Album Review

Edgar Broughton Band – Speak Down The Wire – The Recordings 1975-82: Album Review

The Edgar Broughton Band get their 75-82 albums packed into a Deluxe Clamshell Boxset of Warwick proto-punks’ later works.

Release Date:  29th January 2021

Label: Esoteric Recordings

Formats: 4CD Clamshell boxset

Esoteric have come up trumps (sorry – bad choice of word…) with this excellent package of the latter-day works from the mighty Edgar Broughton Band.  The package collates the band’s four albums that were made following their departure from the EMI stable in 1975 and provides welcome new access to the lesser-known extremities of this great band’s catalogue.  And Esoteric have done The Broughtons proud, with a product that includes a twenty-page illustrated booklet that features Mark Powell’s detailed history of the band and the stories behind each of the included albums, plus a poster.

The Edgar Broughton Band are, of course, a great British musical institution.  Starting life in historic Warwick as a blues band and comprising brothers Rob (Edgar) and Steve Broughton on guitar and drums respectively and Arthur Grant on bass, they relocated to London’s Notting Hill, then the focal point of the underground scene, in 1968.  The Edgar Broughton Band were trailblazers for the UK counterculture and they were a band that wore their social consciousness and political commitments proudly.  Their music was, alternately, psychedelic, bluesy, grungey, compulsively rocky or, as they matured, gently acoustic and often laced with humorously biting satire.

Edgar Broughton
The Wasa Wasa Album

Now recognised as forerunners of the politically charged punk movement, they released a string of five peerless albums via EMI’s Harvest imprint between 1969 and 1973.  Ranging from 1969’s bluesy, gritty Wasa Wasa, through 1970’s psychedelic Sing Brother Sing, the accomplished Edgar Broughton Band (1971) and Inside Out (1972) to the polished Ooora (1973) the band’s output was stuffed with anthems, polemic, environmental statements and, above all, great rock songs and I, for one, was utterly enthralled.

What the band lacked, despite its prolific output of excellent music, was any form of real commercial success – not that that was an issue to the band’s core members, who have always publicly derided the idea that they could have been pop stars.  However, the pressure to secure greater public recognition led first to the band leaving their intrinsically suitable Blackhill Enterprises management to join NEMS and then, following the departure of second guitarist Victor Unitt from the band’s ranks, to their departure from the EMI stable.

It was under the auspices of their NEMS management that The Edgar Broughton Band recorded their sixth album, Bandages – included in this collection as Disc 1.  For Bandages, the band recruited guitarist John Thomas and the album was recorded in Oslo and mixed at Mike Oldfield’s home studio in Herefordshire.  It’s an excellent album and received significant acclaim in the UK music press but its release was plagued by issues between the band and their management.  The legal wrangling between band and management was exhausting and, following the eventual release of Bandages, the band took the decision to undertake a farewell tour, before calling it a day.

Edgar Broughton
At Buxton Festival, 1973. L-R: Arthur Grant; Victor Unitt; Steve Broughton; Edgar Broughton

For the tour, recent recruit Thomas was replaced by another new guitarist, Terry Cottam.  The tour was a great success and the love and high regard that their loyal following felt for the band was clearly evident.  Three shows from the tour (in London, Newport and Oldham) were recorded and a selection of numbers from those shows was subsequently released in 1979 as the Live Hits Harder album, which forms Disc 2 of this collection.

A Broughton hiatus could never last and it didn’t.  In December 1978, Edgar, Steve and Arthur regrouped, alongside guitarists Tom Nordon and ex-Pretty Thing Pete Tolson and keyboard player Richard De Bastion to record and release Parlez-Vous English, under the abbreviated moniker The Broughtons.  Parlez-Vous English forms the 3rd disc in this set and, although a more polished effort than much of the band’s previous output, the band had lost none of its political edge and Parlez-Vous English bristles with the social comment that the world had come to expect from a Broughton album. 

The re-formed band toured heavily following the release of Parlez-Vous English, just as the UK entered its dark years of unemployment and racial and inner-city unrest that have come to characterize the Thatcher years.  It was this unrest that inspired the Broughtons to compose and record their first and only concept album, Superchip – The Final Silicon Solution (Disc 4 of this collection.)  Superchip is an album unlike any other in the Broughton canon. Its use of synthesizers and electronics reflect the styles that were then prevalent in popular music but, once again, the compositions were overt in their commentary of the dark state of the nation.  Superchip was released on the band’s own label but availability proved to be problematic and sales were poor.

Superchip wasn’t the end of the Broughtons.  They gigged sporadically throughout the 80s and 90s and, in 2006, the band re-formed yet again for a series of never-to-be-forgotten concerts to celebrate their 40th anniversary.  I was there, at The Assembly, Leamington Spa, as Edgar and the band turned back the clocks, and we once again rocked along to Momma’s Reward (Keep Them Freaks A-Rollin’), Love In The Rain, Poppy, Hotel Room and all the rest.  And Edgar – he’s still going, and may well show up at a venue near you sometime soon.  And in these dystopian times, we need his vision, articulacy and satirical skills more than ever.

