Audience – Audience
Esoteric Recordings, go to label of choice for the rock history connoisseur, continue mining the rich seam of underground music from the end of the 60s and the early 70s with these two fine albums from the oft overlooked band Audience.
Evolving from a blues/soul group formed by Howard Werth in 1963, Audience’s first gig at the Marquee in 1968 was followed a mere six weeks later with signing for Polydor and the recording of their self-titled debut album. As Sid Smith’s comprehensive essay in the liner notes attests, even by the fast changing standards of the time that was pretty darned quick!
Although Audience loosely fall under the early “progressive rock” banner, much like Family their sound is based on R’n’B, pop, folk, and jazz, with a slightly smaller serving of acid rock than their marvellous Leicester soulmates. Again like Family, Audience are blessed with a highly distinctive vocalist. Howard Werth, while not as out there as Roger Chapman, has a wonderfully expressive nasal voice that adds just the right amount of individuality to proceedings without ever being grating.
What is noticeable from the line up is that there is no lead guitar in the band, something that was more common in that era than you might first imagine. The songs all came together quickly and unlike a lot of debut albums, given the short timeframe of the collective’s existence as Audience, the LP was not simply a recording of songs from a long-time performed live set. Oddly enough the only old song to be found here was House on the Hill, the lyrics originally written by bassist Trevor Williams for a previous group and re-written for the album. I say “oddly”, because a longer version would later become the title track of the band’s probably best known album. I prefer this version where brevity and a looser, more jazz based arrangement make it more listenable somehow.
Opening with the swinging Banquet, one is immediately struck by the up close and personal mix, some lovely picking from Howard’s electric nylon string guitar melding with Keith Gemmell’s sax, a combination that is the signature sound of the band. Gemmell also plays flute and clarinet, the former a feature of the pastoral ballad Poet. The melody to Waverley Stage Coach in combination with Howard’s keening vocals gives it the feel of a Dylan song from the period.
Much of the album has that Traffic “getting it together in the country” vibe, although it was all recorded in London, at Morgan Studios, located in the decidedly unpastoral Willesden. No cardboard cows were used, either! With every song under five minutes long, most well under, the album has a punchy impact that prevents one’s attention from wandering. River Boat Song, quite remarkably given that it is a tad short of three minutes in length, is a sectional story in a pop song, an offering of the sort that The Kinks were so good at.
All the songs were written by Howard Werth, mostly in combination with Trevor Williams, with three of the songs co-written with reeds player Keith Gemmell. Gemmell is the instrumental star of the record with his sax breaks in particular, some put through effects modules, bringing a nice variety to the sound. Too Late I’m Gone sounds like an R’n’B vaudeville version of a Family tune, and the two bands definitely share some inspiration.
Audience is a thoroughly entertaining listen, and a snippet from an era of burgeoning musical expansion that will never be repeated.
As was the case with a lot of new bands from that restless time at the end of the sixties, Audience’s debut album got little to no promotion from the label and arrived and sank without trace, and was swiftly deleted within months of being released making it one of the collectables of the era. As a result, a mere ten months after forming Audience were a band with a growing live reputation, a debut album recorded and released, but no label. Spotted supporting Led Zeppelin at The Lyceum in October 1969, Tony Stratton-Smith rides over the hill…well, okay, walks over from the bar to the rescue!
01. Banquet (3:35)
02. Poet (3:04)
03. Waverley Stage Coach (2:58)
04. River Boat Queen (2:58)
05. Harlequin (2:36)
06. Heaven Was an Island (4:18)
07. Too Late I’m Gone (2:37)
08. Maiden’s Cry (4:43)
09. Pleasant Convalescence (2:29)
10. Leave it Unsaid (4:09)
11. Man on Box (3:05)
12. House on the Hill (4:09)
~ Bonus tracks:
13. Paper Round (3:42)
14. The Going Song (1:41)
15. Troubles (1:25)
Total time – 47:34
Howard Alexander Werth – Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Keith Gemmell – Flute, Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet
Trevor Williams – Bass Guitar
Tony Connor – Drums
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2494
Year Of Release: 2015
Audience – Friend’s Friend’s Friend
Often the forgotten band of Tony Stratton-Smith’s Charisma label, Audience was Smith’s second signing to the vehicle initially set up to release Van der Graaf Generator’s output. With company like VdGG and Genesis, it’s easy to see why Howard Werth’s quirky and individualistic band became something of a footnote in that explosive era of creativity on the old “pink scroll” label from the late 60s through to the early 70s. This was an era that gave birth to such a wide range of sounds at such a rate journalists simply described it all as “underground” music. Then the major labels got wind of it, and some scribe somewhere nicked the “progressive jazz” description and adopted it to rock music, and thereafter followed the long, convoluted, and ceaseless evolution of pigeonholing.
With their second album, released in May 1970, the band had certainly developed from their swift beginnings, and with Friend’s Friend’s Friend, an album title probably mispronounced more than any other, they serve up a heady stew of music, garnished with a healthy portion of growing confidence, both in the writing and the execution.
Perhaps inspired by Stratton-Smith, whose age and enthusiasm for new sounds was similar to the bands he signed to his label, the group stretch out on their second LP, and tunes like The Raid and Priestess take their opportunities with relish. The long two chord outro to The Raid features some marvellous sax playing from Keith Gemmell with a space rock vibe that Nik Turner would soon take up with Hawkwind. Thus the group’s pop instincts are married to looser, more improvised sounds, a thrilling combination that must have sounded even better live.
With a grand mix of styles, ranging from the poppy Belladonna Moonshine, to the aforementioned extrapolations of The Raid, to the faux-classical clarinet showcase Ebony Variations, the album is a showcase for the band’s talents, but perhaps a little unfocussed as a result.
Sid Smith’s interview with Werth in his booklet essay allows the group leader’s sense of humour to shine through. Describing Ebony Variations, Werth says it “was based on Mozart’s clarinet concerto which we buggered up totally. We used to say ‘now this is how he should have done it.’” Marvellous!
Unhappy with the producer they were assigned – Shel Talmy of The Kinks fame, amongst others – the band eventually produced the album themselves. The sound while fine is improved upon in the 1971 remixes made by Gus Dudgeon, which are included here for the first time. Unfortunately, no mention as to why these were done is made in the booklet, but one can only assume a re-release was planned after their ever growing live reputation, particularly in Italy provided the possibility of a larger record buying fanbase. Friend’s Friend’s Friend did not fare well commercially, but moderate success was around the corner with Audience’s third waxing, the more widely known House On The Hill.
01. Nothing You Can Do (4:39)
02. Belladonna Moonshine (2:43)
03. It Brings A Tear (2:54)
04. The Raid (8:46)
05. Right On Their Side (5:27)
06. Ebony Variations (5:29)
07. Priestess (6:23)
08. Friend’s Friend’s Friend (3:32)
~ Bonus tracks:
09. The Big Spell (single B side) (3:04)
10. Nothing You Can Do (4:38)
11. Belladonna Moonshine (2:40)
12. It Brings A Tear (2:55)
13. The Raid (8:44)
14. Ebony Variations (5:28)
15. Priestess (6:14)
(Tracks 10 to 15 – 1971 remix by Gus Dudgeon)
Total time – 73:42
Howard Werth – Acoustic Guitar, Banjo, Lead Vocals
Keith Gemmell – Saxes, All Woodwind
Tony Connor – Drums, Percussion, Piano
Trevor Williams – Bass Guitar, Vocals
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2499
Year Of Release: 2015