Clark Hutchinson - Blues (1st Unreleased Album UK Blues 1968)

Kamis, 11 Oktober 2012

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Like a lot of people I spent the beginning of this year filling the hard drive of my computer with music files courtesy of Napster. Whilst I must admit to having some contemporary music in there, the majority of songs on my PC are relatively obscure, difficult to find or no longer available commercially, and in some cases shockingly old. This is the music of my youth, and I’ve enjoyed rediscovering it.

By far the most exciting rediscovery I made through Napster was the music of Clark Hutchinson. I loved this band when I was 16 or 17, but only ever owned one of their albums on vinyl. I now have their entire back catalogue on my computer, including the whole of Gestalt, which was converted from vinyl to mp3 especially for me by a fellow Napster user and Clark Hutchinson fan in Sweden. This man is now my friend!

I also recently discovered that Mick Hutchinson, the guitar playing half of Clark Hutchinson, released a solo album in 1998, after an absence of 27 years. Through the Internet I finally tracked it down and bought it. As I played it I couldn’t help thinking that it must be time for a critical reappraisal of Mick Hutchinson's music. I’m not sure that that’s what this article is, but here goes anyway.

Andy Clark and Mick Hutchinson recorded four semi-legendary LPs of drug/scatter/raga-blues between 1969 and 1971. The first album – Blues – wasn’t released until a long time after the band had split up. Its been described elsewhere as "...a great record of swinging, pumping blues that fits the pattern of early British blues rock, when bands like Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack or Groundhogs started to explore their own new sounds, leaving behind the limitations of the traditional blues form". There is some fine guitar work on this – as on all Clark Hutchinson albums – but the standout track for me has to be "The Summer Seems Longer". Nearly ten minutes long, this slow, reflective blues song looks back at a lost time and hints at the sad, troubled mood which dominated their last recording, Gestalt.

Mick Hutchinson was – and still is – a gifted guitarist who had began his career playing Indian style music with the tabla expert Sam Gopal. Although he never recorded with Sam Gopal’s Dream – a young guitarist named Lemmy eventually fulfilled this role – Hutchinson and Gopal played together at the legendary 14 hour Technicolour Dream at London’s Alexandra Palace in April of 1967. The list of bands who appeared – or claim to have appeared – at this extraordinary event reads like a who’s who of British psychedelia. Certainly The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were there, with Brown setting his hair on fire at one point, and an early incarnation of Gong. The Pink Floyd headlined. 

Later, he teamed up with the multi-instrumentalist Andy Clark. They both played a variety of instruments and this abundance of talent was brought to bear on the extraordinary two man album A=MH² which they recorded during two hectic 12 hours sessions in 1969 for release on the Nova label. Their first album release, A=MH² became an instant rock classic, peaking at No. 8 in the LP chart between Led Zeppelin II at No. 7 and Simon and Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Water at No. 9. Consisting of just five extended pieces, these complex instrumentals enabled the two musicians to express their ideas in a variety of moods and grooves. The basis of their sound is built around Hutchinson's powerful neo-Eastern style guitar playing, which is given full rein on such tracks as the 13 minute raga epic 'Improvisation On An Indian Scale'. His guitar playing is also showcased in a different setting on the more relaxed, classical piece 'Acapulco Gold', while the pair attack a variety of instruments including, keyboards, saxes, flutes, bongos and bagpipes on 'Improvisation On A Modal Scale'. 'Impromptu In E Minor' and 'Textures In ¾' complete an extraordinary album packed with hypnotic themes. Regarded as a groundbreaking album in its day by John Peel, this set of rare performances sounds like nothing else I can call to mind. Thirty-something years later it still makes arresting listening.

