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Gilgamesh: Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into

John Kelman By

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Gilgamesh—Another Fine Tune You've Got Me IntoGilgamesh
Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into
Charly
1978

Today's Rediscovery pays tribute to a musician who has been dead for over 30 years but whose brief body of work remains a seminal part of the British Canterbury scene that included groups like Soft Machine, Caravan and Hatfield and The North (see the Rediscovery column on Hatfield's superb second and final studio recording, 1975's The Rotter's Club).

Keyboardist Alan Gowan may have passed away of leukaemia at the too-young age of 33, but beyond literally (and remarkably) playing until the last possible moment on Before a Word is Said (Europa, 1982)—a collaboratively monikered recording that, also featuring Hatfield alum Phil Miller and Richard Sinclair alongside latter-day Gilgamesh drummer Trevor Tomkins, wrapped up a mere 13 days before the keyboardist's passing on May 17, 1981—it was his on again/off again tenure in the post- Hatfield group National Health and his own band Gilgamesh that garnered the most attention. Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into was Gilgamesh's second and final recording during its lifetime, and as today's Rediscovery, pays tribute to founding member and primary composer Gowan.

Like many other Canterbury groups including (early) Soft Machine, Hatfield and The North and National Health, Gilgamesh demonstrated a self-effacing approach to blending a jazz sensibility within a rock context that prevented its music from sounding too pompous, excessive or self-important. Gilgamesh had no vocalist, and so the levity is all in the music, despite its writing—most of it by Gowan—being defined by plenty of complex twists and turns, knotty thematic constructs and meter changes that made it, no doubt, as much a challenge to play as it could be to hear.

That said, like its Canterbury cousins, Gilgamesh managed to be somehow accessible— even if it was one of the sub-genre's more oblique groups, often criticized in the progressive community for being "too jazz." If its self-titled 1975 debut on Caroline Records leaned a little more on the progressive side, Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into is the more jazz-centric of the two recordings it made during Gowan's lifetime (Cuneiform Records later released a most welcome compilation of previously unreleased recordings from 1973-1975, Arriving Twice, in 2000).

By the time Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into was recorded in June 1978—a year after Gowan had left National Health, the band he co-founded with Hatfield's Dave Stewart in 1975 but whose eponymous debut wasn't released until 1977—Gowan had formed Soft Heap with ex-Softs bassist Hugh Hopper and saxophonist Elton Dean, along with National a Health drummer Pip Pyle, releasing its eponymous debut the same year that Gowan recorded and released Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into.

The two records couldn't have been more different. While Soft Heap does, indeed, have composer credits that make clear this is an album predicated on composition, it is of a much freer nature than the music on Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into, rendering it rejected even further by rock-oriented Canterbury fans looking for more detailed structure in their music and less open-ended improvisational forays.

By the time of Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into, Gilgamesh had gone through significant personnel changes. Only Gowan and guitarist Phil Lee—a perennially overlooked guitarist more affiliated with the jazz world, having already recorded with British mainstays including Graham Collier and South African expat Michael Gibbs—remained from the original lineup, with bassist Jeff Clyne and drummer Mike Travis replaced by Hugh Hopper and Trevor Tomkins, respectively. While Hopper had, with Soft Machine, demonstrated a predilection for a massive oft-times fuzz-laden bass tone, here it's clean, light and fluid all the way. Ditto, Travis was a heavier player (though not incapable of delicacy and elegance when the music required it)m while Tomkins was far more active in the jazz world, playing with everyone from Don Rendell to Michael Garrick and Ian Carr (including another Rediscovery, Carr's 1972 solo album Belladonna).

Still, despite all the jazz credentials that underscore Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into, it's a record that fits comfortably in the progressive vein with Gowan's writing and penchant for electric piano and a soft, pliant synthesizer tone. And for all the complex form, there are plenty of solo opportunities, including Lee's extended solo on the opening "Darker Broghter," one of five Gowan compositions on this seven-song, 35-minute album. Gowan, too, takes the chance to solo at length on the 10-minute "Bobberty -Theme From Something Else," his lithe synth riding above a delicately ambling foundation from Hopper and Tomkins. And for those unconvinced of Lee's undervalued status, his nylon-string solo miniature,"Waiting"—which closes the first side of the original LP—should be evidence enough.

Gowan would be recruited to rejoin National Health in 1979, touring with the group through 1980, despite there being no new studio albums—Cuneiform one again righting that wrong decades later by releasing Playtime (2001), culled from two live shows from this previously undocumented lineup.

With only 13 recordings documenting Gowan's strengths as both a performer and composer, there's precious little that remains of his short but, in his circles, influential life. In 1982, a briefly reformed National Health released the tribute album D.S. Al Coda (Europa), with the core group of Dave Stewart, guitarist Phil Miller, bassist John Greaves and Pip Pyle—augmented by Elton Dean, flautist Jimmy Hastings, trumpeter Ted Emmet, trombonist Annie Whitehead, and vocalists Richard Sinclair, Amanda Parsons and Barbara Gaskin—creating a most welcome and heartfelt program of all-Gowan compositions, many previously unheard, at least on record.

All the more reason, then, to pull Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into off the shelf and rediscover why Alan Gowan remains such an important figure in the history of the Canterbury scene.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know this record, and if so, how do you feel about it?


[Note: You can read the genesis of this Rediscovery column here.]
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