A Visit to Newport Hospital? Perhaps if You Slip on Egg’s 1971 Album “The Polite Force”

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If you’ve ever been a fan of English music, in particularly English Prog music then at some point your friend who turned you on to it more than likely also introduced you to what was known as the Canterbury Scene of English Prog. You would have been exposed to bands like; “The Soft Machine“, “Caravan“, “Hatfield and the North“, “Matching Mole“, “National Health” and quite possibly this band, “Egg” although I doubt it very much. Egg isn’t exactly very well known and doesn’t even come up in a Google search of Canterbury Bands so unless your friend is really in to obscure music ; ) then you’re first experience with this band is now through me.  You’re welcome. As one of the first bands out of that scene which circled around Canterbury, Kent, England in the 60’s they formed out as a four piece with Steve Hilliage on guitar calling themselves “Uriel” in 1968 playing gigs locally and surrounding areas but the name never really caught on so when they were recognized by a record label it was suggested they change their name and henceforth became, Egg. With Hilliage gone by August ’68 the band moved on to this simple and effective name and an every day common household item easy to remember.

The Canterbury scene I have to admit is a real hit and miss with me because it wasn’t the prime movers for the Prog scene in England in the late sixties and early seventies but like Egg there have been a few pieces that have clung to me and I enjoy. I could probably put all of that which I like from that scene on to one good album and be happy with it. It clearly shows that it’s from a different part of the country because it doesn’t have that tenseness of being in London and that country feel to it seemed too relaxed and non-directional for the main Prog scene that was emerging in the UK. A combination of heavy and light inflections musically infusing classical, traditional as well as the rock culture evolving in to an avant-garde-experimental-free jazz fusion group setting. Egg falls in to the ‘power trio‘ recipe as well; like Rush, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Tirith et al and they created a whirlwind of sounds and soft chanted vocals giving them a uniqueness to themselves that stood alone from some of the other Canterbury bands at the time. “The Polite Force” Lp was constructed more musically than their first album the year before and has longer pieces that flow better than their self-titled debut. This album contains only two songs with vocals on it and the rest being obviously instrumental but coming across more like an Edgar Alan Poe story brought to the stage at some dank theatre in the seedy part of town where second billing is all it becomes by the intermission but you stay because it’s so different.

3.-Mont-Campbell1

Canterbury Prog always comes across (to me at least) as bands hanging around quaint little stone cottages that smell of fresh bread, cigarettes and tea because of the area in which the genre evolved from. Call me a cynic for it but you’ll probably agree when you listen to some of the material that came out of there in the early 70’s. The opening track, “A Visit to Newport Hospital” still my favourite track they’ve ever done blasts out of the gates with this heavy bass and keyboard stomp, the drums ad lib in and create a percussive discharge allowing the other two to be the tromping footsteps to the introduction. Shortly thereafter it segues in to a cool mellow keyboard riff that takes over the lead and flows like a jazz suite improv almost then finally the songs tones down and the vocals drop in crooning softly as the song carries onward. The tones give off a relaxed feel to the hideaways of Canterbury, Kent and how the music just seems to flow through quietly yet with an air of stout English attitude in it. There’s is something about it when you hear English bands you just know they’re ENGLISH about everything.  Hard to explain really but there’s an ambiance to English Prog bands that you don’t get in other bands of the genre from other countries. “Contrasong” follows up with pompous horns and a classical overlay to the song with a bounce to the vocals that almost have a ‘take this” approach to them. The only other song on the record to have a vocal track as the remainder of the album is that dark theatre procession in five tracks.

Boilk” is more of the late sixties psychedelic phase of things where is doesn’t really go anywhere but becomes more of the segue to the next four tracks, “Long Piece No. 3 parts i-iv” that makes up the theatrical nuances thereafter. Boilk is reminscent of the trippy American psychedelia that was influencing the UK bands in the London Underground Scene in the late 60’s at clubs like UFO where bands extended the traditional 2.5 minute song in to a 15 minute epic of experimentation where ‘strange’ sound emanated through rotating speaker systems and discovering what happens when you re-wire things to give off odd effects that became the norm for a couple of years. So this track was very late by 1971 considering that bands who were doing this in 1967 had long moved on beyond the incessant noises and had collaborated and conformed those sounds in to organized and “syncopated pandemonium” either live or on record.  Each member of Egg has a very proper musical inclusion to their music and training that evidently has been emphasized in each composition on the record as it shows throughout. “Long Piece Parts 1-4” are four individual tracks flowing in to each other with great ease and fluidity as they complete the progression as a theatrical movement in four parts which was not unusual for the times.

There are a few bootleg albums in circulation for the band if you wish you seek them out and of decent quality as well; University of Essex in ’72, 100 Club in London in 1970, Chalk Farm London Roundhouse 1970 and Wolverhampton Civic Hall December 5th 1971 to name a few. The odd ends or beginnings of songs are cut in a couple of these albums (not surprised there) but are complete performances for the most part as well as some great John Peel BBC Radio sessions from 1970-1972 floating around. As well as some interesting bootleg albums of their days as Uriel a one off studio project featuring guitarist Steve Hilliage calling the album Arzachel after a moon crater, and an album called “The Metronomical Society” which is legit but only a European pressing of their journey form their humble beginnings to their final album “The Civil Surface” from 1974 when the band finally called it quits. It’s more of an archival collection of a couple of shows and some radio broadcasts than anything unreleased from studio outtakes and does come with a very lengthy booklet with quotes and details of where songs came from and what it was like being in the band.

The band never gained the popularity that other bands like The Soft Machine had garnered by moving in to London and Egg fell by the wayside and slowly began to collapse like a flan in a cupboard. Yet when one listens to their live material they are well received by audiences alike but their album sales never really grew and with the decline of the Canterbury scene in some ways in favour of the more prominent Progressive bands of England sadly Egg gave up the dream and machine. Bassist/Singer Mont Campbell said in an interview for a British Documentary on Prog Rock  in 2009 that actually focused on bands of that scene and other bands that weren’t the BIG household names was that he couldn’t deal with not getting the attention anymore and quit. The strive for success didn’t come to him as he had envisioned it and said screw it and gave up the ghost of being a Prog super star. He reformed himself by 1989 as a composer for television and film as well as focusing on non-western music releasing a couple of albums in that genre. The two websites for Dave Stewart and Clive Brooks are no longer running but Mont’s is working just fine

http://www.dirkcampbell.co.uk

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He does not go in to any detail of his days in Egg other than forming the band with Dave and Clive in ’68 as an “original band” and his website is attentive to what he has been doing since. Egg is definitely one of those bands that you will want to check out and decide whether they are for you or not. The Canterbury Scene of Prog should not be overlooked as many bands from that period did help shape the genre and become a great many loved bands to this day, however, it did not gain the steam to carry forth with as big a success like many of the other UK Prog bands attained; Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, King Crimson etc etc and as well the more “pop” cultured bands like; The Rolling Stones, The Beatles (who were defunct by ’71), The Animals (reincarnated several times), The Who, The Hollies, The Kinks and the harder edged bands of the period; Black Sabbath, Deep Purple (also reincarnated several times) and Led Zeppelin etc. But Egg being one of the first in the scene should get that extra special little attention to their efforts and contributions to the Halls of Prog. The Friars of the Prog Assembly smile upon thee Egg.

 

 

 

 

~fin

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