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Of Queues and Cures

National Health

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Album Review

Of Queues and Cures is one of the last and finest examples of the instrumental Canterbury sound on record during the 1970s. This somewhat sweeping claim for National Health’s second album is made not only because of the complexity and quirkiness heard throughout, but because of the presence — quite rare in the years to follow — of fuzz organ, here played by Dave Stewart prior to his departure from the group and the return of the arguably jazzier and less fuzz-inclined Alan Gowen as sole keyboardist. Aficionados know that the fuzz organ, as played by Stewart in this band and his preceding Hatfield and the North, Caravan’s Dave Sinclair, and of course Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge, was central to the Canterbury sound, and although Ratledge was the groundbreaker, Stewart really pushed the envelope on this one. Phil Miller’s “Dreams Wide Awake” calms down in its midsection, but it begins with one of the most crazed organ solos put to wax by anybody, Canterbury or not. “Phil made the mistake of asking me to go a bit mad on the organ solo at the beginning of the number,” Stewart commented with characteristic Brit understatement in the liners. And “a bit mad” it is indeed, as Stewart begins his solo — over a rocking vamp from guitarist Miller, bassist John Greaves, and drummer Pip Pyle — with the burning tone typical of the style but escalates the mayhem and transforms the organ into a roaring, screaming beast, upping the ante on Keith Emerson during his organ-stabbing days with the Nice.

Elsewhere, the politeness factor of Hatfield and the North and earlier National Health is roughed up by newcomer Greaves, formerly of Henry Cow. Greaves’ vocals are less polished than those of the Hatfields’ Richard Sinclair — and certainly less lovely than Amanda Parsons' soprano — not trying quite so hard to “make it sound nice” (as Sinclair sang on the Hatfields' debut). Greaves croons (as he is credited) through the skewering of TV addicts during Pyle’s “Binoculars,” a tune that could be applied to smart phones and video games today. “The Collapso” — a joke on “calypso,” ha ha — is crammed full of change-ups apparently designed to thwart attempts at dancing, and features steel drums from guest Selwyn Baptiste, as well as the sound of Pyle breaking glass from a greenhouse during an interlude sounding suspiciously close to the beginning of Stravinsky's "Ebony Concerto." In “Squarer for Maud,” Stewart seems provoked by a brief spoken word interjection from the erudite Peter Blegvad to get down and dirty on acoustic piano, followed by more of that quintessential organ fuzz on an extended segment leading to a multiple-explosive finale. And the entire album is given a suite-like feel by the bookended themes of “The Bryden 2-Step,” more scalar and less tuneful than “Tenemos Roads” from National Health but given added power from its layered buildup and the presence of cellist Georgie Born.

Biography

Formed: 1975

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s

National Health were one of those rare English progressive bands whose classic mid-'70s output still sounds fresh today. Their sound prospered on imaginative linear musicality, often in a jazzy format that emphasized extended instrumental solos. Arising during a challenging time when progressive rock was being overtaken by a tidal wave of punk, National Health featured members of other Canterbury and post-Canterbury bands Hatfield and the North (a band considered a Canterbury supergroup in itself),...
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Of Queues and Cures, National Health
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