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Introduction

visit www.audiophileusa.com/item.cfm?ID=32192 for review of See The Morning

 

Rare: title track demo from unreleased album "Lady Sunrise" 1972

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mick Stevens (1953 - 1987) made a number of recordings which are now obtaining some recognition on the cult circuit. Mick played solo and in bands and toured with a range of artists in the 70's, including Richard and Linda Thompson, Bert Jansch, Ralph Mactell, June Tabor and The Albion Band. The following is a piece written by one of his friends from the early days:Introduction by John Theedom:

Mick Stevens arrived on the music scene and then disappeared, seemingly without anybody noticing. Two sublime, inventive, and beautifully craftedhome made albums in the early 1970’s – “See The Morning” and“NoSavage Word” – showed off the song writing and arranging skills that hepossessed from the very beginning to very great effect. Though highly personalised, the performances, the songs, the musicianship, and the painstaking (low-budget and homespun) production of these records gave them a sound and, perhaps above all a ‘feel’, that suggested that here was a real talent on the launch-pad of a musical career of some substance.Of course, this was to reckon without the vagaries of the record industry.

B.y 1972, on the one hand you had the new labels like Island and EMI’s Harvest that had already built a solid roster of ‘alternative’ artists and were looking to consolidate their position, rather than expand. On the other, there were the established mainstream labels with large infrastructure costs that required feeding with cash from mass appeal ‘pop’ records.Mick did get to play his music to Jonathan King (of “Every One’s GoneTo The Moon” fame) at King’s own label, UK Records. Despite the label,having a credible artist roster at the time that included 10CC and the Kursaal Flyers, King will forever be associated with pop at its most banal – “Leap Up and Down and Wave Your Knickers In The Air” (St. Cecilia), “Johnny Reggae” (The Piglets) and “Keep On Dancing” (Bay City Rollers). It is hard to imagine a more complete musical mismatch than that of King and Stevens, so it no surprise that King ‘passed’ on the opportunity.In 2004, the albums “See The Morning” and “ No Savage Word” were reissued on a double CD (Shadoks Music 038) to some critical acclaim– “like Michael Angelo with a Billy Nichols touch “; Dusted Magazine inNew York said, “both…..obtusely beautiful albums, long forgotten……….the many layers of dreamy back-up vocal lines creating an almost hallucinatory effect. Stevens's songs contain an emotional earnestnes srare from psychedelic musicians. The review talks of "this obscure and talented songwriter (who) has since fallen into oblivion". A number of the tracks from the CD getting some airplay on local New York radio stations such as WFMU.These first two albums were largely homemade affairs made on a couple of reel-to-reel tape recorders in a university dormitory or at home in Stevens' bedroom. Despite this, sound quality is incredibly good. To realise a piece of work in such demanding circumstances entails an approachnearing obsession. At the same time, Stevens had an incredibly able mind; a tool which enabled him to stick with difficult problems, seekingand finding solutions long after most people would pass-up on the matter inpursuit of something offering more immediate gratification. The combinationof his dedication and super-analytical mind was not without its downside,however. He could be intense, inward-looking and insecure in his questfor perfection. This obsessive behaviour at times seemed to be taking him closer to the edge – leaving him sometimes in a depressive state ofmind. He saw things in life, or heard things in his music, that he felt wereunacceptable and that would somehow cause the world to punish him.In reality, these things were imperceptible to the world at large, and would have been of no consequence even if they were. After graduating from Nottingham University (England), Stevens and afriend undertook a residency in a bar in Malta for a short while. This wasa little strange as he seldom played anyone else’s material and certainly never played commercial pop music, unless there was an opportunity toparody it. In 1977, with no record contract in sight, Mick once again took mattersinto his own hands. He took a group of musician friends into SpacewardStudio's in Cambridge (England) and recorded the tracks for The River (Shadoks DoCD 038) For the most part, the dreamy vocal layers so prevalent in the earlier albums are subservient to a much harder, and rockier sound, while Stevens' electric guitar playing is of the highest order. With the earlier, more acoustic-based, albums not ‘shaking the world’ to any great extent, and with the ‘70’s being a time of much creativity and wholly new approaches and sounds in music, it cannot be a surprise that a number of musical influences can be heard in Stevens' music on this particular album. The opening to the lengthy Suite: To A Seagull has overtones of King Crimson or Gentle Giant, developing into a Yes-like section and a middle-eight reminiscent of early Steely Dan. Certainly the latter was a big favourite and influence on Stevens. It isperhaps no surprise, then, that at least one track gives a big nod to the world of jazz, replete with some lovely moody saxophone from Jim Livesey.Overall, “The River” is transitional, edgy, and Stevens is pre-occupiedwith the pain, hurt and the debilitating and de-stabilising effect of lostlove and being rejected. The result can often be an over-anxiousnesswhen forming new relationships as in “Crazy For Your Love”. He seems to be caught in two minds, at one level it deals with a serious condition,yet Stevens includes Monty Python-esque lines such as "they may be fools who fall in love, but come on baby be a loonie too! & then supplements it with some whistles and rattles a la Spike Jones. Much more convincing, and arguably the best rack on this album is TheRiver - the title track. Stevens once again is in the area of lost love, rejection and the ‘madness’ that it can cause. He seems to be in a verydark place and awaiting some release – “Now I can wait ‘til the freedomcomes”. This puts one in mind of Frederick Delius’ musical work “A Massof Life”, based on the writings of philosopher Friederich Nietzche.
It is no coincidence that “The Other Side of the River” from “The Englishman” is just that. The track is in complete contrast to “The River”. Stevens sings of a love completely receptive to him, there is noanxiety – “The other side of the river, she lives all alone, she’s gentle andloving, gonna’ make her my own”. Indeed, the album is self-assured,confidently and beautifully played by a bunch of first rate musicians, including Ric Sanders of Soft Machine, the Albion Band and Fairport Convention, and Michael Gregory (various Albion Band offshoots) whose crisp, varying but always appropriate, drumming patterns are a real highlight. So too, the acoustic and electric guitar work of Stevens which is exemplary. Stevens’ future wife, Hilary Burn sings background vocals. There are a number of fine songs here, but perhaps none better than the title track, “The Englishman”, just Stevens' voice and solo acoustic guitar completely filling the audio waves in a song about an Englishman overseas – a formidable, yet at the same time, slightly ridiculous figure. There is enough quality here to suggest that Mick Stevens shouldeventually have featured somewhere in the popular music history of 20th century Britain – but it was not to be. Stevens is unfortunately no,longer with us, having succumbed to cancer 18 years ago. These then are the last recordings available by Mick Stevens. The original vinyl pressings of all Mick Stevens albums are now collectors items, changing hands for several hundreds of £'s each. However, in truth they have never sounded as good as they do on these CDs.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Theedom was a friend and musical collaborator of Mick Stevens, appearing on the “No Savage Word” album and playing a number of gigs alongside Stevens. He has written an extended piece on the life and times of Stevens and how they first became acquainted, which can be found at:www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/1516 or downloaded as a pdf here.