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Spirogyra - St. Radigunds CD (album) cover

ST. RADIGUNDS

Spirogyra

Prog Folk


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars Spirogyra's first album is the closest thing that comes to Comus's First Utterances. It actually pre-dates it by a few weeks! Please note that Dave Mattacks will drum on al three albums but will never be a member! He was busy in Fairport Convention at the time and will also drum for Jethro Tull during the 80's. Barbara Gaskin is also known for her work with Hatfield And The North (as one of the Northettes along with Amanda Parsons) and her work with National Health and in the 80's with Dave Stewart and Bill Bruford!

What we have here is superb folk rock , avoiding some of the clichés (no done-to-death covers of traditional tunes) , inventive enough to be classified as folk-prog. The main writer Cockerham is also often engaging in great duos with Gaskin and this is , along with the violin of Cussack and Borril's great bass lines, the main reasons for sounding so close to Comus! But where Comus was dark and demonic, Spirogyra is more political and romantic.

Many tracks are stupendous as they work very tightly and have great interplaying. Future , Island and Magical Mary are all very enthralling tracks. Comes in two of the three shorter and more reflective tracks (Captain's Log and At Home In the World) but also slightly less interesting! Cogwheels is absolutely fascinating with Gaskin underlining Cockerham's acidic vocals (much the same way Grace Slick , Balin and Kantner did in Jefferson Airplane). Time Will Tell shows how politically conscious the band was. Happy Crew is relatively slow starting because of lenghty and not entirely successful string arrangement and when it does take off, it is too short. They saved their best track to close the album. The Duke of Beaufoot is simply riveting and really holding your attention much the same way that Traffic did with John Barleycorn Must Die.

I simply cannot recommend this album enough if you are into intricate folk rock ambiances.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#34696)
Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Certif1ed
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "First Utterance"

Fans of "First Utterance" by Comus will indeed find much to enjoy on SpiroGyra's debut - although this is not as wild as the latter, and more steeped in contemporary culture, the raw earthiness, dark humour and beautiful melodies should be relished.

Skilled Craftsmen and Honest Workers

"The Future Won´t Be Long" is a strikingly refreshing take on the traditional folk song, with elements that point back to the roots, but also progressive and imaginative ideas that make this rather timeless.

The lyrical construction is simply inspired, juxtaposing lines like "Ah but there was a maiden and her name was Marjorie" with more contemporary stuff like "Shipped out to Belgium to stop them, plastered and shelled them...", the subject matter reflects on life before World War II with rose-tinted glasses and paints a dark and very short future.

The arrangement matches perfectly, with simple acousitc bass guitar and screeching violin - that appears to draw upon the work of the composer Krzysztof Penderecki in its use of long and slow legato bowing that suggests clusters of microtones rather than any kind of diatonic harmony.

In less technical terms, this translates into a sound like a million fingernails being dragged down a blackboard simultaneously, that quickly suggests bones and death with a kind of chilled fear in the pit of the stomach.

The vocal arrangement is no less inspired, Martin Cockerham croaking out melodies and barking out the verses, and Barbara Gaskin's soft and sublime mezzo-soprano moving around from accompaniment to harmony to picking up the odd line for emphasis.

"Island" by way of contrast, is somewhat nonsensical, but moves to a more rhythmic realm around 2:30 that is somewhat reminiscent of Hawkwind.

Animal Magic

The momentum is kept up with "Magical Mary", the walking bass lines practically running - and the choruses catching us by surprise with their seamless tempo changes. The unison bass and violin that follows the second chorus lends a dramatic surprise to the ensuing developmental passage - something one really wouldn't expect on a folk album. A few mad tempo and key changes later, the drums finally join in - for the first time on this album - and the Prog-Folk genre is pretty much defined here.

Bob Dylan

"Captain's Log" is a nautical tale of desparation - apparently recited by Mr Zimmerman - but replete with sound effects.

