Fraternity are best remembered in the UK as the band Bon Scott fronted after leaving 1960s band The Valentines, and before joining AC/DC. Which is all very well, but it doesn’t do Fraternity anything like justice. For one thing, they were nothing like AC/DC in sound or content, being much more melodically ambitious, and also, they were literally the biggest band in Australia in 1971, a level of fame that sadly failed to make the transition to Europe or the US. But still, for those who may have traced Scott’s lineage back to Fraternity, or others who may remember them from their brief sojourn in the UK in the early seventies, or still others who are simply curious about the band and their sound, redress has finally arrived in the form of this mammoth CD set from Cherry Red Records.
The brainchild of Victor Marshall, a youthful fan who wasn’t even born when Fraternity were ruling the roost in Australia, the boxed set includes remasters of both of the band’s original albums, each with a stack of bonus tracks, and also draws together enough unreleased material to create a whole third album, complete with its own artwork. To complete the collection, we also get a chunky, 40-page booklet packed with history, interviews and archive photos, running to 18,000 words.
To start at the beginning then, we have the band’s debut album from 1971, the 40-minute Livestock, housed in a gatefold CD-sized replica of the original sleeve. Opening with the title track, the band sets out its stall with a groovy, funky, up-tempo major key number with massed Crosby Stills and Nash-style vocals. This slightly country feel continues with the soap opera narrative of Somerville, followed by the overtly proggy Raglan’s Folly, with heavy overtones of Focus in the Hammond stylings and recorder. In fact, Focus seems to be the overriding influence on a number of tracks, with their complex, prog arrangements, but also adding huge, soaring vocals. And this is perhaps the biggest surprise of all, namely just how good a singer Bon Scott was. Sure, we know him for his gruff power and highly distinctive voice, but perhaps not as much for the sheer technical mastery he displays here.
Livestock is extended with 20 minutes of bonus tracks, including the tongue-in-cheek Why Did It Have To Be Me and the excellent Question, before adding a couple of radio edits of previous tracks.
They followed this up in 1972 with the enigmatically-named LP Flaming Galah, which in the words of drummer John Freeman, is an Australian slang term for “basically a dickhead!” Again, a 40-minute album is extended with 20 minutes’ worth of bonus tracks, and presented in a replica gatefold sleeve with its original artwork by Vytas Serelis. The band has evolved to some extent; the complex arrangements are still there, but most of the tracks feature a section of more driving, power rock. To this reviewer, it’s an improvement; most of the songs are energetic and entertaining, while retaining their prog edge. Album opener Welfare Boogie is a country rocker complete with slide guitar and some neat harmony lead guitars at two minutes in.
Fraternity had expanded their lineup to seven members by this time, including a dedicated blues harp player named ‘Uncle’ John Eyers, whose harmonica solos and backings give an extra layer to the sound. The excellent Seasons Of Change, after which this boxed set is named, is another prog-medieval, Focus-themed tune with recorder, but seems to be mixed a bit quiet for some reason. Still, it is followed by the catchy and hooky, rocky but complex, good-time shuffle of If You Got It, a highlight to this reviewer’s ears.
Some of the tracks from the first album are re-recorded for the second, including the religious spoof You Have A God, prog epic Raglan’s Folly, and the jolly banter of Somerville. The ambitious Canyon Suite also appears on both, in modified form. These second attempts are universally better than the originals in my opinion though, which is probably why they did it. Although the main Flaming Galah set is the peak of their output, the bonus material included here is a lot less polished, including a pretty muffled version of The Band classic The Shape I’m In, plus some EP mixes of existing songs.
This brings us to the new album, which features new artwork from the original Flaming Galah artist, but is presented in a non-gatefold sleeve. The album has the extremely apt title Second Chance, named after one of their later pieces, which opens the album. There are some worthy inclusions on this set, such as the Status Quo-infused Tiger and 1950s pastiche Going Down. There is an extended alternative recording of Cool Spot from the first album too; slightly less Latin and cooler all round, but suffering from deteriorated sound quality. And that is the main issue with this third album; there is some great archive material here, a full 70 minutes of it, but it is almost all live and fairly rough, or else demo quality at best. It can’t really be considered a true third album; really it’s more of a huge collection of completist bonus material.
It’s a shame there are no better recordings of some of this stuff though; Chest Fever is all very Deep Purple with its big Hammond intro and free-form jam at the end; Requiem captures the rolling, repetitive jam band rock of Canned Heat’s On The Road Again or Status Quo’s Umleitung. Their hugely extended version of the Chuck Berry classic No Particular Place To Go is tremendous, although the instrumental first six minutes actually have nothing to do with the song whatsoever; in fact it probably would have been better without the actual vocal verses!
There are some better-quality recordings included towards the end; the version of Livestock with Valentines singer Vince Lovegrove on vocals is possibly clearer even that the original, and Lovegrove also appears on the very Bob Dylan-inspired Rented Room Blues.
There is more good news for Fraternity fans; if the thick booklet is not enough, Victor Marshall’s comprehensive biography of the band Fraternity is also due for release in March. Four years in the making, it includes an absolute avalanche of historical info, plus recent interviews with all surviving members of the band. Perhaps more importantly, it has the band’s nod of approval. It’s about time they gained some attention.