Colin H on Quintessence
It had always surprised me that, with two instrumental live excerpts on 1970 LP ‘Quintessence’ and a live ‘Jesus, Buddha’ on the 1971 Island records sampler ‘Bumpers’, apparently no one in the music reissuing world had asked Universal (keepers of the Island archive) if the rest of that concert was available for license. Around 2007, at my suggestion, Brian O’Reilly, the singularly affable, laid-back and open-to-ideas MD of Hux Records, did so.
It transpired that, in addition to their three studio albums ‘In Blissful Company’, ‘Quintessence’ and ‘Dive Deep’, there had been at least three official concert recordings during Quintessence’s 1969-71 tenure at Island: St Pancras Town Hall in March 1970 (source of the three live fragments mentioned above); and two recorded in one day at Queen Elizabeth Hall in May 1971. Recent research shows that there was a fourth Island live recording made at the LSE in November 1970, but this was blighted by technical gremlins, referred to in press interviews at the time, and has not survived.
At that time, we had access to a Universal-supplied mix (seemingly a mix created in 1971) of the QE Hall concerts in full and 36 minutes of a rough 1970 monitor mix from St Pancras (seemingly all that survived). With Cormac O’Kane of Red Box Studios, Belfast, mastering/audio restoring, all of the available material, bar one QE Hall track with tuning issues, was released in 2007 across three packed CDs: the single CD ‘Cosmic Energy: Live at St Pancras 1970’ (including 40 minutes of exclusive bonus material from the QE Hall concerts) and the 2CD ‘Infinite Love: Live at QE Hall 1971’.
I had the great pleasure of writing a couple of vast sleeve-notes based on abundant period press interviews and the albums have proved deservedly popular. (The QE Hall set is currently sold out.) Late in the process I had the greater pleasure of connecting with former Quintessence members Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones (vocals) and Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling along with the masterly producer/arranger of two and a half of their three original Island albums John Barham. Several further Quintessence-related projects developed out of this friendship: ‘After Quintessence: The Complete Kala Recordings 1973’, a first-time reissue of Phil and Dave’s sole post-Quin album as Kala, with bonus material – both from the period plus two new vocal performances from Phil; ‘Only Love Can Save Us’, an anthology with exclusive new tracks from Phil’s early 2000s collaboration with Swiss musician Ralph ‘Rudra’ Beauvert, reimagining classic Quintessence material plus original compositions; and ‘Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury 2010’, a fabulous live/studio album based around a one-off live reunion between Phil (who flew in from his home in the US) and Dave, using Dave’s band at the time, produced and mixed by John Barham.
So much for the preamble… In 2009 Huxmeister Brian, again at my suggestion, asked to see Universal’s database of Quintessence studio holdings. It was clear from the document that there was probably enough unreleased material for an album. In 2015, with Phil Jones’ prior approval having been sought by Universal, and a licence fee agreed, the laborious process of identifying likely reels of tape and then having them digitised, essentially on spec, at Abbey Road Studios began.
Based on the scant information scribbled on the tape boxes (and now preserved in the database) – suggesting unknown titles or alternative takes – 30 reels were requested for digitisation, and that process paid for: 22 multi-track reels and nine ¼ inch mix-down reels, all of roughly 30-35 minutes duration. There was no knowing in advance whether each would contain a few minutes of music or a whole reel of the stuff.
From this total, one reel (a multi-track of unknown title ‘Witchseason’) was reported to be missing and a further six reels were not approved for licensing, for reasons unknown. A total of 23 reels would be approved and digitised under Universal’s supervision: 16 multi-tracks and seven ¼ inch mix-downs.
From this total, one ¼ inch purporting to be first-album outtakes turned out to be a mix of a Mott The Hoople song, while all but one of the other six ¼ inch reels revealed only released versions of songs or trial mixes of parts of songs (works-in-progress in John Barham’s tape-splicing approach to creating some of the original mixes of songs such as ‘Dive Deep’, ‘Only Love’ and ‘Dance For The One’). The one exception was a reel containing completed mixes of two takes of ‘Sea of Immortality’: the released version and one with a very different guitar solo.
