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Quintessence: Spirits From Another Time 1969-1971 (2016) review

June 8, 2016

Quintessence: Spirits From Another Time 1969-1971 (2016) review

DOUBLE VISION AND WHO DREAMED
UP THE T.V. TITLE OGWT
Quintessence:
Spirits From Another Time 1969-1971 (Hux Records, May 2016) 
This album is Hux Records’ 150th release and also their most ambitious project by far.
A Jewish flautist from Australia, jazz trained
in New York, arrived in west London’s Ladbroke Grove and placed an ad for
musicians in Melody Maker in March
1969. The result, a multi-cultural band added to Ron Raja Ram Rothfield:
vocalist Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones (Australian of British ancestry) from a hit band
Jimmy Page saw down under, Jeremy ‘Jake’ Milton (drums) born in England (to Canadian
parents) who grew up in West Africa, Richard ‘Shambhu’ Vaughan (bass) from
America, 16 year-old Allan Mostert (lead guitar) from Mauritius, and art
teacher Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling (rhythm guitar) from Leeds. Sixteen weeks later,
Chris Blackwell of Island Records visited their rehearsal in a basement of a Notting
Hill fish ‘n’ chip shop. At 2am he doubled Warners’ offer, with full artistic
control including album sleeves and unlimited studio time, to sign them.
    In
August the cosmic surfers were recording their debut album issued in November
and touring Europe the next month. Their Euro film debut saw Montreux’s
programme enthuse: ‘One of the best bands in Europe. Individually they sparkle,
collectively they shine…When the year has ended Quintessence will be one of the
biggest bands in the world’. Heady stuff even for those days, and the music
fitted perfectly.
  
Quintessence (‘the fifth substance of the four elements latent in all
things’) didn’t need the BBC because their live reputation catapulted them
chart-ways before Progressive or New Age had even been coined. As Chris Welch
put it at the time, to a stunned public, the mighty Quins were better live than
the Doors. Band and listeners felt the albums were restrained compared to the
concerts, but this new release of studio tapes captures their energy that
resulted in a renowned symbiotic jamming style live. Verse, chorus, middle
eight, verse for three minutes—no way, this is propulsion, as adventurous as
any. As we hear, ‘We can’t use that start again, just let us blow!’ Jake
recalls that, although in the best of the time, the studios weren’t geared for
live recording: so rhythm tracks first then solos and vocals after, ‘never
quite the essence of the band’ he regrets. Pre-gig, matchsticks decided who
would write the set-list. Alan and Jake usually decided the opening mode or
scale and preferred an unnumbered set-list, ‘unlike one or two others’. Jake says
the freer style wasn’t a problem, as he and Ram came from jazz backgrounds that
shaped their approach along with listening to Indian music like Pannalal Ghosh,
Coltrane or a bit later the Grateful Dead (Dark Star was a big influence for
Jake and Alan) played in the tour wagon. 
 
    Mostert’s
range from spiralling acid (but always controlled) to bird-of-paradise-like solos,
Maha Dev’s pumping rhythm guitar sometimes as twin lead, the heavy bass
(remastering shows its power) allied to fluid drumming augmented with hand-percussion
and flute, highlights a leading band at their zenith. (Jim Morrison bought all
their albums on import.) Jazz and blues tropes, driving rock, psych, meditation,
pioneer electronica, drone, almost choir-like harmonies, audience participation
that was meaningful not moronic pap—and all that could be in one song! The idea
was to replicate a sound of mesmerising intoxication as identification (not
projection) with the audience who participated sometimes with their own
instruments. A celebration unifying mind and body that was spiritual and at
times celestial, as one reviewer noted. (Association with George Harrison’s
Radha Krishna Temple was a myth; like their Swami the band were ecumenical,
sharing variant paths; he also advised against drugs). This is bliss music as
it should be: vibrant soul-energy, essence, a thanksgiving free and
unadulterated.    
     
    Disc
one opens with their famous single, Notting Hill Gate—was it only export
picture-sleeve copies that started with the spliff lighting intro?—but in its
first-time full, unfaded-out state with a more tripped-out vocal and sitar by a
guest before the guitarist took it up himself. Island’s studio was in the heart
of where the band lived, London’s bohemian centre. A rehearsal nearby at All
Saints Church (site of Hawkwind’s first gig) featured in a counter-culture
documentary. No better statement of time, place and band: for this is a trip
not only in music but also time dimensions.
   
