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18 April 2017

Hatfield and the North (Virgin)

My favourite part on this Hatfield and the North record (a record which actually is packed with numerous small pleasures) comes about 2/3 of the way through 'Son of "There's No Place Like Homerton"', the longest piece on the record; some bright, piercing tones float over the otherwise melodic jam, sticking out like if Stereolab guested on just ten seconds of the song, though I think its actually a flute or woodwinds. It introduces a long, beautiful vocal section where the three female vocalists who are mostly relegated to backing roles come to the forefront. They chant in a round-like pattern, setting down some moments of total magic which has traces of English folk, early music, and whatever a Greek chorus is supposed to be. It's this part I keep coming back to whenever I listen to this record, the first side of which otherwise passes into the background, a melodic, rolling example of Canterbury scene prog in an advanced iteration. The lineup has Pip Pyle from Gong, Phil Miller from Matching Mole, and two guys from Caravan, one the brother of the 'other' Steve Miller who did that underrated duet record with Lol Coxhill -- and it sounds accordingly like Canterbury music was supposed to sound. All of the musicianship is excellent and in that style which feels hopelessly dated now - tight changes, affected guitars, Robert Wyatt guest spots, fast instrumental interplay, some great juxtapositions (a phone rings near the end of 'Fol de Rol' and the singing is finished through it; there's some concrète dabbling in other incidental spots), and songs with titles like 'Shaving is Boring'. They're capable of some engaging heat - the aggressive ending of 'Rifferama' sounds exactly how you'd expect a song called 'Rifferama' to sound. Whenever I try to explain to people that I like prog rock, I should cite records like this as an example; it's not as far out or spazzy as more European NWW-list stuff, but it's also a hell of a lot more interesting than Yes or ELP. The weirdness is controlled, and it's brainy without losing sight of music's power to create images and memories; sometimes the bass playing is a bit overbearing, which is a shame because the band can create some pretty nice soundworlds with basic rock instrumentation. The Pyle-penned 'Shaving' retains the acid edge of Gong, minus Daevid Allen (or anyone else) singing, and with an awesome, phenomenal space rock crescendo. Matching Mole was more fun of course, since it was Wyatt's band through and through, and I have a huge soft spot for the first National Health album, a band which emerged out of Hatfield, particularly because of the epic jam 'Tenemos Roads', probably the high point of this whole genre of music. 

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