BAKERLOO PASS STILL VALID
Bakerloo: Esoteric / Cherry Red Records ECLEC 2468, 71.00 mins
Nowadays one of the secondary, supplementary pleasures of music listening can be the background genealogy of those involved. The trail usually goes two ways: a forgotten or legendary one-off debut album, whereby context becomes archaeology rather than tracing current and ancestral lines; or else going on to form or augment more famous bands later known worldwide. A rare confluence of all these factors finds us in the territory of Bakerloo, a name which had as little to do with London’s public transport as their sole album’s distinctive cover image.
Their initial moniker was neat word-play: The Bakerloo Blues Line, formed in England’s West Midlands in early 1968 by David ‘Clem’ Clempson (guitar, piano/harpsichord, harmonica, vocals) and Terry Poole (bass, vocals), a graphic artist who handled their promo material. In the wake of Cream, they searched long for a drummer adept in different styles to complete a power trio, coming up trumps with the aptly-named Keith Baker. Their local area was a hotbed for up and coming bands that also saw young liggers like Robert Plant, John Bonham, Spencer Davis, Cozy Powell, The Move, Medicine Head, and Black Sabbath. Indeed, the Sabs in their first incarnation as Earth shared the same agency as Bakerloo, and later label-mates Tea & Symphony, so often gigged together and more; Bill Ward filled-in on drums a couple of times for the ’loo.
In the spirit of those times Bakerloo, with the later Black Sabbath manager Jim Simpson, started their own club. The legendary Henry’s Blueshouse (1968-1973) was located in the upstairs function room of the Crown Hotel (actually a pub) surrounded by music shops in central Birmingham. Bakerloo were the first headliners (supported by Earth) to open the venue that soon became famous for Tuesday jam sessions with Rory Gallagher, Zepp and many others and, like the Mothers club in nearby Erdington, featured touring blues legends like Arthur Big Boy Crudup, J.B.Hutto, Gary Davis, and Son House (supported by Stackwaddy!).
In September 1968 Bakerloo played London’s Roundhouse with the Small Faces, Barclay James Harvest and The Action, followed the next month as support at the famous Marquee for the debut of Led Zeppelin, a little-known band that saw fit to modestly advertise themselves as ‘The New Yardbirds’. Bakerloo played it so often as to be almost residents while crashing with local friends, including support for the last appearance there of Jethro Tull before headlining in their own right soon after. John Peel heard them at Mothers and put them on his Top Gear show (with the Bonzo Dog Band) that same October. There is a bootleg in existence which may be this BBC recording, featuring four songs later on their album. They reappeared on the BBC in January 1969 (with Alexis Korner) and for two songs on Top Gear the next month, perhaps a repeat of their debut appearance. Their first airing led to nationwide gigs throughout the next year and what seems their only foray abroad, a concert in Belgium for the princely fee of £100. Back in Brum they were seen by Tony Hall of EMI and became one of the first signings to its new prog label.
That same summer a single was released: Drivin’ Bachwards (an arrangement of Bach’s Bourrée In E Minor, soon adapted also on Jethro Tull’s second album) coupled with the non-album Once Upon A Time (HAR 5004). An unknown session drummer was used as Keith Baker had yet to join, and this is when their name was shortened to Bakerloo. There is some dispute, however, if the 45 even saw the light of day. An expert dealers’ forum has never seen one—certainly the exhaustive popsike website has no appearance—although a test pressing exists, once owned by Harvest label manager Malcolm Jones. Was it held back by the label awaiting the album then overlooked as the label gained momentum?
The self-titled album of seven tracks appeared as a gatefold in December 1969 on Harvest (SHVL 762) with band photos on the inner sleeves. Terry Poole kindly informed me that his cover design features a mining accident in the transalpine tunnel during the 1880s. The recording was one of the first produced by Gus Dudgeon (he’d engineered John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Zombies prior) before later fame with Bowie’s Space Oddity and the first LPs of Elton John and Michael Chapman. Recorded round the corner from the Marquee at Trident Studios, it what was their live set nailed in two or three takes (except, ironically, for the shortest track Drivin’ Bachwards) in just a few days—unsurprisingly as the studio cost £30 per hour, at a time when the Marquee paid exactly half that and many bands were on retainers of a fiver a week. They even squeezed sessions in-between gigs the same day. In spite of being featured on Harvest’s double sampler Picnic (This Worried Feeling) it has become one of the rarest vinyls of the Harvest catalogue. Unlike for smaller labels—the only way to get Incredible Hog’s album on Dart was to hotfoot it to Haymarket and buy in the label’s office I recall—the platter was in the shops but eluded sales. Incredibly, however, the line-up had already split by the time the album hit the shelves.
Now Esoteric/Cherry Red has digitally remastered it plus five bonus tracks. The sound is loud, sharp and full of body, each instrument in its own space for a listening delight. A jazzy fast-chord instrumental opens, Big Bear Ffolly named after their agency’s first tour, which appropriately leads into a tasty Willie Dixon standard of the 60s, Bring It On Home, mid-paced with understated mouth harp in the spirit of early Canned Heat. Driving Bachwards, the aforementioned take on Bach, is a harpsichord-led instrumental very much ’69 or an electric Amazing Blondel, with the lone guest Jerry Salisbury on trumpet. The pace drops for Last Blues, funereal-paced bass morphs into a Cream-like power trio blast with guitar effects and solo, before returning via shimmering cymbals to the original melody with wind effect. Laden with metaphors (“Take me to the train”…), its dark atmosphere clings like a coroner’s wet-suit beside a foggy lake. Imagine the Wuthering Heights’ moor round an old graveyard and you’re there.