Brahman, which would be on their third album Dive Deep (March 1971 reaching number 43), is here a fourth take of
an often-worked song with a middle jazzy riff written by Shiva and different
guitar solo. One of the joys of this release is Allan Mostert’s extended solos
that were a live delight but rarely on recordings (we now see due to vinyl’s space
limitations). His acid- swirler building to a head-topping crescendo on Sea Of
Immortality (oddly absent from Island’s compilation Oceans Of Bliss in the 90s) is one of the greatest of the period
and here unabridged: this release features two more classic versions of the
‘celestial wine filling you with divinity’. Musical breadth also permeates two seven-minute
plus takes of Only Love (Can Save Us), first heard with added live material on
the second eponymous album which in June 1970 reached their highest charting of
22 during 4 weeks. This is another testament to their meteoric rise in spite of
never appearing on John Peel’s show and only one In Concert recording, in November 1970.
    Many
of their best songs here include an even more epic (longer than on the third
LP) Epitaph For Tomorrow. Twin guitars are more to the fore, as is the bass, with
more fiery solo over a driving rhythm including a rare glimpse of Shiva’s
Hammond playing. His favourite track from the debut album (In Blissful Company 1969), Body, has here been wonderfully salvaged
from the March 1970 St. Pancras concert that featured on a previous Hux
release. Thumping bass, soaring flute and a cloud-bursting solo with wah-wah
ends because the tape ended, as the compere explains. Timeless time-travelling.
    A
couple of unfinished snippets include a baroque harpsichord piece (for an
aborted opera, as was High On Mount Kailash) and Hari Om chant introed by Mostert’s improvisation. This chant briefly appeared faded on the fourth album Self (RCA in May 1972 with one side live
at Exeter University, reached 50 but oddly in the chart for just one week) but
here has multiple backward percussion melded with funk guitar. Also unreleased
on disc two is Tree Of Life by a four-piece and a rare vocal from Dave Codling,
reminding a little of Kala (Shiva’s and Dave’s post-Quins band) or Pearl And
Bird by Mostert on the debut platter. Self
reappears with Codling’s You Never Stay The Same (retitled Vishnu Narain on
that later fourth album and same take as a single b-side), this time with
vocals by the guitarist and backing (ashram?) singers. Colin Harper speculates
that Self on RCA has smuggled-out
Island tapes; the label has no multi-tracks of the LP in their archive but does
have a complete set for the follow-up Indweller
(RCA 1973). Cosmic Surfer b/w Wonders
Of The Universe actually exists as an Apple Corps Ltd green/white labelled
acetate, so perhaps George Harrison was approached by the band’s management?
    The
second version of Only Love is a great find—an outtake possibly eclipsing the
classic album track!—with chugging second guitar, hypnotic vocal, Raja Ram’s
flute and bells and another high-inducing lead solo brilliantly underpinned by
the drummer. The 1970 album track was tape-spliced together by producer John
Barham, who worked with George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Radha Krishna Temple and
most of the Apple roster including Lennon’s Imagine,
Kala, and films by Jodorowsky and Preminger. Marwa, later on his solo album Jugalbandi (Elektra 1973), is based on a
six-note Indian raga, but here uses harps, piano, cello, flute and tablas with
a dreamy vocal recalling Vedanta story songs.
    A new
mix of Wonders Of The Universe later used the next year on Self appears, and Maha Mantra (90 seconds on the second LP) is here
in its full six-minute version with the band’s Swami-Ji (Swami Ambikananda
1934-97) and ashram singers who at one time featured Lene Lovich of later punk
fame. This evocative chant kirtan (on Youtube from a BBC schools documentary
film) shows the spontaneous and indeed joyous empathy. Also unreleased is
Sunlit Kitchens, featuring the band’s poet-lyricist and first manager Stanley
Barr reading over a mantra. Shiva requested this and Hari Om to be included:
his kindred album with Ralph ‘Rudra’ Beauvert, who runs the excellent band
website in Switzerland, is highly recommended (Eclectic Records, 2005).
Twilight Zones reappears from the second album, but instead of a meditative
mellower is here delivered as a Hendrix-style trio, fuzz bass and all! The
closer, Move Into The Light, was the never-played-live B-side to the Notting
Hill Gate more fuzz-laden single of January 1970, here reprised (in take 13)
with Simon Lanzon (later of Donovan’s band and Chumbawamba) guesting on keys
and new Shiva double vocal (baritone to falsetto perfectly pitched) added to
the voiceless surviving take with a percussion jamboree longer than the
track-time. Three tracks have added new parts by Shiva or Dave Codling. Shambhu,
who wrote Ganga Mai, sums up the experience: ‘Certainly our music has been an
education and joy to us, and if it can be a joy to other people then its
cool’. 
   
Digitised to high quality resonance at Abbey Road Studios by Cormac
O’Kane, his booklet insights alongside Colin Harper’s technical notes to each
song (not in track sequence, a minor gripe) with Shiva’s and Dave’s input, will
delight aficionados. Thanks to Hux, thirty reels of thirty-minute tapes were found
that also had a Mott the Hoople track and one by an unknown singer (when
delivered by Universal, one was missing and six not approved for licence)
revealing an incredible labour of love as the label’s ‘most ambitious project
by far’ marking their 150th release. Not only has the label released
two same-period live CDs of the band (one has already sold out) but also the Rebirth anniversary gig at the 40th
Glastonbury Festival and all extant recordings of the follow-up Kala.
   
