Mighty Baby – ‘At A Point Between Fate And Destiny-The Complete Recordings’ (2019)
After years as British mod cult rhythm and blues belters The Action, with lead vocalist and front man Reg King at the center of their sound, the group recorded an acetate of transitional recordings with a heavier sound and psychedelic edge, intended for release under the working title ‘Rolled Gold’ The acetate failed to find any takers, at which point Reg King left the band and guitarist Martin Stone and keyboardist Ian Whiteman became the focus of the newly christened counterculture adventurers Mighty Baby, whose recordings ranged from drug influenced psychedelic rock to a progressive sound with influences ranging from jazz and country to Sufi spiritualism, along the way becoming known by many as the Grateful Dead of the UK.
The complete recordings of the quintet, two officially released studio albums, an early acetate version of their 1969 debut LP, rehearsals for their sophomore effort, an abandoned 1970 album, rare single sides and live performances from 1970 and 1971 are gathered together in a new six disc box set containing some of the most interesting music of the day, sixty tracks, six hours and forty five minutes total, of incredibly versatile, eclectic rock music.
Disc one contains the November 1969 s/t debut album released on Head Records, as well as an unreleased early acetate version of the LP, recorded in February 1969. The opening tune, ‘Egyptian Tomb’ is a five and a half minute pop rock classic, with a psychedelic edge. The tune’s hook supplied by Martin Stone’s guitar and vocal harmonies by Ian Whiteman and Alan “Bam” King, is supplemented by the incredibly tight rhythm section work of bassist Mike Evans and drummer Roger Powell. The tune was issued as the a-side of the band’s first single although it did not receive the attention or attain the sales it was worthy of, with Stone’s lead line and solo especially tasteful along with Powell’s crashing drums. Perhaps the highlight to the album’s eight tracks is the six minute plus ‘House Without Windows’ , like the rest of the recordings credited to the five members of Mighty Baby. Stone’s guitar and Whiteman’s keyboards dominate the tune’s psychedelic melody complemented by King and Whiteman’s vocals, resulting in a heavy rocker with commercial appeal. As with almost the entire LP, Stone’s lead line and solo drive the tune with Whiteman’s organ adding flavor. ‘Trials Of A City’ is a blues rock tune with Stone’s guitar at the helm, hints of country influence and Whiteman pounding piano subtly joining the song’s main riff. A mid-tune tempo change belies the group’s versatility with Powell and Evans locked in on the bottom end before Stone puts his guitar into overdrive pushing the song home. ‘Same Way From The Sky’ is another piece of driving psychedelia with Stone’s echoed guitar and King and Whiteman’s vocals to the fore. ‘I’ve Been Down So Long’ has a Moby Grape vibe thanks to its vocal harmonies and Martin Stone’s delicate guitar, while he adds not one but two solos. ‘I’m From The Country’ features a gentle acoustic guitar and vocal intro with Whiteman contributing tasteful piano, once again spotlighting Mighty Baby’s versatility. The track was the ideal b-side for the ‘Egyptian Tomb’ single. The disc is completed by the seven tracks comprising the LP’s original unreleased acetate version. Especially notable are two tracks, ‘Messages’ and ‘Ancient Traveller’ which, while failing to make the cut for inclusion on the debut album did find release as the two sides of a bonus single added to Flashback Records’ 2015 compilation LP ‘Slipstreams.’ ‘Messages’ is a mid-tempo pop rocker, much more vocally based than the rest of the recordings although Stone’s lead line and solo are once again front and center. ‘Ancient Traveller’ is a gentle acoustic track with Whiteman contributing piano and flute, which combined with Stone’s restrained guitar results in a haunting tune reminiscent of The Moody Blues. The remaining five tracks of the acetate find release here for the first time.
