Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography


National Health

Canterbury Scene

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

National Health Playtime album cover
3.73 | 69 ratings | 12 reviews | 20% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

Write a review

from partners
Live, released in 2001

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Flanagan's People (15:57)
2. Nowadays a Silhouette (6:32)
3. Dreams Wide Awake (8:18)
4. Pleaides (10:26)
5. Rhubarb Jam (1:17)
6. Rose Sob (1:46)
7. Play Time (9:38)
8. Squarer for Maude, Part 1 (5:11)
9. Squarer for Maude, Part 2 (7:51)

Total Time 66:56

Line-up / Musicians

- Alan Gowen / keyboards
- John Greaves / bass, vocals
- Phil Miller / guitars
- Pip Pyle / drums
- Alain Eckert / guitars (1,3,4)

Releases information

CD Cuneiform Records RUNE145

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
Edit this entry

Buy NATIONAL HEALTH Playtime Music

NATIONAL HEALTH Playtime ratings distribution

(69 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(20%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(46%)
Good, but non-essential (29%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

NATIONAL HEALTH Playtime reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by The Owl
5 stars This may not have extremely crisp recording quality but it more than compensates with a pair of fiery and inspired performances froma NH lineup that was not heard much from (and their last tour before Gowen's death from lukemia in 1981).

Alan Gowen rejoined after Dave Stewart left the band, due to busines disagreements more than creative differences. Regardless, the boys soldiered on and toured anyway, and here you can witness the telepathic interplay on such pieces as "Flanagan's People" , "Dreams Wide Awake" and "Pleaides" especially. Another highlight here is "Squarer For Maude" (though I do miss the cellos and organs on the original version).

Overall, the band plays with the ferocity of a Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever while still retaining the unique Canterbury whimsy and wit. Bassist John Greaves propels things along with fuzzy, roaring almost Magma-esque lines as Pip Pyle paints like a madman from behind his drum kit. Guitarist Phil Miller is in fine form with his singing yet edgy Gibson SG tone while Allen Gowen's keyboard work shimmers and sparkles and adds just the right amount of metallic clang on the Fender Rhodes. Allen's style was markedly different from Dave Stewart's, not just in his choice of sounds (mainly Rhodes and synths) but also the fact his compositions tended to leave more room for improvisation.

Very highly recommended!

Review by Progbear
2 stars This looks like the end of the National Health releases, unless a reunion effort is in the works (highly unlikely). This was recorded after Dave Stewart had left the group after OF QUEUES AND CURES, with Alan Gowen in his stead.

I'll be frank and say that this is the NH album I get the least mileage out of. Hearing live versions of "Squarer for Maud", "Flanagan's People" and "Dreams Wide Awake" are interesting, and it's neat to get to hear never-released stuff like "Pleiades" and "Play Time". But something's missing. I don't want to pin too much of NH's appeal on Stewart, but he did bring the music a cohesiveness that's rather lacking here. Too much of this just feels like jam music, with little of the quirky "modern classical meets jazz" feel that was NH's greatest appeal.

More of historic interest than musical. For the NH fan who already has everything else.

Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I take it there are different kinds of National Health fans; those who love the looser, jazzier pastel tones of the Canterbury sound, the listeners who appreciate the tighter, classically-inflected work, and those that love it all. This album will appeal to the Canterbury lovers and is a tasty tidbit of jamming from the band after the incomparable Dave Stewart had left. I am in the second group of NH fans...I treasure their carefully constructed stuff from the Queues period and, sadly, couldn't wrap my arms around 'Playtime'. Plus, I'm into Dave Stewart and sorely missed his sophisticated undertow supporting an otherwise pleasant but undistinguished sound.
Review by fuxi
4 stars Yes, this album DOES sometimes sound like a jam session, but I feel that we're privileged to listen in!

I am not going to join the 'Dave Stewart vs. Alan Gowen' debate; I love and admire the way Stewart played keyboards with National Health and Bruford, but Gowen undeniably has plenty of charm as well. His minimoog solos must be among the most delightful ever performed on that instrument, equalling (or even surpassing) the things George Duke and Eddie Jobson did with Zappa.

It's also great to hear Phil Miller spreading out. I loved his late Seventies guitar sound and felt disappointed when I bought a CD of his band In Cahoots a few years ago, only to notice he now sounds far more conventional. Do you love those HATFIELD and HEALTH classics, and would you like to hear more of the 'real' Phil? Then this might be just the album for you.

As other reviewers have said, interplay between all the band members is great, and Pip Pyle in particular turns out to be a real star. Because of the improvisatory character of certain passages, the band sometimes remind me of Brand X rather than the old Health. Some listeners may be disappointed that studio favourites are getting a fairly rough treatment, but it all comes with greater spontaneity. Also, the sound quality is not exactly top-drawer, but that does not bother me when I play the album through speakers instead of headphones.

Conclusion: excellent album, essential to Canterbury freaks, wish there were more bands playing this sort of music today!

Review by Mellotron Storm
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.

