October 24, 2021

Stackridge never lost the twinkle in their collective eyes while delivering some absolute musical jewels, and they should be celebrated. Perhaps this set might help right that oversight! Now, excuse me while I return to the saga of Syracuse The Elephant again…

I am fairly that sure I can’t be the only person of a particular vintage becoming depressingly aware of my own age and mortality when faced with the sheer amount of ’50th anniversary’ releases coming along at the moment! Almost every time it’s a case of throwing my arms aloft in despair and appealing to the heavens: ‘How on earth can this be half a century old?? I remember buying it not long after it came out!’ That’s not quite the case with this compilation of über-quirky, genre-defying cult band Stackridge, as I didn’t encounter their output until the 1970s were in the rear view mirror, but the principle is still there. Some will be aware that the band morphed into The Korgis in 1979 after the initial Stackridge split, hitting big with the singles If I Had You and Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime. What is startling is that even those records, which seem like virtually yesterday, are now themselves over forty years old! The passage of time is a cruel mistress, without doubt – but happily that is where this collection comes in very handy, because one of the defining things about Stackridge’s otherwise indefinable repertoire is that they cannot fail to put a smile on the most jaded face. Even this one!

This three-CD collection contains two studio discs compiled from across the band’s career, both in the ’70s and including their post-millennial reformation. A third disc consists of live recordings from the final show of their last ever tour, fittingly dubbed ‘The Final Bow Tour’, in 2015. A track called Overture, which was recorded specifically as an introductory piece to be played before live shows, has never previously appeared on an official release – thus technically enabling the slightly tenuous ‘2021’ part of the album title! The tracks on the first two discs are not in chronological order, which will probably be disapproved of by some, but it is testament to the constant ability of the band to hop from style to style within each release that it is hard to distinguish the different eras of their catalogue for the most part. It all has that ‘Stackridge Stamp’ on it.

As an overall catchment term, this goes under the ‘prog rock’ umbrella, without doubt, and indeed there are a number of pieces here which hit that brief square in the face as the band conjure some brilliantly constructed mini-epics in that vein. Fish In A Glass, the wonderfully titled No-One’s More Important Than The Earthworm (written by King Crimson’s Gordon Haskell), the utterly sublime Coniston Water and the not-as novelty-as-you-think Purple Spaceships Over Yatton are all great examples of the band on all cylinders in that mode. But elsewhere there are liberal slices of tremendously ‘English’ humour with the likes of the classic ‘dance craze parody’ Do The Stanley and the ode to chickens which is Keep On Clucking, while a streak of ‘music hall’ jollity hangs over quite a few tracks. God Speed The Plough is virtually an orchestral piece, of great quality, Dancing On Air is pure Fred Astaire, and there is deceptively inspired songwriting quality in the likes of Friendliness (Part 1), Pinafore Days, The Last Plimsoll and Highbury Incident. The live ‘fantasy’ piece Slark is rollicking prog fun, while the closing song The Last Bow is extremely poignant. Who else but Stackridge, however, could go from a moving piece like that to something called Pocket Billiards without batting an eyelid?

One thing often overlooked about the band is their uncanny ability to pen a brilliant pop melody – something which makes The Korgis an entirely logical and understandable project to undertake. The 2009 post-reunion song Something About The Beatles is astonishingly catchy, but without ever becoming irritable with it, and is one of the best pure pop songs I have ever heard in my five decades of voraciously consuming music. It’s that good, it really should be more well known. Similarly brilliant in a pop/rock vein are The Road To Venezuela, Boots And Shoes and their first ever single release – predating the children’s character by several decades you will note – the irresistible Dora The Female Explorer.

It isn’t all wall-to-wall triumph, of course – an approach as wildly scattergun as this will always produce misfires, and in all honesty I really don’t need The Galloping Gaucho or Percy The Penguin in my life at any point – but these are rare misses in an enormously enjoyable and often genuinely inspired collection. A mark would be docked for the packaging mind you – a nice visual design is marred by the infuriating lack of any information regarding what album (or single) each track was originally from, meaning an internet trawl is required to glean the information, when the otherwise detailed booklet or else the individual CD sleeves really should include that information as a matter of course. That gripe aside, this does a great job of shining the spotlight on one of the most unfairly overlooked of all English ‘progressive’ bands, and one of the few equally at home in their 1970s youth or their ‘elder statesmen’ 2000s guise. Stackridge never lost the twinkle in their collective eyes while delivering some absolute musical jewels, and they should be celebrated. Perhaps this set might help right that oversight! Now, excuse me while I return to the saga of Syracuse The Elephant again…