Spirogyra came out of the Canterbury scene, along with Soft Machine, Caravan, Egg, Gong and the others and, like those others, created a sound all their own. The group that recorded the first of these three albums consisted of Martin Cockerham on guitar and vocals, Barbara Gaskin on vocals, Steve Botrill on bass and Julian Cusack on violin and keyboards. Sitting somewhere between folk, classical and with elements of jazz, they have some allusions to the Incredible String Band which was one of the early influences of Cockerham and his schoolmate from Bolton, Mark Francis.
It never gets to the point of being an easy listen but the debut album, ‘St Radigunds’, captivated me from the start and I really couldn’t just put it on and work around it – it demands your attention. Cockerham’s voice is harsh and very angry at times while Gaskin’s pure tone acts as a perfect foil. Botrill’s bass is superb, often holding the melody and at others driving the beat while the drums (Dave Mattacks on the sessions) provide little bursts of light and shadow. Cusack’s fiddle is a remarkable weapon – sometimes a beautiful instrument and others a spitting and violent fiddle. 47 minutes which are only essential listening.
The second album, ‘Old Boot Wine’ is a happier, lighter and certainly easier to listen to album. There’s a Beatle-esque quality to the way the songs are constructed and Julian Cusack’s (now a guest) piano is more heavily featured. The album feels like the essence of Canterbury grew within the band. The vocals are excellent, again great Gaskin stuff, and the guitar playing is strong. It’s less of a shock to the system than the first album but still worth the time to investigate.
“Bells, Boots and Shambles” is Spirogyra’s latest album and it’s fascinating to see how the bands have changed from first album to second and now to their latest offering. The third album has the feel of a Nick Drake album but with a pure folk influence as well. Much of the material has a sublime, ethereal quality and strong inner beauty. It may be the most commercial of the three, but sadly it never quite achieved the success the band deserved.
Almost a forgotten band, Spirogyra are a fascinating part of the Progressive palette of the 70s and for anyone interested in the music of this era, it is rather essential.