ROCKIN’ ROOSTER

Rockin’ All Over The World #9 — Britain

The British progressive blues-rock scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a fertile, swirling, multi-coloured circus. Various hybrids of rock and other styles were progressively blended (or mangled, depending on your point of view) to produce inventive albums full of delightful musical surprises. Often these albums sold bugger all—not necessarily a reflection on their quality but rather myriad other factors such as tiny labels with no distribution, rubbish marketing, no radio exposure, and so on—resulting in them becoming, decades later, highly desirable collector’s pieces.

Musicians often moved between groups, especially in sub-genres such as ‘Heavy Prog’. Peter French was one such, playing with Leafhound, Atomic Rooster (both UK), Cactus (USA) and  even a couple of late 70s singles with German progressive outfit Randy Pie. It’s his leaving of Leafhound and joining Atomic Rooster that is relevant here.

After having success with their second album—Death Walks Behind You—Vincent Crane’s organ lead heavy prog band released In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster in 1971. Peter French was a new addition and is without doubt my favourite Rooster vocalist. His style is powerful, yet avoids the histrionics of Chris Farlowe (who arrived for the next LP, Made in England).

The album’s lyrical concerns reflect those of main man Vincent Crane. His lifetime battle (and eventual surrender to) depression is all over the lyrics, not least in opening cut “Breakthrough”.

An invisible prison encircles my mind

I wait for a vision, I search for a sign

An invisible prison is built around me

There may be a guard, but there isn’t a key

I got to break-out, I have to be free

I got to break-out, it’s stifling me

But it’s not all doom and gloom. “Break the ice” is more upbeat, both musically and lyrically – the rhythm guitar of John du Cann is rock solid and trades off against Crane’s organ brilliantly. The ballad “Decision/Indecision” features the leader on piano and despite the ambivalence of the title, is about seeking change. Though the patina of sadness remains.

Those who love a good heavy prog instrumental (see “Vug” on Death Walks) will thrill to the rollicking, pummelling sounds of “A Spoonful of Bromide”. The chemical used as a sedative (and anti-convulsant) seems an odd topic for a piece of rock music, but perhaps the applications mentioned provide a clue. Paradoxically, this piece will certainly not put you to sleep; it charges forward like a freight train.

The Castle Music 2004 re-issue on CD includes three welcome bonuses (especially for those who didn’t fork out silly money for Atomic Rooster at the BBC), two live cuts and the dark yet effervescent non-album single “Devil’s Answer”.

It’s a shame Peter French didn’t stay around. The clean production and variety on In Hearing of… make it a stand-out Rooster album. But it cannot have been easy touring with Vincent Crane.

The only thing I found difficult with Vince — and it wasn’t his musical integrity, I can’t fault that at all, it was a very good education for me — was that he was very depressive. When we did the American tour he was a very shut-off guy to try and get to know — not impolite or rude, but very inside himself. 

[Peter French to writer Colin Harper, 2004 CD liner notes]

Slow blues “Black Snake” has the repeated line “black snake living in a black hole, hiding from the sun”. Like many fans of Atomic Rooster, the gloomy attitude was a big part of the attraction, yet a sadness lingers, for me at least, that Vincent was not able to get the help he obviously needed to escape his dungeon. There’s always a way out—slow, painful maybe, but possible—and I wish this talented keyboard player had stayed around longer to share his journey. What we do have, though, is Atomic Rooster’s most consistent album, one worthy of sitting next to the mighty Death Walks Behind You*.

Fun factoid footnote: The cover for In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster was created by Roger Dean, the famous designer of countless iconic album covers by Yes and many other artists.

* The title track of which I have requested be played at my funeral, followed by Lennon doing “Twist and Shout” as exit music.

#9 in the ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD SERIES

30 comments

  1. Frankly, I had never heard of Atomic Rooster. Perhaps it’s because I don’t listen much to prog rock. Based on sampling some of the tunes you highlighted, this album sounds pretty good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Rooster certainly had their moments in the early 70s – a kind of early doomrock I guess. Glad you enjoyed a sample!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I didn’t explore Atomic Rooster beyond Death Walks Behind You (not that I wasn’t interested, more that I just didn’t get to it!). I’ve added this one to the list and will check it out pronto. There was something in their sound that appealed to me greatly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool, J. I was a tad surprised to find myself stating so clearly that this is my second favourite Rooster record, but it feels right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had “Death Walks Behind You”. Long improvisations on a strictly structured rock background. The album has a couple of nice songs (the title track, “Tomorrow Night” and “Devils Answer”) that pleasantly stand out from the mass of British assembly line production at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They do stand out, HF, partially due to superior compositions and partly that attribute shared with Deep Purple of having both guitar and organ supporting the heavy sound.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Heard OF this group but not heard much. I do love a good prog rocker, though. A long while ago, a buddy bought a pile of LPs off a guy clearing things out, you know, and the boxes were full of this stuff. I got a bunch but left a bunch too. Hard to remember now what got left. They weren’t all in decent shape, being well-loved, so who knows. I hope this one wasn’t in the left pile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That box sounds like the stuff of fantasies, Aaron. Atomic Rooster can be a tad inconsistent, but for fans of Deep Purple, rewarding. Vincent Crane was a Dark (Jon) Lord.

