“A curious figure as a solo artist… he precedes Byrne & Eno and practically invents Underworld”: Synth pioneer Tim Blake shines in 3CD set Crystal Presence – The Albums 1977-1991

Former Gong and Hawkwind member proves space-keys don’t have to be glacial, although one of the three records here feels more dated than the others

Tim Blake - Crystal Presence 3CD box set
(Image: © Esoteric)

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Known principally for his work as part of both Gong and Hawkwind, Tim Blake cuts a curious figure as a solo artist. Neither entirely prog or electronica, the multi-instrumentalist was, nonetheless, responsible for two of the most underrated synthesiser-led albums of the late 70s.

After Gong’s 1975 implosion Blake returned to France, where he’d lived for the previous four years. He founded Crystal Machine with lighting and sound designer Patrice Warrener as an audio visual feast, playing the Seasalter Free Festival in Kent in late summer 1976, presumably sounding like they must have come from another planet.

One track recorded there, Last Ride Of The Boogie Child, appeared on Blake’s 1977 debut solo album, also called Crystal Machine, a collection of tracks and live recordings that sounds ahead of its time – Metro/Logic, for example, is like something Eno & Byrne would produce a few years later.

The 1978 follow-up, Blake’s New Jerusalem – a title suggested by Glastonbury founder Sir Michael Eavis – is his masterpiece. Intended to be instrumental, lyrics came to Blake nonetheless and the album begins with his delicate voice singing Song For A New Age, accompanied by acoustic guitar.

It’s soon back to synths: on Lighthouse, Blake intones a captain’s log, out on a search for where crystal people dwell; the meaty, beaty Generator practically invents Underworld. The side-long title track is rich with warmth and melody, belying the claim that synthesisers can only be glacial.

The third album in this box set, Magick, was recorded over one night in Blake’s windmill in Brittany in 1991. It reflects how technology had moved on – just because the keyboard offers handclaps, it doesn’t mean they have to be used – and has dated less well than his 70s work.

A Magick Circle and Return To Clouds are classic Blake, and Tonight sounds like the product of a broken heart and several bottles of red, but it’s the lesser of the three albums here.

Crystal Presence – The Albums 1977-1991 is on sale now via Esoteric.

Daryl Easlea

Daryl Easlea has contributed to Prog since its first edition, and has written cover features on Pink Floyd, Genesis, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Gentle Giant. After 20 years in music retail, when Daryl worked full-time at Record Collector, his broad tastes and knowledge led to him being deemed a ‘generalist.’ DJ, compere, and consultant to record companies, his books explore prog, populist African-American music and pop eccentrics. Currently writing Whatever Happened To Slade?, Daryl broadcasts Easlea Like A Sunday Morning on Ship Full Of Bombs, can be seen on Channel 5 talking about pop and hosts the M Means Music podcast.