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Khan - Space Shanty CD (album) cover

SPACE SHANTY

Khan

 

Canterbury Scene

4.29 | 437 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

RickStartin
3 stars This is one of the first prog albums I ever heard, and I fell in love with it from the start. My interest was engaged at the time by the advert for it in Melody Maker, which consisted of a cartoon story showing Steve Hillage being booted out of Kent University for spending his time fishing rather than studying (this meant I wasn't too confused when the theme was revived in Fish Rising). On reflection, it probably isn't quite as good as I thought it was all those (30+!) years ago, but it's still worth a listen for anyone interested in prog, Canterbury, jazz fusion or (particularly) Hillage. Khan was very much Hillage's vehicle, and the album was largely composed by him, so it is of interest to any fan of his.

What's most noticeable to anyone familiar with his later work is how all the trademark elements of Hillage's sound (echo, gracefully beautiful melody lines, blistering solos etc.) are already in place on this, the first record he ever made. There is more variety here than later, where he came to concentrate entirely on either the mixolydian mode or Arabic scales - there are also minor, blues and diminished passages here, most of which disappeared after Fish Rising, of which more anon. Indeed, variety (possibly too much of it) is the keynote here.

To get the downside out of the way first - the lyrics are terrible (the first two lines on the album are "I need you and you need me, also I need to be free" - and it doesn't get much better after that) and the vocals are awful as well. Anyone familiar with Hillage knows that he's got a silly little voice, but it's a joy to listen to compared with the operatic bellow of bassist Nick Greenwood, who takes most of the lead vocals. He's technically a "proper" singer, but sounds grating, which just goes to show how unimportant having a classically "good" voice is. However, he's a fine and tasteful bass player, and luckily most of the time the instrumental side of the band is to the fore.

The music itself is a breathless kaleidoscope of contrasts, time-signature changes, mood switches from tinkling jazzy phrases to full-on hard rock and all points in between. The band itself negotiates the complex material with amazing aplomb for such young musicians, the rhythm section of Greenwood and drummer Eric Peachey (whatever happened to them?) marking the changes coolly and precisely, and Hillage and guest keyboard player Dave Stewart trading licks, written melodies and improvised passages over them. Yes, it's overdone - sometimes you just want to hear the band groove for a while - but that should be put down to youthful ambition rather than criticised too severely. There are many moments of great beauty, some silly bits (this is Canterbury after all!) and some fine rocking passages as well. My favourite tracks are "Driving to Amsterdam", which alternates jazzy 13/8 instrumental passages with slow dreamy 4/4 verses (thankfully sung by Hillage!) and heavy rock choruses, and "Mixed Up Man of the Mountains", which segues from the previous track via a beautiful key change and then starts with a fast picking pattern that is a clear precursor to the intro to Fish Rising's "Solar Musick Suite".

Indeed, "Solar Musick Suite" and Fish Rising in general are the nearest reference points for anyone who hasn't heard this album before. The interplay between Hillage and Stewart, the complex writing and time-signatures, the contrasts between heavy and spacey passages and the fluid guitar work are all present here. The later album is superior in almost all respects, and also benefits from Tim Blake's wonderful synth colourings, but that doesn't mean that this is a bad album at all (particularly when considered as a historical document). In conclusion, this is highly recommended to anyone who likes Fish Rising, the Canterbury sound or just hearing complex and ambitious music well played - and it's surprisingly accessible too. Oh, and it should also appeal to anyone who likes Focus, particularly "Eruption" from Moving Waves: the guitar/organ interplay is very similar at times.

As this is my first contribution on here, I'd also like to say - Great Website!

| 3/5 |

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