Esoteric Recordings continue their trawl along the Marianas Trench of what was simply known as the “underground” music scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s with this album by a band so obscure, even I had never heard of them before. For once I can’t accuse Esoteric of raiding my record collection!
9:30 Fly were, according to leader and songwriter Mike Wainwright “big in Gloucester”, which probably tells you all you need to know as an indication of their visibility to the wider rock audience of the time. A fixture on the bottom of bills in the early ’70s, they got their chance to record their one and only album at the renowned Rockfield Studios in deepest Wales when they were signed by the fledgling Ember record label. Mike says that Ember boss Jeff Kruger told them “I’m gonna make you as big as Elton John”, the Watford ivory tinkler then enjoying the first flush of impending mega-stardom. On hearing this Mike says “I knew we were in trouble”. This little extract comes from Sid Smith’s informative and entertaining essay in the CD booklet.
Mike’s songs are based around his rather existential and somewhat bleak poetry-as-lyrics, and the music is an odd but winning combination of baroque pop and garage-psych guitar playing. Coupled with the rudimentary stereo production and a very “hippy” vibe, this gives the whole thing a very ’60s feel, which in 1972 when it came out must have meant it sounded ancient and tragically unhip, as Van der Graaf Generator or Yes this certainly isn’t, and it is probably why the fly instantly got stuck in the web of time and devoured by the spider of fashion. Sorry, that was an irresistible metaphor!
That’s not to say the album is without merit, curio out of time as it may be. Lyn Oakey’s guitar playing is a highlight, and he contributes some fine leads on a fair few of these songs. In places this album has a similar pysch-lite feel to label mates Blonde on Blonde, but it lacks the accomplishment of that band to these ears.
The production, by ex-Amen Corner sax player Mike Smith is, as I have hinted at already, somewhat basic. The simple stereo panning apart, Barbara Wainwright’s decidedly non-virtuoso electric piano is often too high in the mix, and the drums too low. Mrs Wainwright, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the recording, turns in the vocal highlight of the record on the curiously sectional Mr. 509, which sounds like two songs cut and pasted together in alternate sections, although once you get used to it, it is actually a fine piece of work.
Even stranger is the abrupt ending of the following Brooklyn Thoughts, which one is tempted to think happens because they couldn’t afford any more tape. It was probably planned, but it is a jarring ending to an otherwise decent song.
This may not be one of Esoteric’s more essential trawls through rock’s soft white underbelly, but kudos to Mark Powell and the gang for continuing to unearth these antiques for us all to wonder at.
01. Life and Times (5:12)
02. Summer Days (5:47)
03. September (2:44)
04. Unhinged (6:31)
05. Mr. 509 (7:24)
06. Brooklyn Thoughts (3:39)
07. Time of War (8:50)
~ Bonus tracks:
08. Song for L.A. (4:02)
09. September (first mix (2:50)
Total Time – 47:03
Michael Wainwright – Lead Vocals
Barbara Wainwright – Vocals, Electric Piano
Lyn Oakey – Guitar
Gary Charman – Bass
Mike Clark – Drums
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2566
Year Of Release: 2017
9:30 Fly – Cherry Red Product Page