TEN FROM 77 – 5 / OUTLIERS

In the penultimate instalment of the Ten From ’77 series we have five albums whose only commonality is their position on the edge (or in some cases, way outside) the domain of pop music. At Vinyl Connection, forays into lesser known territories are infrequent, yet it is off the well-trodden path that most of my favourite music-paths wander. Clearly an accusation of self-indulgence would be hard to refute in this instance. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll walk with me as we visit British folk and German symphonic prog, drop in on eccentric neo-non-pop and spend an unsettling night in Belgium with Univers Zero.

5  John Renbourn — A Maid In Bedlam

Guitarist, singer and music scholar John Renbourn was around at the birth of the British folk boom of the 60s, forming much-loved and hugely influential folk-jazz-pop combo Pentangle with mates Bert Jansch and Jacqui McShee. Although Bert is absent from this recording, Jacqui’s pure and evocative voice graces a number of the songs. There is also woodwind (Tony Roberts), fiddle and the not-so-traditionally-British tabla of Keshave Sathe. Several instrumentals—some of which dance between folk and Renaissance music—make this a varied feast. The singing and playing are as superb as the cover art, including a fresh arrangement of ‘John Barleycorn’ that owes nothing to Traffic. Friends of Pentangle will relish Maid while for those unfamiliar with British folk it could provide a gentle yet persuasive introduction.

4  Novalis — Konzerte

Novalis are my favourite German symphonic prog band (except Wallenstein, maybe). The aptly named Konzerte delivers a generous one hour plus of live music, drawing from the first three Novalis albums. The sound is rich yet musically articulate while the vocals (in German) are actually more powerful than the studio recordings due to the addition of a new singer. Here’s what you get: melody, swathes of keyboards, progressive rhythms, long multi-part pieces; all performed energetically before enthusiastic audiences. If that sounds appealing, buy a ticket. This is feel-good progressive music.

3  Brian Eno — Before And After Science

Full of variety and surprises, Eno’s fifth album never lets you settle into a comfortable space of knowing what to expect. There are pop touches (‘Backwater’), but they have been twisted into new and not altogether comfortable shapes. The rhythm section of Phil Collins and Percy Jones (see Brand X in the previous post) demands attention through much of side one, particularly on opener ‘No one receiving’, while the punky stomp of ‘King’s lead hat’ features Robert Fripp at his unpredictable best. The second side contrasts markedly, opening with the wistful ‘Here he comes’ and encompassing the limpid beauty of ‘By this river’ (featuring Moebius and Roedelius of Cluster).

Eno had spent much of the year working with other musicians (notably Bowie in Berlin) and found the creation of this album tortuous. The uncertainty is not obvious to the listener, who’ll find—if not the sublime cohesion of Another Green World—an engrossing collection of inventively constructed pieces across two disparate yet satisfying sides.

2  National Health — National Health

Arising out of a motorway reconstruction that dismantled Hatfield and the North, National Health are associated with the ‘Canterbury Scene’. Keyboard player and composer Dave Stewart (see Bill Bruford in the previous post) got together with one of my favourite musicians in the entire UK progressive scene, pianist/composer Alan Gowen (Gilgamesh). It’s a complicated story we needn’t go into here. Also complicated, but in a really good way, is the music. Intelligent yet thoroughly entertaining, National Health’s pieces show compositional flair and a deep suspicion of staying in the one place too long. All you need to know about the band and the era when they tried to promote their new music is Dave Stewart’s observation that punk consisted of ‘some of the most crass, simplistic, brutal, ugly and stupid music imaginable, in an atmosphere where an admitted inability to play one’s instrument was hailed as a sign of genius’. Sour grapes, perhaps, but one can feel sympathy for the creators of this small but marvellous body of music.

1  Univers Zero — Univers Zero (aka 1313)

The Allmusic guide lists Univers Zero in the ‘Pop/Rock’ category. This is seriously misleading, yet I imagine ‘Dark, complex Belgian Chamber avant-prog rock’ may be seen as a little too specific. Or off-putting. Or both. Formed in 1974 but releasing their first recording in ’77, Univers Zero were committed to making a very particular kind of non-rock. Their story is even more complex than the music, so we’ll skip over the history part and introduce the band via their instruments, as per the back cover of the self-titled debut album:

Michel Berckmans—bassoon

Daniel Denis—drums, percussion

Marcel Dufrane—violin

Christian Genet—bass

Patrick Hannappier—violin, viola, pocket cello

Emmanuel Nicaise—harmonium, spinet

Roger Trigaux—guitar

Being for the most part classically trained, these Euro-dudes could play. As for what they play, imagine dropping acid of uncertain provenance then reading HP Lovecraft stories while listening to Stravinsky in one ear and Red era King Crimson in the other. Univers Zero is not really like that, but it’s compelling composed chamber rock that will surely twist your idea of what (un)popular music can be. The good news is that the second album, Heresie, is much darker.

*

The last post in the 77 series will feature Reader’s Choices.
And watch out for a special mini-blog-fest coming in a few weeks.

