By now anyone taking an interest in the Esoteric release schedules will be pretty well acquainted with their knack of plucking bands from the ’70s which, somehow, despite your best efforts, slithered completely under your radar without you having a clue they had even been there. Hardly ever can that be better exemplified by the Global Village Trucking Company, a gang of musicians hailing from Suffolk (where they all lived and played in a communal house by the beach) before moving to Oxfordshire (another commune) and finally Norfolk, where they got a nice semi-detached house each…. No, of course they didn’t. It was another commune. Complete with a supporting cast of friends and general hangers-on. During the course of their ramshackle existence between 1972 and 1975, they somehow got it together sufficiently to play just short of 400 gigs – every single one of them in the UK! They also made successful efforts to hide from record companies, as they didn’t trust them – a tactic which resulted in the only recorded output released during the band’s lifetime being a single side on the Greasy Truckers – Live At Dingwall’s Dance Hall album, along with Camel, Gong and Henry Cow. In fact, the Camel and Global Village performances were the only ones actually recorded at that venue, as the show was so utterly shambolic that The Globs (as the booklet assures us they were known) went on four hours late after midnight, Henry Cow got their set cut to ten minutes and Gong didn’t even appear at all. Pretty good going when you have a 2 am curfew available, it has to be said! They did release a solitary studio album – titled Smiling Revolution – but by the time it came out the band had split up. The stuff that legends are made of, I’m sure many will agree. There was even a BBC documentary made about the band and their communal living in 1973 (with a follow-up in 2007), and still they managed to go unnoticed!
They have often been referred to as ‘the English Grateful Dead’, and indeed that title rings true in more than one way. Firstly, of course, their communal and generally stoned-and-couldn’t give-a-shit lifestyle immediately strikes a chord with the Dead, notwithstanding the fact that the latter seemed to release around 500 albums by contrast! Musically as well, there are similarities, via the rustic Americana that the Dead used to base their sets around, mixed in with some rambling space-jam sessions which somehow coalesced into something that worked. This is nicely mirrored by the rock, folk, blues and soul that The Globs (they’ve got me at it now!) similarly mixed into a homespun and entertaining brew. Like the Dead, however, gigs would often be a different matter, with songs suddenly and without warning being extended and turned inside out at the whim of their unpredictable creators. It’s fascinating stuff.
This set essentially contains everything they ever recorded – which isn’t a great deal, as it still fits on two CDs! The first disc houses the Smiling Revolution album itself, but here restored to its intended track-listing as opposed to the muddled result which originally appeared. Three tracks are added and two removed, though they turn up on the second disc, along with other unreleased recordings and the whole of that Greasy Truckers side. The original album is improved greatly by this, as two of the absolute highlights – the eight minute, proggy Skytrain and the beautiful closing track Down In The Lowlands – were originally omitted for some unfathomable reason. Elsewhere the opening On The Judgement Day (‘dancing on…’, in case you wondered) is astonishingly catchy and uplifting, and one of the great hit-singles-that-never-were of the decade, while the other semi-proggy track Small Change/Tall Story is another standout. Elsewhere there is a mix of styles which is sometimes a little too random for its own good, and excellent songs such as the title track rub shoulders with a couple of lesser efforts which should have made way for Skytrain first time out. There is incidentally a track with the magnificent title of The Inevitable Fate of Ms Danya Sox, and it’s hard not to love that!
The second disc sees a live version of a studio song which has been added to the main album, in place of which this live version which originally appeared (confused?) called Watch Out There’s A Mind About, which turns the eight minute studio recording into over twelve live minutes, with a new mid-section and a general much better delivery, which is a prime example of that Grateful Dead effect – but that isn’t the only highlight of this round-up disc. Much of what’s here is actually better than some of the stuff which ended up on the original album, with Look Into Me, Everybody Needs A Friend and the – again – brilliantly titled You’re A Floozy Madame Karma (But I Love Your Lowdown Ways) all being fine selections from the Greasy Truckers material. The only dud from that set is the rather feeble Earl Stonham (The Gunslinger), but even that has a great origin story, as it was dreamt up after they broke down in their van in a village called Earl Stonham while moving to Oxfordshire, and invented the character in the song as they spent the night in the freezing vehicle!
The story of the band is as interesting as the music, with friendships developing with all manner of pub-rock musicians, and also the likes of Steve Hillage, and indeed a couple of the band members are people you have heard even if you haven’t heard of them. There’s second bassist John McKenzie, who I remembered as the new member of Man, joining for the Welsh Connection album in 1976; he also went on to play with Hillage along with a host of other well known names, before passing away in 2020, and the set is dedicated to him. The band notably once played a gig at a venue so utterly horrendous that four out of the five members caught Hepatitis A. Meanwhile, keyboard player James Lascelles was a first cousin once removed of the Queen, the son of the seventh Earl Of Harewood, and in line to the throne at the time. You couldn’t make this stuff up! As an aficionado of the whole ’70s era, I simply love these Esoteric obscurities, and this one is absolutely no exception. You get two booklets, one with the story of the band and some tremendous photos, and the other with all of the lyrics, even the non-album and live tracks – plus a lovely fold-out four-panel digipak. A voyage of discovery, and no mistake…