Friday, February 19, 2016

Rob Franken Organ-Ization - 1969 - Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da

Rob Franken Organ-Ization 
Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da


01. Scintilla    2:40
02. Some Soft Soul    2:52
03. Catch Fire    2:02
04. Holiday    2:48
05. Lucky Strike Blues    1:39
06. Black Jack    2:24
07. The Fool On The Hill    2:05
08. Hop Toad    2:20
09. Bottle Blue    2:51
10. At A Snail's Pace    3:40
11. Hunky-Dory    2:08
12. Mother's Nature Son    1:57
13. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da    2:00

Bass Guitar – Piet Hein Veening
Drums, Percussion – Louis Deby
Guitar – Joop Scholten
Organ, Piano, Electric Piano – Rob Franken

Recorded November, December 1968 at GTB-Studio, The Hague

1941 born Rob Franken was one of the key figures of all European organ players in the 1960s and 1970s. He was the first European to master the Fender Rhodes electric piano and among the first to handle the Hammond B3 organ. Although he was mostly obsessed with the Fender Rhodes throughout the late 1960s, the Hammond was the instrument he was best remembered for. Rob Franken started his career with the folk duo Esther & Abi Ofarim, then he moved to play with Klaus Weiss Trio in the mid 1960s. Soon after he formed his legendary own small combo, The Rob Franken Organization. The Organization released two albums - ‘Pon my soul in 1967 and Ob-la-di ob-la-da in 1969. He also played as a pianist of Toots Thielemans and a permanent organist / keyboard played for Peter Herbolzheimer Rhythm Combination and Brass. During his relatively short career, Franken played in over 400 records and was a very much liked person among session musicians. His sudden and unexpected death due to an internal hemorrhage at the age of 42 in 1983 ended his glorious career - only three days after his last recording session with the Rhythm Combination and Brass.
This second album by The Rob Franken Organization was fully an instrumental album. And it consisted of both covers and of original material. It’s mostly Hammond driven uptempo breakbeat funk in a strong Mohawks manner. During this second album the line-up was the following: Rob Franken on organ, Piet Hein Veening on bass, Joop Scholten on guitar and Louis Deby on drums. Let’s start with the title track “Ob-la-di ob-la-da”. It’s a very funky uptempo version of this well known Beatles track, although that song always reminds me of that tv-series called Life goes on. Other uptempo funkers include titles like “Black jack”, “Bottle blue”, “Catch fire”, “Hunky dory”, “Lucky strike” and “Scintilla. The only midtempo track is the rough funk cut “Hop toad”. Few downtempo soul instrumentals are also included. Overall this is one of the tightest albums ever released in the Continental Europe.

Fanny - 1974 - Rock And Roll Survivors

Rock And Roll Survivors

01. Rock 'n' Roll Survivors    4:27
02. Butter Boy    3:22
03. Long Distance Lover    3:35
04. Let's Spend The Night Together    3:31
05. Rockin' (All Nite Long)    2:38
06. Get Out Of The Jungle    3:58
07. Beggar Man    4:05
08. Sally Go 'Round The Roses    3:30
09. I've Had It    3:02
10. From Where I Stand    6:47

Bass – Jean Millington
Drums – Brie Howard
Guitar – Patti Quatro
Keyboards – Nicole Barclay

In late 1974, Nickey left Fanny. From all accounts, the band was moving in a direction that Nickey wasn’t happy with; she found Patti Quatro an unsatisfactory replacement for June, and her ultimate feeling was that, without June and Alice, it just wasn’t FANNY any longer. Cam Davis, a friend of June’s, was brought in to replace Brie on drums when Brie left to marry composer James Newton Howard at the end of the ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS sessions. Having never recorded with the band, Cam tended to defer to the others.

Patti began to assume a leadership and decision-making role within Fanny, a situation which Jean resented due to having been involved with the band from its very beginnings. Things came to a head in early 1975: Cam left, with Patti following shortly thereafter. As this happened when Butter Boy was climbing rapidly up the national charts, and Jean was especially disheartened – Fanny was shaping up to have their biggest hit ever and there was no band to help push it along.

In the spring of 1975, Jean convinced June to come back for one more tour, and Brie Brandt-Howard also agreed to sign on. The band was rounded out by Patti Macheta (a friend of June’s) on percussion and vocals and Wendy Haas, wife of Martin Mull and an old friend of the original FANNY band members, on keyboards and vocals. But although they ostensibly got back together to promote Butter Boy, they didn’t perform any of FANNY’s material – one of June’s conditions for coming back was that the band do only new songs. They also discontinued any use of the name FANNY, instead billing themselves as the L.A. All-Stars. By early 1976 a number of labels were expressing interest in financing an album; however, label interest was strictly focused on a continuation of the FANNY legacy and name. The L.A. All-Stars came within a hair of inking a deal with Arista Records, but ultimately, the label demanded non-negotiably that the women again call themselves FANNY, and June refused to sign on for another tour.

FANNY’s career had come to an end, but the legacy of their pioneering efforts for women in rock lives on to this day. The many fans who saw FANNY play live knew, and still remember, that they rocked harder on stage than most of their male-produced recorded tracks suggested. It’s not an overstatement to say that all the female movers and shakers in the rock world, from Joan Jett to Courtney Love and onwards, owe a debt of gratitude to FANNY for getting that all-important first foot in the door and showing the world that women can truly rock!

This album is an example of the kind of story that happened all the time throughout the 70's: A decent band builds a sizeable following via a handful of releases in the late 60's~ early 70's, and then creative and/or personality differences cause one or more key band members to bolt, leaving a bare skeleton of original members to decide whether to carry on, or call it quits and regroup under a new moniker. The overwhelming majority of victims of this scenario would have done better to have followed the latter path, but far too many felt they had worked too hard to develope their name brand to just walk away and start from square one all over again. So they shopped around for replacements and hoped their fans wouldn't complain too much. Unfortunately for Fanny, luck wasn't on their side, and this album was savagely trashed. In my opinion, this was unjustified. It clearly lacks what little bit of underground elements their earlier releases contained, as this one is relatively light weight, and highly commercial right out of the gate. Selecting such a weak cut for the second one on side A all but sealed its fate for me, but I always stick it out, just in case. In the end, its really pretty good overall - entertaining, though hardly very cool. I've always had a soft spot for girl bands - not the ones that did nothing but sing harmony for motown in the early 60's, but the groups that played their own instruments and did their best to rock out. Some succeeded better than others, and I would rate Fanny not as good as some, but better than most. Had they ever toured in my area, I would have checked them out. This album is worth investigating by fans of the group, but hardcore underground rock conisours will probably want to look elsewhere.

Fanny - 1973 - Mother's Pride

Mother's Pride

01. Last Night I Had A Dream   
02. Long Road Home   
03. Old Hat   
04. Solid Gold   
05. Is It Really You?   
06. All Mine   
07. Summer Song   
08. Polecat Blues   
09. Beside Myself   
10. Regular Guy   
11. I Need You Need Me   
12. Feelings   
13. I'm Satisfied

Bass, Vocals – Jean Millington
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Alice de Buhr
Guitar, Vocals – June Millington
Piano, Organ, Vocals – Nickey Barclay

y now FANNY was a name to conjure with. They were no longer a laughing stock but were acknowledged and admired as a serious rock band. They even passed the rock-cred “test of fire” by having one of their singles, Young and Dumb, banned by BBC Radio 1 (and by being banned from playing live at the Albert Hall – for being “too provocative”!). They continued to tour almost constantly throughout North America and Europe, stopping only to record yet another album, their second release in ten months. Todd Rundgren replaced Richard Perry as producer on FANNY’s fourth album, 1973’s MOTHER’S PRIDE, which is probably the band’s “hardest” rock LP and was also the only one of their five albums not to feature a band photo on the cover. “Working with Todd was far more soul-satisfying than working with Richard [Perry] ever was,” Nickey said. “He treated us with much more respect and gave us our heads more when it came to creative input and production.”

The women of FANNY were coming to terms with, and learning to balance, their roles as both women and rock musicians, but the strain was beginning to take its toll within the band. Shortly after the release of their fourth album, FANNY collapsed temporarily as a result of what writer Barbara O’Dair** called “internal tensions, accumulated strains, and the ordinary occupational hazards of making it in a man’s world predicated on sex, drugs and rock and roll.” In the wake of increasing discord, Alice and June left the group one by one. June was replaced on lead guitar and vocals by Patti Quatro, big sister of pop sensation Suzi; Alice was replaced on drums by former Svelte Brie Brandt. Nickey and Jean elected to stay on, and it was this line-up which recorded the final FANNY album, ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS. Having completed their deal with Reprise Records, ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS saw the band move to Casablanca Records – home of several huge ’70s acts including Donna Summer, KISS, Parliament and the Village People – and take on a new producer, Vini Poncia.

ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS would turn out to be the band’s final effort. It included the single Butter Boy, which peaked at number 29 on the Billboard singles charts in February, 1975, but by the time the single became a hit there was no band left to promote it.

With 1973’s release of “Mothers Pride,” Fanny opted to have Todd Rundgren helm the production of the album. The album’s title is a nod to a brand of bread in the UK. Mr. Rundgren’s condition on producing the album was that he alone could mix the album with no input from Fanny.

This album solidified Fanny’s presence as a major UK act as many of Fanny’s final single releases failed to chart in the USA but did well in the UK markets. Trivia: Alice was drunk while recording the vocals for “Solid Gold.”  “Solid Gold” would be recorded by another drunken drummer: The Who’s Keith Moon.

Reprise MS2137, February 1973

Last Night I had a Dream (Randy Newman)
Randy Newman’s nightmare lyric is a good choice of cover to start their fourth album. Todd Rundgren’s individual production immediately makes its presence felt and Nickey’s vocal is suitably fearful. June’s ghostly guitar adds tension and Jean’s deep bass line mimics your beating heart.

Long Road Home (June Millington)
June’s folk roots resurface on this acoustic lament of longing and disillusionment. It also seems to sum up her state of mind during her final days with Fanny and her vocal sounds heartfelt and poignant.

Old Hat (David Skinner)
The album’s second cover is Uncle Dog’s laid back ballad, Old Hat, led by Nickey’s somewhat muted piano. The chorus is buoyed by some close harmony vocals and Alice’s huge drum sound.

Solid Gold (Nickey Barclay)
It’s that girl again! Alice’s vocal weaves its way around Nickey’s paean to fame and fortune in its own inimitable style, complete with off mic chuckle.

Is it Really You? (Nickey Barclay)
The first half of this album has a world-weary ambience and this song typifies the mood. An expression of regret to a lost life, it starts with a simple piano accompaniment and builds to a staccato chorus built around June’s intricate rhythm guitar and Jean’s intertwining bass.

All Mine (June Millington, Jean Millington)
A nod towards the disco style that the Millingtons would follow in the late 1970s, this swaying rocker features two innovations not seen elsewhere in the Fanny catalogue. Firstly a male backing vocal courtesy of the ‘Fannets’ and secondly a saxophone solo.

Summer Song (June Millington)
The second half of the album is more upbeat and this song starts the ball rolling with Jean’s booming bass line pushing this amiable shuffle along in typical Millington bright and breezy style.

Polecat Blues (June Millington)
June’s wry lyric and laconic vocal delivery drives this country blues, which is augmented by a traditional jazz band and Nickey’s bar room piano giving a vaudeville feeling to the song.

Beside Myself (Nickey Barclay, Jean Millington)
The one-off writing partnership of Jean and Nickey produces one of Fanny’s finest moments – a complex ballad showcasing Jean’s emotive vocal and Alice’s mega-drum fills. June’s solo builds the drama in the mid section and Nickey’s simple piano coda brings us back to earth. Stunning.

Regular Guy (Nickey Barclay)
A happy, upbeat song from Nickey underpinned by some neat acoustic guitar and slide solo from June.

I Need You Need Me (Nickey Barclay)
Nickey’s study in paranoia is a riff driven rocker comprised of several sections, some manic, others reflective. In the former June’s guitar and Alice’s crashing drums provide the madness and in the latter Nickey’s brooding keyboards add a degree of quiet in the storm.

Feelings (Nickey Barclay, June Millington)
The final June and Nickey collaboration results in one of Fanny’s most gorgeous songs. A haunting, folksy melody is beautifully arranged for piano and flute producing a light airy ambience.

I’m Satisfied (Nickey Barclay)
The album closes with a trademark relentless rocker from Nickey. Prefaced by an a cappella chorus it features some of her best organ work and a weirdly processed solo from June. Despite its overt sexual references, this song was used to advertise the National Tea Council in the UK!

Produced by T. Rundgren, their fourth release is probably their most consistent, and certainly reasonable by most people's standards. Recorded in January of '73, it's also considerably more commercially viable than previous outings, and on the weaker cuts, tends to sound a bit sappier too. But, as usual, the good is good enough to make it worthwhile.

Fanny - 1972 - Fanny Hill

Fanny Hill

01. Ain't That Peculiar    4:05
02. Knock On My Door    3:20
03. Blind Alley    4:15
04. You've Got A Home    3:50
05. Wonderful Feeling    3:19
06. Borrowed Time    3:25
07. Hey Bulldog    3:56
08. Think About The Children    4:02
09. Rock Bottom Blues    3:07
10. Sound And The Fury    3:05
11. The First Time    4:49

Bass, Vocals – Jean Millington
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Alice de Buhr
Guitar, Vocals – June Millington
Piano, Organ, Vocals – Nickey Barclay

FANNY HILL, recorded at the Beatles’ Apple Studios in London, was hailed by the leading rock press of the day as being their best yet. The album features some of the band’s finest studio moments and showed the musical maturity of what was now several years of recording and touring; when Rhino Records decided to release a FANNY retrospective CD set in 2002, they tellingly named the collection FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME, after one of the most memorable tracks on FANNY HILL.

“Fanny Hill” was the anticipated follow up to 1971’s “Charity Ball” release.  Recorded at Apple Studios, London, England in late 1971, the album features producer Richard Perry’s best work, even though Fanny was not thrilled with some of his additions (like brass and strings to some of the songs).

“Fanny Hill” features a wide range of song styles from rockers to ballads, plus it’s lyrical content touched on topics that would not become center stage in the world for decades to follow. The single “Ain’t That Peculiar” would chart at #85 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and the album would chart at 135th for 6 weeks.

Reprise MS2058, February 1972

Ain’t That Peculiar? (W. Robinson, W. Moore, M. Tarplin, R. Rogers)
Fanny Hill boasts two of Fanny’s finest covers and this is one of them. June’s powerfully distinctive slide guitar lends a real sense of authority to this re-worked version of Marvin Gaye’s Motown hit. Bass and drums are solid as a rock and June’s idiosyncratic vocal is the final brick to making this a killer cover.

Knock on My Door (Nickey Barclay)
The first of only two occasions when Jean takes the lead vocal on one of Nickey’s songs. This classic other-woman ballad has a vaguely Baroque feel to it with its key-shift chorus and string backing and as a result feels strikingly different to the majority of Fanny’s other work.

Blind Alley (Nickey Barclay, Alice de Buhr)
Another pounding rocker from Nickey set against Alice’s tumbling-down-stairs drum patterns and June’s power chords. The hardest rocker on the album with a typically tough lyric. (See video in Gallery for live rendition of this song.)

You’ve Got a Home (June Millington)
A gentle and wistful ballad utilizing only June’s acoustic and slide guitars and sister Jean’s bass. The type of social awareness contained in the lyric was a rarity in 1972 but adds real emotional punch to a hugely evocative song.

Wonderful Feeling (Jean Millington)
Arguably Jean’s best song, this mid tempo rocker has a well-crafted melody with a harmony laden, soaring chorus and is sympathetically arranged by the band.

Borrowed Time (Nickey Barclay)
Another classic rocker from the pen of Nickey, augmented this time by a brass backing arrangement and featuring some gutsy rock ‘n’ roll guitar from June.

Hey Bulldog (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
Fanny out-Beatles the Beatles with this storming version of one of John Lennon’s most uncharacteristic songs. Jean’s rumbling bass sets the scene as Alice’s Ringo-like drumming provides an unstoppable juggernaut of a groove while June improves upon Harrison’s original solo with gusto plus some extra lyrics from Nickey make this possibly their best cover, but then look at the source material!

Think About the Children (June Millington)
A shimmering eco-ballad carried by June’s exceptional wah-wah playing and earnest vocal. The guitar solo is well crafted and evokes the memory of Hendrix at his most mellow. One of June’s finest efforts.

Rock Bottom Blues (Nickey Barclay, June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
Alice’s Ringo moment. She really gets to grips with the vocal line on this mid tempo rocker; the only band credited song in the canon, and relishes its story of hardship and rejection – complete with muttered obscenity. A cult classic!

Sound and the Fury (June Millington)
Fanny does Country with this appealing ballad from June. Her own slide playing and Nickey’s tinkling piano add the appropriate ambiance. As far as I am aware this is the only Fanny song that has been covered by others – The Gogos in this instance.

