Blowing Free – Underground And Progressive Sounds of 1972: Album Review

Blowing Free is the Cherry Red Records 55 track trip down memory lane.

Release Date: 27th May 2022

Label: Cherry Red Records

Format: 4CD clamshell box

The Seventies – a formative decade. And I guess that many of the single years within that decade could be classed as formative (or even definitive) years. We even did our own feature on 1971, fifty years on, so it seems apt that 1972 should celebrate its fiftieth with a typically expansive Cherry Red release.

It seems strange in 2022 to categorise many of these bands and tracks as ‘underground’. Many of them headed for planes where they were able to reach out to wider audiences while some headed even deeper underground. At the time when the only mainstream access was Top Of the Pops and Radio 1, the impact of the likes of the pioneers of The Old Grey Whistle Test on TV with Top Gear and Sounds Of The Seventies on the wireless, gave a platform to bands on this set such as Wishbone Ash, Hawkwind, Gentle Giant and Pink Fairies. Their contribution was crucial to the growing presence of what would become landmark bands.

The underground was breaking the surface and many of the emerging acts were lumped with the ‘progressive’ tag. Bands guilty of pushing musical boundaries beyond the three-minute single with its verse-chorus structure. The creative juices and imaginations were starting to similarly break free. Jazz, blues, folk, rock, pop and classical all joined forces in strange brews that saw Van Der Graaf Generator, Procol Harum and Yes, in particular, continued to explore hitherto uncharted territories.

The four discs with over five hours of music on 55 tracks cover the good, the bad, the ugly, the so-familiar-you-know-every-note and the bands/tracks that fall into the “I don’t remember that one,” category which inevitably has you scurrying off to the www to check out what you missed or what happened to the band.

So as ELP open with the fanfare of Hoedown, and we get visits to the legacy (circa 1972) of Yes (And You And I), Free (Wishing Well), and Thin Lizzy (Whiskey In The Jar), perhaps it’s just as well to recall that these bangers were all from one year. The flute of Skin Alley’s Skin Alley Serenade is most Tull/Moody blues-like (they turn in a more dramatic bluesy effort later on) and Open Road’s Swamp Fever adds a hint of underground blues. An early surprise package is Mellow Candle whose Irish progressive folk line up included three teenage girls at the start of a career that yielded just the one album. A nice enough medieval excursion to warrant deeper investigation, which is often how these excellent compilations work as gateways to who knows where. A reminder too of bands – Hawkwind and Yes notwithstanding – such as Nektar who still ply their trade some fifty years on whilst remaining not so much underground but certainly under the radar. Niche they may call it.

Both Hawkwind and Caravan offer up a lengthy selection in the Space Rock/Canterbury genres, showing quite clearly how experimenting across extended formats was de rigeur in the 1972 underground. Not something you’d find every day (or any day) on TOTP although Free’s Wishing Well might fit the bill nicely. Bond & Brown (Graham Brown of the Graham Brown Organisation and Pete Brown) may be a little high up the scale of awareness, their Two Heads Are Better Than One was a splendid Esoteric reissue. Short lived sadly, as were Vinegar Joe, whose contributions act as a reminder of what an underrated outfit they were until their members found fame elsewhere.

Disc 3 opens with Uriah Heep’s The Wizard – a band showing their mettle in their recent 2022 gigs with Saxon, that reinforces what a monumental period this was for churning out the soundtrack of a lifetime. And as Wishbone Ash not only provide the set with its title, they’re a band who were in their prime in ’72. From the familiarity of Blowin’ Free – a signature tune if ever there were one – who remembers Khan? Who remembers the band as part of the Steve Hillage story? Admitting to feeling guilty, Stranded proves the gateway of another path to follow that inevitably leads Canterbury way and a chance to brush up on the trivia of a. band who endured several line ups in the course of just over a year and a one album legacy.

Pretty Things, Edgar Broughton, Dave Cousins, Curved Air, Savoy Brown and Gentle Giant all pop their heads above the surface and we add Robert Wyatt’s Matching Mole to the ever expanding knowledge of the Canterbury scene. The latter leaving a ‘two album burn brightly and crash’ legacy and as we hear towards the end of the set, it perhaps gives a perspective on the fine line between who was fortunate enough to have endured as so many didn’t last the course. Some may argue futilely about the inclusion of just one Gentle Giant piece as they were arguably at their peak around this time, but the 55 tracks offer a wealth of riches without needing to be pedantic. And there’s more than enough to investigate, not the least of which is the mysterious Bombabdil, a band on the famous Harvest label, who on on investigation turn out to have reason for their Canterbury/BJH sound on the b-side of the Breathless single.

In fact, if there’s any sort of theme to the set beyond the commonality of the year of release, it’s the pastoral vein that runs through much of the music, all linked or related to the Canterbury sound. And bear in mind, all the while a parallel musical universe ran a course carrying Slade, T.Rex, Sweet and Donny Osmond onto TV screens and into the musical consciousness of the era.

How do we choose one track to highlight the range of the collection? Let’s go for Wishbone Ash with Time Was which seems to sum up the package:

If you would like to keep up with At The Barrier, you can like us on Facebook here, follow us on Twitter here, and follow us on Instagram here. We really appreciate all your support.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.