MUSIC NEWS REVIEW
It isn’t often that I am stumped as to how to review an album but this one has me in a proper pickle.
The principle of the album is that after recording their last album, ‘We’re Ready’, they had an unused hypnotic loop. This was sent out to a number of ex-band members, associates and other detritus whom they encouraged to create and expand on the track in any way they wished. These included Bert Biscoe (original co-founder of the band), Chrissy Quayle – a legendary Cornish poet aka The Mermaid of Zennor – saxophonist Oli Arlotto, reggae DJ Oxman … you get the picture.
The resulting responses were ‘melded’ into the four part title track and the resulting creation feels as though it has no real structure. Except. Except the loop at the core of the music holds everything together so that every change in direction feels natural; unexpected and unusual but somehow inevitable and completely in keeping with the whole.
There is no common reference to place this in, no neat pigeon-hole, no box you can drop it into and pull closed the cover. For a reviewer it is a pain in the arse but for a music lover – wow!
The opening track, ‘Long Enough’, is a psychedelic trip with a strong element of Hawkwind’s driving rhythms aligned with Duncan Kerr’s screaming guitar but then you are drawn into the 4 part epic of ‘Back To Shore’ and all intimations of ‘normal’ are driven out into the long grass.
‘Part 1’ has folk elements with complex rhythms and draws the listener down into the depths with a stunning flute solo from Chrissie Quayle and a hypnotic refrain. It has a chant-like property, almost a calling down of the Cornish gods finally erupting into a punk/psych explosion that releases the tension as though you had been waiting for it all along.
After a chiming bell we find ourselves in the bucolic land of ‘Part 2’ featuring a strong Toast from Oxman building over a harmonica solo and strong bass lines and then ebbing back to Oxman’s dark poetry.
‘Part 3’ has a powerful sax line coupled with acid guitar, all the while underpinned by that exceptional loop – possibly the most like Brainiac 5 in tone and structure , you cannot help but wince at the difficult transitions but it is satisfying in ways that are difficult to explain.
‘Part 4’ takes us back in part to ‘Part 1’ with similar chants and refrains but more of a campfire jazz feel to it.
As a piece it is simply awesome. And it works, leaving you ponder deeply after trying to follow so many themes and forms in such a compressed space.
It is a wonderful work. It almost forces you to listen time and again to try and find where the threads originated. This one will be on my deck for a long while to come.
PROG MAGAZINE REVIEW
Who’s Who for Back To Shore
tracks 1, 6, 7, 8:
Charlie Taylor: singer, guitarist, keyboards
Duncan Kerr: singer, guitarist
Wayne Worrell: bass
Joe Malone: drummer, percussionist
Guests on tracks 2 - 5:
Woody: Bass, harmonica, thumb piano and Jews Harp, curator of the “Back to Shore” quartet of tracks. Sleeve design of current and previous three albums, in conjunction with Barry Field (Uni).
Bert Biscoe: Singer/song writer in original incarnation of The Brainiac 5.
Bert was also in Lip Service and Metro Glider with Chrissy Quayle 1978-80. He is currently still very active on the folk, poetry and political front in Cornwall. Contribution recorded Truro, Cornwall.
Chrissy Quayle: The Mermaid of Zennor, singer and multi-instrumentalist, big on the folk, rock and world music scene in Cornwall at the time of The Brainiacs’ first incarnation. Frequent jammer with the Band and later joined Bert Biscoe in Cornish rock bands Lip Service and Metro Glider 1978-80. Played with second incarnation Brainiac 5 guitarist, Richard Booth in reggae band, Farenji Warriors, 1983. Currently performing/ recording with Russell Roberts in Mask. Contribution recorded Granada, Spain.
Oli Arlotto: An acquaintance of Woody’s from the London jazz jam scene. Never heard or seen the Brainiac 5 before. Contribution recorded North East London.
Oxman: Works with Charlie and Duncan as the reggae expert at Reckless Records. A well-known figure on the London reggae toasting and DJ-ing scene. Contribution recorded Disco 2000, Epping.
Richard “Wild Man” Booth: lead guitarist in The Brainiac 5 mark 2. Played pre Brainiacs in Plummet Airlines with current B5 guitarist Duncan Kerr. Played with Chrissy Quayle in reggae band, Farenji Warriors, 1983 and in Audio Murphy with Duncan Kerr and Steve Hudson (Brainiac 5’s original drummer), 1988 to 92. Currently recording with The Richard Booth Band. Contribution recorded Newtown, Wales.
Dave “Bagpipes” Brooks: in comedy troop “The Greatest Show on Legs”, who were on the festival circuit with The Brainiac 5 first incarnation in Cornwall (check out their infamous Balloon Dance on You Tube). Later, circa 1982-4, lead Silly Boy Lemon, singing, playing sax, flute and rock and roll/reggae bagpipes with Woody on bass. Contribution recorded Disco 2000, Epping.
