Like most “underground” bands of the turn of the ’60s into the ’70s, Patto emerged butterfly-like from the chrysalis of an earlier pop group. Timebox were a band who specialised in dance-orientated Motown and R&B covers, and even had a minor hit with a cover of The Four Seasons’ Beggin’ in 1968. What made their transition into the world of long haired underground loon panted heaviosity stand out from the many other similar transformations happening all around them on the scene was their vibes player Ollie Halsall. When their guitarist quit, Ollie, who by all accounts was something of an intuitive musical savant, decided he would play the guitar, so he went from having never played the instrument in 1967 to the amazing tonal dexterity you can hear on these two albums. Practising relentlessly, his touring room-mate drummer John Halsey would be driven to distraction with Ollie’s endless “twiddling away”. In 1970 the keyboard player also quit, and after this gradual evolution, the new sound that was now fully formed gave itself a new name, and Patto, named after their singer Mike Patto, was born.
Ollie’s flights of fancy on the guitar are closer in feel to a jazz player like Charlie Parker than they are to a more traditional guitarist like Clapton, and the results are mesmerising. Halsey contends that as far as he was aware Ollie only had one LP, by jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, but other than that he has no idea where his mercurial playing came from. Ollie’s legato style was later brought to more prominence by the recently sadly departed Allan Holdsworth, and the two even played together briefly in Jon Hiseman’s Tempest, which must have been an amazing sight (and sound) for anyone lucky enough to have seen the peerless duo in action together. After Patto folded, Ollie and Mike Patto formed Boxer, and after that Ollie had a long stint as Kevin Ayers’ guitarist. Ollie passed on to the great gig in the sky in 1992, a victim of a heart attack brought on by the usual accumulation of rock’n’roll lifestyle excesses.
Patto – Patto
Ah, good old Esoteric, raiding my memories again…this self-titled album on the Vertigo “swirl” label was one of the first LPs I bought, maybe only a couple of years after its release. If you’ve read my reminiscing from this era before you will be aware of the fabled remainder bin in the dodgy budget supermarket where nearly all my early purchases came from, as a lad barely out of short trousers. Well, this was one of them, and it is without doubt one of the best on that legendary record label. It remains in my top twenty or so, all these many years later. I don’t know about “thirteen summers got left behind” – a quote from the feisty blues rocker Hold Me Back, the second track on this record – more like four decades and then some.
I know every note of this fabulous record backwards, it’s one those I can play from beginning to end in my head, note perfect. Opening with spacious and bluesy (but not blues) The Man, a track that builds and builds in intensity and anger, the frustration at “the biz” becoming ever more apparent in Mike Patto’s wracked voice, this album has an unbridled and unfettered atmosphere; you can tell the band was having a ball. The unique combination of Mike Patto’s wonderfully expressive R&B-honed macho yet sensitive voice, Ollie Halsall’s unfeasibly imaginative guitar playing and the dextrous rhythm section of “Admiral” John Halsey’s drums and Clive Griffiths’ melodic bass lines make for a combo that floats somewhere between straight blues-rock, jazz fusion, and seat of the pants improv, often flying off at tangents without warning, simply because they can.
The improv comes to the fore on Money Bag, a tight-but-loose affair on a shifting ground of esoteric time changes that defies gravity. According to Halsey from Sid Smith’s booklet essay, despite appearances, everything was meticulously counted out, so no matter how far out there Ollie got, he knew exactly when to return to Earth, and land on a sixpence with the rest of the band. This happens after six minutes, when the actual song starts. There was little else that sounded like this in 1970, in rock music at least.
As well as the full on jazz-inclined wigouts there are a lot of good songs on the record. Already mentioned, The Man is a mathematically precise jazz ballad of juxtaposed time signatures, but because of Mike Patto’s voice, it oozes humanity. Sitting Back Easy is almost Zep-like in the way it starts as a ballad and ends flying off the launch pad with a feral roar. Heck, just go listen for yourself! Ollie still played the vibes on a few tracks and their appearance at the end of Government Man for example lends the song a louche and smoky atmosphere.
The bonus tracks are not just filler either. Hanging Rope uses the same combination of jazz-improv and rock song as on Money Bag, and the rhythm section get loose in a way that gives the song a tremendous head-spinning quality, like being trapped inside a fast moving fractal. Ollie’s playing is out of this world, as I am sure you appreciate by now if you’ve read this far.
Patto – Hold Your Fire
Patto’s second album is a bit of a nugget amongst Vertigo swirl collectors, for with its elaborate sectional “Consequences” styled fold-out cover, finding one in anything better than “slightly knackered” condition – that’s “VG+” to the unscrupulous seller – is nigh on impossible, and daftly expensive should you be lucky enough to chance upon one. The cover was to feature the band’s own sketches on the delicate design, each member putting hours into their artistic noodlings, only for designer Roger Dean to either lose or throw them away! The band were, shall we say, dischuffed!
Collector’s obsessing and cover art niceties aside, Patto managed to up the ante from their blistering debut to record an album that shows a bunch of musicians at the top of their game, with the intimate understanding of each other’s playing that can only come from years on the road together. Ollie Halsall turns in a staggering display of dexterity, adaptability, and an instinctive melodic and harmonic nous that at the time had his contemporaries stooping to pick up their mandibles from the floor whenever they witnessed the shy genius at work. Alvin Lee in particular, whose band Ten Years After the boys supported on tour, was a big fan.
