String Driven Thing


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1 (1967-70)

- Chris Adams -- vocals, guitar 

- Pauline Adams -- vocals, percussion

- John Mannion -- vocals, guitar

 

  line-up 2 (1972)

- Chris Adams -- vocals, guitar

- Pauline Adams -- vocals, percussion 

NEW - Grahame Smith -- violin

NEW - Colin Wilson -- bass, guitar, banjo

 

  line-up 3 (1972-73)

- Chris Adams -- vocals, guitar

- Pauline Adams -- vocals, percussion 

NEW - Bill Hatje -- bass (replaced Colin Wilson)

- Grahame Smith -- violin, viola

 

  line-up 4 (1973-74)

NEW - Kim Beacon (RIP 2001) -- vocals (replaced  Pauline Adams)

NEW - James Exell -- bass, vocals (replaced Bill Hatje)

NEW - Colin Fairley -- drums, backing vocals

NEW - Alun Roberts -- guitar, vocals

-  Grahame Smith -- violin, viola

NEW - Clare Sealey -- cello

 

  line-up 5 (1974-75)

- Kim Beacon (RIP 2001) -- vocals 

- James Exell -- bass, vocals

- Colin Fairley -- drums, backing vocals

- Alun Roberts -- guitar, vocals

- Grahame Smith -- violin, viola

NEW - Pete Wood -- keyboards

 

 

- Chris and Pauline Adams

- Chris Adams (solo efforts)

- Kim Beacon (solo efforts)

- Beggars Opera (Colin Fairley)

- Icelandic Symphony Orchestra (Grahame Smith)

- Northwind (Kim Beacon)

- Ruby (Colin Fairley)

- Graeme Smith (solo efforts)

- Van der Graff Generation (Grahame Smith)

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  String Driven Thing

Company:  Charisma

Catalog: CAS 1062

Year: 1972

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5251

Price: $20.00

 

These guys are kind of an oddity.  Largely unknown to American audiences, the few reviews you'll stumble across seem to erroneously lump them under the progressive umbrella.  Part of that may be a result of the fact their earlier albums were released by Charisma which was known for a progressive roster, or the belief a band with a violinist had to be progressive.  Regardless, the label's wrong.

 

Recently married and trying to make a living in Glasgow, Scotland in 1967 Chris and Pauline Adams met singer/guitarist John Mannion in a local club.  Chris was selling vacuum cleaners and looking for a change of scene.  The three quickly discovered a common interest in Dylan and country and folk music an began playing local clubs as String Driven Thing.  Their efforts eventually attracted some attention on the local club scene, culminating in the release of an incredibly rare (100 copy) self-financed and self-titled debut on the Concord label.

 

Through an series of quirks two years later the Adams found themselves working with a new backing band (bassist/guitarist Colin Wilson and violinist Graeme Smith) and a recording contract on Charisma.  Produced by Shel Talmy and reportedly recorded in a matter of weeks, 1972's "String Driven Thing" showcased Adam Smith in his role as lead singer, lead guitarist and the band's creative mainstay.  With Chris Adams credited with penning all ten tracks (one co-written with wife Pauline), the set was somewhat schizophrenic, bouncing all over the horizon including stabs at English folk (the pretty acoustic ballads 'Fairground' and 'Easy To Be Free'), commercial pop 'Let Me Down', country ('There You Are', and hard rock 'Circus' (the latter sporting a strange kid oriented lyric).  Normally that wouldn't have done much for me, but for some reason this album's an exception.  Part of the explanation may have had something to do with the fact both of the Adams had likable voices and virtually all of Chris' songs had at least a couple of interesting features.  Interestingly, at least to my ears rock bands and violins normally don't mix, but in this case even Smith's violin was tolerable - check out his manic solo on 'Jack Diamond'.  Truthfully, there wasn't anything particularly original or earth shattering here, but it was all energetic and well performed, making it a personal favorite. Highlights included the killer rocker 'Circus' (perhaps the best thing they ever recorded), 'Hooked On the Road' (which made for a surprisingly convincing slice of Southern rock and sported a truly rockin' violin solo), and the rocker 'My Real Hero' - always loved the lyric 'god doesn't play in a rock and roll band' ...     

