One of my absolute favourite prog rock bands, in the 70s and still now, is Gracious! You may not have heard of them. They did support The Who, King Crimson and others for a time.

They were on the famous Vertigo label.

Their first released album (1970) has the famous white cover that has a textured effect and gathers marks like you can’t believe. I remember buying mine in Bernard Dean’s in Scarborough and being given a clear protective sleeve because the cover had picked up marks on the rack. It cleaned easily enough with a rubber. I still play it.

It’s a concept album of sorts. Side one consists of a self-referential Introduction, Heaven and Hell, all linked with odd beeping noises. The second side has a fugue for harpsichord and guitars, then a lengthy piece with bits of Beethoven included. There’s lots of mellotron, of course.

The dog

When I was young and collecting LPs, that was an expensive hobby. Yes, an album was indeed under £2, but when your pocket money was just the equivalent of 50p per month, that was tough.

Very few bands produced more than one album a year, and we were always on the hunt for new people to explore. There were several factors we used to decide whether an artist might be of interest:

  • word of mouth
  • appearances on John Peel, Old Grey Whistle Test or other shows
  • reviews
  • comparisons with similar bands
  • friends having copies
  • sampler LPs
  • anyone in the band who had been in other bands we liked
  • the record label
  • the instrumentation of the band

One factor that often swung it for me was the use of the mellotron. There was a style of music I loved that was well suited to this machine, and many of my absolute favoutites even now used a mellotron (King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Barclay James Harvest, PFM…). One band I found that had at least two mellotron players was Pavlov’s Dog, from St Louis.

The band’s first album… no, let’s come back to that. The band’s first commercially released album, on two different record labels, was called Pampered Menial. There were three guitarists, two keyboard players (both using mellotron), drummer and a strings player.

Bonzo stuff

In the late 1960s and 70s I was a big fan of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, later just the Bonzo Dog Band, or even The Bonzos.

They started as a group doing trad jazz comedy stuff, but this evolved into more rock based material with a definite surreal/funny edge.

The Bonzos were well known. They were in the ITV comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set with some other famous people, and sang a song in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. They had one big hit single, I’m The Urban Spaceman, produced by Paul McCartney.

Michael Brook

I know there are very many people who like the same music that I do, and I like to pass on suggestions for others you may like in a similar vein, others perhaps a bit more obscure, not because I make anything from it but because I want to share great music with you.

Years ago I had the pleasure of seeing David Sylvian and Robert Fripp live at the Royal Albert Hall. Opening the show and also playing with the band was Michael Brook.