Typing the title, a southern hemisphere companion to the previous post, I found myself wondering what was going on for me during autumn of that year. Not much, really. I was doing more-or-less exactly what my son is doing fifty years later: plodding through Year 10 in a suburban Melbourne secondary school. He’s sitting behind me at the dining room table as I write, finishing off some homework (or chatting on Discord; who can tell?) and while it is tempting to launch into a trans-generational chat about middle school life it is unlikely either party would relish that conversation. Instead, I’ll tell you about a few Australian album releases from (roughly) the second quarter of 1971.
First up is the debut album by Spectrum, darlings of the underground Melbourne scene for a few heady years and one of this writer’s favourite progressive Aussie bands.
Spectrum have featured several times at Vinyl Connection and founder/mainspring Mike Rudd has been good enough to participate in a couple of interviews. There is also a recent book detailing the New Zealand born musician’s history, for those who’d like to read more.
As for the album, it is absolutely worth hearing for anyone fascinated by the different forms progressive rock took around the world. Spectrum Part One was featured at Vinyl Connection here.
Also in the ‘progressive’ basket, but an elf of a different hue, is the sole album by Galadriel.
Formed in 1968 in Sydney, Galadriel were gone by the end of 1972, leaving behind just this one LP. It was released by Polydor in Australia—and also in Germany, the only other country to see it—and is one of the rarest collectibles in Aus rock, selling for around $1000. My vinyl copy comes courtesy of dodgy Italian re-issue label Arkarma, which is not really something to boast about. Having said that, I’m not actually sure whether I would rush out to buy a legit copy, even if it was re-issued. Because unlike the LPs before and after it in this post, it is more a curiosity than a lost classic.
There are a bunch of musical styles represented on Galadriel, from straight-ahead blues rock (opener “Amble On”) via a jazzy ballad (“Such a Fool”) to progressive folk (the triple-time “She Left Her Love at Home”, evoking Jethro Tull courtesy of added flute.) A standout is the stomping “Girl of Seventeen”, a kind of greed lament for an avaricious young woman who, presumably, did not find happiness in the diamonds she craved. Reminded me (a little) of Leafhound, though it’s not quite so driving. “Mind Games” is another progressive folk piece in triple time. This one brought to mind Julie Driscoll and The Trinity, though without her insistent powerhouse of a voice. “Lady was a Thief” channels The Band in Americana mode. You can sense the variety, but also the lack of cohesion. A pleasant record yet scarcely an undiscovered gem. Even so, we cannot move on before diving into the cover art.
The striking cover painting is by A. Barnard, dated 1970. Clearly a visual representation of parts of Lord Of The Rings, this folk art creation has a certain charm that will make Tolkien fans smile. Reading left to right, we have a horse-born Ringwraith (from book one) suddenly endowed with flight (as per the Nazgûl in book three). There’s Mordor, spouting flame, while lurking at the bottom is Gollum—all skinny nakedness and hipster beard—dangling his feet over a pool of skulls, doubtless representing the Dead Marshes. Adorning the front is an arboreal scene of great beauty where Frodo encounters the lidless eye of Sauron in Galadriel’s mirror. Literally, an eye in a dish. His look of horror is understandable, given he was probably expecting to see a goldfish. Nearby sits the disconsolate figure of Sam contemplating the plight of the supportive servant and the impossibility of finding comfortable socks.
Grab your rope and your carabiners as we forge onwards and upwards to a darker fantasy.
Blackfeather released the first of their three LPs in April 1971. At The Mountains Of Madness mixes psychedelic tropes with some progressive flourishes and a dollop of honest Aussie rock to make an appealing record that, for all its musical value, would probably be a minor entry in Aus rock history except that a young Bon Scott, fresh from Fraternity, contributed recorder and percussion. Yes, you read that correctly; AC/DC’s legendary frontman and hard livin’ rock larrikin learned recorder, presumably at primary school in Melbourne. “Now, Bon, a C major arpeggio if you please…”
The album opens with a spoken word introduction delivered in a good honest Aussie accent, an unusual but not unpleasant experience, before the driving title track gets under way. Dramatic and creative, it sets the tone of the entire disc. “On this day that I die”, thematically following the unsettled power of the title track, is a rocker in the under-appreciated down under heavy prog style. Nice interplay between vocals (strong) and guitar (also strong). Then the album’s melodic highlight: “Seasons of change, Part 1”. This power ballad is superb with a great verse and thrilling middle eight (or perhaps it’s a chorus; hard to decide). It’s an over-looked early 70s classic. “Seasons” is also where we get Bon tootling on recorder; it’s very pretty.
Is “Mangos Theme Part 2” about the golden fruit with the over-large pit? Do they grow on mountains? We may never know, but this instrumental is fabulous, integrating both Spanish threads and Eastern strings; a veritable fruit salad of texture over a bolero beat. It’s a great instrumental that closes out the first side with another ripping guitar solo and well deployed strings. Don’t you love it when strings are applied like an industrial fan rather than a feather duster? There’s also a superfluous coda, which I always forget.
Side two opens with “Long legged lovely” which is, as the title suggests, lyrically mired in the time of its writing. Instrumentally, however, it is energetic, inventive and rocks its boots off for the first couple of minutes, very much in the Buffalo mould. Stirring heavy rock with more superb guitar from John Robinson. The reflective interlude is pleasant yet leaves one wishing for more thunder and lightning, but fear not! The pace does increase again and the tension builds through more spiffing Robinson guitar, helping you realise that this song, despite it’s lyrics, is right up there with Deep Purple of the same period; other than the absence of organ, this could be an outtake from In Rock.
The remainder of the At The Mountains Of Madness (LP format) is “The Rat (Suite)”, a very 1971 heavy prog/rock epic that will delight fans of the form. It is, indeed, about a rat who “lives in a hole eating nothing but cheese…” But it’s clever, see. “Nobody likes him, spreading disease” is still very, um, rat. But then he’s running ‘round town and you start to wonder, could this be a metaphor? Alas, I missed that particular Aus Rock Lyrics and the Birth of the Seventies Counter Culture lecture, so I can’t tell you. What I can say is that what this long piece lacks in cohesion it makes up for in invention and energy. In fact, At The Mountains Of Madness is the equal of anything out of the USA or UK in that wonderful time when progressive heavy rock was throwing up slabs of powerhouse rock and roll. Released in April 1971 on Festival’s progressive Infinity label, the excellent Aztec CD re-issue includes a couple of well-considered covers (The Beatles “TNK” and the Stones “Gimme Shelter”) and will secure you the album without needing to sell your firstborn. Do it, or they’ll send The Rat ‘round.