 

In addition to slapping one of the year's ugliest covers on the album, (which supposedly cost more than the recording sessions), Charisma tapped it for a pair of UK singles:

 

- 'Hooked On the Road' b/w 'Eddie' (Charisma catalog number CB 195)

- 'Circus' b/w 'My Real Hero' (Charisma catalog number CB 203)

 

"String Driven Thing" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Circus   (Chris Adams) - 4:48

2.) Fairground   (Chris Adams - Pauline Adams) - 3:22

3.) Hooked On the Road   (Chris Adams) - 2:56

4.) Easy To Be Free   (Chris Adams) - 3:06

5.) Jack Diamond   (Chris Adams) - 5:20

 

(side 2)
1.) Let Me Down   (Chris Adams) - 4:03

2.) Very Last Blue Yodell   (Chris Adams) - 3:56

3.) My Real Hero   (Chris Adams) - 3:56

4.) Regent St. Incident   (Chris Adams) -  3:54

5.) There You Are   (Chris Adams) - 2:58

 

Courtesy of YouTube, here's a  performance clip:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikOyn6jvpt4

'Circus'

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  The Machine That Cried

Company:  Charisma

Catalog: FC 6063

Year: 1972

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5438

Price: $30.00

 

 

Having generated considerable attention with their 1972 debut, virtually all of the band's momentum disappeared when front man Chris Adams found himself in the hospital with a collapsed lung.  During what should have been a three month recuperative period Adams apparently wrote most of the material that would surface on their second album.  Unfortunately less than a month after his hospitalization Adams and the band found themselves back on the road opening for Genesis on English and American legs of their "Foxtrot" supporting tour.  They were reportedly dumped from the tour after upstaging the headliners several times.   Unfortunately the band also found themselves increasingly at odds with their label Charisma.  With Charisma backing away from large scale financial support the group found themselves forced back on the club and college circuit.  They also found themselves at creative loggerheads with Charisma management over their decision to expand the line up to include drummer Billy Fairley.  

 

Continuing their collaboration with producer Shel Talmy, those frustrating experiences served as the basis for 1973's somber and dark "The Machine That Cried".  Original plans called for the album to be entitled 'Heartfeeder' but Charisma management was appalled by the album's disturbing atmosphere and refused to release the set without major changes including a major edit of Adams epic 'River of Sleep'.  Originally clocking in at over 12 minutes, in the end the only part of the extended suite that made the final release was the song 'Going Down'.  Adams also found himself forced to write several new tracks including 'The Machine That Cried' to fill out the heavily edited set.  Based on tracks like 'Sold Down the River' and  the harrowing opener 'Heartfeeder' it was easy to see Charisma's concerns.  Reportedly inspired by Adams surgery (he was apparently awake while a surgeon drilled into his breast plate), the song's ominous feeling has always scared the crap out of me.  That said, the results served as a wonderful setting for the group's chameleon-like talents.  Supported by drummer Fairly 'Night Club' and 'Two Timin' Rama' (showcasing Pauline Adams on lead vocals) were first rate rockers, while 'To See You' and 'Traveling' were among the prettiest ballads Adams ever wrote.  An even bigger surprise - Graeme Smith's violin actually made the songs even stronger.  Perhaps my favorite String Driven Thing release ...   (In case you ever wondered, the cover featured a picture of a bedbug.)   

 

"The Machine That Cried" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Heartfeeder   (Chris Adams) - 6;29
2.) To See You  (Chris Adams) - 3:50
3.) Night Club  (Chris Adams) - 4:51
4.) Sold Down The River  (Chris Adams - Graeme Smith) - 4:18

 

(side 2)
1.) Two Timin' Rama  (Chris Adams) - 3:05
2.) Traveling  (Chris Adams) - 2:48
3.) People On The Street  (Chris Adams - Pauline Adams) - 6:00
4.) The House  (Chris Adams) - 2:29
5.) The Machine That Cried  (Chris Adams) - 5:12

6.) Going Down  (Chris Adams) - 2:18

 

Back panel on the US pressing:

 

 

The UK original was released with a gatefold sleeve:

 

 

For anyone interested, the band approved reissue included the original version of 'River of Sleep' and three other tracks that were cut by Charisma management:

 

- 'If Only The Good'
- 'Its A Game'
- 'Part Of The City'

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Please Mind Your Head

Company:  20th Century Fox

Catalog: T-470

Year: 1974

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1163

Price: $15.00

 

You wouldn't have been faulted having low expectations for what was essentially String Driven Thing MK III  ...  Re-structured bands have a long track record of going down in artistic and commercial flames.

