Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Blodwyn Pig - Ahead Rings Out

Blodwyn Pig
Ahead Rings Out


Released 1969 on Island
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 23/08/2002ce


The first thing that always hit me about Blodwyn Pig was what a big, big sound they had for a four piece band, no doubt due in part to their reed player managing the not inconsiderable feat of playing two horns at once. It was, and remains, a tremendously invigorating racket. And on their first album it's there from the start with no gentle introductions. Immediately, you hear the whole band giving it the proverbial six-nowt on the mighty 'It's Only Love', one hell of an opening gambit. Mick Abrahams sounds as if he's having a wail of a time, bellowing out his chops like a man possessed. The band sound raw, rough and slightly unrehearsed; the result a magnificent maelstrom of barely-controlled mayhem. It rocks like a bitch, believe me. And you'll know within three minutes whether or not this is the band for you.

'Dear Jill' is, in total contrast, a deadly slow and tightly rhythmic chunk of jazz-inflected blues. It's characterised by some highly inventive chord progressions well beyond the standard three chord blues base, and a gorgeous soprano solo by Lancaster that starts on a remote key totally alien to the rest of the song. Abrahams excels on bottleneck guitar throughout. The slowed down descending guitar/sax motif at the end of each verse is inspirational, vividly illustrating the tired and resigned lyrical theme.

'Sing Me A Song That I Know' goes back to the hell-for-leather approach of the opening track. Many people's first taste of prime Pig, due to its inclusion on the bargain-of-1969 'Nice Enough To Eat' sampler, it simultaneously delivers hard rock, heavy blues and red hot jazz inside three frenetic minutes. The contrast with Jethro Tull's contemporaneous (and equally wonderful) 'Stand Up' is so marked here that Abrahams' departure from that band the year before seems totally understandable. And, a slow intro notwithstanding, the pace slackens not one iota for 'The Modern Alchemist', a wild instrumental free-for-all that only just manages to stay within defined tonal boundaries with an almost palpable feeling of unrest. It ends Side One leaving you gasping for breath.

'Up And Coming' heralds Side Two with a deafening horn fanfare, before falling into a mesmerising laid back blues with some of the most ground-trembling bass on record. The magical central guitar solo has echoes of Clapton, Green and Page but is still unmistakably Abrahams, while Lancaster's gentle flute fills show what a stylistically different proposition he is to Ian Anderson on that most un-rock and roll instrument. If there IS anything on 'Ahead Rings Out' that owes anything to Tull, it's the album's second instrumental tour de force, 'Leave It With Me'. Here, Jack Lancaster can't resist blowing his flute just that little bit harder, and in doing so almost manages to outplay his better-known rival. Almost, but not quite. Think of the track as the speeded-up bastard son of 'Dharma For One' and 'Serenade To A Cuckoo' from the first Tull LP, and note Andy Pyle's cool bass solo in the middle. Once again, it rocks big-time.

'The Change Song' is given a spoken introduction by Abrahams in finest (Luton) Cockney patois. It's amusing, but cheapens what is actually a poignant acoustic duo of considerable charm; a welcome relief from the battery of noise dominating the album. The versatile Lancaster accompanies Abrahams' memorable slide playing with delectably fragile bowed and plucked violin.

After the brief but distracting 'Backwash' instrumental comes the album's heaviest track , 'Ain't Ya Coming Home Babe', built around a brain-numbing two-chord riff with thrilling unison guitar and vocal licks from Abrahams. Its long central section allows Lancaster and Abrahams to really stretch out over a different riff (unignorably close to Sabbath's 'War Pigs' of the following year). The song then returns to the dumb-ass simple two-chorder with which it started, before shifting its key upwards at the most unexpected place. A masterstroke with which to close the collection.

'Ahead Rings Out' also has that rare thing - a sleeve note - albeit one of considerable levity. I still wonder if Mick was taking the piss when he refers to having written 'The Change Song' in prison...

Maybe a record which went Top 10 and garnered substantial critical acclaim on its release falls outside the perameters of 'Unsung'. But I make no apologies for offering 'Ahead Rings Out' for consideration in these hallowed pages as it was deleted within five years, never to reappear until its low-key BGO reissue in 1990. Island (or Chrysalis, who hold the rights to the album) deserve our wrath for such sustained artistic starvation, for Blodwyn Pig's first album is a classic noisy hybrid of blues, jazz, a little folk, and a lot of hard, hard rock. It would be followed by the even more diverse and satisfying 'Getting To This' in 1970. One day soon, if you'll allow me, I'll have a rave about that one too.


(Available on BGO Records - as so many of my fave albums tend to be - last time I looked. An original Island pink label ILPS 9101 copy will set you back about £20 in decent nick, but is worth every penny. Look for the garish pink cover with the pig's head wearing shades and smoking a fag.)


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