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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blodwyn Pig: Getting To This


1) Drive Me; 2) Variations On Nainos; 3) See My Way; 4) Long Bomb Blues; 5) The Squirrelling Must Go On; 6) San Francisco Sketches; 7) Worry; 8) Toys; 9) To Rass Man; 10) Send Your Son To Die; 11*) Summer Day; 12*) Walk On The Water.

The critical consensus (provided that the tiny handful of consenting critics can be reliably called «consensus») seems to consider Getting To This, the original Blodwyn Pig's second and last album, as an artistic letdown after the inspiring promises of Ahead Rings Out. Even the two titles, taken together, give out a whiff of irony — ahead rings out, and you're still only «getting to this»? At a time when everyone else has already gotten to this, and more than this?.. A year like 1970 wasn't exactly the best time for half-measures, if you know what I mean.

What really did happen was sort of predictable. Even with the jazz-influenced Jack Lancaster aboard ship, Ahead Rings Out was very much a «conventional» blues-rock record in the well-established, but already not very cool UK tradition of John Mayall, Peter Green, pre- (and post-) Cream Clapton and all these other well-meaning guys who decided that channelling the spirit of American blues was a worthier enterprise than trying to find their own. But as the 1960s closed and «progressive» was on the verge of becoming a viable commercial proposition, even the staunchest roots-rockers began thinking in terms of «progress or perish». Blodwyn Pig were a good example — even if Ahead Rings Out, upon release, sold enough copies to be commercially compared to Jethro Tull's Stand Up, it didn't take a lot of brain to understand which of the two bands was awaited by a more glorious future.

Maybe Mick Abrahams did stay cool enough so as not to bite his fingernails each evening, regret­ting the decision to leave and start his own band, but he was smart enough to understand that the formula of Blodwyn Pig needed some shaking up. Consequently, there is no more generic blues on Getting To This — it is still bluesy in essence, of course, but syncopation is the word of day, as the controls are seemingly placed in the hands of Lancaster, and the status of role model is transferred almost completely to Blood, Sweat & Tears, even as Blodwyn Pig continues to rock in a far grittier manner.

The band's major «progressive test» is the multi-part suite ʽSan Francisco Sketchesʼ, beginning with some assorted seagulls and going through several, mostly jazzy, sections dominated by flutes or saxes; only one part, an anthemic piano ballad, has vocals and is, for some reason, stuck in the middle rather than at the end, where it would have far more naturally summarized all the sketches. Never once particularly outstanding — the basic themes are not too captivating and the energy level seems lower than required, maybe due to somewhat slacky work on the part of the rhythm section — it is still a very competent, mood-wise diverse, and entertaining performance, much as I fail to see what exactly, apart from the seagulls, it has to do with San Francisco. (Still, better this sort of mood-alternating jazz jamming, I guess, than a genuine attempt to write a tri­bute to Quicksilver Messenger Service).

Also, the fact that they glued together several distinct jazz-rock parts to make one cohesive whole does not prevent them from using very similar jazz-rock parts to serve as the basis for most of the other, shorter, songs as well — in terms of general approach, ʽSan Francisco Sketchesʼ is not al­together different from the flute-driven funky dance of ʽVariations On Nainosʼ, or the ominously dressed jazz dance of ʽWorryʼ (which seems itself to have been influenced by Tull's ʽFor A Thou­sand Mothersʼ), or the anti-war diatribe ʽSend Your Son To Dieʼ, or the instrumental ʽThe Squir­relling Must Go Onʼ, the title hinting that the tune is supposed to be a sequel to ʽCat's Squirrelʼ, which Abrahams had earlier arranged for This Was while still a member of Jethro Tull, but ended up carrying it over to Blodwyn Pig's live setlist.

In the end, what the record suffers from the most is not its relative lack of diversity (there have been thousands of less diverse albums that had more impact), but its relative lack of commitment: Lancaster's flutes and saxes have a formally restrained, «academic» nature, and Mick, despite his burly chap image, always ends up sounding far less wild and «out there» than his replacement in Tull, Martin Barre. Repeated listenings confirm that a lot of work must have gone into these songs — they constantly try locating interesting themes and coming up with unusual arran­ge­ments (for instance, the combinations of Mick's slide guitar parts with Jack's woodwinds can be quite fascinating for those who pay enough attention) — but while the formal craft is there, the vision is lacking. The band is simply locked in a perpetual state of «getting to this». To their ho­nor, they must have realized that, too, and disbanded soon after the album's release.

On a sidenote, the two bonus tracks appended to the CD edition — strangely enough, the same tracks are also appended to the CD edition of Ahead Rings Out as well — are arguably the best pair of songs to come out of Blodwyn Pig in the first place: an A-side and a B-side of a mid-1969 single, where ʽSummer Dayʼ is a hyper-catchy rocker with what might be the coolest riff ever thought of by Abrahams; and ʽWalk On The Waterʼ cleverly sews together bits of folk, jazz, blues-rock, and even a boogie bridge and infests them with a little bit of starry-eyed hippie idea­lism, giving the song a better sense of purpose than almost anything on Getting To This.

All of which means that Blodwyn Pig were essentially a classic example of a singles band — it just had the misfortune of working in a time zone where albums happened to be valued over individual songs, and so, in the battle of Jethro Tull against Blodwyn Pig, it was quite clear from the start who was predestined to be the winner. Still, let us be kind to the loser: even without a clear sense of purpose, Mick Abrahams and his friends made music that always tried to respect our emotions and intellect rather than offend them — as a result, this plainly B-grade stuff will continue finding a grateful listener for quite some time, I'm sure.

Check "Getting To This" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. They didn't exactly break up, though. Apparently, Mick Abrahams got booted out of the band he'd founded, and was then replaced by ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks. Nothing good came of it, and the band staggered on for a few months, before grinding to a halt in early 1971. Meanwhile, Tull rolled out "Aqualung", and the rest is history.