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By West Briton
Thursday, July 25, 2013
ONCE described as coming "from Penzance via Mars", the Brainiac 5 have gone down in history as one of Cornwall's great bands.
And now they're back ....
The group inhaled the prevalent punk spirit of the times but were equally happy to ingest the plentiful psilocybin mushrooms growing naturally in their home county and take their music to the outer reaches of the mind.
Their 1978 debut EP, Mushy Doubt, was a wondrous melting pot of punk and acid rock that drew not only on punk's short sharp shock attack and the outlandish dub explorations of Lee Perry, but also dreamy guitar extemporisations, and found favour with DJ John Peel who played the waxing regularly on his show.
The EP featured great songs like Vegetable which packed a Pistols-type punch with more esoteric leanings. The set's centre piece was Endless River, a West Coast-sounding number that drew very favourable comparisons with vintage Country Joe & the Fish.
Sadly the band split in late 1980 after releasing a further 7" and completing an album that was posthumously released on Reckless Records.
In the intervening years the band's cachet has grown and they have been recognised as one of the fore-runners of the 1980s psychedelic revival alongside such outfits as the Soft Boys and the Colours Out Of Time.
In 2010 Brainiac songwriter Charles Taylor returned to live in the UK after a couple of decades roaming the globe and found himself back in the company of the Brainiacs' bass player John 'Woody' Wood.
Their thoughts turned to a full-blown Brainiac reunion. After recruiting pal Duncan Kerr on guitar and backing vocals (ex-Plummet Airlines), the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when original drummer Steve 'Heartbeat' Hudson' was lured out of retirement to fill the drum stool.
A few rehearsals later and a few gigs under their belt, the band was firing on all cylinders again and quite as potent as in their Seventies heyday.
The three tracks that comprise their new Space Is The Place 10" EP were recorded live in autumn 2012 and are released with a minimum of studio trickery. The standout cut is Space Is The Place, a classic from the halcyon days of yore which sadly never got committed to analogue tape first time around and survived only on old bootleg live recordings. Tipping its hat to the great Sun Ra, this sees the Brainiacs eight miles high and soaring – a beautiful flowing piece of cosmic brilliance containing some of the finest modal guitar playing since the heyday of Television.
Shortly after recording the EP Steve Hudson left the band and was replaced by Wayne Worrell. They were also joined by Nick Onley on sax and flute, adding a whole new dimension to their sound. The new band, gigging regularly in London, returns to Cornwall this week.
You can see them at Bunters, Truro, on Friday with Nervosa and the Farmer's Arms, Penzance, on Saturday.
Richard "Wild Man" Booth, the band's lead guitarist from 1978 to 1981, will be playing on a few numbers at both gigs.
For the Bunters gig they will also have the pleasure of Truro boy, Councillor Bert Biscoe, the band's original lead vocalist, joining them for a few numbers. A retrospective CD of old and rare recordings from the late 1970s will be released later in the year.
Copyright © The Brainiac 5
Despite having been formed before I was even born, Journey To X is only the third album released by a band once described as coming from "Penzance via Mars". After more than 30 years on hiatus, these former John Peel favourites are making up for lost time, with this being their second album since reuniting, following on from the success of 2015's Exploding Universe.
While parts of their psychedelic punk fusion sound are a clear throwback to the 70s, this album feels surprisingly modern, with some of the vocals sounding a little Misty's Big Adventure (most noteably on Laura Riding). There's a lot that's gone into this melting pot, but the final record is unique and at times simply sublime. In fact, there is so much going on here (psych/punk/jazz/glam pop/African), that this is something that everyone can enjoy.
Lyrically the songs represent a wide variety of themes, covering trust, communication, inappropriate obsessions… and then there is beauty of a description of The Human Scapegoat from the sleeve notes:
"The prehistoric tradition of choosing a king who would rule the tribe for a year and then be ritually sacrificed to ensure a successful harvest, and the movement of the human race towards increased mechanisation and eventual (nuclear?) self-destruction, followed by a revival among the survivors of a simpler, more natural form of living."
The Human Scapegoat is nothing short of epic, enticing you in with a guitar riff that could have come from the heady days of Brit-pop. It is 12 minutes of constant change encompassing metal, an interlude of percussion and nature sounds, and progressive rock redolent of Pink Floyd. It's followed up by Laura Riding which is a great slice of modern glam pop about the renowned poet and Robert Graves' 'muse'.
The lyrics on At Noon are based on a poem by Elizabeth Jennings, and the song itself is one of the more simplistic on the album, a strong 60s style pop sound with deep lyrics about having no place in the world. Some Things is a great punk rock song with a fabulous guitar riff throughout. Kill It, which closes out the album, matches the ambition of The Human Scapegoat. It's almost eleven minutes of sublime guitar, and sudden changes that send it off into unexpected directions.
The standout here is probably The World Inside, though there is a lot of competition. It's a strange and unexpected dip into cabaret style, though with a significant punky twist. Jessie Pie's soulful jazzy vocal style is a bit of a departure, but it works perfectly, especially when the track becomes a duet. It may come completely out of leftfield, but it's a wonderful song that enthrals and delights.
Consistently surprising and wonderfully fresh, the Brainiac 5 don't waste a single note, which is remarkable considering the length of some of these songs. They skirt the line between retro and modern with an impressive deft touch, creating a wonderful record which will leave you wanting more. Let's hope this purple patch late in their careers continues for a long time to come.
The Progmeister, Steve Gould, kicked off his show on Midlands Metalheads Radio on February 19th with The Human Scapegoat.....
He began with a potted history of the B5. Afterwards he said more, including: "innovative, exciting, absolutely excellent, just what we need to give the prog genre a kick up the ass!"