Comus


Band members               Related acts

  line up 1 (1969-70)

- Glenn Goring -- guitar, hand drums, vocals

- Andy Hellaby - bass 

- Colin Pearson - violin, viola  

- Bobbie Watson - vocals, recorder, percussion  

- Roger Wootton - vocals, lead guitar  

- Rob Young - flute, oboe, percussion  

 

  line up 2 (1974)

NEW - Gordon Caxon -- drums, percussion 

  (replaced Rob Young)

NEW - Keith Hale -- keyboards, synthesizers

- Andy Hellaby - bass, tapes and effects

- Bobbie Watson - vocals, recorder, percussion

- Roger Wootton - vocals, lead guitar

 

  supporting musicians

- Phil Barry -- bongos

- Lindsay Cooper -- bassoon

- Tim Kramer -- cello

- Didlier Malherbe -- tenor sax

 

 line up 3 (2007-)

- Glenn Goring -- guitar, hand drums, vocals

- Andy Hellaby - bass 

- Colin Pearson - violin, viola  

NEW- Jon Seagroatt -- percussion, flute 

  (replaced Rob Young)

- Bobbie Watson - vocals, recorder, percussion  

- Roger Wootton - vocals, lead guitar  

 

 

 

- Red Square (Jon Seagroatt)

- Roger Wootton (solo efforts)

 


 

Genre: progressive

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  First Utterance

Company: Dawn

Catalog: DNLS 3019

Year: 1971

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; UK pressing; minor water staining and warp to bottom third of sleeve; included insert

Available: SOLD

GEMM catalog ID: SOLD

Price: SOLD $350.00

 

There were literally thousands and thousands of progressive bands recording material during the 1970s.  While a relatively few enjoyed popular recognition, let massive sales, the vast majority were relegated to instant obscurity.   England's Comus (violinist Colin Pearson, lead singer/percussionist Bobby Watson, singer/guitarist Roger Wootton and percussionist Rob Young) clearly fell in the latter category.  Named after the mystic god of revelry (if I remember correctly, he was the son of Circe and Bacchus), during their brief and sporadic career (2 albums over a five year period), they enjoyed little popular recognition and only sold a handful of albums.  In spite of those factors, some three decades latter, they're achieved a dedicated cult following.  Most of the original line-up even reunited in 2007, playing several concerts and reportedly starting to record new material.  Their debut album has been reissued several times and you'll find hundreds of Comus postings on the web.

 

left to right: back row  Roger Wootton- Glenn Going - Rob Young

front row Andy Hellaby - Bobbie Watson - Colin Pearson

 

Released by the small English Dawn label, 1971's "First Utterance" is one of those albums that sends listeners into spasms.  You either adore the collection, or hate it with a passion.  There are simply no in-betweens on this one.  Featuring largely acoustic instrumentation (there's some electric bass), I've seen descriptions ranging from "the most sinister album ever made" to "pastoral English folk".  To my ears the first description is probably more apt, though another review describing the LP as "a cross between a frenzied version of the witches chorus from Macbeth and Marc Bolan being squeezed to death" also has some merit.  With those opening comments out of the way, let me give you fair warning.  This LP takes some getting use to.  Most people who've actually heard it hate it on first listening.  They'll also tell you the album had an odd fascination that briought them back time after time.   Lead singer Watson certainly took some getting use to.  The woman had a falsetto (technically I guess the term was vibrato), that sounded like Geddy Lee doing whippets.  Largely penned by guitarist/singer Wootton, the album was ripe with tales of murder ('Drip Drip'), rape ('Song of Comus'), pagan martyrdom (the frightening 'Diana'), and mental illness.  Musically and lyrically the results were simply quite unnerving.  Can music make you uncomfortable?  Sure and this (along with Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music") provided a wonderful example of that dark power.  Okay, okay, so what's it actually sound like.  The album was hard to adequately describe, but imagine a blend of Fairport Convention-styled English folk (with Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson on a blood rampage), King Crimson experimentation (explaining the song fragmentation and obscure lyrics) with a stoned pairing of Family's Roger Chapman and Rush's Geddy Lee handling the vocals.  Add in the dark and disturbing lyrics and you'll get a vague feeling for the collection.   Like I said, fascinating in the same way a nasty traffic accident catches your attention.

