Space (Puerto Rico): Music To The People (Hand ST-5167, USA, 1970)
Tessie Calderón (lead vocals)
Released on a Capitol subsidiary, this Puerto Rican band’s sole album offers an unusual mixture of funky rock, pop, prog and even some African elements. It’s pretty good, and eclectic as well, with the covers ranging from the Beatles to Charlie Chaplin to Hair. GRADE: C+.
Space Dust (New Zealand): First To The Future (Carburetor, with poster, USA, 1995)
Violet Faigan (lead vocals, bass)
This is rather good jamming guitar psychedelia with a loose, amateurish feel, drawing on both the lo-fi and shoegaze movements. For sure, it’s not the world’s most original album, nor the most mellifluous or virtuosic, but there is some fine acid-rock on offer. GRADE: C+.
Space Dust (New Zealand): Space Dust Is Beatle (18 Wheeler, USA, 1995)
Violet Faigan (lead vocals)
It’s not entirely clear which Space Dust album came first; this one appears to contain earlier recordings, but it’s rumoured that the pressing (of 300 numbered copies) remained unreleased by the label for years. In any case, this is typical lo-fi New Zealand nineties psych, with a few nice moments. The band also issued a cassette entitled Live ’93 and a 1999 studio CD No Kissing In Public, but I haven’t encountered either. GRADE: C+.
Spacegoat (Mexico): Superstition (No label, download, 2016)
Gina Riós (lead vocals, guitar)
Betwixt old-school and doom metal, this isn’t the most ambitious album in the world, but it does have some nicely spacy moments and lots of seventies references. It’s also reasonably varied, with a couple of ballads working well among the more uptempo and anthemic material. GRADE: C+.
Spanky & Our Gang (USA): Spanky And Our Gang (Mercury SR 21124 / 61124, with poster, 1967)
Whilst the cover is somewhat psychedelic, the band’s sound falls somewhere between the Mamas & The Papas, generic sunshine pop and good old-fashioned cabaret music. Unlike the Mamas & Papas, they don’t have folky roots or a songwriting genius like John Phillips, with nothing here being self-penned. However, they do have a penchant for old-time jazz, vaudeville and borderline musical theatre (‘Ya Got Trouble (In River City)’ and ‘Commercial’), meaning this ranges from the competent to the almost unlistenable. GRADE: C–.
Spanky & Our Gang (USA): Like To Get To Know You (Mercury SR 61161, 1968)
Elaine McFarlane (principal vocals)
The opening ‘The Swingin’ Gate’ is downright psychedelic, but the second cut ‘Prescription For The Blues’ is jazzy piano blues, indicating that this LP is going to take the same scattershot approach as its predecessor. However, this time round their blend of MOR pop, old-time jazz and spoken word elements, heightened by a tripped-out production, is charming rather than irritating, making this one of the more personable and enjoyable soft pop albums of its era. GRADE: C+.
Spanky & Our Gang (USA): Anything You Choose b/w Without Rhyme Or Reason (Mercury SR 61183, with inner, 1969)
By far the band’s best, this is a top-notch harmony pop LP, with adventurous material and fine performances. The standout track is ‘Yesterday’s Rain’, which combines a superb lead vocal from Elaine McFarlane with a complicated backing vocal arrangement and a truly gorgeous melody. This is a surprisingly ambitious, complex record too, particularly on ‘Hong Kong Blues’, where all kinds of different melodies and counterpoints occur simultaneously, or the truly strange ‘Leopard Skin Phones’, which somehow fuses together a novelty song with a baroque string section, screeching fuzz guitar and lashings of phasing, before mutating into a multi-layered monologue by a pre-war bluesman. From there things get progressively weirder, culminating in the beautiful but bizarre ‘Since You’ve Gone’, which throws a little bit of everything into the mix. GRADE: C+.
