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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Affinity: 1971-72

AFFINITY: 1971-72 (1971-72; 2003)

1) Moira's Hand; 2) Grey Skies; 3) Cream On Your Face; 4) Sunshower; 5) All Along The Watchtower / It's About That Time; 6) Rio; 7) Poor Man's Son; 8*) Sarah's Wardrobe; 9*) Highgate.

When Linda Hoyle and Lynton Naiff simultaneously declared that they were parting ways with Affinity, in order to enjoy a more peaceful existence in Obscurity, hardly anyone familiar with the band's output could doubt its future as a Non-Entity. The good sides of the band, upon which a bright shining future could have been constructed, were the vocals and the keyboard passages, and now they were no more. (Incidentally, Linda Hoyle pretty much disappeared from the musi­cal scene after putting out one mediocre solo album, and Naiff disappeared altogether — so much for yielding to antisocial behaviour!).

Nevertheless, it turns out that the remaining members did decide to plow along, rebooting the whole thing from scratch. The place of Naiff was occupied by Dave Watts — yes, Dave Watts, who may have been head boy at the school and captain of his team (that's what Ray Davies tells us), but, for some reason, eventually switched to playing second-rate keyboards. Hoyle's spot was given to Vivienne McAuliffe, formerly of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, a bizarre music-and-theater artistic commune specializing in crossing Shakespeare with the Grateful Dead. And then they tried to go on as if nothing happened.

The results are almost surprisingly decent. Although there is nothing particularly interesting go­ing on in terms of technique or complexity, the band spent some time improving their compositi­onal skills, and came up with quite a few win-quality art-pop songs — which McAuliffe gives a classy interpretation; her vocals do not have the ticklish «beastly» quality of Hoyle, belonging more to the «British female folk singer» breed, somewhere in between Annie Haslam and Sandy Denny, but she has more range, and is quite capable of adding real fire to all the right places.

So both 'Moira's Hand' and 'Cream On Your Face' are exciting «hard-folk»-rockers with catchy choruses and classy, if not really unique, sound; 'Rio' has an impressive build-up from subdued jangly folk-pop to its pompous art-rock refrain — watch how McAuliffe goes from twittery-fluffy chirping to all-out boisterous screaming; and 'Sunshower' and 'Poor Man's Son' (the latter contri­buted by friend Mike D'Abo, whose own recording of the song never extols the loveliness of the vocal melody as much as McAuliffe's performance) are both pretty ballads well worth revisiting from time to time.

Predictably, the band stutters when going for extended takes — without the required instrumental power on their hands, the «epic» 'Grey Skies' sounds underdeveloped in its vocal parts and exces­sive in the instrumental ones; and the re-recording of 'All Along The Watchtower' is a blunderous mistake — this is the kind of tune on which the subtler approach of McAuliffe could never com­pete with Linda Hoyle's blasts, and the solo parts are just a joke next to Naiff's cleverly mapped organ journeys; the original's eleven minutes seemed to go by much faster than the eight minutes of the new version.

We can only hope that this track was just a bit of studio rehearsal, not intended for inclusion on the band's second album — hope, but never know, since that album never came to pass: before the new-look band had the proper time to get a record deal, «good friend» Mike D'Abo simply whisked away the remaining original members to back him up as a solo performer, leaving Mc­Auliffe jobless and with no future hope of competing with Sonja Kristina or Maddy Prior.

The only reason that we are now aware that this second incarnation of Affinity left something behind in the first place is the nostalgic kindness of Angel Air Records, who, upon re-releasing the 1970 album in 2002, followed it up by making available to the public just about every little scrap of material related to the band the very next year. Of these archival deposits, only Affinity 1971-72 deserves a special review (note that the album also includes a couple bonus instrumen­tals that seem to have been recorded at a much later date); the rest date back to earlier times, with self-evident titles like Live Instrumentals 1969, Origins 1965-67, and even Origins: The Bas­ker­­villes 1965 (some live playing there, with easily imaginable sound quality). These are of mi­nor, if any, his­toric importance, but the seven tracks on Affinity 1971-72 really play out like an album, and a pretty coherent one at that — thumbs up, and yes, big pity about both girls fading out of sight and sound so early in their careers.

Check "1971-72" (CD) on Amazon

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