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Stackridge - The Man in the Bowler Hat [Aka: Pinafore Days] CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.29 | 35 ratings

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Psychedelic Paul
4 stars STACKRIDGE are blessed with the kind of solid well-established name that has the same enduring appeal as the legendary place names: Woodstock, Glastonbury, Stonehenge... and Milton Keynes. The evergreen music of Stackridge has withstood the test of time too. The band formed over half a century ago from the remnants of Grytpype Thynne (a band with an instantly forgettable name) in the Cheddar Gorge area of Somerset, although there's nothing cheesy about the gorgeous music of Stackridge, other than their fine blend of Prog-Folk-Pop having matured nicely over the years. Stackridge produced an impressive string of five back-to-back albums during the early to mid-1970's:- "Stackridge" (1971); "Friendliness" (1972); "The Man in the Bowler Hat" (1974); "Extravaganza" (1975); and "Mr Mick" (1976). Sadly, the band broke up shortly after the release of "Mr Mick" due to album sales being as disappointingly sluggish as a snail at a snail's funeral. Two former members of Stackridge went on to form The Korgis in the late 1970's, a Pop group best-remembered for their hit single and Soft Rock favourite, "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime." They say you can't keep a good band down, and Stackridge returned with a vengeance, a new line-up and a new recording contract over twenty years later with two more albums:- "Something for the Weekend" (1999) and "A Victory for Common Sense" (2009). It's the third Stackridge album "The Man in the Bowler Hat" that we're focusing on here, recorded at a time when city business gents really DID wear bowler hats in the financial district of London. The album was famously produced by George Martin, the former Beatles' producer, and became the band's biggest chart success, reaching #23 in the U.K albums chart. The 1996 CD re-issue includes the bonus track "Do the Stanley", a gloriously silly marching song that delights in its cockney "Cor Blimey Guv'nor" Englishness.

We're kicking off the album with the immensely catchy Beatle-esque tune, "Fundamentally Yours", and when you hear this bright and uplifting ode to love for the first time, you'll believe in the awesome power of music to stir and reinvigorate the soul, in just the same way as a fundamental belief in Scientology will allow you to fly an F-14 Tom-Cat upside down in the morning and then make love to Kelly McGillis in the afternoon, but only if your name happens to be Tom Cruise. The second jolly tune "Pinafore Days" has a rather quaint and quirky old-fashioned music hall feel to it, which sounds as quintessentially English as The Man in the Bowler Hat travelling into work on a Red London Bus (circa 1974). This charming and delightful waltzy tune is as polite and well-mannered as Jeeves the Butler serving up English tea and toasted crumpets on a silver salver to Lord Bertie Wooster. Pop meets Prog for the third song on the album "The Last Plimsoll", a jubilant Pop song that's sailing well above the Plimsoll line on a joyous wave of hope and eternal optimism. The obscure but fun lyrics are an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum:- "Fat punk, low down skunk, remember what you told me, Mad monk, blind drunk, be a good boy and reward me, Come on, the last plimsoll on my feet, Will lead me where the squealers meet." ..... There's no reason, but there IS rhyme, and it's a great song too. This cheerful and revitalising classic tune is more Poppy than Proggy, but this is sparklingly effervescent 1970's Pop, and not some soulless, manufactured boy-band inanity from the present day. There's more Baroque Pop on the way with "To the Sun and the Moon", a heavenly song of joy that's positively bursting with more peace and love than a hippy flower-power festival in San Francisco. It's a celebration of parental love and affection and the beautifully touching lyrics deserve a brief mention here:- Sun gives us strength, Moon gives us feeling, Earth child of Heaven, Seed of the Sun and Moon. Our Father and our Mother guide our lives night and day." ..... This vibrant song is as warm and comforting as a Golden Labrador sleeping on a fluffy hearth rug in front of a blazing log fire in winter. "Hola amigos!" We're bound for distant foreign shores now on "The Road to Venezuela", a melodious and richly orchestrated tune that's bathed in warm vibrant strings and Latin American castanets. This exuberant Spanish-flavoured music is as exotic and celebratory as the Carnival in Rio. "Ole!"

The South American theme continues with the Side Two opener, "The Galloping Gaucho", although the wacky offbeat music sounds more like a crazy funfair ride at an English amusement park than a Latin American carnival. It's all the fun and frivolity of the fair with the sound of a circus pipe organ (a calliope) adding a sense of cheerful insanity to the proceedings. This Looney Tunes song is so Off the Wall, it's crazier than a helter-skelter Thriller ride at the Neverland Ranch with Michael Jackson and Bubbles the chimp for company. There's a strong environmental message contained within the lyrics of our next song, "Humiliation", a mournful bittersweet lament about the using up of the world's resources, which sounds like it could have been penned by the Rainbow Warriors of Greenpeace. It's a sad lilting refrain, but beautiful at the same time, featuring a gentle electric piano melody with lush orchestration provided by legendary Beatles' producer George Martin. This harmonious song is as smooth and sophisticated as James Bond in a white tuxedo with a dry Martini in hand (shaken not stirred), just before he coolly and calmly despatches another villain with his trusty Walther PPK and then delivers another immortal one-liner with the raising of an eyebrow and barely a hair-piece out of place. If pigs could fly, they might be considered "Dangerous Bacon", and that's the title of our next jolly little ditty. The Beatles' influences can most clearly be heard here in this bouncy high-spirited song that romps along merrily and which also features some wonderful Fab Four-style harmonisation. From a porky song to a prickly song now with "The Indifferent Hedgehog", a short and sweet hymnal tribute to cute hedgehogs everywhere - for those of us who are lucky enough to have seen a lovely live hedgehog and not one that's been squashed by a truck at the side of the road. And finally, to round off the album in suitably rousing and anthemic style, we arrive at the BIG orchestral George Martin production number, "God Speed the Plough", a grand triumphal Land of Hope and Glory epic that has all of the magnificent pomp and majestic splendour of Edward Elgar at Last Night of the Proms. This stupendous music soars higher than motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel's* death-defying leap over the fountains at Caesar's Palace, only without the inevitable bone-crushing landing.

*Incidentally, Robert "Evel" Knievel acquired his unusual nickname from a sheriff in his hometown of Butte, Montana, after being banged up in a cell overnight next door to Awful Knaufel.

Stackridge may be billed as a Prog-Folk band here at ProgArchives, but "The Man in the Bowler Hat" is neither Prog nor Folk. This is a pure Pop album in the best traditions of The Beatles, so if you're a fan of the Fab Four, then there's a very good chance you'll like this classic Pop album too. This merry bunch of minstrels have delivered a varied and entertaining high-wire circus act with Beatles' producer George Martin acting as Ringmaster General. If you were expecting to hear a Prog-Folk album, then this album may prove to be as surprising as going for a massage, and then discovering that your masseuse is actually a man named Sergei who learnt all about pressure points while serving as a Russian Spetsnaz assassin!

Psychedelic Paul | 4/5 |


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