There’s a winky wonky spaceship out there somewhere, cruising the dark spaces between the known worlds. Deep within its decidedly non-aerodynamic hull traced with cupolas, unexplained projections, patches and blisters sits a rather disreputable looking lifeform. He’s short, wizened and unkempt, there are things awaiting rediscovery in the tangle of his matted beard which droops over his tattered and patched leather jerkin. Stoned out of his gourd, bombed off his rocker, tu comprends? he aimlessly whistles through dirty front teeth and bleats little gnomic snatches of doggerel to keep himself company, transfixed by the lights of the crystal engine in front of him.
… I said drive on boogie boy, get across the sky …
Welcome to Tim Blake Crystal Machine, my latest musical voyage into space* via synthesizer. Blake, a jobbing guitarist and roadie became the synthonaut dude in Gong, Hawkwind**, Steve Hillage’s band and Paragong. His own outfit Crystal Machine, fluttered around some of these projects and was reconvened in the mid 70’s and pioneered laser shows – the band credits on Crystal Machine list Patrice Warrener on ‘Spectra Physics 164 Argon Laser’.
Released on Egg Records in 1977 Crystal Machine captures Blake’s sound and ethos perfectly. It sounds like a crystalline machine. I don’t really want to give an obvious contemporary comparison the oxygene of publicity, but there are striking similarities and differences here^.
I was lured in by the opener ‘Midnight’ having been compiled on one of my very favourite recent records. It is a winner too, a barely discernible bass throbbing overlaid by pulsating melody lines that I am struggling not to use the adjective ‘crystalline’ to describe. The slow-building charm of this track makes it a perfect overture for the remaining delights here.
‘Metro/Logic’ adds a certain percussive reality into proceedings, Blake conjuring a surprisingly Shaft-like baseline out of his analogue boxes. Much like my good self the track has a decidedly pleasing midsection. True story.
Space gnomes ahoy for my favourite track on Crystal Machine ‘Last Ride Of The Boogie Child’ which really is a space oddity. The pleasantly pulsing, parping music just washes over you, doing exactly what this type of music can only do at its very best, transporting you through the inky black empyrean. Then Blakes’ half-muttered vocals, buried deep in the mix swim to the surface and the effect is pleasantly trippy indeed.
Adding to the interest here is that elements of this track were taken from Tim Blake’s appearance at the Seasalter Free festival in 1976 – a worthy tale in itself. As a hippy kid I’d been carted around a number of free festivals in my time, although thankfully not Seasalter, Meigan Fayre was one I remember attending really clearly even though I was just under 4 at the time. Click the link if you want to see what chunks of my childhood looked like.
But I digress. Side 2 of Crystal Machine shimmies into the light with ‘Crystal Intemporel’, again partly recorded live in Paris. This is a gorgeous long melodic piece, shyly beginning with birdsong and then developing in a long graceful arc to a point where things get very interstellar indeed, courtesy of some well-judged sequencer work. Listening to this track is 15 minutes of your life very well spent and it sounds particularly great in a pitch black room; as all the best music must. Crystal Machine closes on a short unsettling spaceburner of a track called ‘Crystal Presence’. That’s it.
For the record, so to speak, I love the cover of Crystal Machine unreservedly. It features a spacesuit-clad Blake looking really rather far out with projections swirling above and behind him, legs akimbo in a rocked out pose with his futuristic equipment on full display! 1537 bonus points are awarded for the font which has clearly been beamed in from far future times.
If you have any yen for analogue synths being put through their paces and a yearning for interstellar travel from the comfort of your own armchair then Blake is your pilot and Crystal Machine your vessel; Tyger, Tyger burning bright, in the intergalactic starlight.
PS: Tim Blake as Crystal Machine closed Glastonbury Fayre in 1979, one of the years I went to the festival with my parents. Now, I do remember the lights at night and I would very much like to think that 7 year-old me caught a glimpse of this lot in full space flight.
PPS: The www.ukrockfestivals.com website is a wonderful resource and I have wiled away many happy hours on it this week when I should have been writing this.
*gosh, I do wish there was a good psychologist out there who, at great expense, could tell me why a highly responsible 47 year-old married father-of-two office drone with slightly thinning hair, is so obsessed with ESCAPIST fantasies about space travel and any music that evokes such ESCAPE and FREEDOM. I suppose this is just one of those inexplicable things that sort of, like, cannot be explained and stuff.
**briefly, but hey, join the club. He does feature on the brutal Live Seventy Nine LP.
^Blake = trippier, less arpeggiated, slightly more earthy. Him = a surer pop touch, staccato-ier.