San Franciscan Earthquake - Uther Pendragon (Guerssen)
This is one of those “lost album” stories. It’s about a record - no, three vinyl LPs of recordings - by an obscure San Franciscan band that existed in the 1960s and ‘70s - and its body of work that was built, buried and all but forgotten for 40 years.
This is a time capsule of a band you probably never heard of. Uther Pendragon were as underground as they come. They arose out of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966, played with the likes of Country Joe & The Fish and won local prominence. They recorded extensively for the next 10 years but didn’t release a thing. That's nada. Zilch.
They took on half a dozen different names and morphed from folkish rock into psychedelia and hard rock. They lived communally and played in an occult rock opera. The polar opposite of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, which threw a career lifeline to a gaggle of Aussie rock stars in the ‘70s.
You can read the full Uther Pendragon story in Ugly Things magazine. Or you could also procure this 2-CD or 3-LP collection on a Spanish label. You don’t name your band after King Arthur’s old man if you’re setting out to play cover songs at weddings and school dances.
Keep your cracks about record collector scum to yourself. It’s actually really good. There are some clunkers among the two-dozen sometimes lengthy and occasionally bizarre tracks (I’m looking at you “Peter Pan Blowup” with your “Frere Jacques” flight of fancy) but there’s also some mind-bending garage psych and prog gems.
The Uther Pendragons could play. Bruce Marilech sets a course to the sun with some startling guitar and Martin Espinosa’s bass bubbles away in the background like a witch’s cauldron. The singer also plays skilful rhythm guitar and rejoices in the name Mark Lightcap.
Elegiac is the word. “10 Miles To Freedom” is otherworldly with wailing scorched earth guitar snaking in and out through its 11 minutes. The unsettling “Who’s Gonna Try” sounds like Peter, Paul and Mary in some weird call-and-response like they’re locked in a windowless room with the lights off while on acid. The title track is a companion piece, stylistically speaking. When the tough get going, the going gets weird.
The second disc (this review is of a CD package) is less off-the-wall than the first, drifting into competent hard rock. It’s like the latter day Litter sprung from the ashes of The Charlatans. It's on a Spanish label and you can hear it all via the Bandcamp link below.
Tags: san francisco, progressive, guerssen records, uther pendragon
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