With only one useable piece in the bag, we were now down to 15 multi-tracks. Would these be any more fruitful? Disregarding two of these reels (containing unflattering acoustic guitar demos of ‘Wonders of the Universe’ and an unknown song, with an unknown singer), the 13 remaining multis delivered four hitherto unknown songs, two hitherto unknown instrumentals, one hitherto missing song from the March 1970 St Pancras Town Hall concert (hurrah!), and a clutch of stunning live-in-the-studio alternative takes of known songs. In addition, we have had the luxury of mixing a handful of previously released takes of songs in their unabridged form.
In the case of three tracks, Phil and Dave (in Woodstock, NY and Leeds, UK respectively) have added new parts to ‘complete’ them: new lead guitar on the sole existing take of unreleased song ‘Tree of Life’; new vocals on an instrumental take of ‘Twilight Zones’; and new vocals and additional electric guitar on an instrumental take of ‘Move Into The Light’. The results are stunning. It’s a real thrill have both involved in the project, both contributing purely for the love of it. Indeed, Phil selected the cover art himself, from the incredible works of the man they call Pencilsqueezer. We owe a dept to both Pencil and the owners of the piece (also, I think, Afterworders) for permission to use it. Thank you!
The resulting album – released on May 27 2016 – is Hux Records’ 150th release, and also the labels most ambitious project by far. It is a testament to Huxmeister Brian O’Reilly’s nerve, and a good example of what can be done with a good team of sympathetic professionals and a bit of goodwill: studio wizard Cormac O’Kane; designer Mark Case; sleeve artist Peter Billington; moral supporters, moral permitters and near-50-years-after audio repair men Phil Jones and Dave Codling; original producer John Barham; myself, principally oiling the wheels and convincing Cormac O’Kane that all those extra miles on the studio desk will deliver some decent karma somewhere along the line; and not least Brian O’Reilly, funding the project to a degree which probably makes no real sense but which will surely benefit posterity and the public good.
It’s perhaps not all that different from Chris Blackwell, fighting off rival labels and signing Quintessence at a Notting Hill Gate chip shop at two in the morning back in 1969 – you think something will be great, you take a punt and you hope for the best. And with Quintessence, when the planets aligned, for a moment long ago, they were the best.
Note: EVERYTHING bar disc 2 track 1 is a totally new 2016 mix. Quintessence were a six piece but some of the tracks feature four- or five-piece incarnations.
Notting Hill Gate (5.39) – unabridged version of previously released take
Brahman (5.35) – take 4, Led Zep-esque four-piece Quintessence with incendiary ‘Stairway’-like guitar solo from Allan Mostert. Coincidentally, Zeppelin were recording parts of LZ IV upstairs at Island’s Basing Street studios at the time Quin were downstairs recording parts of third LP ‘Dive Deep’.