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      1. It was a bunch of boxes, man, this guy ditched a pile. You probably would have had a heart attack! “Dark (Jon) Lord, I love it!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. In addition to Dean’s artwork, I have to say I really like the lushness of the greenery on the Leaf Hound (physical) CD. I sampled Break The Ice and A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down. Re: the latter, I’d wager there aren’t may other songs, if any, that have ‘bromide’ in their title. (Wonder if they could have been going for a double meaning: not only the sedating chemical itself, but also a cliched, humdrum comment…?, i.e., “Spare me your useless bromides…”) Funeral music is an interesting topic. My friends have been instructed to play “Here Comes The Sun” (both Beatles and Richie Havens versions…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Song titles with Bromide might well be a brief playlist! Don’t know that other usage. Could it be US usage from the early days of newspapers, I wonder? “Here comes the sun” is nice. Two versions nicer. Where I get stuck is wanting an extensive playlist. Maybe I could compile a CD and get those organising the gig to make copies for wake-ers. “Vinyl Connection’s Last Post”. ☠️

      Liked by 2 people

  6. The back-to-back Death Walks / Twist is an interesting juxtaposition!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keep the punters engaged!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hey Geoff, you might appreciate my reply to JDB.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Chris Blackman · · Reply

    Saw Rooster at Salford Uni in ‘73 with Chris Farlowe out front. He did nothing for the band – in fact he joined a few bands in a few years (e.g.Colosseum) and left them in ruins – he earned the term “bandwrecker” for a while. But Rooster shrugged off the histrionics and powered by Vincent’s enormous organ they were invincible. And then he wasn’t, sadly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a story, Chris. Yes, Mr Leather-lungs Farlowe has fewer fans than he probably deserves, but, you know, if it walks like a duck…
      Great that you saw them. Made In England has its moments, and as you say, rather sad that Vincent’s moments were curtailed.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for coming to our little neglected island Bruce, I really enjoyed this one. I have heard but don’t own any Rooster at all, my dad has an original (but not in very good nick) copy of the Leafhound – can’t remember why, or where he got it! That’s the 60’s for you!

    Are you much of a Groundhogs fan?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chris Blackman · · Reply

      Love/Loved the Groundhogs. Saw them once at Reading Town Hall, a Sunday night gig that started late and finished way too late with a 6AM shift at work the following morning, but the band was rocking. This was when Split was in the charts, a favourite album. But their albums were all good!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Love that idea. My dad saw a version of them at a blues club in Swansea about 15 years ago, loved them.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting choice but I like it. Not familiar with this Rooster album but I will rectify that. It will be like a fresh listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Might depend a bit on where you sit on Chris Farlowe, CB. Being in the ‘meh’ category for his vocal style, I really like this Pete French outing. Let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m really liking it. Will be putting it on my spin list. I know some of their stuff via Carl Palmer. 50 years later and very listenable

        Liked by 1 person

        1. “50 years later and very listenable”
          Sometimes I think that could be the slugline for Vinyl Connection, CB!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I will be on the “slugline”.

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Motivated by your post, I chose In Hearing of… to soundtrack the first half of my night walk this evening. It combined well with the empty, ice-laden path. As you rightly guessed, This “Vug” lover does indeed rate “Bromide” highly. I note, however, that my favorite song on the album, “Head in the Sky,” didn’t even get a mention.

    I, too, have that Leafhound CD but had all but forgotten about it. I certainly had no idea about the French connection. Maybe that’ll be tomorrow night’s accompaniment…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Head in the sky” is another standout track on “In Hearing of…”, the opening section setting up a straight blues-based rocker then catapulting into a double speed vocal via Vincent’s organ and more high-octane keyboard riffing. There’s even a mournfully insistent guitar solo, underpinned by the ever-present organ.

      So now I can reveal, Vug-person, that there was a covert operation at play here. Furthermore, it was successful in flushing out a certain all-too-infrequent blogger to try and ascertain whether he was still safely skating on the thin ice of a new day.

      Smug mode on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That first paragraph there has the appearance of an outtake from the original session.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I could not possibly disclose my sources.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. […] powerful vocals and a blues-rock fusillade that would have made Hendrix grin. If the sound evokes Atomic Rooster, that’s not surprising as Peter French was vocalist for the organ-led heavy rockers for one album […]

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