Atomic Rooster: The Rooster Crows

ATOMIC ROOSTER is Vincent Crane. Or, if you prefer it like the cinema ads, Vincent Crane is Atomic Rooster, which should sound surprising when you consider that their singer, Chris Farlowe, has been around longer than the band or Crane and is certainly better known than either — in his own words “I’m an international star, and I haven’t been busted.”

Vincent and Chris have solved this minor problem by billing themselves Crane/Farlowe when Farlowe comes to the fore,as in the latest (and first) Crane/Farlowe single. Chris doesn’t mind not getting absolutely top billing because even if he did he’d still make more money selling military gear. And Vincent doesn’t mind giving Farlowe equal billing because Crane/Farlowe is (I’d guess) musically more interesting than Atomic Rooster at present and probably much more commercial. In fact, Crane/Farlowe might just be the solution to the problems that have dogged the group. For make no mistake about it, Vincent Crane/Atomic Rooster have real problems, as a quick run through their history shows.

1961 — Vincent Crane gets a place at Trinity College of Music to study classical piano; gets interested in jazz piano, hates pop, especially the Beatles (but not until 1963); becomes interested in R&B (mostly the jazzy stuff like early Graham Bond); forms jazz trio and gets occasional gigs.

1964 — Leaves Trinity and decides to make it as a jazzer because his classical technique isn’t too hot; forms World Engine with Pete Brown and Red Reece as a jazz and poetry outfit.

1965 — World Engine breaks up; Crane has a spell as an Annonymous Hedgehopper and a stay at Telfers Pie Factory (fact is what you get!)

1966 — ‘Eleanor Rigby’ issued and Crane forgives the Beatles; on the verge of joining the Foundations, he re-meets Arthur Brown and decides to help form The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.

1967 — The summer of Love and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.

1968 — More of the same for The Crazy World; ‘Fire’ gets to No. 1 in the charts.

1969 — Collapse of The Crazy World over musical/management differences and the formation of Atomic Rooster with Carl Palmer (from The Crazy World) and Nick Graham; they get a contract with B&C (Beat and Commercial, get it); their first single ‘Friday The 13th’ and their first album sell O.K.

1970 — A crisis of musical direction; the band splits up: Palmer and Graham replaced by John Hammond and John Du Caan; second album issued and the single of it, ‘Devil’s Answer,’ is a top ten hit and becomes a European biggie. Then another musical crisis, leaving Atomic Rooster unable to exploit its chart success and half an album made.

1971 — New group, new album.

1972 — New group (Vincent Crane, keyboards; Chris Farlowe, vocals; Ric Parnell, drums, and Johnny Mandala, guitar), new label (Dawn/Pye), New management (Vincent Crane under another hat).

1973 — ?

The problems spell themselves out: management, an ever changing group and the desperate attempt to climb back to the top.

Atomic Rooster have finally solved the problem of who takes care of the money: they manage themselves, or rather Crane and his wife manage the group. It means a lot of work, but since Crane is both manager and leader of the group some of the financial tensions of Show Biz are done away with — like the manager who takes money from both ends by signing a group to his own production company which in turn signs the group to a record company. Similarly, though Atomic Rooster’s personnel problems have been real — especially when people leave in the middle of an album — what’s significant about them is that they actually are about musical differences. Through all the permutations of the group the basic sound has remained the same — like I said, Vincent Crane is Atomic Rooster. It’s understandable after all that Crane, having been pushed into the background at the time of The Crazy World — he wasn’t allowed to do interviews though he created half the sound of the group, for instance — would want to control the musical policy and be the front man for his group.

Yet paradoxically, unlike most of the sidemen who formed their group in ’69 when the super group cult really got going — remember Fat Mattress? a No. 1 in the deletion racks if ever there was one — the sound of Atomic Rooster was, and still is, only marginally different to that of The Crazy World. While the ad hoc super groups changed personality with every album, Atomic Rooster has kept to the straight and narrow of ‘Fire’, developing the sound of The Crazy World rather than changing it — and frankly it’s getting boring. Even Crane’s satanic lyrics seemed modelled for a surrogate Arthur Brown. Not that the audiences are bored. When I saw them at Southbank Poly the group got a standing ovation.

The problem lies in the gap between what Crane is obviously trying to do and what comes out of the speakers. Crane sees himself as a composer, a musician who creates in the studio rather than as a performer. Performing/touring is okay for a while, it’s necessary to break a band, but once Vincent Crane/Atomic Rooster make it Crane sees his future in the studio, working on new albums rather than a new stage act. He admits that Atomic Rooster sounds like The Crazy World, but points out that it was his sound anyway and that a man’s musical ideas are bound to be similar to one another. He also points to different sounding songs on the albums — ‘Winter Song’ from the first album, for example, which sounds closer to Tim Buckley’s ‘Hello, Goodbye’ than The Crazy World, or ‘Close Your Eyes’ from the last album which is arranged as a showcase for Farlowe’s amazing voice.

And when you listen to the records you can see what he means: ‘Winter Song’ is both a nice track and a good example of Crane’s interest in lightening the sound of an organ by orchestration rather simply drowning an organ with strings. But ‘Winter Song’ is the exception; the rule is ‘Save Me’, the group’s last single, which not only sounds like an Arthur Brown song but is a carbon copy of Atomic Rooster’s first record, ‘Friday The 13th’. Whatever Crane may say about what he wants to achieve in the studio in terms of sound, whatever the group are capable of, the desire for another ‘Fire’ or even ‘Devil’s Answer’ produces records in the great follow up tradition of the early ’60’s, records which sound the same. Maybe Farlowe, because his voice is so exciting and not as malleable as Atomic Rooster’s previous singers, can save Vincent Crane. Maybe.

© Phil HardyLet It Rock, June 1972

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