High In The Morning – The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1973: Album Review

Grapefruit Records take up the challenge of cherry-picking from the British Progressive Pop iceberg of 1973.

Release Date: September 2022

Label: Grapefruit

Format: 3CD clamshell box

A lengthy 65-track set that barely breaks the surface of what passes from the British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1973. An iconic year, as were most in the Seventies, especially the early Seventies. An iconic year too for many musical genres, so to try to attempt to narrow down the selection, the ‘Progressive Pop’ filter comes in handy. (Watch out for the upcoming Progressive (only) Sounds of 1973 set)

Now, what passes for Progressive Pop might be open to interpretation. The emphasis here is on the melodic end of the prog stick and casting an eye over the tracklist reveals many a band that we were likely to (and very often did) encounter on Top Of The Pops, giving an eye-opening alternative to some of the more friendly/pop bands that were the order of the day. The four hours worth of music features a familiar blend of big hits, key album tracks, cult classics and rarities / curios from 1973.

Greeted by the sight of a classic crowd shot from ’73’s Windsor free festival – well, a couple of ladies, suitably attired for the period, one making some, erm, ‘adjustments’, there’s the usual quality and very thorough booklet compiled and annotated by David Wells with track info, assorted memorabilia. A couple of bare bums, presumably from the same festival that made the cover, presumably deemed a bit too saucy, are cheekily secreted to the inside rear of the booklet.

We ca nod sagely at the appearance of the glam-orientated bands and the mixing of the familiar – Thin Lizzy, Status Quo, Mott The Hoople and Roxy Music – with the less so – Mouse, Hemlock and Brett Marvin And The Thunderbolts. Having said that, many of the names are well known enough to feel that you’re pretty much au fait with the era although as per, while some of the bands might be household names, the choice of tracks is less so, heading for a deep (or deeper) cut rather than the more obvious hit.

In his essay, Wells astutely points out that the significant name in terms of influence on the bands of the era, maybe not surprisingly, is Bowie. He was a major influence on most things at the time including the fashion stylings of the cool kids at my boys’ grammar school. Nicky Graham from Tucky Buzzard (overseen by Bill Wyman), for example, played keyboards on Bowie’s 1972 Ziggy Stardust UK tour. Typical of the sort of minutae which comes as standard with these sort of releases that emanate from Cherry Red and their offshoots and which prove invaluable to trivia and pub quiz buffs. Even a cursory glance through the booklet and we’re enlightened by a plethora of facts. Frank White (represented by the classic Not Fade Away) is Richard Hawley’s uncle and how the North West scene is represented by Complex from Blackpool and Spyrogyra from Bolton.

Along with Quo’s Caroline, Mott’s All The Way From Memphis and Joybringer from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band are the gateway tracks, opening the door to what’s often a weird and wonderful journey, offering the opportunity to reminisce (if you’re old enough) or to embark on a voyage of discovery. Kevin Coyne sounding a little sub-Van Morrison on Marlene and Bolton’s Spirogyra, like many of their peers hanging on to the disappearing coattails of the Swinging Sixties whilst the stately presence of Procol Harum is always a bonus and reminder that A Whiter Shade Of Pale was the mere tip of the iceberg.

The first disc, despite the Bowie nods, is a reminder that the influence of The Beatles is still strong in many of the songwriting tricks and harmonies. Bachdenkel and naturally, Badfinger and Stealer’s Wheel add songs which are close relations while the brassy Pick Up The Phone by Patto has a tad of Sgt Pepper swing (“honey pie…why don’t you pick up the phone?“).

Perhaps it’s a surprise that Kevin Ayer’s Caribbean Moon didn’t fly up the hit parade with its quirkiness and there are enough hooky choruses from the likes of Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, Duffy and Shoot (On The Frontier) to show how many of these songs and artists were within a whisker or a stroke of luck of hitting the big time.

More avant grade offerings come from the spacey leanings of Greenslade and angularity and dissonance of Kingdom Come (via the God of HellFire, Arthur Brown in garb looking very much like an early incarnation of Ghost’s Papa Emeritus) plusthe punky drawl of the Pink Fairies. By contrast, opting for Ithaca and Libido adds a softness and a sweetness of the female vocal – the latter courtesy of Dana Gillespie, managed by Bowie manager Tony DeFries company. That name again and more fascinating webs of links and connections; you’d almost think it was planned.

Disc three heads in a slightly more raucous direction. The SAHBand, Nazareth, Faces and and angsty Michael Des Barres’ Silverhead give progressive pop into a rawer and rockier coating. And in a handful of those that got away come Fairfield Ski’s Glam-inspired, Hammond-driven Man Of Galilee, a folky music hall cameo from Curved Air and an essential English pastoralness from Jade Warrior – English Morning. Music that stretches the Progressive Pop tag. Reaching the end of a purple patch, arch musical progressor Roy Wood is showcased with Forever (still hitting the top Ten) and sets off a short run that visits Byzantium, Patrick Cambell-Lyons and Brett Marvin & The Thunderbolts; a trio of toones that typify the ‘just below a surface that’s barely scratched’ nature of these collections.

It’s left to the mighty Stackridge (more of which…) and the King of Cool , Bryan Ferry to bring the curtain down on ’73. Ferry’s”playful, almost mocking” version of Dylan’s Hard Rain is still one that I find a personal challenge, although to these ears these days, it sounds like the sort of subversion that Dylan does with his own songs.

The building up of these comprehensive sets of these year-by-year collections by the Cherry Red group is always a learning experience. It’s like the abhorrent ‘NOW…’ series only miles better!

Why not round off with some jolly old Stackridge, as they offer up their own alternative to Roxy’s Do The Strand with Do The Stanley – could be Progressive Pop – or not.

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