Locomotive, The Dog That Bit People & The Norman Haines Band reissues
Although it’s widely accepted that Billy Dainty invented prog rock in 1968, while on a works beano to Cleethorpes, there were many bands around at the time that also played their part in authoring the blueprint for what would later become this much derided genre.
One such purveyor of proto-prog goodness was keyboardist and singer, Norman Haines, who fronted Birmingham band Locomotive – which, following his departure, became The Dog That Bit People – and went on to form The Norman Haines Band. As was often the case with bands from my hometown (for every Move or Traffic, there’s twenty Worlds of Oz) none of these incarnations found the success they sought and were pretty much forgotten to the purple haze of time. Good news for rare vinyl collectors, bad news for the rest of us.
Fortunately, Esoteric has completed the harvesting of these three lost gems, with the recent reissue of the Haines Band’s Den of Iniquity. First up though, is Locomotive’s 1970 album, We Are Everything You See.
An orchestral overture starts things off, leading into the magnificently sinister slice of post-psychedelic, organ-laced reverie that is ‘Mr. Armageddon’. This song, along with the garish, yet vaguely disquieting cover artwork, sets the tone for the rest of the album; a doom-laden, brown acid trip of a record, riddled with a pessimism that crushes underfoot the fading dreams of any flower child, whose head was still lodged in 1967.
This apocalyptic vision is reflected in titles such as ‘Now is the End – The End is When’, ‘Lay Me Down Gently’, ‘You Must Be Joking’ and ‘Time of Light and Darkness’, and puts one in mind of early Van der Graaf Generator. In fact, the comparisons with that infinitely more successful band are begging to be made. Whether it’s the heavy incorporation of horns, the nihilistic lyrics, or Haines’s sneering vocal timbre, which bears an uncanny similarity to that of Peter Hammill; Locomotive were ploughing a kindred furrow, albeit a short-lived one.
We Are Everything You See was completed mid-1969, but remained unreleased until 1970, by which time Haines had buggered off. The remaining two members of Locomotive, Mick Hincks and Bob Lamb, recruited a replacement keyboardist, Keith Millar, and for the first time a guitarist, John Caswell. Following a final single under the Locomotive moniker – ‘Roll Over Mary’, included among a feast of bonus tracks on the Esoteric reissue – they promptly changed their name to The Dog That Bit People and released an eponymous one off for Parlophone in 1971.
Maybe the combination of a terrible name and mind-boggling album cover conspired to ensure The Dog That Bit People remained unappreciated by a record-buying public at large. Certainly, they’d done themselves no favours on either count. A bit of a shame really, as this is not the musical nail a photograph of some old dear perched in a cluttered front room, might suggest.
The departure of Norman Haines left the band without its chief composer and it was the two newcomers who would take on the primary songwriting duties. As such, the progressive rock elements are stripped right back, resulting in a more traditional album that takes its cue, a little disappointingly, from the Californian rock scene of the time, drawing upon aspects of American folk and country rock along the way. Bloody Brummies, eh?
Nevertheless, there are still some fine moments on The Dog That Bit People, such as the Zeppish hard rock workouts of ‘The Monkey and the Sailor’ and ‘Red Queen’s Dance’ , and the very-definitely prog ‘Reptile Man’. The latter is a thrilling blend of distorted vocals, crunching guitars and thumping drums, and easily the best thing on here. Featured on the HFoS Prog Rock Halloween Mixtape (give the terrifying bastard a listen, what’s the worst that could happen?), it includes the lines “Scaly scary yellow teeth with hair down to his toes, Creeping through the slime it’s Reptile Man, They say he comes from Bilston but no one really knows…”, which, as anybody who’s ever been to Bilston will agree, sounds a pretty accurate assumption.
While The Dog That Bit People failed to set the world alight, Norman Haines had been hard at work on his own follow up to We Are Everything You See. With a new band in tow, Den of Iniquity was also released in 1971 on the Parlophone label.
The Norman Haines Band cooks up a heady brew of prog, delicately seasoned by a fine infusion of blues and folk. It is the best of the three albums, tipping its hat to the UK underground scene and the players in that particular arena of hairy, field-based antics, such as Clark Hutchinson, Skin Alley and the Edgar Broughton Band.
None moreso than on the extended (mostly) instrumental excursion that is ‘Rabbits’; 13 minutes of Hammond organ-steeped potency that wouldn’t have sounded out of place blasting from the back of a flatbed truck, somewhere along the perimeter fence at 1970′s Isle of Wight Festival.
The more than welcome misanthropy of Locomotive’s ‘Mr. Armageddon’ makes another appearance, this time titled ‘Everything You See’ and given an extra dimension by the addition of Neil Clarke’s lead guitar. But even without this remake, Den of Iniquity is a highly recommended listen, without the hindrance of filler or duff tracks that sometimes rear an ugly head upon the aforementioned albums.
With an excellent selection of bonus tracks, to boot, Den of Iniquity is the complete package and the one to go for if the budget can’t stretch to all three.
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