Jade Warrior - Reissues: "these albums remain an idiosyncratic delight..."

Two of a unique kind from one of prog’s most brilliant oddities.

Jade Warrior
(Image: © Cherry Red)

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Jade Warrior were among the most original of the early 70s progressives. The band’s two principal members, Jon Field and Tony Duhig, met in unlikely circumstances  when working in a factory as forklift truck drivers in the early 60s. Field was a percussionist and flautist whose head had been turned by modernist composers Stravinsky and Bartók, while Duhig was more of a fan of Duane Eddy. But things had changed by the time of Jade Warrior’s self-titled 1971 debut album, on which the latter was revealed as a guitarist of rare invention. 

Joined by Glyn Havard on bass and vocals, theirs was a sensuous but spartan soundworld with a hint of joss stick-scented exoticism and some Fourth World sensibilities, a decade before the concept was introduced by Jon Hassell and Brian Eno. On Windweaver what sounds like flute and hand drums from a Javanese Gamelan ensemble are set alongside Duhig’s gentle chords and Hendrixy effects. His fuzz guitar drives A Prenormal Day In Brighton, which comes across like a killer hard rock track, except the drumming sounds like Field thumping a box. On Masai Morning one imagines Jethro Tull in an African drum workshop, and there’s an element of jazz in the sprightly bass and flute embellishments of Psychiatric Sergeant.

Jade Warrior’s singular approach continued on their third album, 1972’s Last Autumn’s Dream (its immediate predecessor, Released, isn’t among these reissues). There’s some heavy riffage on The Snake, the trio beefed up with Allan Price’s kit drums, but elsewhere Dark River sounds even more curious than the music on their debut, with its strange dissonant picked guitar figures and harmonics, and a flute that sounds like it’s played in a cave. When tom-tom patterns and percussion are added it comes across like ritual music of some imagined civilisation.

This is in stark contrast to Joanne, another of Jade Warrior’s deliciously off-kilter rock songs, where the plan is that they are ‘Gonna have a party… gonna get loaded’. Here, a syncopated drum pattern out of early Beefheart, but mixed down beneath Havard’s urgent vocal delivery, as Duhig goes into full wig-out mode. The Demon Trucker has a Honky Tonk Women-style drum rhythm, with insistent cowbell over rumbling toms and bongos, and double-tracked flute hooks – a combination that could have made for a good single with a fighting chance of success.

Jade Warrior were certainly one of a kind. Always set apart from their peers, even now these albums stubbornly resist categorisation and remain an idiosyncratic delight.

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Mike Barnes is the author of Captain Beefheart - The Biography (Omnibus Press, 2011) and A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s (2020). He was a regular contributor to Select magazine and his work regularly appears in Prog, Mojo and Wire. He also plays the drums.