Spanky & Our Gang (USA): Live (Mercury SR 61326, 1970)
Released after the band had broken up, this live set confirms their continued ability to surprise. Unfortunately, the surprises this time involve them opening with a jugband-styled number followed by a wretched attempt at musical comedy, then an acapella ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (very badly sung, to boot). The truly amazing thing is that much of the remainder isn’t any better, making this dreadful set of cabaret fluff a must to avoid. GRADE: E–.
Spanky & Our Gang (USA): Change (Epic AL 33580, 1975)
Elaine McFarlane (lead vocals)
Given their bizarre track record, the Gang’s reunion album could have been in almost any style. In fact, it’s country/rock – not a genre they had ever touched upon before. It’s fairly MOR in parts, but it’s also rather good. Elaine McFarlane and guitarist Nigel Pickering are the only links with their former incarnation, whilst the guest musicians include future Fleetwood Mac member Rick Vito. GRADE: C.
Kristine Sparkle (UK): Image (Decca SKL 5192, 1974)
Christine Holmes is best remembered as a member of Family Dogg, the writer of Cliff Richard’s ‘Devil Woman’ and a Crackerjack presenter, but she also found time to cut two solo albums, of which this was the first. As her assumed name suggests, parts of the LP attempt to cash in on glam-rock, with that familiar stomping beat, but it covers a wide range of pop, rock and funk territory. The selection of material is nothing if not eclectic, ranging from the self-penned ‘Street Corner Lady’ to odd covers of ‘Eight Days A Week’, ‘It’s In His Kiss’, ‘Hokey Cokey’ and the traditional ‘Five Sisters’. GRADE: C.
Kristine (UK): I’m A Song (Power Exchange PXL 003, 1976)
Holmes’s second and final solo album concentrates on her own material, including her own version of ‘Devil Woman’. The material ranges from singer/songwriter-styled orchestrated ballads (quite strongly recalling Olivia Newton-John) to countryish pop to lightweight hard rock, with excellent singing, performances and production throughout. GRADE: C+.
See also Family Dogg
Sparrow (UK): Hatching Out (Spark SPA-05, 1972)
Elaine Paige (joint lead vocals), Diane Langton (joint lead vocals)
This extremely obscure LP is usually remembered only as a footnote in the career of stage show star Elaine Paige. That’s a pity, as it’s a rather good light rock LP, with excellent harmony vocals, a mildly funky and groovy sound and some powerful and almost psychedelic guitar work. The catchy rocker ‘Rollercoaster’ is by far the best song, whilst Paige really shines on the beautiful folk number ‘Many Things Are Clear’, with Mellotron backing. GRADE: C+.
Special Treasure (USA): I Have A Friend (Favour KM 1728, 1977?)
Teresa Smith (joint lead vocals)
This small label Christian LP offers mellow folk/rock with some well-composed original material, highly competent musicianship and fine singing (especially from the underused Teresa Smith, who has a lovely voice). The recording is unusually good too, making for a very polished and professional-sounding set. GRADE: C+.
Spektrum (Sweden): Spektrum (Progress PRCD 010, CD, 2003)
Lizette von Panajott (lead vocals, keyboards)
For the most part, this neoprogressive album is mediocre even by the standards of the genre, offering a procession of dreary songs recalling Tracy Hitchings’s work with Landmarq and Quasar. Oddly, the last two tracks, ‘Ivory Tower’ and ‘A Chemical Release’, whilst not brilliant, are vastly better, with the band finally displaying some energy and managing some catchy hooks. GRADE: C.
See also Lizette&
Spektrum (UK/New Zealand): Enter The Spektrum (Nonstop Recordings SPEKCD005, double CD, Germany, 2004)
Lola Olafisoye (lead vocals)
Lola Olafisoye went on to join the superb Chrome Hoof and a few elements of their sound can be heard here. This isn’t rock or prog in any form, though: it’s electronic dance music with an odd, minimalist songwriting style and a few avant-garde edges. It’s an interesting, creative album, but this very definitely isn’t my kind of music. GRADE: C.
