November 9, 2022

It was Blood Sweat And Tears who started it off. Not that they were the first jazz/rock fusion band, or the first rock band to include horns in their main line-up, but they were having massive success in 1969, their single Spinning Wheel going to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in July of that year. At the time, brilliant British jazz saxophonist and flautist Dick Morrissey was playing in a band managed by American Lew Futterman, who pitched the idea to him of forming a band along similar lines to BS&T. Well, Dick knew guitarist Terry Smith, Terry knew another sax player named Dave Quincy, and Dave knew a singer named John William Hodkinson. The four of them got together under Futterman’s management and formed one of the most influential jazz/rock combos ever to come out of the UK. They were named IF, often capitalised to avoid the tiny name simply being lost or dismissed as a typing error.

However, they were all soloists, and ideally they needed a band. So with the addition of a drummer, bassist and keyboard player, the 7-piece released their eponymous first album in October 1970. It was a band of brilliant musicians who, by all reports, got on famously well, and they were soon making regular radio and TV appearances for the BBC. They recorded four albums in rapid succession, and versions of songs from all of them are featured on a new, superb, double-CD release named simply, If Live At The BBC.

Left: JW Hodkinson, right: Dick Morrissey (photos from booklet insert)

The collection opens, fairly unexpectedly, with the voice of Dave Lee Travis introducing them on his show in May 1970, at which they played the opening song from their debut album, I’m Reaching Out On All Sides, a riffy, funky jazz number in 7-8 time. This is followed by three songs from the John Peel Sunday Concert: the hippy pop-rock of The Promised Land, featuring an excellent organ solo from keyboardist John Mealing, then I’m Reaching Out on All Sides again, finishing with the enigmatically-named What Did I Say About The Box, Jack? This is a 15-minute fusion jam, morphing though sections featuring each instrumental soloist, all underpinned by some magical jazz drumming from the brilliant Dennis Elliott. Kudos too, to Jim Richardson, whose rocking bass riffage introduces and lays the groundwork for most of the sections. The playing is faultless and the production superb, and that track title hints at the humour that often underlies the music, notwithstanding its scholarly nature.

We are still with the first album up to track 5, a rendition for Sounds Of The 70s of What Can A Friend Say, which fades in after the number starts, for some undisclosed reason. Sounds Of The 70s returns for the next section, four tracks recorded in January 1971 and taken from the second album (the rather unimaginatively named IF 2): the energetically brilliant Your City Is Falling, the more sedate I Couldn’t Write And Tell You, and then a tremendous rendition of the flamenco-inspired Sunday Sad. This builds into a frenetic wig-out with some manic wah pedal work, before suddenly changing into a completely different, fast jam with another great organ solo. This session finishes with the rapid, almost rap vocal work of Tarmac T. Pirate And The Lonesome Nymphomaniac. It’s something of a showcase for JW Hodkinson’s vocals, with a series of key changes, and a set of lyrics that have nothing to do with any lonesome maniacs of any kind, and don’t mention tarmac or pirates. At least the word Nymphomaniac is spelled correctly on this compilation; the original album had it as Nymphoniac, which I always found confusing in my days as a young IF fan.

Left: Terry Smith, right: Dave Quincy (photos from booklet insert)

CD2 brings us up to the third album (named IF 3 of course), starting with the ominously paranoid Upstairs, a tongue-in-cheek description of the travails of someone who is phobic about going upstairs, followed by the ballad Sweet January. Then we have the rocking Forgotten Roads, with its thick, overdriven guitar tone and feedback-sustained notes. This track rocks like the blazes, with some great guitar work, then the session concludes with the complex instrumental Fibonacci’s Number, (mathematical joke there folks), which is mostly in 10-8 time, but drifts into 6-8 for the flute solo.

Even though the next two songs are listed as Sounds Of The 70s, they are both coupled with spoken introductions identifying the programme as Top Of The Pops, not a usual platform for jazz fusion bands by any means. Nevertheless, the first is an amusing ditty about a superhero named Seldom Seen Sam, and the second is the melodic pop/rock song Far Beyond, both from IF 3. The compilation closes with a four-song Radio 1 In Concert from July 1972, starting with The Light Still Shines, an up-tempo rock jam from the predictably-named IF 4 (although a revised version was released in the US under the name Waterfall), showcasing some vocal acrobatics from Hodkinson and a great soprano sax solo from Morrissey. A revised version of What Did I Say About The Box Jack? follows, a mere 8½ minutes this time. The band was down to a six-piece by now, with a replacement drummer and bassist, and Quincy doubling on piano. The set is rounded off by the tuneful Latino rock of Waterfall, also from IF 4, and concluded by an audience clap-along version of Seldom Seen Sam.

Sadly, the classic line-up folded after a bare two years, not because of the usual ‘artistic differences’ or drug-fuelled in-fighting, but because Dick Morrissey was taken gravely ill after a European tour in 1972, and had to be rushed into hospital. The rest of the band formed side-projects during the hiatus, and by the time Dick was well enough to play again, there was no band. Dick actually reformed IF with a totally different line-up, and they went on to record three more albums, but no recordings of this outfit are featured on this new compilation. The genre they helped to define, variously namely jazz/rock, or jazz/rock fusion, or simply fusion, was always a bit of a niche market, and even though traditional prog rock has had a welcome renaissance in recent years, IF’s brand of progressive jazz has been languishing in the shadows for far too long. Morrissey went on to some commercial success as half of the 1980s duo Morrissey-Mullen, but never recovered fully from the pancreatic troubles that shut down the original band, and passed away in 2000 at the age of 60. Singer JW Hodkinson also died in 2013 at the age of 70, so it came down to Terry Smith and Dave Quincy to supply the interviews, incorporated by Chris Welch into the marvellous historical sleeve notes that accompany the set. They make for a great read, and the two CDs make for a great listen, aided and abetted by the surreal lyrics of TV scriptwriter and IF collaborator Trevor Preston. Go on, give it a listen, and catch the moth of life that once did flutter.

Left to right: Dave Quincy, Dick Morrissey, Terry Smith, JW Hodkinson, Dennis Elliott, John Mealing, Jim Richardson (photo from booklet insert)