The band has honed its chops considerably, and a track like Give It All Away sums them up neatly. Starting as an R’n’B belter replete with honky-tonk piano, it doesn’t take long before time signature changes that your standard blues-based rock band would not imagine incorporating give the song a careening quality as it charges along. Ollie answers Mike’s storytelling lyrics with some fine curtailed lyrical fills. Then, not long after two minutes in, the tune leaves the orbit of The Faces playing with jazz rhythms to fly off at an oblique angle on the back of Ollie’s short but mesmerising solo before returning to Earth with a maniacal grin plastered across its fizzog.
Air Raid Shelter is this album’s Money Bag, taken up a level or two. Ollie’s stellar “free jazz” playing is a given, but Admiral John Halsey’s drums in chattering conversation with Clive Griffiths’ highly expressive bass is worthy of a concentrated listen on their own. Fabulous stuff!
Having eulogised the rest of the band it would be remiss of me not to mention Mike Patto, who was a soulful and gravel-throated beaut who must have wowed the ladies in much the same way as Rod Stewart. He could write a good lyric too, often slightly world weary and including a healthy dose of cynicism. The coruscating and emotive The Man (from the first album), You, You Point Your Finger and Magic Door are slow R’n’B numbers easily as good as anything Rod The Mod or Paul Rodgers came up with in a similar tempo, and in addition Mike’s voice bears healthy comparison to those two.
Curiously, the mix used for track seven, Tell Me Where You’ve Been is not the final mix that ended up on the LP, and on subsequent reissues, including the superb Sense Of The Absurd collection from 1995. Sadly, no explanation is given as to why the original mix was not used. Perhaps it was no longer in a fit state, or had gone missing, but it would have been nice to know. The alternate take sees the second guitar track omitted, the vocals are more upfront, and it entirely omits Mike Patto’s cough at the start of the track. You may think that last omission a minor point, but it is little things like this that highlight the band’s sense of humour which was always on show. Fans, eh? They’ll notice any damn little thing!
While Hold Your Fire is a triumph of confident musicianship and would turn out to be Patto’s best album, for purely sentimental reasons the debut will always hold pride of place in my heart.
Once the fans have got over the “wrong” mix being used for track seven, I’m sure all will be forgiven by the presence of an entire disc of bonus cuts from BBC radio concerts and sessions. Here, those of us who would have been way too young, or not even born when Patto were a live fixture in sticky-floored fleapits the length and breadth of Britain get some sense of what a thrilling proposition Patto were live on stage.
The addition of Bernie Holland’s understated second guitar allows Ollie Halsall the freedom to extemporise to his heart’s content. On the other side of the coin, on a thrilling version of Government Man from an In Concert broadcast, the precise melody lines and unobvious chord sequences of the enmeshed dual guitars and the tight as a nut rhythm section, concluding with Ollie delivering the soulful vibes lines that bring the song to an end serves to underline what consummate players they all were.
Despite backing from John Peel in particular, and from other radio DJs with taste, both albums sold poorly. Being on Vertigo can’t have helped, as the Philips hip subsidiary was a label notorious for its promotion budget, which varied from minuscule to non-existent, unless you were Black Sabbath. Subsequently signing with Island, Patto released one more album, recorded another that was released posthumously some 20 years later, incidentally both due for imminent re-release on Esoteric. The band eventually folded in 1973, criminally ignored by the record buying public. Let’s hope these re-releases bring this wonderful music to a few new ears.
01. The Man (6:17)
02. Hold Me Back (4:43)
03. Time To Die (2:57)
04. Red Glow (5:19)
05. San Antone (3:12)
06. Government Man (4:22)
07. Money Bag (10:07)
08. Sittin’ Back Easy (3:53)
~ Bonus tracks:
09. Hanging Rope (14:48)
10. Love Me (8:42)
11. Government Man (BBC radio session track) (5:15)
Total Time – 69:41
Hold Your Fire
01. Hold Your Fire (8:06)
02. You, You Point Your Finger (4:35)
03. How’s Your Father (4:44)
04. See You At The Dance Tonight (4:58)
05. Give It All Away (4:12)
06. Air Raid Shelter (7:06)
07. Tell Me Where You’ve Been (3:22)
08. Magic Door (4:29)
~ Bonus tracks:
09. Beat The Drum (5:11)
10. Bad News (4:40)
Time – 51:28
01. San Antone (3:51)
02. Government Man (5:20)
03. Beat The Drum (5:08)
04. Sittin’ Back Easy (4:06)
05. So Cold (6:51)
BBC Radio One “In Concert” – 4th March 1971:-
06. Give It All Away (4:14)
07. Air Raid Shelter (6:41)
08. You, You Point Your Finger (5:02)
09. Don’t Shoot Me (Hold Your Fire – 1st Version) (6:40)
10. Give It All Away (4:11)
11. Air Raid Shelter (7:05)
Time – 59:12
Total Time – 110:40
Mike Patto – Lead Vocals
John Halsey – Drums
Ollie Halsall – Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Piano, Vibes, Organ
Clive Griffiths – Bass, Vocals
Bernie Holland – Guitar (Hold Your Fire & bonus disc only)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2581 (Patto) / ECLEC 22582 (Hold Your Fire)
Year of Release: 2017