Stackridge may be best-remembered today for the band's third album, 1974's The Man in the Bowler Hat. Produced by Sir George Martin, it remains their highest-charting LP. But Cherry Red's Esoteric Recordings is aiming to bring all of the Stackridge discography to light with a new reissue campaign. Both 1971's self-titled debut and 1972's Friendliness are available now, with the band's next three albums all scheduled for reissue later this month and in September.
Wrapped in a Hipgnosis cover, Stackridge introduced singer-pianist-guitarist Andy Davis, singer-bassist-guitarist James Warren, violinist Michael Evans, flautist Michael Slater, and drummer-percussionist Billy Bent. It's not hard to see what would have attracted George Martin to the Bristol-born group; while rooted in both the folk and burgeoning progressive genres, there's a heavy dose of Beatle-esque melody and whimsy. "We realized the thing that made the band unique was its eclectic nature," Davis comments in the reissue's liner notes by Mike Barnes. "You literally did not know what was going to come next. We were a bit critical of bands that always sounded the same...We were proud of our lack of direction. It could go anywhere." And so a song like Warren's "The Three-Legged Table" would veer from a straightforward ballad to a relaxed, pastoral jam before resuming with a more rocking melody, tempo, and feel.
Stackridge embraced varying instrumental textures throughout the LP, giving the group a malleable and expansive sound. David "Fritz" Fryer produced the varied affair with its shifting melody lines, quirky, impressionistic wordplay, and striking harmonies. "We noticed The Beatles' harmonies weren't always orthodox," Davis told Barnes. "Sometimes the lower harmony would hold their note while the top one moved around. Three parts moving together can sometimes be a bit boring. We experimented an awful lot." That experimentation can even be heard in the merrily twisting yet still delicate instrumental "Essence of Porphyry" which incorporates pop, classical, and folk styles as played by acoustic guitar and bass plus violin, woodwinds, cellos, oboe, brass, and percussion. The acknowledged influence of Frank Zappa comes to the fore on the spiky, intricate 8+-minute composition. Davis and Warren's voices come together with Beatle-esque sweetness on "Marigold Conjunction;" it's one of a handful of songs here (including the twee "32 West Mall" and offbeat character study "Marzo Plod") that conjure a more esoteric Paul McCartney.
James Warren contributed to writing all but one track, with Andy Davis not far behind as co-writer of five songs. Davis and original Stackridge member Jim "Crun" Walter - he left the lineup before the album was recorded but soon returned - penned "Slark," which closes the album and remains its centerpiece. The lengthy (14-minute) prog opus about the titular, fantastical monster boasts extended, hypnotic instrumental passages, prominent flute, and a rousing but spooky Halloween-esque feel. Stackridge wouldn't try for anything overtly commercial this time around; the lead single "Dora the Female Explorer" has a heavy folk-dance element.
Esoteric's reissue of Stackridge adds the non-LP B-side "Everyman" as well as three live tracks from John Peel's Top Gear in 1971: "Let There Be Lids" and the album's "The Three-Legged Table" (Part Three) and concert favorite "Slark." The 24-page booklet features Mike Barnes' essay plus full lyrics, memorabilia, and photos. Paschal Byrne has remastered, and everything is housed in a four-panel digipak.
The positive reaction to Stackridge encouraged the group to record a follow-up. 1972's Friendliness welcomed Jim "Crun" Walter back as well as new producer Vic Gamm, who helmed the LP with the band. Any fear that the band was about to streamline their musical eccentricity would have been assuaged by Andy Davis' opening "Lummy Days." An instrumental overture of sorts, it's followed by the dreamy title track which appeared once on each side of the LP - the second track and the second-to-last track on the album. Friendliness continued in the sprawling, anything-goes spirit of its predecessor, finding room for the music hall/vaudeville pastiche "Anyone for Tennis" (shades of Frank Zappa and his conceptual continuity with a reference to "Marzo's mother" calling back to the first album); the introspective piano ballad "There Is No Refuge;" the trippy, multi-part "Syracuse the Elephant" ("Don't take my herbs away," goes its repeated admonition); and such dark-tinged oddities as "Father Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow" and "Amazingly Agnes." Sure, Stackridge could flirt with rock and roll - even if the song, "Keep on Clucking," was ostensibly about chickens - but the band's heart was in more unexpected avenues. It didn't hurt that the band members were all accomplished in various arenas; flautist Mutter contributed the stately piano piece "Story of My Heart." Filling the "Slark" position on Friendliness was another extended workout, "Teatime," which builds to a thunderous, stomping instrumental crescendo.
The second disc of Esoteric's 2-CD reissue rounds up a pair of singles including a shorter re-recording of "Slark" b/w the proggy instrumental "Purple Spaceships Over Yatton" (its title also derived from "Marzo Plod") and the soft "C'est La Vie" b/w the brassy call to "Do the Stanley." The goofy spin on a novelty dance record would go on to gain cult status. A BBC Radio One "In Concert" performance from June 1972 offers a broader glimpse into how effective Stackridge was on the live stage, recreating their album sound with precision while still allowing enough looseness and spontaneity.
A six-panel digipak holds the two CDs plus the 24-page booklet with another Mike Barnes essay, lyrics, and a reprint of the comic pages that were part of the original package. Paschal Byrne has again remastered.
Stackridge's next album would bring them together with George Martin. That album, The Man in the Bowler Hat, is next up in this reissue series. But the band's first two albums - filled with whimsy and warmth - show the enormous promise that attracted George Martin all those years ago. They're both available now from Cherry Red and Esoteric.
- Grande Piano
- Percy the Penguin
- The Three-Legged Table
- Dora the Female Explorer
- Essence of Porphyry
- Marigold Conjunction
- 32 West Mall
- Marzo Plod
- Everyman (MCA (U.K.) single MKS 5065-B, 1971)
BBC Radio One John Peel Top Gear Session rec. September 21, 1971
- Let There Be Lids
- The Three-Legged Table (Part Three)
CD 1: The Original Album
- Lummy Days
- Friendliness (Part I)
- Anyone for Tennis
- There Is No Refuge
- Syracuse the Elephant
- Amazingly Agnes
- Father Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow
- Keep on Clucking
- The Story of My Heart
- Friendliness (Part II)
CD 2: Bonus Tracks
- Slark (Single Version) (MCA (U.K.) MKS 5091-A, 1972)
- Purple Spaceships Over Yatton (MCA (U.K.) MKS 5091-B, 1972)
BBC Radio One In Concert recorded at BBC Paris Theatre, June 15, 1972
- Introduction - Hit and Miss (Theme from 'Juke Box Jury')
- Grande Piano
- Lummy Days
- Amazingly Agnes
- 32 West Mall
- She Taught Me How to Yodel
- Four Poster Bed (Let There Be Lids)
- C'est La Vie (MCA (U.K.) MUS 1182-A, 1973)
- Do the Stanley (MCA (U.K.) MUS 1182-B, 1973