 

With Grahame Smith the only holdover from the earlier String Driven Things line-ups, the revamped band featured the talents of singer Kimberly Beacon, bassist James Exell, drummer Colin Fairley, guitarist Alun Roberts, and cello player Clare Sealey. With most of the band contributing to the writing chores, 1974's "Please Mind You Head" found the group shifting towards a more contemporary pop and FM friendly blues-rock sound.  Assuming they'd gotten over the departure of creative mainstays Chris and Pauline Adams, longstanding fans were almost certainly appalled by tracks like the Bad Company-styled rockers 'Overdrive', 'Without You', and 'Black Eyed Queen'.   If that didn't get under their skin, then Faces-flavored tunes like 'Mr. O'Reilly' and 'Man of Means' almost certainly did.  Seriously, if you'd deleted Smith's violin work, a significant number of these nine tracks wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Bad Company, or Faces album.  As a big '70s AOR fan I didn't find the change in direction all that bad.  Yeah, the revamped band lost much of their unique identify, but Beacon was an impressive singer - criminally overlooked.   Always liked the goofy Hipgnosis album cover ...

 

"Please Mind Your Head" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Overdrive   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 3:10

With Kim Beacon turning in his best Paul Rogers impression, 'Overdrive' was a surprisingly impressive blues-rock number.  Powerful, tuneful, and quite commercial, it would have made a nice single.   rating: **** stars
2.) Without You  (Kim Beacon) - 4:00

Anyone hearing the rollicking 'Without You' was bound to wonder why these guys were so often dumped under the progressive sales plank.   Once again  Beacon sounded like a slightly easier going Paul Rogers while Alun Roberts displayed some tasty lead guitar chops.   Another track that would have made a dandy FM single.  rating: **** stars
3.) Josephine   (Colin Fairley) - 4:10

Always loved James Bell's churning bass line on this one  ...  nice Bad Company-styled blues-rocker that should have provided the band with a massive AOR commercial success.  rating: **** stars
4.) Mrs. O'Reilly   (Colin Fairley) - 3:40

There's something about this one that's always reminded me a bit of a Faces track - overlooking Grahame Smith's violin, there was a certain charming sloppiness to the performance that bore more than a passing resemblance to Rod Stewart and company.   The song was released as a single in England and German.   rating: *** stars
5.) Man Of Means   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 2:46

'Man of Means' sounded even more like a Faces tune, though this time around the reference was Rod Stewart singing a Ronnie Lane composition.   High compliment in my book.  rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) Black Eyed Queen
   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 4:43

'Black Eyed Queen' started side two with another enjoyable Bad Company-styled blues-rocker, though the mid-song doo-wop detour was disconcerting.   rating: **** stars
2.) Keep On Moving
   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 3:18

Decent boogie tune, but nowhere near as impressive as some of the other numbers.  rating: *** stars
3.) Timpani For The Devil (instrumental)  (Grahame Smith) - 4:15

Smith's lone composition, the instrumental 'Timpani For The Devil' was unlike anything else on the album - essentially a showcase for his violin, it wasn't particularly melodic, or enjoyable and simply went on far too long.  The album's most progressive oriented tune, but it sounded totally out of place on the album.  rating: ** stars
4.) To Know You Is To Love You  (Syreeta Wright - Stevie Wonder) - 6:25

Technically I guess this wasn't a Stevie Wonder cover since it was actually written and recorded for Wonder's then wife Syreeta Wright and appeared on her 1972 debut album "Syreeta".   Regardless, you seldom hear a good Stevie Wonder cover, so this was one of those isolated exceptions.   With Beacon handling the lead vocals, the band seldom sounded as good as on this blazing blued-eyed soul adaptation.   Strange to say, but slinky and easily one of the album highlights.   rating: **** stars

 

In the US the album spun off the single:

 

- 1974's  'Overdrive' b/w 'Timpani for the Devil' (20th Century Fox catalog number 'TC-2202')

 

The UK singles off the album were:

 

