THE HORNS - PAUL COX REVIEW
Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan: what does their music have in common? They’ve all had their recordings overdubbed posthumously, with varying degrees of success and sensitivity.
And now it’s the turn of Steve Peregrin Took… although not, of course, for the first time.
The basis of this collection is a trio of tracks cut in 1977 by the five-piece Horns at Pathway in London.
Whilst cassettes of this material have circulated amongst a small circle of devotees for many years, thankfully copies evaded the grasp of unscrupulous parties. But what is it that sets this project apart from the despicable “Pink Jackets Required” (don’t touch it with a bargepole, folks, stick with “Lone Star” and the truth!) ?
Well, honesty and integrity for a start. The sources, personnel involved and additional overdubs & reworkings are fully & accurately disclosed in the accompanying 16 page (count ‘em!) booklet. Furthermore, this is not an exercise in making a fast buck, it has been carried out with respect for the music & its creator(s) and with two members of the original band fully involved. On top of which, those of us who have been lucky enough to have enjoyed these tracks previously are of the unanimous opinion that they are the best recordings Steve ever made and should, as opined in the sleevenotes, finally refute the notion that, after Tyrannosaurus Rex, Steve simply became some drugged-up loser.
But how does a three-song tape become a full album’s worth of material? References to sampled vocals and remixes initially sent a shiver down my spine – any trace of bangin’ hardhouse or rapping and this disc’s heading for the landfill site, I decided! Fortunately that trip will not be necessary – no way!
The 1977 tracks have been subjected to a sonic spruce-up, improving the clarity but remaining greasy as hell.
“It’s Over” comes on like UK Stooges, “Average Man” sounds like Larry Wallis demoing a song for Dr Feelgood and “Woman I Need” is as tender as you’re gonna get… or is it? (More on that later!).
An earlier version of “Average Man” from the same session, botched when Took forgot the lyrics, was only recently discovered, during work on the tapes. Steve gainly improvises through to the end, producing a sound reminiscent of a Pretty Things mid-60’s Fontana single flipside (that, incidentally, is high compliment!). Two old Horns numbers, “Ooh My Heart” & “Too Bad”, were recorded for this set by original members Judge Trev Thoms & Ermanno Ghisio-Erba (alias Dino Ferrari) with the assistance of ex-Hawkwind member Ron Tree, whilst “Mountain Range”, written about Took by Trev during his time with Nik Turner’s Inner City Unit, has been borrowed from that outfit’s “Now You Know The Score” album as a valid inclusion here.
Now we come to the trickery part. Another ex-ICU musician, Rick Welsh, adds trumpet & bugle (horns – geddit?) to the three songs. “Woman I Need” also includes the single thing on this album which pays most tribute to Took’s past, when the sound of a pixiephone drifts in (for the benefit of the as yet uninitiated, I should explain that said instrument is a child’s xylophone, played by Steve amongst many other percussion implements in his imaginative & unique embellishments to the sound of the original Tyrannosaurus Rex duo). (For Info on how the original tracks were laid down and the discovery of the fabulous pixiephone on the original recordings click here)
Further manipulation of sections from “It’s Over” & “Average Man” result in the thrash-a-long “Wall Of Sound” & “Yeeooww” (think Blur’s “Song 2” with sleaze), before “Woman I Need” reappears again in virtual trip-hop mode as Jon Turner, who performs all the mixing work throughout (apart from the three original recordings), remixes the song into a gentle setting befitting its aforementioned quasi-tenderness.
Finally “It’s Over” becomes a backing track for a Big Guitar instrumental entitled “CIA” – just think, the Waterboys could have sounded like this if they hadn’t folked up!
And that’s how three old recordings are transformed into a full album, demonstrating the strength of the tracks by the way they can be successfully transposed into different settings, sounding neither repetitive nor contrived.
Whilst unlikely ever to attain the status of, say, Gram Parsons or Nick Drake, the cult of Steve Took at last has a collection which it can proudly hold aloft and thrust into the faces of non-believers & the unconverted.
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