The Civil Surface
|Wind Quartet 1||****|
|Wring Out the Ground Loosely||*****|
|Wind Quartet 2||*****|
All tracks by Egg, produced by Egg
Recorded August 1974
Dave Stewart: organ, piano, bass (on "Nearch")
Clive Brooks: drums
Mont Campbell: bass, voice, French horn, piano
Jeremy Baines: 'Germophone', boule
Lindsay Cooper: oboe, bassoon ("Nearch" and "Germ Patrol")
Tim Hodgkinson: clarinet ("Nearch" and "Germ Patrol")
Maurice Cambridge: clarinet ("Wind Quartet 1" and "Wind Quartet 2")
Stephen Solloway: flute ("Wind Quartet 1" and "Wind Quartet 2")
Chris Palmer: bassoon ("Wind Quartet 1" and "Wind Quartet 2")
Steve Hillage: guitar ("Wring Out the Ground Loosely")
Amanda Parsons, Ann Rosenthal, Barbara Gaskin: vocals ("Prelude")
1974 has been hailed as a great year for prog and that is as true for Egg's contribution as for the better known bands'. It is a shame then that The Civil Surface is so unrecognised. Even Stewart fans tend to overlook the album in favour of his earlier work with Hillage (good, but not that good) or his later work in Hatfield and the North and National Health (admittedly brilliant). If those periods of Stewart's work brought us more jazzy/spacey/jamming styles, The Civil Surface gives us more influences from classical music and a sound closer to RIO (and note appearances by Cooper and Hodgkinson).
Not that The Civil Surface is all Stewart. The album misleadingly credits everything to the band, but Campbell was probably the principal composer, as on previous Egg albums, although it seems Stewart was catching up on The Civil Surface. Brooks' compositional input seems to have been small throughout Egg's history. This was Egg's last album, catching Campbell as he was mutating into a classical composer—thus, the inclusion of "Wind Quartet 1" and "... 2". It was also some of the last we heard of Campbell until releases in the '90s.
Campbell's classical style is close to modern-day RIO from the likes of Hodgkinson (was Hodgkinson influenced by Campbell?) and that style infects the whole of the album, although Stewart's jokier style (as with Arzachel, Hatfield or National Health) still shows through too. We even have "Nearch" exploring the use of silence and interrupted rhythms. There is a strong rhythm section. Campbell's bass playing is good: not that Campbell has an upfront bass style—rather, the bass works with the woodwind. Brooks' drumming works well too, with some stylistic similarities to Cutler. Yet, The Civil Surface remains distinct from these other styles. Keyboards and woodwind are to the fore, producing a very different sound to most prog and still deeper than most synth bands or even Gong, while the overall sound is more relaxed somehow than later RIO.
His early connections with Hillage still haunt journalistic descriptions of Stewart, even though their work together is hardly typical of Hillage's later work in Gong and beyond. Yet here, Hillage's guest appearance on "Wring Out the Ground Loosely" is more typical of him—perhaps most like his work with the Orb—with the guitar adding a distinctive new layer on top of the music.
In all, this is great prog: novel music with roots in rock and elsewhere, both complex and catchy (many a time I've wandered along humming "Wring Out the Ground Loosely")—highly recommended.
Postscript: most of the players have pictures on the album sleeve/CD booklet: fairly normal (well, Stewart looks wholly manic) pictures showing their faces. Of the three female singers, Parsons and Rosenthal are seen ready at the microphone, but Gaskin (Stewart's later(?) partner) has a side view—so we only see a mass of hair and her nose—of her drinking a bottle of beer...
Henry Potts, 3 Feb 96; revised 13 Jan 98
Originally posted to rec.music.progressive.
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