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Fifty Foot Hose - Cauldron CD (album) cover


Fifty Foot Hose


Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.71 | 32 ratings

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4 stars An important historical document

Fifty Foot Hose entered the bourgening arena of psychedelic rock in its US epicentre, San Francisco, in 1967 with this debut that was mind-blowing at the time, and remains mind-blowing to this day.

The principles were already established; Louis 'Cork' Marcheschi had already attempted to lead his old R&B band, The Ethix into strange and exploratory musical directions with the bizarre 1966 single Bad Trip, which could be played at either 33 or 45 RPM, and had been recorded with each musician in different rooms playing simultaneously.

Cork, like Frank Zappa, had been influenced by the works of Edgard Varese - Cork had witnessed a performance of Varese's Poem Electronique in 1962, and it was this rather than large quantities of lysergides that influenced his musical directions. Fifty Foot Hose are often cited as being unusual among the psychedelic bands in that they weren't particularly psychedelic. Listening to the music, you could have fooled me.

The methods of producing musical sounds were certainly new to pop/rock music, and seem to have been unique to Fifty Foot Hose in 1967 - a variety of home-made synthesisers hooked up to a giant speaker, and electronically modified guitars were the core of their arsenal, for a blend of rock and electronics that predates the more famous United States of America album. The only comparative album I can think of is Pierre Henry's Messe Pour le Temps Present - which kind of comes to rock from the opposite direction, as Henry was a composer of musique concrete, an approach not dissimilar to that used by the Beach Boys in their hugely influential Pet Sounds album.

Here, though, Fifty Foot Hose were not attempting to simply create comfortable music using familiar sounds, but rather to create experimental music using experimental sounds, so that everything sounded new (and possibly uncomfortable). The record company, Limelight, however, needed something that would actually sell, so this recording remains a compromise between their wild live experimentations and the crowbarring of that into a more accessible format.

You could write a whole essay based on the nuggets that surround the album - so I encourage you to explore it further and dig up more fascinating gems. There are plenty.

The Music On to the music - I'll ignore the bonus material, as it comprises remixes, and Bad Trip, both at 45 and 33 RPM - spot the difference?

Red the Sign Post is probably the stand out track, not least because the riff is that used by Ritchie Blackmore for Space Truckin. More than that, it's extremely catchy, yet otherwordly and surprisingly fresh-sounding.

The album opens with deep, deep rumbling - at first, you might be tempted to think that something has gone wrong with your system - but no!

The electronics slowly take off, and the second track, If Not This Time becomes the first song proper, and extremely catchy it is, if a bit disturbing, with Nancy Blossom's Slick-lite vocals echoing continually across the stereo picture.

The music is in a kind of Jefferson Airplane on acid style, but with more bleepy and wooey noises. It reminds me a bit of White Noise's debut in terms of atmosphere - although White Noise supercharged the electronic ambience. The bridge is a wierd but short kind of off-kilter jazz-style trip. Very strange, but one of the most accessible pieces.

The next catchy track is The Things That Concern You - although I can't help cringe at the lyrics, which are very much of their time, and rather trite, the music is pretty good for early psychedelia. It's the sudden change for the bridge and burnouts, which are the really interesting bits - and make you wish that Limelight had had the guts to allow the band to just let rip, as they are much tighter than more glorified acts such as Country Joe and the Fish, whose Electric Mind for Body and Soul album, so widely hailed, pales into insignificance beside the music here.

I've already plugged Red the Sign Post, but a mention should surely be given to Nancy Blossom for the complete change in vocal style to something more akin to Jim Morrison, with savage, slashing vocalisations.

Things calm down nicely to a kind of soft-jazz flavoured piece, which epitomises acid rock without being a complete stereotype - not least because the musicianship shows none of the signs of excess you find in bands like The Chocolate Watch Band. All the band members perform superbly here creating a satisfying and enjoyable (if somewhat dated) soundscape for Cork to paint electronic noodelry all over. Indeed, if one wasn't taking into account that this was all completely new, one might get a bid fed up with the buzzing, screeching and warbling noises that persist in polluting the soundtrack... but let's be generous!

Fantasy is the piece of interest, coming in around 10 minutes - it seems to have been fashionable to have at least one long track on an album at this time, and has a structure not dissimilar to Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets, and many sonic features that remind me strongly of some of Floyd's earliest material, including the wierd bit at the end of Bike. A very strange hotch-potch, but not one entirely without purpose or form, and certainly not one for the musically timid.

Back to the soft jazz - and then some for God Bless the Child, a Billy Holiday song in which Nancy Blossom again gets the chance to show off her under-exposed vocal talents. For my taste, she's much too far back in the mix - but I understand that there were real problems recording the synthesisers, which held no sympathy for 1967 recording technology. Absolutely wonderful little song.

And so the album comes to an end, with a startlingly futuristic jolt. Blossom again utilising her phenomenal vocal talents, with more whooshes, bleeps and other odd noises per second than the average Hawkwind or Tangerine Dream album - not to mention all the special effects and overdubs. This was clearly the band having a lot of fun in the studio, using it as an instrument in much the same way that the Beatles did when making Sgt Pepper.

Although still heavily rooted in the psychedelic experimental styles of the time, it is highly likely that you have never heard anything quite like the title track of Cauldron, even if time has not been fantastically kind to the rest of the album.

Influences and Influencees Influences on Fifty Foot Hose include the Merry Pranksters, Alan Watts and Sun-Ra - so I suppose the end result is not so surprising.

Bands the Hose influenced are many and varied, as they were name-dropped as influences by Throbbing Gristle, and then there's the matter of a certain song by a band of a less experimental nature - not to mention almost anyone that's ever used an oscillator or two and created bleepy and wooey noises in the context of a rock band.

Summary Sadly, Cauldron is not truly a masterpiece - although it is very good, especially in context - there's no real flow to the album, the pieces feel a bit contrived, and a bit more engineering time could have been spent harnessing the wild electronic voices and getting the sounds to work together, as it tends to feel like a bit of a lash-up a lot of the time.

However, patient listening pays dividends. It's not a comfortable experience, but that's not what Progressive music is about - if I wanted nice, comfortable songs, I'd go and listen to Coldplay or Keane.

I think it's essential to hear this album AT LEAST 10 TIMES (preferably on different days, months apart), and to read (and digest) as much as you can about it.

It's that important - while 3 stars is a fair award for the music, I'm pushing it up to 4 to reflect that.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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