Ok, so overrated was hard and contentious and possibly offensive (lighten up it’s just one person’s opinion!). But what could go wrong with underrated , we love the underdog don’t we ?
Similar rules, all British all linked in some ways with the 70’s all score high on the ‘why didn’t they do better?’ scale.
Trying to catch the Old Grey Whistle test in the 70’s was a tricky business as the BBC changed it’s time slot regularly, at one point even putting it on around Sunday tea time. But I did get to catch Robin Trower. Trower had come up through a b listed R&B band called the Paramount’s in the mid 60’s before becoming the second guitarist to occupy that role with Procol Harum. Although formative in starting off what was to become progressive rock Thrower became fed up with competing with an organ and a piano for solo space and joined up with Jim Dewar, who had been guitarist with Lulu and the Luvvers but now fancied some heavy rock action as bass player, in the Robin Trower trio.
Unfortunately having seen them on the Old Grey Whistle Test I had decided they were terrible, their song went on at a glacial pace for hours, Dewars doomy vocals were interspersed with solos where Trower pulled faces that made him look like a beached fish.
Over 40 years later it sounds a lot better, Trower had the Hendrix thing pretty well sown up and there’s a soulful bluesy edge and a fluidity to his playing that lifts it above the Whitesnakes and Garry Moores of this world. The track they played all those years ago was the title track to their album Bridge of Sighs which is remarkable for its languid pace and opened up the possibilities of Trower having invented stoner rock.
This isn’t earth shattering music but it’s done well and, to my ears at least, more supple and expressive than most of the blues rock genre. Trower is still around today and still pretty good, I suspect he’s more popular in America than Britain where he’s forgotten a bit.
Siouxsie and the Banshees
When I heard the first Banshees on a John Peel session my first thought was that at last Punk had thrown up something I really couldn’t understand. It seems weird now, but I genuinely couldn’t even comprehend the Ramones when I first heard them either. 40 years on it’s a lot easier on the ear but still a bit challenging and quite shockingly innovative.
In the interests of brevity lets just sidestep the rather impressive qualities of Souxsie herself (another time maybe) and go for the music. The Banshees were really the last band of the first wave of punk to get signed. Instead of copying the other bands they took time out to make something really different, you might not like it but the first two records were shockingly distinctive.
With a change of personnel which was to evolve into a shifting rota of guitarists they were actually a successful band, 11 albums 30 singles some of them hits and by the 80’s the Banshees were a proper rock band with big tours, only the Clash came close from the class of 76.And all the while the Banshees rock was always a bit different.
So where are they now? I never hear them on the radio and they’ve never been revived with an auto biography or a bio pic, it’s as if they split up and were never heard of again (which was the way it used to be). One day they were at the very front of the alternative rock scene and the next they had disappeared.
At the time they influenced everyone from Joy Division to Morrisey. One of the problems with their legacy is that, like Joy Division they influenced a lot of groups who really weren’t that good, and the birth of goth could be traced back to the band although as far as I can see it’s actually a tenuous link.
No doubt a re evaluation is just around the corner but until that day comes they remain underrated.
Van der Graaf Generator
OK, if you knew of a band whose line up was saxophone, organ (with bass pedals) drums and vocals wouldn’t you want to see them- I would!
In fact VGG went through a few changes from a slightly normal progressive rock band to an unusual progressive rock band where the organ was replaced by cello and violin, but the above is their classic line up.
Led by the very clever Peter Hammill, VGG could make King Crimson sound like Herman’s Hermits. Hammill would write about literally everything and had a voice that would go from chorister to dalek sometimes in the space of the same line. David Jackson the sax player did things with his instrument rarely found outside the realms of free jazz and most of the harmony came from the doomy Hammond organ. The band had its fans but it was generally distrusted by the critics as overwrought and pretentious. In Italy they were stars, no one knows why really but they clearly captured the spirit of the times eventually leaving the country amid political riots and the loss of most of their equipment.
To be honest you’ll either like the band or you won’t there’s not a lot of middle ground and there’s an awful lot to listen to, not so much in quantity but this is dense, heavy heavy stuff and not easy to ignore. The amazing thing for me about the band is that they sound like no one else at all before or since. That must be worth some sort of accolade.
I covered the mighty Welsh band a couple of years ago.
For the first half of the 70’s Man were everywhere touring Europe and the USA and making a string of records. At their worst they were a lumpy pseudo American rock band. Deke Leonard wrote most of the actual songs which generally didn’t really distinguish them from mass of other bands limping round the college circuit. What did lift them out of the morass was their playing. In Mickey Jones they had one of the best guitarists ever to come out of Britain, you might even call him underrated !
Man were able to go off on flights of fancy of indeterminate length at the drop of a hat. This wasn’t the endless riffing of the likes of the Allman Brothers, there would be tranquil moments, feedback, screaming and, yes endless riffing. It was like the Grateful Dead with areally good rhythm section.
Man split up and then reformed continuing to make patchy records and pay great gigs into the 80’s and 90’s but they never managed to break through into popular consciousness. If you want to go straight to the essence of Man try Live at the Padget Rooms Penarth, one of the great album titles of all time*
If you are familiar with the band which version of XTC would it be, the frantic sweaty Barry Andrews model, the pop band of ‘making plans for Nigel’ the quieter song writer orientated model of the late 80’s and 90’s or the symphonic pop of Apple Venus, the smartarses among you might even want to include the band’s alter ego period as Dukes of Stratosphear.
In short how many bands have produced such adventurous and high-quality material consistently throughout their career, only the blimmin Beatles and they only managed it for less than a decade.
Personally, I would put Andy Partridge on a par with Brian Wilson. That’s not quite the accolade it seems as I think Brian Wilson is hugely overrated and in fact Partridge produced lot less crap but he was aided my having Colin Moulding rather than Mike Love to be his second in command.
I covered the 70’s XTC here
So that’s my underrated 5. Underrated is a lot easier than overrated as there’s hundreds to choose, there’s probably someone so underrated that I missed them altogether! It’s also a lot easier to do the 70’s, most artists sell so little today they are all underrated.
It also occurred to me that I am drawn to the underrated, that’s mostly what I write about, it doesn’t mean that Man are a better band than the Eagles but I do find them a lot more interesting.
Let me know what you think,
*for anyone lacking an extensive knowledge of Wales, Penarth is a small fairly sedate seaside town near Cardiff, it’s hard to imagine it being the scene of psychedelic experiments. Coincidentally at the end of the 70’s West Runton Pavillion on the north Norfolk coast was also quite a venue.