Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

High Tide—
Sea Shanties


Released 1969 on Liberty/United Artists
The Seth Man, July 2000ce
‘High Tide’ is putting it lightly: it’s an extremely apt description of where this group’s muse was at when they recorded this rollicking and utterly distorted screech out. And where they were at was to approximate the feel in every track of a Flying Dutchman pitching uncontrollably on heavenly seas. Furthering this connection is not only the title, but also the beautiful Peter Whitehead colour gatefold painting of a cosmic sailing ship, complete with superimposed photograph of a nude woman as masthead in open-mouthed ecstasy as her bow receives the breaking waves beneath, while the fully-caught sail above her reads ‘PAX.’

From beginning to end, “Sea Shanties” is a mammoth and early UK power trio trip despite the fact they had future Hawkwind keyboardist/violinist, Simon House as a fourth member. But the absolute dementedness of the guitar-based energy field is so high throughout that the goodly amount of the violin and organ passages are practically wiped out. And the guitarist responsible was none other than Tony Hill: his fierce outings here exhibit at least a degree of influence from Glenn Ross Campbell, the steel guitar player from his earlier band, The Misunderstood. Campbell mutated his indigenous country instrument into a truly hectic domain gone haywire and Hill likewise pushes his entire guitar into a grinder of wah-wah, fuzz and supreme tearing at its throat distortion in a revolving fever dream kept barely grounded by Pete Pavli’s bass and Roger Hadden’s explosive Keith Moon-like drum presence, which is everywhere at once effortlessly. In fact, excepting the slight opening finesse of “Missing Out” (which hurtles headlong into a massive power trio jam by the end, anyway) the entire album is track after track of unrelenting, screeching guitar and muscular backing like Sabbath and The Groundhogs joined by Dave Swarbrick during the highlights of a messy methedrine binge. There’s an abundance of ever-screeching guitar work from Hill, and his vocabulary of distortion and interplay only surpassed by its volume. It SCREAMS of the hardest rock, although the cover barely allows for this to be perceived. In fact, it looks the entire world a low-rent Fairport Convention/Flock fizzle-fest, with its Arthur Rackham-esque monochrome cover, the old tymey title and Simon House’s violin credit on the back cover. Never was sleeve art more deceptive.

”Futilist’s Lament” begins with incoming mail from the overblown stacks of Tony Hill, and he’s singing like someone else’s version of Jim Morrison minus the range, over which violin and organ hover overhead and often intertwining with the guitar until they become a single Gordian knot of sound. And yes, the amps are already smoking, and they start to really fry them out on the next track, the 9:10 instrumental opus, “Death Warmed Up.” More roiling currents, this time in the appearance of Hill’s totally over the top heavy, heavy, heavy guitar coloured even heavier by Pavli’s bass engine. But then THAT wah-wah cuts in, and you’ve never heard such a fucking ugly yet awesome din in all your life. But that’s not to say it’s not musical (because it is) but it’s so fluid, heavy, buzz-sawing for all its worth and at a pace too fast to be progressive, but too shifting in time signatures and tempos to be hard rock. So High Tide are an example of going for it with your guts, and let everybody else figure it out…if they still left standing after this pulverising epic. Everything is pulsing around a centrally-located beat and Tony Hill’s demented leads, and it only ends because the producer probably allowed them only nine minutes to get it all out and not because they couldn’t continue it into the far side of next week if they wanted.

The entire album is one of highlights and the last track, “Nowhere” is one of the most complex of the album. With a skewered intro guitar piece that runs into a jamming fit at top volume, it slips neatly into a plateau of simmering dynamics with segued vocals into a crazy, cymbal-filled, violin-led hoedown. Hill is now cramming those crazy screech-ola bursts into every crack, whether they exist (and if they happen not to) doesn’t prevent him from bulldozing straight ahead. House’s violin breaks square into a heart-opening violin passage, and when the passage is restated a second time after the final vocals, Hill falls in with interlocking penetration guitar crosstalk. This coda evokes a Wyeth-animated seascape as High Tide’s careening galleon rocks into the far horizon, into the sun and a shining oblivion beyond this world, and all words.

Their endurance is apparent and their stamina is downright frightening.