See also Chrome Hoof
Jeremy Spencer & The Children (USA/UK): Jeremy Spencer And The Children (Columbia KC 31990, USA, 1972)
Cheryl Kugler (occasional vocals, tambourine)
Jeremy Spencer’s first post-Fleetwood Mac albums, recorded with his cohorts in the notorious religious cult the Children of God, offers classy period pop with psychedelic edges and some great guitar work. As such, the music here is pretty appealing; the lyrical sentiments less so, particularly for those familiar with allegations against the cult. GRADE: C+.
Jeremy Spencer Band (USA/UK): Flee (Atlantic SD 19236, with inner, 1979)
Jeanne Hendricks (occasional vocals)
This later album is very much a game of two halves. The predominant style is soft West Coast-influenced rock, not dissimilar to the Mac’s contemporary work, but the record company insisted on funk and disco elements being added to the first side, much to Spencer’s chagrin. The second side is thus far preferable, peaking on the sublime title track, which combines a gorgeous melody, superb arrangement and some stunning slide guitar playing from Spencer. Strangely, vocalist Jeanne Hendricks, who sings ‘Cool Breeze’ and provides backing vocals elsewhere, is uncredited, although she features in the band photograph. GRADE: C+.
Spheres (UK): Festivals And Suns (Spheres SP 01, with booklet, 1978)
Diana Adkins (joint lead vocals, keyboards)
This obscure album, inspired by Eastern mysticism, has its moments – whilst many tracks are average funky pop, the eight minute ‘Soltexmal’, which closes side one, is an excellent progressive rock instrumental. But what makes the LP really interesting is the line-up, including Jimmy Winston of the Small Faces on vocals and guitar, Kevin Peek on lead guitar, Ron Grainer on keyboards and Brian Davison of the Nice on drums, plus Gaspar Lawal guesting on percussion. GRADE: C+.
Sphincter Ensemble (UK): Harrodian Event #1 (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2398, CD, 2013, recorded 1972)
Ann Odell (keyboards)
Unreleased for 41 years, this is an extract of a mammoth jam session by a fascinating array of classical, jazz and rock musicians (including Paul Buckmaster and Martyn Ford). Like most jazz improvisations, it’s all over the place and never really goes anywhere, but the funky and rock edges avoid the worst excesses of free-jazz and the results should be pretty satisfying for anyone who enjoys outfits like Centipede et al. GRADE: C+.
See also Blue Mink, Chopyn, Ann Odell
Spicy Ground Floor (Japan): Spicy Ground Floor (Muséa Parallèle MP 3328, CD, France, 2016)
Mika Takana (joint lead vocals, bass)
Shoegaze Japanese style, displaying obvious influences from My Bloody Valentine: the guitars drone effectively, the hooks are pretty catchy and the vocals (unusually for the style) aren’t too subterranean. It all adds up to a nice, if slight, set that confirms the Japanese tendency to imitate rather than innovate. GRADE: C+.
Spider (USA): Labyrinths (Capitol ST-11046, 1972)
Drawing on country, gospel and hard rock music, this quintessentially seventies pop/rock album offers a pleasing variety of moods. With supple playing from a crack team of session players, it’s a satisfying set, though it would have been even better had they emphasised the rock side of the equation and stretched out once or twice. GRADE: C+.
Spilld Mjölk (Sweden): Svart Mjölk (No label, with insert, 1975)
Kersti Lindkvist (percussion, backing vocals)
One of the rarest Swedish LPs, this is lo-fi hippie folk with a feel similar to the Danish band Furekåben or the German Siloah, though it’s more song-based than either. There’s also more than a passing resemblance to Shide & Acorn in the listless, washed-out feel to the singing and playing, plus a few neoclassical touches and some hand percussion hinting at Comus. At heart, they belong to the Swedish polit-rock underground, with the acid-folk nature of the project stemming more from the loose playing and mono recording than any overt psychedelic elements (despite a little sitar). Overall it’s an interesting curio and a fascinating snapshot of a particular time and state of mind. GRADE: C+.
Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Spilverk þjóðanna (Egg 003, with booklet, 1975)
Sigrún Hljámtysdóttir (occasional vocals)
This often reminds me of a folkier version of the A-Austr album, with the same playful and whimsical mood. However, Spilverk þjóðanna also have an occasional fondness for stretching out and jamming gently, as on the stunning track that closes side one. Whilst this may too precious and too fragmentary for some ears, there’s some delightful music here and it’s all a world away from the bland seventies pop they’d contributed to the Hrif 2 compilation the previous year. GRADE: B–.
Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Spilverkid CD (Naerlifi) (Steinar 007, with inner, 1976)
Sigrún Hljámtysdóttir (occasional vocals, handclaps)
Whilst this doesn’t have the same highpoint as their first – that long jam at the end of side one really lifts the debut – it’s a lovely LP in its own right. Sounding five or six years earlier than the release date, Spilverkid CD (Naerlifi) occupies a world where it’s always 1969 or 1970, Crosby, Stills & Nash rule the airwaves, and all you need is an acoustic guitar to start performing short, breezy songs with haunting melodies before stitching them together into a delicate and beatific album. If that description makes you think you might find this irritating, you could be right; for the rest of us, it’s a delightful time capsule of a more innocent era. GRADE: C+.
Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Götuskór (Steinar 011, with booklet, 1976)
Sigrún Hljámtysdóttir (joint lead vocals)
This is as whimsical and inconsequential as Spilverkid CD, but even more eccentric – there’s everything here from heavy acid-rock to campfire singalongs to sound effects to a moment where the band dissolves into laughter. Like its predecessor, this could divide opinion strongly, but to these ears it’s an extremely engaging album – and could have been a truly great one with a little more focus. GRADE: C+.
Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Sturla (Steinar 016, with insert, 1977)
Sigrún Hljámtysdóttir (joint lead vocals)
This is a touch more rock-oriented than their earlier work, and even more whimsical too. The latter aspect may put off some listeners, but whilst this is sometimes too arch and carefree for its own good, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. GRADE: C+.
Megas & Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Á Bleikum Náttkjólum (Iðunn 002, with booklet, 1977)
Á Bleikum Náttkjólum is in their usual playful, whimsical style, but there’s a twist – on this album they’re backing prolific Icelandic singer/songwriter Megas. There’s a further twist in that his vocal style sounds like an amalgam of Shane MacGowan, Tom Waits and later-period Bob Dylan. If you like the idea of Spilverk þjóðanna backing what sounds like a sloppy drunk, you could enjoy this. If not, like me, you’ll wish they’d sung it themselves. GRADE: C.
Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Ísland (Steinar 026, green vinyl, with insert, 1978)
Sigrún Hljámtysdóttir (joint lead vocals)
Their best album overall, Ísland adds a baroque pop edge to proceedings, delivering a mutant folkish Abbey Road vibe. Weird, warm and whimsical, it’s a lovely set packed with naggingly catchy melodies and unpredictable, quirky diversions. GRADE: B–.
Spilverk þjóðanna (Iceland): Brádabirgdabúgí (HF JUD-25, with booklet, 1979)
Sigrún Hljámtysdóttir (joint lead vocals)
Spilverk þjóðanna’s final album is something else entirely: the funky, disco-tinged rhythms of the first two songs will make you wonder whether you’re playing the right LP. With their folk roots abandoned entirely, along with most of their eccentricity, this is a pleasant, mainstream set of melodic, funky rock – well-crafted and listenable, but also rather anonymous. The band’s albums – apart from their venture with Megas – were subsequently compiled as the excellent boxed set Allt Safnid (Sena SCD476, septuple CD, with minisleeves, booklet and box, 2011) along with a fine bonus CD Pobeba, which gathers together their Hrif 2 contributions, numerous unreleased cuts from 1975 and 1976, and a 1995 live reunion recording. GRADE: C+.
