Today's album is "The Polite Force" by Egg. In truth though it's not EGG per se that I'm referring to - really the career of Dave Stewart and a whole raft of bands that we refer to as The Canterbury Bands - and I could have chosen "Of Queues & Cures" by National Health, or "The Rotters Club" by Hatfield and the North - Even "One of A Kind" by Bruford. It is mainly thanks to these particular bands featuring Stewart that the Tangent wove the "Canterbury" influences into our music - starting right back on the first album - and still usually there, lurking in our music.
These bands along with the Soft Machine and others were Britain's home grown Jazz fusion scene - a scene that was much more underground than that built in the USA. As mentioned in my book "Not as Good As The Book" - where Chick picked up Grammys, Dave Stewart picked up very little in terms of recognition. Despite the influence of the Canterbury Scene - I don't think there's so much as a Soft Machine Cafe & Grill anywhere in Canterbury. And Dave Stewart was NOT from Canterbury.
Stewart's music was highly organised, very complex.. mathematical ambitious etc, but also had a lovely warmth about it and a sense of humour. It was whimsical, often self referential - ocassionally recounting stories of being in the band, making the music etc with a lovely self deprecating smile. On the Egg album, the wonderful song "A Visit To Newport Hospital" tells stories of the bands early life on the road ( as Uriel) in a small town style parochial tale of vans and hotel gigs... and of trying to avoid "Skinheads and the Law" - I later found that my love of that particular line was shared by The Damned's bassist Captain Sensible....
The Tangent's "Canterbury" style songs include the two "Lost In London" pieces, "The Canterbury Sequence" (of course) "Ethanol Hat Nail", "Tech Support Guy" and "Clearing The Attic". And those are just some formally declared Canterbury tracks - the influences permeate everything we do to some degree, as a writer who delivers mostly from the keyboards, a great deal of my musical vocabulary was learned from Stewart. I liked the whimsiness of the Sinclair lyrics and voice and this has come to bear on my own work a lot over the past 15 years or so.
Caravan of course should be mentioned here - "The Land of Grey and Pink" and "For Girls who Grow Plump In The Night" are both huge faves of mine. They were the most commercially successful of these bands I guess - but I discovered the lightning bolt of Stewart through the John Peel show as did many - and something about the way he did stuff just stuck to me and never went away.
He centred on Organ, Piano, (Egg) adding Rhodes and Pianet and some synths later in the Hatfields and The Health. By the time he was in the Bruford band he was another successful exponent of the Polyphonic Synth, choosing the Prophet 5 as his weapon. He then formed the sadly unrecorded Rapid Eye Movement a band which featured Jakko as the singer and guitarist - went on to have a bizarre number one hit with an electro version of "It's My Party" - and then made some very interesting "Grown Up Pop" records with his partner Barbara Gaskin many of which Jakko and Gavin Harrison also played on - including my favourite - "Sing Jerusalem" from the album "The Big Idea". Ian Oakley and I have often thought that The Tangent should cover this piece.
Gong are sometimes seen as a Canterbury band, so this mention is for completism's sake, however, I always saw Gong as a totally unique entity that doesn't belong to any real movement other than its own. I LOVE Gong - and look out for shades of "Master Builder" in our instrumental "Doctor Livingstone I Presume" on the new album.
I think I've probably spent more time listening to Dave Stewart play than any other keyboards player, if there is a contender it would be Chick or Keith - but my guess is it's Stewart. I see him as a British Bach, a genuine musical genius who could dazzle and make me smile and laugh all at the same time. He was never in the Eurythmics - his namesake was another nail in the coffin of any reputation he could have had. One of the great unknowns - I believe I'd be right in telling you that Mr Manning once in his then capacity as Students Union Events secretary booked the Health to play in Manchester just so that he could see them. And from what I hear - just about ONLY Guy went to see the gig. And there's another thing we have in common...
My appointment to see the band was cancelled "due to lack of interest". Written on the door of the Wolverhamptom Polytechnic SU concert hall. I thought "bollocks". Then I realised I was the only person stood there reading it. Amazing what we miss when we're not looking.
The Canterbury Bands were bundled (no pun intended) out of the door by the Music Press at the same time as the mainline Prog Bands - many of them never really having had a chance to shine. Though pockets of huge respect still exist for Henry Cow and National Health - even the Dutch Canterbury band Supersister - it's a case of 20/20 hindsight - and the truth is, these bands were grossly overlooked by the media - and by US. We just didn't turn up. In this light, these bands shared the same fate as I sadly expect many of us involved NOW to suffer. What one has to admire is the fact that through all this - the bands DID turn up. They left a remarkable legacy. "The Polite Force" by Egg is a token sample of that legacy.