28/8/15 – Rare Bird – Sympathy – Pop Match (French TV) – 1970

Rare Bird 1970I wonder if the younger generation of retro album buyers will ever be able to get beyond seventies giants, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and find Van Der Graaf Generator, Camel, The Nice, Mountain and all the other records that they’d like but they leave behind. Will they realise that beyond Jimi Hendrix, there’s Eddie Hazel, Rory Gallagher and Roy Buchanan, beyond Cat Stevens, there’s Roy Harper. Will the million bands that aren’t described as legendary, be condemened to obscurity despite their successes at the time? Those bands whose riffs haven’t been emblazened on the inner walls of the 69-75 hipster music history psyche, the ones not heralded by Kurt Cobain as major influences, the pre Punk, Progressive bands, the long haired bands that weren’t hippies, it wasn’t just Punk that conspired to wipe them out, it was their lack of status.

In some peculiar reversal of fortunes, it’s not the obscure bands of then that have been forgotten – the less successful groups have become legendary in their own right, collectible, holy grails – May Blitz, Cressida, Spring are constantly on the radar with tales of sightings of their LP’s at boot sales, bought for 50p, sold for £850 – bluster, apocrypha. But who will stand up for The Nice or Rare Bird? They fall between the cracks, living in the shadows of Yes and King Crimson, not legendary enough, not rare enough, but once in 1970, Rare Bird sold a million copies of their classic Progressive Pop plea, Sympathy.

A four piece from the south of England, they had no guitarist and in those days keyboard led bands with their grinding swirling Hammond organs, their alien mellotrons and new space age gadgets with wires and knobs (looking very much like what they now call Steam Punk) had equal billing with guitarists. Rare Bird’s quite forgotten line up was, Steve Gould on bass and vocals, Mark Ashton on drums, Graham Fields on organ/keyboards and David Kaffinetti on piano/keyboards. (Kaffinetti was also an actor – he played Viv Savage in Spinal Tap). The band made five albums between 1969 and 1974.

Like Rare Bird, Van Der Graaf Generator, ELP, Procol Harum were keyboard led and even Deep Purple, Camel, Mountain, Genesis and Yes had high profile or integral keyboard players. So perhaps the unpopularity of the keyboard as a heroic instrument is another reason that some of these bands are forgotten. You can’t wield a keyboard like you can a guitar, (although Keith Emerson tried). But even big bands with guitarists are quite forgotten, The Guess Who and  Foghat for example and then there’s Ten Years After and Grand Funk, they exist in another category altogether, certainly in Ten Year’s After’s case, dive-bombing from legend to curio from a bygone era. As decades came and went they lived on with their reputation intact due to a stand out performance at Woodstock. But unlike Santana, Hendrix and The Who they have failed to hold onto their status into the 21st century, Alvin Lee RIP – but that’s another story.

You can never tell how you will be remembered, just ask Bob Eberly or Marjorie Hughes.