Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Mighty Baby
A Jug Of Love


Released 1971 (October) on Blue Horizon (UK only)
Reviewed by volehead, 10/02/2006ce


It's amazing that an album this atmospheric, good-natured and downright joyous has still not been reissued (other than a couple of bootlegs), and that the internet has no reliable information on it. So here goes.

The band started life as the Action, but changed their name to Azoth and then to Mighty Baby at the behest of their label head, John Curd. They made their self-titled debut for his short-lived Head Records in November 1969. A dense collection of psychdelic jams, it is distinguished by mellow vocals, Martin Stone's fluid guitar work and the superhuman intuition of the rhythm section. It didn't sell either here or in the US (where it appeared on Chess), and they spent 1970 gigging heavily on the festival circuit both here and on the continent, as well as playing a multitude of sessions (for Gary Farr, Shelagh McDonald, Keith Christmas, Robin Scott, Sandy Denny and innumerable others). At the same time they developed a strong Muslim (Sufi) faith which saw them moving away from their acid-influenced early work and towards something much more reflective.

Stone knew Mike Vernon from his early days both in Stone's Masonry (whose sole single, Flapjacks, had appeared on his Purdah label in 1966) and Savoy Brown, whose lead guitarist he had been when Vernon produced their August 1967 debut, Shake Down. So it was that in 1971 Vernon invited the Babe (as they called themselves, apparently) to make an album for his Blue Horizon label. The result is the beautifully mellow and uplifting A Jug Of Love. Almost entirely acoustic, but played by a full band, it is superficially reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's work of the same era, but shot through with a wistfulness of its own.

It opens with the title track, a beautiful ode to brotherhood whose chorus states that 'a jug of love won't turn you down if you have an empty cup to fill / a jug of love will not run dry and never cease to spill.' The next track, The Happiest Man In The Carnival, is one of the most joyous workouts I've ever heard. Again, its chorus is positive - 'not too long do we stay here, the span is well-measured / so pick up on your good friends while you still have a moment' - and the increasingly insistent drumming and closing flute part combine to make one of the most uplifting sounds in all of pop. Side one closes with Keep On Jugging, a lengthy electric jam that sits awkwardly with the rest of the album.

Side two opens with another awesomely beautiful piece, Virgin Spring, which runs for almost ten glorious minutes of nimble acoustic guitar and gentle harmonies. Next is Tasting The Life, a more electric number that deals with being on tour ('the times you just wonder 'has it all been in vain?' / and one small face says you'd do it again...') and features some beautiful guitar licks from Stone. The album ends with Slipstreams, another mellow epic with a notable mandolin part.

The Melody Maker review of the time said the album was 'so laid-back that the band must have been floating a couple of feet above the studio floor when they recorded it', a notion supported by the sombre cover image of five serious-looking hippies sitting cross-legged on a Persian carpet. It is indeed a very ethereal record, but the sheer musicianship on offer means that the songs have a texture that repays constant listening. It might wash over you the first couple of times - but, like all good records, when it starts to stick, it'll stick forever.

(Incidentally, a single also appeared on Blue Horizon at the same time - Devil's Whisper / Virgin Spring. The former is an upbeat country-rock number, much influenced by the Flying Burrito Brothers and so on, and the latter is a different, more electric performance of the song on the LP. Both the album and the 45 are now practically impossible to find. Oh - and... the original LP came with a lyrics sheet.)


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