The First Time (Nickey Barclay)
A typically big ballad from Nickey to finish what is generally considered to be Fanny’s finest album. The whole thing has a bluesy feel augmented with Alice’s huge drum sound and occasional Latin American brass arrangements which all builds to a stunningly intense finale where June’s irresistibly rising guitar line wails into the fade.

Fanny - 1971 - Charity Ball

Charity Ball

01. Charity Ball    2:29
02. What Kind Of Lover    2:55
03. Cat Fever    3:22
04. A Person Like You    2:57
05. Special Care    4:24
06. What's Wrong With Me    1:43
07. Soul Child    3:48
08. You're The One    4:06
09. Thinking Of You    3:23
10. Place In The Country    4:03
11. A Little While Later    5:42

Bass, Vocals – Jean Millington
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Alice de Buhr
Guitar, Vocals – June Millington
Piano, Organ, Vocals – Nickey Barclay

FANNY’s second offering, 1971’s CHARITY BALL, received a much warmer reception from the rock press, with the LP even eliciting some predictions of superstardom. The title track hit the singles charts in the US, peaking at number 40 on the Billboard singles charts in November, and FANNY toured extensively to support the breakthrough. Thousands of punters on several continents came to laugh at what was expected to be a “freak show” and came away as true believers. The band was given further credibility through becoming the favored support act of a number of the biggest bands of the era, but at the same time they became headliners in their own right at large concert venues.

Prior to the arrival of Fanny, no all-female band in any genre of modern music, playing their own instruments and writing most all of their own material, had ever known true success; Fanny was the first. And in the music business – then as now – success breeds imitation. Other labels saw a new market niche to exploit and began promoting all-female bands. If one wishes to point to any one moment in time when the doors were truly kicked opened for female rock bands, one need look no further than the release of FANNY HILL, Fanny’s third LP in 1972.

In the Fall of 1971, the album and song “Charity Ball” came blasting threw AM radios across the country.  Fanny made an infamous appearance on the first season of the Sonny & Cher Show and the album cover portrait of Fanny was taken by Candice Bergen of “Murphy Brown” fame.

This album put Fanny into the spotlight and started making believers out of fans that women could rock.  The single “Charity Ball” charted at #40 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  The album would hold the 150th spot on the album charts for 7 weeks in late 1971.

Reprise RS6456, July 1971

Charity Ball (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
Fanny’s second album blasts off with the title track and major hit single! An infectious shuffle plays home to some Beatle-esque ‘Oohs!’, some real rock ‘n’ roll piano and a barrelful of energy. (See video in Gallery for a TV performance of this song.)

What Kind of Lover (Nickey Barclay)
This album contains some of Nickey’s most consistent writing and this track is a good starting point. Funky and playful, it cries out for some inventive playing from the band and boy does it get it. Everybody contributes and demonstrates a real musical progression since the debut album.

Cat Fever (Nickey Barclay)
Another consummate rocker from Nickey which powers along under the auspices of Alice’s machine gun drumming, Nickey’s own rocking piano and Jean’s riffing bass. There is some real excitement generated here which sounds more like a live take than a studio track.

A Person Like You (Nickey Barclay)
A bit of a Nickey specialty this one. It’s a sort of a funky ballad underpinned by some military drumming from Alice and containing some Elton John style piano from Nickey. A gliding slide guitar solo from June adds the cherry to the cake.

Special Care (Stephen Stills)
Fanny takes Buffalo Springfield’s rather tame version of this song and tramples all over it. Jean’s bass holds the stop-start rhythm together and she provides one of her characteristically gritty vocals. June’s minimalist solo and a thrilling instrumental jam at the play out complete this satisfying cover.

What’s Wrong With Me? (Jean Millington)
A short, delicate acoustic song from Jean showing off some inventive harmony singing in the chorus.

Soul Child (Nickey Barclay, June Millington, Jean Millington)
The atypical writing partnership of Millington, Millington and Barclay produces a rather bleak tale of life off the rails against a hard rocking backdrop. Inventive organ work from Nickey and more expert rhythm from June add to the taut atmosphere hinted at in the lyric.

You’re the One (June Millington, Jean Millington)
This moderate rocker exhibits an unusual melody built around Jean’s loping bass riff and Alice’s rock solid drumming. As always, great ensemble playing building the song to one of June’s maximum distort solos.

Thinking of You (June Millington)
One of June’s most reflective and accomplished ballads full of plaintive major 7th chords and her own yearning vocal building to a fulfilling climax in the middle section and culminating with a well constructed solo. The lull before the storm going into…

Place in the Country (Nickey Barclay)
The album’s killer track – a must for any anthology. Built very simply around a two-chord harmony, this is a wonderful bluesey romp features some mega bass runs from Jean and master class rhythm playing from June. Edgy lyrics complete the slightly tense feeling to this track, which just bubbles with energy.

A Little While Later (Nickey Barclay)
The album ends with the sort of rock ballad that The Who excelled at. Nickey’s rhythmically complex song starts out simply but then just builds and builds to a mesmerizing climax capped by June’s howling solo and then cuts to a deceptively simple harpsichord play out.

Here's a trivia question you can win bar bets with: Who was the first all-female band (not counting vocal groups like the Supremes) to place a single on Billboard's Hot 100 chart? The answer is not the Go-Gos, the Bangles, the Runaways or the Shaggs. It's Fanny, with the title cut from this album. A pleasant little rock-and-roller that ended up peaking at #40 in the U.S., it's actually one of the album's lesser efforts. That's because Charity Ball contains some excellent rockers featuring some of the band's best ensemble playing. The best example of this is the cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Special Care". A tough-minded and slightly confrontational song, its first half is highlighted by Jean Millington's rough-edged vocal, but the second half is taken over by a fine trance-like jam featuring Nickey Barclay's organ washes and stuttering piano solo. Fanny's jamming skills also dominate the latter portion of Barclay's "Place in the Country". The lyrics' sketches of people caught in bad situations and needing some time to escape aren't nearly as compelling as they need to be, but Barclay's piano playing is fiery and guitarist June Millington's solo is punchy and piercing. I should also mention that drummer Alice de Buhr is rock solid throughout the album. No ten minute solos, just solid anchoring of the music (which is job number one for a drummer of any band).

The biggest highlight is the pulsating "Soul Child", the tale of a young cocktease featuring Jean Millington's slithering bass and gritty lead vocal. Not to mention Nickey Barclay's wailing organ solo. In fact, she just might be the star of the album. She wrote five of the eleven tracks and collaborated on "Soul Child" with the Millington sisters. Her bemused vocals on her composition "A Person Like You" is one of her most engaging performances. Not a ballad exactly, it tells the story of a male-female friendship (maybe platonic, maybe not). "A Little While Later", a chronicle of a love about to go bad, features some of Barclay's most pleasant singing. The song falls a bit short of the greatness it was clearly aiming for, but the baroque-flavored outro, played on what sounds like a toy harpsichord, is quite compelling.

The Millingtons combined to write the outstanding "You're the One". A stomper about wanting some good loving, it features some nice haromonizing by June and Jean,  and a lightly funky electric piano solo from Barclay. The sisters each contribute solo compositions, both of which are good but not great. Jean's soul searching, Beatlesque "What's Wrong with Me?" has a lovely melody, but sounds a little rushed (not to mention unfinished - it clocks in at 1:43). June's airy ballad "Thinking of You" has a memorable guitar riff, but has a frustrating lyrical lapse that makes the song significantly less enjoyable than it would otherwise be. At one point she sings "I need you more each day / In every way I do", but a few lines later she sings "I wonder how we met / As I forget your name / What can I do? / I need to love more than I need you".  Which is it?

All in all, though, Charity Ball's missteps are relatively few. This deserved much better than its #150 peak on Billboard (Fanny were also the first all-female band to put an album on that magazine's album chart). It's more than just a piece of history. It's a very enjoyable rock and roll album from perhaps the single most underrated rock and roll band ever.

Fanny - 1970 - Fanny


01. Come And Hold Me    2:46
02. I Just Realized    4:00
03. Candlelighter Man    3:35
04. Conversation With A Cop    3:10
05. Badge    3:00
06. Changing Horses    3:50
07. Bitter Wine    3:17
08. Take A Message To The Captain    3:31
09. It Takes A Lot Of Good Lovin'    4:25
10. Shade Me    4:39
11. Seven Roads    4:20

Bass, Vocals – Jean Yolanda Millington
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Alice De Buhr
Guitar, Vocals – June Millington
Piano, Organ, Vocals – Nicoel Barclay

Sisters June and Jean Millington, Philippines-born daughters of an American naval officer and a Filipina socialite, moved with their family to Sacramento, California in 1961. Surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar country, they took up music to keep their spirits up and performed in high school, first as a duo with June on guitar and Jean on bass and then forming an all-female quartet, The Svelts. Their first drummer was friend Brie Berry, who dropped out of the band to have a baby (but eventually returned to music as Brie Brandt and joined FANNY in the late stages of their history).

