UFO's is a ludicrous song about alien invasion paranoia, fuelled by acid-fried vocals and fuzz guitar, while Squeeze Me, Tease Me is a bonkers hard rock/funk crossover. I think you get the picture...
Mellotron (from Mark Davis) on one track only; the last two minutes of Earthquake Shake are a 'Tron strings'n'flutes extravaganza, over the earthquake rumble that runs through the track, though sadly, that's it on the 'Tron front. This is the kind of soul album, not entirely unlike the Chairmen of the Board's Skin I'm in from the previous year, or anything by Funkadelic, that it's acceptable for rock fans to listen to, with plenty of ripping leads and experimental production tricks. There ain't a lot of 'Tron, but it's worth trying to hear the one relevant track.
Unified Theory (2000, 48.15) **½/½
Instead of Running
The Sun Will Come
Unified Theory (named for Einstein's final, unfinished work) grew out of an attempt to reform the ill-fated Blind Melon, after vocalist Shannon Hoon's senseless, drug-fuelled demise. Bassist Brad Smith and guitarist Christopher Thorn took on ex-Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen and an unknown frontman, Chris Shinn. Ex-Blind Melon and Pearl Jam? Whadd'ya reckon they sounded like, then? Pick an answer from the drop-down menu below:
Well, what did you pick? Either choice is correct. OK, maybe I'm being a tad unfair, but Unified Theory is a pretty bland record, with no obviously memorable material and a very generic sound. The band split up the year after its release, so it looks like they agreed with me. Mellotron? Thorn plays it, waiting until the album's dying seconds to put down a string line on Keep On, but it's hardly something you couldn't do without. So; Unified Theory: been and gone. No loss. Next.
See: Blind Melon | Pearl Jam
Ceux du Dehors (1981, 50.14) ****/TDense
La Corne du Bois des Pendus
Bonjour Chez Vous
La Musique d'Erich Zann
La Tete du Corbeau
Triomphe des Mouches
Univers Zero could easily be mistaken for a Crimson/Henry Cow influenced outfit, but I suspect it's more likely that they just listened to the same early 20th-century composers. Notably, however, there's no jazz in their sound whatsoever, or, for that matter, much actual rock. Ceux du Dehors is dense, difficult music, instrumental, with lengthy drumless passages utilising various members of the woodwind family. Suffice to say, Marillion it ain't. Thankfully. It's the sort of album that repays repeated plays, but unless you're already well into the avant-garde, don't expect to 'get it' first time.
Andy Kirk plays Mellotron on the two longest tracks, the appropriately-named Dense and Combat, although there's not an awful lot to be heard on either. A brief string part on the former and some flute chords on the latter, with possibly a few string chords, and that's it, although I'm sure I can hear some 'Tron strings on the improvised La Musique d'Erich Zann, which, for some reason, doesn't have any musicians' credits. So; a very good album, if slightly hard work, but not really one for the Mellotron fan.
See: Samples | Present
Lovin' Feeling (1973, 36.17) ***/TKeep on Trippin'
Another Funky Tune
Being at War With Each Other
You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
I Still Love You
You've Been Around Too Long
Phil Upchurch is an American jazz guitarist, active since the late '50s, who's worked with Stan Getz and B.B. King, amongst many others. His eighth solo album, 1973's Lovin' Feeling, is a pretty straight jazz/soul/funk effort of the time, quite unlike Ben Sidran's Puttin' in Time on Planet Earth from the same year, on which Upchurch guests. Most of the album's instrumental, featuring Upchurch's phenomenal playing, the only familiar tune being his reworking of The Walker Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling as a Latinesque, jazzy instrumental.
The superbly-named Tennyson Stephens plays Mellotron, with background strings on opener Keep On Trippin' and I Still Love You, clearly intended to dep for an absent orchestra. I think it's fair to say that this one's strictly for jazz fans; it doesn't even feature enough Mellotron to be worth hearing on that account.
Upp (1975, 37.17) ***½/TT½Bad Stuff
It's a Mystery
Get Down in the Dirt
Give it to You
Count to Ten
After recording several albums with south coast blues-boomers Clark Hutchinson, multi-instrumentalist Andy Clark put Upp together in the mid-'70s, calling on the talents of none other than an uncredited Jeff Beck on their self-titled debut. Upp is a funny sort of record; very '70s, it's that mixture of soul, funk and blues that went out of fashion very quickly, assuming it had ever been in. The playing is fantastic, with Rhodes, clavinet and Moog work to die for, and (presumably) Clark has a fantastic 'soul shouter' voice, sounding more like a low-budget Isaac Hayes than a white kid from the south (coast). Not so sure about the material, but then, anything in the soul area is well outside my normal taste boundaries, unless it falls into the 'psychedelic funk' territory of Chairmen of the Board or Edwin Birdsong.
