15/4/14 – Arzachel -1969

Album Of The Day

Arzachel Cover Art 1969Although the story of Arzachel may be a little complicated, a trip to the Uriel, Steve Hillage and Egg links will explain the story, but the short version is as follows:

Arzachel is in fact Uriel who are in fact three quarters of Egg with Steve Hillage. Hm, maybe that’s not quite clear – Ok let’s start again.

Uriel and Arzachel are in fact the same band. The line up was Steve Hillage on guitar and vocals, Dave Stewart on keyboards, Clive Brooks on drums and Mont Campbell on bass and vocals. Uriel broke up before they made an album as Hillage had decided to continue his education. Soon after his departure Uriel were convinced by the management to change their name to The Egg (settling on Egg) and soon after that they secured a record deal with Decca. Somewhere between the first Egg album and Hillage’s summer holidays, the four original members of Uriel were given the opportunity to record an album by another label in expectation of potential success for an underground psychedelic band in the wake of Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. So they re-formed for one day in the studio under yet another name and as three of the members were contracted to Decca (Egg), used pseudonyms on the album (see the Uriel link for details of this). That’s the short version.

The album has 6 songs, four short and two long (the CD reissue has 6 extra tracks). The opening track is Garden Of Earthly Delights, a soft psychedelic English classic with melodic organ and a classic warm Hillage guitar break. The song has both Campbell and Hillage singing alternately. The song has a lovely chord shift in the middle. The lyrics are based on a lute song by 17th century English composer Philip Rosseter (1568 – 5 May 1623)  And Would You See My Mistress’ Face.

And would you see my lady’s face
It is a flowery garden place
Where knots of beauty have such grace
That all is work and nowhere space

It is a sweet delicious morn
Where day is breeding, never born
It is a meadow yet unshorn
Which thousand flowers do adorn

It is the heavens’ bright reflex
Weak eyes to dazzle and to vex
It is the idea of her sex
Whose envy does the world perplex

It is a sweet delicious morn
Where day is breeding, never born
It is a meadow yet unshorn
Which thousand flowers do adorn

It is the outward face of youth
It is the famed Elysium’s truth
The spring that wintered hearts renews
And this is that my soul pursues

Azathoth keeps the olde world mood with Stewart’s church organ sound giving the piece a mystical atmosphere. The alternate Hillage/Montgomery vocal idea works again and Campbell’s shaky first take just adds to the underground feel of the track. A muttering voice can be heard in the background, then screeching organ and the sound of someone in the aftermath of torture. You hear Hillage’s guitar crackling like it’s being plugged in, the organ gets weirder and then we are back in the knave with Montgomery – perhaps a mad priest is being sacrificed.

Queen St. Gang (Soul Thing) changes mood and is more like a rainy English Booker T. An instrumental with descending and ascending organ lines over a bass and drum groove, despite it being the sound of an era in soul, it’s actually rather timeless.

More Hammond organ on Leg, soon joined by guitar and the band sounds more like their initial influences (they were originally a covers band – Cream, Hendrix, Mayall, The Nice). Leg sounds a bit like Cream and the more blues influenced late sixties bands, but Arzachel maintain a slightly spacey atmosphere through Stewart’s organ in the background, keeping it weird. Hillage sings and plays a twin guitar solo with himself, rumbling bass and drums and Stewart’s reverby organ also plays a solo section, the guitars thrash underneath and the song ends in feedback.

Clean Innocent Fun is the first of the two longer songs with Hillage singing a dramatic vocal melody mimicked by lead guitar with organ and other guitar stabs. Drums join in with a series of rolls and then the bass, it sounds like Dazed and Confused with heavy organ vibrato. The only possible reason that this wasn’t a popular band at the time would be because they weren’t actually a band anymore –  this being a one off project as Stewart, Campbell and Brooks honoured their Decca contract and made the debut Egg album and Hillage formed Khan. There’s lots of great organ and guitar freak outs, busy bass lines and drum builds – it’s like a cross between Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd circa ’68.

Arzachel-Uriel

The last track, Metempychosis is a true freak out and at nearly seventeen minutes is the highlight of the album. It’s Spacerock – it could be Hawkwind. The song relaxes at seven minutes as the organ breaks out and voices from a kitsch Vincent Price horror movie moan in the background. Three minutes later it gets going again with grinding bass, cymbals and toms as the guitar creeps back in followed by the shriek of the organ. The guitar sounds like a dinosaur falling off a cliff leaving Mont Campbell alone with the bass. Soon they’re all back in a howling cacophony. Unfortunately there is no known live footage of Arzachel, although the extra tracks on the CD include a live audio snippet from 1968 along with demos. They pulsate, they surge, they scream, they get louder and they get softer, they hang high at dynamic peaks and then suddenly they are gone  – that was Arzachel – doomed to obscurity.

If you like to listen to albums from beginning to end, if you like jams and don’t let the outside world interrupt your listening (get your priorities right) then this is a great album from an era long gone. Despite this and Arzachel’s obscurity, this kind of music has prevailed and interest in the genre is as strong as it ever was.

After Khan, Hillage went onto join Gong and then made some trippy guitar heavy solo albums before becoming a producer and forming System 7. (Hillage has had as big an influence on dance music as anyone has).

Stewart went onto Hatfield And The North and National Health and later had a couple of hits in the UK and Europe, one with Barbara Gaskin, who he still plays with (It’s My Party, No. 1 in 1981 after being No.1 in 1963 for Lesley Gore) and the other with Colin Blunstone (What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted No.13 in 1980, No.6 for Jimmy Ruffin in 1966 – No.7 US).

Clive Brooks  played on Hogwash and Solid by Groundhogs when Ken Pustlenick left and also played with late seventies band Liar and later became Pink Floyd’s drum tech and still works in that capacity for other bands.

Mont Campbell shied away from rock and became more involved in traditional and World music and also became an expert on ethnic instruments.

Quite different paths for the different members but it all started here and really this one day in the studio in 1969 was as relevant as anything they ever did.

Tio read a review of this album in Spanish, go here:

http://beefheartsmiles.blogspot.com/2014/03/arzachel-idem.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uriel_(band)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_(band)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Hillage

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Brooks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Campbell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Stewart_(keyboardist)

 

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