Stackridge - Friendliness

Stackridge – Friendliness

If Stackridge’s self-titled debut introduced the record-buying public to the band’s whimsical nature and penchant for playing in a myriad of different styles, then Friendliness sought to expand their sound and refine their performances. The quality of the songs here is generally better than those on the first album, although when I tried playing the album on shuffle yesterday, I realised there were a lot of skippable tracks which added up to a sizeable portion of the record. My phone had accidentally managed to put all of these together, separating the wheat from the chaff, and I realised why the running order of the album was so important; if you insert your weaker material between stronger tracks, fewer people will notice.

What’s interesting though is that the album’s best track was actually written well before Stackridge: the nine-minute symphonic Syracuse the Elephant, with its lengthy multi-part instrumental that ranges from waltz to Indian raga, is easily one of the band’s most classically progressive outings, melancholically musing about a Bristol Zoo pachyderm that misses his herbs from the veldt. As a side note, how can he miss those herbs when he was “born and bred in Bristol Zoo”? The lush Mellotron combined with the strings and flute sound make this easily the standout track on the album and it feels like Genesis-lite.

There are other joys to be had too, especially in the opener instrumental Lummy Days which features a jolly triplet feel and bombastic drumming. The 1920s music hall style of Anyone for Tennis directly recalls McCartney’s Honey Pie and is similarly charming. The outro of Teatime features an exciting, fast-paced psychedelic instrumental that builds to a pitch before fading out, but it’s a shame that the beginning of the song feels so unconnected to it.

Beyond that, I can’t say I have much love for the rest. Amazingly Agnes was supposed to be a waltz but became a quasi-reggae song that is hardly very captivating, musically. Keep On Clucking shows a fondness for rock and roll while bashing factory farms, and then there’s a whole lotta folk on this album that I won’t dive into for the sake of brevity. None of it is terrible, but there seems to be more focus on the lyrics than the music, which is what turns this reviewer off.

What makes this set worth it, however, is the bonus disc, packed with worthwhile tracks such as the epic Purple Space Ships Over Yatton instrumental, a B-side that was also tremendously popular at gigs. The song shifts through various moods to reflect the story of a UFO descending on a Somerset village, pivoting around a rhythmic theme based on the Morse Code for ‘S.O.S’. There’s also the single version of Slark, now ten minutes shorter than its original version from the previous album. I actually prefer this version as it keeps all the best parts, although I’m conflicted about modifying the penultimate verse to be sung during the instrumental.

A recording of the band playing for the BBC in June 1972 is also included, featuring some hits from their first two albums, although sadly Syracuse is nowhere to be seen; fortunately, a live version can be heard on the bonus disc for The Man in the Bowler Hat. The setlist isn’t entirely to my liking and the announcer seemed a little flummoxed, making awkward jokes throughout the show. The live rendition of Lummy Days is a joy to hear, but one cannot help but marvel at the sheer pipes on violinist Michael Evans who proves his vocal worth on the band’s comic cover of She Taught Me How to Yodel. Sonically, it’s not particularly marvellous, but you can see just how little the band took themselves seriously.

Capping off the set is another of the band’s biggest hits, Do the Stanley, an attempt to make a comedic dance craze hit that was possibly thwarted only by Roxy Music’s contemporary Do the Strand. With a brass band added to their sound, the Cockney knees-up illusion is created and this remains one of their silliest and funniest songs.

Once again, I can’t comment on this reissue’s packaging as I have not been privy to it – if you feel as strongly about this as I do, feel free to write in and complain – but Mike Barnes’s Friendliness essay is just as informative and helpful as his Stackridge essay. It does end rather abruptly after discussing Do the Stanley; I can’t help feeling as if a concluding paragraph was accidentally missed from the Word file…

I suppose I should add a concluding paragraph of my own: Friendliness shows growth from the band’s previous album and includes possibly their best song ever, Syracuse the Elephant. That song alone is worth the price of admission, but Esoteric’s extra disc makes this a thoroughly worthwhile prospect, even if there are some weaker tracks here and there.

Disc One – Friendliness

01. Lummy Days (3:19)
02. Friendliness (Part One) (2:17)
03. Anyone for Tennis (2:28)
04. There is No Refuge (3:21)
05. Syracuse the Elephant (8:44)
06. Amazingly Agnes (3:27)
07. Father Frankenstein is Behind Your Pillow (3:35)
08. Keep On Clucking (4:02)
09. Story of My Heart (2:05)
10. Friendliness (Part Two) (1:28)
11. Teatime (5:48)

Time – 40:40

Disc Two – Additional Tracks
01. Slark (single version) (4:44)
02. Purple Spaceships Over Yatton (6:42)
03. Introduction – Hit and Miss (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (1:12)
04. Grande Piano (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (3:33)
05. Teatime (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (5:46)
06. Lummy Days (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (3:37)
07. Amazingly Agnes (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (3:40)
08. 32 West Mall (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (2:12)
09. She Taught Me How to Yodel (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (2:51)
10. Four Poster Bed (Let There Be Lids) (BBC Radio In Concert June 1972) (4:07)
11. C’est La Vie (3:17)
12. Do the Stanley (2:54)

Time – 44:40

Total Time – 85:20

Andy Cresswell-Davis – Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
James Warren – Guitar, Vocals, Bass Guitar (on Keep On Clucking)
Michael Evans – Violin, Cello
Michael “Mutter” Slater – Flute, Piano (on Story of My Heart)
Billy “Sparkle” Bent – Percussion
Jim Walter – Bass Guitar, Lead Guitar (on Keep On Clucking)

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings / Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: ECLEC 22835
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 30th June 2023

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