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LONDON UNDERGROUND – LIVE AT THE 19TH DREAM OF DR. SARDONICUS FESTIVAL 2023 (Regal Crabomophone/ Fruits de Mer Records – pre-order now for 13th August, 2024 release)

London Underground were formed in Florence in 1998 (apparently there is a connection to great Italian keyboard driven prog band STANDARTE). When I first heard them covering Tropic of Capricorn’ from BRIAN AUGER AND THE TRINITY’s ‘Streetnoise’ LP I urged caution as I am a big Auger fan, but I was won over enough to pay tribute to the band’s instrumental variation of a classic. On their album ‘Four’ they also played an original, ‘Ray Ban’, could easily have been an Auger outtake (and I can pay it no higher compliment than that), with its subtle rhythm section and ominous organ chords, guitar cutting through before another memorable melody, an echoing synth break propelling the groove onwards. Sometimes I felt the band played it a bit safe but the 7 minute long ‘At Home’ was rather good and I liked the way they finish the album with a ‘Jam’ to show us how well they can rock, more of a DEEP PURPLE than an Auger. I also noted that it was not all about the Hammonds as there was some fine guitar and synth playing throughout. I also loved a piece called ‘The Comete’ with the reverberations of double electric pianos this time, another smooth, spacey groove to wrap your ears around with a MIKE RATLEDGE Lowrey-like organ register in the measured solos and synth to polish it off. ‘What I Say’ was another 7 minutes of organ bliss with a sustained inundation introducing what might be best described as a ‘big band’ of keyboards, off-beat syncopated drumming giving a ‘fusion’ effect worthy of the great MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA themselves. I remarked that the music also touched on FOCUS at times.

Basically, what Fruits de Mer did was reproduce the “Four” album which was accompanied by a second album, a kind of ‘best of’ from the first three albums under the title “Space Edition”. It started with a fluid rip-roaring version of ARTHUR BROWN’s ‘Fanfare’ from ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ LP with bass and organ combining well and trumpeting synth finishing it off. This was followed by a couple of originals with an organist in Vincent Crane of ATOMIC ROOSTER mode and, a surprise, vocals for the first time giving ‘Squadron Leader’ a psychedelic feel; spirited drumming also. ‘Mass Baptizer’ had the feel of a PETE TOWNSHEND song and ‘Can’t Find the Reason’ was the cover of a 1973 ballad written by VINCENT CRANE and CHRIS FARLOWE and there was also a fine version of the BRIAN AUGER & THE TRINITY number ‘Ellis Island’. There were two other notable covers: of JETHRO TULL’s ‘Dharma for One’ and AZRACHEL’S ‘Queen St. Gang’.

‘Honey Drops’ was the title track of their 2008 album and a powerful six-minute instrumental, and this is a good place to start the review of the Live at the 19th Dream album. I have already mentioned ‘Fanfare’ which is the track before ‘Honey Drops’ on this compilation. Album opener, ‘Billy Silver’ was the first track from the “Four” LP. ’13 (Death March)’ is a new track to me, and obviously refers to the tragic real event on the London Underground; as if enough classic influences haven’t been mentioned, I have to add SANTANA to the list here. After that there is the old crowd pleaser, an extravagant and quite brilliant 11-minute version of WES MONTGOMERY’S 1966 classic ‘Bumpin’ On Sunset’ which captures the essence of a piece that has already been covered many times, including –-you guessed it! - by BRIAN AUGER’S OBLIVION EXPRESS. Finally, there is another track from “Four” entitled ‘What I Say’. What can I say: dazzling, mesmerising, a band on top form. I honestly think that when they hit their stride are a better band live than in the studio and this indispensable release reinforces that view. Please get in your pre-order quickly because this album is certain to sell out fast. And, by the way, isn’t it time for a reissue of “Space Edition”? I could only find a few remaining copies for sale and they were all in Europe.


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