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Music Review: Hatfield And The North – Hatfield And The North & The Rotters Club (re-released)

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Think of the Canterbury scene of the late 60s and early 70s and many names will spring to mind. Caravan, Gong, Gilgamesh, National Health, Soft Machine, Camel, and Soft Heap may well be among them. However, no such list would be anywhere near complete without including the name Hatfield And The North.

To map out the Canterbury family tree would take several, rather convoluted pages to cover in any meaningful depth. Suffice it to say that Hatfield And The North contained several key players in the movement and quickly became a leading light in the ‘experimental’ jazz fusion genre that seemed to have the Kent cathedral city as its epicenter.

They evolved in 1972 and soon began to display musicianship of the highest quality, an instinctive understanding, and stunning live shows. Never far below the surface was a sense of humour that helped make them one of the most popular live bands around at the time.

With a sound that explored the ground between rock and jazz, this was a band with a huge character. Their collective musical invention saw them perform complex and intricate pieces above a myriad of time changes and some memorable melodies.

Their two albums, the eponymous 1974 debut, and The Rotters Club which appeared the following year, are still cornerstones of the genre and are widely regarded as classics.

Now Esoteric Recordings have re-released both albums which arrive with informative sleeve notes that also include some previously unseen photographs and lyric sheets.

An interview with Pip Pyle dating from 2005, a year before his death, also appears and provides valuable insight into the formation, the recordings, and later problems in the story of the band.

Their name was taken from a road-sign on the M1 Motorway. A photograph of the band sitting at a picnic table beneath the sign whilst the traffic races by is included.

Once named, Hatfield And The North was underpinned by the intricately weaved drum patterns created by the late Pip Pyle who formed a near instinctive understanding with bass player Richard Sinclair.

Dave Stewart, formerly of Egg, adds his trademark keys with guitarist Dave Miller completing the line up. Both of these would later become influential members of National Health whose re-released album was reviewed here on Eurorock a few months back.

Adding vocals were The Northettes, a trio of female singers that included Barbara Gaskin who would later team up again as a duo with Dave Stewart, enjoying some brief chart success in the process.

Back in 1973, they were busy recording their debut at the manor Studios which was owned by Richard Branson’s, soon to be huge, Virgin label. Engineer Tom Newman, whose Faerie Symphony was reviewed here, worked on the album. It was not always a smooth process however and an unfortunate mishap occurred which is recalled by quotes from Pip and Dave Stewart in the sleeve notes.

Guest appearances included an un-credited sax solo from Gong’s Didier Malherbe, Geoff Leigh of Henry Cow, and one Robert Wyatt who adds vocals on “Calyx”. This very welcome re-release also includes three additional tracks as bonus material.

In 1975 the band released their second album The Rotters Club, which has been given the same treatment by Esoteric. This was the album that really secured their legendary status and included Dave Stewarts epic four-part masterpiece “Mumps”, a vaguely pop flavoured “Share It”, and Richard Sinclair’s “Didn’t Matter Anyway”.

Bonus material includes, the full length version of “Halfway Between Heaven And Earth”, and live versions of “Oh, Len’s Nature!” and “Lything And Gracing”. Again the sleeve notes include illuminating quotes from Pip Pyle who explains what brought about the somewhat premature demise of the band.

Both of these classic and lovingly repackaged albums, plus a whole host more, are now available through Esoteric Recordings by visiting their website for details.

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About Jeff Perkins