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STACKRIDGE (Edsel EDCD 518) 
FRIENDLINESS (Edsel EDCD 487) 
THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT (Edsel EDCD 488) 
EXTRAVAGANZA (Rocket Records/Nippon Phonogram PHCR-4211) 
MR. MICK (Rocket Records/Nippon Phonogram PHCR-4212) 
BBC RADIO 1 LIVE IN CONCERT (Windsong WINCD 019) [1972, 73, 75]
Stackridge were a strange and delightful British band of the seventies who were never a success in their own time, and who eventually broke up because of this, but whose music survives them. Like Fairfield Parlour, Audience, and other British bands of the same period, Stackridge had a quirky British eccentricity and were not per se "progressive" so much as they were individual and unique -- the cornerstone of progressiveism.
Chas Keep, in his excellent liner notes for the Edsel CDs, states, "With the band's stated influences and musical preferences ranging from The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Syd Barrett [founder of Pink Floyd and noted eccentric] and Robin Williamson, through the Marx Brothers, Flanders and Swann, Bing Crosby, Tom Lehrer, Gilbert & Sullivan, to Delius, Bach, Stravinsky and ecclesiastical choral music, it was hardly surprising that Stackridge soon established a reputation as an original, off-beat and humorous band on stage. ... The mixture of songs, both amusing and serious, interspersed with off-the-wall comic dialogues and moments of pure whimsy made their early concerts both unusual and unforgettable." The personnel of the early band fluctuated, but by the time of the first album it had become a quintet, with Andy Davis on lead guitar, piano, harmonium and acoustic guitar; James Warren on bass guitar, acoustic bass and acoustic guitar; Michael "Mutter" Slater on flutes; Michael Evans on violins; and Billy Bent on drums.
The first album, STACKRIDGE, had eight songs and one extended (eight minutes) instrumental suite ("Essence of Porphyry"). The songs told quirky stories about characters like "Percy the Penguin," "Dora the Female Explorer," and "Marzo Plod." The instrumental piece was a miniature symphony. The songs had ties to music hall and the Beatles, and were wide-ranging, musically. It was a promising start.
The second album, FRIENDLINESS, continues with eleven tracks -- nine songs (one, the title track, in two different versions with different but complementary lyrics) and two (shorter) instrumental pieces. Jim Walter joined, taking over the bass duties and making the group a sextet. Keep quotes Walter: "The songs from the album formed the bulk of the live set at the time, although we never played the title song on stage. ... FRIENDLINESS is the album which probably captures the spirit of the original Stackridge more than any other. A sort of children's favourites with attitude; a compendium of tuneful melodies performed without the now dated excesses of our contemporaries. Rock and Roll it ain't. But then Stackridge came from
The albums were released through British EMI on its MCA label (now divorced from EMI) in
Then Stackridge was signed (as the first group) to Elton John's Rocket Records label in
In 1975 there were further upheavals in the band. Davis and Slater held on, and Keith Gemmell stayed with them, but the rest of the band was replaced again. This time Walter returned to the band on bass, joined by the Dutch musician Pete Van Hooke on drums and Dave Lawson (from Greenslade) on keyboards. This band made the final Stackridge album, MR. MICK, which came out in early 1976.
MR. MICK "had been devised as a true 'concept album,'" according to Andy Davis, "but Rocket hacked the tapes to pieces, rendered the whole thing unintelligible and precipitated the band's demise." Originally the story of an old man who goes to the dump and discovers a steam radio, a surreal fantasy with poignant overtones, the delivered album was edited and resequenced by Rocket, who stuck a single on the opening track, a raggae version of the Beatles' "Hold Me Tight," and cut much of the connective material (and perhaps some of the songs) from the original album. Despite this, MR. MICK is a beautiful album and easily the most "progressive" Stackridge ever made. Instrumentals like "Breakfast with Werner von Braun," "The Dump," and "Coniston Water," are compelling, and the production is full of sly and subtle delights. It's a genuine shame that Stackridge broke up after making this album.
There was one last album, MCA's DO THE STANLEY, which gathered up the singles, including those which never appeared on any album. It was released in late 1976 in
However, in 1992 Windsong released a CD of thirteen live performances recorded for and broadcast by the BBC in 1972, 1973 and 1975. These include a little bit of the non-musical patter (especially surrounding the non-album piece, "She Taught Me How To Yodel") that distinguished Stackridge's live shows, and are excellent performances that rank with their studio recordings in quality. Recently I've seen a repackaged version of this CD in some stores, but I believe its contents are the same.
Andy Davis and James Warren were the only ones to continue with careers in commercially-released recordings. They formed The Korgis and released two albums, THE KORGIS and DUMB WAITERS (in the
I suggest trying any Stackridge album you find first, and, if you like it, getting the rest. I recommend Stackridge's albums wholeheartedly.
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