Khan - Space Shanty

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Polygram International
Catalog Number: 9037
Format: CD
Total Time: 46:19:00

Space Shanty (Deram 1972 (844088)) is a fairly obscure, yet quite entertaining release. This band put out this one album, and promptly disintegrated. How odd. No, really it's the same old story isn't it?

Well, I'll tell you the story anyway, because for some time, this has been a hard one to find. It is available now from Syn-Phonic, but I have seen this CD fetch upwards of $45.

It is a bit hard for me to understand why this isn't a huge selling, well known release. This is a classic of early U.K. Cantebury prog. The band is a veritable who's who of English progressive rock, with Steve Hillage (Gong, Kevin Ayers) on guitar, Dave Stewart (Egg, National Health, Hatfield And The North) on keyboards, Nick Greenwood (The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown) on bass, and drummer Eric Peachey. There are numerous examples of Hillage's famous guitar style and Stewart's very proficient organ work. The vocals, by Hillage and Greenwood, are strong and take you right back to the days of flower power, and free love. Yeah, dig it brother. You wouldn't laugh if I confessed that I still talk like that, would you? Would you?

Khan had a classic, early 70s sound. Some gentle hippie type vocals, but also great instrumental fire power, which they were not averse to showing off. How could Steve Hillage AND Dave Stewart together not be absolutely stunning? If ever there was a perfect mixture of Cantebury jazzy sound and the San Francisco psychedelic sound, it is Space Shanty. This release has works of sensitive beauty and yet it also displays the power of instrumental virtuosity, blending both to great effect, with Hillage and Greenwood harmonizing over it all. This entire album is awesome, with well played and produced numbers that weave and turn, transcending the music and the musicians. It gives us a more pure sound from Hillage, who used few effects in these sessions, and Dave Stewart, playing what sounds like,to me anyway, like one of the cheaper M series Hammond's, which, FYI, were what Tony Kaye used, and what Emerson could afford in the earliest days of The Nice. There are no growling, distorted keyboards, Stewart has a relaxed, smooth sound that is very appealing.

This release is made up of six tracks that range from five to a bit over nine minutes in length, and most feature lengthy solos that may at first sound like jamming, but really, this is just too good not to have been carefully planned. Hillage and Stewart go through long lines of tightly harmonized guitar and organ, and that also does not happen by accident.

Starting with the eponymous "Space Shanty," we get about a minute and a half of vocals, before getting right down to soloing from Stewart and Hillage, which is fine by me! By three minutes into the track we have a change of time signature and tempo, and, big surprise, more soloing, more changes of meter, yet more soloing, now with a bit of the more classic Hillage space echo style, more keyboards from Stewart, and at eight minutes, finally the second verse with some beautiful Howe like guitar accompaniment, and the final flourishes and conclusion at about nine minutes. If you don't already like this a great deal, you may as well bail out now, 'cause you wont like the rest of this album.

The next track is one of my all time favorite tunes, the strangely titled, "Stranded - Effervescent Psychonovelty No.5." This song gently caresses the listeners ears, and it carries the San Francisco sound to new heights, with ethereal vocals and gently strummed chords on acoustic guitar, and peaceful rolling lines from Stewart on electric piano, but watch out, for at three minutes this becomes a Brian Auger-like keyboard jam, then a showcase of Hillage's guitar, with great solos on electric and acoustic guitar. Quickly we return to the initial SF sound, reminding me almost, at times, of the Jefferson Airplane. I can't express how good I think this cut is. This is the kind of hallucinatory magic that only 1970s progressive rock can produce, and I am in love with the perfect, relaxing nature of this song.

Next is another exercise in virtuosity and extended soloing, "Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains." Some more fleet fingered work from Stewart is the highlight of this piece, with speedy, bubbling keyboards and more impressive playing from Hillage. I should point out that the drums and bass work on all the cuts here are wonderfully done, but when you back up two of the premier musicians, no, musician's musicians, you might be overlooked. No offense intended for Greenwood and Peachey, their work is first rate on every track.

The fourth track is another favorite of mine, the knock out punch of this release, "Driving To Amsterdam." Right off the bat, this is yet another stunning bit of work from the band, and for just a moment, you may think you're listening to The Allman Brothers. You might wonder, with so much instrumental interplay, how they can keep coming up with one striking solo after another, but have no doubt, they do. Lovely vocals, stunning instrumental work, and countless changes of time and tempo make this, and every cut on this release, a joy for the ears. This cut also boasts some of the coolest jazzy guitar work this side of Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis. As is the case in each one of this fine release's six cuts, this solo ends too soon, because this band always has some urgent new statement to make.

Following this is "Stargazers," beginning with an almost ELP-ish dissonant exercise that also features Stewart on what may be vibes or perhaps marimba. Jarring moments are countered by more of the bands smooth vocals, and this number has some impressive and difficult instrumental work to boast of. No fans of Yes or ELP will find this work to difficult to digest, yet it may be the most difficult cut on this album for some listeners. It just goes in to many directions for some.

This wonderful release ends with "Hollow Stone - Escape Of The Space Pilots." There is the by now familiar, harmonizing vocals, and more of Hillage's spacey guitar work, presaging the style he would sharpen further with Gong, and his solo works. This one actually sounds a bit like early Yes, and Peter Banks guitar playing might come to mind, here and there. Stewart's organ is the main focus on this piece, but there is much to appreciate on this track, and on this work as a whole. This cut has the fewest change ups of anything on the album, but it presents a band that should have been huge, in my opinion.

I have read quite a few lukewarm write ups of this work, with particular criticism of the vocals and the lengthy soloing. Some writers call this work too homogenous, but I see that as a bit crazy, frankly. Too homogenous? That's bad? Consistency, and a defined focus or sound is a hallmark of a band's individual style, or sonic signature.

If you've seen these poor reviews, I would urge you to give this work a shot. You might be in for a real treat. I have never been a fan of the "Canterbury" sound, but after hearing this impressive release, I had the courage to move on to Gong, Caravan, National Health and more. I am quite glad that I took that first step, which was to listen to Khan.

Reissued by Polygram in 1993 (844088-2)

Space Shanty (9:01) / Stranded- Effervescent Psychonovelty No.5 (6:35) / Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains (7:15) / Driving To Amsterdam (9:23) / Stargazers (5:23) / Hollow Stone- Escape Of The Space Pilots (8:18)

Steve Hillage ? guitar, vocals
Dave Stewart ? organ, piano, celeste, keyboards, marimba
Nick Greenwood ? bass, vocals
Eric Peachey ? drums

Space Shanty (1972/1993/2001)

Genre: Canterbury

Origin UK

Added: March 28th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 901
Language: english


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