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


Hatfield And The North


Canterbury Scene

4.22 | 655 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars The nascent seedlings that started with the naive jazz-rock attempts of a fledgling band called the Wilde Flowers in the mid-60s was ground zero for what would become England's unique contribution to the world of progressive rock which would be called The Canterbury Scene and after that band's initial formation and seemingly instant demise, the members which included the stalwarts of Robert Wyatt, Richard Sinclair, Hugh Hopper, Brian Hopper, Kevin Ayers, Richard Coughlan, Pye Hastings and David Sinclair would go on to attract new talent and set forth to cross-pollinate them into a fertile blend of jazz inspired improvisation that was indoctrinated into the disciplines of progressive rock with quirky pop sensibilities that adopted a healthy dose of humorous self- deprecation right out of the Zappa playbook.

After several members of the Wilde Flowers split and created two distinct strains of the Canterbury Scene in the distinct sounds of Soft Machine and Caravan, the scene didn't waste any time evolving into a powerhouse of musical complexity and innovation unlike anything else attempted in the early years of the progressive rock and jazz-fusion scenes. Through bands like Egg, Gong, Gilgamesh and Delivery, the scene was stubbornly self-contained and as incestuous as a soap opera script with almost every member of the scene having played with the other at some juncture of the journey. While 1968 would be the first inklings of a fully fueled style of jazzy prog rock that can be called The Canterbury Scene, it would only take a few short years for the quirky brand of jazz-rock to reach its logical apex of creative expression in the form of the supergroup HATFIELD AND THE NORTH.

This band that was the who's who of Canterbury consisted of ex-Delivery, Caravan and Matching Mole guitarist Phil Miller, ex- Arzachel, Egg and Khan keyboardist Dave Stewart, ex-Wilde Flowers and Caravan bassist Richard Sinclair, ex-Delivery and Gong drummer Pip Pyle. The band stunned the world with their dazzling self-titled 1973 album that consisted of a continuous flow of tightly constructed musical motifs that effortlessly blended the intricacies of jazz and progressive rock with serpentine melodies, challenging harmonies and utterly hilarious lyrical goofiness. Adding to the eclectic consummate endeavors of the bigwigs were the supplemental talents of several guest musicians and vocalists including Robert Wyatt and the sublime angelic beauty of the Northettes which consisted of Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal. The album has remained an essential classic of the entire 70s prog scene.

While the band would seemingly dissipate as soon as it began, HATFIELD AND THE NORTH had another masterpiece up their sleeves before calling it a day and followed up the epic eponymous debut with this sophomore release THE ROTTERS' CLUB which followed in the footsteps of the debut and created another fascinating eclectic gumbo of the disparate musical elements that made the debut so over-the-top in its idiosyncratic outpouring of jazz-prog on steroids. With the main cast returning for the reprise, the guest musicians were trimmed down a bit with cameos from Henry Cow's Tim Hodgkinson (clarinet) and Lindsay Cooper (oboe) along with Mont Campbell on French horn who also performed in such Canterbury bands such as Arzachel and Egg. Also joining the team on this second endeavor were the magical vocal charm of the Northettes and although limited to a mere two tracks made a welcome reprise with another captivating performance. The sax and flute sounds are generated by the Pye's brother Jimmy Hastings.

If the debut of HATFIELD AND THE NORTH got fans of complex music completely salivating then THE ROTTERS' CLUB only added to the musical state of ecstasy with an even more challenging array of progressive rock, jazz fusion, pop sensibilities and avant-garde silliness all entangled into elaborate facades of musical munificence that found lighter-than-feather melodies zigzagging around and glazed with Minimoog runs, bass grooves and cleverly interlinked musical segments that conspired to create an unthinkable sum of the individual parts that constitute its magnanimous nature. While the album starts out with vocal led melodic jazz-rock on 'Share It,' the album drifts off into extended musical jams completely improvised and decorated with warm jazz fuzzies and avant-garde hairpin turns that ultimately culminate in the closing touches that include the exuberantly bubbly 'Underdub' and the monstrous 20 minute finale 'Mumps' which provides a masterful summary of the band's two album run and in retrospect the most brilliant note to end a short but explosively ambitious band effort.

After a soft and ethereal beginning which finds the angelic Northettes providing an atmospheric mood set, 'Mumps' meanders from energetic outbursts of keyboard profundity to guitar driven riffing. The lengthy track implements the thematic transitions of classical music but steered into jazz-rock directions which flirts with third stream sensibilities that would provide the blueprints for the next phase of Canterbury superstardom to evolve in the future National Health albums that would find Dave Stewart, Phil Miller, Mont Campbell and Amanda Parsons finding solidarity once again in achieving unthinkable Canterbury greatness. While the original album ended with 'Mumps,' the newer CD releases contain excellent bonus tracks that perfectly fit into the overall album run and offer an obviously intended extra roster of tracks that were most likely excluded only due to the technological limitations of the era.

When it comes to progressive rock classics, one can hardly scroll too far down the list without finding the two HATFIELD AND THE NORTH albums on the list. Each is a masterpiece in its own right with THE ROTTERS' CLUB usurping the debut in terms of complexity and ambitiousness rarely achieved even with the most talented bands of the era. This second offering is clearly the more difficult of the two to understand and requires a lengthy conditioning process as it is more convoluted and entangled with adventurous musical meanderings that walk the tightrope between jazz, progressive rock and experimental 20th century classical. While the pop melodies are instantly catchy, the labyrinthine compositions find them shapeshifting and hybridizing into strange new creatures but despite the monstrosity that THE ROTTERS' CLUB presents itself as, it still retains a warm and fuzzy feeling to it which is quite inviting for consistent return visits that allow its charm to sink in. Simply one of the best of the best!

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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