HEAR IT ON BANDCAMP:
CLASSIC ROCK REVIEW
Strap yerselves in for a cosmic dinghy ride with veteran psychedelic proggers the Brainiac 5, 41 years on from their formation in Cornwall. In this album’s woozy mix are jazz, punk, reggae and even a trippy folk groove on the title track featuring Chrissy Quayle (aka The Mermaid Of Zennor) that soon gives way to one heck of a wonderful Gong/Hawkwind freak-out.
In Alice in Wonderland, the (Mad) Hatter asks the somewhat famous riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
Lewis Carroll never intended an answer, but that hasn’t stopped notable people from trying to find a solution.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Every answer needs a riddle, but not all riddles require an answer. And those are the great ones.”
By the way, this is an absurdly brilliant psych-prog (and just about everything else) album.
First the easy stuff: There are several psych-rock songs like “Long Enough” that twist the frequencies a bit and punch into psych perceptions with punk safety pinned energy. As a reference point, perhaps, imagine The Screaming Trees (in their SST days) fronted by Julian Cope. The music swirls, darts, pulses, pounds, and is always just (ever so slightly) on the other side of the Looking Glass. This is powerful and very clever rock music.
But now to the rest: Oh my(!) the core of the album is comprised with the multi-part epic Back to Shore Parts 1—4
Well, it all begins with a burst of energy in Part 1 A Woman’s Work, and then the re-occurring vocal melody sings “Back to shore,” with male and female vocals spinning around the Latin rhythm. A flute dances with a new step that sends The Girl from Ipanema back to, well, Ipanema, and in desperate search of an open and aged stag line.
The vocals ask the question as to how to “Find a way back to shore.”
Perhaps, that’s the meaning of life in a nutshell.
And the flute continues to dance because the flute has continued to dance through humanity’s deepest mysteries.
There’s a brief acoustic interlude, but then all psych heaven explodes with sax, strange voices, jutting guitars, and electric everything.
Part 2 This Way starts to spin with dub vocal poetry, ala (the great) Linton Kwesi Johnson of Dread Beat an’ Blood fame. Then the song spins with a jazzy of West Indian vibe. A guitar plays against exotic percussion, and a harmonica and tin whistle circle the tune. Vocals then quell the mix, until, well, (of all things) an electric bagpipe blares yet another weird bit of rock ‘n’ roll music.
Trust me, I am not doing justice to this album. But I can say this is the best concoction of rock, psych, and world music (with a blazing electric guitar!) I have heard since (the great) Jade Warrior, not counting the rather serene Waves, in their Island Records heyday. In fact, Part 3 Tribute to Alex Ward simply rocks with ethnic percussion, some beautifully distorted guitar, some absolutely raging guitar, a few horns, and a tribal groove. It tears through its brief four-minute plus lifespan.
By the way (to pause for a moment), master puzzle pro, Sam Loyd, solved the unsolvable when he proclaimed, “Because Poe wrote on both.”
All right, but back to music: Part 4 The Seal Man stretches with deep symphonic keyboards that surround a suburb sax solo. Guitar bursts and the “Back to shore” chorus hover, until the piano and new melody, rides the song to its second sax solo that simply rumbles and raves, and, in the end, the heavens sing, a few gongs gong, and the tune is engulfed with beautiful keyboard relief.
The instrumental “Elegy” is a thankful blessing before the final two songs, “What We Can” and “Breaking Up” return the music to the world of mere rock music. Indeed, they are great tunes, but, they only float in the wake of the Back to Shore magnum opus.
Yes, indeed, this is an absurdly brilliant psych-prog (and everything else) rock album. But it’s more than that because it’s a musical riddle of a record, a record that requires no answer, and that’s why, to almost (once again) quote my friend, Kilda Defnut, it’s a great one.
The Brainiac 5 Incarnations
B5(1) Bert Biscoe: Vocals, Guitar Mushy Doubt EP 1978
1975-78 Charlie Taylor: Vocals, Guitar
Based in West Penwith, Woody: Bass
Cornwall Steve Hudson: Drums
B5(2) Charlie Taylor: Vocals, Guitar World Inside 12” vinyl
1978-80 Richard Booth: Vocals, Guitar Recorded 1980,
Based in West Penwith, Woody: Bass Released 1988
Cornwall Steve Hudson: Drums Monkeys & Degenerates
Single (+ Bert Biscoe)
B5(3) Charlie Taylor: Vocals, Guitar Space Is The Place
2012-2013 Duncan Kerr: Vocals, Guitar 10” vinyl
Based in London Woody: Bass 2013
Steve Hudson: Drums
B5(4) Charlie Taylor: Vocals, Guitar Exploding Universe
2014-16 Duncan Kerr: Vocals, Guitar CD, 2014
Based in London Nick Onley: Sax, Flute
Wayne Worrell: Drums
B5(5) Charlie Taylor: Vocals, Guitar Journey To X
2015-17 Duncan Kerr: Vocals, Guitar CD/12” vinyl
Based in London Woody: Bass 2016
Joe Malone: Drums We’re Ready CD
B5(6) Charlie Taylor: Vocals, Guitar Back to Shore CD
2017- current Duncan Kerr: Vocals, Guitar (tracks 1, 7 & 8)
Based in London Wayne Worrell: Bass 2019
Joe Malone: Drums