January 18, 2023

Quite frankly, this should have been released 50 years ago…

Looking back through the mists of time to the catalogue of the inventive and original Jade Warrior, there has always been a clear distinction between the two phases of their early career. The first three albums recorded for the Vertigo record label were a melting pot of heavy psychedelia, folk, world music, and jazz fusion. The dreamier, exotic style they drifted into following their move to Island records is what they gradually became more known for, with albums like Floating World, Waves, and Kites bearing an altogether more relaxed sound, like lengthy musical landscapes infused with whispers of the far East. But what if there was a bridge between the two eras?

Well, as you may or may not know, there is. It first sprung up a quarter century ago, when the band’s ‘lost’ recordings from 1973 were released (with little fanfare) in the form of two separate archival albums titled Eclipse and Fifth Element. These were later reissued but failed to remain in print. Now, all fifteen tracks have been compiled into one complete package. Eclipse & Fifth Element: The 1973 Recordings is due 27 January on Esoteric Recordings, remastered from the original master tapes with fully restored artwork and a newly penned essay from Steve Pilkington.

‘Lost’ recordings are actually not uncommon, but can be of murky origins. How do full albums get recorded but then shelved or even scrapped altogether? That’s a lot of work to put in only to have the tapes go unheard for decades, collecting dust in some creaky old attic. But every band has their own unique tale to tell regarding such circumstances (although it’s fair to say that stubbornness on the part of record execs or musicians – or both – is often to blame). In Jade Warrior’s case, it’s a little from both columns. Despite having recorded enough material for two new studio albums, they were unceremoniously dropped by Vertigo, a move which happened to coincide with the internal band disagreements which led to their split. Two of the members (multi-instrumentalists Jon Field and Tony Duhig) were picked up by Island, who urged the duo to stick to instrumental music. The second, more mystical chapter in the Jade Warrior story was soon underway, leaving the recent music recorded with departing bassist and vocalist Glyn Havard frozen in limbo, apart from a couple of songs appearing on a dodgy 1979 compilation LP (on… erm, ‘Butt’ Records, if that’s any indication of the quality of that platter).

Fans of the earlier part of the band’s catalogue probably stand the most to gain from these lost recordings, but there’s a wider appeal found in the varied nature of the tracks. Field’s curiously titled On the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers, for example, is entirely instrumental with a jazzy flair, and seems to straddle the line between the Vertigo and Island eras. The gentle, reflective We Are the One begins as a lovely flute-based piece with naive lyrics that are more charming than eye-rolling. Acoustic ballads shine, like the leisurely, wistful English Morning and the pretty Annie, an open letter to an imagined character. Turning 180 degrees from those is the sprightly and Santana-ish Yam Jam, which wouldn’t have been out of place on those early Jade Warrior albums.

Heavy rock is no stranger either, with the attitude-laden Too Many Heroes pinballing between mean riffs and squealing solos, and the vocals in Holy Roller giving off major vibes of Gong’s Daevid Allen. Noisy guitar weaves in and out of the unusual and sometimes Jethro Tull-like Have You Ever, whereas the oddball arrangement to Soldier Song finds the guitar balanced by chimes, hypnotic percussion, and bizarre chanting. The jammy instrumental Sanga and the groovin’ Discotechnique are further favourites which boast tasty percussion in that inimitable Jade style. The ‘far out’ centrepieces of the collection are surely the two eight minute mini-epics: the African-tinged Mwenga Sketch showcases fiery drums and frenzied guitar, and the relentless drone of House of Dreams finally explodes like the aural equivalent of getting hit by a bus whilst daydreaming.

Let’s be honest: archival releases can often reek of cash grabs and be padded with sub-par recordings and half-hearted attention to detail. I’m sure I’m not alone in being disappointed on more than one occasion as I quickly realize why some recordings languished in the bin for years. But this is not one of those releases. There’s nothing bottom-of-the-barrel here, in fact much of this material is every bit as strong as what came immediately before and after, and quite frankly it all should have been released 50 years ago. It’s a shame these haven’t garnered the attention the other albums have had all these years, but perhaps that will change now that these pieces have made their way back into circulation for a new crop of listeners. Speaking as a fan of both eras of the band, I can honestly say this collection is highly worth owning. A bridge indeed, but not a bridge too far.