Original Issue: 1978 Private Release
Reissue: 1992 Kissing Spell (KSCD9450-f)
Margot-meter: 5 moons / 5
Five moons are not enough to rate this timeless psychedelic folk masterpiece.
01. Ten Maidens Fair
02. Maker Man
03. Death Of A Fox
04. Sea Song
06. Beyond The Second Mile
07. Living In The Sunshine
09. Columbus’ Song
10. Smile On Your Face
11. Caedmon’s Hymn
12. Give Me Jesus
from Kissing Spell homepage:
Caedmon's privately issued 1978 LP, has since it's rediscovery in 1992, been established as an expensive collectors item, rated as the best folk-rock album ever made, perhaps 2nd only to “Mellow Candle”. The sublime sound of Caedmon results from an unusual blend of styles, the fragile female vocals, admirable use of tension and atmosphere, savage fuzz-guitar, art rock leanings - everything from exquisite understatement to frantic show-off musicianship - a classic, by golly!
The most interesting thing about this album is that the band recorded it to commemorate their five-plus year career as that career came to a close. Caedmon put together this self-produced, private label album in 1978 just prior to their last concert and sold it to fans and friends at that show, performed at George’s Square in Edinburgh. The band’s first show was also in Edinburgh, where the then-trio were all enrolled at the University as veterinary students.
The music on this album doesn’t really conform to any particular genre or even style, and later interviews and statements from the band acknowledge that they were primarily interested in experimenting in the studio and tried many different things. The songs were recorded on a four-track machine, pretty much live with a minor bit of overdubbing that is fairly apparent since the mixing job was austere to say the least.
The opening track is not a proper introduction to the band’s capabilities, and if one were to stop with that song they would have the mistaken impression that this was just another UK folk band with a faux medieval sound and predominantly acoustic instrumentation. Keyboardist Ken Patterson also employs a Crumar Compac with what sounds like the harpsichord setting most of the time, but also as a substitute piano. This describes that first track, but the musicians quickly branch out into more interesting territory, although I can’t say any of the subsequent songs stray too far, and none of the remaining songs stray too far from what are pretty variants of folk music.
“Maker Man” features an Ibanez acoustic guitar with a very fat and rich sound, as well as bongos for a very rhythmic tempo that is augmented by electric guitar and pleasant vocals from Angela Naylor backed by a couple of the male musicians. This song takes an interesting turn at the end when the band breaks into a salsa groove with a spoon and teacup providing the Latin shaker sound. Again, the players were clearly just goofing around and trying different things with apparently little concern over how the final product would be received.
One of the songs with cello is “Death of a Fox”, which also features both acoustic and electric guitar as well as bass. I should mention at this point that the band had no drum kit, that function being performed instead by bongos, bass and assorted hand percussion instruments (most of them uncredited in the liner notes).
The Crumer is switched to piano mode for “Sea Song”, and the guitar here reminds me very much of Robert Everett’s guitar ruffs on “Puppet City” of his band The Third Estate’s ‘Years Before the Wine’ album, which was another one-off vanity recording by some college students moonlighting as musicians, in their case in the New Orleans area of the U.S. “Aslan” similarly sounds like the Third Estate album, but with cello again and what sounds like a mandolin.
“Beyond the Second Mile” is a soft acoustic song that was intended for the original vinyl album, but was instead included on a 7” single that was packaged with the album since it and “Give Me (Jesus)” wouldn’t fit on the 12” 33rpm disc. Both of these are overtly religious songs very much in the vein of the hippy- tinged Jesus freak vein of the mid-seventies. “Give Me (Jesus)” will remind those who remember it of the early seventies Jesus freak anthem “Get High on Jesus” from Earthen Vessel, an even better version of which was recorded by the U.S. Apple Corps around the same time as this Caedmon album.
The band tries their hand at a sort-of Latin sound again on “Living in the Sunshine”, but with peppy vocals, choppy electric guitar and bongos in place of the teacup this time. Not really a very strong composition, but sounds like they had fun making it at least.
“Storm” is one of the longest songs at more than six minutes, but much of this is clearly improvised guitar and bongo noodling with some experimentation from a Fender Rhodes the band borrowed for these recording sessions. Again, nothing special except probably for the guys who recorded it; while “Columbus' Song” is sort of a medieval-like story-song but with a hopped up guitar track and more cello, this time a lot more lively than on “Death of a Fox”. This one and “Smile on Your Face” are the best representations of the Fairport Convention influence on the band.
“Caedmon's Hymn” is the most interesting song on the album, as it is a modern-day interpretation of a seventh-century religious song written by the band’s namesake Caedmon, an Anglo-Saxon poet-monk, and which is considered one of the oldest surviving examples of Anglo poetry. This rendition is quiet, reverent, and all acoustic with some recorder thrown in to further enhance its ancient and dated sound.
I don’t typically get into overtly religious contemporary music, but in the case of guys like Caedmon, Pentangle, Water into Wine Band and the like I think exceptions have to be made since these were all people who were simply spreading the message of their faith through the medium they best knew without being heavy-handed or overly-proselytizing. Kind of hard to get annoyed at that – better just to kick back and enjoy the tunes.
This is a marginal progressive album at best, but the band’s history and the enthusiasm they displayed in making these songs is rather infectious for those of us who are into rediscovering this sort of music decades after it was forgotten. The Kissing Spell reissue is well-produced considering the likely quality of masters they had to work with. For prog folk fans this will be a fun discovery, and well worth adding to their collection. Four stars for innovation, naïve sincerity, and fifty-four minutes of low-key fun. Enjoy.