By the time they cut Retribution in 1970, the British duo had expanded into a fully-fledged band with Steve Amazing on bass and Del Coverley on drums. I must confess that this album was my proper introduction to Clark Hutchinson. I was 13 in 1970, steeped in Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and the early Led Zeppelin recordings. Sadly I only ever got to listen to this album on borrowed copies. I had no means then of recording it, and I could never find a copy in the second hand record shops I browsed on Saturday afternoons. I even knew someone who, with his brother, had two copies, but he wouldn’t sell me one. When I started searching for Clark Hutchinson through Napster, late last year, only one or two people had any of their tracks. It was a frustrating business hunting them down - if you used Napster you will know the despair that comes with the message "transfer error" when you’d just found what seems to be the only person in the world with a copy of a tune you’re desperate to hear. Slowly I pieced together first one album, and then another. 

At this point I must add that Retribution contains "Best Suit" – the best song ever as far as I’m concerned. It comes in at just over ten minutes long. One day I managed to download three or four minutes of it. Some weeks later, after a lot of failed attempts, I had 9 minutes 30 seconds. My excitement was palpable. I played it to anyone and everyone who came near the computer.

"Best Suit" was recorded live for Radio 1’s Sounds of the Seventies programme in January 1971. It encapsulates everything I believe music should be. Eventually I managed to download the whole 10 minutes and 15 seconds of this guitar-fueled, hammond organ drenched lament. This extended musical apology perfectly matched my emotional state as a teenager. Listening to this track now I have an acute sense of four men in a room together wrestling emotion from their instruments. You can feel the space they occupy, the interaction between them. They are in this together, and it is real. Andy Clark’s vocal is honest, sincere. When he says "I really did try for you" you don’t doubt him. Every word, every note on this recording is absolutely genuine. There is nothing spare, nothing superfluous. "Best Suit" is one of those songs which just gets better the further you get into it. It’s one of those songs you really don’t ever want to finish. It still makes me want to kick the furniture over like a truculent teenager.

Retribution begins with "Free To Be Stoned" – described on the Repertoire website as "emphasising an IQ-reducing bluntage of blues guitar destruction", whatever that means. This is probably their best-known track. Undoubtedly the sentiment "I wanna be king of my own chemistry" appeals to a sizeable portion of the population. It’s infectious, high-octane stuff. Listen: you’ll be hooked.

One of the interesting things about rediscovering music after a long absence is just how selective your memory can be. I clearly remember "Free To Be Stoned", I’ve had "Best Suit" coursing through my sub-conscious for thirty years, but I must confess I’d mentally skipped "After Hours", a fairly standard blues excursion, and the blues-rock number "In Another Day". And somehow I’d forgotten just how hysterical in every sense of the word the last track, "Death, The Lover" is. Somehow trying to write about this track seems superfluous. Over a pounding bass line that sounds like it was left over from the Doors’ 1969 album L.A. Woman the band take us on a wailing Hammer House of Horror nightmare bad acid trip. It’s the aural equivalent of a candlelit visit to inspect Dorian Grey’s portrait in the attic. Well it scares the crap out of me!

The band’s last offering before splitting in 1971, Gestalt, was an altogether gentler, more reflective, disillusioned affair. I don’t know what happened around this time, but apart from a brief spell with Graham Bond – he played on the 1972 album Two Heads Are Better Than One – we would have to wait until 1998 to hear Mick Hutchinson’s distinctive guitar sound again. 

Gestalt is eleven tracks shot through with sadness and regret. To some extent it’s like listening to an extended meditation on Peter Green’s "Man of the World". The lyrics are less explicit and less maudlin than on that particular track, but Andy Clark’s vocals have the same poignancy, and Mick Hutchinson’s guitar deftly and efficiently touches all the right spots. In case you’re wondering, a gestalt is a pattern or structure - an organised whole - that is more than the sum of its parts. The idea originates with the German system of Gestalt psychology, which holds that perceptions and reactions are gestalts. A clear example is a melody as distinct from the separate notes that go to make it up. However you apply the term to this album, there is something here that transcends the eleven short tracks that go to make it up. It’s elusive, like something half-remembered from a dream. Whatever it is, it’s enough to break your heart.(by Simon Smith - http://

01. Bad Loser
02. Crow Jane
03. Guess I Have To Set You Free
04. CH Boogie
05. Maybe In The Morning
06. Someone's Been At My Woman
07. Just Wanna
08. The Summer Seems Longer

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