Clark plays background 'Tron strings on opener Bad Stuff and It's A Mystery, with a more upfront part on the, er, 'low down and dirty' Give It To You. Closer Count To Ten adds flutes to the mix, making for a couple of good 'Tron tracks, although I suspect that a lack of orchestral budget is the probable reason, rather than a love of the Mellotron for itself. Or maybe not? Now there seems to be some confusion here: an Andy Clark joined Be-Bop Deluxe in late 1975, in time to tour their Futurama opus (also playing 'Tron on stage, at least initially), but it seems I (and others) have made a bit of an assumption by linking the two. According to the sleevenotes in Get Down in the Dirt: The Complete Upp, they're two different people, which figures, given the timescale. The Be-Bop chap would've been far too busy to have any other projects running concurrently and (the real giveaway), none of the blokes pictured in the Upp anthology look anything like him. So, two keyboard-playing Andy Clarks around at the same time; odd, but far from impossible.
Upp released one more album, the 'Tron-free This Way Upp, which is largely dull with one great instrumental track; both albums and some later demos, often bootlegged as being by Jeff Beck, are contained on the aforementioned Get Down in the Dirt: The Complete Upp. Anyway, Upp seems to be pretty good at what it does, but if you're not into UK soul, you're unlikely to like the bulk of it, with the possible exception of the epic Give It To You. Decent 'Tron work on two songs, and background stuff on a couple of others, making this a passable 'Tron album, to my surprise.
Urbanus van Anus Leevend (1974, 37.16) ***/T
De Konijnekotelaar (a)
De Konijnekotelaar (b)
In het Midden van de Nacht
De Wereld is om Zeep
Simfonieke van den Uitkomen
So what kind of a name is Urbanus van Anus? Also known as Urbanus and other nom de plumes, Urbain Joseph Servranckx is a Flemish-speaking Belgian comedian/musician/actor/author, vaguely comparable with, say, Billy Connolly, although his songs are better-known. In Belgium, anyway. Side one of 1974's Urbanus van Anus Leevend is a document of his live show, combining music and stand-up, recorded at Stadsschouwburg van Brugge (Bruges) in October of that year; listening to this not speaking a word of Flemish (essentially Dutch) feels like being the uninvited guest, but then, Urbanus didn't make this for Brits, did he? Side two is studio, with a full band, although the style essentially remains the same, a jovial 'massed male voice' kind of thing, that hasn't aged especially well.
Jean Blaute plays Mellotron on closer Simfonieke Van Den Uitkomen, with overdubbed string and flute parts, always welcome, if a tad inessential. Students of Low Countries humour (low humour?) might be interested in hearing this, but I think the rest of us can probably pass.
Pure (1991, 50.15) **/0
|I See Hope in the Morning Light
Cold, Cold Heart
Let it Go?
Light in Your Eyes
|Hands Around My Heart
While it's convenient to break events of all kinds into decades, real life isn't that simple; in some ways, the '60s finished before the end of 1969, but in other ways dragged on several years into the '70s, which in turn finished around 1978 or 9. The same goes for the horrors of 1980s music; as late as 1993, many atrocious '80s production tricks could still be heard on records (see: The Rime of the Ancient Sampler for details...).
James "Midge" Ure, OBE, worked his way up through Slik and the Rich Kids before joining Ultravox for their fourth album, Vienna, who eventually dissolved, leaving him to his sporadically successful solo career. Pure appears to be his fourth solo album, and while not being the Full Duran, it still reminds the listener far more of the '80s than any other decade, despite being released in 1991, justifying my lengthy and tedious point above. This might be just about acceptable if the songs were any good, but with the exception of the fake-accordion driven Tumbling Down, they're not, and as a bonus, Ure's voice seems to've lost its charm of old. I'm sure he's a very nice man, but this is a dull album. There's credited Mellotron on Rising, from Josh Phillips Gorse (note: this man once played with the mighty Diamond Head), but it's totally inaudible amongst the wash of duff digital synths; I mean, why bother?