 

"First Utterances" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Diana
2.) The Herald (instrumental)
3.) Drip Drip
4.) Song to Comus

(side 1)

1.) The Bite
2.) Bitten
3.) The Prisoner

 

full cover - Roger Wootton

 

Commercially the album was stillborn.  A planned tour opening for David Bowie collapsed.  Isolated early reviews were critical and sales were crippled by an English postal strike that froze Dawn's already limited distribution efforts.

 

I've never seen a copy, however Dawn also released a Comus three track EP.  The 'A' side 'Diana' was lifted from the LP, but the two 'B' side tracks ''The Lost Queen's Eyes' and 'Winter Is a Coloured Bird' were non-LP offerings:

 

    

 

- 'Diana' b/w 'The Lost Queen's Eyes' and 'Winter Is a Coloured Bird' )Dawn catalog number DNX 2506).

 

 

I love the internet - lo and behold.  Mr. Goring was absolutely right complain, but then he stumbled across a rough draft that hadn't been completed - mind you I shouldn't have pushed it to the web.  So hopefully he'll be happy with this updated version.  

 

Dear Badcat Records,

I would be grateful if you could amend the musicians list for Comus’s debut album ‘First Utterance’ 1971. My name is Glenn Goring. I was a founder member of the band and I’m a little surprised my name is not mentioned in your members list. I also would like to add that the band at that time (on 'First Utterance and at live gigs') did not use a drummer. We played hand drums alone.

A re-release of our entire collection has just been issued. Perhaps you can update your website.

Best regards,
Glenn Goring


fondleberry@yahoo.co.uk

 

 


      


Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  To Keep From Crying

Company: Virgin

Catalog: V 2018

Year: 1974

Country/State UK

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: UK pressing

Available: 2

GEMM catalog ID: 5772

Price: $75.00

 

After a three year hiatus bassist Andy Hellaby, singer/multi-instrumentalist Bobbie Watson, and lead guitarist Roger Wootton unexpected reunited.  With the addition of new drummer Gordon Caxon and keyboardist Keith Hale the band released 1974's "To Keep from Crying".  Signed by Richard Branson's newly formed Virgin Records, the album found the band opting for a more conventional rock/progressive sound (recognize I'm using that descriptor in a broad sense).  Propelled by Watson's stratospheric falsetto (occasionally enough to trigger your car alarm), with one exception ('Perpetual Motion'), there wasn't anything remotely top-40  here, but that wasn't meant as a criticism.  Largely abandoning their earlier acoustic-based work, this time out most of the eleven tracks featured electric instrumentation.  Tracks like 'Down (Like a Movie Star)' and 'To Keep from Crying' occasionally incorporated conventional melodies, but again nothing that you'd mistake for a top-40 effort.  Backed by an array of studio guests including cameos from various members of Esperanto, Gong, and Henry Cow, material such as 'Touch Down' and 'So Long Supernova' wasn't half bad.   Interestingly fans of the debut uniformly hated the sophomore release.  Good luck finding a review that gave the set any semblance of a positive nod.  Shame since their sound remained quirky, unconventional, and weirdly captivating, though this time out much of the ominous atmospherics were toned down. 

 

- Hearing 'Down (Like a Movie Star' for the first time I can clearly remember thinking I must has mistakenly set the record player to 45 rpm.  That said, if you can acclimated to Watson's high pitched yelp, kicked along by a nice Hellaby bass pattern (and a bassoon solo from Henry Cow's Lindsay Cooper), this one actually rocked out with considerable energy.  Always loved the 'down, down, down, like a movie star' chorus.   rating: **** stars

- With Watson making an effort to keep her voice in something like a lower register (okay the chorus went sky high), 'Touch Down' was a pretty and haunting ballad.   Weird enough to worm its way into your head.  rating: **** stars

- Showcasing Hellby's interest in tapes and effects, 'Waves and Caves' had an interesting pre-ambient feel to it.  Imagine something out of Brian Eno's early catalog and you'll be in the right aural neighborhood.  rating: ** stars