- 1974's 'Mrs. O'Reilly' b/w 'Keep on Moving' (Charisma catalog number CR 239)

- 1974's 'Overdrive' b/w 'Timpani for the Devil' (Charisma catalog number CR 247)

 


Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Keep Yer 'and On It

Company:  20th Century Fox

Catalog: T-503

Year: 1975

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: cut top right corner

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 5736

Price: $10.00

 

When released in 1975 the final String Driven Thing studio album "Keep Yer 'and On It" (translated as 'keep your hand on it') was widely slammed, or simply ignored by critics and fans.  Some thirty years later it's still widely abused.  Shame since it's actually far better than you'd think.  True by the time it was released much of the band's earlier quirkiness and progressive leanings were gone.  Off course while billed as a SDT release, it marked the second release by String Driven Thing MK II - singer  Kim Beacon, bassist  James Exell, drummer Colin Fairley, guitarist Alun Roberts, and new keyboard player Pete Wood.   The only real link to the original band, long time violinist Graham Smith was still onboard, but this time out he was largely relegated to providing occasional splashed of textural support.  While the previous album had been pretty commercial, this time out the band made no attempt to  hide their commercial pop and rock leanings.   Beacon remained an impressive singer, capable of handling Paul Rogers-styled blues-rockers and Rod Stewart-influenced bar band moves while the rest of the band sounded even tighter than before.   Nah, originality was totally absent this time around, but so what.

 

"Keep Yer and On It" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Starving In the Tropics   (James Exell - Colin Fairley) - 5.25

It was about as progressive as a McDonald's commercial, but 'Starving In the Tropics' combined a catchy rock structure with some entertaining lyrics, though I could have done without Smith's screeching violin.  Would have made a nice single.  rating: *** stars

2.) Call Out for Mercy   (Kim Beacon - Alun Roberts) - 3:00

To this day the rocker 'Call Out for Mercy' reminds me of something out of the Bad Company catalog (okay, you don't hear a lot of violins on Bad Company songs).  Long time fans would probably be aghast at that comment, but I'm a big Paul Rogers fans so it was meant as a complement.   rating: **** stars

3.) Chains (I Wanna Be Just Like Stan Bowles)   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 

Apparently inspired, or dedicated by a British soccer star, the quirky title was lost on me, but 'Chains (I Wanna Be Just Like Stan Bowles)'  was a beautiful mid-tempo ballad that served to highlight Beacon's wonderful set of pipes.   rating: **** stars

4.) Things We Said Today  (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 6:52

The surprisingly highlight was their quirky cover of The Beatles' 'Things We Said Today'.  Given the thousands of Beatles covers out there you'd think it would be hard to come up with something new or entertaining, but their version managed to do both.  Slowing the song down, giving Smith a rare shot at the spotlight (and I don't like rock violin), and giving the track a dark, ominous, Caribbean flavor was brilliant.   rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) But I Do   (James Exell) - 3:44

Side two opened up with another conventional rocker.  Propelled by Beacon's throaty growl, this one was an AOR classic sadly lost in a catalog known for its progressive offerings.  Shame.   The song was tapped as a UK single.   rating: *** stars

2.) Old Friends   (Kim Beacon) - 3:46

One of my favorite tracks, 'Old Friends' offered up more conventional rock (with a nice Alun Roberts acoustic guitar solo), but with a distinctive American feel.   rating: **** stars

3.) Ways of a Woman   (James Exell) - 4:09

The power ballad 'Ways of a Woman' had all the ingredients for top-40 success, which may be the reason it didn't do much for my ears.   rating: *** stars

4.) Part of It   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 3:40

Another power ballad, 'Part of It' wasn't as good as 'Ways of a Woman'.   rating: ** stars

5.) Stand Back In Amazement   (James Exell - Alun Roberts) - 3:05

The album closed out with another Paul Rogers-styled blues-rocker 'Stand Back In Amazement'.  Even if you weren't a big Free or Bad Company fan, this was a blazing rocker and easily one of my favorite songs on the album.   rating: **** stars

 

As mentioned, the UK single was:

 

- 1975's 'But I Do' b/w 'Stand Back in Amazement' (Charisma catalog number CR-276)

 

Clearly won't do much for fans of their earlier progressive moves, but perhaps because it was so different, I really like this one.

 

 

 

 


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