Jimmy Hastings (brother of Pye) may be one of the most underrated musicians from the Canterbury scene. He was an “unofficial member” of several of our favourite bands – Caravan, Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, National Health – often credited, but generally not an official member. Although he’s contributed saxophone and clarinet, it is the wonderful addition of his flute which I personally enjoy the most. I just love the sound of the flute and Jimmy’s phrasing is always wonderful. What beautiful melodies!
So, I thought it’s time to celebrate this wonderful musician and so I would like to ask all you Canterbury fans out there. What is your favourite Jimmy Hastings recorded solo performance?
The music of the Canterbury Scene reaches out to people through time and space and has far reaching influences on other musicians. Some of these influences travel across to the other side of the globe from where the music originated. Over the course of a few posts, I will take a brief look at a few Japanese bands inspired by the Canterbury scene. More than simple imitations, these bands feature highly skilled musicians with a deep respect for their inspirations.
Ain Soph is one of the most obviously Canterbury inspired bands from the Japanese prog rock scene. They started out as a prog band in the 70s and the earliest available recordings from them are late 70s live demos released in the early 90s in the release Ride On A Camel. Could it be a reference to the band Camel? In 1980, they released a highly acclaimed debut album called A Story of Mysterious Forest and in 1986, their even more acclaimed (I believe) Hat and Field which is an obvious reference to Hatfield and the North, both in title, album cover and to some extent the music they play. One of the album’s songs is called “Canterbury Tale (For Pye Hastings & Richard Sinclair)”. It makes me wonder if Pye or Richard ever heard it?
If you find these references obvious to the point of being a little painful, don’t let it turn you off their music which is surprisingly beautiful and “genuine” for a Canterbury band so far away from Canterbury.
For those curious enough to check it out, here’s a small sample, the album’s opening song “The Swan Lake”.
Fans of Hatfield and the North may recognize the post title as the title of one of the musical themes that make up the bands 20-minute long epic song Mumps from their second album The Rotters’ Club. That musical bit at the start and ending with that stunningly catchy riff. The title seems to be a reference to a Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit and seems to come from the Oscar Wilde sketch from the final episode of season three called Grandstand. In the sketch, Oscar Wilde tells the Prince of Wales “your Majesty is like a big jam doughnut with cream on top”.
As mentioned, the musical piece by Hatfield and the North is a part of their epic track Mumps from their second album. However, Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut has also made other appearances on record. In 1975, the song appeared on the Virgin sampler record V from 1975 alongside tracks by Robert Wyatt, Henry Cow, Slapp Happy and Steve Hillage among others. On that record, Your Majesty… segues seamlessly into Oh What A Lonely Lifetime, another beautiful song which appears in a few places outside the bands studio albums, such as version from John Peel’s show in 1974 which can be found on the archive release Hatwise Choice where it is named The Lonely Bubbling Song.
Anyways, before I digress too much, while this V sampler album may be hard to find today, that version of Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut incorporating Oh What A Lonely Lifetime can now be found on what I believe is still the latest rerelease of Hatfield and the North’s debut, a version from 2009 by Esoteric Recordings. This rerelease also contains the band’s Let’s Eat (Real Soon) single featuring Let’s Eat and a fine version of Fitter Stoke Has A Bath.
I consider Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut to be one of the more pleasing things the band ever put out and, while it is beautiful in Mumps, it works very well alongside the gorgeous Oh What A Lonely Lifetime. Very well indeed! If you’d like to hear it for yourself, someone on youtube has already uploaded the piece. So, for your listening pleasure, I give you ..
After the release of Caravan’s Canterbury landmark album In the Land of Grey and Pink, creative differences in the group started pulling the band apart. First to leave was keyboardist David Sinclair to be replaced by Steve Miller. On the band’s fourth album from 1972, the band was basically split into two working pairs, Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller doing their more jazz inspired thing and Pye Hastings with Richard Coughlan writing more of the kind of rock tunes Caravan were known for. As a result, the band’s fourth album, Waterloo Lily, didn’t feel entirely cohesive and after it’s completion, Richard and Steve would leave Caravan and go on to other projects like Delivery and (for Richard) Hatfield and the North.
