BLODWYN PIG: AHEAD RINGS OUT (1969)
1) It's Only Love; 2) Dear Jill; 3) Sing Me A Song That I Know; 4) The Modern Alchemist; 5) Up And Coming; 6) Leave It With Me; 7) The Change Song; 8) Backwash; 9) Ain't Ya Comin' Home, Babe?; 10*) Sweet Caroline; 11*) Walk On The Water; 12*) Summer Day; 13*) Same Old Story; 14*) Slow Down; 15*) Meanie Mornay; 16*) Backwash.
What in the hell is a «Blodwyn Pig», anyway? Surely a band that chooses to call itself thusly can hold no high hopes for the future — offending vegans, Muslims, and people with Celtic heritage at the same time. But none of that seemed to bother guitar player Mick Abrahams, when, after having quarrelled with Ian Anderson over the planned career trajectory for Jethro Tull, he quit that band in order to become undisputed master of his own domain. In the process, he enlisted the temporary loyalty of his own flautist (and also saxophonist) Jack Lancaster, bassist Andy Pyle (later known for a brief stint with the Kinks in 1976-78), and drummer Ron Berg. And a trendy, shades-wearing, nonchalant-looking pig mascot to boot.
Ahead Rings Out, the band's debut album, came out in August 1969, at almost the exact same time as Jethro Tull's Stand Up — and although it is sometimes fondly mentioned by rock historiographers as a neglected classic (okay, minor neglected classic), there is clearly no comparison between the two: where Ian Anderson was using old school blues-rock as merely a foundation for something excitingly new and dizzy, Mick Abrahams simply stuck to doing old school blues-rock, period. Well, not merely blues-rock, okay. Jack Lancaster provides a strong jazz flavor, there is an acoustic folk ballad or two, so it would be more fair to speak of «roots-rock» in general, without any serious experimental or «progressive» sides to it. However, even conservative roots-rock can be done blisteringly well if one has the proper talent — and, unfortunately, Mick Abrahams is no Ian Anderson when it comes to stringing notes together.
Do not expect a Beatles cover with the opening ʽIt's Only Loveʼ — that would have been a much more stunning move than giving this title to a loud, fast-moving, moderately energetic boogie blues number that never amounts to anything more than a boogie blues number. Mick Abrahams is a competent vocalist and guitar player, but his burly Bedfordshire voice pales next to Noddy Holder's (this sort of material does, indeed, work best in the hands of drunken hooligans such as Slade), and his Clapton-influenced guitar playing style offers little that Clapton himself — or, for that matter, Martin Barre, Mick's replacement in Jethro Tull — could not have offered.
In fact, the chief asset of Blodwyn Pig was not even Abrahams, either as songwriter, singer, or lead guitarist, but the woodwinder Jack Lancaster. It is his merry double-tracked sax-solo on ʽIt's Only Loveʼ that turns the performance into a spirited one, and it is his sax and flute improvised pieces on most of the other tracks that give the album a little bit of personality: at least, as far as our being able to call it «a decent sequel to Jethro Tull's This Was» — the jazzy instrumental ʽLeave It With Meʼ has a flute theme and a crazyass flute solo that could, indeed, very easily be mistaken for a little bit of early Ian Anderson creativity.
The best song on the album is probably ʽSing Me A Song That I Knowʼ, with a well-constructed wall-of-sound (very loud bass + double-tracked sax = decibel heaven!) that cleverly disguises the song's true «pastoral minstrel ditty» nature, coming out clearer in the accappella bits of the chorus. Abrahams himself was more fond of ʽDear Jillʼ, an acoustic country blues number that sounds like a poor man's Beggar's Banquet outtake, briefly lifted out of the mire with a sunset-mood Lancaster soprano sax solo, but quite plain otherwise. And you know something goes wrong when the whackiest moment in a song is a thirty-seconds spoken intro, delivered in such a thick, exaggerated Cockney accent that you cannot understand a single word (ʽThe Change Songʼ), even if you are sort of supposed to dig the song's guitar-and-fiddle vibe itself.
Personally, I think that Ahead Rings Out truly «rings out» in its «thickest» bits, when all the musicians are engaged in creating a meaty, beaty jam monster — on such tracks as ʽThe Modern Alchemistʼ and ʽAin't Ya Comin' Homeʼ. On the former, they eventually hit the cool jazz spot, with Abrahams stepping away from second-rate Claptonisms and getting bolder and riskier in a (quasi-)Django Reinhardt-like mood; and on the latter, they get really dense and heavy, like a slightly more disciplined Blue Cheer, which goes real fine on the ears, if not necessarily so on the memory storage cells.
So I probably will not be exaggerating much if I state that the most memorable thing about the record is its front sleeve — an inspiration, no doubt, for Black Sabbath's ʽWar Pigsʼ? — but also that the album is a must-have for all serious fans of ballsy roots-rock in all of its incarnations. Because the band did have balls a-plenty. They did not write interesting melodies, they did not have any great musicians, but at least they weren't treating the roots idiom in any «reverential» fashion. Too bad they didn't manage to get too drunk at these sessions.