Disc two is centered around the group’s sophomore LP, 1971’s ‘A Jug Of Love’ the title a reference to the Sufi term for divine love, and released on Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon label. In sharp contrast to ‘Mighty Baby’ the album has a much gentler, instrumental centered sound and makes obvious the eclectic influences on the band during its tenure. The title track is a laid back number with a beautiful lead line by Stone and nuanced tempo changes. ‘The Happiest Man In The Carnival’ is melodic, driven by flute and piano with Stone contributing mandolin. ‘Keep On Juggin’’ has heavy guitar by Stone and is the tale of a roadie, who while driving the group’s equipment van catches his trousers on fire, jumps out of the vehicle and runs beside it as he extinguishes the flames, then gets back behind the wheel, filled with its repeated chorus of “he’s alright, he’s alive” and Stone’s fast finger picking. ‘Virgin Spring’ named after an Ingmar Bergman movie has a gentle melody with acoustic guitar by Stone and vocal harmonies by King and Whiteman. Stone and Whiteman have a gorgeous slide guitar and piano interlude, with the former adding a restrained solo. ‘Tasting The Life’ is the story of life on the road and features nicely echoed guitar by Stone, who turns up the heat and offers extended solos throughout. The album closer ‘Slipstreams’ is a delicate melody with Whiteman’s piano accompanying Stone’s Spanish guitar and mandolin work. The disc’s bonus material begins with the non-LP single side ‘Devil’s Whisper’ displaying Mighty Baby’s country influences with steel guitar, fiddle and delicate vocal harmony parts. The single’s b-side is an alternate, shorter take on ‘Virgin Spring.’ The disc closes with five tunes, from 1967, attributed to The Action with Ian Whiteman receiving sole composing credit and previously included on Grapefruit’s four disc box set of The Action, giving insight into the transitional sound of the band without Reg King but before Martin Stone became the central player.
Disc three begins with rehearsal recordings from the ‘A Jug Of Love’ sessions, seven in all. The instrumental recordings include a take on the title track, two each of ‘The Happiest Man In The Carnival’ and ‘Virgin Spring’ one go at ‘Tasting The Life’ and a cover of Gram Parsons’ ‘Lazy Days’ which became a staple of the band’s live set and features gorgeous slide work by Stone and organ courtesy of Whiteman. A short, two minute, instrumental interlude from the band’s work backing Blue Horizon artist Keith Christmas on his solo album, features Whiteman’s piano and Roger Powell’s drums. The disc closes with the mono single mix of ‘Egyptian Tomb’ b/w ‘I’m From The Country’ a French and Dutch release.
Disc four opens with the abandoned 1970 recordings for an, at the time, unreleased album tentatively titled ‘Day Of The Soup.’ The album opener ‘Winter Passes’ was used by Whiteman as part of the requirements for his master’s degree in architecture and features piano by the composer joined by Stone on slide guitar and vocal harmonies by King and Whiteman. The unconventional LP finished with the extended, nearly thirty eight minute, ‘Now You Don’t’, presented in four parts. Part 1 features an exotic mix of flute, tablas, organ, bass, drums and wah wah guitar with Evans’ bass line especially notable. Part 2 is dominated by waves of wah wah guitar by Stone with Whiteman adding saxophone to the mix. Part 3 retains Stone’s wah wah, Whiteman adding piano, organ and saxophone parts, but it is the precise time keeping of Evans and Powell that comes to the fore. Part 4 shifts to an Eastern vibe with Stone’s guitar and Whiteman’s keys joined by Powell’s tablas. The vibe is Traffic during its ‘Low Spark’ period with Whiteman’s sax, but Stone’s guitar that takes center stage and powers the tune to its close, the tempo quickening as Powell’s drums and Evans’ bass race Whiteman’s keys to the finish. The disc closes with four live performances beginning with a short take on ‘Keep On Juggin’’ from a July 1970 Disco 2 show, followed by three performances taken from a March 1970 gig at Lanchester University in March 1970. First up is a fifteen minute take on the non-LP jam ‘Now You See It’ opening with Whiteman’s flute before Stone takes over, moving from sitar to electric guitar, with his fiery lead line dominating, especially his wah wah solo. ‘Stone Unhenged’ is a three minute jazz tinged instrumental number featuring piano, bass, drums and Stone on electric guitar. The disc closer is a rocker with a country edge titled ‘Sweet Mandarin’ an upbeat tune with Powell’s drums pushing the beat while Whiteman’s piano and Stone’s guitar carry the melody.
