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Automatic Fine Tuning - A.F.T. CD (album) cover

A.F.T.

Automatic Fine Tuning

 

Heavy Prog

3.75 | 55 ratings

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5 stars Hailing from Reading, Berkshire, Automatic Fine Tuning was a innovative British band whose sole release is their mostly instrumental 1976 album A.F.T., whose centerpiece was conceived as a rock guitar symphony. As such, the music is very influenced by baroque and classical music. Automatic Fine Tuning was made up of guitarists Paul A. MacDonnell and Robert Cross, bassist Trevor Darks and drummer Dave Ball. The album is comprised of four tracks: two lengthy (14+ minutes) instrumentals, a shorter instrumental and a another short track with vocals.

The two longest tracks are actually two parts of the same 30 min composition, The Great Panjandrum Wheel. It's is described by bassist and co-writer Trevor Darks as 'a quasi classical 2 movement symphony with none of the cliches that marred rock-classical hybrid music like Deep Purple" and I have to agree that as much as I enjoy Jon Lord's bold 1969 effort, the rock band and orchestra sections were too disparate.

The Great Panjandrum Wheel, Pt. One, starts with an unaccompanied bass riff, with the two lead guitars joining in, followed by the drums, the music gradually building in intensity. The guitarists take over after the first minute and from then on they keep unleashing a plethora of carefully rehearsed licks, hooks, riffs, arpeggios and solos played through a variety of effect pedals that ensure the piece maintains the listener's interest. Meanwhile the rhythm section pulls its weight and does an admirable job playing through the various sections and timing changes.

Gladioli is a short, lively instrumental with an infectious refrain. It is apparently named after a genus of flowering plants, also known as sword lilies.

The Great Panjandrum Wheel, Pt. Two keeps up the relentless dual guitar attack of Part One, maintaining the same level of quality throughout its length. One of my favorite sections is between the the 7 minute and 8 minute marks: first, one of the guitars starts making a violin sound and the other sounds like a cello then both guitars start playing great violin-like passages.

Queen of the Night is the only track with vocals on the entire album, presumably included at the record company request for more commercial material. It has a blues-rock flavor and the subject matter is the narrator's efforts to pick up the titular woman. Drummer Dave Ball is the singer. A guitar is used to make a credible impression of a harmonica.

Some interesting things about the band and the album: -The band originally founded in Reading in 1973 and called Glyder. -According to Robert Cross' daughter, the band couldn't decide on a new name after getting a record contract until someone said "call it any f***ing thing", which is the source of the acronym AFT, expanded later to Automatic Fine Tuning. -The band played at Reading Festival 1976 as Automatic Fine Tuning, among bands such as Gong, Jon Hiseman's Colosseum, Manfred Mann, Camel, Rory Gallagher, the Enid, Brand X, AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Black Oak Arkansas, Osibisa. -Paul MacDonnell and Robert Cross were the first to use an early guitar synthesizer made by Stramp. It seems to be the Syncharger II 4000, as it was the only known synth made by Stramp, a German company that focused on guitar and bass amplifiers. -The album was recorded live in the studio. As impressive a feat this is, what makes it even more astounding is that none of the music was written down, but played entirely from memory with no improvisation. -Paul MacDonnell played some of his parts with a violin bow on a Gibson SG he cut the sides off to make it bat-shaped and facilitate playing. He also used a homemade version of the Leslie rotating speaker on the album.

Go give credit where it is due, I learned nearly all the information about the band up to this point from the Automatic Fine Tuning appreciation thread on the Prog Archives forum. Special thanks to Atavachron and b_olariu (who petitioned for the band's inclusion and wrote the band bio), wilbur_44 (who started the thread that eventually saw the band inducted into the PA database), clarkpegasus4001 (who kept the thread alive and conducted interviews with former members) and above all to Trevor Darks and Paul MacDonnell, who wrote the bulk of this wonderful album and dropped in the thread to graciously answer questions.

The band's composition of use of two lead guitarists naturally invites comparisons to Wishbone Ash. Trevor Darks' introductory bass solo even reminds me of Martin Turner's bass playing at the start of Vas Dis. However, Automatic Fine Tuning have established a sound all of their own that is chiefly influenced by baroque music, while Whishbone Ash have a much more blues-based sound. An interesting parallel to Wishbone Ash is that in a band with two lead guitarists, it was the bassist who composed much of the material (Martin Turner wrote the bulk of Argus). All tracks except for Gladoli, which was written by guitarist Bob Cross, are composed by bassist Trevor Darks and guitarist Paul MacDonnell.

The Great Panjandrum Wheel, Pt. One has the following subsections listed, but without running times: Wolverine (Part 1), Horizons, Wolverine (part 2), Maneater. Similarly, The Great Panjandrum Wheel, Pt. Two is broken up into Panjandrum, Epic, Terminal C, City Business, Dragon Fly.

The two epic tracks are named after The Great Panjandrum, a experimental weapon in the form of a explosive drum connected at each end to a large wheel with rockets placed along the rim for propulsion. It was devised by the British military in World War II to penetrate beach defenses, but due to its unreliable trajectory and tendency to fall over on its side, The Great Panjandrum never saw combat action. I find the title appropriate in the sense that both tracks keep rolling from one firework section to another.

The term Great Panjandrum, which is now used to refer to a self-important person, was originally made up by British dramatist Samuel Foote in 1775 as part of a passage of nonsense improvised to challenge actor Charles Macklin's assertion that he could memorize any passage after reading it but once.

Note: this album is currently available on Amazon for only $1.99 in MP3 format. Should you get it? If you are at all interested in what excellently written and played instrumental heavy prog with Baroque influences sounds like, absolutely you should!

Replayer | 5/5 |

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