- Play this to any unsuspecting friends and ask them who the female singer is.  Sporting kind of a laidback tropical feel, 'Figure In Your Dreams' was a likebale track, but Watson's stratospheric falsetto (and you thought Geddy Lee was high pitched ...) made it very much an acquired taste.  My six year old went running out of the room the last time I played it.  rating: *** stars

- The acoustic 'Children of the Universe' found the band returning to their folk roots.  I'm a not a gigantic English folk fan, but have to say this one wasn't half bad, especially when the electric instrumentation kicked in.  The song was also interesting in that it featured Watson and Roger Wootton sharing lead vocals.    rating: *** stars

- Side two opened with 'So Long Supernova' ...  not sure what to tell you about this one other than it was a mess.  There was a song in there somewhere, but to my ears it just never managed to coagulate.  Hearing Wootton stretch to hit the high notes wasn't much fun either.   rating: * star

-  So unlike the rest of their catalog, 'Perpetual Motion' has always brought a smile to my face. Complete with Beach Boys-styled harmony vocals (that sounded surprisingly impressive), the song sported one of those upbeat, summertime melodies, that I'm a pushover for.  Great song, though I can see longtime Comus fans having heart palputations.   rating: **** stars

- The second Hellaby composition, the instrumental 'Panophany' also underscored the bassist's interest in ambient and experimental sounds.  Largely forgettable  rating: ** stars

- Keyboardist Keith Hale's lone writing credit, 'Get Yourself a Man' was a fairly straightforward ballad that saw Watson managing to keep on track throughout most of the song.  The song was also notable for sporting one of the album's few guitar solos -  Wootton used the opportunity to turn in a pair of nice fuzz guitar solos.  Can't say I was as keen on Didlier Malherbe's slightly atonal sax solo.   rating: *** stars

- 'To Keep from Crying' was a pretty, folkish ballad that actually started to generate some energy as it rolled along.  Hellaby provided some nice bass, Wootton turned in some more tasteful fuzz guitar, while Watson and Wootton actually sounded pretty good on the shared lead vocals.  My only complaint is that for some reason the track sounds like it was recorded a couple of miles away from the studio.   rating :**** stars

-  'After the Dream' ended the album with a brief autoharp instrumental. Pretty, but forgettable.   rating: * star

  

Nowhere near as impressive as the debut, but one that deserves more notice than it got.  Definitely a quirky one that grows on you if given a chance. Unfortunately, the debut's undercurrent of angst and foreboding was absent.  Old fans were extremely unhappy with the new 'commercial' orientation and there simply weren't any new fans.  Absent sales, the collection disappeared into cutout bins, followed in short order by the band.  

 

"To Keep from Crying" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Down (Like a Movie Star)   (Roger Wootton)
2.) Touch Down   ( Roger Wootton)
3,) Waves and Caves (instrumental)   (Andy Hellaby)
4.) Figure In Your Dreams   ( Roger Wootton)
5.) Children of the Universe   ( Roger Wootton)

(side 2)

1.) So Long Supernova   ( Roger Wootton)
2.) Perpetual Motion   ( Roger Wootton)
3.) Panophany (instrumental)   (Andy Hellaby)
4.) Get Yourself a Man   (Keith Hale) 
5.) To Keep from Crying   ( Roger Wootton)
6.) After the Dream   ( Roger Wootton)

 

 

And a quick update ...  sans Rob Young, the original line up reunited in 2007.   They re-released the two studio albums and EP as "Song To Comus - The Complete Collection" (Castle Music catalog number ).  

 

 

"Song To Comus - The Complete Collection" track listing:

1.) Diana
2.) Herald
3.) Drip Drip
4.) Song to Comus
5.) Bite
6.) Bitten
7.) Prisoner
8.) Diana
9.) In the Lost Queen's Eyes
10.) Winter Is a Coloured Bird
11.) Down (Like a Movie Star)
12.) Touch Down
13.) Waves & Caves
14.) Figure in Your Dreams
15.) Children of the Universe
16.) So Long Supernova
17.) Perpetual Motion
18.) Panophany
19.) Get Yourself a Man
20.) To Keep From Crying
21.) After the Dream

 

They've also played some concerts and reportedly begun recording new material.  They have a nice web presence with plenty of updates at:

 

http://www.comusmusic.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

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