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Fifty years on, the cheesecloth and flares that shunned glam get another outing

Blowing Free: Underground & Progressive Sounds Of 1972 mines gems from Yes, ELP, Nektar, Edgar Broughton Band, Free, Thin Lizzy and many more

Blowing Free: Underground & Progressive Sounds Of 1972 cover art
(Image: © Esoteric)

Away from the pop charts’ joyous razzmatazz of T.Rex, Slade and Chicory Tip, 1972’s college circuit nurtured in parallel a heavier, proggier world, curated in part by TV music show The Old Grey Whistle Test and Radio 1’s Sounds Of The 70s and Top Gear

While a half-century on it seems evident that the pop bands won the war, many battles were won by the groups included on this forceful, often fun five-hour set. 

Sure, these guys (and it is mostly guys) had ratty hair and dodgy jeans, and at times an overzealous tendency to show you how adept they were on their ‘axes’, but there are grooves and tangents here that surprise and enlighten. There’s out and out unabashed prog (Yes, ELP, Nektar) and full-on rock (Edgar Broughton Band, Free, early Thin Lizzy). 

Somewhere between those two sails the emblematic sound of the era, as the likes of Atomic Rooster, Family and Pretty Things urge the basic blues to break its banks. Few (except the eternally understated Al Stewart) seem content to let a simple song tell a story, and there’s a laudable desire by all to do something interesting with what they’ve got. 

Hawkwind’s Brainstorm pretty much invents krautrock, and Van der Graaf Generator’s Theme One is both worshipful and funky. A medley by Caravan lifted from Waterloo Lily falls short of their highest level but still coils like a river, while Lindisfarne and Dave Cousins put the baroque into folk. 

Blowing Free is a no-flash gas.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.