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mystic fred
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars " I wrote "Thank Christ for the Bomb" and "Split" on riffs. I knew my melodies were not great." -TS

Despite Tony's rather modest statement above, "Split" contains some excellent melodies which punctuate the album with precise regularity. After suffering a nervous breakdown which occurred some weeks after briefly experimenting with grass - "Split" was conceived from his experiences, the album was described as "The musical tremors of a disturbed mind" by one reviewer, and gave a musical soundscape of what happens when one is losing his mind - panic stricken vocals, twisting, screaming, thrashing heavily distorted guitar backed by relentless throbbing bass lines and crashing primeval drumming the sweats, scizophrenia, paranoia, confusion, panic, hallucinations, running scared, then the depression that follows.

"As calm and peace surround my bed, I feel that sleep is not far ahead, But in place of slumber comes a bolt of fear instead. "

This suite of four sections "Split Parts 1-4" are on Side One, engineered by Martin Birch fresh from finishing Deep Purple's recording of "In Rock" became the band's tour de force, the long-awaited follow-up to "Thank Christ for the Bomb". Tony incorporated a Wah Wah pedal in to accompany the tremolo on his double-tracked guitar, adding to the distortion with great effect. Ken Pustelnik's pumping drums and Pete Cruikshank's throbbing bass (including some very memorable bass lines) provide a solid backdrop for Tony's meanderings, ending in a crescendo of crazed distorted electric guitar frenzy - an essential stage classic, allowing Tony free rein for his free form live improvisations.

"I leap from bed in the middle of night, Run up the stairs for 3 or 4 flights, Run in a room,turn on the light, The dark is too dark but the light's too bright. " The first song on side two "Cherry Red" is supposedly about a girl who gave Tony the runaround (we all had one -or two- like that!) and became the band's signature tune, developed from a blues song as a lampoon of Led Zeppelin riffs the joke was on them as the song stuck and is a stage favourite to this day. The song "A year in the life" was inspired by The Beatles' "Day In The Life" about the passing seasons, "Junkman" bemoans the advent of junk food and the album is rounded off , just to let everyone know Tony still plays the Blues, a John lee hooker song "Groundhog", a perennial live favourite. "Split" could have been the band's first No.1 selling album but due to a lack of foresight by UA copies sold out immediately, and some time passed before stocks could be replenished - this was, after all, thirty eight years ago!

Report this review (#202042)
Posted Sunday, February 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Despite Split coming from a dark place; being born and inspired as a result of mainman Tony "TS" McPhee suffering a nervous breakdown, it remains The Groundhogs finest recorded moment. Just a look at the cover gives the impression of an album brimming with energy and it certainly is.

The music is in a power trio format of guitar, bass and drums. It's basically blues influenced heavy rock with McPhee's brilliant and inventive guitar playing giving the music an edge that many who have played in the genre lack. He has an excellent picking style which comes from using his fingers rather than a plectrum, yet still nails those killer riffs with ease; surely one of the most underrated guitarists. He's aided admirably by a solid rhythm section comprising of Pete Cruikshank on bass and Ken Pustelnik on drums.

Side 1 of the original vinyl version, which I'm proud to say I own in the early gatefold sleeve pressing consists of Split parts 1 - 4. Each track is excellent on its own; all full of great riffs and wonderful soloing from McPhee making it difficult to pick a favourite. If pushed I'll go for Part 3 for the dynamic interplay between McPhee's sweet picking and heavy riffing. Really though it demands to be listened to as a whole, working at its best by treating it as a single piece. The side ends in fine style with a superb guitar solo from "TS", a cacophony of noise dying away to end.

Side 2 opens with the perennial live favourite, Cherry Red, an up tempo driving rocker with all the musical qualities to be found on side 1. A Year In The Life is a more mellow moment, at least in parts; brooding and melancholic one minute before exploding the next. Junkman has acoustic guitar trading places with wah wah infused electric, closing with another cacophonous guitar moment. After so much high energy closing track Ground Hog is pure blues, a simple stomping rhythm as McPhee plays some excellent blues licks while he sings over the top.

While the band are more experimental on other releases which lay a greater claim to their inclusion here on Prog Archives and despite other fine albums in their catalogue, Split remains their ultimate masterpiece and an essential slice of seventies rock. 4 1/2 stars.