The familiar nasal twang is maintained for "At Home In The World", a thoroughly enjoyable piano-driven song with washes of synth strings and brass that lift the texture out of the ordinary, and lend a Strawberry Fields forever flavour to the song.

"Cogwheels Crutches And Cyanide" is pretty much in the same vein - a kind of conglomeration of the styles presented on this album rather than any attempt at development - but is a wonderful song nonetheless.

Flickering Jewels

Cusak kicks off "Time Will Tell " with a firey display, and when the bass and female voice join, we go through a sequence of sudden modulations, and the music starts to feel progressive once more. The introduction of some new piano ideas around 3:00ish takes it into a new dimension, and the development of this material around 4:50 is completely brilliant, running through a gamut of styles in a very short space of time.

Pink Floyd

"We Were a Happy Crew" feels like a standard ballad until around 1:40, when a muted, sawed violin adds an edgy atmosphere that is quickly blown away by acoustic guitar. However, the voices remain edgy "Can we go back and start again, Can we begin where we came in?". The next section begins like a Pink Floyd song, with flavours of "Saucerful of Secrets", but quickly moves into a new musical dimension with the piano, and time signatures fly past our feet - 3/4 to 4/4 and back again in the blink of an ear.

One interesting point to note: This song strongly reminds me of "Dogs" on "Animals" in places - 6 years before "Animals" was released.

Stairway To Heaven

The very short "Love Is A Funny Thing" features what appears to be a recorder duet - and the tune seems vaguely familiar... A lovely little folk song, mind you.

Buggered up his fuse

Rounding off this extremely well rounded Prog-folk album is "The Duke Of Beaufoot", a somewhat mad story about an allegedly nice man who was kind to cats, but sadly passed away leaving only fond memories - or is that fondle memories? Maybe he wasn't so nice after all.

The music is, happily, more of the same. Sparse folk-style accompaniments with piano lending a Beatles-esque sound, and the wandering bass prodiving a richness that leaves plenty of space for everything else. The melodies are as rich here as in any other song on the album, and the instrumental sections romp through texture, tempo and style changes, but stay completely within the overall remit of the album. Although no real surprises are delivered, the music is nonetheless completely engaging and always feels inventive.

Summary

A Prog-folk album with something to offer everyone. Engaging, accessible melodies, light accompaniments that never feel as if the drums are missing - but surprise you with their richness when the percussion does join in, lyrics about love, death and change, and plenty of interest to keep you listening to the very end.

Oh, and a smorgasbord of Prog too.

Probably not one for the Death metal fans, but recommended to all listeners of progressive music otherwise.

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Send comments to Certif1ed (BETA) | Report this review (#85724)
Posted Friday, August 04, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars St. Radigunds is the only album in this genre that comes close to Comus's First album although it is not as rich with insruments as First Uterrance!!!!!!!

No One can say that there's a weak song in this album ........all the songs are simply brilliant full with amazing guitar and violin riffs and how can i not remark Barbaras great vocals?!! I find Borrils riffs very interesting and deep and Dave Mattack's drumming is also amazing and reasonable (unlike some other british folk bands)........To be honest i don't remember Brufford playing in this album.

Unfortunately again like Comus the Band wasn't able to create the same atmosphere in their other albums, but this one really deserves to be placed among the masterpieces of british music!!!!

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Send comments to Giorgi U. (BETA) | Report this review (#115828)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars When I first listened to this album, after 3 or 4 songs I immediately decided to love this type of music. The only prog folk act I've listened to before Spirogyra was Jethro Tull...but that's very different, not so much authentic as this band.

The orchestration is very well constructed: acoustic guitar + maybe acoustic bass, violin, and the less used piano & drums. The strong and unique male vocals piece together nicely with the beautiful female ones (mostly used for backing vocals). My favourite instrument here is obviously the bass, Steve Borill's got wonderous sense to play it. That's the foundation of all the music.

