Another release from rock’s lesser known back pages by Esoteric Recordings, and another raid on my Vertigo spiral collection gives me a chance to wax lyrical over the self-titled album by Clear Blue Sky, which was another of those cut out bin records I lived for back in another era when life was simpler and people were shorter and lived by the water. Possibly.
Clear Blue Sky was led by guitarist John Simms, who with his former schoolmates Ken White on drums and bassist Mark Sheather made up a power trio of 18 year-olds whose youthful energy shines through on this charmingly naïve yet powerful record. Discovered by musician and Vertigo A&R man Patrick Campbell-Lyons, the lads recorded this set of Simms’ compositions during a hectic 24 hours or so in the studio spread over two or three days. Campbell-Lyons allegedly booked the studio for longer, and Simms reckons he used the excess time for his own musical project, very possibly the Local Anaesthetic album, more on which in a soon come review. He also produced this album and judging by its rather harsh tone it was something of a rollercoaster of a learning curve behind the console.
The album was originally intended to be called Play It Loud, and indeed this title is there on the spine of the original gatefold, hastily and only partly obscured by red marker. The reason for the last minute alteration was that the title had already been taken by Ambrose Slade, whose first LP under their soon to be shortened name, to coincide with their shorter hair, braces, and boots, was scheduled for release just previous to Clear Blue Sky.
Compared to earlier CD issues of this album, the sound fair leaps out of the speakers at you, and while not a remix as such, this is one of those rare examples of a remaster being a radical improvement on past releases.
The first side of the LP is a suite of three songs under the title Journey To The Inside Of The Sun depicting a journey out into space and back again. Simms complains in the interview in the liner notes that not enough time was spent developing the sound given the rushed nature of the recording, and it shows, particularly on this opening suite, which starts with a decent if somewhat prosaic instrumental jam with the hardly original title of Sweet Leaf. Clearly influenced by Cream and the Groundhogs, Clear Blue Sky’s sound sits somewhere within a sphere of influence dominated by bluesy power trios and psych-rock, and what it occasionally lacks in originality it more than makes up for with its youthful brio. This is highlighted on the second part, Rocket Ride, which sounds very Hogs to these ears. That Simms was a clearly talented guitarist, even at this tender age, marks out the record with its own individual stamp, which rescues the more obvious lifts one can spot rather easily.
Luckily, mentally flipping the record over reveals a much improved ‘Side Two’, which commences with the hard hitting You Mystify, almost eight minutes of psychedelically hued Groundhogs blues rock swagger – derivative, sure, but fun. Tools Of My Trade varies the pace and shows that as young as they were, the band could still put together a decent arrangement, with some simple time and key changes used to good effect.
The last two songs are the best on the record. My Heaven is a hypnotic and swirling tune with some interesting drum patterns, engendering an effect much like staring at the Vertigo label in the centre of the original LP for any length of time. The album closes with Birdcatcher where I suspect Patrick Campbell-Lyons learning curve behind the mixing desk was at its most vertiginous. The tune itself recalls Taste, and it charges along in fine fettle before ending rather suddenly and being replaced by lazily stoned handclaps, quiet guitar doodling, percussion, and flute from Jade Warrior’s Jon Field, only for the main riff to suddenly reappear for a few bars before being cut off abruptly. Very odd indeed, it sounds like someone tripped over the mains lead and pulled the plug out, although it was apparently intentional. Incidentally, this is the first issue of this album on CD that fully restores that madcap ending.
The rock trio template is fleshed out with piano on Sweet Leaf and Hammond organ on Tools Of My Trade, the former presumably played by Campbell-Lyons, and the latter is by a session player with connections to Tom Jones, but unfortunately no-one can remember his name!
The cover of the original album was one of, or possibly the first gatefold design by one Roger Dean, and looking at my pristine copy, a lovely thing it is too, Dean’s inimitable and soon to be instantly recognisable style is applied to menacing sentient mechanical flying war birds in full action, soaring over a subdued mythical landscape in pastel hues.
This trio disintegrated soon after their record sank without trace, and Clear Blue Sky soldiered on for a few years with differing rhythm sections before calling it a day in 1975. Many years later Simms reformed the band with a different line up, the second album Destiny appearing in 1990, his vision for the band now encompassing hard rock with a spacey vibe. The band are still making albums, the last being 2013’s Don’t Mention Rock’N’Roll. He is also currently spanking his plank for various projects within Tim Jones’ Census of Hallucinations empire, all of which are well worth checking out.
Journey To The Inside Of The Sun:
01. Sweet Leaf (8:02)
02. Rocket Ride (6:23)
03. I’m Coming Home (3:08)
04. You Mystify (7:49)
05. Tools Of My Trade (4:54)
06. My Heaven (5:02)
07. Birdcatcher (4:15)
Total Time – 39:34
John Simms – Guitar, Vocals
Ken White – Drums
Mark Sheather – Bass
Jon Field – Flute (track 7)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2595
Year of Release: 2017