There are some mysteries in this world that have the potential to keep you awake at night. Since hearing Better Late Than Never by Cold River Lady I have another one to add to the list. How was it that the Hereford band was never offered a recording contract?
Formed in 1970 in the rural market and cathedral town in the west of England they produced a delightful mix of folk flavoured rock with a quintessentially rural atmosphere. Acoustic and electric were blended together amid strong melodies to produce a sound that really should have attracted the attention of someone, somewhere.
To a limited extent it did and in 1971 they were spotted by Pete Brown, the man who wrote the lyrics of Creams’ “Sunshine Of Your Love”, “White Room”, and “I Feel Free.” He worked with them producing several demos whilst encouraging them to go full-time.
They earned a residency at the famous Fulham music venue The Greyhound, one of my favourite haunts of the time, but the ever elusive record deal failed to materialise.
The band had been through several line-up changes during their six-year history. Their list of one-time members includes the late Pete Farndon of The Pretenders fame. In fact he acted as the bands roadie when they played their biggest gig at the Windsor Free Festival.
Back in 1972 they recorded a demo for Polydor which included the tracks “Far In The Fields” and “Sauna Bath Blues” both of which finally appear on Better Late Than Never. Later demos were also recorded at London’s Pathway Studios from which “Soft Spot Rest” and “Something” are taken.
In 1974 Pete Farndon joined full-time. It was a period in the life of the band that saw an increased electric approach with two drummers producing a fuller rock sound. Also joining at this time was Helen Hardy who added her delightful vocals to the band. Helen has subsequently worked with Roger Chapman and Gilbert O’Sullivan amongst others.
The manager of The Greyhound was Duncan Ferguson who persuaded CRL to go professional and arranged tours into mainland Europe namely Holland and Germany. They also played London’s Marquee and Dingwalls earning some glowing reviews.
A potential single “The Traveller” b/w “Routing Through The Quagmires” was recorded but again the elusive deal was not forthcoming. In 1976, feeling somewhat disillusioned, they called it a day. Thankfully, following Pete Browns prompting and financial help, they regrouped in 1992 and recorded further tracks.
Once again it was destined to be ignored. That is until Peter Purnell of Angel Air Records heard it, loved it, and released this perfectly entitled album Better Late Than Never.
Listening today to the quality of material contained in this impressive and refreshing album I can fully understand Pete Brown’s, Duncan Ferguson’s, and Peter Purnells faith in the band. The album opens with a delicious “English Graffiti” which sets the atmosphere as they gently meander through their set.
Their eclectic influences are on display with the track “Something” which opens like a long lost America song only to move into altogether funkier territory. A fresh breeze floats through “The Promise”, “Soft Spot Rest”, the excellent “Hereford Girls”, “Sauna Bath Blues”, and “October Love.”
The uptempo “The Travellers” shows why it should, had timing been better, have been given a chance as a single. “Far In The Fields” opens with an atmospheric Surrealistic Pillow atmosphere before Helen Hardy’s warm voice eases in to provide an excellent highlight. The album closes with a shifting “Living The Lazy Way” ending the album on an upbeat tempo.
Quite why Cold River Lady was allowed to slip through the musical net I don’t know. Thankfully Angel Air have finally made this album, and its many highlights, available for us the 2010 listener.