Brand X are back. And how!
Here’s a splendid live version of Malaga Virgen from their 1977 album Moroccan Roll. This was recorded just a few months ago on the band’s reunion tour of the US.
If that performance doesn’t leave you panting with excitement and aghast with admiration I’ll … I’ll … errm … I’ll eat a Moroccan Roll and post the video on YouTube to prove it.
Strangely, although Brand X has been mentioned a few times in these pages before, so far none of their music has been featured here. To right that unforgivable wrong I’m making Moroccan Roll my Album of the Month.
According to AllMusic and Spotify, which quote identical biographies, Brand X was formed in 1975 by Phil Collins (the drummer with Genesis) and John Goodsall (the guitarist with Atomic Rooster) as a side project. The other members of the original band were keyboard player Robin Lumley and bassist Percy Jones. That line-up released their debut album, Unorthodox Behaviour, in 1976 and, after adding Morris Pert on percussion, followed it with Moroccan Roll a year later. Those first two albums are still, arguably, their best.
Judging by the album and track titles those guys must have had a lot of fun. Here’s the track listing for Moroccan Roll:
- Sun In The Night
- Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You’ve Broken Yours Off Already) …
- … Maybe I’ll Lend You Mine After All
- Hate Zone
- Disco Suicide
- Malaga Virgen
Of course, you can’t judge a piece of music by its title any more than you can judge an album by its cover art. And that’s probably just as well because the cover for the CD re-issue of Moroccan Roll has the kind of glaring spelling error that once prompted journalists on other newspapers to re-title The Guardian “The Grauniad”. The most northwestern country of Africa is spelt with one ‘r’ and two ‘c’s, not as the CD artwork has it, “Morrocan Roll”. I suppose that might be deliberate, a way to emphasise the pun – “more rock and roll” does have two ‘r’s and one ‘c’ – but I’ve not seen that justification offered and the correct spelling has been used in everything else I have read.
Anyone at all familiar with Brand X will know that they are no rock ‘n roll band. They were among the pioneers of the jazz/rock fusion genre, the first blacksmiths heating jazz licks almost to melting point and hammering out a new type of horseshoe on an anvil of solid rock.
Moroccan Roll is as good an example of that craft as any but it’s not all hammer and sweat. Sun In The Night, for example, is a laid back, world music song, the only one on the album that has words. Unfortunately for English speakers those words are in a language from the Indian sub-continent. Wikipedia says it’s Sanskrit; Google Translate thinks it’s Hindi and provides an English ‘translation’ identical to the incomprehensible original. This site is more informative but it still reads like a typical Eastern mantra, more mystical than enlightening. But no matter, it’s a good tune and John Goodsall’s sitar whisks us away to India, enveloping us in the spirits of Shiva and Vishnu.
The next two tracks are both credited to Phil Collins. Why Should I Lend You Mine picks up the beat for a while and we enter the heart of jazz fusion territory. The listener’s attention flicks between the instruments as they inject their individual contribution to the piece: five parts, each of them and none of them foremost. That is the hallmark of great bands. Then the beat dies away and we find ourselves cradled gently in the arms of the gods once again. This time, though, it is the gods of the Western traditions that comfort and protect us. Almost as soon as Why Should I Lend You Mine has faded away Maybe I’ll Lend You Mine After All filters through cotton wool earplugs to form a fitting coda to the previous track.
After that good deed of altruistic lending there’s a complete change of mood. A short drum solo takes us into John Goodsall’s Hate Zone. The synthesiser wails, the guitar rants, the bass grumbles irritably and the drums are definitely asking for trouble. Our gang of football hooligans has come face to face with the opposition. Both sides are throwing insults and violence is brewing. But soon the simmering hatred burns itself out, the crowds dissipate and everyone goes home fairly quietly. We should have thumped them (both on and off the pitch), but this blood-chilling music more than makes up for the disappointing draw.
Next up it’s Robin Lumley’s turn in the composer’s chair. Collapsar is an ethereal keyboard and electronics interlude that neatly rounds off side 1 of the vinyl release. When we flip the disc we are greeted with rippling piano sounds underpinning a soft fusion track that shows Brand X at their very best. This one even has some vocals picking out a simple tune with La La syllables. (Actually, it sounds more like Na Na, but La La reads better. :-)) Why it’s called Disco Suicide I can’t imagine; it’s no dance track and it has a joie de vivre that is the complete opposite of suicidal despair. Perhaps that’s the point – to play it in a disco might well lead to the DJ’s predictable murder on the dance floor.
Deep into side 2 we come to Percy Jones’ personal contribution. In Orbits Percy flies us around the fingerboard of his fretless bass in a solo demonstration of his unparalleled flair and technique. And as an encore he uses all his talents in his own composition, the Malaga Virgen that we met in the video at the start of this post. (“Malaga Virgen”, by the way, is a Spanish dessert wine.)
The album finishes with the third of John Goodsall’s pieces. Called Macrocosm, it’s another whole band celebration of the fusion genre – intricate, uplifting, a showcase for the individual skills of the musicians and a fine example of an ensemble that is more than the sum of its parts.
I should mention the part that Morris Pert plays on Moroccan Roll and I can do no better than to quote Wikipedia, which says:
percussion and a vast number of bits and things that he hit while the tape was running, including: The QE2, Idi Amin, and undiscovered parts of Scotland
And, finally, here are a couple of quotes from the two founding members of Brand X that are currently on their Reunion Tour:
John Goodsall: “It’s a better version now. We’re all a lot more experienced – a lot more skilled… And that goes for every one of us.”
Percy Jones: “This music takes us back to a certain space – which was really cool. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel that feeling again – and yet here it is!”
They really are back. And better than ever.
The photos in the slideshow are taken from an excellent review of the show at the Iridium in New York City on 3rd January 2017.