The Svelts played in clubs up and down the West Coast and in Nevada. After a number of personnel changes, Jean and June were joined in 1968 by guitarist Addie Clement (from the band California Girls) and drummer Alice de Buhr, a native of Mason City, Iowa who had moved to California at the age of seventeen in search of the proverbial fame and fortune. In this four-piece configuration, the Svelts gigged around the West in a renovated city bus, mainly playing covers.

Later that year, Alice and Addie left the Svelts to found another all-female band, Wild Honey, and gigged briefly in the Midwest before returning to California to rejoin the Millingtons. As Wild Honey, now playing Motown covers, they headed to LA in 1969 to “either sign with a label or go back to school.” It was very nearly the latter – no one in the Hollywood music industry took them seriously, and after a while Wild Honey were ready to give up and head home. But on what they thought would be their final night in LA, they played an open mic night at Doug Weston’s famous Troubadour Club, and by chance Richard Perry’s secretary was there checking out unsigned bands.

Perry, a Warner Brothers Records staff member and leading producer with a list of hits to his credit (Leo Sayer, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, etc.), had always dreamed of discovering a band of young women who could rock out powerfully, and once Wild Honey had auditioned for him he lost no time in convincing WB head honcho Mo Ostin to sign them. In fact, Perry was so sure of Wild Honey’s potential that he got the band signed to WB subsidiary Reprise Records sight unseen – and sound unheard! Wild Honey, now a three-piece (Jean, June and Alice), went into Western Recorders with Perry in December 1969 to work on their first album of original songs. After a number of tracks were recorded, though, both band and producer felt that there was something missing – namely, a keyboard player.

Finding a good rocking keyboardist who was also young and female was no easy task back in 1969, when most young girls were more likely to sit politely at the piano instead of playing in a rock band. Wild Honey flew in prospective keyboard players from as far away as Nashville and even Canada, but no one met all the criteria until they found Nickey Barclay, a young but experienced professional session player who was a charter member of Sterling Haug’s LA-based Musicians Contact Service.

There was only one hitch – Nickey had only ever worked with male musicians and wasn’t at all interested in joining an all-female band. As Nickey said in a 1974 interview*, “They were excited about the way I played, they really liked it. But I was put off. I guess I was used to being the only girl in the group… They seemed to have a real friendship and an understanding like bands have, but I’d never seen that with girls. They had to get back in touch with me because I didn’t call them…”

Nickey became the fourth member in January 1970 and immediately began recording with Wild Honey, bringing in her blues-soul-funk background to give the band’s sound a harder edge. But she left for several months to tour as a member of Joe Cocker’s soon-to-be-legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen, appearing on the hit live album and singles and in the Mad Dogs film. She returned hesitantly to Wild Honey after the tour – partly because Cocker convinced her it would be a good idea – and signed on formally as a band member, finishing the recording of what would be Fanny’s first album for Reprise.

After Nickey joined the band and the album release was imminent, the question of a new name was raised – by the four themselves, by Richard Perry, by their label and by their management, the Blue peacock Company. Everyone felt that what was needed was a woman’s name, something short, memorable and at once feminine and bold. After considering a series of suggestions the band settled on the name FANNY, and the rest was history. June would later explain, “We really didn’t think of [the name Fanny] as a butt, a sexual term. We felt it was like a woman’s spirit watching over us.”

Leading up to and following the band’s first (self-titled) LP release, Reprise Records wasted no time in exploiting the name through promotional photos and advertisements showing the women of FANNY from the back, and distributing bumper stickers urging record buyers to GET BEHIND FANNY, and a later advertising campaign proclaiming FANNY: THE END OF AN ERA. “Both slogans were my doing,” Nickey has said. “I suggested them as a joke, but [manager Roy] Silver and the label took them seriously and ran with them. They certainly got people’s attention… I was also playing on the different slang meanings of the term fanny in America and the UK.”

The band had already attracted serious notice in LA even prior to the release of their first album. As one of the favorite local bands at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, they were booked there so often that it was effectively a residency for them. Fellow musicians and scene-makers including George Harrison, David Bowie, Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Rodney Bingenheimer and Kim Fowley admired Fanny and helped promote the band by word of mouth at the top levels of the music industry, but the public would be slower to “get behind” the band.

While the band’s first album release, FANNY, was groundbreaking in that every note on the album was sung and played by women, the rock press was generally less than impressed. Fanny was mistakenly seen as more of a novelty act than as serious musicians with something to say. One reviewer wrote that the band was “trying too hard.” Fanny was blazing a trail, but most reviewers had no reference point, no basis of comparison for judging a group of women playing rock music.

Fanny would have to become that reference point.

In England, where the word “fanny” is a slang term for a woman’s vagina, the band were hailed as outrageous feminists. But the members of FANNY did not necessarily consider themselves to be feminists, at least not in the early days; they were musicians first and women second, dressing more like the guys, fighting to gain credibility in a man’s medium. Nickey Barclay later talked about the band’s physical image: “We did feel the pressure of having to prove ourselves. When we first started performing, we just went on stage wearing whatever we were wearing. It amounted to us apologizing for being women, shying away from any kind of glamour or attractiveness on stage.” The band’s look became more feminine and stylish once they had proved themselves through the hard grind of international touring.

Released in 1970 on the Reprise Records label, “Fanny” was a gate-fold album design which opened up to reveal nice studio shots of the band in the studio and gave us fledgling fans a few extra items to read.  Produced by Richard Perry, this album is the only album to attempt to catch the band in its rawest form; little over-dubbing, no background horns or strings, just Fanny rocking the studio walls.  It makes for a great listening experience next to hearing the band live.

Come and Hold Me (June Millington, Jean Millington)
A bright and breezy feel-good song to start the album. The Millingtons’ sunny Californian folk rock roots are on show from day one in this acoustic driven song of emotional longing.

I Just Realized (Nickey Barclay, June Millington)
Track 2 and already Nickey Barclay makes herself felt. This is the other side of Fanny’s coin – a darker funkier sound heightened by June’s buzzing guitar and Jean’s octave switching bass line. One of only three songs co-written by Nickey Barclay and June Millington during the band’s lifetime.

Candlelighter Man (June Millington, Jean Millington)
Fanny does Motown with this delightful moderately paced rocker driven by June’s choppy rhythm guitar and Alice’s vice-like drumming. Some good harmony singing and interesting chord shifts lift the chorus.

Conversation With a Cop (Nickey Barclay)
One of Nickey’s best ballads complete with thought-provoking lyric and artfully constructed melody. The band wraps it up in a starkly minimalist arrangement that only underscores its power. June‘s fluid guitar lines and some atmospheric keyboards from Nickey make this one of the best tracks on the album.

Badge (Eric Clapton, George Harrison)
The first of two covers, this is a brave choice bearing in mind the identity of the co-writers. Taken at a slightly faster pace than Cream’s original, the bass line introduction is replaced by a burst of feedback and some trademark piano. This version also showcases some ringing double-tracked arpeggio playing and a Clapton-like solo from June.

Changing Horses (Nickey Barclay)
The long rambling piano intro brings to mind Jethro Tull’s ‘Locomotive Breath’ but when the song finally arrives it reveals Nickey Barclay’s rawest rocker on record. Built on Jean’s rumbling bass lines, it rampages along with June’s sheet metal guitar and urgent on-the-one drumming from Alice. A throat ripping vocal from Nickey completes the sheer exuberance of this song.

Bitter Wine (Nickey Barclay)
A haunting melancholic ballad from Nickey Barclay featuring some subtle wah-wah playing from June and clever vocal arrangements in the chorus. Simple but very effective.

Take a Message to the Captain (Nickey Barclay)
More variety from Nickey as this moderately paced ballad veers into Country and Western and back with its storyboard lyric and June’s sympathetic slide playing. Alice’s chugging rhythm draws you in and the final key modulation always surprises.

It Takes a Lot of Good Lovin’ (Alvertis Isbell, Booker T Jones)
The second cover on the album strays into R&B territory with a typically tough vocal from Jean and some tight ensemble playing from the band.