Edgar Broughton
Edgar Broughton today

So – what about the music…? 

Well – taking Bandages first, I’m pleased to say that it’s aged well.  The musical style carries on from where the band had left off with the previous album, Ooora.  There’s copious use of synthesizers – clearly the band’s latest toy – and a good proportion of the album is acoustic and melodic; Speak Down the Wires, The Whale and Lady Life all characterize the new direction in which the band was moving.  That said, there’s also lots of classic Broughton to enjoy, with John Wayne, Germany, Love Gang and Signal Injector all offering the expected fare of loud riffs, satisfying guitar soloing and Edgar’s frenzied Beefheart vocals.  One to Seven is something of a new departure – it’s a suite of pieces that include a bagpipe-y synth solo, some freeform jazz, a prog-funk section and a guitar solo that recalls Edgar’s Hank Marvin influence and closing track Fruhling Flowers is dark and sinister and features a guitar solo that still makes your neck tingle.  Mike Oldfield – an old friend of the band from his days with Kevin Ayers – does his Tubular Bells multi-instrumental party piece, playing dulcimer, steel guitar, harp and ARP synthesizer on Speak Down The Wires, The Whale and Fruhling Flowers; by coincidence (?) three of the album’s strongest tracks.

The Edgar Broughton Band was always a fantastic live act.  Indeed, it was a live performance that first drew me into their orbit, and it’s entirely fitting that their Live Hits Harder album has found its way into this boxed set.  Originally intended as a posthumous memoir of their post Bandages “Farewell” tour, it languished for three years before eventually seeing release in 1979 and, by then, the world had moved on.  And that’s a shame because Live Hits Harder is an excellent document of the band at its very best.  The included songs were selected by Steve Broughton, Arthur Grant and Tim Summerhayes and they wisely plumped for the hits, with a few numbers from Bandages thrown in for good measure.  There are excellent versions of Get Out of Bed/Side by Side, Love in the Rain, Hotel Room and Evening Over The Rooftops and Edgar is in brilliant, audience-motivating form.  During the closing track, a sublime version of Howling Wolf’s Smokestack Lighting, he takes the opportunity to rap a (premature, as it turned out) obituary for the band which brings a pang sadness to this old fan’s heart, even after all these years.  Perhaps the only disappointment is the treatment given to perennial crowd-pleaser Poppy, which is presented as a hybrid part-reggae extract, rather than as the whole song, complete with audience participation.

Edgar Broughton
The Parlez-Vous English Album

Parlez-Vous English, the third disc of this collection, is a strange beast.  By 1979, the band had re-formed and re-invented itself as The Broughtons and the album sees the band ploughing a number of very different furrows.  From the vantage point of forty years on, it’s a pleasant and interesting listen and it shows the band exploring a number of directions, including novelty pop (Little One), cod-reggae (Waiting For You), pastoral folk/rock (Didecoi and April In England), punk (Down in the Jungle) and, best of all, art/rock (Revelations One and Anthem).  It’s possibly the most accessible album that the band ever made, albeit of little immediate appeal to their more intransigent hippy followers. 

Amongst the stronger tracks, Didecoi is fizzing stomp with a strong vocal from Edgar and lyrics concerning Gypsy marriage and homelessness, and April in England is an uncharacteristically optimistic and nostalgic song about the delights of Olde England.  But the real treasures of the album are Revelations One – a stunning piece of rock that sounds that the Broughton’s have forcibly invaded a Roxy Music gig – and Anthem, an equally vital song with lyrics that examine the plight of the poor and the unemployed.  Whist those latter two songs provide the strongest clue to the direction that the Broughtons would take for their next album, Parlez-Vous English does leave the listener with the impression of a band searching for purpose and flirting with possible quick routes to success.

And so to Disc 4 – Superchip – The Final Silicon Solution – without doubt, the most extraordinary of the albums in this collection.  Inspired by and reflective of Thatcher’s Britain, in much the same way that Unknown Pleasures was, it’s a nightmarish, disturbing, anarchic and hilarious coda to The Broughtons’ studio career.  It’s unlike anything the Broughtons had ever attempted, yet it’s still typically a Broughton album in its sound and, particularly, in its attitude.  The album tells a dystopian story of greed, control and exploitation; guitars are virtually abandoned in favour of synths, keyboards and electronics and the story is told mainly by spoken word, often at breakneck speed.  It’s a chilling piece of work and, worryingly, the allusions to the impenetrability of the banking systems, the greed of those who control that system and the incompetence and self-interest of those that govern are even more relevant today than they were back in 1982.  Indeed, the bonus track, The Virus, a piece written and recorded by Edgar and his son Luke in 1996 and first included on the 1996 reissue of the album does point out that many of the scenarios suggested on the original album had already come to pass.

The goodies…

Esoteric deserve sincere thanks for bringing together these four albums – a collection of work that represents the less well-known outputs of a great band.  The presentation of the set is given the loving care it deserves and it will be heartily welcomed by the still-passionate band of Broughton devotees. 

Listen to Revelations One from the Silicon… album here:

Edgar Broughton Online: Website/ Facebook

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