This could be of interest to a great many people – large numbers of whom may not realise it just yet! Ripe for exploration…
Rock fans of a 1970s vintage will likely remember the Edgar Broughton Band, perversely for their lack of success than the opposite, as they cast themselves as perennial outsiders from a similar mould as the Pink Fairies and the like, railing against the Establishment and raging against the machine, long before THAT became a Number One thing. They released five albums on the EMI/Harvest label in the early ’70s, which are revered within their own cult-ish niche these days as genuine counterculture classics. Ranging from blues-rock through psychedelia, heavy rock and some proggy moments, but always with a complete disregard for shiny production values or any eye on commercialism – which is a big part of why they are still highly regarded – they still make fascinating listening. It’s easy to forget, however, that they even had a couple of relatively minor Top 40 singles in the UK, with Out Demons Out and Apache Dropout, in an era when really off-the-wall stuff could miraculously make a bid for the upper regions of the charts from seemingly nowhere.
By 1975, however, the EBB were hitting the skids a bit. Moving label and management to the NEMS stable proved disastrous, and only led to one album, 1975’s Bandages, which opens this four-disc set. There are no free-form freakouts present here, with no song hitting the six-minute mark, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s any kind of commercial sell-out. Quite the opposite in fact, as the album reveals a dizzying array of styles mercilessly compressed together in a way which shouldn’t work at all yet mostly actually does, extremely well. The opener, Get A Rise, sets this stall out from the get-go, opening as a sort of acoustic folk-blues similar to a raw Medicine Head before morphing into a heavy guitar wig-out. Multi-faceted yet only five minutes long, that’s what you’re in for with most of this dizzying 42-minute ride. The baffling John Wayne (who has apparently ‘done it again’, though I’m still not sure what), lurches through three distinct phases taking in pop, hard rock and a sort of edgy Krautrock feel, and yet lasts three minutes and ten seconds! Even that doesn’t prepare you for the switchback ride which is the heavy yet utterly single-mindedly bonkers Germany. In fact, almost the whole album has aged really well, and is hugely entertaining, with things only dropping a little when the band try their hand at more straightforward boogie-rock, as in the lyrical paucity of Love Gang and the sprightly yet not-quite-working feel of Signal Injector. An album well worth investigating however.
The failure once again of the album to sell, coupled with legal wranglings, led the band to embark on a farewell tour the following year, at the end of which they did indeed split up, if only for a short while. The resulting album Live Hits Harder is a superb evocation of their more aggressive side, mixing some of their earlier classics with a couple of selections from Bandages. The latter pair come off extremely successfully, with the multi-part, quite proggy One To Seven improving on the already-impressive studio cut, while Signal Injector proves a revelation. Coming across with a much more hard-hitting approach, successfully invoking the spirit of Bob Calvert-era Hawkwind, it is everything the studio version tried to be but wasn’t. The best track here for my money is undoubtedly Evening Over Rooftops, from the band’s self-titled third album, which is a hypnotic guitar showcase coming across like a wild, untamed cousin of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane. The EBB at their unchained best, it lasts for about seven or eight minutes but could have gone on for twice that duration without wearing out its welcome. Closing the record (which really should have been a double album!) is a version of Smokestack Lightning, which is less of a song as it is a bluesy backdrop to a lengthy and quite emotional farewell speech from Edgar (whose first name was actually ‘Rob’ incidentally) to their audience, lamenting the death of the real outsider culture and imploring the audience to keep their metaphorical freak flag flying. It sounds as if it should be as inessential as a drum solo, as he takes several minutes over this, after which the album fades, but it is oddly moving in its own way, and brings the curtain down on that era in a perfect fashion. It’s the best album here.
The band reformed a couple of years later, now boosted to a five-piece, under the name of The Broughtons (those pesky legal matters), and released the wholly unexpected Parlez-Vous English?, with twelve short songs of a much simpler nature. The songs may be constructed in more of a linear, straightforward way, however, but the album certainly isn’t, as pure pop, heavy rock, punk and pastoral English folk collide in an alarming multi-car pile-up of influences. The Clash-like aggression of Didecoi, for example (bringing to mind I Fought The Law), is followed immediately by Edgar lamenting his wish to be ‘by the Avon in Stratford’ to the accompaniment of mandolins and all manner of trad-folk accoutrements in the delicate and quite lovely April In England – before that is immediately shattered again by the insane Gong-punk collision of Revelations One and the politically charged Anthem. Little One is such a pure pop opener that you swear it must be satire, while the penultimate Young Boys recalls a nostalgic youth which could make the most hard-hearted old rocker cry into his beer. Despite the shorter songs, it may be the best album here. Best of all, though, is that a reproduction of the original gatefold sleeve is included, with one of the funniest inner spreads I’ve ever seen. A photo of the band, all leather and menacing looks, is scrawled on with self-deprecating comments such as ‘I don’t pay my bus fare’, ‘Carefully arranged to look unarranged hairstyle’, ‘Not leather (but draylon) and ‘We’ve always got to put someone at the front and this is the one’. Not to mention the helpful ‘Lunch Box A’ and ‘Lunch Box B’. Classic stuff.
One last album to go, and this is where the band saved the weirdest to the last with their final album, self-released in 1982, called Superchip: The Final Silicon Solution?, which from out of nowhere is the band’s only fully realised concept album. And boy, is this strange! Telling the Dystopian (of course!) tale of a shady conglomerate of governments creating a silicon chip to implant in the willing population to make them happy and pliant to their overlords’ bidding. Sound familiar? Well, a lot of this scary stuff is made even more scary by the fact that it’s actually happened. The idea of a cabal of European nations creating a sinister super-state is one which has, let’s say, been somewhat debated and argued over in recent years, while the ideas of having one’s every movement tracked and of relentlessly manipulated consumerism (‘the Credit Society’) are very close to home. That’s not to say that some of this isn’t very funny, in its bitingly satirical way.
The title track has the depiction of this chilling future declaimed in a cheery newsreader’s voice, with such Zappa-like nuggets as ‘Never have so many been so subservient to so few’ and the description of pirates ‘still selling rice to the inhabitants of the ruined hinterlands, whose leaders have forgotten them in their desire to Go Western’. This is where the ‘Great European State’ comes into things, and four decades on, the depiction of this shadowy concern based in Belgium could still spark pub arguments today. It’s pure Zappa really, and indeed the whole album plays like a sort of darker, English counterpart of Joe’s Garage. Tracks like Curtains (closing the curtains on the windows of the mind) and The Last Electioneer are still unnerving, and the album veers from dark humour to, well, just darkness. When the album was first released on CD in the 1990s, a track composed by Edgar with his son was added, and is still included here – and with good reason. Called The Virus (quite!), it’s a 17-minute electronic invocation of a virus being programmed to make the population happy and compliant, and is enough to make certain conspiracy theorists apoplectic! Musically it is powerful stuff, with the first two-thirds of the track consisting of squalls of electric guitar crying out in the background of a pumping electronic beat. Not entirely unlike some of Tangerine Dream’s output, when they were in that mood. The track closes with a few minutes of gradually calmer ambient sound, seemingly illustrating a person after having ‘the virus’ administered to them. Overall, it’s not the musically strongest album here, but it sure is the most interesting!
The booklet has Edgar (Rob) giving his thought about the band’s whole history, and overall this is a tremendous roundup of a very seldom explored period of the Broughtons’ career. This could be of interest to a great many people – large numbers of whom may not realise it just yet! Ripe for exploration…