CD Reviews: Taking Liberties; Various Artists - All Good Clean Fun (Liberty) pounds 15.99.
This superbly compiled three CD set is a great testament to one of England's most impressive underground record labels of the 1960s and 70s. Liberty Records was the baby of 23-year-old entrepreneur Andrew Lauder and, at its peak, was responsible for some of the most forward-thinking rock music of its age.
Propagating a family atmosphere, the artistic freedom allowed to its artists was crucial to Liberty's success.
For the princely sum of pounds 18 a week, Lauder began work at Liberty by re-issuing albums by Fats Domino, Slim Whitman and Eddie Cochran. But Lauder's ambitions were great. Employing a young Mike Batt as in-house arranger and Ray Williams as an indefatigable talent scout, Lauder began to build his roster.
It was decided to focus mainly on British bands and Birmingham's Idle Race were the first to ink a contract. Jeff Lynne was later to go onto bigger things with ELO and the Travelling Wilburys.
Next up were the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, the anarchic musical comedians whose first album Gorilla remains a classic. So far so good.
Lauder then signed the Groundhogs, a typical British blues boom band with ambitions beyond the clubs of Soho. A change in direction to a more rock-based sound gave the three-piece the push needed to cross over and an appetite for touring resulted in high chart positions for the albums Split and Thank Christ for the Bomb. The former Groundhogs album, a musical exploration of a split personality is rightly regarded as one of the most innovative albums of the era and Tony McPhee continues to gig, a regular guest at the Robin in Bilston.
Liberty didn't ignore the American scene - Captain Beefheart and Creedence Clearwater Revival both were under the label's roof, but this compilation wisely concentrates on the UK talent.
Perhaps Liberty's most enduring signing is Hawkwind, a scruffy, punky jam band from Ladbroke Grove. Hawkwind's Liberty albums are astonishing and still sound like nothing else. An atypical 'underground' band, Hawkwind were relentless in their gigging and quick to play for the right cause. Leave your gate open in 1971 and chances are you'd return home to find Hawkwind playing a gig in your garden.
The compilation bravely includes the 15 minute centrepiece from their In Search of Space epic, the riffmongous You Shouldn't Do That where Nik Turner's squalling sax puts him closer to the likes of free jazzer Anthony Braxton than rock'n'roll.
Liberty was now punching its weight with the prog rock labels such as Harvest and Deram, and the quality showed no sign of abating. My favourite band of the era, Man, were the archetypal Liberty band. A stoned Welsh collective with one foot in the beat clubs and the other in San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom, Man wrote great songs and had the mercurial chops to really rock live.
Liberty signed the band when they really began cooking as a unit, their first release being the legendary Greasy Truckers Party album, a Hawkwind-arranged gig document released at a cheap price. But it was Be Good to Yourself at Least Once a Day that crys-tallised the band's vibe. Represented here is the band's unofficial anthem Bananas, a hymn to dope totally in step with the hash haze of the time.
Man spin-off band Help Yourself and guitarist Deke Leonard are also well represented here.
Beyond these bigger names, Liberty was also host to several misfits and geniuses who have been largely forgotten, but thanks to this compilation shall once again enjoy their moment in the sun.
Step forward If, B B Blunder, Cochise and Gypsy. Take a bow Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, High Tide and Reg King. You can dip into any of these discs and be guaranteed a good listen.
The only anomaly, and a fortunate one at that, is the appearance of some hypnotic avant rock from Can, representing Germany on this very British box. Father Cannot Yell and Paperhouse are just two of rock's most influential recordings and while not particularly unsung, give a good perspective of Liberty's strengths and ambitions.
An almost perfect release. HHHHH
Much missed British crackpots The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band; Birmingham's Idle Race with Jeff Lynne on the left were Liberty's first UK signing