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AUDIENCE (PSM unnumbered: a German quasi-boot) [1969]

FRIEND’S FRIEND’S FRIEND (Charisma/Virgin CASCD 1012-263 068) [1970]

THE HOUSE ON THE HILL (Charisma/Virgin CASCD 1032-256 959) [1971]

LUNCH (Charisma/Virgin CASCD 1054-260 861) [1972]

Audience was a unique British band. Like a number of British rock bands at the end of the ’60s and in the early ’70s Audience did not fit neatly into any of the categories which hindsight has supplied us. Audience was not per se “progressive,” but could be considered to have exhibited progressive attitudes and elements.

Quirky and individual, Audience was a quartet built around two of its members’ distinctive talents.

Howard Werth was the singer (he also played guitar and banjo) and principal songwriter. His voice was malleable and capable of everything from raucous rasps to sustained vibratos which sounded like a studio effect. He could belt them out, or whisper a song.   He sounded like no one else.

And Keith Gemmell played flute, clarinet and tenor sax with extraordinary range and feeling. Using an octave-divider and a harmonizer he could turn his tenor sax into a whole sax section. Using an Echoplex (or something like it) he could turn his flute into a flute choir – not unlike the Echoplexed flute in the Blues Project’s “Flute Thing.”

Trevor Williams on bass guitar and Tony Connor on drums rounded out the quartet. If their performances called less attention to themselves they were nonetheless Werth and Gemmell’s equals in the realization of the music. They also variously cowrote the pieces with Werth and Gemmell.

The music was in the form of songs, not extended forms or suites.   Most typically ran between three and five minutes in length (although two pieces on their third album each ran over seven minutes). The songs drew upon European folk music and British music hall (“blues” using whole-notes in major-key scales), and were akin to what would later in the ’70s be called “pubrock” – but catchier and quirkier. Mixed in were odd instrumental excursions which might deploy Werth’s classical guitar or Gemmell’s sax tripping over itself in cascades.

Vernon Joynson’s Tapestry of Delights describes Audience as “a London-based band who were popular on the club and college circuit.”   They made their eponymous first album for Polydor (583 065) in 1969, and it is, according to Joynson, “now rare and sought-after because it was withdrawn soon after its release.”   No explanation is offered as to why, but the German CD makes clear that this was a tentative album and only a preliminary sketch of what was to come.

It’s not an unappealing album, however. The band is in place and the elements which would distinguish it are audible, but it’s a bit like a demo album: thinner and a bit tamer than those which would follow. The “demo” aspect is underlined by the appearance, as the album’s last track, of an early version of “House on the Hill.” But it’s almost three minutes shorter than the version on the album of that name.

Joynson: “They were signed to Charisma after they were spotted by the label’s boss Tony Stratton-Smith supporting Led Zeppelin at the Lyceum in London.”   Their remaining three albums were all recorded for “The Famous Charisma Label,” as it called itself in those days.   “FRIEND’S FRIEND’S FRIEND [CAS 1012] and THE HOUSE ON THE HILL [CAS 1032] were both creative and worthwhile rock albums,” Joynson says.   “Both, especially the former, are dominated by the outstanding sax and flute playing of Keith Gemmell and Werth’s strong and rather unusual vocals.   Shel Talmy was lined up to produce the [first Charisma] album but declined at the last moment because he didn’t like some of the material. He was looking for a big commercial album and while tracks like ‘Belladonna Moonshine’ and ‘It Brings A Tear’ probably appealed to him many of the others (e.g. ‘Raid’ [an eight-minute epic]) were more experimental and didn’t. As a result the band ended up producing the album themselves.”

That album, a gatefold, was made and sold only in the U.K., but the next album, THE HOUSE ON THE HILL, had a U.S. release, on the Elektra label (EKS-74100). This album was, like their final album, produced by Gus Dudgeon – who played maracas and cowbell on the album, becoming Audience’s first “special guest star.” Hipgnosis – the ultra-hip ’70s art studio – did the covers for this gatefold album “based on an original screenplay by Hipgnosis and Howard Werth.”

This album was my first exposure to Audience; I received a copy of the album in the mail from Elektra in a package which included several other Elektra albums, and on first playing it grabbed me. It’s a totally accomplished album: everything on it works. It includes one of the few covers Audience recorded, of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” – rather subdued in comparison with others’ versions, but very effective. And once again “House on the Hill” closes out the album. But this version of the song is vastly superior to the earlier version: it has more instrumental guts to it and it better produced as well.

