This is an album which is gloriously and simultaneously barking mad, touched by genius and utterly, completely devoid of caring what people thought of it!
Regular readers of the weird and wonderful things often reviewed on these online pages may have observed your humble scribe commenting about the astonishing breadth of music appearing on record in the early part of the 1970s. Much as this may be a point already laboured at length, laboured it must be once again, as there is simply no other way to begin discussing this album from recently departed Fleetwood Mac leader and resident guitar genius Peter Green at the end of 1970. Another in the superlative series of semi-lost nuggets unearthed by the Esoteric vinyl-miners, this is an album which is gloriously and simultaneously barking mad, touched by genius and utterly, completely devoid of caring what people thought of it! There had been contractual obligation albums before, and there have been many more since, but there has rarely been one quite like this one. To this day, people who have heard this record are split into three camps: those who believe it is genius, those who believe it is hopeless and those who have no idea which opinion they may have on any given day. But let’s look at how, and why, this album came to be.
Peter Green performed his last show with Fleetwood Mac in May 1970. Burned out on a cocktail of hallucinogenics and latent mental health issues, he became, along with Syd Barrett, one of the poster-children for the ‘say no to drugs’ or ‘lost genius’ camps. Indeed, just as Barrett trotted out his disintegrating psyche for all to see on two somewhat disturbing post-Floyd albums before disappearing into a life of recluse, so Peter Green withdrew for a decade after this record, not reappearing until 1979’s In The Skies comeback, by which time he was enlisting the support of other guitarists and had arguably lost much of his original mojo. Back in mid-1970, however, Green was very much still in command of his muse – when he wanted to be. Most of the time, he didn’t, and so he simply didn’t play. Leaving Fleetwood Mac removed that pressure to deliver, but also left him owing the record company an album.He was annoyed by this insistence, and had no desire to toe the line, but by the same token was unwilling to record something bland and release it like so much pink fluff. Instead, he enlisted a temporary band and recorded a lengthy jam session. And by ‘temporary’, we are talking five hours. Even most line-ups of Yes have lasted longer than that!
The band (which included Zoot Money on piano, who also contributes fascinating reminiscences in the booklet notes) convened one night at 10pm, proceeded to play whatever the fancy led them to do – generally based on a loose riff or structure from Green – until 3am, and then left the studio never to play together again. Well, if you’re going to be spontaneous, do it properly. Green then edited the results down to six pieces of music, gave them titles, and delivered them to the good folk at Warner Brothers, who presumably had to be talked down off the ledge before they unleashed it on the waiting world. Large droves of that waiting world immediately returned their copies to beleagured record shops. This is not wholly surprising, as the more conservative of Fleetwood Mac listeners, hoping for ‘some more nice blues tunes by that Green fellow’ would have been befuddled entirely by what they got. Put simply, if you wanted another Oh Well, or Man Of The World, or even an Albatross, you wouldn’t find it here. But what you would find if you had the ears to hear it was an extraordinarily varied, adventurous and, yes, musicianly album, which these days is lauded in many quarters as a genuine lost masterpiece.
Every one of the six tracks are different in approach and style, which is surprising for a jam session, of which examples would often vamp on a simple blues scale for about two hours. The opener, Bottoms Up, is probably the most accessible track on offer, with some beautifully liquid guitar work from Green, scattered all over the loping rhythm. It’s immediate evidence that here is a man still operating at a high level. Elsewhere there are elements of modern jazz, avant-garde, driving rock and almost ambient work, with prime cuts being the serpentine Descending Scale, the jazz/rock collision course of Burnt Foot (who knows where that title came from) and the left-field yet appropriate closer End Of The Game itself. There are also four bonus tracks here, which are fascinating stuff, cut from a similar cloth. Heavy Heart and No Way Out are similar meandering instrumentals while Beast Of Burden and Uganda Woman are collaborations with singer Nigel Watson. These four tracks were the A and B sides of two singles, bizarrely enough, from 1971 and 1972 respectively, and we need not ask whether they troubled the chart compilers. However, Beast Of Burden in particular is a true lost gem, with a frankly disturbingly intense vocal from a wild-eyed Watson accompanied by terrifying squalls of guitar madness which sound as if Green is playing them through a thousand echo units from around a mile away. It’s quite possibly the best thing here.
The album when released was wrapped in a striking cover featuring the utterly and completely irrelevant imagery of a savagely roaring leopard and a lioness asleep on a tree branch. It couldn’t be any other way. Using something vaguely connected such as chess pieces would rob the album of the final piece of its unhinged charm. This is a contractual obligation album, yes. It was intended to annoy the life out of the record company, yes. But this is no Lou Reed Metal Machine Music fiasco. It is no Neil Young Weld holocaust. Neither is it a Bob Dylan Self Portrait farrago of twee nonsense. This was, and still is, brave music from a troubled yet inspired soul. You owe it to yourself to hear it at least once. It’s that sort of album.