Spinning Jenny (UK): Spinning Jenny (Midas MR004, 1972)
Kathleen Reid (joint lead vocals), Margaret Reid (joint lead vocals), Christine Kandzeria (joint lead vocals)
Accompanied by a small backing band playing guitar, bass, harmonium and autoharp, this all-female trio provides soft, delicate and spacy folk in a similar manner to Reality From Dream, although none of the compositions are originals. From their high, pure, nervous vocals, one would assume the trio to be schoolgirls, or at the oldest in their late teens, but they look somewhat more mature in their pictures. A certain quirky Northern humour shows through in a few tracks, notably the closing ‘Swedish Driving Song’, which marries the tune of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ to new lyrics talking about the EEC, and this aspect of the album may irritate some listeners. Others, however, will delight in the ‘real people’ angle this lends the project, whilst underlining its parochial, essentially non-commercial nature. GRADE: C+.
Spiral (Poland): Urban Fable (Ars Mundi AMS 049, CD, with digipak, 2009)
Urszula Wójcik (lead vocals)
I don’t particularly care for Urszula Wójcik's girlish vocals, which remind me of Björk et al, but they’re probably appropriate for this concept album about ‘the epic voyage of girl, golem and cat and their struggle to free girl’s brother, stolen from them by gargoyles’. The music is on a surer footing: well executed post-metal with the echoing drums and ambient guitar soundscapes that description suggests, but also some heavier-riffing passages to vary the mood. GRADE: C+.
Spiral (Poland): Cloud Kingdoms (Sound Brilliance, CD, with digipak, 2014)
Urszula Wójcik (lead vocals)
The label name is misleading – this doesn’t sound brilliant by any means, though as on their debut there are moments that suggest they have a great album in them. Once again Urszula Wójcik’s vocals often recall Björk and this time the music does too – with the metal elements of their debut absent, this offers shimmering soundscapes that don’t really go anywhere interspersed with rock moments that don’t really go on long enough. GRADE: C.
Spiral (Poland): Bullets (Sound Brilliance, CD, with digipak, 2014)
Urszula Wójcik (lead vocals)
After the underwhelming Cloud Kingdoms, this is a considerable return to form: the music is more rock-oriented, the sound is more muscular and Urszula Wójcik is far less arch. All I could ask is that they’d stretch out and jam rather than delivering short, discrete tracks that seem to end just when the band is catching fire. GRADE: C+.
Spiral Sky (UK): Spiral Sky (Acme AC8002LP, with insert, 1994)
Kata Kolbert (lead vocals, keyboards, dulcimer), Tryphena Cohen (keyboards)
This acid-folk album was mainly the vehicle of singer/songwriter Kata Kolbert and covers a wide range of ground – from the acapella ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ through acoustic folk to the trippy, new wave-ish ‘Slime Pits’ and ‘Marriage Of Inconvenience’, whose electronically treated vocals and quasi-tribal drumming bring to mind early Toyah or any number of Siouxsie & The Banshees B-sides. There are also unusual takes on the traditional ‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Bold William Taylor’, rounding off an altogether odd LP. Kolbert has quite an unusual voice and the echoey lo-fi production does her few favours, but there is still some very interesting material here. Seven years earlier, Kolbert had issued the 12" single ‘Live Your Life’/‘The Deed Is Done’/‘Happy Couple’ (Nevermore NE 1 - 12). Featuring musical backing from Spiral Sky collaborator Anthony Clough, this is in more of a new wave/electropop vein. Some sources suggest that Kolbert also issued a number of private cassettes, but I’ve never come across them. GRADE: C+.
Spirits & Worm (USA): Spirits And Worm (A&M SP 4229, 1969)
Adrianne Maurici (joint lead vocals)
One of the rarest US major label albums, this was allegedly withdrawn owing to the odd cover art, featuring two goats lounging on a grave. If that makes you expect heavy sounds with dark lyrics like Black Sabbath, think again: this often resembles a poppier twist on Jefferson Airplane, with some dynamic guitar work but also occasional horns. GRADE: C+.