So; a dull album, horrible production, and inaudible Mellotron. Maybe not. Incidentally, there's supposed to be more 'Mellotron' on 1988's Answers to Nothing (a good year for Mellotrons, that), but rather predictably, there isn't.
Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (1970, 40.25/50.49) ***½/TT½
Walking in Your Shadow
Come Away Melinda
Real Turned on
I'll Keep on Trying
Wake Up (Set Your Sights)
Bird of Prey (US album version)
Born in a Trunk
Come Away Melinda (unreleased version)
Gypsy (extended version)
Wake Up (Set Your Sights) (unreleased version)
Born in a Trunk (unreleased version)
Dreammare (BBC session)
Gypsy (BBC session)]
Salisbury (1970, 38.45/45.25) ****½/T½Bird of Prey
Time to Live
Lady in Black
Simon the Bullet Freak
High Priestess (single edit)]
Return to Fantasy (1975, 40.37/57.49) **½/T
|Return to Fantasy
Your Turn to Remember
Why Did You Go
|A Year or a Day
Shout it Out
The Time Will Come
Beautiful Dream (unreleased version)
Return to Fantasy (edit)]
High and Mighty (1976) **/T
|One Way or Another
Weep in Silence
Can't Keep a Good Band Down
Woman of the World
Footprints in the Snow
Can't Stop Singing
|Make a Little Love
The Lansdowne Tapes (1993, recorded 1969-71, 77.26) ***/T
|Born in a Trunk
Simon the Bullet Freak
Here am I
What's Within My Heart
What Should Be Done
I Want You Babe
Born in a Trunk (instrumental)
Look at Yourself
Uriah Heep have become an institution on the British rock scene; over thirty years in the business, with nearly as many albums. Notorious for their ever-changing personnel, they've kept the same lineup now for well over a decade, and have actually increased their public profile of recent years. Oddly enough, they've had two separate bursts of Mellotronic activity during their career, starting with the late-'60s pre-Heep outfit Spice. Their debut, Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (a not very good pun on their Dickensian name) began as a Spice session, and ended as a Uriah Heep album, with organist Ken Hensley brought in fairly late in the proceedings. As a result, some of the keyboard work, including the Mellotron, was played by a session guy, Colin Wood; I believe Wood played on Come Away Melinda and Wake Up, with Hensley on I'll Keep On Trying.
Of the three tracks on the original release, I'll Keep On Trying has a little 'Tron flute, and Wake Up features quite a bit of strings work, but it's the album's big ballad, Come Away Melinda which really does the business. Starting with overdubbed flutes and strings, this is a marvellous piece of work; very emotive, and well worth anyone's time. Melinda wasn't a band original, and was recorded by several different people at the time, including the early post-psychedelic UFO. Heep themselves re-recorded it recently, sans 'Tron, of course... Irritatingly, a new version of the remastered CD has appeared recently, with loads more bonus tracks than the original. Funnily enough, I'd just been alerted to the fact that the US version of the album, released the following year and called simply Uriah Heep dropped Lucy Blues and added a remixed version of Bird Of Prey from the UK Salisbury, including some tasteful 'Tron overdubs on the chorus. There's also another stunning version of Melinda, definitely with Wood on 'Tron, almost certainly a Mark II, and a different mix of Wake Up (Set Your Sights).
Very 'Eavy's follow-up, Salisbury is an excellent album, particularly the 16-minute title track, the nearest Heep ever got to out-and-out prog, utilising woodwind and brass sections. It was only recently, however, that I noticed the bit of Mellotron that had crept onto the album; major acoustic guitar workout Lady In Black features a nice single-note string line throughout much of the song, and even more recently that I spotted the low-in-the-mix strings on Bird Of Prey, meaning that the US version isn't so different to the UK after all.
There was no more 'Tron to be heard on a Heep album for some years; not until, in fact, their slight return to form after the abysmal Wonderworld (**), '75's Return to Fantasy. After relatively long-term bassist New Zealander Gary Thain left under a cloud after an unfortunate on-stage electrocution incident (not the cause of his subsequent death, incidentally), he was replaced by recently ex-King Crimson man John Wetton, who brought one of Crimson's old M400s with him, which Heep magnanimously allowed him to play on one track each of the two albums he made with them. Why Did You Go is a rather lightweight countryish song, with some fairly nice strings, while Midnight, from the following year's High and Mighty is a rather average mid-paced rocker (like much of its parent album, it has to be said) with some flutes and strings in the middle. Neither album is especially strong, I'm afraid, although Return to Fantasy's title track is a real cast-iron classic, recently resuscitated by the band as their set opener. Good move, chaps.
