Frank Zappa 31, Jimi Hendrix 25, The Fall 19, with The Bevis Frond and XTC on equal footing with 13. These are the current high scorers in my CD collection. It’s probably a bloke thing but I also clean them regularly with a damp cloth, and when I get a free cover mounted CD like on the cover of Mojo magazine I replace the old jewel case with that shiny new one…and you’ll not be surprised that i put them in alphabetical order as well.
Hailing from the suburbs of London The Bevis Frond’s long haired focal point Nick Saloman is something of a cult figure in music. He plays live rarely and seems to wish to keep a low profile, despite almost single handedly releasing over three decades worth of fascinating recorded work.
Lethal combinations of extraordinarily, wild heavy psychedelic blues and blistering full on rock dominates the back catalogue but there’s plenty of room for gentle acoustic reveries and jangly power pop. He is the languid lord of lo fi, and probably the best guitarist you’ve never heard of.
Fire Records reissue of his back catalogue continues this month with three more chronologically correct titles from Saloman’s rainbow imagination. This time we’ve landed in his late 1980s, early 1990s period.
Any Gas Faster (1989) is his fourth full album proper, with Nick playing everything apart from the drums; Martin Crowley has that honour. As we’ve come to expect from Salomon this contains much that is brutal, in particular Eyes In The Back Of My Head, Olde Worlde, ‘Head On A Pole, as well as much guitar riffery on tracks Lord Plentiful Reflects, Ear Song and Then You Wanted Me.
There are hordes of brilliant guitarists out there such as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai who often sacrifice emotion for extraordinary technique and bombast. But for all their flashy showmanship they lack the guttural impact of someone like Saloman. This is where Nick trumps them, his best solos just ooze with feeling, be that aggressive or full of longing they more often than not hit the target.
Saloman doesn’t take himself too seriously either, which is extremely rare for a guitar hero, his work is littered with self-deprecating lyrical wit and questioning doubt. Many of these earlier albums are also peppered with original film dialogue and old music snippets, which make for a great listen.
New River Head (1990) is considered by many to be one of his finest collections. Originally a sprawling double album it is all over the place stylistically and not unlike Hendrix with amnesia.
It features additional musicians including Cyke Bancroft playing some mean sax especially on the opener White Sun, the folk violinist Barry Dransfield and Bari Watts, who was to become a long-term collaborator. Also present and correct is Adrian Shaw, ex Hawkwind and Arthur Brown bassist.
I recently found an old interview with Saloman in which he was asked for his favourite solos. Unsurprisingly Jimi Hendrix featured more than once, and one of the tracks mentioned was one of Jimi’s wildest B sides The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam’s Dice (LSD geddit ?) It’s a complete cacophony, with Jimi doing to the guitar what Captain Beefheart did to the English language on Trout Mask Replica. Saloman’s take on that vibe on New River Head is Solar Marmalade, a ridiculously over the top guitar jam that will test your patience if not your inner ear.
On the other hand, New River Head track Stain On The Sun is a lengthy, mournful yearning, blues epic that remains one of my all time faves. The vocal phrasing is perfect as is the chorus on what is a really nice piece of work. Then we go from the sublime to the ridiculously fast on the track Undertaker, which sounds like a lost punk classic but with Arthur Lee on guitar. Meanwhile, Waving is a brief respite from the whirling rock ‘n’ roll. There are so many reference points on New River Head, it would be awful of me to spoil it for you by mentioning more.
London Stone (1991) from a year later only confirms what we’ve come to expect, that he’s a prime exponent of six-string wonderment, influenced as much by punk as he is by 1960s freakbeat. Again this is another treasure chest of aural goodies. Opening uncharacteristically with a little jig from fiddler Barry Dransfield it then moves into more familiar, rockier terrain. Coming Around Again, Well Out Of It and the title track pop in for a pint and stay till closing time. It’s a good album but unlike the previous albums lacks a certain spark, to these ears anyway.
All of these current reissues come dressed in replica sleeves with booklets annotated by Nick himself featuring photos and reminiscences and there’s also a plethora of demos and live tracks gracing these three reissues.
by John Haylock