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PTARMIGAN

Prog Folk • Canada


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Ptarmigan biography
Ptarmigan was formed in 1970 when Michael Bieling introduced guitarist James Lithgow to vocalist / recorder player, Glen Dias. They began writing songs with Bieling accompanying on congas & soon added Dennis Lelonde on alto sax, piano & vocals; Monte Nordstrom on 12 string guitar & vocals with a second percussionist, Shawn Mullins. The sextet performed on Vancouver lsland & eventually came to the attention of the renowned flautist Paul Horn who had moved to Victoria, BC to escape the rigours of life in Los Angeles. He was impressed with the group's unorthodox style & encouraged the band to stay in touch. When the group fragmented with Lithgow & Bieling departing Peter Wheeler, an American percussionist, joined the band.

The first stop was Winnipeg & their first dates at the Ting Tea Room. They began writing new material immediately, developing harmony structures & establishing their eerie west coast sound.
After two months on the Winnipeg scene the duo continued by train to an extended stay with the Macauley family in Scarborough. They auditioned unsuccessfully at Grumble's & The Riverboat in Toronto & ended up spending Halloween collecting candy for the Children's Hospital.
They performed at The Fiddler's Green appearing with Leon Redbone & the Downchild Blues Band. A visit to Hamilton turned into several weeks followed by a return trip to Winnipeg & the Ting, where they performed for Christmas & New Years, both memorable if strange occasions. A late night jam with members of Lighthouse occurred during this time.
A van trip across Northern Ontario ensued in January 1972 with Gary McKeehan, an independent CBC actor/producer & also a manager for Perth County Conspiracy (does not exist). They eventually ended up at McKeehan's rural home (near Stratford, where they visited at the Black Swan). A trip to Chicago was attempted but the two young men were turned back at Detroit due to their long hair, odd luggage & low supply of funds. They returned to Mckeehan's & plans were made to go to Ottawa following up on an invitation made by Rob Putt, (an audio technician they had met in Winnipeg). They continued on to Toronto by bus & were now without sufficient funds to carry on. After a night at the YMCA, one bus ticket for Ottawa was purchased & the 2 musicians flipped a coin to determine who would take the instruments on the bus & who would hitchhike the 500 miles through the sub-zero blizzard. Glen lost the toss & watched as Monte rode out on the Gr...
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PTARMIGAN discography


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3.34 | 15 ratings
Ptarmigan
1974

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PTARMIGAN Reviews


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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by toroddfuglesteg

3 stars Folk music from Canada, but not like most other bands I have heard.

Their sound is a bit weird, to start with. Simon & Garfunkel gone on a tour to the planet Jupiter is what springs to mind. The sound is also pretty dark and spaced out. Space Folk Rock ? That is probably the best label. The sound feels is firmly rooted in the folk rock culture in the 1970s. The music is also pretty sparsely instrumented. Flute, guitar, hand drums, vocals, bass and some drums is all there is.

Quality wise, this is a good album and even a true gem if you are a folk rock connoisseur. But the lack of any really great songs is really hurting this album. But the sound is special and time flies with this album on the speakers. This album is in my view a special folk rock album and nothing more. Nuff said.

3 stars

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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by progadicto

3 stars It's not hard for me to say this album is far from the best of the Prog Folk genre. But it is something extremely hypnotizing into the songs and an almost psych style which sustains the tracks of this one-album band.

There's some kind of catharsis implict along the tracks of Ptarmigan's songs which turns every song into an attractive piece sometimes close to psychedelic melodies but never losing contact with the classic Canadian prog folk from the 70's with some sequences a la Harmonium, very symphonic and floating. On the other hand we had a great and consistent work on acoustic guitar which reminds some Comus sections. With this elements, Ptarmigan builds a solid album with some remarkable moments even when is not in the size of the legendary albums and bands of the genre.

Anyway, a great effort that deserves at least one listening for any real prog fan because impressive songs such as "The Island: Main Theme", "Night Of The Gulls: On The Wind" and "Coquihalla". 3*...

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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

3 stars Vancouver, and, by extension, the beautiful province of British Columbia (BC), Canada, has been discovered and re-discovered many times in its history, both before its entry into Canada in 1871 and after. I made a personal acquaintance in 1980 as a tourist, but its resurgence after the Expo 86 world fair boosted the economy such that it actually became possible to find work and a laid back lifestyle to go with it, and there I lived from 1988-1996. Hence this semi-precious jewel from the prehistoric days is of particular interest to me.

