The marvellous cross-genre Leicester band Family had a U.K. hit earlier in the same year Looking On was released called Strange Band, which certainly applied to them, but could also have been just as easily a theme tune for The Move, from the other side of the English region known as the Midlands.
The Move were formed in Birmingham by Roy Wood in 1965 as a showcase for some of the region’s finest musicians, and they went on to wander through a maze of publicity stunts orchestrated by their slightly bonkers manager Tony Secunda, which included smashing up equipment and taking axes to TV sets on stage, and signing contracts on the back of a topless model, as well as being the group behind the 1967 single Flowers In The Rain, the very first song to be played on pirate-busting BBC Radio 1.
Initially they were primarily a singles band as the album as an art form had yet to find its place in popular culture. By 1968 they had released their self-titled debut LP, full of Roy Wood originals, and it was their only long player to chart. This was followed in February 1970 by the quite strange and definitely psychedelic Shazam, which contained a mere six tracks, four of which were over seven minutes long. Side one was all Wood originals, and side two all covers, mostly unusual choices, in a kind of U.K. parallel to Vanilla Fudge. Essentially their 1969 live act put on tape, it showed the schizophrenic nature of the band, who veered from rock gigs to the cabaret circuit and back again, symptomatic perhaps of a group that didn’t quite know where they were going.
After that, singer Carl Wayne left, and the band also parted company with their record label Regal Zonophone, and ditched manager Secunda for the fearsome Don Arden. By this time Wood was already plotting with his mate Jeff Lynne to create a rock/classical orchestra. This is where the tale gets really confusing. Lynne joined The Move and taking the band off the road, and glad to have another songwriter in the band, Wood and his new bandmate Lynne used the Looking On sessions to experiment, using them to start recording what would eventually become ELO’s first (and best in my ‘umble opinion) album. They didn’t forget about The Move though, and in 1970 recorded a heavy stompin’ beast of an LP in Looking On that practically invented the glam stomp, and allied to Wood’s eclectic instrumentation and Lynne’s knack for a melody it stands up today as both a marker for the era to follow and as something quite separate from the nascent heavy metal and hard rock that surrounded it. Wood also started making TV appearances in glitter make-up, appearing in the grease paint without first telling the band to promote the appropriately lumbering Lady Madonna-on-bombers that was Brontosaurus on the BBC’s Top of the Pops programme. Who said Marc Bolan invented glam rock?
Looking On kicks off with the near eight-minute title track, which starts in typical glam-stomping bass-heavy Move fashion before decamping in a second half that delves into psychedelia courtesy of Wood’s sitar, cello and sax, this part sounding not unlike what would eventually unfurl on the band’s final album as The Words of Aaron.
Next up is the lumpen 12-bar of Turkish Tram Conductor Blues, another prescient number that could easily be Wizzard, and evidence of Bev Bevan’s contention that Looking On was “plodding” – harsh, but in this particular instance, probably fair. Then comes the first of two Jeff Lynne compositions on the record, an epic number by the name of What? Containing some instantly recognisable Lynne motifs, it is yet another song pointing at the future.
The story continues… In December 1970 as a contractual obligation to their publishing company Looking On was released on the Fly record label, ironically also home to one T Rex. The by then remaining trio of Wood, Lynne and Bevan – bassist Rick Price left when told he had no part in ELO – thought they were now free to continue with the ELO project. Not quite…EMI’s hip subsidiary Harvest Records liked the idea of ELO, but hoping, vainly as it turned out, to offset costs insisted that they record one last album as The Move. That LP was the proto-ELO album Message From The Country, released a mere two months prior to ELO’s debut album and a fine record it is too, coincidentally one my earliest LP purchases as a pre-teen budding vinyl addict.
The two CDs of this reissue are contained within a tri fold-out box which is sumptuously presented, with a poster containing articles from the “inkies” of the day, and Mark Paytress’ comprehensive notes in a thick booklet. The second disc of this set is marvellously evocative, featuring out-takes, a U.S. radio-edit mono version of Brontosaurus, but most interestingly two previously unreleased BBC sessions from 1970, including interviews with Bevan and Wood. The first was recorded in March, the second in July, both from Top of the Pops, hosted by Brian Matthew according to the booklet, although in places it sounds very like Tony Blackburn to me, at least in the introduction – more likely both were involved. Whoever it is digs the band’s “new heavy sound”, likening them to Juicy Lucy. Presumably this was from the show’s short-lived “featured band” section, although no further info is given in the notes. The highlight for me is a storming barrelhouse take of the bluesy When Alice Comes Back To The Farm that surpasses the album version.
Looking On by The Move while not an essential album in its own right, nor even the best LP by The Move, is an important part of rock history in that it second-guesses an entire pop genre, not to mention birthing the sonic templates of the two bands its prime movers would later be known for. Esoteric Recordings continue to show that no-one can touch them in the archival reissue business, and long may it continue.
CD 1 – Looking On
01. Looking On (7:50)
02. Turkish Tram Conductor Blues (4:49)
03. What? (6:43)
04. When Alice Comes Back To The Farm (3:44)
05. Open Up Said The World At The Door (7:15)
06. Brontosaurus (4:27)
07. Feel Too Good (9:38)
~ Bonus track:
08. Lightnin’ Never Strikes Twice (single B-side) (3:13)
Total time – 47:44
CD 2 – Out-takes & Rarities
01. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Lettuce (1:29)
02. Looking On (9:07)
03. Brontosaurus (3:17)
04. Turkish Tram Conductor Blues (4:50)
05. She’s A Woman (3:20)
06. Bev Bevan Interview (1:41)
07. Brontosaurus (4:08)
08. Falling Forever (2:51)
09. Lightnin’ Never Strikes Twice (2:43)
10. Looking On (3:20)
11. When Alice Comes Back To The Farm (3:57)
12. Bev Bevan & Roy Wood Interview (2:49)
13. She’s A Woman (3:29)
Total time – 47:06
Roy Wood – Oboe, Sitar, Slide Guitar, Cello, Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitar, Piano, Vocals, Percussion & Drums (on Feel Too Good)
Rick Price – Bass
Bev Bevan – Drums & Percussion
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 22547
Year of Release: 2016
The Move – Cherry Red Product Page