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2 Aug 2017

Ironbridge “Ironbridge” 1973 UK Prog Power Pop

Ironbridge “Ironbridge” 1973 UK Prog Power Pop

The sole, eponymous LP of the British band was released in 1973 by EMI Label, unfortunately in France only ! There's no information available about the band ( even their names ) expect the fact they came from Telford area in Shropshire and were previousley known as Fluff.

The music itself is best described as very melodic, early Badfinger ( well done vocal harmonies, catchy melodies ) combined with George Harrison ( beautiful electric / acoustic guitar sound ), some hard rock ( on few tracks ) and progressive rock influences ( occasional mellotron passages, changing moods )......

Now, here's an album that seems to have slipped under the radar of the Tapestry Of Delights, Galactic Ramble and everyone else for that matter. Anyone heard of Ironbridge? Recently released on CD by reissue label Flawed Gems, this album absolutely knocked me out on the first listen. It is an instantly loveable album filled with 12 unpretentious songs with a distinct power pop theme running throughout and is easily my favourite find of 2012. The only reason I left it so long to write about it was because I wanted my own vinyl copy before the word gets out about this band. I may be wrong, but I can see this record selling for large amounts of cash pretty soon. There are currently a few mint copies available from various sources and are selling for between $35-$60.

So what do we know about Ironbridge? Not a lot really. Flawed Gems didn't give much away with the CD liner notes other than that they were from Telford in Shropshire and released five singles (3 on DJM, 2 on Decca) between 1969 and 1972 under the name Fluff. None of the records charted but the band gained a reputation in France somehow. Their one and only LP was released in 1973 by EMI Columbia in France only. A Japanese issue is mentioned on but I've not yet tracked one down. The band consisted of Alan Millington (vocals/drums), Mick Skinner (lead guitar), B. Shattock & A. Phillips. First names and instruments are unknown for Shattock and Phillips. The album itself starts as it means to go on,with a killer song, "Just A Bridge", sounding like a post-Graham Nash Hollies with George Harrison on slide guitar. The band had already won me over by the end of the first chorus. Next track "Back Room" starts off with a Leslie speakered electric guitar intro before turning into a chugging, Power Pop bison, parallel with Badfinger. "Hallelujah Days" is a straight forward yet joyous song with a similar sentiment to "My Sweet Lord", celebrating the simple things in life, fishing and drinking beer, "Down by the river, out in the sun, fishing in the water where the big fish run, oh lord hallelujah days!" goes the first verse which has been an earworm of mine on many occasions. Lush acoustic guitars, a Mellotron on flute setting and cello provide an ethereal aura on "Getting Older". Fans of the Fading Yellow comps with cream over this one. Next up, "Making It Hard" another Badfinger/Who like rocker, with still no dip in quality, by this point you'll be wondering how you've never heard about Ironbridge before, just like I did. "Show" is as progressive as this record gets with a few stop and start moments. Psych DJ's could get away with giving this tune a spin. Is that the sound of the band toking on a bong between each verse? 

So far that's six out of six ace tracks. Is side two just as good? Pretty much, yes! "It's All Right" is another fab Power Popper and "Frost and Fire" resembles the Raspberries doing what they do best and would've made a killer single, although DJM records would disagree as this was the song that would lead to their contract being terminated back in the Fluff days. What were they thinking?!?! "Simple Man" justifies a late 60's Bee Gees comparison mixed in with the Hollies again with some more of that spine tingling slide guitar which turns up just at the right moments. Ironbridge seem to share lead vocal duties too which appears more obvious on the minute long "Glen" which sounds like the same guy who sang "Hallelujah Days". The singer really lets rip on the throat shredding "I Can Fly", a tune which out grooves the Flamin' Groovies. The band go for the epic finale with "Shanty" clocking in at six minutes forty three seconds, kind of reminding me of "Band on the Run" for the last two minutes when the song changes pace. The album fades out with multi layered vocal harmonies and Mellotron. 

I don't know how well the album sold in France, neither do I know what the band did after it's release. I'm hoping someone will fill me in with more details. If that happens, I'll update this post in the relevant places. For the time being, dig Gough............

In mid-sixties Britain, countless beat groups up and down the country were eager to leave their mark. Things were no different in the Wellington area of Shropshire, were the most popular band were The Birds & The Bees… soon to morphed into Fluff and finally, into Ironbridge.

How the Birds & Bees and Fluff (who the hell came up with those names?) came to be Ironbridge is a story about as long as the very bridge you see on the album sleeve… much longer in fact! Well, the world’s first iron bridge had been built in the Shropshire town, so it’s little wonder the band opted for a rather obvious name after a change in line-up was in order. Ah yes, I almost forgot to mention that theirs is also a story of several changes as far as the line-up is concerned. Not that this is anything strange in the music biz of course.

But rather than rehash old facts and recycle old iron, lets focus on the band’s music instead. Ironbridge (that’s Alan Millington, Mick Skinner, Gerry Ward and Alan Phillips for your information) released their one and only album (yep, this one!) back in 1973, on the then EMI International label.

The album has since achieved cult status and thanks to Angel Air Records, is now available on CD for the first time ever. While nowadays the band’s music falls under the category ‘power pop’ (personally, I couldn’t disagree more!), back then it was described by reviewers as somewhere between The Beatles and The Moody Blues.

