CMU at the Tech
In the 60s and 70s on the site now occupied by the Anglia Polytechnic University stood the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology. (Part of this was the Art School, probably now most well known for being the place where Sid Barrett of Pink Floyd studied). Less noted were James Gordon and Ed Lee (lecturers) and Terry Mortimer (music student).
The Principal of that time was Derek Mumford, in whose honour the beautiful theatre, opened in 1970, was named. The opening took place over a week at the end of the Autumn Term, 1970, and one of the events was a concert by CMU.
This was recorded by a supporter of the band, Chris Crutchley, and provides the last recording of the group before its first recording Open Spaces, in 1971. It shows a band growing steadily in technical competence, and consolidating approaches to be seen in the third of this series of recordings, CMU at the Dog and Pheasant.
Sadly, there are several points where the recording (or at least the one which has survived) has technical deficiencies. Nevertheless, there are enough good moments for it to be worth tolerating these.
The emphasis of the band had now become increasingly vocal – on this occasion James Gordon is most featured, though in reality in performance there was a greater balance between him and Larraine, on the lines to be heard on CMU at the Dog.
Ed Lee still provided the instrumental themes, though except for Gulf Stream, none of the old favourites, even Little Miss Julie, are to be heard. The style, though certainly not standard rock, had now strongly moved in that direction, with elements of funk as well.
There were various shifts in instrumentation. Everyone who was not actually playing (usually the singers) was deployed at times on percussion. Terry started to use his first instrument, the piano (his second, the guitar, was not exactly a filler!) and Ed, always one to surprise uses the tenor recorder (on Ivory Coast).
My Baby’s Reputation (also at times called She’s All Right and Guy Talks)
Both James Gordon and Adrian Kendon (the previous bassist) had a high esteem for and actively encouraged the work of Cambridge poet, John Guy. James took one poem, originally called Guy Talks, and turned it into this song.
Unfortunately, James’ vocal is under- recorded, so the words are given here:
My baby's reputation should have put me off for life
They said she'd never settle down, she'd never make a wife.
They talked of orange-blossoms and they laughed until the cried
Those blokes with jokes of bicycles that anyone can ride
Well, well, some sell
I gotta turn around and tell you she's all right
Yeah, she's all right
She's all right
Some look, some cook, my book says she's all right.
She never kept me guessing by a saying yes and no
She upped and kissed her mister and she had that certain glow
We had the orange-blossoms up the highway to the aisle
That bride says rides on bicycles are getting out of style.
The guitar solo is by Ian Hamlett. The rhythm contains a touch of funk, but at “well, well” the music goes briefly into the change of metre favoured by a lot of groups at that period.
Created by Ed to give an opportunity to explore two types of music which were interesting him a lot at that time. The rhythmic sections pick up from African drumming (hence the title) but much of the piece is inspired by free jazz approaches, creating intensity through the exploration of sound textures. At various points during the group’s career Ed had suggested using sound sources which were seen by many as completely unacceptable. The most successful of these was the use of the Watkins Copicat Echo Unit, which Terry used to such amazing effect in Little Miss Julie. On this track he used the very genteel tenor recorder to create a solo full of primitive effects, suggesting the rain forest (again reflected in the title), but also an emotional climate reminiscent of that created, for example, by the Expressionist painters. It is of interest that the bulk of the solo was never written down, but was created on the spot, by relinquishing conscious control and allowing the subconscious mind and memory to flow out. The microphone has picked up breath and tonguing which gives extra drive and percussive force to the solo. The whole range of the instrument’s possibilities are deployed (including growls, whistles and breathing through the recorder), in ways far different from what we are used to in Renaissance music !
In the rhythmic section we hear Terry on piano. The only occasion on which he is deployed in CMU recordings. In view of his later achievements on the instrument, one can only dream of what might have been, if this line had been followed ...
(There is an unfortunate hum at the start of the track, which it has nor been possible to remove).
This song is first heard on the Dog CD, which makes an interesting comparison.
In the verses James sings very close to the mike, allowing him to create a slightly insane or menacing persona. In the choruses he opens out in the way characteristic His singing is followed by a scat vocal by Terry in which he plays the line on the guitar at the same time. This is followed by an Ian solo. When James comes back, lunatic sounds from the guitars can be heard in the background. Towards the end the vocal mike is lost briefly for some reason.
A Straight Case of a Gas.
The title comes from James’ reaction to hearing the theme, expressed in the type of individual phraseology which will be familiar to those who know his novel Rocky Foundations. It is a memorable Ed Lee theme in which he mixes an almost swing band first section with a solid rock second part.
Roger drives the music along from the start with a fast triplet rhythm inspired by Freedom Jazz Dance. The first guitar solo is by Terry, who then moves into dissonant chords behind Ian.
This piece illustrates the fact that the band was trying to remould itself, and to change the repertoire to reflect the change of balance in creative input which was occurring. The listener must decide how far this number equals the pieces heard on the Leeds tape, which were being set aside.
Click here to hear/download A Straight Case of Gas
At one type this number was seen as almost being the “theme tune” of the band. It is interesting to compare the version in the Leeds concert. Ed’s solo gives way to that of Ian, but Terry again has a role. The bass and drum solos had by now been shortened, as a concession to the fact that the target audience was no longer jazz fans, who expect solos from all members of a group, but a wider rock following. Terry’s solo shows a highly economic and reflective approach which can truly be described as mature.
A song written by James. The opening is strongly jazz- influenced (I think the idea came from Terry). Sadly James mike does not come in for the first phrases. The rhythm changes to a rock pattern. It is worth comparing to other pieces of the type heard on earlier CDs, to show the growing mastery of such transitions. A guitar solo by Ian follows. The vocalists return. James goes into his “towering” mode.
Versions of this song can be heard on both the Dog CD and on Open Spaces. The three present interesting contrasts of the relative importance to the listener of vitality and technical recording quality. It also points to the difficulty of keeping the energy of live performance in a studio.
If anything the noises off are even more manic. The lions truly snarl and roar. There is some distortion on the recording at various points, one of which makes the lion roar sound rather like an enormous fart.
The studio version of this can be heard on Open Spaces.
There is some hiss at the start, owing the need to bring up an under-recorded bass. The opening uses the group’s ability to create atmosphere which is seen in many pieces (this section was written by Ed). There is some distortion when Larraine comes in.
A transition passage breaks out into a fast jazz section. Terry’s chords add tension to Ian’s solo. This in turn settles into a fast funk rhythm with an intense vocal by James. The lyrics, in typical James fashion, combine accessibility with a strong philosophical message.