C.O.B – Spirit Of Love (Bread And Wine Records BRINECD5)

Spirit Of LoveC.O.B’s 1970 acid folk and sublimely spiritual Spirit Of Love has been re-released with a CD and vinyl pressing!

Now, for the uninitiated, C.O.B was the three-piece band Clive Palmer (hence the name, Clive’s Original Band) formed after leaving The Incredible String Band and did a bit of world trekking across the Middle East and into Kathmandu and Kashmir, as music-minded folks who were searching for the meaning of life did, from time to time, way back when people braved the world sans the comfort of a cell phone.

Put simply: Spirit Of Love drones and melodically groans in a beautiful Wicker Man bonfire haze that conjures both Druidism’s sacred dance and the cloistered Durham Cathedral monastery chanting that praised the soul of the Venerable Bede, while still appealing to the then-current 1970 folk ethos of The Incredible String Band, Comus, Forest, Dr. Strangely Strange, and (the absolutely brilliant) Lal and Mike Waterson’s Bright Phoebus.

The first song, ‘Spirit Of Love’ is a sing-a-long strummed ode to the 70’s communal dream that “will set you free”. It’s sort of like George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord” bumping into The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, said, ‘This album is a worn and autumnal tombstone whose ghost will never allow age and moss to erase its sorrow”.

That’s certainly true for several songs: ‘Music For The Ages’ drifts on a remembered childhood river of psychological thought, curtesy of John Bidwell’s “customized dulcimer with a widened neck, causing it to sound like a lute superimposed on sitar” (Thank you, Rob Young’s Electric Eden book). And ‘Soft Touches Of Love’ simply slows time and (almost) bleeds with hieroglyphic mystery.

But then, ‘Banjo Land’ plucks its way into lovely acoustic seaside relief with real beachgoing sounds.

Oh my (!), ‘Wade In The Water’ really does catch the then current authority of The Waterson’s harmonic acapella sound. The tune pulses with folk song beauty.

But don’t take my word for it: Grahame Hood, in his Clive Palmer biography, Empty Pocket Blues, writes, “Making Spirit Of Love the Melody Maker Folk Album of the Month, Andrew Means wrote, ‘This album completely justifies his reputation as an innovator. COB is unlike anything on the folk scene…The tunes are often unpredictable on first hearing, the melody lines taking courses which no one else would dream of’”.

And in Folk and Country Magazine, Eric Winter wrote, “Much of the music on Spirit Of Love should be allowed simply to flow over you. That way you’ll soak it up and feel pleasantly drunk on it—the combination of the record and a bottle of wine is too much to contemplate”.

Then, on the second side, because we are talking about a CD and vinyl re-issue, the traditional Scots bothy ballad ‘Scranky Black Farmer’ gets spooky with much more Wicker Man final flames. The tune justifies (the before-mentioned) Grahame Hood’s comment that,” It was just a bunch of blokes sitting around playing. Clive and Mick {Bennett} seemed impossibly old, not just in years, they felt they were from distant past, operating to rules older than time”.

And the absolutely desolate ‘Evening Air’ will certainly appeal to early Richard Thompson fans as he sang, “She’s run away, she’s run away/And she ran so bitterly” from Fairport’s ‘Sloth’. The song simply pulses through the literary bloodstream of Thomas Hardy as he testifies to the sad fate of young Tess Derbyfield—she of the once noble house of d’ Urbervilles.

‘Serpent’s Kiss’, is perhaps, the highlight of the record, as it transcends folk music, and becomes, as Rob Young (thank you, again!) writes of the band in the brilliant Electric Eden, “all three were immersed in books on oriental philosophy, Buddhism, and ‘a search for meaning’”.

The penultimate tune, ‘Sweet Slavery’, is positively epic and touches the bliss of a Joseph Campbell discussion of transcendent love.

It all ends with ‘When He Came Home’ that haunts the last thought of this record. It’s sort of an old music box of a song that sings with an ancient pagan woodland prayer, and perhaps, with a cloistered monk reflected reverie.

And this time, trust me, you can take my word for it: COB’s second album is even better, with more melodic colour, a really nice Middle Eastern vibe, great (with perhaps less mantra-induced) songs, an amazing Paul Whitehead cover, a Ralph McTell production, and none other than (drumroll, please!) Danny Thompson on bowed double bass. By the way, its title, Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart, is almost as difficult to remember as that famous and quizzical dementia test that requires a quick very Americana (and somewhat presidential) recall of random words. Let’s all say them together: “person, woman, man, camera, TV”.

That said, Spirit Of Love sings with sadness; it sings with aged folk barreled John Barleycorn ale; it touches deep forest fears; and it conjoins the beauteous colours of an agrarian past with modern folk song tunes that still worship the weather, sing love songs that simply want the sacred crops to continue to melodically grow, and then dance under all the stars in sky that spin like a really nice record from long ago that still, somehow, manages to bewitch with aged and worn tapestry magic– even after all these years.

Bill Golembeski

Label website: www.eastcentralone.com

‘When He Came Home’: