Week of December 21, 2003
Dave Charles Drums
Caromay Dixon Vocals
Phil Ryan Keyboards
Martin Wallace - Guitar, Vocals
Ray Taff Williams Guitar
Will Youatt - Guitar, Bass
Black Hole Star (United Artists UAG 29652) 1974
Tales From The Blue Cocoons (United Artists UAG 29726) 1975
CD reissue Black Hole Star/Tales From The Blue Cocoons (BGO BGOCD 598), 2003
Dance Of Psychedelic Lounge Lizard/Suzy And The Wonder Boy (United Artists UP 35704) 1974
A short-lived progressive rock outfit. Phil Ryan and Ray Taff Williams had both been with Man and Dave Charles guested on their 1973 Christmas At The Patti 10 inch album. Black Hole Star is mostly a keyboard-driven amalgam of psychedelic, progressive and R&B influences with some good guitar leads. The better tracks are the keyboard-led progressive Living In The World Today; Doom City, a mid-tempo semi-progressive number with R&B influences and good guitar work and Snow Covered Eyes, a strong piece with a good melody. Overall a satisfying album. It's worth noting that the logo on the back cover was designed by Rick Griffin. John "Pugwash" Weathers who played on some of the tracks later joined Gentle Giant in 1973.
(Costas Arvanitis/Vernon Joynson)
Taken from The Tapestry of Delights - The
Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R&B, Psychedelic and
Progressive Eras 1963-1976, Vernon Joynson
ISBN 1 899855 04 1
Like many bands, the Neutrons came together as a result of a lucky break. Not so lucky for Steve Glover, bassist with
Pete Brown's Piblokto!, who fractured his wrist while on the road in 1971. His deputy was Michael 'Will' Youatt, who gelled so well with keyboardist (and fellow Welshman) Phil Ryan that, when the band split at the end of the tour, they resolved to pursue their partnership further. They teamed with multi-instrumentalist
Clive John, formerly of Welsh progressive giants Man
- but, before anything much could transpire, Phil and Will, along with Clive, were rolled into the ever-changing
Man line-up for a couple of albums, 1972's
'Be Good To Yourself and '73's 'Back Into The Future' (both now BGO reissues). But the duo hankered after success on their own terms. "Will and I became a bit disillusioned," says Phil, "And Andrew Lauder at United Artists encouraged us to do something instead of just leaving. So we picked up the threads of where we left off with
Neutrons Mark 1."
The result was two outstanding tracks, 'Living In The World Today' and 'Snow Covered Eyes', cut at Rockfield studios in November 1973 and featuring Youatt on bass and guitars, Ryan on keyboards and John 'Pugwash' Weathers (a bandmate of Ryans in the 1960s band Eyes of Blue) moonlighting from Gentle Giant on drums. A contract with UA secured, the duo brought in what Ryan laughingly calls "a cast of thousands", and "began to have more specific ideas on who we wanted on what."
By the time of the second session for what would become 'Black Hole Star' in April 1974 at Chipping Norton studios, ex-Incredible String Band violinist Stuart Gordon had been recruited to bring a folky flavour to proceedings. His friend, 17 year-old Caromay Dixon, added her vocal talents to the likes of 'Mermaid And Chips' - for which old pal Pete Brown provided lyrics - while another ex-Eyes of Blue/Piblokto! stalwart, Taff Williams, had arrived to augment Youatt on the guitar front.
Extrovert singer-songwriter Martin Wallace, who Phil knew from schooldays, was intended to be the band's frontman - but, Ryan recalls, "we pushed him to the sidelines because Will and I were going full steam ahead and were very ambitious." He had, however, brought Dixon and Gordon into the fold. Martin and Phil hailed from Port Talbot, the subject of 'Doom City', a bluesy number with a five-way credit that opened the album's second (vinyl) side.
Wallace's main contribution was the eastern-flavoured 'Feel', featuring the hand drums of future Dire Straits man Pick Withers; another of his songs, 'Suzy And The Wonder Boy', backed Dance Of The Psychedelic Lounge Lizards', released as a single three months before the album in June 1974. Welsh studio wizard Dave Edmunds contributed slide guitar to 'Suzy.
To clear up any confusion, The Quickies, credited with backing vocals on 'Going To India', are Will Youatt's former group Quicksand, while Will himself is credited as 'Y Willis' to avoid a music-publishing conflict.
The bassist was pleased with the results of the sessions, as "Man always seemed to be in the studios for five days, then we'd be working on the road. This was the first time we had the time to listen." Nevertheless, Andrew Lauder wanted them to promote their product, and this they did, opening their set with a stunning 15-minute jam. Their live line-up comprised Messrs. Ryan, Youatt, Williams and Wallace plus Caromay Dixon on second keyboards and vocals; Pugwash having declined the invitation to tour (as had Stuart Gordon), the road drummer's role was taken by former Splendid Human Stuart Halliday.
If the first album's cover was a bodge job - the gatefold original having been scrapped in favour of a generic silver sleeve - the second was even more unfortunate. "It was totally misinterpreted," complains Ryan of the sci-fi styled artwork. His inspiration had been "a shot of Woodstock from a helicopter, with thousands of people in blue sleeping bags..." Ah well, at least the Rick Griffin logo remained! 'Tales From The Blue Cocoons' contained some numbers that had been road-tested live, notably the instrumental 'Welsh R Blunt' which dated back to Piblokto! days and had even been played by Man in the short-lived Phil/Will era.
Unfortunately, the Phil/Will era of the Neutrons was to prove equally short-lived as a "run-down and exhausted" Youatt was unable to attend mixing sessions. "Phil did his best to battle though and get it finished," he recalls, "but it wouldn't be an album I'd put on, other than for 'The Jam Eaters', by Phil, and 'Come Into My Cave'." Ryan pinpoints the latter, a song that sums up its writer's frazzled state of mind at the time, as containing "some of the best lyrics Will's ever written."
Significantly, the pair who had collaborated on virtually every first-album song hadn't created anything together second time around. Martin Wallace collaborated twice with Phil in Will's absence and contributed the stunning 'Northern Midnight' (with memorable guitars from Will and Taff Williams, who himself penned the short, pointed 'Live Your Lie').
The gigs that followed the album's release in April 1975 were intensive but less successful than before: Taff Williams had quit for more stable employment, leaving Richard Treece, ex- of UA labelmates Help Yourself, to plug the guitar gap. "I'd seen them at the Roundhouse and thought they were quite magical," he recalled. "It was a buzz to play with a musician of the calibre of Phil Ryan."
The Nut-Rons, as they were once mistakenly billed, finally cracked in the summer of 1975. Ryan accepted an invitation to rejoin Man, where he remains to this day. Youatt teamed with one-time Quicksand partner Jimmy Davies and, with drummer Halliday still in tow, formed Alkatraz (one album on UA), while Stuart Gordon, such a star of the first album, played with the high-profile likes of Tori Amos, Peter Hammill and Peter Gabriel.
Three decades after their brief lifespan, the Neutrons continue to appeal because, although nominally a Man spin-off band, they owe little to that outfit's predominantly guitar-based fare. There are overtones of Kraut-rock, the complex progressive feel of Gentle Giant and even the folk-rock of the Incredible String Band in their music. As for Steve Glover, the man who unwittingly brought the band's prime movers together, he couldn't have known what his tumble would start - but hopefully will agree, when listening to these two albums, that the pain was worth it.
Michael Heatley, June 2003
Taken from the CD reissue of Black Hole Star/Tales From The Blue Cocoons (BGOCD 598), 2003
Back to Alex's Home Page