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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Golden Miles: Australian Progressive Rock 1969-1974 CD (album) cover


Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)


Various Genres

4.50 | 6 ratings

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4 stars I can imagine many prog fans would be perplexed at this compilation. The Australian prog artists best known to the wider world are missing (namely Sebastian Hardie, Rainbow Theatre and Daevid Allen - the first two presumably because of the 1969-1974 timeline, the latter presumably because he was on the other side of the world for the entire period), as are a few other artists one would expect to be here (Ayers Rock, Ariel, Syrius, etc). On the other hand, there are several bands here whose prog credentials are questionable, and certainly very little music that sounds like the full-blown symphonic prog that was being recorded in the UK and Europe at that time. (Even with those bands whose prog credentials are generally recognised, the editors have made some odd track choices, often choosing to represent a band with one of their least progressive-sounding numbers.)

I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind here. When the term 'progressive' was first used in relation to rock, it had a broader scope than we now give it, encompassing a whole range of bands whose musical directions were vastly different, but generally aiming beyond the radio-friendly three minute pop song - that meant not only King Crimson, Yes etc, but also arguably Blind Faith, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, etc. In the Australian context, 'progressive' is still often used as a term to encompass the entire burgeoning underground scene that began to emerge in 1969-1970, and that was nourished in the early 70s by the outdoor festivals, the university circuit, the inner city underground venues like the TF Much Ballroom, etc. Taking that understanding, this compilation makes more sense (though it also raises even more questions about missing bands - Aztecs? Chain?)

I think it's also worth considering why Australia has not produced much in the way of full-blown prog. If you listen to the music made by the first progressive or proto-prog bands around 1968-1970, and compare the music coming out of Australia in 1969-1971, you'd say the Australian underground bands were keeping up with developments fairly well, albeit some months behind. The period 1972-1974 is where the divergence occurs - while British and European prog reached it's most ambitious stage during these years, Australian prog was in retreat - by 1973, most of the bands on this compilation were either in the process of breaking up, or were moving towards a simpler, more accessible rock sound. Unlike the UK, Australia had a tiny population spread across a large continent, with prohibitive distances between the major cities, a decentralised and parochial media that made it difficult to break bands nationally, little in the way of progressive media comparable to the American FM stations or the British pirate stations, and even in the major cities, comparably few venues receptive to a more progressive style, meaning bands who wanted to maintain a financially viable gigging schedule needed to be able to play the more direct material demanded by suburban venues. Even a high-profile group like Spectrum struggled in this environment.

Anyway, on to the music

Bakery - started out playing heavy rock in the style of Deep Purple mk 2, but developed a more progressive style on their second album Momento. "No Dying In The Dark" is from their Deep Purple period, so is an odd choice. I would have chosen "Holocaust", or "Living With A Memory".

Carson - one of Australia's leading blues bands. "Travelling South" does have a creative arrangement that lifts it up above standard 12-bar fare, but it's hardly prog. (And if Carson can be here, why not Chain? They did have several genuinely proggy moments, like "Forever" and "The World Is Waiting")

Lotus - I think this single was their only release. It's a heavy psych track with some great Hammond, but not really prog.

Healing Force - "Golden Miles" is a fabulous organ-driven ballad, reminiscent of Rare Bird. Unfortunately, they broke up after releasing the single, and so never put down anything else in the studio. There is another wonderful song "Poem of Joy" that you can find on Youtube, and a few live tracks on compilations ("Erection", from the Sunbury 1973 album, is a great track reminiscent of Miles circa In a Silent Way). This band should be on PA.

Bulldog - another band who only ever put out one single. "Inner Spring" is a very interesting track, blues-based but with more of a jazz edge and some unexpected modulations. The other single side was more country-rock oriented, so I don't know how representative this was of their overall style.