In 1993, a fascinating CD appeared rounding up all the old Spice demos, The Lansdowne Tapes, including outtakes from Very 'Eavy. One of these, I Want You Babe, featuring Colin Wood again, is the only unreleased 'Tron track in the Heep vaults, it seems; it features a little flute, in a similar manner to Very 'Eavy's I'll Keep On Trying, but it's easy to see why the latter made their first album when the former didn't.
So, to sum up: the only Uriah Heep album even slightly worth buying for its Mellotron use is Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble, particularly the 2003 remaster, although their next few releases, Salisbury, Look at Yourself (****½), the magnificent Demons and Wizards (*****) and possibly The Magician's Birthday (***½) and Sweet Freedom (***½) are all worth hearing. None of the other three listed here are worth it for the 'Tron, or that much of the music, to be honest. The Lansdowne Tapes has some good moments, but one of the best, Born In A Trunk, is available in a different version on the remaster of Very 'Eavy anyway.
See: David Byron | John Wetton
Slain By Urusei Yatsura (1998, 43.35) **½/T½
No 1 Cheesecake
No No Girl
Slain By Elf
|King of Lazy
Skull in Action
Scotland's Urusei Yatsura, confusingly known as Yatsura in the States and Japan for legal reasons, were named for a Japanese manga comic, opting to play a fairly raucous brand of British indie. Slain By Urusei Yatsura (or Slain By Yatsura) is the second of their three albums and while fans of the style probably rate it, the rest of us are more likely to sit there mystified, wondering why they bothered. OK, there's a few amusing lyrical twists, but musically, it's more of that 'yeah, we've heard the Velvets' stuff that has almost entirely consumed the alternative scene in the Western world. Who'd'a thunk it, eh? Lou's boys becoming so influential? The Velvets are fine, it's just 99.9% of the bands that followed.
Fergus Lawrie plays Mellotron, with a screechy pitchbent strings part on No No Girl and (presumably 'Tron) cellos on King Of Lazy and closer Amber, although only No No Girl does anything you haven't necessarily heard before. So; rowdy indie, not much 'Tron, go elsewhere. Easy.
Summerisle EP (2011, 12.48) ***½/TTCorn Rigs
Although Swedish psych/folk duo Us & Them (can't imagine where they got their moniker) have only released one album to date, they have several EPs to their name, making me think they may be happier working in the abbreviated format. The fifth of these, Summerisle, is, of course, the band's tribute to the iconic The Wicker Man (no, you fool, not the shitty remake), although a friend 'in the know' tells me that their versions of four songs from the soundtrack aren't a patch on the originals. To my ears, they're pretty good takes on the material, though, Corn Rigs being a highlight.
Tony "Frobisher Neck" Swettenham guests on dulcimer and Mellotron, although the only definite use are a sparse flute part on Fire Leap and flutes and strings on the lengthy(ish) Willow's Song, more obviously on the latter. Worth buying this for? Barely, to be honest. What's more, I'm not even sure whether this is still in print; there have been several vinyl editions, but the only CD version appears to be a promo.
An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place (2001, 62.35) **/½
|An Ordinary Day in an Unusual
Place (part 1)
You Can't Hold Me Down
Let My Dreams Come True
Sittin' on My Park Bench
Dead End Street
Enough (Bonus Beats)
World No More
Sugar Sugar (She She Wah Wah)
An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place (part 2)
I didn't realise how much I'd dislike Us3's An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place until I stuck the disc in the player. Aargh! Hip-hop! OK, jazzy, Latin-flavoured hip-hop, but still hip-hop... However hard I try, I simply cannot understand why this is supposed to be a pleasurable listening experience; the two central tenets of hip-hop are rhythm and rhyme, whereas mine are melody and harmony, so it's hardly surprising that even when it isn't a tuneless racket, it still irritates me intensely. India and An Ordinary Day In An Unusual Place (part 2) were the only tracks that didn't have me reaching for the 'skip' button, but that isn't actually a recommendation.
Tim Vine plays various interesting keyboards on Sugar Sugar (She She Wah Wah), including a great MiniMoog solo, but the only Mellotron I can even possibly hear is a faint string line about halfway through the song. As a result, unless you like the sound of the band, steer well clear.