Review by Padraic
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Disagreements over the direction in which to take National Health led to Dave Stewart leaving the band, but he was still on amicable terms with his former bandmates, enough so to help schedule a small tour of the United States in 1979 - part of which is captured on this recording. Alan Gowen was recruited to join Miller, Greaves, and Pyle on tour - and the result is a blistering tour de force of high energy Canterbury/fusion jams that times will touch upon a free jazz mentality. Highlights for me are the Gowen compositions such as Flanagan's People and Playtime, but of course the performances of tracks from Queues such as Dreams Wide Awake and Squarer for Maud are also outstanding. This is not the National Health to be found on the first two studio albums; indeed, on the US tour they warned audiences that those hoping to hear Tenemos Roads would be sorely disappointed. Sound quality at times can be a bit lacking, but never really factors into the enjoyment of the record. Highly recommended for fans of National Health and other Alan Gowen material - but read the other reviews, if what appeals to you of National Health's music is Stewart's structured, coherent compositional approach vs. Gowen's jazzy stylings (viz. Brujo), proceed with caution. Newcomers are best served starting with the studio work. 4.5 stars for a wonderful live snapshot of some of the greatest of the Canterbury musicians lighting it up.
Review by Sean Trane
4 stars The always-excellent Cuneiform label unearthed yet another "archives" gem with these cncert tapes coming from two different gigs in 79, that took place a few months apart and on two different continents. The main difference would be that in the French, .NH appeared as a double-guitar quintet (Eckert being the other string-scratcher), while on the United Statian gig, the group performed with a more standard quartet; While Pyle, Greaves and Miller where the usual members, Alan Gowen replaces the recently-departed Dave Stewart, but alas, some sad event would prevent the new kb-man to continue, thus more or less killing the band's impetus despite the DS Al Coda release in his honour a few years later.

While the French concert went down rather well (with the help of the afore-mentioned Eckert) , starting with the energetic16-mins Flanagan's People; a steaming Canterbury- tinged jazz-rock piece that will set fire to any lake around the place, it held some relatively calmer moments like the almost-boring (by NH standards, of course) Silhouette. Although the Dreams Wide Awake piece opens on Mahavishnu-level energy, it tends to veer later- 70's fusion with a certain Brand X-type of virtuosity, loosing in soul what it gains in notes/seconds. They closed the set with the sleepy (for them) Pleiades, where Miller (I think) plays a few Greek chords.

The Pennsylvania concert is more exciting, opening on two short tracks, including the short but sung (courtesy of John Greaves) Rose Sob before plunging in a fuzzed-bass extravaganza at the start of the 10-mins Playtime (a Gowen piece). The closing two-parts (roughly 13-mins) Squarer For Maud is the cloud u spectacle, with some demented playing from all concerned, but again, it seems that Greaves was the louder and crazier dude that night. The last ten minutes are pure bliss and chaos, where Phil Miller pulls some wild solos. In both concerts, it's clear that they focused more on the Queues & Cures album than the debut.

If only for the lengthy booklet, filled with extesive liner notes from Mr Pyle, Playtime is an essential release to own if you're a NH fan, and you enjoy the "jammier" side of the band. One of the joys I had once I'd bought the present album upon release time, was to rediscover Miller's fiery guitar sound, which contrast fairly heavily with his In Cahoots stuff or even his Hatfield reformation days during the 00's. On the downside, by 79, NH sounded much more like a later-70's band ala Brand X or Return To Forever, rather its more Canterburyan earlier incarnations, but we'll not nitpick too much and just enjoy this little gem, courtesy of Feigelbaum and Aymeric.

Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars The third phase of NATIONAL HEALTH can only be found on this live album (their only live album) for no studio album was ever recorded with this lineup despite this being the most stable one of the band's history. Most of the material can be found nowhere else and doesn't really sound like the previous stuff either but we do get some classics like the two parts of "Squarer For Maude." These two live performances take place in France and the US from 1979 but not released until 2001 thanks to the virtuous mining of the past by Cuneiform Records. This lineup includes Alan Gowen (keyboards), John Greaves (bass / vocals), Pip Pyle (drums) and Alain Eckert (guitars).

Although not as brilliant as the first two studio albums, this is nonetheless an outstandingly memorizing listen that brings the band into full jamming mode with lots of emphasis on the fun factor. Expect lots of complex free jazz meets prog rock interplay in a live setting and you'll get the idea of what's going on here. All instrumental affair with scant vocals to be found. At this point the band's days were number and Gowen would die from leukemia in 1981 essentially ending the band. Not a bad way to end as these are some quality recordings that fans of the first two phases will surely dig. Note the lone clappers on the audience you could count on one hand reminding one of the state of this kind of complex music from that time.

Latest members reviews

4 stars This is high art, played with a vengeance. As has been mentioned, the interplay is spontaneously beautiful, and the feel is a perfect blend of the Canterbury style, mixed with guys just giving it everything they've got. What a thankful, and wonderful honor to have this live recording of the fa ... (read more)

Report this review (#257672) | Posted by tmay102436 | Friday, December 25, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Rarely has an album title been better suited than this one Sometimes, live albums comes across as strictly enforced versions of studio songs in the front of an audience which is happy just to eyeball the band. Even in a crowd of 150 000 people. ...And then you have live albums like this one. ... (read more)

Report this review (#201029) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Thursday, January 29, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Excavating live board of NATIONAL HEALTH released in 2001 "Playtime". The sound source is the one having collected from the performance in France on April, 1979 and the United States performance in December of the same year. It is a performance by the final lineup after Dave Stewart secedes. T ... (read more)

Report this review (#54607) | Posted by braindamage | Friday, November 4, 2005 | Review Permanlink

3 stars A complex live archival release of the fantastic Canterbury band: National Health. This album tends to lie flat after Dreams Wide Awake. Great jams & all, but I suppose the sound quality sort of disapoints. I have to listen to it again though, I have not listened to it for a while now. ... (read more)

Report this review (#5071) | Posted by | Monday, December 22, 2003 | Review Permanlink

Post a review of NATIONAL HEALTH "Playtime"

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.