24 June 2022 (released)
19 June 2022
The UK Progressive scene in the late sixties and early seventies was incredibly fluid and original. Bands created their own unique sounds and to a vey large extent there were no laws other than to be creative. Punk bands may have claimed to have thrown out the rules but the scene in Spirogyra’s time was far more loose and anarchistic.
Spirogyra came out of the Canterbury scene, along with Soft Machine, Caravan, Egg, Gong and the rest and, like those others, created a sound that was very much their own. The band that recorded the first of these three albums consisted of Martin Cockerham on guitar and vocals, Barbara Gaskin on vocals, Steve Botrill on bass and Julian Cusack on violin and keyboards. Sitting somewhere between folk, classical and with jazz elements, they have some hints to the Incredible String Band who were early influences on Cockerham and his Bolton schoolmate Mark Francis.
It never reaches the point of being an easy listen but the first album, ‘St Radigunds’, grabbed me from the very start and I really couldn’t just put it on and work around it – it demands your attention. Cockerham’s vocals are occasionally harsh and very edgy while Gaskin’s pure tone acts as a perfect foil. Botrill’s bass is superb, often holding the melody and at others driving the rhythm while the drums (Dave Mattacks on sessions) provide little explosions of light and shade. Cusack’s violin is a remarkable weapon – sometimes a beautiful instrument and others a spitting and violent fiddle. 47 minutes that are just essential listening.
The second album, ‘Old Boot Wine’ is a happier, more light album and definitely an easier listen. There is a Beatle-esque quality to the way the songs are constructed and piano from Julian Cusack (now a guest) is more strongly featured. The album feels as though the Canterbury essence has grown in the band. The vocals are excellent, again some superb stuff from Gaskin, and the guitar playing is strong. It is less of a shock to the system than the first album but very well worth the time to investigate nonetheless.
‘Bells, Boots and Shambles’ was the last album that Spirogyra made and it is fascinating to see the way that the bands sound changed from the first album to the second and now to their final offering. The third album has the feel of a Nick Drake album but with a pure folk influence to it as well. Much of the material has a sublime and ethereal quality and a strong inner beauty. It is possibly the most commercial of the three but sadly, never quite achieved the success that the band deserved.
Almost a forgotten band, Spirogyra are a fascinating element of the seventies Progressive palette and for anyone into music of this era, this is pretty well essential.