The Castle of Fair Welcome (1988, 53.30) ****/TT½
Eve of Separation
Gallant White Horses
Five Lucky Hands
|The Forest is Still
On a Gloomy Afternoon
An Owl Told Us
Where the Fish Can Sing
Twelfth Night, a White Spider
The Use of Ashes mutated out of the cheekily-named Mekanik Kommando in the mid-'80s, emerging as early players in the darkwave game, although I doubt if they ever thought of themselves in those terms. I believe 1988's The Castle of Fair Welcome was originally intended to be a Mekanik Kommando album, before the trio dropped some of their electronics for more acoustic instrumentation and changed their name. It's a drifting record, occasionally breaking into a gallop, though always briefly, before slipping back into its dreamlike state, with impossibly gothic (note: not Goth) subject matter. Would anyone try to get away with calling songs An Owl Told Us or Twelfth Night, A White Spider these days? I doubt it. The overall effect is of a waking dream, maybe, resting yet restless... Er, sorry, it seems to be catching. Trying to pick out individual tracks for praise is almost pointless. The whole point of the album is its cohesiveness; this is meant to be listened to as a whole.
All three band members play Mellotron: Simon and Peter Van Vliet and Jack Kaat, who tell me this is their most 'Tron-heavy release. What you get for your dosh is faint choirs on opener Spring's Green, strings on Gallant White Horses and (more overtly) Five Lucky Hands and On A Gloomy Afternoon, with phased strings and choirs on An Owl Told Us. All in all, a very listenable record, thankfully now available on CD, with a decent helping of Mellotron from a low-'Tron era. The Use of Ashes have used their machine on a handful of other releases: more news when I get to hear them.
See: Mekanik Kommando
Days of Plenty (2000, 43.40) ****/TT½
|Smoke That Kiss
I'm Not Gonna Be Around
Days of Plenty
The End and the Beginning
|Baby, Where'd You Go?
I Feel a Struggle Comin' on
Long Long Never
2000's Days of Plenty is George Usher's third and (to my knowledge) last Mellotron album, its two predecessors being 1997's Miracle School and the following year's Dutch April. Days of Plenty is a classic powerpop album, pretty much every track being a winner, notably I'm Not Gonna Be Around, Our World and closer Long Long Never, all featuring everything you could ask for from the style: memorable melodies, gorgeous harmonies and much guitar jangle.
Usher plays Mellotron himself, with a nice, full string part on the title track, strings accenting the riff on Crowded Mind and polyphonic flutes on Unfinished Prayer and both sounds on Long Long Never, although the cellos and violin on The End And The Beginning are real. Overall, vastly better than other, more fêted artists and more than worthy of your purchasing power. Four good 'Tron tracks merely add to the album's appeal, especially given that it sounds real (hurrah!).
Utopia (1973, 35.57) ***½/TT½What You Gonna Do?
The Wolfman Jack Show
Utopia No. 1
Utopia were an Amon Düül II offshoot, probably better described as a breakaway faction after violent rows within the band. Both sides had made up by the time they recorded Utopia, so both it and Düül's Wolf City feature members of both bands, and the CD version of the album actually credits it to Amon Düül II (doubtless to increase sales), adding to the confusion. Unsurprisingly, it has a lot in common with Düül (Utopia No.1 and Nasi Goreng could easily be the parent band), but is different enough to be treated as a band in its own right. What You Gonna Do? sounds next to nothing like Düül, ditto the balladic Alice, but, er, well, the rest of the album could be. Not that different then, really.
Lothar Meid is credited with Mellotron, but it's hard to know what's being used at times, to be honest. The Wolfman Jack Show has what sounds like solo female voice tapes, but since the Mellotron library has never offered the sound, confusion reigns. More 'standard' flutes on Alice, though I'm beginning to suspect a Chamberlin here. In Germany? In 1973? Well, a handful made their way to Europe (French outfits Magma and Dan Ar Bras both used one), but I've never heard of any German use before. Of course, Utopia's parent band used the infamous 'choir-organ' on albums recorded around the same time (reviewed here), but that doesn't account for the flute tapes. Anyway, separate male and female voices on the bonkers Deutsch Nepal and Utopia No. 1, sounding like they might be the choir-organ again, and that's your lot, leaving us none the wiser as to what was actually being played here.
So; if you like Amon Düül II, I think it's fair to say you'll like Utopia and you'll probably find the CD filed with Düül anyway. Pretty good use of something involving tapes, but whether or not it's actually a Mellotron will have to remain a mystery, at least for the moment.
See: Amon Düül II