The National Head Band evolved from a group called The Business a quartet featuring Neil Ford (guitar, vocals), Dave Paull (bass, keyboards, guitar, vocals), Jan Schelhaas (keyboards) and John Skorsky (drums). After signing a management deal and changing their name they got a deal with Warner Brothers who, for some unfathomable reason, insisted that the group should have two drummers. Enter Lee Kerslake (drums, keyboards, vocals), fresh from recording the first Toe Fat album. However, no sooner had the band entered the studios than drummer Skorsky decided to quit! The remaining quartet had quite divisive musical tastes: Schelhaas was a soul fan, Ford was a bluesman, Paull was ostensibly a folkie and Kerslake was more into rock. Given the task of melding all these influences into a coherent album was Eddie Offord who had just completed work on The Yes Album. Offord was more than up to the task in hand and the results he achieved are admirable as elements of all of the individual members musical interests can be heard on the album, which fits neatly in with other albums released in the early seventies that are recognised as classics of the blooming progressive scene. Label incompetency, a mistimed and misplaced tour of Top Rank venues, and a whole batch of faulty album pressings did the band no favours who, unheralded, split later the same year.
Opening number Got No Time starts off with a riff that is vaguely similar to Day Tripper by The Beatles but the piano adds a bit of rhythm and blues to the proceedings. A nice heavier ending courtesy of a couple of electric guitars gives way to their acoustic counterparts in You which displays the groups talent for harmonising. The mixture of the acoustic six strings with the bold keyboard and the soulful vocals provides an interesting blend. The excellent Too Much Country Water is up next and again the harmony vocals add a lot to the number. Schelhaas provides jaunty piano and different guitar solos emanate from each speaker, before things ramp up for the ending. Lead Me Back is certainly a Beatles influenced number with the Moog being tapped for a wide range of brass band sounds. However, the song doesn’t really evolve into anything that special and would have benefited from having an earlier fade out. Another Apple band, Badfinger, can be heard within the grooves of Listen To The Music and is almost up to the same standard as that masterful but ill-fated group.
Unusual for even progressive bands, the harmonium takes centre stage for Islington Farm, a more melancholy number. The guitar has a ton of echo applied to it which contrasts brightly with the layered vocals. Overall a strange little song that I’m not entirely convinced by but holds up well against other experimental numbers of the era. Paull’s folk leanings are more on display during Try To Reach You with Ford’s bottle neck guitar solo proves a standout moment. Leaving the country twang behind, Brand New World mixes bits of everything that has gone before. The abilities of Offord come to the fore as the blend of different voices, a fluid bass line, the organ, acoustic and electric guitars is absolutely perfect, a great song. The grand finale is provided by Mister Jesus which sets off at a blistering pace – like a distant cousin to Flight Of The Rat by Deep Purple. However, this only serves as an intro, for after two minutes the rock is replaced by the acoustic guitars, organ and harmony vocals. The ending of the song is quite masterful with initially a Beatles-type section and then a bit more up-tempo with wahwah guitar pulling things to a close.
Although not a long-lost classic album, the National Head Band showed more than enough promise that they could have achieved far greater things. Instead Kerslake went off to join Uriah Heep, Schelhaas had stints in both Camel and Caravan (whom he rejoined a couple of years ago for their excellent The Unauthorised Breakfast Item album) and Paull joined the also excellent Jonesy. No idea what Ford did after the group disbanded, although the sleeve notes to the album conclude with the fact that after 37 years with no contact Schelhaas and Ford are back in touch and have started writing together again. Will we see Albert 2 after all these years? Who can tell!
(Info from sleeve)
In many ways, Albert One has a familiar story: Label sign experimental band, band makes album, label doesn’t promote band, band make no money, band split.
The moniker turned out to be apt — for this is musically an intelligent, experimental expose of progressive influences and excesses, played by a bunch of talented, passionate guys who knew (more or less) what they were doing.
The band members had eclectic tastes and strong personalities. Schelhaas was a soul fan, whereas Ford’s background had largely been blues and Paull was ostensibly a folkie. Only Kerslake had had a crack at the post-Beatles rock that was now spreading like wildfire on the underground. Progressive rock heavyweight Eddie Offord, fresh from success with Yes’ The Yes Album became the album’s producer.
The resulting album is a piquant mix of blues, folk and progressive interlaced with a harder, rockier sensibility.
“Got No Time” begins the record, starting out as a rock standard, the track gave way at the bridge to an extended percussion solo from Kerslake. Picking up on the riff from the opener, “You” is more pastoral and showcases the band’s talent for harmonising. “Too Much Country Water” — often misleading attributed to Uriah Heep due to the Kerslake connection, is, by that virtue the band’s best known track. Heavy and rockin’, it has the band at their colourful best; ending with a great riff. “Lead Me Back” is perhaps the most Beatles-que number on the album, with a clear cue coming from Abbey Road. It features Paull’s best bass-playing and some magic moog work from Schelhaas.
The highlight of the whole record, “Listen to the Music” is another Beatles inspired ballad, mixing four-part hormonies, blended effortlessly with an intricate rock template that remains all their own.
With the Harmonium driving “For Islington Farm”; it becomes a lush, poetic number full of soaring harmonies and melancholy. A rhythmic, folk ballad follows in the shape of “Try to Reach You” which again features some blistering bass from Paull. “Brand New World” contains insightful lyrics and is another intelligent mix of styles, a big stab at rock.
A two-parter ends the album and brings together all the aforementioned skills with delicious aplomb. Beginning as an intense rock-out, with all and sundry playing hard, it gives way halfway to their most pastoral and wistful side.
Experimental, but tied both to an array of influences and the mood of the time, it stands as a snapshot of a music scene undergoing a huge shift and a talented band who deserved more recognition.
Jan Schelhaas would later join Caravan and Camel, Lee Kerslake would go on to Uriah Heep.
– Neil Ford / guitar, moog, vocals
– Lee Kerslake / drums, moog, vocals
– Dave Paull / bass, mood, acoustic guitar, vocals
– Jan Schelhaas / piano, organ, harmonium, moog
01. Got No Time – 5:00
02. You – 3:59
03. Too Much Country Water – 4:12
04. Lead Me Back – 4:01
05. Listen To The Music – 6:30
06. Islington Farm – 3:12
07. Try To Reach You – 4:20
08. Brand New World – 6:24
09. Mister Jesus – 8:10