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Hatfield and The North: The Rotter's Club

John Kelman By

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Hatfield and The North—The Rotter's ClubHatfield and The North
The Rotter's Club
Esoteric Recordings
2009 (1975)

Today's Rediscovery is a bit of a lie, because Hatfield and the North's second album, The Rotter's Club, is rarely far from some kind of media player for long. A group that never received the acclaim it deserved back in the day, the core group of keyboardist Dave Stewart, guitarist Phil Miller, bassist/vocalist Richard Sinclair and drummer Pip Pyle were accompanied, at least in the studio, by guests like reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Hasting and French hornist (and, for Stewart, ex-Egg co-conspirator) Mont Campbell, alongside the angelic Northettes (singers Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal).

Hatfield was comprised of serious players who never took themselves too seriously. Who else, after all, came up with song titles like "(Big) John Wayne Socks Psychology in the Jaw" or, on its eponymous 1974 debut a year earlier, "Lobster in Cleavage Probe"? Part of the vibrant and unique Canterbury scene that also included groups like Soft Machine and Caravan, Hatfield may well be the quintessential Canterbury group and The Rotter's Club the quintessential Canterbury album.

An album without a single weak nanosecond, The Rotter's Club seamlessly blends often idiosyncratic but sometimes flat-out beautiful pop songs with more complex compositional structures and effortless improvisational élan, all delivered with a harmonic language that somehow links the group to jazz yet in a way that remains distinct and separate. Nobody before or after ever sounded like Hatfield and the North...unmistakably British but self-effacing and as far from stiff upper lip as Monty Python's Flying Circus, whose "Your Majesty is like a Cream Donut" became the title for the rallying theme to Stewart's near-sidelong multi-part epic, "Mumps."

After Hatfield, Stewart became part of the more revolving door National Health along with tenure in Bill Bruford's first group. He then achieved the commercial success that eluded both Hatfield and National Health in his "adult pop music" duo with life partner/singer Barbara Gaskin. That he ultimately deserted progressive rock is one of contemporary music's biggest shames, though he has recently been recruited by younger progsters like Steven Wilson and Jakko M. Jakszyk for orchestration and occasional guest spots. Miller continues to make music with his own unique language in his In Cahoots group; Sinclair has somehow missed out on greater fame and fortune despite being a fine singer/songwriter; and Pyle passed away too young in 2006 at the age of 56.

Hatfield's recorded legacy may be small—two albums during its lifetime and one, the compilation Afters, released in 1980 five years after the group's demise, along with two more recent archival compilations of live/studios BBC recordings and more. But it remains significant, with The Rotter's Club the group's creative zenith that, 40 years later, has rightfully gained the respect and acclaim—even, perhaps, more commercial success in Esoteric's fine reissue -that it never managed to achieve back in the day.

You can read more a extensive review of Esoteric Recordings' 2009 remastered and expanded reissues of Hatfield and The North's two studio records here, complete with liner notes by noted author Sid Smith.

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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