Thursday, 14 July 2011

As Above...So Below

I thought I would share something a bit different with you today. Something that, strictly speaking, doesn't fit in with the vinyl-centric format of my blog, but deserves a wider audience nevertheless. 

Back in 1981, a full year before Marillion released their debut single, a Hertfordshire-based progressive rock band who went by the name of As Above...So Below produced a demo tape and secured a session on Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio 1. When this was later repeated, I recall Tommy Vance commenting that he'd received more requests for a repeat airing of that particular session than any other in the history of the show. It seems a shame then that As Above...So Below weren't able to capitalise on the interest their session garnered and to share in the success that Marillion, Pallas, IQ et al enjoyed as participants in the early 1980s' new wave of progressive rock. I count myself fortunate to have a copy of the aforementioned demo, but my recording of their Friday Rock Show session has long since gone A.W.O.L. I would love a copy if anyone out there has a tape of it lurking in the back of a drawer somewhere.

I am particularly fond of this band as guitarist Robin Hodge, or 'Mr Hodge' as I knew him, was my school teacher when I was nine years old. Undoubtedly he played a role in developing my love of music, introducing me to Harry Nilsson's The Point and playing guitar or classical piano pieces at morning assembly. In the drab 1970s it seemed very cool to have a guitar and piano-playing teacher with long hair, cowboy boots and a side-line in conjuring tricks as a member of the Magic Circle. The band benefited greatly from the experience that Robin's brother, Phil, had acquired as a member of Steve Hillage's band, having played at some of the shows captured on the Live Herald album. To my ears he has a decidedly Tony Banks-like quality to his keyboard playing, whilst Robin's guitar playing is at times reminiscent of Camel's Andy Latimer or Marillion's Steven Rothery. 

Robin Hodge bottom left with brother Phil behind him
The band would perhaps have benefited from a stronger vocalist, someone with the charisma and lyrical bite of Fish or Peter Gabriel, but that aside, they had everything going for them. If you can find so much as a mention of As Above...So Below elsewhere on the internet, then I take my hat off to you. The brief flurry of interest that their radio session provoked seems to have been erased from the collective memory of Tommy Vance's listeners. Here's Fade Out, the lead off track from the demo. I hope you enjoy what you hear. I would be delighted to post the other tracks if anyone wants to hear more.

UPDATE: 9th August 2012

Seeing as there has been such interest generated by this post, including a response from As Above...So Below's bass player, Charlie Noble, I thought it was about time I posted the band's demo in its entirety. And, for those of you who haven't found it hidden away in the comments section, here's a link to that Friday Rock Show session:


Thursday, 7 July 2011

Don't Give Up The Day Job...

I have this mental image of branches of McDonalds throughout California being staffed almost exclusively by one-time members of also-ran Hair Metal bands. For every Motley Crue and Ratt there was a Roxx Gang, an Odin, a Hans Naughty, a Tuff or a Pair-A-Dice. 

"Do you want fries with that?"
There's a typically uncomfortable scene in Penelope Spheeris' Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, where an emotionally overwrought Randy 'O' insists that Odin will make it, no two ways about it, they will make it. They didn't. Not all would-be rock stars are like Brian May, guitar god and astrophysicist, they don't have a back-up plan if things don't work out. I suppose there's much to be said for the motivating influence afforded by having nothing to lose. An unfinished PhD thesis might act as a distraction to an aspiring rock god, causing him to lose focus. How many years would you want to spend schlepping up and down the M1 in a Transit van between gigs to play to one man and his dog when you know you could be curled up with a book in the university library? Thankfully, the corporate headhunters weren't clamouring to recruit ex-jailbird and abattoir worker Ozzy Osbourne, allowing him to concentrate on fronting Black Sabbath with his beautiful, plaintive bellow.

Some musicians manage to maintain a day job alongside the rock 'n' roll fantasy: Bruce Dickinson flies Jumbo Jets, Coldplay create cures for insomnia, Ronnie Wood has his art, Roger Daltrey has a pond full of trout, and Gary Glitter is always keen to babysit. Ron Chenier of Myofist (known as 'Fist' in their native Canada) has perhaps the most fascinating parallel career of all: he travels back in time to the Middle Ages to work as a blacksmith. I think it's wonderful that back in the Fifteenth Century Ron forges metal and then hops forward to 1980 to do the same thing in a musical context. And, the Medieval togs work beautifully in both situations.


 Their rather prosaic attire attests to the fact that Ron's bandmates don't have such exotic extracurricular pastimes. A bit of a shame because, despite having stolen the tassles from the handlebars of a little girl's bike to adorn his wrists, I think he's really onto something here. Clearly Manowar thought so because they stole his look wholesale. And added some baby oil.

More 'Manilow' than 'Manowar'

Revolting Hawaiian shirts and banana-hued leisure suits aside, Myofist are a band for whom I have a real soft spot. Their Hot Spikes LP from 1980 is a particular favourite.

It has a lively, infectious, quirky production which lends the tracks a joyful immediacy that always puts a smile on my face. The production techniques seem to anticipate those that came to dominate the 1980s without making the album sound hopelessly dated like so many records of that era. Containing elements of heavy rock, new wave and powerpop, stylistically, Hot Spikes is a tough one to pin down, but who cares, I want to listen to it, not file it. Having said that, see what you think of the title track: I hear a suggestion of Bachman Turner Overdrive's Not Fragile filtered through ZZ Top's Eliminator.