Spirogyra (UK): St Radigunds (B&C CAS 1042, with inner, 1971)
Barbara Gaskin (joint lead vocals)
My epiphany with this album came when I read the lyrics and appreciated the depth of Martin Cockerham’s imagery. Until then, his vocal mannerisms had simply seemed strange and I found myself longing for the dulcet tones of Barbara Gaskin (underused on the first side, though she makes up for it on the second) but taken in context his performance sounds as much like acting as singing. Given the mainly acoustic arrangements and sparse (though effective) use of Dave Mattacks’s drums, it’s amazing how intense this sometimes becomes, achieving an almost filmic, 3D quality. GRADE: B–.
Spirogyra (UK): Old Boot Wine (Pegasus PEG 13, 1972)
Barbara Gaskin (joint lead vocals)
The lyrics are as vivid as on their first, but the music here is rather more conventional, with more rock-based arrangements. As a result, whereas St Radigunds was frequently startling, Old Boot Wine is consistently pleasant, with Julian’s Cusack’s distinctive violin a significant loss. GRADE: C+.
Spirogyra (UK): Bells, Boots And Shambles (Polydor 2310 246, 1973)
Barbara Gaskin (principal vocals)
Down to a duo of Martin Cockerham and Barbara Gaskin (plus a few guests, including Dave Mattacks and Henry Lowther), Spirogyra bowed out with a radically different third album. Dropping most of the pop/rock leanings of their first two, this is a collection of sparse, mournful and eerie songs with strong neoclassical, gothic and jazzy edges and a subtle but prounced psychedelic feel. It’s far and away the best thing they ever released. GRADE: B.
Spirogyra (UK): Burn The Bridges – The Demo Tapes 1970-1971 (Repertoire REP 4846, CD, Germany, 2000, recorded 1970-1971)
Barbara Gaskin (joint lead vocals, piano)
No surprises for guessing from the album title that this is a collection of unreleased 1970 and 1971 demos. However, the first surprise is that none of this material was reworked for any of their contemporary albums. The second surprise is that this is a delightful collection of songs – very much better than either St Radigunds or Old Boot Wine. GRADE: B–.
Spirogyra (UK): Swan Songs 69-74 (Rainbow Empire, CDR, with minisleeve, 2010, recorded 1969-1974)
Barbara Gaskin (occasional vocals, piano)
This collection of demos and outtakes – issued by Martin Cockerham himself, in a run of 100 copies – may divide opinion. For some people, the prospect of Cockerham in an even rawer setting than usual (and he sings just about everything, with Barbara Gaskin in a strictly supporting role) may prove daunting. For others, his rough-and-ready voice will blend perfectly with the low-budget, mainly acoustic backing, and this will be a fascinating complement to the band’s studio LPs. I definitely fall into the latter camp, and despite the variable sound quality (including some tape issues on the closing 21-minute suite) this is an intriguing time capsule packed with Cockerham’s vivid narratives. GRADE: B–.
See also Hatfield & The North, Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin
Split Level (USA): Divided We Stand (Dot DLP 3836 / 25836, 1968)
Liz Seneff (joint lead vocals, tambourine)
This is largely typical period harmony pop, but it’s also a good deal more eccentric than most of the competition. ‘Looking At The Rose Through World Colored Glasses’ (the album’s one classic track, and worth the price alone) adds all kind of weird electronics to rival United States Of America, whilst ‘Speculator’ and ‘Hymn’ borrow heavily from church music. Meanwhile, the complex multi-layered vocals on ‘Children Are Bored On A Sunday’ and the prepared piano on the otherwise straightforward rocker ‘You Can’t Go’ suggest that the members had classical music backgrounds. Overall, this is a quirky and mildly interesting record that pulls in a variety of different directions, making one wonder about their intended audience. GRADE: C+.
Spread The Word (UK): Introduction/Mary’s Song/Thomas’s Song/Peter’s Song And Spread The Word (Mayc BWR 442, 7", 1974?)
Only one copy is known of this sleeveless Christian EP, which runs for about 10 minutes and features four songs from a music. It consists of atmospheric folk/rock with both male and female vocals and full electric arrangements, including some excellent lead guitar. The opening overture also adds some progressive edges, and the whole thing makes one wish they had released a full album with all the songs. GRADE: C+.