Shade Me (Nickey Barclay)
More dark funk from Nickey with a touch of Latin in the mix. Jean’s slithering bass introduces the song and remains its foundation through the whole song. A real ensemble piece with each member contributing a well-structured solo.

Seven Roads (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
An explosive closer to the album. Based around a ferocious guitar riff and pounding tom toms, this is quite an unusual collaborative song in that it is essentially riff driven in the manner of many heavy metal bands rather than song based. It climaxes with a shudderingly intense solo from June followed by a similar effort from Nickey in her best Rod Argent mode.

A version of this album was released in Canada by mistake from the wrong set of master recordings.  That album version is seen rarely on eBay, but all the tracks are available on the Rhino Handmade CD Anthology.  The alternate tracks are listed below.

FANNY (Canadian Issue pressed from wrong master tapes – Reprise RS6416, 1970)
Charity Ball (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
A shorter, sparser version of the song that would end up as the title track on ‘Charity Ball’, their second album.

Place in the Country (Nickey Barclay)
A slower paced, looser, funkier version of the song that would turn up on ‘Charity Ball’.

Changes (June Millington)
A rare June Millington up-tempo rocker boasting some interesting melodic ideas and a great harmonic lurch in the middle section. One of June’s best vocal performances, she really seems to be having fun. Shame this one was dropped for the ‘official’ release.

One Step at a Time (Josephine Armstead, Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson)
This gospel-tinged rocker was originally recorded by Maxine Brown in the mid 1960s and Fanny makes a good job of covering it by stripping it right down to its bare bones and punctuating it with powerfully pregnant pauses. The dual vocal lines are carefully handled and the whole effect is emotionally strong.

Conversation With a Cop (Nickey Barclay)
Same as the version on the ‘official’ release.

Nowhere to Run (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland)
This workmanlike rerun of Martha and the Vandellas’ old Motown hit is not the best cover Fanny has attempted and it is perhaps not surprising that it was dropped for the ‘official’ release.

Seven Roads (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
A marginally different take to the version that appeared on the ‘official’ release.

Take a Message to the Captain (Nickey Barclay)
Same as the version on the ‘official’ release.

Come and Hold Me (June Millington, Jean Millington)
Same as the version on the ‘official’ release.

Lady’s Choice (June Millington, Jean Millington)
The last two songs on this album are probably the most interesting. This one has a rhythmically complex melody asking much of Alice’s drumming and Jean’s bass playing. Both rise to the challenge and make this a standout track.

New Day (June Millington, Jean Millington)
A languid and fitting end to the album, this song is beautifully constructed and realized from the unusual melodic ideas and surprising harmonica break, to the loose-limbed play out where Nickey is given full rein to unleash her keyboard prowess. Alice’s jazz drumming and Jean’s walking bass add to the mood perfectly. One of the best songs on the album and should never have been left off the ‘official’ release.

If anyone out there has a original pressing Canadian LP, I would love to have a digital copy!

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1980 - La Deboussole

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes
La Deboussole

01. La vie en bref
02. Voyage au fond de l'amour
03. La grande déglingue
04. Ne pas partir ne pas mourir
05. Dis-moi qui tu embrasses
06. La nuit des errants
07. La parole est à la victime
08. Paix 1980:
   * Prélude
   * 1er mouvement
   * 3ème mouvement

Catherine RIBEIRO / Parolier, vocals
Francis CAMPELLO / Auteur de la musique, Guitare basse
René WERNEER / Auteur de la musique, Violon
Patrice MOULLET / Auteur de la musique, claviers
Patrice LEMOINE / Auteur de la musique, Clavier
Pierre GASQUET / Auteur de la musique, Percussion.

Eleventh album of Ribeiro & Alpes, and for this writer, the last one worth a listen (the next albums are non-Alpes album) and gets even closer to standard Chanson Française. With Mollet and Lemoine still in the writing dept, Ribeiro gets systematic writing credits of her own, showing her increasing control.
While the cellos and other drone instruments are long gone, this album's prime singularity is the funky (almost Kobaian) bass that seems to dominate these the short tracks. Many of the tracks are simply vehicles for Ribeiro's excellent voice (here recorded a tad too loud, IMHO), but there seems to have a slight inspiration problem. It sounds like Catherine had loved to death the previous year's movie of the Broadway musical play Haïr, mixed with some Jacques Brel at times. Tracks like Ne Pas Partir and especially « Dis moi qui tu embrasses », where the opening verses of "Let The Sunshine In" intro of the finale of Haïr are very familiar. This of course is not accidental as the bass is also very reminiscent of the movie's score adaptation. While a good deal of these tracks are still entertaining, few are "prog" except for La Nuits Des Errants. Clearly of most interest for progheads in this album is the rework of 72's Paix track, which gets a good modernized revisit part of which is due to the general uplifting of Alpes' line-up. Ribeiro really unleashes in it with some Janis-like squeals, which draw some near orgasmic spine chills. Different but just great as their first version, this will also be Alpes' last piece of bravado.

Understandably so, with the music scene changing severely, the shift of power was inevitable towards shorter sung songs and therefore the tongue-in-cheek tile of La Déboussole (the un-compass). Unless a total nutcase for Ribeiro's vocals (this is very understandable), I'd recommend progheads the greatest care in venturing further than La Déboussole. Catherine will record homage albums to Edith Piaf and a few others (all very worthy), but we tend to slip severely away from the focus of this site.

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1979 - Passions

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes 

01. Iona Melodies
02. Frères Humains
03. Cristalpin
04. a) Prelude
      b) Tous Les Droits Sont Dans La Nature
05. L'oiseau Devant La Porte
06. Alpinette
70. Femme-Témoin
8. Détournement de chants

C Ribeiro / Vocals
P Moullet / guitars
M Bauer / drums; percussion
P Lemoine / KB
D Rose / Violin

Compared with 77's Temps De L'autre, CR&A underwent a lot of pzersonnel changes, where only Moullet and Ribeiro remain, but with a returning Lemoine (whi will make his presence felyt as he's quite involved in the songwriting), making ex-Gong members (Shamal-era) two in this Alpes line-up along with percussionist Mireille Bauer. In the meantime, since their previous album, Catherine had recorded one or two solo albums, the first being homage to French poet Jacque Prevert, and another to anarchist singer Ferré. With a nature & wind snapshot of Catherine gracing blandly Passions, I always wondered why the much more impressive and militant and drawn (by Moullet himself) artwork on the inner sleeve didn't make it on the outer one, but most likely this was a record company decision
Passions is a bit of a departure musically, boosting shorter songs with the exception of two "monster tracks" with a much changed sound and even Ribeiro's vocals being recorded differently. This is immediately noticeable with the opening Iona Melodies where Lemoine writes the music and Catherine sings about her daughter changing her life, David Rose's violin being much too present and when not, guest Kennyatta's sax being obtrusive. Frères Humains is a return to previous Alpes albums and a highlight here. If it wasn't for Rose's (bad and sounding like a cheap fiddle) violin, you could easily imagine the following Cristalpin being on a Gong album of the later 70's, percussionist Mireille Bauer's presence clinching it. Starting out on an instrumental prog intro, Tous les Droits Sont Dans La Nature is another one of one those huge cries from Catherine about her utopias and generous ideals over an often changing "background" (only because it could've been recorded a tad louder in the mix) music.

The flipside holds the 11-mins+ L'Oiseau Devant La Porte, which starts in a lengthy prog instrumental intro, before Ribeiro tells us of the fresh young enthusiastic bird hitting the realities of our closed society's realities. While a good prog number, the track only convinces partly, because Ribeiro's lyrics are a bit off the mark and they dictate too much the music. Following the guitar instrumental Alpinette, Femme-Témoin is homage to Jane Fonda's anti-Vietnam stance and, while it comes over a decade after the facts, is impressive with percussionist Bauer renders the war realities particularly well. The closing Détournement De Chants (high-jacking of songs) is obviously from the same session as the opening track, this time with Kenyatta's sax and Campello's clarinet giving a strange glue-sniffing Supertramp- like feel over Lemoine's piano, but Catherine is taking wild shots at censorship.

While a bit different and not as representative of Alpes as others, Passions is still much worth owning, if you're into Alpes and want to own all the good albums. But personally I found David Rose's violin/fiddle all too often out of tune and not always inspired and it ruins a bit the album for me.

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1977 - Le temps de l' autre

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes
Le temps de l' autre

01. Le Temps De L'Autre (7:32)
02. Cette Voix (8:51)
03. Aimer Quoiqu'il Arrive (5:50)
04. Le Silence De La Mort (10:12)
05. Kel Epik Epok Opak! (Quelle Epique Epoque Opaque) (9:42)

Catherine Ribeiro - voice
Patrice Moullet - guitars
Daniel Motron - organ, pianos
Jean-Daniel Couturier - bass
Jean-Louis Do - drums

With Catherine posing as Mona Lisa with a spliff in her mouth on the front cover, you can just about taste the provocation of CR&A. Recorded in 77, this type of hippy counter-culture was losing its "in vogue" status as France was one of the precursor of the Punk boom of 77 in London, but in France Punk had started the previous summer in Mont-De-Marsan with the first Punk festival ever. Nevertheless, Ribeiro's lyrics had a certain punk attitude that allowed the group to survive these punk years rather smoothly.

Entirely penned by Moullet for the music and Ribeiro for the text singing, bar the closing instrumental), this album is again well in the line of its predecessors. The opening 7-mins+ title track starts on a slow Motron-played Hammond organ before the bass kicks in, draguing the rest of the group in before stopping dead again with Ribeiro continuing her singing over a bass drone interrupted by majestic solemn keyboards lines, returning to a drone (this time organ-driven) and so on. Yes, Alpes are still alive and well in 77. The only weird thing is the guitar taking a weird violin sound, not always fit, IMHO for this type of track. The following Cette Voix (this voice) starts on quick acoustic guitar arpeggios doubled over a slow but clear synth line and is an ode to her own voice (the text was first published in a Witch magazine) where Catherine wonders what her heritage will be, wondering if her daughter (pictured on the inner gatefold) will this the words of such a delightfully slutty and smutty mother where thousands ships came to board, and who has a clitoris in her throat in favour of love... Riiiiight, Catherine!!!!.. Little wonder Phonogram wrote under the written text on the back sleeve of this gatefold release that the words written only engaged the artistes. Aimer Quoiqu'il Arrive is a little bland after such a strong text, and will resurface later on La Déboussole, but still holds its own on its beds of guitars and drones of all kinds.

The flipside only holds two tracks, the first being the 10-mins+ Silence De La Mort (silence of death), where you can guess that Catherine is not holding back under Spanish-sounding guitars and slow synth layers. The closing 9-mins+ instrumental (if you'll except the wordless choirs at the end) is the most interesting on for pure progheads, because of the constantly changing music is a pure delight to us all.

Yet another good/excellent CR&A album, one that I haven't seen reissued on CD yet, that will indeed figure quite well with the rest of their albums. Whether this album is more representative of their works than others is completely debatable, but you won't go wrong with this one anyway.

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1975 - (Libertes?)

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes 

01 Une infinie tendresse
02 Prélude médiéval
03 Parle-moi d'un homme heureux
04 Qui a parlé de fin?
05 Poème non épique No.III:
  * Prélude
  * Poème non épique
  * Tombe

Line-up / Musicians
Catherine RIBEIRO / Parolier, Auteur de la musique, vocals
Patrice MOULLET / Auteur de la musique, guitarres
Daniel MOTRON / Orgue, Piano
Henri TEXIER / Basse
Caroll REYN / Percussion.

Sixth album from this group that doesn't seem to wise-up, very fortunately for us. Indeed behind this rather bland artwork, CR&A are still going as strong usual with their psychedup progressive rock that is rather unique: even if there are moments to make you think of Third Ear Band, others of Floyd, there is no way to actually really pinpoint their sound other than raising CR&A as a reference in itself, this being reinforced by Ribeiro's very distinctive vocals and very personal lyrical style. Yes, the least that can be said is that her lyrics are often on the controversial, even anarchist, slant

After a very average Infinie Tendresse, not in terms of lyrics or vocal performance, but strict instrumental side of things, the short Prelude Medieval is actually the opposite, where the superb and stunning music would gain from being freed from Ribeiro's vocalizing practice runs. Homme Heureux is again more in the style of Infinie Tendresse, which just says average in terms of prog interest. The closing track of the A-side starts with a lengthy dialogue that holds interest only to those who wrote it and ends in a very solemn mournful vocalizing lasting 40 seconds.

The Poème Non Epique filling the whole second side is probably the best they've done including the other versions or parts present of Rats Débiles, their previous album. The track starts slowly and unlike its predecessors (previous album) is filled of breaks, counter breaks, rhythm changes and even holds some rather complex arrangements. This superb and extended intro only allows Ribeiro only appearing around the 9th minute, but what an entrance she makes: howling like only the beat poets could, she raves her fantasies about cops raping Cassius Clay and her anarchist/capitalist angsts over blood curdling cello drones and wild unpredictable percussions. The track veers towards total chaos in between the 21st and 23rd minutes, before ending abruptly in a fantastic manner.

Clearly if it wasn't for the sidelong Poème and the Medieval pieces, this album wouldn't stand up to the previous ones, but Libertés is yet another classic CR&A album that should be heard.

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1974 - Le Rat Dèbile Et L'Homme Des Champs

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes
Le Rat Dèbile Et L'Homme Des Champs

01. La Petite Fille Aux Fraises (5:13)
02. L'Ère De La Putréfaction (3:28)
03. Un Regard Clair (Obscur) (4:47)
04. Poème Non Épique (Suite) (25:22)

- Patrice Moullet / cosmophone, acoustic guitar
- Claude Thibaut / percuphone
- Patrice Lemoine / organ
- Catherine Ribeiro / vocals

CR&A's fifth album comes with a catastrophically realized artwork, even if the intention was good as the great title hints, but did they really have to put their faces on the front cover?!?! Anyway, based on a variation of Lafontaine rhyme of Rats Des Villes et Rats Des Champs (town rats and country rats), this album is probably the ultimate statement of CR&A as they openly invoke anarchy to counter the society of pollution. Although CR&A were not the first to have concerns on environment (Spirit with Nature's Way and Fresh Garbage), this is to my knowledge one of the first group to spread all over an album and in successive albums. This is of course relative when you know that Ribeiro was a musical industry singer before this group and will return to more conventional song formats after Alpes' gradual dismissal.
The opening Strawberry Girl is slight a mouth-watering starter for the more interesting stuff coming up, a bit of a zakouski before the first course and the main course. Built over a descending riff the first Poème Non Epique takes its sweet time developing, and it is well over the three-minute mark that Ribeiro starts her mad ramblings, and by the time of its almost 10 minutes length, the group has given you a royal run-around, but you wouldn't notice it much. Un Regard Clair (Obscur) closes the first side of the wax slice over another spacey jam (between Gong and Third Ear Band and Floyd) that bring not much new to the album's overall contents.

The second part of the Poème Non Epique is the real crazy one, clocking at 25 min+ of the full oeuvre. When Ribeiro is not singing/yelling revolution, the rest of the group is doing it over an Indian-raga background, with incredible violin guitar interventions. With over two decades of advance over most Europeans, three over Al Gore and four decades over the rest of the States, Catherine Ribeiro is claiming that violence might just be necessary to save the planet from asphyxiation. With heavy psych dramatics, grandiose finale, the band had developed a form of minimalist raga that in some ways could make you think of Third Ear Band

Not exactly an easily absorbed meal, this album will of course be better digested if a proper mastering of the French language, an affinity for anarchy, a certain "penchant" for ultra-left wing hippy communes (not communism) etc. But most adventurous progheads will love this upon the first listens, but whether any CR&A album stands repeated listens is something I'm not willing to bet. Ribeiro's superb voice is an acquired taste (it an rub the wrong way), her group is fairly repetitive and not exactly looking for complex arrangements, but not shying away from it either. Overall I'd say that progheads looking for intricate arrangements and complex rhythm patterns will not find their happiness, but the most adventurous ones will love the "fresh" (back then it was, it might also sound a little stale) approach to prog.

