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Hapshash and the Coloured Coat - Western Flier CD (album) cover

WESTERN FLIER

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat

 

Proto-Prog

2.93 | 4 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This is one of the stranger progressive albums to come out of the sixties, and that’s saying something considering there was some awfully weird stuff put out back then. This one isn’t one of those really whacked-out American psych albums like Joe Byrd’s American Metaphysical Circus or Fresh Blueberry Pancake, although there were clearly some psychedelic stimulants involved in the artistic process. Instead, the Brits seem to have trolled through some traditional American folk numbers and either adapted them for the times, or used them as inspiration. The result is something that is not only nearly unclassifiable; it also lacks much of a point of reference in anything of its day or since.

The album was the follow-up to British artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth’s first attempt at translating their poster and design art to music. By this second album Michael English had abandoned the band though, and Waymouth only played a nominal role. Instead Waymouth recruited a young Mike Batt (the Wombles, Steeleye Span) on piano and accordion, Michael Mayhew on guitar, guitarist Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs, Michael Ramsden (the Silkie) on vocals, drummer Andy Renton (another Wombles alumnus) and session musician Eddie Tripp along with the Heavy Metal Kids and violinist Freddie Ballerini. This eclectic and rather unrelated crew put together nine of the ten tracks that make the album, combined with a strange recorded-voice intro that sounds like some mid- twentieth century southern American politician’s stump speech.

The best description I can think of for the music here is something akin to a blend of Buckwheat Zydeco’s musical style combined with Joe Byrd’s Americana psych and a little dose of Reverend Glasseye & His Wooden Legs’ off-kilter folk showmanship. It’s a real mixed bag.

The traditional folk tune “Colinda” is the most accessible track on the album, if you can imagine that tune sung as a Cajun love song. The Woody Guthrie standard “Riding In My Car” (titled “Car..Car” here) is recognizable but has a piano line that sounds like one of those nineteenth-century player- pianos and a tinny vocal track from someone trying really hard to sound like a bijou hayseed. The spoon & washboard percussion combined with ball-horns completes the strange arrangement. It’s inconceivable that this rendition of Guthrie’s classic was meant to be taken seriously.

The other ‘cover’ (so-to-speak) is “Fare Thee Well”, a fleshed-out and psyched-up version of an old American Negro spiritual that is set to a decent blues guitar riff and stark piano. Even this one dips into psych territory on the instrumental passages, with some feedback and vocal echoing to make it sound both creepy and more intense.

The rest of the tracks were apparently written by Waymouth with some help from Mayhew and Batt, and they vacillate between more Cajun-sounding music, blues and psych. None of them really stands out much.

I really have no idea how to assess this album. It has no parallels except for some other irreverent acts of that period (Joe Byrd) and now (Reverend Glasseye), but both of them are American. I’m not sure what Waymouth was trying to accomplish here, but the album faded almost immediately when it was released in 1969 and can only be found today as Repertoire’s CD or Imperial’s vinyl reissue. I’m going to go with three stars simply because this thing is like watching a train wreck – you know it’s no good but you can’t turn away. I’ve found myself playing this CD numerous times over the past couple of months and that’s more than I can say for a lot of my collection, so it deserves at least that much acknowledgement.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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