Masters Apprentices - started out as a garage-punk group in the mid 1960s, slavishly followed every pop fashion through the late 1960s, and finally emerged in the early 1970s with a slightly progressive hard rock sound owing a lot to Led Zeppelin. Two tracks from their final album are included here, both of them relatively simple riff tunes that give Doug Ford ample opportunity to solo. I would have picked the Jethro Tull-like "Our Friend Owsley Stanley III" or the two-part epic ballad "Games We Play" if I best wanted to represent their prog credentials

Galadriel - speaking of Jethro Tull, if you like their music around the time of Stand Up/Benefit, you'll enjoy Galadriel's sole album, which covers similar territory. Unfortunately, they're represented here by the heavy blues "Girl of 17". "One Day To Paradise" or "Mind Games" would have been better choices.

Tamam Shud - Another odd choice. Their first album Evolution was a lo-fi collection of off-kilter garage tracks, more Airplane/Big Brother than prog, although for Australia in 1969 it was pretty ground-breaking. They've chosen "Lady Sunshine" a pretty ballad from that album, to represent the Shud. They actually did their proggiest work around the time of the Morning of the Earth soundtrack, by which time they'd acquired woodwind player Richard Lockwood and incorporated more jazz and folk influences - "Bali Waters" or "Sea The Swells" best represents the progressive side of Tamam Shud.

Tully - no questioning this band's prog credentials. They're probably best known for their more pastoral moments, but "You Realise You Realise", with it's shifting tempi and metre and rushing instrumental sections, is much more of a Schizoid Man moment.

Wild Cherries - the original band were apparently famous for their freeform jams, although this was never captured on record - they gave us four singles, including the strong psychedelic efforts "Krome Plated Yabby" and "That's Life". Guitarist Lobby Loyde recorded a creditable psych-prog album Lobby Loyde Plays With George Guitar, then revived the Wild Cherries name for his live band. That line-up recorded this single "I Am The Sea", with it's space rock elements. There is a good argument for including both the Wild Cherries (as proto) and Lobby Loyde solo on PA - while Lobby is better remembered for hard rock bands like the Aztecs and Coloured Balls, when he was let loose in the studio as a soloist he tended to move more in a psych/space direction.

Copperwine - their first album with Jeff St John is a diverse affair, mixing Vanilla Fudge-style reworkings of pop standard, psychedelic originals and some long instrumental jams, and St John's powerful voice. The sitar-driven ballad "Fanciful Flights of Mind" is a lovely song, and not too bad a choice to represent their prog credentials, but "Any Orange Night" or "I Remember" would have been better. This band should be listed on PA as proto-prog.

Melissa - "Getting Through", with it's busy acoustic guitars and flute and multiple time changes, and audible Jethro Tull influence, is the best argument for this band's prog credentials. Most of the time they sounded more like a Van Morrison cover band.

Pirana - this band ultimately became known as Australia's best Santana copyists (right down to a note-for-note recreation of the Woodstock version of "Soul Sacrifice" at the Sunbury festival). "Here It Comes Again" is the best of their Santana-style tracks. Their first album was slightly more diverse in influence, and "Sermonette" would have been my choice for this kind of compilation

King Harvest - it's a nice cover of "Wichita Lineman", the rhythm section (who eventually joined jazz-rock legends Ayers Rock) are doing some interesting things, I like the guitar riff, but I wouldn't call this prog. I'm not familiar with their other work. Most of this band subsquently joined the next band on the compilation...

Friends - three core members of this band ultimately became the founding core of jazz-rock legends Ayers Rock, and on "Freedom Train" you can hear where that band would go. They only recorded four single sides, and from what I've heard the other three are straight rock & roll.

Fraternity - my god it's weird hearing Bon Scott's voice in this context. This is actually a cover of a Blackfeather song, but given a more expansive prog treatment by Fraternity, with lots of Hammond, a recorder solo, and some creative drumming. One of the better prog bands in Australia in 1970-71, by 1972 they were moving to a straighter rock style.

Freshwater - another heavy psych track with lots of Hammond, it's prog credentials are arguable, but "Satan's Woman" is a great song nevertheless. Part of a 'concept single' about the Manson murders - the other side, "Satan" is similar in style but somewhat tasteless lyrically.