Discs five and six present Mighty Baby performances from Malvern Winter Gardens and Glastonbury in February and June 1971, and serve as incredible documents of the amazing live act Mighty Baby had evolved into. While the sound quality from Malvern is far superior, the Glastonbury performances, nearly all previously unreleased and mainly sourced from an audience recording presented to the band, are important historically and will be treasured by listeners. The first track from Malvern is a nearly seven minute take on the band’s first single ‘Egyptian Tomb’ and is the most pop oriented live recording from the two gigs, Stone’s lead line and solo sounding true to the studio take, as is the band’s performance overall. Likewise ‘Trials Of The City’ features Stone’s fiery guitar again to the fore, joined by the tight rhythm section of King and Powell and Whiteman’s piano. The tune is relaxed but the improvisation between Stone’s guitar and Whiteman’s piano are most impressive. The extended, over eleven minute, version of ‘Keep On Juggin’’ is laid back, but allows each band member to stretch out in a fashion that is comparable with the Grateful Dead at their best. ‘Woe Is Me’ is laid back, the group setting into a comfortable groove led by Stone’s guitar and Whiteman’s organ. The twenty two minute take on John Coletrane’s ‘India’ a tune that had been a live staple of the group going back to their days as The Action, showcases the improvisational prowess of the players and no doubt would have made even Coletrane proud. Each member takes his turn in the spotlight and none are to be taken lightly. The last track from Malvern is a rather short, five and a half minute take on ‘Goin’ Down To Mongoli’ done as an encore and features the group returning to their early sound as psychedelic rockers with Stone’s guitar and Powell’s drums pushing the beat while the band’s overall performance is melodic, and the vocal harmonies of King and Whiteman standout. The sound quality on these Malvern performances is quite good, sounding better than any previous releases. Disc five closes with a shorter, seven minute version of ‘Keep On Jugglin’’ taken from Glastonbury, joined in progress with Stone’s guitar leading the way in unison with Whiteman’s organ, Powell and Evans’ rhythm section delivering their usual locked in delivery.
Disc six presents performances from Glastonbury, five previously unreleased, and while far from audiophile quality are exciting finds for fans of the band. ‘Virgin Spring’ is introduced as a really slow song by the band who deliver an incredibly delicate performance over seven minutes with vocal harmonies, Stone’s guitar and Whiteman’s organ leading the way. ‘Goin’ Down To Mongoli’ which the group also introduces as a new song, runs nine minutes with Stone’s guitar nicely echoed and the band taking time to tune and talk to the crowd. ‘Woe Is Me’ features Stone on slide guitar on a relaxed jam, the group again chatting with the audience as members take turns leaving the stage for their morning prayers as required by the religious beliefs of all the members besides King. The lone track previously released (included on the 3 LP set of the festival) is a cover of Gram Parsons’ ‘Lazy Days’ which features Stone’s guitar revved up in the country rock style of bands such as the Rolling Stones during the period, with Whiteman’s organ adding to the tune’s vibe. The real gem of the disc is the full thirty six minute, forty four second take on John Coletrane’s ‘India’ long thought lost, and titled ‘A Blanket In My Muesli’ for the occasion. From its opening with Whiteman’s flute and Stone’s guitar the song flows effortlessly from the band, with Stone and Powell delivering especially tasteful solos as the group moves from relaxed jam to screaming rock seamlessly throughout. The disc closer is a four and a half minute take on the group’s second and final single ‘Devil’s Whisper’ with the spotlight on Stone’s wah wah, Whiteman’s organ and Powell’s insistent tapping on his hi hats. Stone’s finger picked guitar is absolutely luscious as is the mid-tune tempo change with the pace quickening as Stone and Whiteman are pushed by Powell’s drums with Stone’s wah wah playing the song, disc and box set out as the crowd calls out for more, a most fitting finish.
‘At A Point Between Fate And Destiny: The Complete Recordings’ comes in a clamshell box with each disc in its own cardboard mini-LP sleeve, ‘Mighty Baby’ being a gatefold. The box set comes with a forty page full color booklet filled with photos of the band, album and single artwork and other memorabilia, a 12,000 word essay by David Wells and complete track annotations. The band sounds better than ever thanks to the remastering job of Oli Hemingway at The Wax Works. The box set finishes the story of The Action/Mighty Baby begun by Grapefruit’s 2018 four disc set ‘Shadows And Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968’ and will be greatly appreciated by fans of the groups, UK rock of the era, progressive and psychedelic rock fans and fans of 1960’s and 1970’s rock in general. Many, many thanks to the kind folks at Cherry Red Records, UK for these sets on their Grapefruit Records imprint. Many of us never dreamed we would live to see the day when the complete works, and story, of these two incredible bands would be available at our fingertips. Bravo!
– Kevin Rathert
Mighty Baby – ‘At A Point Between Fate And Destiny-The Complete Recordings’ (Grapefruit Records, 2019)