Friday, February 19, 2021

Main: Mainstream

Quiet Sun: Mummy was an Asteroid, Daddy was a Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil

For no particularly good reason, other than I like it, I’ve been listening to a bunch of fusion and prog-rock lately (I find it good to have on while working), which meant that coincidentally, I’ve heard a bunch of Chick Corea in the days before his death. That’s just an aside to the main point of this piece which is about an almost forgotten fusion album, Mainstream by Quiet Sun. 

I remember being introduced to Phil Manzanera’s music in college by someone at WPRB. Although aware of Roxy Music, I didn’t know the names of anyone in the band other than Bryan Ferry, but I learned that Manzanera was the guitarist, and that I liked his solo work better than Roxy. I’ve written about that, and about Manzanera’s background here—and even mentioned both Mainstream and our wonderfully titled featured song—so I won’t repeat myself too much. 

As I wrote there, when Manzanera booked studio time in 1975 to record his first solo album, Diamond Head, he reunited his school band, Quiet Sun, to record some music they had previously worked on, but never recorded formally, before the group disbanded in 1972. This was not just a bunch of kids bashing around in their garage, but a talented group of musicians influenced by the Canterbury Scene. In fact, bass player Bill MacCormick had befriended Robert Wyatt (the son of a friend of his mother’s), one of the stalwarts of the scene as a founder of Soft Machine. After Quiet Sun’s first disbanding, MacCormick joined Wyatt’s band Matching Mole, Manzanera joined Roxy Music, keyboard player Dave Jarrett became a teacher, and drummer Charles Hayward played with a number of different groups, including briefly with Gong. 

But Manzanera got the band back together in 1975, recording at night after the Diamond Head sessions were done, and working on improving their earlier music with what they had learned in the intervening years (and availing themselves of Brian Eno's synthesizers and treatments). What they turned out was exciting, interesting fusion, one of the most interesting of which is our featured song (and not just because of its title, which apparently was originally the more pedestrian “Dog,” derived from a prior title, “Mummy was a Maoist, Daddy was a running dog capitalist lackey of the bourgeoisie” that songwriter MacCormick’s brother, music journalist Ian MacDonald, revised in the studio). Remarkably, the complex song was reportedly recorded in one take. 

That was it for Quiet Sun, although some of the music from the album was later performed by 801, which was led by Manzanera, and included MacCormick. On the great 801 Live album, “Asteroid” was combined with a track from Diamond Head, “East of Echo,” and became “East of Asteroid.” It is also great.