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Eddie Baird - Exposed (2009) review

          
Eddie Baird - Exposed (Talking Elephant TECD 146; 26.56)

Eddie Baird is most well-known for his first (and only) recording band, Amazing Blondel, although he was also a session musician (e.g. on Paul Kossoff’s solo album) and auditioned for Dire Straits to replace Knopfler in the late ’70s. By then Amazing Blondel, one of the foremost exponents of what’s now called prog-folk (when superlatives like Amazing and Incredible String Band were legitimate not hype), were fragmented by the leaving of their principal song-writer after three Island albums. On many tours that included St. Paul’s Cathedral (on a bill with Cliff Richard!), they forged their own distinctive style that was as outside folk as it was any mainstream.

    Forty instruments for medieval-style ballads mixed with bawdy humour. Tuning the final lute, the first would be out of tune in the hot concert hall, until they had built 7-string guitars tuned to them with internal amplification, to play alongside 12 and 6 strings, crumhorn, cittern, theorbo, flutes, ocarina (also used by Dr. Strangely Strange), glockenspiel, and assorted keyboards and percussion. Group harmonies also required specific tunings: these guys knew their stuff! Shades of Jethro Tull’s and Forest’s whimsy from periods of yore, ISB’s inventiveness, and Dr. Strangely Strange’s uniqueness, with more breadth than Gryphon or Third Ear Band who, sadly, rarely went into the realm of comparable beauty.

    An early influence for Baird were The Shadows and Everly Brothers while in a school band that gigged for £2.10 shillings shared five ways (Spangles and Squash presumably rather than Whisky Macs). Typical school-leaving manual jobs then photographer on the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, the locale of Blondel, didn’t interrupt gigging as far afield as Brigg, which attracted the attention of two professional musicians: John Gladwin and Terry Wincott. They had recorded an album with Methuselah, heavy prog rockers whose acoustic interlude live prompted their own band in ’69. Baird and a friend were invited to their house then a bit later he was invited to join them, after the debut Amazing Blondel album had been finished for Bell Records in late 1969. Four of the most beautiful band albums of the whole era appeared via Island Records from 1970-73: Evensong, Fantasia Lindum, England, and Blondel.

    John Gladwin left immediately after a three-week US tour in 1973, gigs with Genesis in Germany, and when a tour with Traffic was in the pipeline. Years of non-stop touring and recording (which the band loved most) had taken its toll. Baird had contributed to the song-writing but most were written by Gladwin. Island then rang for a new album, with a deadline of six weeks. Baird wrote all Blondel in five weeks, known as the purple album (they hadn’t dropped the full name, as the LP’s back cover proves), which includes Simon Kirke and Paul Rodgers both of Free, plus Steve Winwood on bass and top session singers (Jim Capaldi had guested on an earlier album continuing the Island link). Most of the songs would grace later concerts. Three studio albums as a duo for DJM followed in 1974-76 (Mulgrave Street, Inspiration, Bad Dreams), sadly declining a little after the first that had some strong material. The label issued Live in Japan in ’77, actually recorded live in Europe though easier for the marketeers during glam then punk and disco.

    Eddie Baird did session work and moved to Cornwall, when the well-known producer Tony Cox invited him to his Sawmills studio for a solo album. It was earmarked for Island but their A&R man left and the platter was shelved. It’s recently been available as a download, with It Don’t Feel Right on some reissues of Inspiration. Then Baird released the more jazz-influenced Hard Graft for DJM in ’76, a hard to find vinyl and even rarer CD of 1998. In 1993 Demon Records, under their Edsel imprint, started to release the original Island albums, more recently taken up as great twofers via BGO. A limited edition of Baird’s Also…was released around 2000. Due to Talking Elephant Records, originally under their HTD moniker, the band reformed in 1997and issued Restoration to which Baird contributed Aubaird and Edagio. Tours of England, Italy and Scandinavia followed, as did The Amazing Elsie Emerald (Talking Elephant, 2010), a modern-style collection by Baird which features John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, also once associated with Free and latterly with The Who. They recorded some material together as Bundrick/Baird in 2010 which is a download issue.

    The label also issued live material by Amazing Blondel as a trio the following year, living up to an early review in the ’70s describing their ‘frequently stunning results’. On Youtube is an evocative Runaway (2008), from Abbey Cottage (2003) with Terry Wincott on 7-string who also put archive photographs there after the album was recorded in his studio. Blondel, co-produced by them, signalled wider styles and this is still adhered to today. The band now need someone to update their website, inactive since the turn of the century, to reflect this ever-interesting career. Since a CD issue in 2004 (Space to Hula), Baird has been working live and in the studio with Darryl Ebbatson alongside film projects. Ebbatson produced, engineered and sleeve-designed Exposed, recorded partly at SmallCog Studios during two years.

    Exposed (2009) is a good example of Baird’s solo material, stripped back from the bigger arrangements the group was always noted for as well as his multi-instrumental work. Nine songs (plus Amazing Blondel live in 2004: Sailing/Young Man’s Fancy from the purple album) as usual catch attention for their guitar dexterity and atmosphere. These are his key features, the songs evoke a place as a complete album experience that also overlaps in listeners’ imagination. Baird has that rare ability to create what other musicians need the big arrangement for. Never self-indulgent with echoes for most people, as the titles suggest (as on …Emerald: Fools Gold, Maybe, Don’t Turn Your Back, High Time, Here At Last etc).

    Four tracks are live: Lovebite opens in almost calypso style, as does …Elsie Emerald about a cool cocktail, but here ‘in a special kind of pain’. Friend Of Mine on what friendship means after a gap while waiting to see each other again, the passage of time too on Memory Lane from Abbey Cottage, while the short Tramp is about being free and neither tied nor cut out to follow another’s dream. Whilst current this could have appeared on any of Amazing Blondel’s albums depending on instrumentation. Shame refers to regret about behaviour (crying shame surfaces on Slip Away too about who to rely on), while Almost Gone is about what is done and needed in a relationship. Compromised ups the pace, but still the thoughtfulness is continued. A standout is Funny Old Life, with a familiar hook via capo on the second fret that I can’t quite pin down from where. Its musing on aging shows how Baird’s songs surface from deep reflections.

    There are nice lyrical touches, a conciseness about experience that lingers in the head afterwards, like a book carefully written rather than an isolated page. The modest Baird notes ‘I’ve had a remarkable song-writing career for over 35 years; to manage to avoid any commercial success in all that time is, I think you’ll agree, quite remarkable’. Some are just destined for deeper things. Varied guitar styles, rather like John Martyn or Bridget St. John, highlight a consummate master musician sharing life’s rich tapestry.


Review by Brian R. Banks/2016
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2016

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