Tim Blake: Lighthouse – An Anthology 1973-2012 (Esoteric ECLEC 42651)

TIM-BLAKE-Lighthouse

I was lucky enough to witness Tim Blake at the start of his career’s second incarnation in the early Nineties, when a Sonic Relief gig in London featuring his third solo album ‘Magick’ (and later appearances back in the Gong fold) found him a new audience twenty years on from his integral role in the Gong trilogy band. Subsequent work has been occasional, with three full albums of new material having appeared but live performances more likely to be with his ‘other’ band, Hawkwind, with whom he appears to have enjoyed a rather more harmonious relationship than with Gong. With a fairly major accident in the Noughties now behind him, it’s good to see his four and a half decades of often groundbreaking output gain some recognition with this box set from Esoteric.

‘Lighthouse’ is an anthology from the entire Tim Blake pantheon, a 3-CD set selection from work with Gong, Hawkwind and 5 solo albums, plus a DVD of a live solo performance from 1979, and extensive liner notes from Hawkwind-head Ian Abrahams, including extracts from interviews. You can take this release in a couple of ways: as an introduction to his work, for which it serves extremely well, as, for example ‘Octave Doctors/Crystal Machine’, ‘The Other Side of the Sky’ and most critically, his perennial tour de force, ‘A Sprinkling of Clouds’ are all present from the Gong era;  or as a completists’ essential, as CD3 includes a selection of previous unreleased (and really interesting) material. There are also various curios throughout, for example a 1976 single from the Saratoga Space Messengers called ‘Surf’, a Hawkwindesque ditty complete with vocals apparently recorded before a brief window originally intended for the recording of a solo album disappeared for good.

Track selections are obviously subjective, and it’s testament to the strength of Tim’s first solo album ‘Crystal Machine’ that although the choices made here: ‘Midnight’ (a staggeringly other-worldly piece); and the reflective ‘Synthese Intemporel’ do not drain the well in terms of this album’s huge impact – as a compiler I’d have found a way of squeezing in the subtle funkiness of ‘Metro Child’ and ‘Last Ride of the Boogie Child’. Open to less debate is the selection of the title track from ‘New Jerusalem’, Tim’s second great opus (after ‘A Sprinkling of Clouds’). ‘Lighthouse’, originally also from that album, a staple of the Hawkwind repertoire once he’d joined the band, is aired in a live incarnation, as are a solo piece ‘Prelude’ and ‘What’s Gonna Win the War’ from the band’s ‘Levitation’ album. I’d have been tempted to also include ‘Song For A New Age’, from ‘New Jerusalem’ most un-Blakelike sonically with its strummed guitars, but one of his finest songs and vocal performances.

‘Magick’, which I remember well (I had cassette samplers and even a T-shirt from that particular album launch) is represented by ‘A Return to the Clouds’ (you can guess the reference) – hearing this again took me back to the days of seeing Tim on stage, brandishing his slung-on keyboard as a surrogate lead guitar, and the love song ‘Waiting for Nati’. Personally I’d have also gone for the inclusion of the mystical ‘Ohm-Gliding’ as the stand-out track from ‘Magick’, alongside the evocative multi-layered ‘A Magick Circle’.

The rest of the anthology is new to me, with selections from 2001’s ‘Tide of the Century’, 2002’s ‘Caldea Music II’ and the more recent ‘Noggi Tar’ completing CD2. Best selections here are the hypnotic drive of ‘Byzantium Dancing’, the swirling and driving tones of ‘Jacuzzi Surfing’, and the slow-building embrace of ‘Floating’, whilst ‘Absent Friends’ sets out the author in extended keyboard-hero mode, making sense of the ‘Noggi Tar’ (think about it) album title. The last track of this CD is a live performance of ‘Byzance’ an extended groove featuring some lovely piano touches.

CD3 is the ‘unreleased’ section of the anthology and it is clear almost immediately that for these compositions there is no attempt to garner any semblance of poppish appeal that would apply to projects from ‘New Jersualem’ onwards. Instead this is embryonic, weird, atmospheric noise experimentation that to me has not only historical interest as the ‘birth of the Crystal Machine’ (no dates are given, but the inference is that this emanates from pre-solo album times, possibly even pre-Gong involvement) but is coherent, innovative material in its own right as loop upon loop creates material which is alternately disquieting and reassuring. ‘The Forgotten Tapes’ (again not dated) are a further 3 tracks, including the extended ‘Oming In’ very much sounding like the base for the swirls on ‘Master Builder’ and all the more evocative for that, and a closer ‘Metro Poly Train’, which is a working version of the ‘Boogie Child’ track I’d yearned for on CD1. Cracking stuff.

The DVD is taken from a solo French concert from April 1979 when Tim Blake was promoting ‘New Jerusalem’ and all 4 tracks shown are taken from that album, separated by brief snippets of an interview (in French).  Flanked by banks of synthesisers and illuminated by various lasers this is a faithful reproduction of the album as well as a visual demonstration of his live showmanship. A historical document indeed!