Well, there’s a lot of folk-rock mixed with the occasional country twang-a-lang, especially evident on ‘Back Room’, which is a brilliant blend of folk-rock psychedelia and upbeat country & western. ‘Hallelujah Days’ might suggest some gospel-infused country-rock ditty, and that’s precisely what it is. It’s a tune which bands like The Flying Burrito Brothers would have chosen.

Sentiment and reflection set the tone (or the tune, rather) on ‘Getting Older’, a somewhat sedate and chilled out affair with soft guitar chords and a flute ringing through. A lot more Sixties than Seventies for sure.
Old bones start to rock again on ‘Making It Hard’, and nicely so. Great harmonies and catchy hooks on this one!

‘Show’ is a wonderful quirky song about some folks putting on a magical show that promises to give the audience special things, with flying ballerinas and all. Befittingly, the dominant musical factor here is psychedelic rock, with various strange sound effects thrown in for good measure. So very retro, and so very cool!

“I have heard a story, and a lesson has been learned that the fire within me will not die” goes the opening line on ‘Frost And Fire’ – a rock ballad with lyrics that allow for many interpretations.

The charmingly old-fashioned feel of ‘Simple Man’ with its emphasis on acoustic is one for campfire sing-alongs, while the punchy 70’s rock of ‘I Can Fly’ flies into the opposite direction.

The melodious ‘Just A Day’ (bonus track) with its subtly applied strings will appeal to almost everyone, but it’s track 12 which has got to be the absolute piece de resistance!
‘Shanty’ alone is worth the album, a brilliantly composed tale of the sea broken into segments. Starting out with a mere flute, the narrative voice sings of a ship about to embark on a voyage, with someone’s sweetheart left behind on the quay and tears streaming down her face. These emotions are emphasized by melancholic guitar riffs, strings, punctuated keys, and an altogether floaty and dreamy quality. Gradually though, it all turns heavier and the dreamy quality makes place for excellent but hard riffs and keyboard sounds – obviously reflecting inner turmoil as well as the stormy sea. Once the musical climax is reached, the sound mellows and the narrative voice picks up again – singing of a sea that by now has calmed down, and of the ship heading back to the harbour while the Captain is looking older. Some delicate a-capella singing brings the voyage to an end. Simply fantastic!

The album is a rarity indeed, and it’s a bonus that Ironbridge songs don’t sound the slightest bit rusty to the modern ear. A...........

From pop to prog and back in one fell swoop: lost masterpiece comes across the Channel four decades after its release.

For all the Shropshire’s claim to fame, two feats stand out with various degrees of prominence: the world’s first iron bridge and a top-notch band who branded themselves after this construction, the first group out of the county to have a record out. Released originally only in France, it solidified – even on the name level – a string of singles the ensemble, called FLUFF, issued on DJM in Decca in 1969-1972. By the time their LP made it onto the market, it wasn’t strict pop anymore, and the quartet’s instrumental iron became a part of the overall irony so infectious in the effervescent skank of “Hallelujah Days,” its tune spilling over into the baroque strings-drenched “Getting Older,” and mischievous in “Just A Day” or “Simple Man” that could have passed, in their twine of acoustic and slide guitars as well as romantic vocals, for obscure George Harrison’s songs.

“We’re trying to give the audience special treat,” indeed, as goes “Show” which the orchestra slips into the prog waters – with a bubbly effect to boot – and the bass-buzzing “I Can Fly” dabbles with psychedelic tropes. On a much firmer ground, “Making It Hard” rocks with a sharp riff from Mick Skinner to the fore and Gerry Ward’s four-string puncturing the folky inflections, while the vocal harmonies-filled “Frost And Fire” crosses over to the country rock sway. Yet epic closer “Shanty” is unmistakably English, and seriously so, piano and flute pouring grandiosity into a traditional motif and tension heightening as the piece flows forward and gets heavier to land on the symphonic pop – back where it’s all started in the first place. Sadly, that would be the only release for the Shropshire pioneers who could’ve been as big as the landmark that gave them their Air............

This is a confidentially released album as it was only issued in France in 1973 by Columbia (EMI), although there seems to have also been a previous, Japan-only issue with different cover artwork.
The version I own is the (unauthorized) 2012 CD reissue on Sweden's Flawed Gems Records.
This eponymous record is the vivid illustration of the very existence of 'melodic pop gems' that are still being unearthed even though 40 years have elapsed since it was meticulously crafted by a quartet of British lads hailing from the Telford area in Shropshire county, about 30 miles west of Birmingham in Great Britain.
They could be called the long-lost brothers of Badfinger, albeit the rural, bucolic branch of the family, if I may say so.
Their handling of guitar sounds is also reminiscent of George Harrison, if not really The Beatles, (check opening track 'Just a Bridge' for evidence) and the album also includes a truly magic power pop song called 'Frost and Fire' which is akin to what The Raspberries were doing at the same time across the Atlantic.
Finally, Ironbridge occasionally dabbled in Status Quo-like boogie but the overall impression left by their sole record is really one of wonderment at the discovery of such gems from an often overlooked period in rock music's history, namely the early-to-mid .............


01. Just A Bridge
02. Back Room
03. Hallelujah Days
04. Getting Older
05. Making It Hard
06. Show
07. It's All Right
08. Frost And Fire
09. Simple Man
10. Glen
11. I Can Fly
12. Shanty

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..







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