In the early 70s, Audience had a high enough profile to fill college gigs, but this popularity never fully translated into record sales. Although they wore their soul and R&B influences on their sleeves, Audience’s originality put them right in the progressive milieu. In the words of singer and guitarist Howard Werth they were always looking “to distort things a little bit and go in off-beat directions”.
The excellent House On The Hill (1971) shows this. Produced by Gus Dudgeon, Jackdaw opens with Werth’s soulful yell and acoustic guitar surrounded by Keith Gemmell’s horns. This leads into a lengthy instrumental section with Gemmell’s flute and clarinet lines, played in unison with Trevor Williams’ fuzz bass, filling out the sound field. At times it shares some ground with Family or the anglicised jazz and R&B of groups like The Alan Bown. You’re Not Smiling could have been a big hit, with its classic 70s ‘Na-na na-na na-na’ singalong chorus – one similar to Van Morrison’s Caravan – with blazing horns and hyperactive bass guitar. Then there’s the pastoralia of Raviolé, with Werth’s intricate guitar picking veering Eastwards at times, and a string arrangement by Robert Kirby, famous for his work with Nick Drake.
Artistically, this eclectic approach was their strength and a good fit for the time, but commercially speaking, perhaps they just ticked too many boxes. Lunch (1972) is similar in scope and is again produced by Dudgeon, but leans more overtly towards America, with female backing vocalists, and sax player Bobby Keys drafted in to help complete the album (Gemmell had departed part way through). But the arrangement of Stand By The Door is dazzling with its typically odd twists and In Accord, with fuzz bass, martial drumming, melodic brass chorales and Gemmell’s electronically distorted soloing, is one of their most audaciously odd creations.