|Mick Bennett, John Bidwell and Clive Palmer|
Nothing sounds quite like COB, whose dense, eerie and touching music seems to belong to another sphere entirely. As Steve Bonnett (who guested on their first album) has commented: "They seemed impossibly old, and not just in years. It felt like they were from some distant rustic past, operating to rules older than time..." I'm going to post everything I have about them here, in two parts. The first is below, leading up to the release of their masterful debut in late 1971, Spirit Of Love. But first, a little history...
Having left the Incredible String Band in late 1966, travelled the East, returned to London to work solo and in a duo with Wizz Jones, recorded a then-unreleased album (Banjoland), moved to Cornwall and made an album with the Famous Jug Band, in the summer of 1969 Clive Palmer was getting restless again. As a regular at Cornwall's leading folk venue, the Folk Cottage, he had befriended local multi-instrumentalist 'Little' John Bidwell, who was barely out of his teens. Bidwell shared his musical curiosity, and had already invented an instrument that he named the dulcitar (a cross between a dulcimer and a sitar). They began to play together, and by that autumn had formed an Eastern-themed trio named the Temple Creatures, with another local, Demelza Val Baker. They headlined at the Guildhall in St. Ives on September 10th 1969.
They made enough of an impression to have been covered in the local paper, but it proved a short-lived venture and no recordings survive.
At the time Palmer was sharing a caravan with another refugee from London, 'Whispering' Mick Bennett, a poet whose slight frame belied his extraordinarily rich and powerful voice. Over the next few months Bennett, Bidwell and Palmer formed another trio, and soon came to the attention of Jo Lustig, a brash New Yorker who was managing Ralph McTell and Pentangle. Lustig was swift to sign up the new act, naming them Clive's Original Band and sending them into the studio in May 1971, with McTell as their producer. Shambolic though their approach to the recording process reportedly was, the resulting album was magical, and CBS undertook to release it. As soon as the sessions were over, they returned to Cornwall to play the Guildhall again.
Lustig had bigger plans for them, though. Bert Jansch - an old friend and collaborator of Palmer's from Edinburgh days - was about to release a solo album, Rosemary Lane, so Lustig prevailed upon him to promote it via a gig at London's Royal Festival Hall, with Anne Briggs (another Lustig signing) and COB supporting. The show had been announced in Disc on May 15th,
and was a major opportunity for an unknown band. The critics were duly impressed:
|Disc, July 10th 1971|
|Sounds, July 10th 1971|
|Melody Maker, July 10th 1971|
A fortnight later, Sounds ran a lengthy feature on the band, which gives a lot of detail about their music and approach (and mentions a song named 'Golden Apples', which was renamed 'Evening Air'):
|Sounds, July 24th 1971|
The album was originally due for release in August, but was delayed for three months. In August they walked offstage at the Cambridge Folk Festival in protest at only being allowed to play two songs, and in September two further interviews appeared, sharing the same sub-standard pun in their headlines:
|Melody Maker, 4th September 1971|
In October CBS sent a special EP out to DJs, promoting all three Lustig acts that it was handling:
The album finally appeared at the start of November, as erroneously announced in Disc on the 6th:
It came in an appealing unipak sleeve, with all lyrics handwritten inside:
It was greeted warmly by the music press:
|Disc & Music Echo, November 6th 1971|
|Record Mirror, November 20th 1971|