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STACKRIDGE (Edsel EDCD 518) [1971]

FRIENDLINESS (Edsel EDCD 487) [1972]


EXTRAVAGANZA (Rocket Records/Nippon Phonogram PHCR-4211) [1974]

MR. MICK (Rocket Records/Nippon Phonogram PHCR-4212) [1976]

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 Bristol, not Memphis."

The albums were released through British EMI on its MCA label (now divorced from EMI) in Britain. The first album was released in the U.S. on domestic MCA, but the second went unreleased here. Beginning with the third album, Sire took over the U.S. releases, and began a series of variant LPs. What was released in Britain as THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT (with a strange picture of an apparent woman -- actually the band's manager in female attire -- strolling across an African veldt), came out from Sire with the same cover, but under the name Pinafore Days , after a song of that name. Sire dropped two tracks from the original album, substituting for them a new single, "Spin Round the Room" and "One Rainy July Morning." These two tracks were on the following British album. But the main item of distinction for BOWLER HAT is that it was produced by George Martin, once known as "the fifth Beatle." The band were very pleased to get him, and he added a number of touches such as orchestrations, including his own piano on "Humiliation." (Another track, "Dangerous Bacon," featured Roxy Music's Andy Mackay on sax, while Ray Davies played trumpet and cornet on "The Galloping Gaucho.") Once again there are nine songs and one instrumental track.

Then Stackridge was signed (as the first group) to Elton John's Rocket Records label in Britain, then affiliated with Island. Rocket released EXTRAVAGANZA with a newly reformed Stackridge. Out went Warren, Evans, Bent (now known as Sparkle) and Walter. In came saxophonist Keith Gemmell (formerly from Audience), Paul Karas (from Rare Bird) on bass and vocals, Rod Bowkett on keyboards, and Roy Morgan on drums -- leaving only Slater and Davis from the original group. Out of the ten tracks, seven were songs and three were instrumentals. One of the songs was Gordon Haskell's "No One's More Important Than The Earthworm," a song which certainly fit well with the Stackridge material. Haskell, once briefly in King Crimson, had even more briefly joined Stackridge, but left before they began their fourth album, leaving this song behind. (Gordon's own version can be found on his 1971 solo album, IT IS AND IT ISN'T.) The American version of the album, on Sire, omitted the two tracks which had appeared on the U.S. release of the previous album, substituting one of the tracks bumped off that album, and a late single, "Do The Stanley." It was an okay album -- it still sounded like Stackridge -- but, as Keep puts it, "Sheer professionalism had replaced the essential characteristics that had made up Stackridge and whilst it was hard not to like the album it was equally hard to get excited about it. The distinctive touch, evocation of mood and emotion, and quirky humour present on the first three albums had largely gone." I don't entirely agree; "Earthworm" and tracks like the sardonic "Happy in the Lord" maintained Stackridge's high standards quite well.

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 Britain only, and is unlikely to appear on CD since Edsel has tacked the non-album singles onto its three CDs as bonus tracks, sweeping up all the loose change. The Edsel CDs of the first three albums are a model for intelligent CD reissues, with excellent annotation, well-written essays (from which I've quoted only a little), and the aforementioned bonus tracks. The last two albums appear to be available presently only as Japanese imports (the Edsels are British imports, of course), and are exact copies of their respective LPs, with no added tracks.

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 U.S. on Warner Bros. and Asylum respectively) in 1979 and 1980. The Korgis do not sound very much like Stackridge, but a bit more like the Beatles crossed with Roxy Music (Davis had played on Lennon's IMAGINE). Davis subsequently worked with Tears For Fears, Bill Nelson and Julian Cope. In 1986 Warren released a solo album, and in 1989 Davis released one as well; I have heard neither of them.

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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