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Music Review: Bond + Brown – Two Heads Are Better Than One

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Graham Bond’s troubled life came to a tragic end on the 8th May 1974 under the wheels of a train in North London. He left a huge legacy that justifiably places him up among the pioneers of the mid-'60s movement that successfully fused R&B with jazz, blues, and rock.

His band, The Graham Bond Organisation included, at various times, John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (Cream), and Dick Heckstall-Smith (Colosseum). He had already played with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated among others.

However, by the early '70s Bond found himself increasingly on the edge of not only the music world but of life itself. His drug and alcohol problems, combined with a growing interest in the occult, all helped to make his behaviour even more erratic and dangerously unpredictable.

In 1972 he teamed up with Cream’s lyricist Pete Brown and together they formed a musical alliance which was to produce Graham’s last recorded work. Mentally and physically he was clearly in decline. The same could not be said, however, of his music, and this last album, Two Heads Are Better Than One, remains a fitting epitaph.

Pete Brown was responsible for many of the lyrics that had helped make Cream the legend that they were. These include "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "White Room" among others. After Cream he formed the band Piblokto, and when this folded he teamed up with Bond, who was on the verge of being sacked from the Jack Bruce Band, to create the short-lived Bond + Brown partnership.

Their shared passions of rhythm and blues, jazz, blues, and rock also extended into a joint fascination with African music. They drafted drummer Ed Spevock from Piblokto, bass player deLisle Harper from Gass, guitarist Derek Foley from Paladin, and Graham’s wife Diane Stewart on vocals.

Two Heads Are Better Than One was partly recorded at Richard Branson’s Manor Studios and was engineered by Tom Newman who had also worked with Mike Oldfield on Tubular Bells, and would later release his own album The Faerie Symphony.

At the time, Graham was teetering on the very edge of mental breakdown brought on by drugs, alcohol, and the forthcoming collapse of his marriage. Stories of his increasingly bizarre behaviour have long since become the stuff of legend. Despite all of this his last record proved to be not only coherent, but well written, superbly played, and contains flashes of the undeniable brilliance he is remembered for.

Now it has been re-mastered, re-released, and re-packaged by Esoteric Recordings (ECLEC 2042). The accompanying booklet includes all the lyrics from the album along with additional notes by Harry Shapiro the author of The Mighty Shadow, the authoratitive 1992 biography of Graham Bond.

Two Heads opens with “Lost Tribe” which was one of the first tracks recorded by them and came out as an EP ahead of the album. Also on the EP was “Milk Is Turning Sour In My Shoes” and “Macumbe” which are both included on this release as bonus tracks.

“Lost Tribe” delves deeply into that rich fusion of styles that they were intent on exploring. In some ways the roots of this track can be traced back as far as The Graham Bond Organisation and in particular Ginger Baker's interest in African rhythm. The two had also briefly worked together in Ginger Baker's Airforce.

It was, in many ways, Bond and Brown’s statement that by 1972 they had once again found themselves on the outside of the mainstream music scene. It’s a pulsing, energetic track and contains some trademark Pete Brown lyrics.

The next track, “IG The Pig,” was written entirely by Graham Bond. 'IG' were the initials of a particular notorious Los Angeles-based boss of a subsidiary of Mercury Records, Pulsar. The story is best told by Harry Shapiro in the notes but involves missing money, guns, hoodoos, and subsequent mishaps. It is the strange world of Graham Bond captured in one song.

“Oobati” comes from the pen of deLisle Harper and heavily taps into the African vibe. “Amazing Grass” was written by Mrs. Diane Bond and culminates in a memorable, blues-soaked gospel chorus. Pete Brown’s lyrics take over for the brilliantly titled “Scunthorpe Crabmeat Train Sideways Boogie Shuffle Stomp”. It has, as the album notes point out, ‘about a million time signatures’, and is therefore a great example of Bond’s wide-ranging piano skills.

The equally bizarre “C.F.D.T. (Colonel Frights’ Dancing Terrapins)” has a superb guitar break from Mick Hutchinson and a splash of Bond’s alto sax. The charmingly named “Mass Debate” follows with an erotic English ode of eccentricity straight out of Syd Barrett's Arnold Layne book of perversity. The clue to how it goes is in Brown’s opening lyric, "midnight mackintosh moves on its way".

The original album ends with the gently haunting “Looking For Time”. Once again it displays Bond’s piano gifts superbly. Meanwhile, the first of the bonus tracks “Milk Is Turning Sour In My Shoes” does the same for his Hammond skills. “Macumbe” ends this version by fusing a whole range of seemingly unlikely styles within its three and a half minutes.

Graham Bond was destined to continue his decline, finally ending up in a psychiatric hospital. The band folded when he was no longer able to perform live. Pete Brown subsequently worked with Jack Bruce, wrote music for films, and teamed up with ex-Man keyboard player Phil Ryan.

This re-release of Graham’s last recorded album is a fitting epitaph of his extraordinary life and career. Forever on the outside of life and the music industry, he remains a mysterious yet fascinating figure. This album underlines just why that is the case.

There is an active tribute website to Graham Bond which contains details of his life and his music. Esoteric Recordings' website contains a whole host of classic goodies.

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