too much typing—since 2003

11.18.2004

"minus the kingdom, minus the power..."

A sad day for progressive rock fans. I found this on a Dutch prog-rock website.

Obituary

STROTHCLYDE, Arthur Jamison, age 59, on October 25, 2004.

Arthur Strothclyde, who spent the last twenty years tending a large catnip farm in southern Wales, played bass with a number of British progressive acts. His passing should prompt a look back at the best, but most unfairly overlooked, album Strothclyde ever played on, the milestone of progressive rock that is Queanswode-Manley Plough's Forever Endeavour a Man. Its 1973 release on Harvest Records was unfortunately overshadowed by the death of American chart artist Jim Croce that same week in a plane crash. QMP (pronounced "quimp"), as its fans called the band, began as the Cambridge-based folk ensemble The Merry Musketeers, which also featured QMP guitarists Roger Morton-Quinn and Clive Humber. Gradually incorporating rock instrumentation and a more aggressive instrumental attack (along the lines of the far-better known Fairport Convention), the Musketeers in late 1966 adopted their new moniker, yoking together two obscure cigarette lighter brandnames with a vague reference to Hexagram 7 of the I Ching. Their debut single (an adaptation of the Irish tune "Arthur McBride" led by electric sitar and layered crowd chants recorded at an antiwar protest) prompted mild controversy, which generated some sales and a bit of attention. A subsequent LP, Old Harvey's Neon Squaredance Hymnal, was released in February 1969, to little acclaim. Controversy having generated some sales with their first single, the band outdid itself with its next, a musically unremarkable bit of Kinks-influenced music-hall japery entitled "Sunny Jim." The sleeve, however, sported a montage of Princess Anne's head atop a fully nude male body drawn from Strothclyde's collection of vintage pornography. The single was banned, nearly all copies were destroyed, and the band retired to a Maoist ashram in the Outer Hebrides.

So it was that in early 1973, when word began filtering out that QMP was finally working on a new album, expectation lay with rather a light touch on the music scene of the day. QMP's previous releases gave little hint of the breadth and scope of Forever Endeavour a Man, a two-LP concept album drawing from the myths of Sisyphus and Oedipus, incorporating Christian symbolism, and built on a fourfold structure alluding simultaneously to the four seasons and the four classical elements. The album's narrative told the tale of Chris, a would-be rock star, who with his band Swollenfoot strives for artistic integrity in the face of a corrupt and uncaring music industry, a shrewish mother/manager, and a repressive legal system that frames Chris on bogus drug charges. After an unusually vivid dream featuring a sphinx-like alien god, Chris is beamed aboard a starship where he is told that he must pass a series of trials in order to be free to make music his way. These trials include being forced to work a three-day stint as studio tea-boy for a band of pimply bubblegum pop-stars (Prince Ponce and the Sky Pilots), a horrific nocturnal encounter with a disguised groupie and her terrible secret, and a surprising bit of comic relief in which Chris's attempts to deliver the Swollenfoot master tapes to the record company are repeatedly thwarted by his balky van's inability to climb a winding, icy roadway.

In its original LP release, the jacket unfolded into an enormous fourfold cross, each arm of which was graced with sumptuous artwork corresponding to the LP's four parts (one part per LP side), The Light of Summer Aire, Fall's Fiery Fury, The Frozen Earth of Winter, and The Springwater Suite. The band had by this time developed a distinctively polyglot mode of musical expression, as evidenced by the sackbut/dombek duet on "Third Leg Blues," the tremolo ondioline on the Prokofiev-influenced "A Derby Fishwife in Mushroom Lane," and the use of an Eskimo children's choir throughout Side 3. Notable guests included Gryphon's Philip Pickett, who overdubs a wild electric-krumhorn quartet on "My Diary’s Secret Diary," the band's Cambridge mate Robert Wyatt, who contributes a kazoo drone to "A Late Summer's Eve, Miss Roundheels' Fall," and the synthesizer programming legerdemain of Beaver and Krause on "Tra-La Tra-Lay The Bangpipes Song."

Perhaps the only contemporary critic who truly "grokked" Forever Endeavour a Man was Melody Maker's progressive-rock critic Roger Crump. Crump, also a Reader in Edwardian Literature at the Thropwick-Wartshire campus of The Open University, wrote the following encomium, which we reprint here in full:

Queanswode-Manley Plough are the sine qua non of a certain au courant scene that threatens the status quo with its blinding, shattering, visionary attempts to transcend the paltry mise en abyme of contemporary society caught in flagrante delicto betwixt a sentimental fin de siecle romanticism and a daring but sadly declassé Modernism. Rather than fearfully bury itself, ostrich-like, in the sands of a false rapprochement and thereby exposing its ample and tasty hindquarters as quivering allurement for the jaded yet starving cognoscenti of the cultural elite and their withered nostalgie de boue, QMP boldly stands erect in the face of the coruscatingly evanescent moonlit decadence of our detumescent age, flinging a freshet of frank, potent, daringly pungent, yet engagé critique athwart the pallid, soft white underbelly of what so feebly passes for contemporary mores. Let us bow, even unto our knees, and savor the flavor of their names and their most skillful equipment as they tickle our tongues: Roger Morton-Quinn (guitar, vocals, santur, trumpet), Clive Humber (guitar, vocals, piano, organ, harpsichord, celesta, bass drum, violin, toy piano, and electric double-bass saxophone), Arthur Strothclyde (bass, vocals, sousaphone, banjo), and Milton Peter Wolfstein (drums, percussion, xylophone, nose flute), the doughty men of Queanswode-Manley Plough.


Strothclyde is survived by his wife, Fiona (nee Hawkeshawe), by their two sons Arthur Jr. and Spike, by his father, Jamison "Jem" Strothclyde of Cockermouth, and by seven daughters and four sons from five previous marriages and other liaisons.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Heh heh... you said "soft white underbelly"... hee

--Flasshe

velvet lane said...

Oh, Jeff.