Here & Now - Give & Take (1978)
Here & Now's debut album is a stunning, if slightly inconsistent effort; when it's good, it kicks serious donkey and ranks up there with the very best space/prog has to offer. You will be hard pushed to find better.
If you're familiar with "Floating Anarchy" (listed under Gong), then you'll have an idea of what you're in for, as this is "The Here and Now Band" referred to on that album. Here & Now mix punk, reggae influences and space rock into a sound reminiscent of Gong and Hawkwind, and it's easy to hear where the Ozric Tentacles got their sound from (the Ozrics regularly supported Here & Now in the early 1980s before their first album release).
The first track is actually entitled "What You See is What You Are" on my original vinyl copy - and on the Here & Now fan sites. A catchy, spacy keyboard hook is joined by a unison female vocal and the bass/drums/guitar pile in with a driving riff for a pair of verses and chorsuses that are pleasant but don't attempt to progress. But the interesting bit is to follow; the instrumental section kicks off into a different dimension - a spine-tingling space bridge that could have been lifted from "You", but with the Here & Now twist; Kieth da Bass driving Kif Kif le Batteur's jazzy percussions under some superb Hillage-esque guitar from Steffi Sharpstrings - we get the feeling that this is something the Ozrics would like to have achieved.
"Nearer Now" is a well-written song with fabulous "walky" bass lines. There seem to be snippets of early Pink Floyd and Hawkwind here. There's a punky edge, and the song is in a fairly standard format - but somehow this is unmistakably prog rock, with the catchy yet unpredictable melody lines, contrapuntal instrumental parts and ambiguity of key base. Around 3:40 the instrumental section kicks in, and Steffi S provides spine-tingling and melodic guitar solo lines treading once more into Steve Hillage's shoes with something that might have come from "Green".
"Grate Fire of London" is the centerpiece for me. An absolute masterpiece in itself and worth the price of the album. Smoky keyboards swirl around ambient guitars as Sooze ba Blooze sings "I'm gonna find you again" in a pure voice - comparisons to Annie Haslam may be appropriate here, but the space whispers are more similar to Shakhti Yoni. Percussion and bass increase the dramatic tension, and we get colours of "Angel's Egg", but with added chaos and sirens. The instrumental section from around 5:02 onwards is peculiarly regressive in some ways, in that it hearkens back to "Flying Teapot" and even "Camembert Electrique", but with Keith's pounding bass lines. Steffi's unison guitars and Kif Kif's precision drumming confirm the "Camembert..." links - but the music does not kick in, leaving anticipation for what happens next...
...which I find somewhat unsatisfying. Keith's bass has a fantastic rich sound, da Blitz works some great spacey keyboards, Sharpstrings provides some really subtle stabbing accompaniment - but the overall effect is of a very repetitive and unimaginative song "This Time". When the change comes it's chaotic - but in a disorganised way. The "stream of consciousness" male vocals are probably the best feature of this track - although I might take issue with the line "If you wanna lot of chocolate on your biscuit join a club..."
"Seventies Youth" is delightfully "Dippy Hippy" and a simply wonderful song. At the same time, it is the foundation of the songwriting path that Here & Now would follow. The albums that come after this, up to "Been and Gone" all develop the style presented in this track - but are very hard to track down. Notable points; It's just a great song with superb textures - not harmonically adventurous, but slightly Bowie in flavour, and very psychedelic.
"Improvisation" is just that. 11 minutes of blissful Here & Now style improv - although you just know that the structure was pre-arranged... H & N demonstrate what it is to play with feeling - this is how it's done, boys and girls, and this would only be out of place on an Ozrics album because it outclasses the Ozrics all over. Otherwise, you might be forgiven for thinking this was the Tentacular ones with Hillage on lead and beautiful and sometimes slightly disturbing female backing vocals. Enjoy this one at maximum volume and dance around your clothes, which are probably in a pile on the floor by now...
But close the curtains, OK ;0)
Easily the proggiest of Here & Now's output of the 1970s and 1980 (the remainder of their albums focus on progressive songwriting, incorporating ever deeper punk and reggae influences), "Give and Take" possesses something of a mysterious otherworldly quality and comes highly recommended, despite the fact that I can't really award masterpiece status, mainly because of "This Time".
Give & Take was recorded without Daevid Allen, who had fallen ill after the release of Planet Gong's LP Live Floating Anarchy in 1978. The remaining members released it under their former name, Give & Take. Honestly, it makes no difference. If you don't look at the name on the CD and put it on, you could be tricked to believe it is a genuine early Gong album. Every element that constitutes the seminal space rock outfit's sound is reproduced to perfection: soaring guitar (courtesy of Steffy Sharpstrings, who would be drafted for the 1990s Gong reunion), sweeping synthesizers, psychedelic melodies, accelerating beats, and hypnotic pulses -- they're all there. The main difference resides in the quality of the compositions. They don't reach the same level of musical excitement; they lack Allen's cast of characters. The opener "What You See Is What You Get" is the strongest number, a tight song in two parts, first distilled from the best material on Angel's Egg and later hooking up on a riff that emulates the ground-laying space rock of You. This twin brother of a band gets suspiciously close to plagiarism in "Grate Fire of London," in which a female vocalist (either Suze Da Blooz or Annie Wombat) sings suggestive lines heavy on echo exactly like Gillie Smyth in "Prostitute Poem" (among other songs). The surprise comes with "Improvisation," an inspired, hard-driving space rock jam the likes of which Gong itself rarely recorded. Give and Take is much stronger than the group's later exercises, but it remains only an enjoyable curiosity for Gong aficionados. A long-out-of-print collector's item, this album has been reissued on CD by Tin Toy in late 2001. ~ François Couture, All Music Guide
1. What You See Is What You Get (5:23)
2. Nearer Now (5:42)
3. Grate Fire of London (7:33)
4. This Time (4:46)
5. Seventies Youth (5:00)
6. Improvisation (11:04)
- Steffy Sharpstrings :guitar, vocals
- Keith tha Missile : bass, vocals
- Gavin da Blitz : keyboards, synthesizers
- Kif Kif Le Batter : drums, guitar, vocals
- Suze da Blooze & Annie Mandrake : Choir of Angels