“Surreal and observational lyrics, daftness and majesty… With the benefit of hindsight their music makes more sense now”: Stackridge’s The Forbidden City

2007 live set by the West Country’s finest returns in 2CD/DVD package

Stackridge - The Forbidden City
(Image: © Esoteric)

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“This is the first song played at the very first Glastonbury Festival in 1969 by a band called Stackridge. Or was it 1970? Anyway, it was in Doncaster,” says James Warren, introducing Teatime on this full concert from the Bath Rondo.

The song’s yearning verse melody and vocal harmonies unfold over picked guitar, flute and violin – the latter by Rachel Hall, later of Big Big Train – is redolent of early Genesis. It then expands into a freewheeling instrumental conclusion.

If Stackridge had kept exploring this avenue, they would have been easier to classify, but their love of The Beatles, Incredible String Band, Yes, Zappa and music hall, and their surreal and observational lyrics, produced all manner of curious diversions.

But that which made them so remarkable mitigated against their commercial success. They built a reputation as a live band in the 70s and when they reformed in the late 90s they were just as good, as demonstrated here.

With their last album, 2009’s A Victory For Common Sense, still in the works, The Forbidden City looks back to their 70s heyday, with a few songs from 1999’s comeback album Something For The Weekend and the airbrushed, melancholic pop of splinter group The Korgis’ 1979 hit, Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime.

With the benefit of hindsight, their music makes more sense now. The Volunteer is like a traditional army recruitment song via Carry On Sergeant; and The Road To Venezuela was inspired by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s Road To... movies and was initially conceived as a part of an abandoned concept album about South America.

There’s the would-be dance craze Do The Stanley, Friendliness with its Abbey Road harmonies, and folky pop of Dora The Female Explorer. The highlight is the multipart, sitar-infused Syracuse The Elephant with its pay-off line ‘Now he lives in Hollywood with Tarzan and Jane.’ Its mixture of invention, daftness and majesty sums up the band. Or at least comes close.

The Forbidden City is on sale now via Esoteric.

Mike Barnes

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.