Monday, June 20, 2016

Roads/Streets:Tenemos Roads

National Health: Tenemos Roads

There was a time and place when the idea of a “supergroup” combining the members of Hatfield and the North and Gilgamesh would have been a big deal. That time was the late 1970s, and the place was England, particularly Canterbury. I’ve written in the past about the so-called “Canterbury Scene,” focusing mostly on the bands Gong and Soft Machine, but there were many other groups, often with overlapping membership, that created interesting music at that time and in that place. These musicians were, for the most part, profoundly talented, extremely adventurous, and mostly forgotten, certainly on this side of the Atlantic.

Hatfield and the North was one of the best regarded bands from this scene. After the usual musical chairs, its membership essentially solidified as vocalist/bassist Richard Sinclair (formerly of Caravan, later of Camel), guitarist Phil Miller (formerly of Matching Mole), drummer Pip Pyle (formerly, and later, of Gong), and keyboardist Dave Stewart (formerly of Egg and not the guy from the Eurythmics, but later of Bruford), and a trio of female singers known as the Northettes, Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal. Gilgamesh was somewhat lesser known, was organized around keyboard player Alan Gowen, and included, among others, guitarist Phil Lee and bassist Neil Murray (later of Whitesnake and Black Sabbath). Both bands played music that was a fusion of rock, jazz and classical influences.

The new band, which came to be called “National Health,” was to include most members of both, but, of course, that was unlikely to work out.  Initially, Bill Bruford was the drummer, but he was replaced by Pyle, Murray replaced Mont Campbell as bassist, and by the time the self-titled debut album was released, Gowan was credited only as a guest, along with Parsons, the only Northette to participate. Nevertheless, they created a great album, if maybe not quite a masterpiece. Mostly instrumental, it is complex, interesting prog rock without much of the pompousness that has given the genre a bad name.

Leadoff track, “Tenemos Roads,” a 14 and a half minute piece written by Stewart, has a catchy opening theme and a long instrumental section before Parsons’ ethereal vocals enter. Prog rock songs often have spacy lyrics, and “Tenemos Roads” is part of that tradition. Something about a place in the stars, and history and men making war and fish living in the sea. Whatever. After a bit of spacy noodling, the song picks up again, and almost rocks out to the end.

I know that may not sound all that enticing, but trust me, it is really good, so give it a listen.

National Health released a maybe even better album the next year, Of Queues And Cures, and then went into hibernation, reuniting in 1982 for D.S. Al Coda, a tribute to Gowen, who had died the previous year of leukemia. And that was pretty much it from this particular combination of musicians, except for some live releases and Missing Piece, a collection of early songs featuring Bruford, Steve Hillage and others.

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