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National Health - Playtime CD (album) cover


National Health


Canterbury Scene

3.72 | 62 ratings

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Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The lineup featured here of Greaves, Gowen, Pyle and Miller were together longer than any other version of NATIONAL HEALTH, yet they didn't record a studio album together. Fortunately they did tour quite a bit and what we have hear are songs from two concerts recorded in 1979. The first 4 songs were recorded live from France. The last 5 songs were recorded live in the U.S.A. It is interesting that when HENRY COW broke up in 1978 that both Georgie Born and Lindsay Cooper officially joined NATIONAL HEALTH. It didn't last long unfortunately, and because of financial strains and other issues Dave Stewart left, and the band was left in limbo with no keyboard player. The two former HENRY COW members went on to other things, and eventually Alan Gowen became available to return to NATIONAL HEALTH. So they were now a foursome. The liner notes tell us that this recording is essentially a tribute to the late Alan Gowen's playing skills, just as D.S. Al Coda paid homage to his composing skills. To my ears this version of NATIONAL HEALTH is more focused on thier playing more than the actual song. Extended jams with lots of band interplay and individual solos are absolutely incredible. In fact the last 3 songs are over 22 minutes of the best NATIONAL HEALTH music I have ever heard. The biggest surprise for me is the monster bass work of John Greaves. As another reviewer mentioned he would fit in well with MAGMA with that style of playing. And Phil Miller really lets his hair down with some aggressive playing. It's like the they all have the freedom to let loose if they want to, they're not confined in the structure of the song.This was a pleasure a listen to.

Things get started with the concert in France. Interesting that lead guitarist Alain Eckert from ART ZOYD is on stage and playing in songs 1, 3 and 4. The first track "Flanagan's People" is a Gowen composition and the longest song on here at almost 16 minutes. This one is very jazzy. Actually it seems the concert in France leans to thier jazzy side, while the concert in the U.S. is a lot heavier.This first track is quite airy at times like the fusion sounds of RETURN TO FOREVER, but the counter of this is Greaves heavy bass lines. Some scorching guitar 1 1/2 minutes in that go on and on for almost a minute. Nice. Again the bass is killer, very deep. We get some improv it appears around the 9 minute mark.Keys and drums lead the way. The guitar continues to grind away while the bass has to be shaking the speakers at this point. "Nowadays A Silhouette" is a Miller track. Gowen is all over this one with his synth and keyboard work. The tempo and sound picks up after 2 minutes. The song calms back down 4 1/2 minutes in. "Dreams Wide Awake" is another Miller tune that was originally on "Of Queues And Cures". Miller is more aggressive and heavier on this one. Some monster bass and random drum patterns from Pyle. Keys are prominant after 2 minutes as heaviness lifts. This lasts for a couple of minutes and guitar tastefully takes over for keys temporarily. Some nice guitar work before 6 minutes and a minute later followed by some pleasant keys from Gowen.

"Pleaides" is a Pyle composition. This one is a relaxing, beautiful jazzy song to begin with. The bass comes in heavily at 2 minutes as tempo picks up. Some fuzz guitar comes and goes. Some fast paced keys as bass throbs. It's light and jazzy again. It calms right down only to be followed by a beautiful soundscape as guitar becomes prominant. Now we're in the U.S. with "Rhubarb Jam" a short song with various sounds coming and going including some dissonant ones. It blends into "Rose Sob" another short track with vocals from Greaves. Drums and bass are prominant. It blends into "Play Time". Let the fun begin ! This is a Gowen song first heard on one of his GILGAMESH records. This has some atmosphere to it. Miller is having a great time laying down some heavy and fast paced guitar melodies. Fantastic ! The drums, bass and keys try to keep up. It settles down some after 4 minutes. Love the tasteful guitar melodies here.The full sound returns 6 minutes in. The guitar and drums are outstanding ! It settles down again 8 minutes in. I can't get over how incredible Miller is on guitar. "Squarer For Maude part 1 and part 2" are both Greaves songs.The song opens with soft bass and light drums. Guitar and keys come in gently. It's all slowly building. Things get aggressive after 2 minutes. This is great ! It blends into "Squarer For Maude part 2". We eventually hear keys all alone. Guitar arrives 2 minutes in sounding raw and leading the way as bass provides a lot of bottom end. Check out the drumming ! This is heavy.

I have not been disappointed by anything i've heard from NATIONAL HEALTH. This is another winner and easily 4 stars.

Mellotron Storm | 4/5 |


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