A bit about every song:

1. The Future Won't Be Long: A very powerful overture with lyrics about WWII. Cockerham also uses speech-like vocals. It starts off quite relaxed but as the pre-chorus begins, the power breaks the surface and it goes on (without using drums)! Very strong track, the first highlight.

2. Island: A more peaceful song, only violin, acoustic guitars, and vocals until more than the half of the time, then the guitars change into a more crispt style and a long instrumental section is coming. Not my favourite, but good.

3. Magical Mary: The first true complex one lasts over six minutes. The first few section is in a minor key. At 2:45 there's a key shift (major), after a great violin solo another vocal melodies enter, then the end's got a minor key, again. Still no drums.

4. Captain's Log: Just two minutes, filled with verses and chorus two times. The mood and lyrics show the tragedy of the Captain. The end is the completion of the story and the musical themes, too.

5. At Home in the World: The happiest song on the record. We got here the first important piano parts and some wind instruments also enrich the track giving the feeling of a royal court.

6. Cogwheels, Crutches and Cyanide: This is my favourite! Dark, strange lyrics, all the instruments have very important parts and the climax is simply awesome with the aggressive vocals of Cockerham. It begins slowly, but after the intro fades out the main melodies and the drums, finally the drums join in (though, you could not feel the lack of drums in the first 5 songs, their use wouldn't be significant). This song would be impossible without drums. The pre-climax also consist some very fine piano chords/notes, then all the instruments join and we (at least I) get kind of a catharctic experience.

7. Time Will Tell: Violin-intro, then Gaskin sings his first solo. Some jazz-like piano, solid song.

8. We Were a Happy Crew: Gaskin and the piano start this song, now it's Cockerham's turn to sing backing vocals. No tension, that only comes with the violin at about 1:35. And at 2:15 a fully new part begins, now with the male vocals as the lead vocals. Maybe the finest bass work and some drums expand the great and strong main motifs, that makes this song another higlight. The end also contains some organ-ish sound.

9. Love is a Funny Thing: A two minutes long song again, it might be the weakest of St. Radigunds, with only female vocals used (between the guitar and the flute). Nothing special.

10. The Duke of Beaufoot: The longest song lasts more than 8 minutes long, but it was worth to extend it. After a quite long instrumental intro Cockerham starts to sing in quite an aggressive style again. The chorus also contains wordless vocals (both male and female) and some clapping and hooraying in the background, that makes it very interesting. At about three minutes a key shift comes, the Gaskin becomes the lead singer singing pretty emotional. Another key and tempo shift, new vocal themes (Cockerham also joins in), that part is a bit less sad than the earliers were. On minute before the end the key changes into an old, in the last few seconds we got the chorus once again. Surprising and fantastic way to end it.

These guys managed to record a fantastic album. A masterpiece.

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Send comments to Diaby (BETA) | Report this review (#197778)
Posted Thursday, January 08, 2009 | Review Permalink
James Lee
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I probably don't even need to say this, but if you're already a fan of Comus and/or Jan Dukes de Grey, you should get "St. Radigunds" as soon as possible. However, that's not quite fair; similarities may abound, but Spirogyra is immediately unique. There is an earthy, urban edge that reminds me more of The Pogues than anything else - a claustrophobic timeless British Empire folk sound, in which you can almost hear the creaking of wooden ships and smell the sharp tang of musket smoke (and, uh, feces in the gutters and scabrous whores in the alley).

This emerges from the basic folk template of acoustic guitars and one or two vocals, augmented in moderation by various other instruments, most notably the violin and bass guitar. Many of the arrangements consist of precise unison lines (check out the interplay between the bass and violin during "Time Will Tell") and energetic strumming. With or without percussion, this ensemble rocks pretty hard at times - not quite the wild abandon of Comus, but with a ferocity somewhere between a tavern brawl and a protest riot.