Report this review (#202976)
Posted Monday, February 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Probably one of the best conceptual rockpieces of all time Split parts 1 - 4 is one of those pieces you still discover little nuances, new intrepretations of TS McPhee's splendid guitar work even after 38 years! TS still plays at least 2 parts on his live gigs. The passages between the various parts reflect the impact the breakdown was having on his mind - panic, disorder, fear, discontent, revulsion mirroring the exit from part 1 into part 2; serenity, calm before more panic, confusion and disorder reflecting the move to part 3. Part 4 appears initially to reflect composure and harmony before a return to frenzy right at the end and the thoughts left in the listeners' minds will there ever be a return to that serentity. Well, my interpretation any way!

Cherry Red is the Groundhogs signature tune. I believe it's the track they played on Top of the Pops! Great heavy rock, five minutes of sheer energy and vitality before a more melodic 'a Year in the Life'. Junkman does need a set of instructions for the last couple of minutes, but still great stuff - interesting interplay between acoustic and lead.

And to finish off a return to earlier days for TS - the blues - the classic 'Groundhog Blues' - a far cry from the thought provoking Split and the energetic Cherry Red, but poetry in motion from the great man.

Report this review (#208487)
Posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Method in the madness

While "Thank Christ for the bomb" was the album which gave The Groundhogs their big break, their 1971 set "Split" was their most successful release. In the UK, this was the 6th best selling album of 1971, shifting over 100,000 copies. This is all the more impressive when you bear in mind that the line up remained a trio with lead guitar and vocals supported only by bass and drums.

"Split" was reportedly inspired by a drug induced panic attack (sometimes described as a "nervous breakdown") suffered by Tony McPhee. The lyrics of the four part title track which fills one side of the LP certainly reflect that graphically, the piece being a sort of forerunner for Porcupine Tree's "Voyage 34". Those four sections are really only related lyrically, each being a separate song. McPhee's lead guitar is of course superb as ever, but by this time he has invested in a wah wah pedal, adding new dimensions to his style and sound.

Side two of the LP includes four unrelated tracks. Of these the first, "Cherry red", is probably the band's most famous song and the closest they got to a hit single, even securing them a spot on the BBC chart show Top of the Pops. The track features McPhee singing falsetto, but the driving beat and great lead guitar solo make it irresistible. "A year in the life" offers a moment's relief from the pounding rhythms and general madness, the echoed vocals and melancholy melody making for a welcome contrast with the rest of the album. The soft verse, loud refrain arrangement is similar to Led Zeppelin's "What is and what should never be".

"Junkman" sets out as a folky pub song of the type Family recorded, before some decidedly strange guitar interludes disturb the relative normality. The latter part of the track is simply indulgent improvisation and feedback. The album closes with the eponymous "Groundhog", a cover of a John Lee Hooker song which takes us full circle back to the very first, blues based album.

Even allowing for the decidedly dated nature of the production and arrangements here, it is easy to see why "Split" captured the imagination of the record buying public in the early 1970's. This is not a perfect album by any means, but its flaws simply help to enhance its appeal. Not a lot of prog to be found if truth be told, but a fine guitar rock album.

Report this review (#402347)
Posted Thursday, February 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Groundhogs - Split (1971)

Heavy blues rock, proto-metal and guitar experimentation and molestation; Groundhogs is one of those bands with the perfect sound - that almost pastoral feeling rock sensation. With a strong emphasis on riffs and the rhythm section gives me the feel of listening to 'real' man- made well crafted music. The production was done by Martin Birch, one can't ask for much more.

The first side is filled with 'Split I - IV', all heavy rock tracks with guitar innovation and the best of riffs. The lyrics are mostly about psychological problems, front-man singer/guitar player Tony McPhee describes how the world became unreal to him after a breakdown. Part two stands out for having one of best swinging guitar riffs I know of. On side two the band goes into different styles and vibes. 'Cherry Red' is another heavy blues rock track, but this time the melodies are quite catchy. 'A year in the Life' and 'Junkman' are both heavy blues rock tracks that dwell in a late coming sixties psych mood, perhaps the most experimental and daring tracks of the album. 'Split' closes with a very intense bluesy solo performance of McPhee with great vocals, guitar and bass drum (of which I assume he also played it).

Conclusion. I really like this album for its pure musicianship. It's like the kind of association I have with the term 'rock music' (riffs, swing, concentration, no-nonsense). Four and a halve stars.