    Such
labels as Hux, Angel Air, Cherry Red and Talking Elephant are like life-blood
for music lovers of bygone periods. For current (future?) music you can pledge for
a buffed strat signed on one string, a stuffed stiff stoat with the stuffing
stuffed back in (hole signed), a pair of shoes (worn), a signed saucepan lid
(not a kid), meet and cheat, limited edition bedpan (cracked) with certificate
(signed, cracked) etc. Maybe if existed back then in an age when ticket agency sharks
hadn’t yet replaced touts, you might have got a joint (not roast), commune
invite, access for nirvana (a realm, not band), but no, the music world like
life was different and all the better for it. Such things weren’t even seen on
the future horizon where earth-like Trappist One located in the constellation
of Aquarius. This release from another time-zone seems in another part of the
universe too.
    It is
not too extravagant to say that when Quintessence split so did an era. First
Barham left, Gopala went from cover designer to Shiva’s roadie, then Raja Ram (or
the band depending on the version told) sacked Shiva and Maha Dev after a
highly publicised UK tour of cathedrals (the BBC televised one), twice
selling-out the Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park with Soft Machine, an 18-date tour
of Europe and label move to RCA (Ram declined Blackwell’s brokered deal with
Bell that scuppered a first US tour). One of the craziest decisions in rock
history, although there was individual tension over musical policy before the
‘rump’ band fizzled out around 1980. At their height they twice appeared on the
forerunner of OGWT, a documentary (New
Horizons
), the Glastonbury and Kralingen (Holland) Festival films,
Montreux, and in over 20 leading music paper interviews in three years. As
Colin Harper rightly notes, without their charismatic vocalist and one of the circuit’s
leading guitarists, it was like Free without Rodgers and Kossoff or Jethro Tull
without Anderson. Not the same appeal or success.
    There
is a surprising footnote to the band’s studio life. A BBC producer Peter Carr
says Jake Milton coined the title of the famous late-night music series The Old
Grey Whistle Test, after a Soho studio desk guard who’d whistle tunes he liked
during the night sessions when the band left in the morning. Jake’s
then-girlfriend, Gloria Wood, was a BBC music researcher at the time and she
told this story to a DJ. Jake confirms, though ‘most people are unaware of the
dig at the music biz implicit in the title’! He was a much-in-demand session
musician (e.g. Syd Barrett at Abbey Road) and for gigs, from Mick Wayne
(Junior’s Eyes that became Bowie’s band for Space
Oddity
1969), The Glands with Eric Clapton in the autumn of ’65 (they
played Greece which they drove to in a Ford Galaxy), and the house band (with
Gordon Edwards of The Pretty Things) at the Arts Lab, where Quintessence was
later filmed and Allan blew the amps. He went onto indie success including US
tours with his brother Ted in Blurt (on Factory Records etc); a rave review in NME says they blew Joy Division
off-stage, and were compared to Beefheart and Tom Waits.
    Raja
Ram flamboyantly stormed the early psy-trance music scene (which like Steve
Hillage he still continues) in Shpongle. He also made many films of Quintessence,
recalls Jake, still unseen in the public domain. Mostert started Blissticket
and his Inside World appeared on
Burning Shed in 2003. Living in Spain, he performs award-winning fusion music
across Europe with his wife. Shiva as a sound therapist and inner faith
minister tours the USA with his healing and meditation workshops involving the
didgeridoo as an aid to breathing exercises. He still performs at Australia’s
most prestigious big festivals with the country’s legendary Unknown Blues
Band.   
    Maha
Dev (who reformed Quintessence for anniversary shows recently) went to LA
during the first wave of punk and formed Made in Japan with bassist Bobby Asea
(ex-Cyclops) and Barry Paul (Savoy Brown; Heavy Metal Kids). They opened for
Love and other greats as well as on The Damned’s first US tour in 1977, while
appearing in the cult horror film New
Year’s Eve
(1980, Cannon Films). Their 7” Instant Hit b/w You Never Had It
So Good (1979) has just been released by Hozac Records in Chicago (HZR-178) to
some success: see the Single Cream section of Record Collector (May 2016), ‘a crisp nugget of prickly pop
pleasure’. A new video is being recorded stateside in the spring.        
    Underground
music today seems to mean ‘on its way to success’, but back in 1970 it meant a
life-style and vision. Some bands lost their first fan-base when in the charts,
others were just too good to be mainstream. In truth, Quintessence were never
underground in the modern sense: they arrived immediately at the forefront,
when the measure was gigs and media coverage not puerile gong evenings. They
were counter-culture, then and now. If you were around in 1970, this is
unmissable. If you weren’t, it’s well-worth checking out where the period was
at, musically and culturally: an atmospheric time-capsule that hasn’t dated at
all and repays opening and exploring. A double vision of spirits from another
time.
Many thanks to Jake
Milton, Dave Maha Dev Codling, and Phil Shiva Jones for their kind assistance.
Review by Brian R. Banks/2016
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2016
One Comment
  1. Anonymous

    Very interesting article. Great band! Thanks to Hux Records
    Marta_Steppenwolf

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