Certainly, Cockerham's vocals are as pleasantly grating as Wooton's or Derek Noy's (but not quite as grating as Shane MacGowans, of course!). They take you by surprise at first, and you may not be sure whether to laugh or be annoyed...but if you can make it past that disagreeable first impression, you may come to appreciate the striking emotive power of his singing, especially when he's joined by the lovely harmony of Barbara Gaskin's equally powerful (and admittedly more immediately pleasant) tones.

Her additions are like a surge from a string section: instantly upping the emotional and dramatic ante, so to speak. Her vocals help turn "Magical Mary" from acid to bittersweet (assisted by one of the few times that rock drums make an appearance on the album), and she takes "At Home in the World" from a simple ballad to something almost anthemic. Alone, her voice is plain and poignant, a classic sweet but direct country-Celtic tone with the character and immediacy that I'd always missed in Annie Haslam (hmm, if Renaissance is the castle, is Spirogyra the village square?).

In fact, this band does things for me that many comparable (and relatively bigger) bands never quite accomplished. For example, Fairport Convention often seemed a little too well-mannered to me, perhaps a little over-produced and tame, and Spirogyra provides the missing element. Same with The Incredible String Band...I'd always appreciated the music, but too often felt indifferent to it on a more emotional level. Even Comus, whom I also adore, often lacks the essential human quality - Spyrogyra has the kind of raw human quality heard in the best of folk, Celtic, and other authentic traditional styles.

Will everyone love it? Probably not, and because of that I should reserve one star for the final rating. However, I'm letting my objectivity slip for a moment to acknowledge how much this album impressed me. Fair enough?

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Send comments to James Lee (BETA) | Report this review (#216003)
Posted Friday, May 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Spirogyra's debut is one of their essential albums and is a landmark in the acid folk genre, comparable to Comus' First Utterance. St. Radigunds, however, could be considered to have a more "normal" approach to prog, albeit their own interpretation.

The album is driven by Steve Borrill's bass and Martin Cockerham's guitar, Julian Cusack's emotional violin plays over them beside Martin and Barbara Gaskin who made an odd but captivating duo. Martin's vocal style is vaguely similar to Roger Wootton's, although less manic, while Barbara has one of the most beautiful voices I've encountered in prog, a soft, flowing voice that best is suited for prog folk. The album opens with "The Future Won't Be Long" and sets the standard for the album, a distinctive off-kilter sound that compliments the lyrics perfectly. The lyrics themselves are one of St. Radigunds strong points and seem to be politically inclined; "The Future Won't Be Long" relates a story set in WWII and later "Captain's Log" seemingly deals with nuclear holocaust. Island however, takes a more poetic approach, Martin's vocals accompanied by a haunting violin.

The violin continues to shine on "Magical Mary", which contains an instrumental section that might be the single best part of the album. Steve is also particularly strong, and helps to keep the song together where the vocals are even stranger.

Spiro take a short break on "Captain's Log", which is a refreshing folk rock song despite its pessimistic lyrics. They further explore this softer side on "Love is a Funny Thing" and is probably the lightest song on the album. The piano driven "At Home in the World" is also a lighter affair than the first three tracks, with some interesting piano and a fiery intro by Cusack.

A ballad of sorts, "We Were a Happy Crew" is a pretty song that again features vocals from both Gaskin and Cockerham that develops an ethereal, psychedelic feel. Returning to a style first explored on the first track, "Cogwheels, Crutches and Cyanide" has an introspective atmosphere with a strong narrative.

After the aforementioned "Love is a Funny Thing", they launch into the ambitious "The Duke of Beaufort". It's an intense track that ends the album perfectly and brings together the elements that contribute to making this album a masterpiece; the stunning duo of Martin and Barbara, Julian's soaring violin solos, and Steve's bass keeping a wonderful sense of rhythm. A cohesive album all told, St. Radigunds has the capability to capture its listener's attention on both an intellectual and emotional level, using acid folk influences to help craft an album I consider a prog masterpiece.

