In the annals of 70s rock there are hard-luck stories and then there’s Patto’s. Formed in 1970 from the ashes of a more conventional beat group, Timebox, the quartet were blessed with an overabundance of talent. Singer Mike Patto had a voice hewn from the same soul-grit seam as Stevie Winwood, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and Paul Rodgers. The rhythm section of bassist Clive Griffiths and John Halsey was as pliable as elastic. Left-handed guitarist Ollie Halsall stood out as a virtuoso, so much so that bandmate Halsey was once moved to reflect: “Ollie might not be the best guitarist in the world, but he’s in the top two.” Yet for all their individual brilliance, collectively Patto’s lot was to be but a footnote to their era.
This brace of Muff Winwood-produced reissues lays bare the selectiveness of their appeal. Their self-titled debut from 1970 placed them firmly in jazz rock fusion territory. With Mike Patto’s bluesy voice grounding the free-form moves of Griffiths and Halsey, Halsall’s guitar was able to dance about like a wild dervish. The effect of him spiralling up from a bubbling rhythmic soup on Hold Me Back and Red Glow is still dizzying. The album’s Achilles heel, though, was its dearth of strong melodies. In total, it amounts to eight tracks scrambling for something solid to anchor to but left flailing for a decent hook.
On 1971’s follow-up, Hold Your Fire they reined in some of their excesses and the album was better for it. Ploughing a blues rock furrow, the surging title track bursts out of the gates, albeit on a riff pretty much purloined wholesale from Neil Young’s Ohio, written just a year earlier. Meanwhile, the plangent ballad You, You Point Your Finger and See You at the Dance Tonight respectively had strong trace elements of Blind Faith and the Faces. However, as the tortuous Air Raid Siren testified, the band’s default setting was still formless noodling.
After two further shunned records – one of which, Monkey’s Bum, remained perhaps not altogether surprisingly unreleased until 2002 – Patto split in 1974. Mike Patto went off to Spooky Tooth, Halsall to play with Kevin Ayers and The Rutles, and they were briefly reunited in the marginally more appreciated Boxer. However, each man continued to be trailed by the most awful luck. Patto succumbed to throat cancer in 1979, aged 36 and Halsall to a heart attack in 1992, aged 43.
The power of one’s voice and the other’s mastery of his instrument at least remains undimmed.