mon 16/12/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: Mighty Baby - At a Point Between Fate and Destiny | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Mighty Baby - At a Point Between Fate and Destiny

Reissue CDs Weekly: Mighty Baby - At a Point Between Fate and Destiny

All-encompassing tribute to the freak-era band derailed by its spirituality

Mighty Baby let the mighty kitten take command in 1971

If the prices fetched by original pressings are a guide, Mighty Baby are notable. Their eponymous first album, issued by the fittingly named Head label in November 1969, sells for at least £150 and has changed hands for over £500. A Blue Horizon edition of A Jug of Love, their second and last album (October 1971), tops out at £600.

Mighty Baby and A Jug of Love are rare, totemic British underground albums. The first is a glistening fusion of psychedelia and John Coltrane-inspired textures with overt nods to American west coast rock. Traffic were on a similar path. For the second album, Mighty Baby had taken on a feel positioning them as a UK riposte to The Grateful Dead. The changes and transitions are captured by the six-CD box set At a Point Between Fate and Destiny – The Complete Recordings.

Mighty Baby_At A Point Between Fate and Destiny – The Complete Recordings _coverAlthough shorn of their singer Reg King, Mighty Baby were a renamed version of the mod-soul outfit The Action. By 1968, their music had moved so far from what their audience expected, a new name was required. Mods were not open to jazz-influenced, US west coast-style extemporisation. A version of Coltrane's "India" usually fell flat. A brief brush with the new handle Azoth in August 1968 was followed by a reversion to The Action. Their first show as Mighty Baby came on 4 January 1969 at London’s Middle Earth, where they were billed with Fairport Convention. Mighty Baby's final show was on 18 November 1971, at Hammersmith Town Hall with The Pink Fairies: by the time they folded, Mighty Baby were bedded into the freak scene. After the split, members went on to Ace, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers and the more esoteric The Habibyya.

As well as the musical shifts, the band's evolution encompassed a burgeoning spirituality. In the box set’s liner notes, their Martin Stone is quoted saying “A Jug of Love is very much a Sufi album, and its lyrics emerged from our spiritual awakening. It was a heavy Muslim-ised recording.”

Their keyboard player Ian Whiteman recalls “We were in our own bubble, and had almost stopped aspiring to commercial success. In our early days there were drugs, of course, but by the time of A Jug of Love, we’d become almost a mini-cult with Martin as our ideological leader. We were bookish and quite blasé about the conventions of being in a band. The first album was live and spontaneous, but by 1971 Martin had taken us down a country road, and that earlier feel was suppressed. By this time we were trying to make sense of our drug experiences in a non-drug-taking way.”

Mighty Baby_1969At a Point Between Fate and Destiny chronicles the Mighty Baby experience in unprecedented depth. Mighty Baby and A Jug of Love are supplemented by demos from the period immediately before the name change from The Action, an alternate version of the first album, single mixes, try-outs for what would have been a 1970 album and live material from Lanchester University (March 1970), Malvern Winter Gardens (February 1971) and Glastonbury (June 1971). (pictured left, Mighty Baby in 1969)

Much of the additional material has been out before. The Action-era tracks were included on the recent box dedicated to them, and the albums Live in Attic (2009), Tasting the Life (2010) and Slipstreams (2015) collected a lot of the rest. The most significant previously unheard material on At a Point Between Fate and Destiny are live tracks recorded at Glastonbury in June 1971 and the alternate mixes/takes and unreleased tracks from their first album sessions. At around £28, this is a keenly priced, nicely put-together set with good liner notes which perhaps dig too much into the pre-Mighty Baby era.

Of the two albums which were issued, the first is the most enjoyable as it captures an energised, questing band reaching towards a satisfying expansiveness; a trait underscored by the superb unreleased material from the period. A Jug of Love has a country-ish Workingman’s Dead/“Truckin’” vibe which, while effective, feels reined in.

Mighty Baby_A Jug Of Love adWith respect to the west coast influence, their British peers were Help Yourself, Man and, to a minor degree, Quintessence. Mighty Baby’s was not the edgy freakiness of Edgar Broughton, The Deviants, Hawkwind and The Pink Fairies. Hammering the audience was not on the agenda. Nuance was key. Nonetheless, they would play three-hour shows. The Glastonbury set heard here features an unedited “A Blanket in my Muesli”: 36 minutes long as opposed to the 16-minute edit which was released.

It’s on these live recordings that Mighty Baby are heard opening out. Stone said, they “were essentially a live band.” The Glastonbury material is extraordinary: suggesting a band tuned in to each other’s inner wavelengths. The recording studio – as attested by the relatively formless tracks worked up for the abandoned 1970 album – was not a comfortable fit for the post-first album Mighty Baby. Were they commercially minded and outward-going, they could have re-purposed and simplified their music to occupy a space similar to that of Mungo Jerry or even as a US/country-slanted Faces. But that was never going to happen, which is why they were unique. And also why this important band’s shelf life was inevitably finite.

As Martin Stone noted, “There was a conflict between being practising Muslims and playing amidst a sea of dope, smoke and beer. It became impossible to reconcile the Muslim thing and the rock ’n’ roll. Being in a band and being a Dervish were conflicting ways of looking at the world, and couldn’t be merged. It was hard turning up at student union’s bars, awash with dope and Newcastle Brown, and having to pray before playing. At the end of 1971, we just naturally parted from each other. It just seemed like a world that was not relative to what we decided we were interested in, and so hence [the] end of Mighty Baby…knocked on the head by religion.”

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