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Hatfield And The North - The Rotters' Club CD (album) cover


Hatfield And The North


Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 563 ratings

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4 stars Last year (2014) I stretched my progressive music boundaries into Italian prog and Canterbury scene. I'll tell you right up front here that jazz and jazz fusion are not where I usually lean my ears. I have always thought it was cool when a metal band or symphonic prog band experimented with a bit of jazz; however jazz music and jazz fusion is not something I rave and drool over. Nevertheless, if there's one thing the last three years have taught me it's that when it comes to prog there is good music to be found almost anywhere.

So why "The Rotters' Club" and not something by Soft Machine or National Health or even the debut by Hatfield and the North? As it happens, this album is mentioned among 65 recommended prog albums in the book "Citizens of Hope and Glory: The Story of Progressive Rock" by Stephen Lambe, and I have found the book to be very useful as a guide in my prog education. I began with owning barely 20 of the 65 albums and now I am somewhere over 50 and I have enjoyed all but one of them. So, I put my faith in chance and my own patience with new music and bought the CD with five bonus tracks from the "Afters" album.

Though there's a fair bit on the album that shouldn't thrill me because of my usual preferences, I have been finding the album actually quite enjoyable. The opening track "Share It" is a short and witty song with a synthesizer solo that I can get into. It's an upbeat, jazz-influenced number performed by a rock band. Richard Sinclair's English accent and English humour, and his somewhat laid back delivery, make the vocals interesting and rather fun. Thankfully, he makes an appearance on a few of the tracks. The rest are all instrumental.

One thing I have come to take caution with is the synthesizer sound used by jazz fusion bands (see my review of Bill Bruford's "One of a Kind" album) but I am glad to report that on this album I quite enjoy the keyboards. Dave Stewart uses some smart and sassy sounds for lively solos but also soft lounge tones that remind me of metal tines being plucked. The electric piano sound works well. As this is a jazzy album, I find that the drum sticks spend more time on the cymbals and snare than anywhere else. It gives the music a very light feel, unlike a lot of what I usually listen to. The bass guitar is busy and I do like that. In particular, the King Crimson / John Wetton bass sound used in "Chaos at the Greasy Spoon" is appealing.

As guitar is very important to me, I am pleased to mention some very fine psych-sounding fuzz-toned guitar which appears two or three times for some soloing. The solos themselves are not especially spellbinding (coming from a metal perspective) but they are a welcome addition to the sound palette. I am also a sucker for flute and there are some appearances there as well.

The music is light and for the most part pleasant and beautiful with that jazzy swing to it. There is a little bit of sonic experimentation near the end of "Fitter Stoke has a Bath" which brings to mind what I heard on Egg's "The Polite Force" but thankfully this is much more agreeable to my ears. Mostly you can expect very light keyboard-led jazz with the guitar hanging well back until solo time. There is some brass as well as one would expect to hear on a jazz fusion album; however, Dave Stewart's keys and Jimmy Hastings' flute are what provide most of the lead instrumentation.

The one long epic track, "Mumps" covers a range of territory. It begins with and includes at least two times more a duo of female vocals singing softly and in high tone some "la-las", and this is the turn off point for me. I enjoy female vocals like this usually but perhaps because of the jazz thing, at least one of them will sing an odd note that probably sounds very cool in jazz but not at all in more traditional music like folk or classical. I did discover, though, that these vocal parts precede more interesting musical segments, including guitar solos and an almost ELP-like keyboard piece. After the first two listens I was put off by "Mumps" but after giving it both ears today, I found it has a lot of good material making it worth the 20 minutes of attention.

The mood of the album continues with the bonus tracks, two of which are just different versions of what already appear on the main album. The one stand out track is the completely and stylistically different "Oh, Len's Nature", which plays like a mid-seventies heavy metal instrumental. I suspect it was recorded live and this is only the demo version as the sound is not so polished. But this had potential to be quite a heavy rocker. How this ended up in their repertoire is baffling.

Though I haven't become enamoured with Canterbury scene to the point that I will hunt down many more albums, what I have learned from the jazz fusion of Hatfield and the North, Egg, Bruford, and even Happy the Man is that I can confidently buy a jazz fusion album and find it a pleasant holiday from the usual suspects in my music player. I am quite comfortable giving this album four stars.

FragileKings | 4/5 |


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