THE HISTORY OF HIGH TIDE/ THE MISUNDERSTOOD, ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE PROGRESSIVE ROCK BANDS/ AND A CLASSIC ‘LOST BAND’ OF THE SIXTIES EVER (PART ONE)
And where does DAVID BOWIE fit in?
This is an abridged and revised version of an article originally appearing in ACID DRAGON magazine.
Before Tony Hill wrote most of the material for HIGH TIDE’s stunning 1969 debut album SEA SHANTIES, he was a member of The Misunderstood. John Peel in 2003, in an interview with Steve Lafreniere, describes The Misunderstood’s performance in Hollywood in 1966 as the greatest he’d seen in his life.
“They weren’t getting anywhere in California, so I said to them, “Why don’t you go to London? They did and stayed with my mother.”
Unfortunately vocalist Rick Brown was drafted into the US army fighting in Vietnam, and the American band split up only to be reincarnated on the same record label (Fontana) with a different line-up that included Nic Potter and Guy Evans who would go on to form a rhythm section for Van Der Graaf Generator. Recently interest in The Misunderstood has been re-awakened with the release of ‘The Lost Acetates 1965-1966’. This is an impressive collection that gives us an overdue glimpse into the potent mix of r ‘n’ b, garage pop and rock recalling Them, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, and at times The Bluesbreakers, before a move from Riverside to England and a gestation into one of the most innovative psychedelic bands on the planet.
Indeed Record Collector magazine recently named their record I Can Take You To The Sun #6 in the top 100 greatest psychedelic records of all time- The record was unveiled in December, 1966 - the same month as Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe and a good two before Strawberry Fields. Forever. “The Misunderstood single stands alongside both these classics as one of the most powerful and best psychedelic singles ever released’, said Record Collector in 1999.
Included on ‘The Lost Acetates’ are alternate versions of four great songs from the band’s psychedelic era; among these are the classic Children of the Sun whose psychedelic fuzz has been compared to The Yardbirds' Shapes of Things. The CD is also remarkable for the appearance of Glenn Ross Campbell whose rocked out steel guitar playing blew John Peel away when he saw them in concert! By the way Children of the Sun opens disc two of the widely available classic boxed set Nuggets 2: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond.
If you go to the excellent http://www.themisunderstood.com you can listen to I Can Take You To The Sun and Who Do You Love made famous later by Juicy Lucy into whom the group evolved. Apart from Tony Hill that is!
After The Misunderstood came Torquoise who thanks to information from Dean Holt, bass player with Tony Hill’s Fiction, I can confidently state existed from 14 September 1968 to 16 March 1969. The band had two mime artists including David Bowie. To put the record straight, Tony Hill was the guitarist/ vocalist for Torquoise, (‘Feathers’ came later, a fact often confused). The repertoire of the band included Space Oddity later to launch Bowie’s career of course!
Ade Shaw’s (bass player with Hawkwind and the equally legendary Bevis Frond) opinion of Tony Hill’s guitar playing is that:
“He’s not blues, not jazz although his technique is easily good enough for that discipline and he's certainly not out and out Rock. He plays scales in his solos I've never heard before and his song writing combines beautiful obtuse lyrics with highly structured psychedelic arrangements.”
Leaving the shipyard to unleash his Fender Start on unsuspecting audiences in French American air bases, Hill formed a blues band in London called The Answers and started to write original material. Nothing quite prepared the world for High Tide and their debut 1969 album Sea Shanties though!
“It's complicated and very, very strange,” says Shaw “ and there's this twin-lead onslaught of Simon House's violin and Tony Hill’s guitar. It is really the heaviest and most spine-chilling stuff I've ever heard in my life.” (Pete Pavli uses a cello tuning for his bass and Roger Hadden’s drumming is phenomenal- it needed to be!).
I think it was Julian Cope who wrote this of Sea Shanties:
“Hill pushes his entire guitar into a grinder of wah-wah, fuzz and supreme tearing at its throat distortion in a revolving fever dream kept barely grounded by Pete Pavli’s bass and Roger Hadden’s explosive Keith Moon-like drum presence, which is everywhere at once effortlessly. In fact, excepting the slight opening finesse of ‘Missing Out’ (which hurtles headlong into a massive power trio jam by the end, anyway), the entire album is track after track of unrelenting, screeching guitar and muscular backing like Black Sabbath and The Groundhogs joined by Dave Swarbrick during the highlights of a messy methedrine binge. There’s an abundance of ever-screeching guitar work from Hill, and his vocabulary of distortion and interplay is only surpassed by its volume.”
Most commentators agree that ‘Sea Shanties ‘was so far ahead of its time that they don’t believe it was made in 1969 and many compare Tony Hill’s voice with Jim Morrison although this is something I don’t hear myself. Death Warmed Up is reckoned by some to be the first prog metal piece ever while Walking Down Their Outlook‘ provides an interesting example of violin and guitar in an entirely different way to, say, East of Eden.
The album pulled off the rate trick of producing an intense, muddy ‘wall of sound’ but still projecting infectious melodies, somewhat of a paradox considering the complexity of the music.
Keith Henderson writing on the web site of that wonderful space rock music and radio station that used to be run by Jerry Kranitz, www.aural-innovations.com said of High Tide:
“Loud, dark, dangerous, indulgent, and just barely under control, High Tide's first two albums, Sea Shanties (1969) and High Tide (1970), are among the finest, fieriest slabs of high-octane psychedelic rock you're ever likely to hear’. ‘High Tide’ is less heavy than its predecessor with more use of keyboards and more jazz and folk influences. I would add that the sophomore album has a more mature style combining folk elements with a sensibility of King Crimson.
High Tide , the album that is, expands into the space provided by the decision to record just three lengthy pieces, with more variation in the instrumentation by adding organ to Simon House’s violin. Tracks like The Joke and the 14 minute opus Saneonymous have aged well.
There is also an amazing BBC Sessions 1969-1970 (Thanks to Dean Holt for a copy) where, once you get past the debatable sound quality (no doubt subsequently improved by remastering), shows just how much an incredible ‘one off’ High Tide were. The whole SEA SHANTIES album is covered except Death Warmed Up which is replaced by a gem of a composition in Dilemma.
While it is difficult to find much about High Tide in reference books, Carol Clerk’s book The Saga of Hawkwind (Omnibus Press) tells of Group X (later Hawkwind) gatecrashing a High Tide gig and catching the attention of John Pell with their own blend of musical anarchy.
TO BE CONTINUED