Report this review (#861637)
Posted Sunday, November 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Sometimes pre-conceived notions can totally colour one's opinion and judgment. Thankfully when I first heard Split, I had no previous knowledge of the Groundhogs, and was therefore not expecting a blues album; nor a progressive album either. So I listened to the album with a totally open mind and my how I enjoyed it. Some believe the Groundhogs to be a blues band, but with the intense style of guitar that Tony McPhee introduced me to and the sparse use of synthesised keyboards too, I always thought of Split as Progressive music, first and fore most. I certainly belongs in the pages of this site for sure. In many ways it is progressive in it's purest form, that is to say that it has qualities that no one else had used before. One can never accuse McPhee of being derivative. His blistering finger work on this LP is what makes Split so special. Side one is totally sublime rock with edge. The lyrics bear close scrutiny, being somewhat autobiographical. By the time the listener gets to the close, one can almost feel one's reason slipping. While the first track on side two is often considered to be the Groundhogs at their best, I find it a slight dip from the masterfully superb Split Four. From there things continue to decline. A Year In the Life is too short and Junkman is a definite space filler especially toward the end when McPhee does get totally indulgent with the feedback and electronics. The final track is blues; yeah. Listen to it though and compare it to the rest of the album and it seems somewhat dislocated and really should have been on Blues Obituary (earlier Groundhogs album).

I pause to remember, however, that there are only three Groundhogs on this album and what a lot of noise they make. There is no where to hide in a trio and the combination certainly equip themselves handsomely.

So; whilst Split is not consistent and certainly tries too hard in places, side A makes the acquisition of it a must. The four part Split is musical nirvana. How many LP's are brilliant all the way through anyway? You may disagree and like side two better? There is only one way to find out; explore the Groundhogs today, you will not be disappointed.

Report this review (#874303)
Posted Monday, December 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Purveying a deeply nuanced brand of blues rock with significant psych influences, the Groundhogs bridge the ground between psychedelia and proto-prog on the one hand and hard rockin' blues-influenced chugging on the other, with the side-long title track perhaps being the best example of this. Band leader Tony McPhee gets the (distorted) cover shot but really richly deserves it, with his distinctive vocals and guitar playing really being the foundation stone of the group's sound. Though the title track really feels like four different songs mashed together than one single coherent piece, this is still a very distinctive artifact replete with the transitional spirit of 1971.
Report this review (#1605195)
Posted Saturday, September 3, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars So, occasionally I go through these pages looking out for some of my favorite albums and this is definitely one of them. This is undoubtedly a masterpiece, an epic sonic wave of visceral guitar bliss, with a psychic almost Hendrix - like, casual accompanying vocal. A four part stream of consciousness. The fact that I cannot find any five-star reviews for this album, perhaps makes me question the maturity of some this sites contributors, with one review mentioning outdated production. Seriously?, The Martin Birch production on this is sublime, warm, guttural, and at high volume an incredible thing to behold. Please, put your prog rock sensibilities to one side and pleasure yourself with this incredible album. Listening in one go, and the four parts merge and flew effortlessly is an incredible experience. An amazing album.
Report this review (#2969958)
Posted Thursday, November 30, 2023 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars Difficulties in life often bring out the best in artistic people like guitarist/vocalist Tony McPhee who suffered a nervous breakdown after smoking weed. The twisted black and white over is perfect for this record and the music certainly comes as advertised as this British trio offers up their brand of hard rocking blues. In my early 20's I loved blues based rock like LED ZEPPELIN, CREAM, FREE, early AEROSMITH etc. and while this album wouldn't out rank most of what these bands put out I have much respect for this band and in particular Tony McPhee who does it all from the compositions, to producing, the writing and of course being the lead guitarist and singer he is the focus but of course he needs a rhythm section and they are good just not top tier in my opinion.

The title track is split, yes it is into four parts but to be honest these four tracks sound nothing alike although the lyrics are the uniting factor here. Man we get some killer guitar throughout this four part section and some experimental stuff too reflecting Tony's mental state at the time. "Cherry Red" is the song to check out. Could have been a hit no? Catchy with that chorus bringing it home. Love when they jam on this song and album.

"A Year In The Life" might bring THE BEATLES to mind but to hear it always brings KRAAN to mind surprisingly. KRAAN at their most laid back as the vocals here sound very similar to them. The only weak track for me is "Junkman" but then the closer "Groundhog" makes up for it. A John Lee Hooker cover and a song that Tony named the band after. An old school sounding blues track with Tony even sounding the part vocally. Kind of cool.

A strong album that goes far beyond the straight forward blues/rock style. A solid 4 stars.

Report this review (#3034052)
Posted Friday, March 29, 2024 | Review Permalink

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