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1972 - Paix

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes 

01. Roc Alpin (3:02)
02. Jusqu'à Ce Que la Foce de T'Aimer Me Manque (2:56)
03. Paix (15:37)
04. Un Jour... la Mort (24:33)

- P.Moullet / Cosmophone, acoustic guitar
- Jean Sebastian Lemoine / Percuphone, bass guitar
- Patrice Lemoine/ Organ
- Michel Santangelli / Drums

CR&A's third album (fourth if you count the 2Bis album) is probably the best acclaimed by connoisseurs and deservedly so! Their hippy psych rock filled with revolutionary ideals in their lyrics works wonders in this case as it will in the next few albums, but back in 72, there was still a lot of peoplethat actually believe it was all still possible, something the 73 oil crisis will crush (at least in the old world and around the globe, bar the US). The quintet has again suffered some line-up shuffle and besides guitarist/composer Mouillet, percussionist, drummer Santangelli and keyboard Lemoine, appears Jean-Sébastien, brother of Patrice on bass guitar. With only four tracks and a very pastoral artwork cover
Starting with the wordless a cappella Roc Alpin, the album is off to a rather short &and unrepresentative upbeat track, that presents a slight folk feel. Much more impressive is the equally short (both around the 3-mins track) Jusqu'à Ce Que La Force, which shows all the usual CR&A dramatics over a Tony Banks organ line. Ribeiro's vocals are again very powerful, maybe recorded a tad too low, but her French singing shouldn't be a problem for anyone having the basis of the language. This minimum French is of course mandatory to understand Catherine's usually very strong lyrics, often selling revolution as if the obvious alternative; her sometimes arresting images in her lyrics are very powerful and add much to the group's flavour. Indeed the lengthy (15-mins+) title track starts on an extended instrumental intro (and equally long outro), showing the musical quartet being very good at their respective tricks, but its constantly crescendoing prog chords only add that much weight once Catherine starts bellowing her "peace" messages: "peace to our bellies, tanks for academics garbage" or "peace to our degenerate generations".

The flipside's sidelong suite, Un Jour. La Mort, is another fabulous journey into Alpes' universe: slow organ grindings with spacey electric guitar whinings taking their sweet times to develop, but once the bass gets along, Ribeiro's death-throes scat vocals are taking you on the other side of life, the whole thing dying down around the 7,5 mins mark, until Ribeiro's singing is now taking an almost liturgical tone (especially over the organ), until she becomes seductive and enticing, even when using colourful rebellious and thoughtful revolutionary lyrics. Interrupted by a strident musical raga-like interlude sprinkled with dissonant piano, enchanting acoustic guitar strums, Catherine comes back eructing death, claiming she's not a real lesbian (too bad for her. She's missing out, I am one ;o)), the same happening a little later than Catherine promising to make you a kid as the track slowly retires in a mish mash or her rantings and other antics mixed with strong organ.

Rather hard not to agree with many that Paix is one of CR&A's major achievements, Paix is indeed the perfect entry point to those seeking to enter this amazing French psychedelia. You'll have understood that CR&A is not for everyone, but if you love unusual music and smile at the thought of saying "WTF is this music???", no doubt that CR&A will take a few spins per year in the next few decades in your life.

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1971 - Ame Debout

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes 
Ame Debout

01. Ame Debout (7:54)
02. Diborowska (3:39)
03. Alpes 1 (5:46)
04. Alpes 2 (6:22)
05. Alpilles (1:25)
06. Aria Populaire (2:09)
07. Le Kleenex, Le Drap De Lit Et L'étendard (3:28)
08. Dingue (4:36)

- Patrice Moullet / cosmophone, acoustic guitar
- Claude Thiebaut / percuphone
- Patrice Lemoine / organ
- Catherine Ribeiro / vocals

Third outstanding album from the absolutely crazy French psych outfit lead by Catherine Ribeiro's impressive vocals, but you'll know by now that her vocals are hardly the sole attraction to this amazing group. With a very pastoral artwork, CR&A certainly stood in a class of their own both in France, but maybe even worldwide with their psyched out

Starting out on an Indian raga with a wild returning streak of almost dissonant violin, the title track is a first strong moments with Ribeiro ranting and raving all over the place, over a fast tabla drum beat. The very acoustic Diborowska (a terminus train station) is little more than a hippie piece, but laid over delicate guitar arpeggios. The two-part Alpes instrumental, followed by its acoustic outro Alpilles (small Alp foothills in Provence) is a superb moment of ambient music with some of the most bizarre violin work , while Lemoine's keyboard work resembles a lot what was to happen in Van Morrison's St Domininc's Preview one years later. The second movement is more of a wild free-for-all improvs, complete with vocals and vulture cries. Aria Populaire in an almost a capella piece with a few acoustic guitar strummings, while Kleenex is an organ-driven almost a capella, both pieces being superbly sung by Catherine. Dingue (nuts) is the closing track that hints towards a certain type of Flamenco, complete with plenty of guitars, where Catherine sings out venom-spitting sperm and full dramatics.

It's probably the gloomiest of their albums, but is beautiful at the same time. I'm so pleased she always sang in French. A lot of the emotion would have been lost if she'd sung in English. This is my one gripe with most Krautrock bands. This, however, is no Kraut album. Alpes are instantly identifiable even without the vocals. I've always thought there's something a bit creepy about their albums. I can't quite put my finger on it. Most folk agree that 'Paix' was the high watermark of their career. Well, I choose this one. It's cool, suave, bleak, laid back yet intense. Oh, and she looks great - black eyeliner, jet black hair and a fantastic jawbone! Catherine Ribeiro is like that fantasy warrior princess love that we all wish we could have, yet can't even get close to.
A tremendous album that probably creeps in to my top 40

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - 1970 - Nr. 2

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes 
Nr. 2

01. Prélude
02. Sîrba
03. 15 août 1970
04. Silen voy Kathy
05. Prélude
06. Prélude
07. Poème non épique
08. Ballada das agues

Classical Guitar, Organ, Vocals, Lyre – Patrice Moullet
Guitar [Portuguese] – Isaac Robles Monteiro, Pires Moliceiro
Percussion, Organ – Denis Cohen
Vocals – Catherine Ribeiro

The first album by the French group Catherine Ribeiro+Alpes was the oddly named “No. 2.” Titled as such to tie-in with their previous incarnation as the short-lived Catherine Ribeiro+2 Bis, after this lineup recorded their sole effort for Festival Records, Ribeiro and husband Patrice Moullet disbanded 2 Bis and reassembled as the re-named Catherine Ribeiro+Alpes with the addition of Denis Cohen on percussion and organ. What they achieved as a trio was light years ahead of 2 Bis for “No. 2” sounds the result of an ensemble far larger, stronger, wiser and prone to experimentation. With the playing field emptied of their earlier folk-rock ruminations, Moullet was allowed to impose an uncompromised musical vision with his own self-made instruments. Yielding previously unheard sounds, they assisted in building up repetitive layers of rhythmic motifs to provide contrast to Ribeiro’s vocals, located in a similar no-woman’s zone as Nico’s on her then-recent album, “The Marble Index.” Perhaps it was their shared past lives as actresses (Nico in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Ribeiro in Godard’s “Les Carabiners”) eternal expatriate outsiders (the German-born Nico relocating to New York City and many points in Europe while Ribeiro was born in Lyon, France to working class Portuguese parents) or the drama of their existences as young and strikingly beautiful European artistes coming of age during the chaos of the sixties/seventies cusp -- A chaos they both navigated with more than a great degree of poise and forbearance.

They were similar only because they were both so unique, but in entirely different ways. Apart from exploring far darker themes than those of most female singer-songwriters of the day, as much as Ribeiro descended into realms just as dark and experimental as Nico, the comparisons end there. For Ribeiro’s alto vocals were far more demonstrative -- as well as stark, dark and brimming with full timbre textured like wood grain and draped in mysteries of brooding anguish as they emanated from her symmetrical head fixed to her statuesque frame. Her voice was beautifully controlled only until it descended unevenly into shrieking and wailing as if unhinging itself not only from the song but existence as well. Singing in French, Ribeiro’s voice soars, whispers, breaks into screams, cracks open the sky and passionately scales the heights of her Alpine-ranged emotions that peaked dramatically as if to darken the very summit of Mount Blanc itself. Her whole heart is in every modulation of every consonant while her commitment to her words that nested inside the arrangements of husband Patrice Moullet suggested a personal and artistic relationship that was complementary in every way.

As the sole musical composer of the group, Patrice Moullet not only created Alpes’ musical vision but shaped it further by constructing instruments of his own invention. The apparatus that appeared on “No. 2” was the cosmophone (credited on the sleeve as an electric lyre) which resembled an expressionistically-angled guitar with an oversized metallic body and neck that and could be either picked or played with a bow. Making its debut on the previous 2 Bis album was the percuphone: an elongated motorised machine with a variable speed control that produced tight, telegraphic repetitions reporting with the depth and low end of evenly rapped out bongos played at Morse Code velocity. Although this instrument would feature prominently on many future Alpes recordings, it was absent from the stripped-down proceedings recorded for “No. 2.”

The group’s previous folk underpinnings were retained and consigned to a trio of brief classical acoustic guitar instrumentals. All three were named “Prélude” and were interspersed to book-end the album with pastorales much like King Crimson’s “Peace: A Theme” did on throughout their “In The Wake Of Poseidon” album. Along with one concluding Portuguese ballad, these link together (and contrast greatly) with the far broader and highly progressive expanses that comprised the majority of “No. 2.”