PTARMIGAN's sole recorded output is loosely dedicated to BC at a time when it was the province of the few chosen ones, but the inspiration for the dreamy vocal and woodwind passages and the hypnotically strummed guitars is readily apparent. The sense of isolation from the rest of the continent is profound in the introspection of the lyrics and every spare note wrenched from these idealistic musicians. Granted there was little space for this type of exploration in 1972 unless you were in Quebec, but I suspect Ptarmigan would have been a one-off anyway, as this disc comes off as a bit of a cathartic project for the benefit of its participants, while still being anywhere from slightly to mightily entertaining.

A ptarmigan is actually a common northern Canadian bird in the grouse family that was overexposed in the little television interludes from teh Canadian Wildlife Service in the 70s. Clearly the same fate did not await the group, but I do recall hearing some of their album after the fact, although the where and when remain shrouded in the haze of youth. Ultimately the album succeeds best in song format, in their tributes to Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver, in which they take on a persona truly their own. The vocals are highly emotive yet oddly trance-like. "Go Dancing" is a bit too west coast for my tastes, like JEFFERSON AIRPLANE meets the YOUNGBLOODS, but you may enjoy that. Native American sounding flutes and spoken parts conjure better known artists who appeared decades later like JERRY ALFRED AND THE MEDICINE BEATS, But when the group goes for the more improvisational sounds akin to early TULL or nigh krautrock on "A Hymn to the Ocean..." and the interminable closer "Coquihalla" that they reveal their inability to break out of a fairly narrow emotional and musical range, even when the alterations should be drastic.

Ptarmigan's sole and short flight (these types of birds don't fly too well anyway) is nothing to pump your wings over, but if you have a penchant for the laid back and meditative style with little more than flutes, acoustic guitars, vocals and percussion, then you could do worse than flush this one from its hiding place.

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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars To put this album in historical context it’s kind of interesting to note that it was recorded at Mushroom Studios in Vancouver around the same time Terry Jacks mastered his one-hit single “Seasons in the Sun” and Bachman Turner Overdrive was “Takin’ Care of Business”, and a couple years before the Wilson sisters made the studio really famous when they recorded the Heart album ‘Dreamboat Annie’ there. But like the Jacks and BTO records this one sat on the shelf for a while, then was eventually released by Columbia of Canada in 1974. Unfortunately neither the band nor the album lasted very long, and until the guitar half of this duo remastered the album and reissued it on his Groovedigger Records label in 1999 the only way to get this was in the form of pirated copies of an eighties German bootleg version.

The remastering was apparently a success, but then again how would one know for sure unless they were one of the very few who holds an original vinyl copy? Anyway there are no noticeable flaws in the quality of this CD reissue, and there are even a couple of bonus tracks at the end.

This is very difficult music to classify, especially since it basically consists of a 12-string acoustic guitar, a recorder, and a couple guys singing. There are a handful of studio musicians who add drums, bass and percussion, but that’s about it. The rhythms here are mostly of a jazz nature with faint Eastern sensibilities, probably due to the production by jazz flautist Paul Horn. While some think the band was influenced by North American native Indian music, I think it’s more likely that Horn had an impact on the band. They had spent time touring with him even before these studio sessions, and Horn had spent some time in the late sixties in India, Kashmir and Egypt absorbing those sounds and releasing some eclectic jazz recordings from that period. The duo had also spent a summer touring Canada with mysterious guitarist the late Lenny Breau, whose Spanish-influenced acoustic picking was an influence on the complex style of Chet Atkins. This is kind of interesting because one of my sons is a guitarist and a huge Atkins fan, and I have heard some of the same type of introspective, noodling picking coming out of his room from time to time.

There’s a mix of styles here, beginning with the opening “Go Dancing” that reminds me quite a bit of pre- Tractor album ‘The Way We Live’. Harmonizing duos, soft but lumbering acoustic guitar, and vaguely spiritual lyrics. This is more folk than progressive, but a very pleasant period piece from the early seventies that’s easy on the ears.

The three-part “The Island” mixes multiple overdubbed recorders with hand drums and strumming guitar rather than picking for the most part. This one is quite dated-sounding and mildly psychedelic, and here the Eastern influence is most obvious in the finger-cymbal percussion and brooding acoustic bass. The vocals are surprising like the In the Labyrinth, a longstanding project from the Swedish Peter Lindahl, a guy who himself has spent considerable time in India and the Middle East absorbing the complex and irregular tempos of those regions. The lyrics are again somewhat spiritual; although mystic might be a better term. Like I said this is a dated sound, but those of us who seek out these old forgotten gems will find it very tasty indeed.

