To many, the phrase “English weather” conjures images of fog, clouds, and rain. To Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, English weather means something “melodic, melancholy, with jazz and folk touches, and the same similar shrug of resignation…” So explains the compilers of the recent English Weather, an absorbing 18-track compendium from Ace Records collecting rare and unusual songs that might be, in their words, akin to “an unfamiliar album with a hint of Crosby, Stills and Nash, but an identifiably British pall hanging over the sunny harmonies.” They were referring to an album by Shape of the Rain, and though that LP isn’t represented here, plenty of other similar platters are, all from 1969-1976 and by bands and artists from throughout the English landscape. These songs share a fragile beauty, and an often foreboding quality – but lined with hope, as it’s always darkest before the dawn.
The result is an absorbing collection of acid folk, gentle but dark rock, and evocative jazz dotted with flutes, mellotrons, guitars, and even light orchestration. Most of the names are unfamiliar, though a few will stand out. John Cale needs no introduction; he’s heard with “Big White Cloud” from his album Vintage Violence. The Orange Bicycle (“Last Cloud Home”) played the Isle of Wight in 1968, and drummer Kevin Currie went on to join the initial line-up of Supertramp. Progressive rock heroes Van Der Graaf Generator (the orchestrated “Refugees”) had a much longer career, with an iteration of the band still performing today. Similarly, Camel continues to enjoy their long career; Andrew Latimer, whose “Never Let Go” appears here, has been the band’s mainstay. Bill Fay (the spiritual heavy rock of “‘Til the Christ Comes Back”) had a late-career resurgence among indie music connoisseurs when he reappeared in 2012 and 2015 with two new albums. Robert Wyatt, of Soft Machine fame and beyond, appears as one-half of Matching Mole on “O Caroline.”
The selections from lesser-known artists are no less compelling, whether the haunting library music cue “Moon Bird” by Roger Webb, the jazz-inflected, piano-driven “Very Nice of You to Call” by Aardvark, or the Philippines-born vocalist Belle Gonzalez’s lushly-arranged “Bottles.” The name of Scotch Mist may be unfamiliar, but the band isn’t; the ethereal “Pamela” is actually the work of the pseudonymous Pilot at very nearly the same time as their breakthrough with “Magic.” Bob Stanley’s informative and insightful track-by-track notes point out that the rhythmic “Windfall” from the duo Offspring (a.k.a. Mike Brayn and John Howard) was released on RCA, one catalogue number prior to David Bowie’s “Starman.” It hasn’t had the long life of the Bowie song, but is a worthy companion nonetheless.
Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs’ vivid snapshot of the English Weather just before and after the turn of the 1970s makes for a low-key yet captivating listen, perfect for those foggy days, whether you’re in London town or not. Nick Robbins has remastered this most interesting collection, and it’s available now at the links below! A 2-LP 180-gram vinyl edition is also available now.
- Love Song with Flute – Caravan (Verve Forecast LP SVLP 6011, 1969)
- Moon Bird – The Roger Webb Sound (Music De Wolfe LP DW/LP 3182, 1971)
- Early Morning Eyes – The Parlour Band (Deram LP SDL 10, 1972)
- Pamela – Scotch Mist (EMI 2208, 1974)
- Last Cloud Home – The Orange Bicycle (Parlophone R 5789. 1969) (*)
- JLT – T2 (Decca LP SKL 5050, 1970)
- ‘Til the Christ Come Back – Bill Fay (Deram LP SML 1079, 1979)
- Refugees – Van Der Graaf Generator (Charisma CD 122, 1970)
- Very Nice of You to Call – Aardvark (Deram Nova LP SDN 17, 1970)
- Big White Cloud – John Cale (Columbia LP CS 1037, 1970)
- Bottles – Belle Gonzalez (Columbia DB 8852, 1972)
- Watching White Stars – The Way We Live (1971 recording from Ozit-Morpheus CD OZITCD 0024, 1998)
- Windfall – Offspring (RCA 2198, 1972)
- Never Let Go – Camel (MCA MUS 1177, 1973)
- Wise Man in Your Heart – Daevid Allen (Virgin LP V 2054, 1976)
- O Caroline – Matching Mole (CBS S 8101, 1972)
- Edge of the Sea – Prelude (Decca F 13292, 1972)
- Evening Shade – Alan Parker and Alan Hawkshaw (Music De Wolfe LP DW/LP 3219. 1971)
Stereo except (*) mono