Sunday, 25 September 2016
Jamaican Farewell/No Encores/Confessions Of A Psychopathic Cowpoke/And I'm Blue/Garden Of The Frenzied Cortinas/Miracle Man/Chicken Shit/Worm-Turning Blues/Wheezer Grunter Module Threadaboy/Hard Way To Go/And If It Wasn't For You/Red Hot Momma
Ariel was an Australian progressive rock band fronted by Mike Rudd and Bill Putt, who formed the band in 1973 after the breakup of their previous group Spectrum (which also performed under the alter-ego Indelible Murtceps). The original Ariel line-up was Rudd (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Putt (bass), Tim Gaze (guitar), Nigel Macara (drums) and John Mills (keyboards). Gaze and Macara were recruited from seminal Australian progressive rock band Tamam Shud.
Their debut album A Strange Fantastic Dream, produced by Peter Dawkins was released on EMI's progressive label Harvest in December 1973 and reached No. 12 on the Australian LP charts in February 1974. It included their most successful single "Jamaican Farewell", which peaked at No. 34, its success hampered by lack of airplay, especially in Sydney, although it impressed the industry enough to win the FACB 'Single Of The Year'. According to the liner notes for the CD release of the album, there were calls to ban the LP because of its psychedelic cover artwork by Stephen Nelson, which included a figure holding a hypodermic syringe. Airplay for the LP was further hindered by the banning of three songs (the darkly satirical "Confessions Of A Psychotic Cowpoke", "Medicine Man" and "Chicken Shit") by the commercial radio industry's self-regulatory body in Australia, the FACB. Critical reception to A Strange Fantastic Dream was glowing.
The remastered re-release of A Strange Fantastic Dream was described as "extraordinary" by The Sydney Morning Herald in September 2002.
Gaze and Nigel Macara left the band abruptly after a trip to Perth in early 1973, so Rudd and Putt began work on an ambitious science-fiction themed concept work entitled The Jellabad Mutant, which they hoped to record. For rehearsals they brought in drummer John Lee (later a member of The Dingoes) who in turn brought in Harvey James, thereby establishing the second lineup of the group, which lasted until early 1975.
Concerning the rejection of the Jellabad Mutant project, Rudd later said:
It's interesting to speculate what might have happened had we been allowed to proceed with the Mutant with an intact budget [EMI slashed the budget for Rock'n Roll Scars adding to the pressure] and with the time to reflect and be creative with the raw material you hear in the demos. I regret not going in to bat for it at the time. We had a fabulous opportunity with the best technical assistance any band could have wanted. But I didn't sell the dream, even to myself.
After the expiration of their EMI contract the group signed with CBS Records for their third LP Goodnight Fiona (1976) and their only other charting single, the non-album track I'll take you high which reached No. 36 in January 1976. They made another trip to the UK in April 1976 but while there drummer John Lee left the band. He briefly joined English group Dirty Tricks and then finally rejoined The Dingoes after they relocated to America. Lee was replaced in Ariel by Nigel Macara.
Harvey James quit Ariel abruptly later in 1976 after he was invited to join leading Australian pop group Sherbet, where he replaced founding member Clive Shakespeare. James' first recording with Sherbet was their Australian No. 1 and UK Top 5 hit "Howzat". James was replaced in Ariel by keyboard player Tony Slavich.
Macara left again in October 1976 and was replaced by another former Richard Clapton Band member, Iain McLennan. The single "Disco Dilemma" was released in April 1977, just before expiration of their CBS contract, after which they signed to local independent label Image Records. They recorded the single "It's Only Love" for their new label; the song featured lead vocals from its writer Glyn Mason.
Ariel announced its breakup in July 1977 and, just before their CBS contract expired, the "Island Fantasy" themed farewell concert was staged on Sunday 21 August 1977 at the Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne. The show was recorded and released over the two albums Ariel Aloha (Oct 1977) and Live - More From Before (1978). These two albums were subsequently reissued in 1980 as Ariel Live In Concert.
Ariel formed in mid-1973, after the breakup of Spectrum. When Spectrum drummer Ray Arnott announced he was leaving to join Ross Wilson's new band Mighty Kong, Putt and Rudd commendably decided to end the band rather than try to recruit a new member, feeling that it wouldn't be possible to recreate the special spirit of that group. Within a few months of Spectrums's farewell performance their new band (whose name was taken from the character in Shakespeare's "The Tempest") was up and running. Ironically, the two new members, Tim and Nigel, had originally come to Melbourne to work with Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford on their new project (which became Mighty Kong) and it was after they departed that Wilson asked Ray Arnott to join, thus precipitating the split of Spectrum!
Strong record company interest in Ariel quickly led to a contract with EMI's progressive Harvest imprint. Their superb debut single "Jamaican Farewell" looked set to repeat the early success of Spectrum but it only managed to reach No.34, its success hampered by lack of airplay, especially in Sydney, although it impressed the industry enough to win the FACB 'Single Of The Year'. They toured as support to Gary Glitter November 1973 and released their excellent first LP A Strange Fantastic Dream in December, with writing credits split fairly evenly between Gaze and Rudd. According to Noel McGrath, the album was also the first use of Moog synthesizer on an Australian rock record (though it's possible Tully may have been the first Australian band to recod with one) and producer Peter Dawkins still names it as one of his favourite productions.
One particularly important outcome for the group was that EMI International's President, Allan Davies, fell in love with the album: "You know, Peter," he enthused to Dawkins, "I can't recall ever hearing a song about necrophilia!" Renowned British DJ John Peel also picked up both album and single and "said some really nice things about both of them". These and other factors led to Ariel being invited to tour the UK and record their next album at Abbey Road.