Spriguns Of Tolgus (UK): Rowdy Dowdy Day (No label, cassette, 1974)
Mandy Morton (joint lead vocals, guitar, dulcimer)
The rarest and most obscure (but given its format, least expensive) Spriguns album is an enjoyable folk/rock set, with electric guitar and bass adding spice to an otherwise fairly traditional sound. An unauthorised vinyl reissue on Kissing Spell in 1992 is now pretty scarce, and is starting to sell for big money. GRADE: C+.
Spriguns Of Tolgus (UK): Jack With A Feather (Alida Star Cottage ASC 7755, 1975)
Mandy Morton (joint lead vocals, guitar, bongos, dulcimer)
Recorded with the same line-up as Rowdy Dowdy Day, this is musically very similar to its predecessor. The one original composition (by Steeleye Span’s Tim Hart) is far too whimsical for my tastes, but otherwise this is another lovely album of restrained electric folk, peaking on the stunningly beautiful ‘Curragh Of Kildare’. GRADE: C+.
Spriguns (UK): Revel Weird And Wild (Decca SKL 5262, with insert, 1976)
Mandy Morton (lead vocals, guitar)
Gaining a major label deal in the wake of Steeleye’s success with All Around My Hat, Spriguns underwent considerable line-up changes that saw Mandy Morton become sole lead vocalist. Otherwise it’s business as usual, with a heavier sound than before, including drums for the first time and some minor progressive folk elements. Rather strangely, the songs are credited as band originals, whereas in fact they seem to be adaptations of traditional numbers. GRADE: C+.
Spriguns (UK): Time Will Pass (Decca SKL 5286, with insert, 1977)
Mandy Morton (lead vocals, guitar)
Spriguns’ fourth album represented a giant leap forward, indicating for the first time that Mandy Morton was a colossal talent and not merely a competent folk singer. The big change is that, aside from a superb progressive folk interpretation of ‘Blackwaterside’, she’s writing all the songs – and what brilliant songs they are. Perfectly capturing the ambience of the best traditional English folk songs, she weaves spellbinding tales with luscious melodies and superb instrumental backing, including some crunchy lead guitar work and a powerful rhythm section. The two minute title track, with its pulsing synthesiser tones, is especially stunning, and the closing ‘Letter To A Lady’ is a tour de force, with its poignant lyrics, haunting tune and climactic orchestral finale. It’s the perfect end to a just about perfect folk/rock album. GRADE: A–.
Mandy Morton & Spriguns (UK): Magic Lady (Banshee BAN 1011, some on blue vinyl, with insert, 1978)
Mandy Morton (lead vocals, guitar)
This wonderful album is almost the equal of the Spriguns’ sublime Time Will Pass. In fact, Morton contributes some of her most resonant compositions here, including the eerie ‘According To Matthew’, the powerful and heavy ‘Goodbye The Day’ and ‘Witchfinder’, and the unforgettably catchy ‘Music Prince’. GRADE: B+.
See also Mandy Morton
Springinsfeldt (West Germany): Springinsfeldt (No label 461, with insert, 1982?)
Housed in an attractive full colour sleeve, this very obscure private pressing is divided into ‘Mittelalter’ and ‘Renaissance’ sides. Both offer excellent progressive folk with rock-based arrangements, not dissimilar to Ougenweide but a bit more modernistic (including a fair bit of synthesiser). Despite a slightly fragmented feel to some of the arrangements, this is easily among the best prog-folk albums of the eighties. GRADE: B.