As if to approximate the rhythm of a late night snowfall, “Sirba” opens with two circling Farfisa organ lines alternating in counterpoint until one of them un-tethers itself from the rhythm to blossom into full-bloom extemporisation. Moullet intones in Dylanesque guide vocalese while the entrancing build of layered patterns build and build and then build some more. “Sirba” takes its title from the Romanian term for ‘Serbian Dance,’ an ancient Central European folk rhythm whose unfolding and tightly-performed time signatures are adhered to as a chaotic avalanches of tom-tom rolls, random cymbal-striking and inhuman crow caws increase in dissonance and volume. When its crescendo halts dead in its snow-filled Balkan tracks, the dramatic stillness sets the darkened stage for “15 Août 1970.” Although Funkadelic recorded a song about the previous day, Ribeiro probably did not have “Saturday Night, August The 15th” slated as the original title (what was going on that weekend anyhow?!) Regardless of the song’s provenance or date, it signals the first appearance of Ribeiro’s vocals, here accompanied only by Moullet’s classical acoustic guitar. An arid lament, it’s probably a detailing of some life-changing event that occurred a fortnight after their appearance at the huge Aix-en-Provence Festival; where they were slotted somewhere in-between that unlikeliest lineup of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Winter and Chico Magnetic Band. Ribeiro’s modulations are the most lonesome and beautiful ones of the album, while Moullet’s finger-picking classical guitar is astutely aware of his wife’s every curve of tempo, no matter how miniscule.

As mysterious sounding as its title, “Silen voy Kathy” enters as an ominous calm before the storm. Low organ notes rumble behind Moullet’s cosmophone manipulations that resemble those of a viola held to a high-pitched, needling drama or even the quieter patches of Jimmy Page’s violin bow solo on “Dazed And Confused.” It maintains its quiet suspense until falling away into a series of plucked and faltering droning trails. Ribeiro vocals are enthralling, pleading and strident as they keep everything else in a state of suspended animation until it merges into a building of wordless wails to underscore a repeating musical crescendo. It all passes by in a duration of seven minutes that seems far shorter and far deeper.

After a repeating pair of the same acoustic “Prélude” that opened the album comes the eighteen and a half minute “Poème Non Épique.” Look out below, for this is a staggering and distended track comparable only to the entirely-imaginary aural scenario of Nico guesting on lead vocals on the last tracks of both sides of “Fun House” simultaneously as Iggy, Ron, Dave and Scotty forsake all guitars to manipulate some of Iggy’s homemade instruments in the Stoogeland basement jerry-built from the following: a organ recently stolen from SRC, a drainpipe strung with copper wire played with switchblades through a Mosrite Fuzzrite fuzzbox while several vacuum cleaner attachments are left to tumble low in a broken dryer while miked through their PA. Achieving a cathedral-sized O-Mind without guitars but just a set of Iggy’s hairy and Partched-together instruments, this ‘non-epic poem’ contains all of the late-night-shaking-off-of-numbness ambience of “Dirt” with the wild abandon of “L.A. Blues” into a wah-wah’d freak-zone of both into a tumult all it’s own. Which it is, because it doesn’t sound like The Stooges per se, as much as some mutant form of tango breaking loose from its tradition of restrained passion and high stepping rigidity held to the breaking point merged with the outermost fringes of the most out-there psychedelic Rock of all time (Forgive me for the magic roundabout of the previous paragraph because it ain’t the intention to lead anyone down the primrose path of purple prose’n’passages that “Poème Non Épique” is some sort of missing companion to “Fun House” cos it isn’t. But Alpes were just so fucking unique on their high watermark “No. 2” album that one -- OK, yours truly -- is resigned to pointing to fictitious might-have-beens in order to draw some semblance of comparison for the benefit of those who unacquainted with this 1970 classic because it’s STILL rollin’ in sight. With that said, it is a truly amazing piece of torrential musical downpour, a total freak out that made me feel stoned the first time I heard it when I wasn’t, and despite its title is truly EPIC in the same way that “Yeti Meets Yogi” is EPIC, that “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” is EPIC, and that “Supper’s Ready” was merely...epic.) “Poème Non Épique,” man -- it’s heavy yet begins with the lightest Farfisa organ touches that waft in like evening fog. Moullet’s extraordinary cosmophone enters noncommittally but steadily amasses through excruciating wah-wah-ing as rattling tom toms of darkening, apocalyptic skies work the distant background as they take various cues from Nick Mason’s drumming on “Set The Controls For The Heart Of the Sun” and “Syncopated Pandemonium.” Snare drums start to rap out a pattern, fall away and then re-appear as the cosmophone continually gets wah-wah’d throughout a series of shock corridors until five or six minutes inside this irregular construction, Moullet’s background vocals rise to a patch of heightened alarm with brief, nasally declarations as the rolling tom-toms and irregular snare patterns begin to rise above the holding pattern of just scuttling around the studio floor. Moullet rises in tandem, unleashing strafing wah-wah’d runs in contrapuntal strikes against the devolving musical breakdown at hand. Seven minutes in, the erection of high pitched cosmophonic needling quickly switches to a series of deliberately slow and loudly strummed strikes against the cosmophone that cracks through the crust of the horizontally-inclined music as if to signal of the entry of Catherine the Great. “Ahhhhh...” she enters, deceptively soft. The abrasive strums continue in their predetermined underscoring of her utterances but then the accusations soon fly fast and furious as her hoarse and cracking voice starts to intensify and occasionally plummet into fits of screaming. The juxtaposition of her voice against the wah-wah’d cosmophone and the unchanging tom-toms rolls plus snare patterns repeating at odd instances throw anticipation off-kilter and serve to reinforce the gravity of Ribeiro’s delirious, hair-tearing and head-rending banshee wailings...which have only just begun. She regroups her composure, only to freak out again to punctuate the backing rhythmic undulations with further tortured wailing and screams. Breathless and deathless she continues, hoarse with desperation and screaming of love, creaming for love, dreaming in the loss of love...Her throaty and sardonic tones then switch into unnerving bouts of hysterical laughter. Her bare fingers now bloodily claw at the gates of release, leaving deep furrows in its bolted door shivering with rivulets of blood and broken nails. Deep inside “Poème Non Épique,” things are getting hairy: the band now follow Ribeiro’s lead and she’s leading them through a broken trail of travail as feedback, wah-wah, cymbals that crash in anguish to weave a vortex of discordant waves that threaten to drown all as the emotional floodgates have now burst. White cat heat cries aloud, her guts strung out over an open fire as a descending scale is plucked out on it. The cries of “MON AMOUR!” “MON AMOURRR!!” “MON AMOUUURRRRRR!!!” are more agonised than the last, as if Ribeiro is seeking to wring herself dry of the distraught, heavy ocean coursing all around and in her veins. Repeating a raspy condemnation of “HOMME!” over and over, it finally collapses into a pit of deep echo with a final “Aaaarrrrghhh!” to end it if signalling all clear for her personal phoenix to rise from the now smouldering flames of her heart, her mind and her soul.

Needless to say, there’s not much to say after “Poème Non Épique” finally curls up back into the silence except to let its trauma ebb from your head of its own accord. (As a footnote, Catherine Ribeiro+Alpes would reprise “Poème non Épique” on two later, separate occasions: The first being the sole redeeming moment of their patchy 1974 album, “Le Rat Débile Et L’homme Des Champs” while the second variation appeared on the following “Liberties?” album. However, neither approaches nor can touch the original’s power or primal outpouring of grief and pulsating anarchy.)

Bringing the album to calm closure is the brief “Ballada Das Aguas.” Accompanied by the Portuguese 12-string acoustic guitars of Pires Moliceiro and Isaac Robles Monteiro, Ribeiro sings in her parents’ tongue a specific type Portuguese ballad concerning itself with the regrets of working class existence. Referred to as a ‘fado,’ its essential ingredient is in the expression of what is known throughout the Portuguese-speaking world as ‘saudade.’ A term unique to that culture with no English equivalent, saudade is probably best described as a desire for something loved and lost in the past to return to the present some time in the future. An undying yearning for the impossible and usually based on an irrational feeling of passion for affairs that could never come to pass, Ribeiro encompasses it as it encompasses her while its innate sense of loss and impossible reclamation is more than obvious. And with this sad tale of woe from the western-most reaches of the Iberian Peninsula, “No. 2” finally steps down to its conclusion. You don’t need subtitles to relate to this or any other song on “No. 2” and to comprehend its artistic breadth of vision or feel its bottomless reserve of emotional depth, one only need to listen.

Julian Cope