A few years ago, while browsing the rock section of a big CD store, I saw a CD by Tractor. I didn’t know anything about this band, but what drew my attention was the “File under Progressive Rock” sticker attached to the CD. That was at the time when I had just started building my collection and there were so many things I wanted to buy, there simply was no money in the budget for things I didn’t know anything about. Little did I know that our paths would eventually cross again. The Cd reviewed here is the 30th anniversary special edition released by OzIt Records and includes the original album released in 1972 plus no less than 6 bonus tracks. In fact OzIt Records has released several albums with Tractor, some of them for the first time.
Tractor was the fruition of a collaboration between two musicians: Jim Milne (guitars, vocals and bass) and Steve Clayton (drums, percussion, piano and flute). On the band’s debut, the duo is playing all the instruments, the only extra credit going to Judith Clayton (musical box). The music is most of the time a folk-oriented proto-prog, with generous hints of space and psychedelia induced mainly by Milne’s heavy riffs, but you also get some healthy doses of plain, fun rock’n’roll (“Watcher”) or even sweet ballads. At times I even feel as Steve Hillage himself was featured on this album. In fact, as the booklet tells us, Hillage has appeared in several festivals along Tractor, including Deeply Vale Free Festivals, which were initiated and organized by Tractor starting back in 1977, so there were connections between these artists.
The songs are built similarly, starting with mellow acoustic guitar, some vocals, always leading to Milne’s nervous spacey guitar solos played over Clayton’s tribal rhythms. The back cover includes a John Peel quote that must be reproduced here: “Jim Milne is the man responsible for some of the most urgent flowing and logical guitar playing I’ve ever heard”.
All in all, the music is representative for early ’70 British proto-prog, Tractor being a good candidate as the precursor of the greats of space-rock that will come later, such as Hawkwind and Motorhead.
The bonus tracks include “Siderial”, a live recording
from the 2002 appearance at the Glastonbury Festival,
“No More Lies”, a studio track recorded in 2001 where
they get some help from Nik Turner (ex. Hawkind – sax
and flute) and Thomas Hewitt (additional guitar) and 4
acoustic demos recorded by Jim Milne (guitars and
|Eddie Lascu||29-Aug-2007||Before, During & After the Dandelion Years, Through to Deeply Vale & Beyond|
After a hiatus of over 25 years (check this), Tractor decided to record a new album, trying to carry on the spirit born during the ‘70s at the Deeply Vale Free Festival. The album is dedicated to Andy Burgoyne, a close friend of the band since the early days. He came to contribute some vocals for this recording. Tragically, Andy passed away in October 1998, a few days after they finished recording and mixing the music for the album. Track 11 called “Deeply Vale – Bring what you expect to find”, the only one featuring Andy Burgoyne is also entirely dedicated to him. The music expands in the same spatial realm, although I must say that Clayton’s tribal rhythms are more predominant now than ever. Being recorded in a different age, the music has some modern touch-ups such as electronic effects, synthesized instruments, over-dubbing, etc. For a band that pioneered the space-rock, is not even that far fetched. The core of the band is the same, Jim Milne (vocals and guitars) and Steve Clayton (drums), but they get help from Dave Addison (bass) – another former close friend of the band – and Dave Goldberg (vocals, bass and keyboards). The highlight of the album is track 12, “Drilling Hundreds of Holes in a Piece of Hardboard”. This could have gone unnoticed on any Ozric Tentacles album. To make things even more interesting, this track flows cursively into a plain hard-rock song, the next track called “Little Girl in Yellow 6976”.
|Eddie Lascu||29-Aug-2007||John Peel Bought Us Studio Gear and a P.A.|
This is a collection of rare versions of recordings & singles. This too was released by OzIt Records and is part of their effort to revive Tractor's music. First 8 tracks consist of material Tractor used to audition for John Peel, making him to sign them up to his record label. Track number 9 is a 2006 remix of "John Peel's 13 Bar Boogie". The last 9 tracks on the CD contain the singles, A & B sides, recorded by Tractor back in the days and released under a slew of labels, including Dandelion Records, UK Records, Cargo Records and Roach Records. Although this may seem like a record for completists only, the quality of the music is quite good, especially the 8 tracks that impressed Mr. Peel. It's the same spatial guitar playing some psychedelic riffs over a solid rhythmic section, but there is a youthful enthusiasm that's hard to miss. I guess so were the times of the day.
|Tom Hayes||18-Jul-2006||Tractor - Tractor|
Perhaps the original D.I.Y. project, recorded in John Peel’s "Dandelion Studios", which was nothing more than an upstairs bedroom in the home of the producer’s parents! Lauded by critics at the time of release, and even today, Tractor will always be a "cult status" group as was its predecessor The Way We Live. Tractor were just a duo, Jim Milne on guitar / vocals and Steve Clayton on drums and percussion (with occasional flute and piano). With such sparse instrumentation, one would expect a delicate singer songwriter album. Quite the contrary as Tractor create an amazing racket, mainly due to Milne’s massively intense fuzz guitar layered over his overdubbed acoustic guitar strumming and bass lines. Meanwhile Clayton drums up a storm especially with the hand percussion at his disposal. Tumultuous! Not to shortchange the songs - as they’re right out of the English factory of quaint melodies and dreamy vocals. Contrast and dynamics are what separate Tractor from their contemporaries of the day. A couple of years later, a US band from Cleveland would nearly duplicate the power duo that Tractor pioneered. They too were left for the "cult status" trash heap. That would be Atlantis Philharmonic.
|Links for further information|