Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Conceptual Art: King Constantine

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's installment finds Mike indulging his youthful fantasies. But don't worry, it's perfectly work-safe - as long as you don't mind the possibility of being caught reading about Rick Wakeman by a colleague...

* * * * *

In my prog-loving pre-pubescence, the concept of a supergroup appealed to me hugely – for what line-up could possibly make better music than a line-up drawn from my favourite musicians, as plucked from the world’s greatest bands? After all, this was an age where the weekly music "inkies" still had separate instrument-based categories in their annual readers’ polls, thus encouraging us to sift and rank our rock virtuosos of the day.

Too young to grasp that the whole might not actually be greater than the sum of its parts, I spent a fair amount of time choosing my dream supergroup line-up – even to the extent of constructing a mini-discography in their honour. And it’s this line-up which I shall attempt to recreate for you now, 35 years after I first scribbled it down.

So it’s welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends... and pray be upstanding for KING CONSTANTINE!

Lead vocals - Daevid Allen (Gong), Dana Gillespie

For sheer surreal invention and playfulness, who could be better than Gong’s founding front man? (Also known as Dingo Virgin, Divided Alien or Bert Camembert, depending on which album sleeve you were reading at the time.) But how was I to know that he was mostly singing about DRUGZ? As far as I knew, the "pot-head pixies" of Planet Gong mythology were just chirpy little fellas with china pots on their heads – and let me tell you, that mythology works just fine on a cartoon level. Perhaps it even works better?

As for Dana Gillespie, who was being managed by Bowie’s production company at the time, I had never actually heard her sing a note – but at the tender and unreconstructed age of 12, I had managed to convince myself that I fancied her something rotten, in her tight, bosomy basque and her saucy fishnets. Again, how was I to know that this was merely an early manifestation of Diva Worship, and that I would grow up to be as gay as a goose?

Lead guitar - Brian May (Queen)

This could so easily have gone the other way – Freddie Mercury on vocals, Gong’s Steve Hillage on guitar – but I preferred the pristine classicism of May to the heavy-duty free-form noodling of Hillage. However, this preference was eventually overturned by Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack, whose more overt cock-rock influences struck me as mostly May’s fault, leading Mercury astray from his more florid and whimsical compositions on Queen II. (For as far as I was concerned, Mercury’s 'The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke' was pretty much the pinnacle of all recorded music to date. Yes, I was a singular child.)

Saxophone - Andy Mackay (Roxy Music)

A supergroup without a sax? Unthinkable! Again, there was stiff competition from Gong, in the shape of Didier Malherbe (aka Bloomdido Bad De Grasse) – but Roxy Music’s Mackay was appreciably dishier, and so he got the gig. Oh, I was shaping up to be quite the mercenary little Svengali, in the best Larry Parnes/Brian Epstein/Simon Napier-Bell tradition...

Violin - Peter Knight (Steeleye Span)

King Constantine weren’t about to stint on the arrangements, and so we needed a fiddle player to flesh out the sound. Steeleye Span’s Peter Knight was, in retrospect, one of my finer choices – check some of their darker early material, if you don’t believe me – and in sartorial terms, some of his outfits were way ahead of the prog pack.

Mandolin - Jean-Paul Crocker (Cockney Rebel)

Cockney Rebel barely used electric guitars on their first two albums (The Human Menagerie and The Psychomodo), and I barely missed them. By the time that 'Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)' made Number One, Steve Harley had sacked most of the original line-up – Crocker included – and drafted in the session men. It gave him short-term success, but swiftly diminishing returns.

An underrated instrument, your mandolin. But not in King Constantine!

Keyboards and synthesisers - Rick Wakeman (Yes)

An absolute no-brainer, this one – for how could I not give the gig to the Greatest Keyboard Virtuoso Of All Time, Actually It’s Almost Like Classical Music Actually, Mummy I Think Even You Would Like Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Shall I Put It On For You Please?

Bass guitar - Overend Watts (Mott The Hoople)

All hail the mighty Hoople! Chris Squire from Yes was another strong contender for this position, but I wasn’t about to give an unfair advantage to any one group. Well, you could just imagine the power struggles.

Footnote: Last summer, I chanced upon Overend Watts in our village pub, taking a break from a charity walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Somewhat merry at the end of the evening, I found myself trying to curry favour by reciting the names of Mott The Hoople album tracks – only to shrink in shame when my fellow villagers outed me as a Eurovision fan. Separate budget, people!

Drums - Dinky Diamond (Sparks)

Sparks were another favourite band – and since I’d had to give Ron Mael the elbow in favour of Rick Wakeman, their drummer would have to do. Besides, how could you not want a drummer called Dinky Diamond in your line-up?

"Other instruments" - Mike Oldfield

Well, you’ve got to cover every musical eventuality – and I could surely squeeze some tubular bells into a couple of the album tracks, at the very least. Two slightly distorted guitars, anyone? Or how about a quick blast on the Uilleann pipes? Oh, he’d be worth his weight in gold.

Thus recruited, and with the obligatory Roger Dean sleeve art commissioned, recordings could commence for King Constantine’s debut album Lamplight Melodrama, from which the first single 'Nefertiti (So Good To Me)' would be drawn. (I could hum it to you even now, but some things are best left to the imagination.)

A dazzling line-up, I’m sure you’ll agree.

And were we looking at potentially The Greatest Band Of All Time?


* * * * *

Thanks Mike. A mention of Wakeman but no reference to capes or utter preposterousness? Must be a first.

Next time (27th April): Skif.


Blogger JonnyB said...

Big respeck' about Peter Knight.

I guess I would argue that Brian May was innocent with regards to that album. He was in hospital whilst they made most of it and, in fact, they recorded it and left gaps for him to put guitars in on some of the songs.

'Now I'm Here' - OK accept that, although the chorus is baroque personified, and as far as I remember is in different keys for each one. 'Stone Cold Crazy' was a Freddie Mercury thing, although credited to most of the band and...

oh dear. I'm taking this a bit too seriously, aren't I?

Peter Knight. Yes.

10:54 pm  
Blogger David Belbin said...

35 years ago, I think you'd have been better off with John Peel on mandolin

12:09 pm  
Blogger mike said...

JonnyB, your point is a more than fair one! I had quite forgotten about Brian May's extended brush with Hepatitis B in 1974...

1:09 pm  

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