Sea of Immortality (5.39) – unabridged version of previously released take
Epitaph For Tomorrow (11.38) – extraordinary epic early take with a sublime Grateful Dead-esque instrumental jam with both guitars (Allan and Dave) and Phil’s often overlooked Hammond organ playing melding telepathically
Only Love (7.09) – take 3, flute-less live-in-studio take with stunning interaction between all five musicians involved and some of Phil’s most breath-taking, perfectly-pitched baritone-to-falsetto vocals
Spirits From Another Time (1.20) – totally unreleased song
Untitled Guitar (2.30) – moody Allan Mostert composition from the same reel as ‘Spirits…’
Hari Om (3.14) – previously only known from a 40 second excerpt faded in and out on the post-Island RCA LP ‘Self’, this is a very unusual Quin track: multiple backwards percussion parts, multiple interlocking funk guitar parts, mesmeric ‘Hari Om’ chanting from Phil
Body (5.41) – one of the missing tracks from the March 1970 St Pancras concert, and the only one found thus far on multi-track. This is Phil’s favourite from the album – HUGE energy, crowd interaction, and blistering guitar from Allan
Sea of Immortality (1970 alt) (5.28) – the only track sourced from a period mix-down, this is the 1970 alternate take that must have been in the running for release at the time: a wildly different but equally fabulous guitar solo from Allan
Tree of Life (6.31) – the sole take of a totally unknown song, recorded by a four piece Quin (bass, drums, guitar, vocal), mid-tempo, similar in feel to ‘Pearl & Bird’, boosted by a wholly in keeping new 2016 lead guitar part from Dave
You Never Stay The Same (6.30) – new mix of the version released on the 1972 RCA LP ‘Self’, with rare lead vocal from Dave, featuring a wealth of wonderful hitherto unheard parts, including fabulous late-period Beatle-esque backing vocal arrangements from unidentified girl singers plus Phil
Only Love (Take 2) (7.52) – possibly the source of the first minute and a half of the released version of ‘Only Love’ (which was created in 1970 by John Barham using tape splicing, and excising any guitar soloing), this features the full six-piece and runs almost out of control at the end, dissolving in laughter. The five-piece ‘Take 3’ on Disc 1 should arguably have been released at the time, but this version has wonderful warmth and richness through the additional presence of Raja Ram’s flute. Both versions deserve to be on this outtakes set.
Marwa (3.06) – an extraordinary John Barham composition, based on a six-note Indian raga. Never released at the time, it’s a fully completed, full 16-track slice of bliss with Phil on spectacular form and multiple harps, tablas, piano, flute, etc. Barham revisited the raga for a piano solo on his 1973 Elektra duo album with fellow George Harrison collaborator Ashish Khan.
Wonders of the Universe (3.35) – new mix of the version released on 1972 RAC LP ‘Self’, featuring future Chumbawamba musician Simon Lanzon on exquisite piano
Maha Mantra (6.00) – a session glimpsed in the BBC TV documentary ‘New Horizons’, only a minute and a half was used on the band’s second LP, but the full, richly atmospheric chantathon led by Phil and featuring band guru Swami-Ji plus the band’s spiritual camp followers is featured here. It begins spontaneously out of nowhere, preceded by wonderful (retained) chaotic studio chatter between producer John Barham, Phil, Raja Ram and Swami-Ji wondering if the tapes are on and what sections are going to be included in the chant
Untitled Harpsichord (1.58) – possibly Simon Lanzon again, a mystery neo-baroque harpsichord piece recorded at the ‘Spirits From Another time’ session, a marginal inclusion but like the lost theme music to a vintage Hammer horror, with harpsichord lid creepily slammed shut at the end
Sunlit Kitchens (3.24) – a unique recording of charismatic band manager/poet Stanley Barr intoning his stoned poetry over ‘Hari Om’, for possible inclusion on a band LP. Definitely of its time, but hugely evocative of it. Phil asked for both this and the unadorned (and differently mixed) ‘Hari Om’ to be included.
Twilight Zones (5.58) – a brilliant Hendrix Experience-like three-piece early instrumental take of Quintessence second-album classic ‘Twilight Zones’ (presumably recorded with a Phil Jones guide vocal that has not survived). Phil Jones has recorded a brilliant new 2016 double vocal (unison and harmonies) for it. His falsetto, amazingly, is unchanged in tone and power from 1970.
Move Into The Light (3.55) – take 13 of many takes (over two reels, of which we had only the first) of this never-played-onstage Quintessence 1969 B-side, featuring Simon Lanzon guesting on piano. As with ‘Twilight Zones’, there must have been a Phil Jones guide vocal that has not survived, but this take was regarded as the best thus far by producer John Barham, heard chatting from the control room afterwards. Again, Phil added a wonderful new 2016 double vocal. This time, age dictated that we digitally lower the track by one semi-tone to allow it, but it’s a beautiful performance of an underappreciated song, and the lyrics really stand here as never before.