After the album’s U.S. release the band toured America opening for The Faces, and, according to Joynson, “built up a good underground following there.”   My copy of the Elektra album came with an insert, a four-page booklet which featured a large photo of each band member and a caption.

 The captions are revealing: “KEITH GEMMEL [sic], originally from East London, plays saxophone and flute with psychopathic fury – weaving madly around the mike with his sax, forcing the most impossible notes through the P.A.”

“TONY CONNOR, also from East London, is as much a dancer as he is a drummer.   Sometimes in a fit of rhythmic insanity, he smashes his drum kit with his bare hands, throwing his body into his cymbals, building to an orgiastic climax of percussive violence. Then he will stop suddenly, pick up a small bell, walk to the front of the stage, and ring it softly a few times.”

“Through all of this, HOWARD WERTH (the third East Londoner in the group) manages to sing with clarity and expression, and accompany himself on guitar despite the manic proceedings.”

“Laying down a solid bottom for the group is TREVOR WILLIAMS, High Wycombe bassist, who stands off to the side, stamping around with the predatory instincts of the truly great rock and roll star – and of the criminally insane.”

Leaving aside the hyperbole about “psychopathic fury,” “rhythmic insanity,” “manic proceedings” and “the criminally insane,” those captions evoke something of Audience’s stage act. I’m sorry I missed their American tour – it sounds like it was a lot of fun.

Audience’s final album, LUNCH (CAS 1054, EKS-75026), is characterized by Joynson as “their magnum opus.” For this album they added three more musicians: Nick Judd on piano and American session musicians Jim Price (trumpet, trombone) and Bobby Keys (tenor sax). This gave their music a fuller and more horn-driven sound – replacing the rawer sound of Gemmell’s effect-altered sax. The cover is again by Hipgnosis, with their “thanks to some unsung genius of the early forties.” (This cover appeared in 1972, more or less contemporaneous with the first album by Roxy Music and remarkably in tune with Bryan Ferry’s own retro-stylistic approach.)

After LUNCH’s release “personality rifts, particularly between Keith Gemmell and the rest of the band, ripped them apart,” according to Joynson.   That was the end of Audience, although Joynson says “They also performed the score for the Bronco Bullfrog movie (also released under the name Angel Lane) which was written by Howard Werth. It was a film shot in the East End [of London] with a team of kids from a theatre, none of whom were professional actors.”

Following the breakup of Audience, Keith Gemmell was involved in a variety of projects culminating in his joining Stackridge and participating in their last two albums of the ’70s.   Howard Werth formed a new band (using members of Hookfoot) called Howard Werth and The Moonbeams, and recorded one album, the 1975 Charisma album KING BRILLIANT (CAS 11004), using Gus Dudgeon as producer.   It was critically acclaimed but its sales were disappointing.   It was released as a CD (CASCD 1104) in 1992.

Earlier, back in 1973, Charisma put out an Audience compilation album, YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM (CS 7) in the Charisma Perspective series. It draws from all three of the Charisma albums, but includes one hitherto unreleased track, “Elixir of Youth.”   This LP has never been issued on CD, but Charisma/Virgin did release a compilation CD by Audience, UNCHAINED (CDVM 9007) in 1992. I have not seen a copy and don’t know which tracks are included on it, but Joynson credits it with “quite informative sleevenotes.” 

Charisma/Virgin (Virgin bought the label before it was itself taken over by EMI; the Charisma label was revived for the release of ’90s albums by groups like Jellyfish) released FRIEND’S FRIEND’S FRIEND on CD in 1992, LUNCH in 1991 and THE HOUSE ON THE HILL in 1990. While the latter two albums are presented as musical duplicates of the original LP albums, FRIEND’S FRIEND’S FRIEND has a bonus track. This is “The Big Spell,” a three-minute piece which is presented in mono.

I recommend all three Charisma albums: they complement each other perfectly and make an excellent matched set. The first album, originally released on Polydor in 1969, is more of a curiosity and is necessary only for die-hard collectors and those (like myself) who need yet more of Audience than the Charisma albums provide. But even the CD may be difficult to find.


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