On For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, keyboardist David Sinclair was asked to participate and agreed to (re)join (after a short stint with Matching Mole) as a paid session player as he was in need of some cash. Also joining the ranks were John G. Perry on bass and shared vocal duty and multi-instrumentalist Peter Geoffrey “Geoff” Richardson on viola who has stayed with the band since. The man at the helm was, once again, singer and self-proclaimed chord basher Pye Hastings who wrote the vast majority of the music.
The result, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night from 1973, is a much more cohesive effort than their previous album, Waterloo Lily. With the jazzy experiments of Sinclair and Miller gone, the band adopted a rockier and more guitar dominated sound with various other noticeable instrumental differences such as the lovely addition of Geoff’s viola. The music they play is remarkably seductive and peppered throughout with feelgood sounds and lyrics on topics like love and sunshine. It may sound a bit wishy washy, but they managed to pull it off remarkably well and the whole album is full of hooks. A good example of the catchy feelgood music you’ll find on the album (and perhaps the song which is likely to first get stuck on a first time listener’s mind) is Caravan’s classic The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again, Pye’s tribute to sex – which I promise you is more charming than it sounds.
I consider the last half of the album to be the strongest and, as we get close to the end, the band plays along with an orchestra for an epic finish; a medley of beautiful instrumental pieces including Soft Machine keyboardist Mike Ratledge’s wonderful composition Backwards. If only Caravan and the New Symphonia sounded this good!
Not every song reaches the same level of excellence, but there really isn’t a bad track on here. To me, the album has great replayability as I find myself returning to this more than any other in the band’s discography. I suspect some Canterbury enthusiasts well versed in the avantgarde may initially consider this batch of Caravan’s later rock sounds to not be experimental enough for their liking. For their sake, I hope not because they’d be missing out. Like John G. Perry said in his interview with Aymeric from Calyx, I consider this album to be almost on par with the band’s classic In the Land of Grey and Pink. Depending on my mood, it may even be my favourite!
God Song is another classic and, for me, another favorite from the Canterbury scene. It was first released on Matching Mole’s Little Red Record from 1972, but other versions exist, for example a lovely version with Robert Wyatt singing and playing the piano on his archive release Solar Flares Burn for You, released in 2003. The lyrics were written by Robert while the music is credited to Phil Miller who was, at that time, Matching Mole’s guitarist.
To me, the song showcases some amazing lyrical skills by Robert. The song itself is a sort of prayer where a drunk singer, having a moment of honesty, expresses his frustrations with God. Towards the end of the song, the singer’s fear of God seems to resurface and he asks Him to discard his frustrations as a joke or drunken rant.
Don’t hunt me down for heaven’s sake
You know I’m only joking, aren’t I
Pardon me, I’m very drunk
The song portrays God as something like a bully, possibly playing a big joke on Mankind, expecting rules to be followed while being absent and not involving himself in the betterment of his followers lives and possibly “hunting down” those who dare complain. The use of everyday language and expressions and the partly rantish nature of the lyrics (such as the changing subjects and the suggestion that he gives his son a wife and a sexy daughter next time around) may seem comical at first, but actually help make the song feel more real and honest.
Most of you who are interested in the scene will know the Matching Mole version already and so I thought I’d post here Wyatt’s version from Solar Flares Burn For You which I believe is the same as on the Flotsam Jetsam compilation, only that one has Fol De Rol attached to the end of it.
The song was also played by Hatfield and the North and has been sung many times on stage by Richard Sinclair. The last time they played it may have been in drummer Pip Pyle’s funeral in 2006, a very beautiful and touching gesture. Back in 1972, the band also played the song with Robert Wyatt as a guest singer in a duet with Richard Sinclair. Here is such a version sung at the start of this medley, supposedly from a set they played together in France in 1972, according to the video’s description.
To me, God Song is an immortal classic which never seems to get old. What do you think? Any other fans out there?