And I don’t know what it is about the city of Vancouver, but it seems like an awful lot of the music that comes from that area is very subdued, quietly meditative, and far removed from traditional rock sounds. The two-part tribute “Vancouver” fits that description, although the second part picks up the pace and seems to explore the seedier side of the town’s inhabitants. Again there are multiple recorder tracks, and an alternating picking/strumming style on guitar that could be compared a little bit to Robbie Basho.

The two-part “Night of the Gulls” is all about the 12-string, with Nordstrom vacillating between picking and almost imperceptible improvisational wandering that was undoubtedly encouraged and influenced by Horn.

Finally the two-part “An Hymn to the Ocean & the Great Northern Lake” is pure Northwestern Canadian airy folk with a hint of psychedelica and again very jazz-influenced tempos and percussion.

“Coquihalla” is the last track from the original album and I guess this lengthy instrumental is a tribute to the British Columbian highway of the same name that winds its way through the Cascade Mountains and was a major hub of activity during the boom of oil exploration in the North during the sixties and beyond. If the music is meant to evoke the serene mood and natural beauty of the country through which that highway runs then I would say the group hit the nail squarely, as one can get lost in this song and lose track of time and space altogether while listening to it. Easily the best composition on the album.

The CD bonus tracks are a bit rougher mix than the remastered CD, and include saxophone, mandolin and what sounds like some electric guitar. These are rather forgettable but may be of interest to fans of the band or those interested in obscure bonus tracks that often get included on reissues such as this. The overall arrangement of these tracks is more like an almost-scat freeform jazz, and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tracks.

Overall this is quite an interesting album to listen to for the first few times as one doesn’t really know what to expect of these guys, and their history and the liner notes don’t shed much light. But the reissue makes this more accessible than it would have been a few years ago, and for prog folk fans this one is worth checking out. Four stars and well recommended.

peace

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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by Heptade
Prog Reviewer

3 stars A nice acid-folk album from British Columbia with a pretty big reputation among collectors. Ptarmigan were obviously globe-trotting hippies, and they must have spent some time in South America. There's a strong influence of Andean music on this record, particularly in the recorder playing, as well as touches of English hippie folk bands like Forest, Comus and the ISB, and a west coast U.S. psyche influence. The influences blend well, but the record does have an unfocussed feel...it's a bit jammy, and trippy but not really transcendant. The pieces are not really all that memorable, and the intensity level doesn't really change all the way through. The vocals are strong but a bit overdramatic for my liking, and they have a dated Haight- Ashbury feel to them. Having said all that, the record is a very pleasant listen, just more background music to me. There's nothing wrong with it, and it's very well-executed acoustic music. Still, it's an acid/psych folk essential for collectors of the genre.

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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!

As usual James beat me to the review but this time by more than a year. For those not familiar with 70's Canadian prog , most of it comes from Quebec and apart from Toronto (Rush , Saga, FM ) that pretty well sums it up! Really? No! Actually coming from the werstern part of the country are two gems/pearls: Vancouver's The Collectors (two superb psych/prog albums in between Vanilla Fudge and the Moody Blues - I am lobbying for their inclusion in the Archives) and the this album album from Ptarmigan (also from British Columbia) .

This album has got a very undescribable feel of freedom and ethereal beauty all the way through the tracks and no other album comes close to this. Highly original, slightly shamanistic/mystic , very acoustic , hauntingly beautyfull (the perfect album to get in the mood with the partner), this is definitely of of those lost treasure/hidden gem from the 70's that makes life worthy when you discover this some 30 years later. There is also a very indefinite Amerindian feel to this music but not quite the same as you would find in Chilean group Los Jaivas. Loaded with flutes, and long cosmic/mystic chants, this album is to rank with Comus as tops in the Folk-Prog category.

Thank you James (I find your rating quite severe) , thank you ProgArchives, thank you Ptarmigan. Life is beautyfull .

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 Ptarmigan by PTARMIGAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.34 | 15 ratings

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Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Prog Folk

Review by loserboy
Prog Reviewer

3 stars PTARMIGAN were a Psychedelic Folk Progressive rock band from Vancouver Canada who released a genuine beautiful album in 1974. PTARMIGAN's debut album resonates with a highly unique charm and character with very few true comparisons. Without a question there is a strong Native North American Indian feeling to this album with flute, hand drums and lots of acoustic guitar. Line up included Monte Nordstrom : vocals, 12 string guitar, Kat Hendrikse : drums, Dave Field : acoustic bass, Richard Mayer : electric bass, Glen Dias : lead vocal, alto, tenor & bass recorder, incidental percussion and Peter Wheeler : hand drums. Overall album is quietly psychedelic with some great songs and a semi-haunting nature to them. Vocals are soft and well done and generally sung in harmony. No rock out here, this is one of those "back to nature" albums and a great one to get lost in.

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