(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – July 2022.)
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour
So wrote Geoffrey Chaucer in the prologue to his seminal work The Canterbury Tales between 1387-1400.
Fast forward some 600 years and lazy music critics coined the phrase The Canterbury Scene as all music, it seems, needs to be pigeonholed and labelled. Like all misnomer’s not every act associated with the movement had any real link to Canterbury. Case in point, the band Gong were formed in Paris which as far as I’m aware is not a suburb of any Kentish town or village.
It all came about in the mid sixties with local lads The Wilde Flowers who, when wilted, germinated into Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, Egg, Matching Mole, Robert Wyatt, Hatfield and the North and National Health.
The whole Canterbury sound was a heady mix of psychedelia, anarchy, folkloric mythology, beat poetry and puns. Soft Machine is the title of a William Burroughs novel and Matching Mole a corruption of machine molle, the french translation of Soft Machine. Perhaps a bit of a dig from sacked drummer Robert Wyatt. For Girls that Go Plump In The Night and Cunning Stunts were albums from Caravan. All terribly quirky and quintessentially English.
In among this bunch of posies was a young London born guitarist, Steve Hillage. While still at school, Hillage was in a band called Uriel with his keyboard playing chum Dave Stewart, not to be confused with the Eurythmics chappy. They were encouraged to change their name as it sounded too close to urine (or was someone taking the piss !) and so became Egg.
Hillage attended the University of Kent in Canterbury (there’s the link !) and jammed with local bands Caravan and Spirogyra, not to be confused with the smooth jazz outfit Spyro Gyra. He landed himself a record deal with Deram and set about putting a band, Khan, together. After a few incarnations, the line up for their only release Space Shanty were Hillage on guitars and vocals, former The Crazy World of Arthur Brown bassist and vocalist Nick Greenwood, fellow Egg alumni Stewart and drummer Eric Peachey.
This 1972 release, in my humble opinion, is a progressive rocker’s wet dream. Long convoluted tracks with nonsensical lyrics, great guitar solos swaying from hard rock to jazz, luscious fuzzed organ and odd time signatures. The musicianship by all four players is commendable. Sadly there was to be no follow up.
Hillage moved on to Gong (in some French speaking corner of Kent no doubt) before becoming a solo artist.
Stewart formed Hatfield and the North then National Health. Along with former Zombie, Colin Blunstone he had a minor hit with What Became Of The Broken Hearted and It’s My Party with Barbara Gaskin.
Chaucer didn’t include a guitarist’s tale in his magnum opus. Nor a lute player or any other kind of musician either. In different times I’m sure he would have had a few kind words to say about Mr Hillage and his Khan clan.
Steve Hillage – Guitar / Vocals
Nick Greenwood – Bass / Vocals
Dave Stewart – Organ
Eric Peachey – Drums
|Space Shanty||LP||1972||Deram||Their only album recording.|