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.

Monday, February 15, 2021


"Main Street is a metonym used to denote a primary retail street of a villagetown or small city in many parts of the world. It is usually a focal point for shops and retailers in the central business district, and is most often used in reference to retailing and socializing."

Well, there's a thing. Metonym, I mean, a word previously outside my knowledge and vocabulary. And of course I love it and you can expect its casual drop into a future post real soon. But I felt I needed clarification of what quite an exile from main street might really mean. Sure, we know what the Stones meant, I think, but, to go all literal, surely it means they were strictly side streets. Or maybe back streets. But, anyway let's have a traipse around some main streets and see where we end up.

London is so big it would be invidious to classify which street is actually more main than any of the others, but, to apply the wiki description, certainly in terms of the main shopping drag and flagship stores, it probably fits the bill best. Plus, and essentially therefore, it has a song about it. A good one too, the output of early Everything But The Girl. Long before the drum and bass electronic clatter of Walking Wounded, they, married couple Ben Watt and Tracey Thorne, were offering delicate jazz tinged whimsy like this. With charm abundant.The lyrics explain perfectly why Oxford Street counts as main street: to those living outside the metropolis, coming in by train as a special treat, Oxford Street is exactly where you would head, if retail was your thing. And, let's face it, more people came to London to shop than to go to the museums. (I guess if you are already a Londoner, you may be more inclined to go to the West End or Brick Lane, depending on resources or requirements.)

Whilst there is a Main street in New York, most folk won't see it a go to, more a go through, so I think it's probably Fifth Avenue. Not everybody gets to pay the prices or even gain admission, so it's good to see the other side, Dylan LeBlanc's wry reflection on being a pauper in the glitz, a string drenched lament that sounds more (Best) western in style than the north east. Lovely song. Other contenders could be, for the more budget conscious, Broadway or Union Street.

OK, a bit of a cheat here, for Paris, but, hell, it was the obvious, right from the start of choosing the thematic approach, right? La belle Joni, peak folk becomes jazzier period, with the lyrically all over the place paean to, well, french kissing. Miles knew, however, that main street, Paris, equals Les Champs Elysees, another eye-waveringly temple to gratuitous wealth. Personally I always preferred Les Halles, the old market and, now, state of the art mall. Let's ask a local.

So where next on this whirlwind? Well, rather than a shuffle through the fleshpots further, the above is a lesser heard oddity from the touched by genius pen of Roy Wood, the Move, ELO and Wizzard man. A schizoid blend of the Glenn Miller sound, mixed with Brian Wilson, it is a delightful way to end this mosey up the main streets of Mammon.

Enjoy, and although the shops are all closed, you can still find all these goodies: EBTG, Dylan, Joni and Roy.