Wizzard – Wizzard Brew
I care not one jot what anybody else says. As far as I’m concerned, Roy Wood is one of the greatest progressive artists ever to sport a beard. If the Oxford definition of progressive is “moving forward” (and who can argue with those boffins?), then Birmingham’s finest – and hairiest – bard, certainly fits the bill. Whether it’s the psychedelic and progressive excursions partaken of in his capacity as songwriting dervish behind The Move; or the experimentation of the embryonic Electric Light Orchestra; or the various solo outings that pushed the envelope when it came to what other breakaway solo acts were doing at the time; or, as in this case, the musical melting pot that is Wizzard, his post-ELO act that did its best to defy the pigeonholing of chancers such as myself.
Released in 1973, Wizzard Brew, the debut album by Roy Wood’s ensemble of Brum’s mentalist musicians, including Rick Price, who played bass on the Shazam and Looking On albums by The Move, is progressive, experimental and bloody well great, all in the same breath. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Wizzard Brew is one of the finest albums ever to have seen the cold, unwelcoming light of day.
Wizzard Brew ferments, what should be, a wholly unpalatable blend of progressive rock ‘n’ roll. Note the “‘n’ roll”; there’s a suffix being put to bad use here.
Whereas the follow-up album, Eddy and the Falcons, was more of a straightforward tribute to Wood’s musical heroes of the1950s, this preliminary burst sticks with the progressive shenanigans demonstrated at the helm of The Move and ELO.
Despite completely banjaxing the record-buying public with the debut single ‘Ball Park Incident’ and the tribute to the Phil Spector’s wall of sound, the ubiquitous ‘See My Baby Jive‘, both of which shifted by the cartload, Wizzard Brew reached out from somewhere else entirely, suggesting a band in no hurry to court public favour.
One can imagine the face of the poor innocent, who bought the album on the strength of the aforementioned singles, as they dropped the needle and ‘You Can Dance Your Rock ‘n Roll’ kicked in. It’s heavy stuff, like dropping an iron pig from a barn roof.
Six tracks, three of which sail effortlessly beyond the seven minute mark, punish the unsuspecting with a barrage of sound that matches fellow Brummy lads, Black Sabbath, for sheer weight. But whereas Ozzy and co. dabbled in the sometimes darker recesses of music, Roy and his merry troupe of rock ‘n’ roll renegades took their big band inspiration and beat out a goodtime, self-deprecating style of progressive rock. One that led the charge with grinding basslines and saxophonic explosions; ejecting the Phil Spector blueprint in favour of an impenetrable wall of altogether different sound.
The range of styles explored stretches from jazzy interludes on the 13 minute ‘Meet Me at the Jailhouse’ to a military marching band on the completely random ‘Jolly Cup of Tea’. The more familiar rock ‘n’ roll influenced, extended workouts of ‘Buffalo Station/Get On Down To Memphis’ and the fast-paced big-band-swing-meets-Elvis pastiche ‘Gotta Crush (About You)’, give way to the string-laden balladry of the nine minute ‘Wear A Fast Gun‘, which closes on a full choral insert of Abide With Me, demonstrating Roy Wood at his most cinematic.
The only fault of this near-perfect album lies within the actual playback. Somewhat peculiarly, Wizzard Brew suffers from engineering or post-production tinkering that has flattened the sound completely. Instead of the nuances of the different instrumental sections and vocals shining through, it’s as though everything on the production desk was cranked up to eleven, which, as you can imagine, impairs the overall sound quality.
If the album had been recorded in a biscuit tin and fed through the speaker of a Sanyo clock-radio, this could be forgiven, but as it wasn’t, there’s no real excuse for this not to have been picked up on, prior to release. Of course, if it was intentional then what on Earth was Roy Wood and prog label Harvest thinking?
Incidentally, the 2006 CD reissue of Wizzard Brew, on the EMI/Harvest label, features a stonking nine bonus tracks. This is all the singles released during this particular era of Wizzard – ‘Ball Park Incident’, ‘See My Baby Jive’, ‘Angel Fingers’, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ – along with the B-sides, and a some rather pointless and brief outtakes from ‘Meet Me at the Jailhouse’.
Sadly, EMI/Harvest did nothing to digitally remaster the original six songs’ muddy quality, but one supposes we should be grateful that such a fine figure of an album is once again released into the wild to be enjoyed by the likes of you and me.
Wizzard Brew is reissued on the EMI/Harvest label and available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
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