C.O.B. – 1972

Last we left Clive Palmer’s old, new band C.O.B. they were creating a fascinating sound, one that hearkened to pre-traditional days, days of Crusaders and Moors. When 1972 rolled around rather than accept the sales flop that Spirit of Love was for CBS Records, they got signed to a much smaller label Polydor’s Folk Mill Records to continue on with the same spirited type of sound. This label had high hopes that C.O.B. would help usher them into a world of progressive folk that was slowly taking shape. Well C.O.B. did, but in their own profound way.

Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart album cover.

Displaying an even larger amount of sophistication than before, they thoroughly streamlined their sound to a soft and wonderful glory for 1972’s Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart. Ancient and sacred, yet somehow timeless, their first song “Sheba’s Return – Lion of Judah”  hints at what’s coming up next. Organs and dulcitars dance around some vaguely Arabic bass motif played guest bassist Danny Thompson from Pentangle, while the Clive intones some intense faith-based imagery. Its a sound that nearly crosses the border of Python-esque folly but luckily has enough meat on its bone to hold some power. From then on the album gets progressively personal and spiritual. “Let it Be You” sung by Clive starts to properly send you off into a kind of inner journey far from what any rock band was concerned about back then. When you catch on and figure out the beautiful vagueness of life that he’s singing about that’s when the album hits you.

Only 35 minutes long, its still quite unlike any album ever released then and now. At times it has more in common with sacred music than folk music. Then you have songs like “Eleven Willows” which hop around jazz, folk, sacred, and chorale music (aided by the gorgeous backup vocals of Demelza and Genny Backer) to intone a sound so uniquely theirs. Its all so hypnotic and engaging, in a way even I struggle to find peers for them to place under.

My favorite song though is the “Oh Bright Eyed One”, a song that belongs in the pantheon of all-time greatest love songs. Sung by percussionist Michael Bennett, it uses simple instruments dulcitar, bongos, whistles, and bongos as accompaniment to a communal rejoinder on the beauty of love and its ties to temporal, spiritual, and environmental memories. As harmonies bleed into the main verse, you get reminded of how true love isn’t a momentary feeling tied to one sensation but one that can adapt with the passage of time. “Chain of Love” sung by Clive, with its brilliant Velvet Underground-stuck in Israel sound, speaks of marriage and commitment. The rest of the album finishes off with that sacramental feeling, “Martha and Mary” especially so, and points to a different route few venture with this kind of knowing earnestness. The final blow being their truly ancient sounding “Heart Dancer” which marries Scottish bagpipes with a spiraling Middle Eastern melody.

At the end of the day, this album tanked in its time. Clive Palmer and the band shortly disbanded afterwards and everyone was left with a very curious memento of the time. However, this minor masterpiece portrays a side of English neo-folk few others knew how to venture through. Heck, its a path many of us find hard to follow. Regardless, we’ll venture on to 1973, tomorrow…

Listen to Moyshe McStiff at Spotify…