9 February 2011

Locomotive - Mr Armageddan

Locomotive - Mr Armageddan

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1969

Numerous music fans have a "year zero" mentality when it comes to the concept of Midlands-based ska bands - the populist view is that before Two Tone, there was virtually nothing.  As with all sweeping statements, this has little grounding in fact.  Birmingham had a thriving ska scene in the sixties way before Coventry's The Specials took the blueprint and brought it to wider awareness.

Locomotive are a decidedly odd case in point.  They were a gigging jazz act in their earliest years, but upon being joined by the keyboard player Norman Haines were suddenly introduced to a wider array of other sounds.  Having spent his time working in a record store in the multi-cultural Smethwick area,  he brought an enthusiasm for Blue Beat and Ska to a band of accomplished musicians, a mind-broadening exercise which eventually led to the minor hit single (and club DJ staple) "Rudi's In Love" in 1968.

Whilst the band could probably have forged a strong career continuing in this vain, their muso tendencies were also positively tickled by the emerging progressive rock style, which led to a series of recordings which dabbled around in the musical spectrum so much that they actually sounded utterly unique.  The second single "Mr Armageddan" showcases this change of style marvellously, being full of the-end-is-nigh styled hippy doom and gloom combined with blue-eyed soul vocals, a storming brass section and swirling keyboards.  It's almost the sound of a band who can't quite make up their minds about their general direction producing a psychedelic single which sounded utterly unlike any other during the period.  The track presented here is the original mono single version (straight from crackly vinyl) but is only an excerpt.  A full version can be downloaded from iTunes and other online music stores if you're interested.

The flip "There's Got To Be A Way" (edit below) combines jazzy riffs with soulful vocals and zig-zagging musical structures.  It's not going to be to everyone's tastes, and indeed there's sufficient evidence to prove that the band's multi-genre melodies turned away all the fans they'd originally built up at the time.  Still, it's an intriguing record, and "Mr Armageddan" at least is up there with some of the better pre-prog, post-psych records of 1969.

Dismayed by the stone cold public response to their album "We Are Everything You See" in 1970, the band split in several directions - but perhaps most notably and appropriately, their drummer Bob Lamb went on to produce UB40's legendary debut album "Signing Off", thereby having a marked influence on  the styles that emerged during the early eighties.

5 comments:

The Confused said...

Great record though annoying EMI have used the stereo take for way too many compilations claiming it's the single version when in reality the mono single had a specially recorded intro. Took me years to find the mono mix.

Always felt that this was a downright daring and audacious disc to release as the follow up to "Rudi" - I'll bet there were quite a few who bought this expecting another lively dose of ska only to be confronted with this superb doomy piece of psych and prog and thinking WTF?!?!

23 Daves said...

Believe it or not, until I actually bought this single and played it I had no idea the mono intro was so radically different myself! I have two supposed "single versions" of "Mr Armageddan" on compilations. One cuts the album's orchestral intro completely so the song begins quite abruptly with the organ riff, the other includes it. A big part of the reason I uploaded the excerpt is so that people can hear the difference.

It is probably one of the most unlikely follow-up singles of all time, too. I can't think of any recent modern equivalents for such a sudden shift in style.

burkesworks said...

W00t! Been after the mono mix of this for ages; quite different to the stereo version with the abrupt fade-in, let alone the version on "We Are Everything You See", which is a bloody terrific album should you unearth a copy.

The Confused said...

Yes, that Locomotive album is a good one! To my ears, it sounds like the stereo take is exactly as they recorded it but when they decided to put it out as a single, they knew they couldn't use the orchestral intro nor a sudden fade in so recorded a new intro especially which they then spliced into the song therefore ensuring the mono single mix would be exclusive and because not many people bought it, it's become a nice rarity.

John Robertson said...

One of those great 60s tunes that got away