Contemporary Scottish band Big Hogg are classified as “Canterbury scene” on progarchives.com. Although they definitely are influenced by the 1970s, the genre-description raised my expectations too high and initially made it harder for me to get into this great band.
And now Big Hogg offshoot Duke 72 also comes wrapped in genretalia that I find a bit hard to grasp. The band, that apart from Big Hogg members includes drummer Johnny Mitchell on visit from Australia and ex-Trembling Bells Lavinia Blackwall, “evokes the spirit of 1970’s space rock with a Canterbury twist” according to the promo material. That description literally made me stick my fingers in my ears. In order to try to clear my ear canals from wax, that is. It didn’t help.
But don’t get me wrong. I love this album. It is smashing. And it evokes the early 70s for sure, although coming off as more jam rock and proto-prog sounding to my (probably confused and half-deaf) ears, with a funky horn rock vibe at times.
In other words, it isn’t very far away from the mothership. But I think I like the Duke 72 album even better! The vocals here are just superb, and I like the way they muddy up the mix and make the whole thing very organic and analogue sounding.
Supposedly, much of the album was both written and recorded by Big Hogg main man Justin Lumsden and Johnny Mitchell during a 9 hour hyper-productive tracking session, without prior rehearsals.
The more jam based tracks could indeed have been done like that, but there are also several intricate sections that I am sure took some time to come up with. Also, the vocal interplay is often unusual and rather well thought-through. Just writing the interweaving lyrics would take a lot more time than 9 hours. But whatever the inception mythology, there is definitely carpe diem spontaneity here strong enough to pull you out of your shoes and make your head hit the ceiling. Vivid stuff, indeed!
The album starts out with the short and snappy ‘Weekend by the Sea’ that succinctly introduces all the album’s strengths, including a good melodic hook-line, 70s style voices with strong individuality, and a couple of time shifts to keep things interesting.
Next track ‘Trapped’ starts with some quite heavy guitars and an echo laden vocal pronouncing ominous words like “destroyer”. But just when you think this might be some sort of heavy glam, there is a shift and a poppier vocal section takes over. The section shift repeats and leads into a guitar-led instrumental interlude. The two vocal styles then come together in a quite nice way.
‘Rust and Stars’ again has some incredibly nice and theatrical vocal interplay, this time between male and female voices, over a somewhat funky melody. Great stuff.
The songs around the middle of the album are more in the jam rock vein and might in fact be the ones that originate from the 9 hour session; at least they strike me as less complex. ‘Backbone of a Jellyfish’ has a rolling riff that is repeated over and over by guitar and horns below another irresistible vocal melody. Then comes ‘Isadora’ that also builds from a rather simple musical idea. It is still quite nice although maybe a tad on the long side. Then there is the beautiful ‘Oxblood and Rings’ with relaxed guitar strumming and soothing horns followed by some hushed flute. On ‘Evil Genius’ we are back to the funky rhythms and the slightly ominous vocal tone. Again, not an extremely complex track.
If I were to look for Canterbury influences, I would probably go for the “pa pa pa” female vocalising at the beginning of ‘Antique Antiques’. Lumsden then takes over vocal duties in a very convincing way on the more mellow continuation of the track. The guitar playing here is heavy and riffy in proto-prog kind of way.
Finally, the album literally goes out with a bang; or at least the last track ‘Out Of Reach’ starts with one. It is the longest track on the album and doesn’t have much melodic progression. It could at long last be accused for a bit of space rocking, and does have a rather spaced out ending.
In comparison, the prog rock element is easier to find. Not in the music maybe, but on the cover, which depicts a bunch of young tolkienesque elves climbing around in a big tree, like a snapshot from a physical eduction class in Rivendell High School. And the title of the album: The Mid Shires Herald.
Don’t ask me where they came up that – but don’t let it put you off. What’s inside is pure gold.