Edgar Broughton Band: Speak Down The Wires (1975-1982)

❉ A perfect collection from one of the ‘70s greatest cult bands, never content to rest on their laurels.

This welcome boxed set from Cherry Red label Esoteric Recordings, collects the remaining Edgar Broughton band albums from the Harvest Years (1969-1973) and Original Album Series that have long been out of print.

These CDs were available, albeit briefly, on Esoteric’s predecessor label Eclectic Discs, and as is their wont nowadays, they are packaged in cardboard slipcase replicas of the original albums (complete with the gatefold on Parlez-Vous English?) and newly remastered, with an informative booklet from Esoteric label founder Mark Powell.

After leaving Harvest in 1973 following the release of Oora, the band’s management fell out with EMI and Bandages appeared on the NEMS record label, originally founded by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and home to Black Sabbath in the early ‘70s.

With the core line up of Edgar Broughton (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica, Moog) Steve Broughton (drums, piano, vocals) & Arthur Grant (Bass guitar, guitar, organ) the trio were augmented by John Thomas on guitar, and the sessions for the album were recorded in Oslo, and production was done at Mike Oldfield’s Kington studio by the Broughton brothers with Mike Oldfield, an old friend of the band, who also added dulcimer, steel guitar, harp and ARP synthesiser.

Another evolution from the sound on Oora was the addition of keyboards, something the band had been experimenting with in their Harvest days, which enhanced and fleshed out the earthy sound of the band, moving them further away from the original trio blues sound of their early albums.

However, the band were still true to their free festival roots (chances are if you went to a free festival in the ‘70s, if Hawkwind weren’t headlining, the Broughtons would be) and these eleven tracks are a great follow on to the expansive sound and that Oora had demonstrated.

It also showed that the band were evolving at pace, and not content to rest on their laurels.

With such classic Broughton band tracks as Speak Down the Wires (from which this set takes its title) and tracks like One to Seven and Signal Injector, it showed a band firing on all cylinders and whilst the sound was evolving, the core musical ethos of the band, which had spawned from the alternative blues scene of the late 60’s was still intact.

It would have been interesting to see where the EBB musical journey would have taken them next, had they not fallen out with their management, and ended up in a long and tortuous legal battle, which led to the band making the decision to call it a day in 1976.

Which is where the Live Hits Harder album comes in, embarking on an incendiary farewell tour, the Bandages line-up, with Terry Cottam on guitar and vocals put in a series of explosive live performances which were put down for posterity using the RAK mobile studio. After all the legal shenanigans were ironed out, Live Hits Harder finally hit the shelves in 1979 (ironically at the same time the band were embarking on renewed studio activity – but more of that later) and showcases a career spanning set that pulls in all the classic (including great versions of both One to Seven and Signal Injector from Bandages) whilst firm classic like Hotel Room, Freedom and an astonishing finale of Smokestack Lightening saw this live incarnation of the Edgar Broughton band bow out (albeit temporarily) on fine form.

For Edgar Broughton Band fans 1979 must have been a great year, as not only did Live Hits Harder finally hit the record stores, but their new studio album, with a line up of Edgar, Steve and Arthur, the band had expanded to a sextet with the addition of Richard De Bastion on keyboards and backing vocals, Pete Tolson on guitar and Tom Nordon on guitar, slide guitar and backing vocals.

If anyone was expecting the sound of the early 1970s, they were in for a real surprise on Parlez-Vous English? Credited to the Broughtons (with its humorous sleeve by none other than go-to artwork designers Hipgnosis), it featured far shorter, punchier compositions than its predecessors.

Having had the punk and new-wave movements, the Broughtons, themselves part of the original anti-establishment sound of the early 1970s, proved they could move with the times, and whilst on its release it divided fans with some suggesting they’d surrendered to the zeitgeist, listening back now, with the other albums the band produced, it’s a logical evolution of their sound.

Featuring shorter sharper songs like Little One which opens the album in style to Drivin’ to Nowhere and the fantastic April in England, this is a real high point of the band’s later career and here, in place with other contemporaneous recordings, deserves reappraisal as a latter-day masterpiece.

However, the band, now renamed the Edgar Broughton Band saved the best til last, conceptual masterpiece Superchip – the finale Silicon Solution is a dystopian tale that only an anti-establishment band forged in the counter revolutionary aspects of the late ‘60s could conceive when dealing with the first Tory Government of the 1980s.

A tale focusing on denationalisation, the shift away from heavy industry to a service-based economy and the move towards computerisation, this epic concept, originally released in 1982, retains the core trio, with only Tom Nordon remaining from the previous line-up, with the addition of Dennis Haynes on keyboard, this is a vastly different sound to the band and polarises hardcore fans.

With the switch in emphasis from guitar driven blues rock, to a more synthesised electronic sound, it also refers back to Parlez-Vous English? in the lyrics to Innocent Bystanders (Damian and Soola) that directly references Little One.

With tracks like Metal Sunday, Not so Funny Farm and Subway Information which leads the closing trio of The Last Electioneer and Goodbye Ancient Homeland, this is as sharply observed as any of their previous albums, and the overarching concept works incredibly well on here, as each song builds to the album’s climax.

Included here as a bonus track (originally included on the 2006 reissue) is The Virus, a shimmering piece of electronica and guitar work composed by Edgar and his son Luke (who was part of the 2006 EBB line-up) and as an electronic coda its themes and moods provide a perfect revisitation/finale to the themes dissected on the album.

The band would continue to tour sporadically over the next 20 years before finally finishing and Edgar continuing to perform as a solo artist.

With great albums and a fantastic live performance, this set is the perfect way to mop up an era of the band that hasn’t been championed as much as the trailblazing early years, containing many musical moments as strong as those which helped make the band’s name.

Edgar Broughton Band: ‘Speak Down The Wires- The Recordings 1975-1982’ (Esoteric ECLEC42750) released January 29, 2021 from Cherry Red Records, RRP £23.99Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

 Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.

Become a patron at Patreon!