Unless you’re a seasoned prog aficionado or a hardcore collector, the chances are you’ve probably never heard of 9.30 Fly. During their short time together, they issued just one album and split up not long after, a fate all too common for many a support band hoping to make the big time. That this Gloucester-based quintet failed to take off in no way reflects the quality of the material on their self-titled 1972 album, but more about the fledgling Ember Records, who didn’t quite know what to do with their new signing. 9.30 Fly founder and composer, Michael Wainwright, recalls that although several other more established record companies were interested in the band they opted opted to go with Ember precisely because the label had only recently started up: “We thought we would be top dog and they offered us all new equipment and some flashy togs.” However, Wainwright’s confidence in the deal was shaken when he met Ember Records’ boss, Jeff Kruger at their Denmark Street offices in London. “When he said, ‘I’m gonna make you as big as Elton James!’ I knew we were in trouble,” says Wainwright ruefully.
With a sound sometimes reminiscent of early, pre-Liege And Lief Fairport Convention, wide-ranging song styles are delivered with gusto and confidence. Lyn Oakey’s biting guitar lines frequently echo Richard Thompson’s trademark attack and snarl, adding several points of fiery drama to the seven numbers completing the record. With driving acoustic guitars, close harmonies and crisp grooves locked into tight arrangements, it’s a record with virtually no empty noodling or jamming suggesting that a sense of discipline was integral to the band’s approach. Mike’s then-partner, Barbara, originally a native of California and who sang and played keyboards, remembers the Moody Blues and Gentle Giant were firm favourites of the band.
Although there’s nothing quite so complex as the latter here, Unhinged, Mr.509 and Time Of War all display somewhat aspirational multi-part sections and counterpoints that easily fit into the prog-centric pot. Barbara was, as she says, “very pregnant”, during the week-long recording at Rockfield Studios but recalls how hard they prepared for the sessions. “Precision was very important to Mike,” she says. “We just did things over and over until we had it right.” When the Wainwrights and their young daughter relocated to the US, 9.30 Fly ended. They left behind an album whose short production run and low sales would later ensure its cult status, reinforcing its reputation as an album hovering on the cusp between pop, rock and prog.