Fanny Adams - a great heavy guitar band, somewhere between Blind Faith and Led Zeppelin (and on this track, "Ain't No Loving Left", moving towards Black Sabbath territory). You could put an argument for them being heavy prog, I suppose.

Daddy Cool - they started out as a side project of Sons of the Vegetal Mother, playing old R&B and doo-wop covers, and subversive originals Ruben & The Jets style. Then "Eagle Rock" became a massive hit, and the side project became the main band. Overall not a prog band, but some Vegetal Mother elements crept onto their second album, and "Make Your Stash" is the closest they got to prog, with it's Holst quote and lengthy psychedelic arrangement.

Spectrum - another band whose credentials aren't in question. They started out playing spacey psychedelic jams, like "Superbody" chosen here, before tightening up their song-writing and arranging on later albums. "Superbody" isn't a bad choice, but "Mumbles I Wonder Why" would have been a better one.

Company Caine - Australian psych-prog at it's best, this band should be on PA for sure. "The Day Superman Got Busted" is based on a single guitar riff that gets faster and faster while the singer gets weirder and weirder, until the whole thing breaks down into a mad sax solo - then starts again. I would have picked "The Cell", with it's more expansive arrangement.

Kahvas Jute - guitar rock, influenced more by Cream than anyone else, I would have picked the multi-sectional "Up There" or "Ascend" to best represent the argument for their prog credentials, but instead we've got the laid-back "Free"

Blackfeather - heavy psych-prog, I think there's a good argument for them to be on PA. Long Legged Lovely, with it's speedy convoluted main riff, and then sudden change of tempo leading into a lengthy guitar solo, shows more their Zeppelin influence (albeit the proggy end of the Zeppelin spectrum). "Seasons of Change/Mango's Theme" would have shown their psych-prog side more fully. After their first album, Blackfeather went through a complicated membership purge (far too involved to outline here), and moved to a straight rock style.

Tymepiece - nothing prog about this band at all. "Shake Off" might go for 8 minutes, but for most of that time it sounds more like The Band's "Chest Fever". I've got their album, and this is as close to prog as they ever got - which is not really at all.

Sons of the Vegetal Mother - one of the real pioneers, whose Garden Party EP is almost impossible to track down. "Love Is The Law" is the lengthy, almost symphonic piece from that EP that should have been here. Instead we get "Make It Begin", basically a ternary form jam on two riffs (albeit a pretty whacked out psych-flavoured jam). This band should be on PA

Coloured Balls - famous for playing aggressive hard rock, there is really nothing prog about them. I suppose "Human Being" does go for 10 minutes, include two distinct sections, and maybe drift slightly towards space rock in the latter section - but it's not representative of the band as a whole.

Buffalo - hard rock/proto-metal, very much in the Black Sabbath mould. Not really prog unless you want to argue the case on behalf of "Shylock". But in any case, they've chosen the straightforward hard rocker "Until My Death" to represent them here.

Madder Lake - another band who should be on PA. Their first album tended somewhere between Caravan and Pink Floyd, with long psych jams driven by a very tight and flexible rhythm section, but with massive pop hooks as well. "12lb Toothbrush" is an excellent example. Their second album moved more towards Supertramp-style artrock.

Mackenzie Theory - Mahavishnu influenced instrumental jazz rock, with a guitarist and violist vying for space out front. I tend to find them slightly incoherent, but there's no questioning their progressive and experimental credentials.

Dragon - ultimately became known as a pop-rock group, but their first two albums were more on the artrock side. "Darkness" is from the second album, and captures the beginning of a move to a more poppy style, though still with progressive flourishes (the bubbling Rick Wakeman style organ that drives this piece). I probably would have picked "Sunburst". But hey - this track was actually recorded in 1975, in New Zealand - they didn't move to Australia until 1977! So again - why are Sebastian Hardie, Rainbow Theatre and Daevid Allen not here?

sl75 | 4/5 |


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