Compiled by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne, English Weather is a collection of rare or (mostly) overlooked tracks from the start of the progressive 70s. What unifies them is a prevailing sense of melancholy and wistfulness – if the psychedelic revolution of the 60s had trampled on the old order then here are the ghosts haunting the ruins left in its wake.
In many ways, the songs in this collection feel more accurately evocative of the times than the concept album prog that has come to dominate the received history of this period: elegies for a nation hanging on in quiet desperation, as Pink Floyd would later put it.
Caravan’s Love Song With Flute immediately and perfectly captures this vibe, its Home Counties reserve mixed with echoes of West Coast utopianism. As with many of the tracks here, the vocals are dreamily distracted and the instrumentation is understated, though a violent squall will sometimes hint at chaotic feelings beneath the surface.
That’s not to say everything here is morbid and downbeat – far from it. There’s a jazzy inventiveness to the likes of Moon Bird by The Roger Webb Sound and Very Nice Of You To Call by Aardvark, while the delicate piano and distant Mellotron of T2’s JLT is just beautiful, sounding like the title music to some contemporary European art film.
Nevertheless, there’s a pall of apocalyptic foreboding hanging over Bill Fay’s ’Til The Christ Come Back and The Way We Live’s Watching White Stars that even Camel’s armageddon-defying Never Let Go can’t dispel.
While not as explosively pyrotechnic as some of the bigger bands of the era, the music on English Weather is driven by the same impulse that rock and pop could be a more artful and sophisticated proposition. And as Stanley puts it in his sleevenotes, it’s also “perfect for Britain’s drizzly early 70s malaise”.