National Health @ LSE

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Prog Rock & Jazz Fusion

I sometimes forget that I was into jazz-fusion back in the mid-70’s, thinking this was something I got into in the late 80’s and early 90’s when ‘acid jazz’ became a thing. On the jazz-rock theme one of the best bands I ever saw at the London School of Economics Old Theatre was Brand X, but more of that another time.

Today is Saturday 14th February 1976 and I am late out of bed – 11am to be precise. It is cold – 5ºC outside – but it is winter after all. I got on with some university work in the afternoon, writing up Urban Systems notes, but before long I was hunting down a blank C.60 and getting ready to record In Concert off Radio 1: today it was a good one – Be Bop Delux.

Delux safely committed to tape I got out of the flat at Clapton and on a bus as quickly as I could. I was off to the Old Theatre for the long-anticipated National Health.

I doubt that many people today will have heard of National Health and even in 1976 they were pretty much unknown. I only knew of them because their drummer – Bill Bruford – was very well known and highly thought of. I had seen him live a few times as the drummer of Yes, and he had also previously played with King Crimson.

The other thing I knew about National Health was that they were from Canterbury, home of one of my favourite bands in the early 1970’s, Caravan.

I think I was expecting prog-rock and I was not disappointed, but it became obvious that a strong jazz influence was coming to the fore, perhaps not quite so obvious in some numbers but dominating others. I made a note in my diary at the time of the ‘unusual time signatures’ adopted by Bill in unison with the bass player.

Looking back I am very glad I saw National Health in those very early days, a year before they released their first eponymous album. Bill Bruford left the band not long after, to be replaced by Pip Pyle, another Canterbury alumni of Gong and Hatfield and the North.

They only actually recorded three albums: National Health, Of Queues and Cures and D.S.Al Coda – the first two of which are available on Tidal. For a good introduction to National Health I would recommend Borogroves (Excerpt from Part Two) on their first album. Very jazz and nice bass. If you get on with that you might as well keep going with the next track which, with typical Canterbury-scene humour, is titled Borograves (Part One). Who else would have part one after part two!

Incidentally, my diary tells me there were two very good jazz-rock bands on this evening, but I do not have a note of who the support act were; anyone out there remember?

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