Thursday, 10 December 2009

Fist of Fun

Whilst in the era of the kipper tie and the chequered nylon flare, I thought I'd post this little gem from 1975.

Notorious for it's objectifying cover the music is barely discussed.
And that's a real shame, because this is a great album, and it features one of the great alchemical pairings in music; betwixt guitarist Ollie Halsall and vocalist Mike Patto.

Halsall and Patto first performed together in the reasonably successful, 60's psychedelic pop band Timebox (definitely recording the best version of 'Begging', a track normally associated with Frankie Valli's Four Seasons; although now probably more identifiable to Madcon, since their recent version).

Timebox evolved into Patto, and a distinct change of style was adopted, as jazz and lengthy solos were thrown into the mix; pioneering a sound and mood that helped to establish prog rock.
They also came up with some great album titles: Roll 'em, Smoke 'em, Put Another Line Out and Monkey's Bum among them.

After Patto came Boxer.
Halsall and Patto joining up with ex-Van Der Graff Generator [!] bassist Keith Ellis and session drummer Tony Newman.
Below the Belt was their first, and definitely best, album.

It kicks off with the raucous 'Shooting Star', Halsall performing his trade mark percussive style playing, creating hard edged chords that capture so well that British hard rock sound, ubiquitous in the mid-nineteen-seventies.

(Ollie Halsall was much admired within guitar circles, one of those guitarists' guitarists, if you know what I mean.
As a session musician he worked with all manner of artists, attaching himself to various cliques and circles, including the 'Canterbury Scene', eventually joining Kevin Ayres out in Majorca, becoming part of what was known as the 'Deià scene'.
He also worked with ex-Bonzos, Viv Stanshall and Neil Innes; eventually joining up with old Timebox band mate John Halsey to record much of the guitar on Innes' project The Rutles; known within the parallel world of The Rutles as Leppo, the Fifth Rutle.
Sadly Ollie died stupidly young [43], but many consider him to have left a real legacy, and many paid homage in their own imitation of his idiosyncartic style)

The sound may have been common, but few bands of that pre-punk period sounded as good as Boxer.
What with Halsall's excellent playing, there was also of course Mike Patto's voice.
And what a voice.

Imagine if Bon Scott had been raised by jazz-loving birds, and fed honeydew and nectar...
Well, that's what Mike Patto's voice sounds like.

Don't get me wrong, Patto could belt it out when he wanted to, and he certainly has his moments on this album; but he's got that sitting down kind of voice, one that only keyboard players seem to have.
(I don't include singing drummers in this proposition; drummers who sing are an abomination and should really be outlawed.)

Unfortunately Patto was another star who left this realm far too prematurely; ridiculously so in fact, he was thirty-six years old, for fuck's sake!

The jazz tropes are definitely there in Boxer's sound, but Below the Belt is essentially a hard-rock album; however, it is that slight infiltration of jazzyness that makes this album still sound great; not at all generic of its period.
It's certainly given me a lot of pleasure over the years; and it's still spun pretty regularly on my turntable.

As for the cover... well, what can you say; it was the seventies.
Not that that's any excuse, it is essentially blatant misogyny as marketing, and it's difficult to view it any other way.

(Interestingly, Patti Smith's Horses with it's fantastic Mapplethorpe portrait of her on the cover was released in the same year as Below the Belt; images that couldn't have been any more different, showing that representations of women in rock music were beginning to break away from the stereotype.
Does anyone else remember those Top of the Pops compilation album covers? Mad!)

The vitruvian woman, just in case you're interested, is model Stephanie Mariann.
But I haven't got her number, I'm afraid...

Decent vinyl rip @320kbs
Beat yourself up here


Northing said...

one of my favorite lps back in high school. Tony Newman (Elton John, David Bowie, was already a grand old man of british rock and second wave session muicians. He played on Pet Clark's 'Downtown!') rocks and swings at the same time, a great foil for Halsall.
New to the site and loving it - Charlie, the singing drummer (ya bastid!)

roy rocket said...