25 comments

  1. I only know the Eno, which is excellent, but you’ve got me interested in the John Renbourn and Univers Zero records.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another very interesting list, Bruce. I am aware of Eno, though not familiar with the album. National Health and Univers Zero duly added to the list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I reckon all Eno’s 70s output is worth investigating, J. I’ve become very fond of this particular one, though I’d still say the peak is ‘Another Green World’.
      As for adding NH and UZ to your ever-growing list, good on ya man! That speaks of seriously open ears and I luv ya for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! Cheers, Bruce… I like to at least give a listen to stuff that this community rate highly. Some stuff hasn’t appealed, some has, and I haven’t even gotten around to check out some other bits and pieces.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Outliers are the best kind of liers.

    As your posts have shown, 1977 was almost too good a vintage. I don’t know how anyone chooses, but I am intrigued by the singular in the next-post teaser. As for this reader, some less-mentioned but highly prized ’77s include:

    Al DiMeola’s Elegant Gypsy
    Robin Trower’s In City Dreams
    and partly to spite Mr. Stewart, the Dead Boys’ Young Loud and Snotty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are indeed. Well said.

      As for the singular post, my desperation to actually finish (if not complete) a series was one factor. Another was the attraction of having the title SEVEN FROM 77 for the final offering in the TEN FROM 77 series. Such wilful perversity absolutely shits me. Can’t imagine what it does to others.

      Anyway, I want you to know that it was an incredible tussle between Elegant Gypsy and a couple of the other entrants in the FUSION FIVE post. That it missed the cut is no reflection on either the album nor those who esteem it. It was Folon’s art that tipped the balance.

      I’d mention how happy seeing that astonished babyhead made me, but real men don’t gush.

      Like

  4. I’ve been hoping fora review of Gang of Four’s Entertainment – thinking that it came out sometime around ’77. I looked it up this morning and see it came out in ’79, but it’s such a unique album, maybe it could be a genre bender for your series (“Late Seventies” anyone?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Or, if I’m still tapping away in a couple of years, a contender for a future series!

      Like

  5. Kudos to you, this is awesome. The only one I knew here was Eno (and I’ve not yet heard that album). Thank you for the heads-up on all this music!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The pleasure is mine, Aaron.
      Reader Peter has kindly collected the relevant youtube links (below) to aid aural sampling…

      Like

  6. With all due accolades to his ambient albums and the “Fripp & Eno” collaborations, Before and After Science is my absolute favorite Eno album. There’s not one bad cut on it, and back in those days I had zero patience and would get up to move that needle at the drop of a hat. But not with this gem. Great choice, Bruce. And a fun series to read. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At the drop of a King’s lead hat, perhaps? This one is second to Another Green World for me, but I can absolutely see why you love it to bits.

      Thanks, as always, for engaging with my flights of fancy Marty.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I believe Eno’s King’s Lead Hat was a nod towards Talking Heads as well as being an anagram of their name.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. The acquaintance with David Byrne was young but strong!

      Like

  8. I think I’m with the majority that I know the Eno (and have actually heard and enjoyed it!) but the other four are new-to-me.
    But the learning is part of the fun of these posts – and I like the sounds of the mini-blog-fest
    of course!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Courtesy of helpful reader Peter (below), sampling the unknown is just a click away!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very thoughtful of you to research the relevant vids, Peter. Thank you.
      I usually don’t bother as most people know where to look, but you’ve made it super easy!

      Not to mention sneaking in a little editorial content too, I see. Watch out for the final in this series, coming soon!

      Like

  9. NH and UZ ❤ – glad to see them here 🙂 I'll check Eno – I enjoy his roxy music era, collaboration with Fripp and value him as a producer so it's about time to check his solo efforts 🙂
    My suggestions for further '77 explorations:

    Tom Waits ‎– Foreign Affairs
    Magma ‎– Inédits
    Sex Pistols ‎– Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
    Gentle Giant ‎– The Missing Piece
    Yes ‎– Going For The One

    but I will gladly read anything You will share with us
    Greetings
    Arterrorist

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh, one more 🙂 Tangerine Dream ‎– Soundtrack “Sorcerer”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent addition. Sorcerer previously covered here!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Interesting collection, Arterrorist.
      I know we are in good company with Universe Zero (I did get ‘Relapse’ after your Tumblr post and recently got the Sub Rosa ‘Heresie’ re-issue). Rare to find a Gentle Giant fan who rates ‘The Missing Piece’! I don’t know that Magma album – they are a band I’ve struggled to like, I’m afraid.
      All very eclectic and fun…
      One more of your nominations will appear later this week in the final post in this series, SEVEN FROM 77 – READER’S CHOICE.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Who are the fellows in the top gif?

    Slightly Beerheart-esque with the pose in the garden but I was curious about the wheelchair bound fellow.

    The NH is superb and I’ve long loved the Eno selection.

    Univers Zero isnt a band I know. Is this a good place to
    Start?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The cheerful chappies in the the feature pic are, in fact, Universe Zero. The story goes that the wheelchair was around, and the wags built it into the photo shoot just for fun. This first album is good. I think the second (‘Heresie’) is better (though even darker) and the third superb (and more complex). There’s a link in the above comment from’Peter’. Party on!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments and responses welcome for all posts: present or past. Go on, join in!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: