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The Collectors - The Collectors CD (album) cover

THE COLLECTORS

The Collectors

 

Proto-Prog

4.01 | 36 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars From the CD booklet:

'Claire (Lawrence), I guess he had a life experience and came up with these themes and some lyrics,' explains (Bill) Henderson. 'He came over to my unit in this motel where we were staying, and we took it from there to a full arrangement basically overnight. We wrote everything out on manuscript paper 'cause we were literate musicians ' where the breakdowns were, where the riffs were, what the riffs were, the dynamics. No one wrote dynamics in rock, but we did ' where we wanted crescendos and diminuendos to happen, where things would slow down, where they'd speed up, and everybody's parts.

'So many people were doing long things, but they were jams. This was not a jam. This was a structured, written piece, really in a tradition that comes out of classical music.'

This is how Bill Henderson describes the creation of the 19:05 side two piece of The Collectors' debut album, a song called simply 'What Love (Suite)'. I was pretty excited to be reading those words because this was a Canadian band from Vancouver ' my home territory ' who was creating this monumental piece of music in 1968. I brought the CD home a few weeks ago as a used copy ordered from Europe. How I came to find out about The Collectors is rather a roundabout way. I had come out of a proto-metal phase and entered a 70's Canadian hand rock phase, and as I was checking out Canadian bands from the seventies and trying to remember some I probably knew, I recalled a band called Chilliwack who had some pop hits in the early 80's. But they'd also had some rock hits in the seventies, and among three albums I ordered there was their second album as Chilliwack, a double album with some very experimental music on three of the four sides. Most was a bit too bizarre for me, but I looked up Chilliwack on Wikipedia and learned that the band had formed out of The Collectors after there had been a line-up change. Interested in hearing some Canadian music from the sixties (I only had music by The Guess Who and an obscure psychedelic band called Bent Wind) I tried to find the album somewhere for a reasonable price.

The music offered on this disc here is quite remarkable and unique. In my collection, 1968 is the height of psychedelic rock and acid rock with a lot of experimentation and for some like Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues, a lot of effort to compose something out of the ordinary. There are also the beginnings of what would become heavy metal. On The Collectors' album, there might be some comparisons to The Moody Blues because of the background vocal harmonies in places and the approach to writing music for a rock band from a classical direction. Some reviews also liken Howie Vickers' lead vocals to Jim Morrison perhaps because of how he can sing softly in one part and then build his voice up to a shout and a yell in the next. 'Does anybody hear?' he whispers at first near the end of 'What Love (Suite)' and repeats the question gradually building up to a boldly stated question before breaking it into a desperate maniacal scream.

The first track, 'What Is Love' opens with some mysterious keyboard and soon establishes itself as a prelude to some anthemic piece which, as it turns out, is the suite on side two. 'What Is Love' is slow and lead by Vickers' vocals with the band singing background harmony. The lyric 'What love / what love' connects the song with the suite.

'She (Will-O-the-Wind)' is an upbeat piece with guitar and flute. The jaunty guitar playing reminds me more of something that could have come out of an early nineties band at the tail end of the shoe gaze sound or perhaps like something from Motorpsycho. Again the vocals are reminiscent of The Moody Blues. The flute playing will, of course, likely make you think of Jethro Tull. The percussion is sparse and simple.

My favourite track is the dramatic psychedelic piece 'Howard Christman's Older', which is a song about a young man with extraordinary abilities. 'At the age of thirteen he discovered a way / he could change the molecular structure of clay / he could change it from clay into silver or gold / don't forget he was yet only thirteen years old.' He also invents a process to revive the dead and works on a device that will eliminate hate. Ultimately, the lyrics have a cynical point of view, stating that despite his unique gift, 'Howard Christman's older / And lately I've noticed that / he's starting to slow down'. The music has a haunting and suspenseful feel to it that builds in places very effectively. At times it's possible to imagine a crowd of people slowly walking toward some objective and gaining strength and conviction as they walk together. The main instruments are fuzz tone guitar, clean electric guitar, and organ, with the percussion again being rather subtle. There is no aggressive battery of drums as of yet on the album.

'Lydia Purple' was not written by the band and they were asked to record it as a single to get them on the charts. 'We fought that one, we didn't want to record that,' says Henderson in the CD notes. 'But the recording company were going, 'You gotta have a hit, and this one sort of sounds like you guys, and we think it's a hit'. So finally we relented and worked on it; we really changed it a lot.' Not happy about performing a pop tune, The Collectors worked on adding vocal harmonies, harpsichord, cello, and recorder. It did well in Canada, and there's a video on YouTube for the song ' a monochrome video with scenes around Vancouver in 1968 and the band singing on a rooftop.

Side one closes with 'One Act Play', which takes us back to the slow and easy music and vocal harmonies that serve as a backdrop to Vickers' powerful vocal deliveries that to me sound closer to an attempt to sing like Tom Jones than Jim Morrison.

Side two's 'What Love (Suite)' is one of the first times in rock history that a song was composed in segments like a suite and covered over 18 minutes. Indeed, the music takes us through psychedelic guitar rock, Eastern- sounding flute solos, a saxophone solo, some dramatic and crazy wild electric guitar, and as always Vickers' dramatic vocals that could sound a bit like Jim Morrison or Tom Jones, or Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge in 'The Season of the Witch' or some other people you care to mention. Or maybe he just sounds like Howie Vickers. As a long runner, great care has been taken in composing this song. It is a bit rough in places though and lacks the smoothness and grandiosity of the later prog epics, most notably those of Yes. It also sometimes seems to keep going on to the next segment and then the next, making you wonder just how many parts were written for this. Remember that this is still 1968 and that the notion of composing a rock song as a suite, employing classical thinking was still a fairly new concept. You might love it; you might hate it; or you might enjoy it for the effort and some parts but clearly have it marked in your head as an experimental proto-prog epic. That's how I think about it. I don't love it but I can listen to it willingly.

All in all, I find this an interesting album with three songs I cue up for replays regularly these days, two songs I'll listen to when I want to hear the whole album, and the epic which I find an interesting journey to take when I have the time and I'm in the mood. The Collectors would go on to record one more album before Vickers would leave and Bill Henderson would take over lead vocals and the band would become Chilliwack. The debut would feature a collection of songs but the second album ' a double disc ' would revisit the experimental nature of The Collectors before the band would change direction and pursue a guitar rock format and then become more pop near the end of the seventies.

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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