Friday, November 13, 2015

Swegas - Child Of Light (1971 uk, splendid brass prog jazz rock, 2007 edition)

Swegas were a British 'progressive' brass-rock band that existed between 1969 and 1971. They played all the major venues in the UK and made several tours of Italy and Germany where they were extremely popular. The name of the band is derived from an Anglo Saxon word for music.

Swegas began life as a rehearsal band in 1969. They were put together by Brian (Joe) Spibey and Nick Ronai who had been members of the Fulson Stilwell Band before joining the soul band, Cat Road Show. The original Swegas band consisted of Joe Spibey (trumpet), Nick Ronai (trombone), Alan Smith (Tenor Sax), Jonny Toogood (guitar) plus a few pick up players. Mid 1969 they advertised for an Organist and Bass Guitarist and Keith Strachan and Roy Truman applied and got the gig. They had been playing together in various bands since being at college together and were looking for something a bit more adventurous. They found it in this band which were beginning to fuse Rock and Jazz in the manner of Blood Sweat and Tears and The Chicago Transit Authority who were in their early stages of development. They rehearsed originally above a pub in Acton (The Kings Head?) but later in a basement of a cafe in Fulham Palace Road (about no. 201)

They secured a deal with B&C Records in October 1969 and recorded an untitled album at Advision Studios, Regent St. The line up was Chris Dawe (trumpet), Brian (Joe) Spibey (trumpet/vocals), Nick Ronai (trombone), Alan Smith (alto sax and piano), Nick Thomas (tnr sax), John Legg (bari sax), Keith Strachan (organ/vocals), Jonny Toogood (guitar), Roy Truman (bass guitar), Chrys Chrysostomou (drums). The album was not destined for release and Joe Spibey, Alan Smith and Jonny Toogood left the group shortly thereafter followed shortly by Chrys Chrysostomou.

Undeterred, Keith, Roy, Nick and John recruited Stewart Wilkinson (guitar), Ron Shillingford (tenor sax) and Maurice McElroy (drums) and managed to get a deal with First Class Management. Barry Class bought the group a tour bus (at their suggestion) but the insurance and hgv licence issues not to mention the parking problems in Soho soon put paid to that idea and the bus was exchanged for a Ford Transit minibus and a Transit van.

With their new line-up the band rehearsed endlessly on new material in a room at the London Ambulance Service  in Waterloo Road. They signed record and management deals with the Barry Class Organisation in March 1970 and during this Spring period of 1970 they had a regular spot Upstairs at Ronnie Scotts - Swegas one night - Genesis the next! They then embarked on a three month tour of Europe starting in Oslo on May 20th.

They travelled to Gothenburg from Felixstowe by ship on 17th or 18th May. They were in Oslo till the first week in June then travelled to Zurich for one week. They then left Zurich for Munich on Mon 15th June and ended up in Hamburg in July. The blue mini bus was breaking down continually and through lack of money spent a number of nights sleeping under the vans. They ended up in the famous Top Ten club sharing the bill with the Boston Show Band (featuring the then unknown Gary Glitter). They liked their drummer Billy Hogan so when Maurice left shortly after Billy was offered the job. 

When they arrived back from Germany in July they went into the salubrious Tangerine Studios in Dalston to record the Child Of Light album. Maurice was still playing drums at this point.

The first Swegas album released by the Barry Class Record Company (Trend) was Child Of Light. Recorded early 1970 in Tangerine Studios, Kingsland Road, Dalston, N8, this was the only album released in the UK. It demonstrated that Nick Ronai as the principal arranger of the band had a unique voice. As he said later "I didn't know how to do jazz voicing back then - my experience was more classical". And thank God because, above all else, it was Nick's musicality and his arranging style that gave Swegas it's sound. In retrospect it's hardly a perfect performance or recording but this album does go somewhere to show what SWEGAS might have achieved had they the time and funding to hone this quality to perfection. The material was certainly some of their best, and with the exception of the Rare Bird song Beautiful Scarlet, it is all original. 
1. Beautiful Scarlet (Rare Bird) - 7:10
2. Planetarium (Nick Ronai) - 6:46
3. Magic Pipe (Keith Strachan, Nick Ronai, Chris Dawe, Stewart Wilkinson) - 10:09
4. Photographs (Nick Ronai) - 10:02
5. Child Of Light (Keith Strachan, Nick Ronai, Chris Dawe, Stewart Wilkinson) - 9:57

The Swegas
*Chris Dawe - Trumpet
*Nick Ronai - Trombone
*John Legg - Alto Sax, Bari Sax, Flute
*Ron Shillingford - Tenor Sax, Sop Sax, Flute
*Keith Strachan - Keyboards, Vocals
*Stewart Wilkinson - Guitar, Vocals
*Roy Truman - Bass Guitar
*Maurice McElroy - Drums

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