The unfortunately titled Gang Bang closed side one, like the opener with a nod to jazz inflections overlaid by guitar solo. This group composition—no doubt the real intent of the title—showcases each musician, especially drummer Keith Baker’s rhythm patterns as pounding as those of his namesake Ginger. Surely one of the least boring drum solos on record: close your eyes and you’re on the Victorian loco rattling through the tunnel en route to the Crystal Palace. This Worried Feeling opens with a Peter Green ‘lonely style’ Fleetwood Mac blues but stays closer to the four-bar like Savoy Brown. The stronger vocals here are underpinned with bar-room piano, building up to some blistering guitar. The bonus of this drops the guitar intro in favour of piano which is more prominent in a variant, shorter take that’s still finished and interesting.
The album closes with a track that is impossible to avoid superlatives about. Extending to almost 15 minutes, Son Of Moonshine flies by like a single due to sheer energy and inventiveness. This is one helluva beast of a track, with enough horse-power to chuff a Genghis Khan who up to that point only had the heaviest Groundhogs on his walkman fed through a bank of pillaged cabinets. It is ’Hogs plus Mayblitz (live) or a tighter, heavier Mighty Baby jam. A total experience; live, you would have had to crawl out of the venue on your hands and knees afterwards—and forget to ask why the venue omitted to have a booze licence.
Its riffing, feedback opening, abrasive as asbestos, opens outs into a thumping fuzz-driven beat with more guitar styles and licks than a heaving music shop could cater for. The lyrics aren’t bad either, full of pithy wisdom, but bejeezus it’s darn hard to remember to listen out for them while such chords and rhythms are being committed to posterity. It is one of the greatest tracks of the period if you like driving, let-it-rip rock, a youth-filled bash that sums up the era, an Uncle Harry’s Freakout linking the Grove with Brum as if the M1 had never been built.
The bonus of this (Son Of Moonshine Part One) is a genuine alternate take, slightly less fuzzed but still an energetic nine minutes without the album’s post-blitz closing segment or vocals. The b-side of their only single, Once Upon A Time, is a swirling guitar example of the last flourishing of psych as we now know it in a paean to lost love. The three new bonuses are completed by the sore-thumb (Hoagie Carmichael’s Georgia) and a rumbling first take of Train, a hardy perennial subject back then that has some tasty bottle-neck slide. With 15 minutes plus of new bonuses, added to the two prior released 9 minutes, this issue is a 71 minute treat from start to finish.
The influences span genres: blues, hard rock, psych, jazz and progressive including classical elements for an experience rare as tunnel cleaners on the transport system of their name. There is no bloody gap to mind. Clearly the trio, versatile without being flashy, saw Bakerloo as a showcase for instrumental prowess and audiences lucky enough to catch them on the circuit during that brief 18 months. Reviewers compare them to Alvin Lee’s Ten Years After, Cream, Blue Cheer, Canned Heat, Juicy Lucy and Blodwyn Pig, but Bakerloo is a sticky amalgam of these great bands fired by the energetic joie de musique of stand-alone albums like Quatermass, T2 or Hackensack. One immediate post-album killer line-up featured Clem (a nickname from schooldays, he doesn’t like the name Dave) with Cozy Powell and Dave Pegg before they left for other name bands after one gig, while a later more jazzy 5-piece incarnation morphed into a renamed Hannibal (Chrysalis Records) but without any Bakerloo founder members.
It’s said that the original split was because Terry Poole wanted to move to London but not Clem. Bakerloo was their vinyl debuts, reproducing their stage sound with added keys: Clem studied piano at the Royal School of Music from an early age before taking up the guitar under the influence of blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. Incredibly, he has never released a solo album. Initially he left to form Colosseum, while Poole and Baker formed Mayblitz but again left before the Vertigo albums. The clear origins of the sound of that cult band appear on Bakerloo. And here the genealogy takes off, as the trio’s members went their own ways to Humble Pie, Graham Bond, Vinegar Joe, Judas Priest, Supertramp, Running Man and Uriah Heep—to name but a few! After more than ably replacing Peter Frampton, Clem worked in the 80s and 90s with Cozy Powell, Jack Bruce, Snafu, Rough Diamond, Ken Hensley, Jon Anderson, Bob Dylan and Chris De Burgh. After soon becoming Supertramp’s first drummer then Uriah Heep’s tubman for their second album but declining to tour, Keith Baker has worked as an in-demand sessionman. Terry Poole has had an equally glittering career as one of the best bassists in the business.
The founders are all still rightly proud of an album that has had laudatory reviews from day one for forty five years. It could have been the making of a major 70s band, rather than the safe-as-rock stepping stone it became. A more accomplished, confident debut could not exist; it would have to share the same plateau. Of course most debuts usually have their fair share of ideas—or should have—but here there is a consistent effort to add their own stamp to the event. Initially released on CD by Repertoire in 2000, with two bonus tracks, and then in 2013 on Belle (Japan) in mini cardboard sleeve, this Esoteric recording via Cherry Red in remastered glory is now definitive in concert-live sound like their recent issue of Quatermass. Even hoarders of the rare vinyl should check out its sound quality. No, not a lost gem, it has never gone missing and remains one of the cornerstones of heavy progressive rock without need of hype. Because it’s a masterpiece.
With thanks to Terry Poole at www.terrypooleretrorocknroll.com
Review made by Brian R. Banks/2014
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