Sproatly Smith (UK): The Yew And The Hare (Reverb Worship RW 076, CDR, with minisleeve, 2009)
No prizes for guessing that the band’s biggest influence was the soundtrack to ‘The Wicker Man’: not only is it evident in their sound, but they actually cover ‘Gently Johnny’ (including a snatch of Lord Summerisle’s monologue). Elsewhere, this contains some wonderfully haunting folk ballads and – typically for this kind of low-key, CDR-only outfit – field recordings with lots of sound effects. The latter material generally isn’t as compelling as the songs: ironically, when Sproatly Smith try to be beautiful, they’re genuinely eerie, but when they try to be eerie they’re a little kitsch. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): Pixieled (Reverb Worship RW 126, CDR, with minisleeve, 2010)
Similar in style to their first but a little more song-oriented, this features some beautiful material, including a stunning version of ‘Spring Strathspey’ (which they presumably learned from the version by Gwydion). Once again, some of the sections with sound effects are a little self-conscious, but at its best this is a delight. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): Carols From Herefordshire (Reverb Worship RW 142, CDR, with minisleeve and insert, 2011)
Doing what it says on the tin, album number three sees Sproatly Smith giving a number of carols the ‘Wicker Man’ treatment. This time around, the found sounds complement the material rather than appearing arch, hinting at the pagan origins of much Christian song and creating the most hauntingly beautiful, darkly eerie, gently sinister Christmas record you’re ever likely to hear. GRADE: B.
Sproatly Smith (UK): The Minstrel’s Grave (Reverb Worship RW 172, CDR, with minisleeve and inserts, 2011)
Whilst this isn’t as compelling as its predecessor, it still offers some beautiful, rather twisted folk grooves, peaking on ‘The Blue Flame’, ‘Death’ (a Pretty Things cover) and the uncharacteristically heavy acid-rock jam ‘Elysium’. Another interesting idea is an echo-laden version of Maddy Prior’s ‘The Fabled Hare’. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): Times Is N’ Times Was (Download, 2012)
Originally released as a download then in early 2013 as a CDR (Reverb Worship RW 219, with minisleeve and inserts), this is another lovely, trippy folk LP from Sproatly Smith. Seemingly a concept album about farming and its evolution, the record alternates haunting songs, eerie instrumentals and spoken reflections to great effect. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): Remixed (Reverb Worship RW 230, CDR, with minisleeve and insert, 2013)
I’m not really convinced of the merits of this sort of project – and the various remixers’ between-songs commentaries on the band seem somewhat self-aggrandising – but the quality of the source material shines through to create another beautiful and eerie LP. As a footnote, fellow Reverb Worship signing the Hare & The Moon are responsible for one of the mixes of ‘O Willow Waly’. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): Thomas Traherne (No label, cassette, with slipcase, insert and bag, 2014)
They may have switched from CDR to cassette, but they haven’t changed their basic style: this mixes gentle folk, psychedelic ambiences and found sounds in their usual style, sometimes bringing to mind Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus. As usual, there’s some beautiful material on offer, though occasionally it’s a little precious. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): 11:59 (No label, black CDR, with inserts, 2017)
Apparently ‘a collection a [sic] tunes before the next album proper’, mixing unreleased material with songs that previously appeared on compilations, this set works extremely well in its own right. Their three covers of songs from ‘The Wicker Man’ don’t better the originals but are nonetheless very good, and overall this is another fine collection of delicate, haunting, trippy numbers stitched together with eerie narrations and effects. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): A Trip Of Hares (No label, download, 2020)
This isn’t exactly a studio album, but nor is it a compilation as much of the material is new, previously unreleased or presented in alternate versions. Instead, it seems to be a coronavirus-themed concept set, mixing dialogue and sound effects about the crisis with the band’s usual eerie brand of folk, creating a striking and unsettling release. GRADE: B–.
Sproatly Smith (UK): River Wye Suite (No label, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, 2022)
Sarah Smith, Kate Gathercole
As usual for Sproatly Smith, this is beautiful, haunting and atmospheric, offerin a continuous suite of music about the titular river and its environmental challenges. Also as usual for Sproatly Smith, it’s at times a little ponderous – the found voices and nostalgic jazz songs add ambience but I’d have preferred more of their own music and fewer of the interludes. As is not usual for Sproatly Smith, this adds electricity and a rhythm section here, moving their music from folk to folk/rock and adding another dimension to their rich, lush, beguiling sound. GRADE: B–.