The Northettes were a vocal trio made up of Amanda Parsons, Barbara Gaskin and Ann Rosenthal. Although they are most famous for contributing to Hatfield and the North’s two studio albums, the first released in January 1974, the girls had sung together in 1971/72 in Dave Stewart & Chris Cutler led Ottawa Music Company which, sadly, left no recorded legacy. Between the Hatfields two albums, they also sang on Egg’s 1974 album The Civil Surface. Amanda also sang with the band Gilgamesh and, after the Hatfields broke up, went on to sing with the earlier line-ups of National Health and also appeared in Bruford while Barbara Gaskin (after coming back to England after a long trip to Asia) also sang in various musical projects like Red Roll On, Bruford and National Health.
The sound of The Northettes has been described as heavenly and angelic; voices that can lift the spirit and soothe the soul. Their harmonies certainly added new dimension to the music of the Hatfields. Their singing on top of the jazz-tinged progressive rock that the band played was unlike anything ever recorded before and still sounds fresh and unique today. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of hearing them, here’s Lobster in Cleavage Probe from Hatfield and the North’s debut, courtesty of Grooveshark.
Fans of the Northettes may wonder; what happened to them? Where are they now? Many will be familiar with Barbara Gaskin’s musical and romantic partnership with Dave Stewart which has lasted to this day, but the fates of Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal are a bit more mysterious. In an interview with Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin on Progressive Ears, Dave was able to shed some light on the mystery.
PE:Whatever became of the other Northettes?
DS: After leaving National Health Amanda got a job in television and is now married with two grown-up children – she isn’t actively involved in music as far as I know. Ann Rosenthal sent us a nice message recently containing this update: “I live in rural Shropshire, work as a Business Analyst, keep chickens, am both a qualified gardener and management consultant (confused?) and am passionate about hill walking and climbing mountains. Love Annie.”
It seems neither Amanda or Ann continued their musical careers which makes me wonder if they’re aware of the way their musical contributions continue to touch the hearts and minds of people today, old fans and new. So, on the chance they might read this, I would like to say on behalf of myself, the site and the rest of the fans of Hatfield and the North whom I’m sure would agree with me when I write :
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Today is – or would be – prominent Canterburyan Philip “Pip” Pyle’s birthday. Sadly, Pip passed away in 2006, but his music lives on. Although he’s most famous for being a brilliant drummer, he was also a composer and songwriter and wrote lyrics for songs like “What’s Rattlin'” from Richard Sinclair’s album R.S.V.P., Let’s Eat (Real Soon) which was Hatfield and the North’s only single and the B-Side from that single which was Fitter Stoke has a Bath. Fitter Stoke also later appeared on the band’s second album Rotter’s Club – and then again even later as a bonus track on rereleases of the band’s self-titled debut.
For me and many other fans of Hatfield and the North, Fitter Stoke has a Bath in particular stands out as one of the band’s finest songs and absolute highlights. Aside from the timeless beauty of the composition and it’s execution, the words and the subject matter has great appeal to me. Although I’ll admit I don’t really understand all of it (not much of it at all come to think of it), it represents to me an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. Perhaps the line “I’m drowing in the bathroom” is more dramatic than I give it credit for, but coupled with Richard Sinclair’s bubbley singing, the image conjured in my mind is of someone simply enjoying themselves in the bathtub (something I can certainly relate to). A refrain going “ding dong ding, dong ding dong” just seems like it’s written by someone who’s got better things to do than worry about life, a philosophy I’m sure many of us could learn a thing or two from.
Despite being a bit cryptic, I believe the song is also a lot more personal than the casual listener is aware of. The name “Fitter Stoke” was actually the name of Pip’s daughter Alice’s imaginary friend while Pamela from the song who makes tea and washes clothes – or looks elegant and writes prose (whichever line you prefer), was his wife. In addition to the song being a musical delight, these attractive and a little intimate details help make Fitter Stoke has a Bath an immortal Canterbury classic and from a fan’s perspective, listening to it is the perfect way to remember Pip Pyle on his birthday.
My personal relationship with Pip is through his music, but I know those who knew him misses him a great deal. May his memory and music live on!