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Send comments to A Person (BETA) | Report this review (#387550)
Posted Thursday, January 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
friso
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Spirogyra - St. Radigunds (1971)

Though the term 'acid folk' sound quite interesting, it's hard to find a lot of music that you could label as such. Spirogyra is however a more known English psychedelic folk rock group with political and anti-war lyrics. Spirogyra's first album 'St. Radigunds' was released in 1971, the same year as Comus' 'First Utterance' (to which it is most resembling) and Jan Dukes de Grey's 'Mice and Rats in the Loft' (one of my favorite psych folk records). Furthermore the first two albums of Pearls Before Swine could be seen as acid or psych folk.

The sound of Spirogyra is made up of acoustic guitar, bass, male & female vocals and violin ór a key-instrument (piano or organ). On some tracks drums were added, but I must say I hadn't missed any drums before they first appeared on the middle of the first side. Martin Cockerham who plays guitar and sings also wrote all the material and because of his extrovert performances we can assume he's sort of a mastermind of the group. His vocals are confronting, ever on the edge of pitch-perfect and sometimes when he's shouting his meaningful vocals he's really impressive (and psychedelic!). His guitar-playing and compositional style is highly original and right in your face. The violin, played by Julian Cusack is a great element of the music. Often creating beautiful, sweeping melodies, but always right in time to add some psychedelic shrieks to the already troubled atmospheres. The bass of Steve Borrill isn't often on the foreground, be he does a great job in playing both percussive and melodic bass-lines. The female vocals by Barbara Gaskin are very beautiful and are pure, and clean and a perfect element of the atmospheric folk of the band. The end result is a dynamic, balanced folk sound that sounds as REAL music.

As other reviewers have pointed out (in both words and ratings) this album is perceived as being a spectacular piece of psych folk. I think the power of this album lies in these elements; the extremely catchy (in a psychedelic and sentimental way) and powerful song- writing, the progressive instrumental passages (both rhythmically, melodic and original) and above all the perfect balance between the male and female efforts. The heaviness and expressive vocals of Cockerham and the subtle and melodic vocals of Gaskin are a perfect marriage! Whilst their duo vocal parts are particularly strong, I can also admire the songs in which they perform solo. Furthermore, both are more then capable to find the right catchy melodies that stick with you for the rest of the day.

The atmospheres of St. Radigunds go from haunting, dark and confronting to peaceful and hopeful. On a song like 'Love is a funny thing' even simple happiness is expressed with a beautiful performance by Gaskin. The instrumental folk parts can also have some mysteriousness to it.

Conclusion. Particularly strong psych folk album that is almost guarantied to satisfy every- one interested in the classic prog era. The song-writing and composition has some haunting beauty to it and major moments of intense enjoyment appear during all tracks. 'St. Radigund's isn't yet a perfect album (some vocals of Cockerham are really challenging), but the album has a certain appeal I rarely come by. You are certain not to find it in modern prog though. A great piece of progressive/psych folk that should be looked after by every-one. Five pouncing ponies and five peaceful salutations.

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Send comments to friso (BETA) | Report this review (#562212)
Posted Friday, November 04, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars In the subgenre of acid folk, one of the first victims of The Incredible String Band's infectious syndrome was Spirogyra, whose nucleus was formed by Martin Cockerham -guitar, voice and writing- and Barbara Gaskin, vocals.

Psychedelia, folk tradition and blues mix here to make a particularly well done and original brew of sounds and influences, being the main the afore mentioned TISB.

Indeed, Martin Cockerham follows Williamson & Heron's credo putting his music to the service of the text and adapting it to the necessities of the line, stress and pronunciation. and in doing this he finds an invaluable help in the form of the violing playing of John Cusack (also playing piano). Moreover, the music develops and evolves to higher levels of expression with the inclusion of bass guitar (Steve Borrill) and percussions, transforming itself and progressing to rock, as in 'Magical Mary', 'Cogwheels Crutches and Cyanide'.

On her side, Barbara Gaskin's voice stars in 'Time will Tell' and 'Love is a Funny Thing', a beautiful ballad.

The need of a drummer would also be felt for the next two albums and would be impersoned, as here, in the likes of Dave Mattacks, whose omnipresence in the folk scene is only comparable to that (indisputable) of Danny Thompson. Tony Cox added synthesizer. Wind instruments would also be added (Jon Gifford) lately.

The inspiration of these songs -The Future Won't Be Long, At Home with the World, Cogweels Crutches and Cyanide, etc- makes this album one of the best in its genre.

Four and half stars or 9 out of 10 really.

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Send comments to ibnacio (BETA) | Report this review (#620212)
Posted Thursday, January 26, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Spirogyra are a group who most fans of the folkier end of the 1970s progressive scene should pay close attention to - and not just because they were Hatfield and the North/National Health vocalist Barbara Gaskin's first group. The group show a mastery of a range of moods, from scary stuff which doesn't quite reach Comus levels of weirdness but does seem on the verge of veering in that direction to happier, sunnier moments to songs of great melancholy. Julian Cusack's keyboards and, in particular, his violin are the keys to the band's command of atmosphere, though bassist Steve Borrill's performance is also particularly deserving of mention.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#760157)
Posted Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars SPIROGYRA were a British Folk band from Canterbury who forged a pretty good career for themselves. FAIRPORT CONVENTION's drummer would guest on this one and a couple of more I believe. Martin Cockerham is the main man here composing all the songs while also singing and playing guitar. Barbara Gaskin who looks so good (just sayin') also sings. I had to do a double take when I read these words in the liner notes : "Barbara Gaskin was born in Hatfield North of London..." What ? Oh, I didn't just read she was born in Hatfield And The North ? Okay. She just would go on to play with them and NATIONAL HEALTH of course. We also get Steve Borrill on bass and Julian Cusack on violin and keyboards. The album cover makes me laugh everytime I look at it, just looking at the band's faces and the lady who looks like she's walking right in front of the guy who's about to take a picture of the band. Hilarious !

"The Future Won't be Long" is a top four for me. Strummed guitar as vocals join in then female vocals too. Violin follows and it picks up after 1 1/2 minutes. One of the strengths of this album is the song writing. Love the lyrics here. "Island" has picked guitar and violin as male vocals join in. This is melancholic. It does pick up and turn fuller before 2 1/2 minutes. "Magical Mary" has some nice bass work with passionate male vocals and violin. The vocals stop as the violin rips it up. The violin then stops as the drums and vocals take over 3 minutes in. Great sound 4 1/2 minutes in after the vocals stop. Killer bass then the violin returns. "Captain's Log" is short but a top four for me. The lyrics with samples and acoustic guitar all works so well. "At Home In The World" is a vocal track that builds early including piano. Female vocals too.

"Cogwheels Crutches And Cyanide" is a top four as well. Gentle acoustic guitar as the vocals join in. Bass too and female vocal melodies. It kicks in with drums. Violin after 2 1/2 minutes. The lyrics are so good here. It's very uplifting before 5 minutes. "Time Will Tell" is my final top four. Violin to open then bass just before a minute with cymbals. Female vocals join in as well. Great sound. Piano before 3 1/2 minutes. "We Were A Happy Crew" opens with piano, violin and reserved female vocals. It turns fuller with drums and bass along with male vocals helping out. A change after 2 1/2 minutes with the guitar and male vocals leading. Drums and bass join in. Excellent ! "Love Is A Funny Thing" has gentle guitar as female vocals join in. Flute too. "The Duke Of Beaufoot" ends it. Violin and bass before a minute as it builds. Male vocals join in then female vocals after 3 minutes as the violin slices it up. Another change 4 1/2 minutes in as strummed guitar and female vocals take over. Male vocals too before 6 minutes.

While Folk music usually doesn't do much for me this certainly impressed me big time. I'll put this with my COMUS, THE TREES, PERERIN and JAN DUKES DE GREY. Yeah that's my Folk section.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#797669)
Posted Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | Review Permalink

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