At the time, it seemed that most people in the media found The Way We
Live/Tractor to be most remarkable because they weren't a "full" band but a duo
(Jim Milne - vocals, guitar, Steve Clayton - percussion, drums) augmented by a
bass player (Dave Addison). But what I, for one, find most remarkable, and
indeed most enchanting, was their behind-the-times adherence to the tenets of
Signed to John Peel's Dandelion record label (named after his beloved, deceased hamster), TWWL turned out some of the most interesting material of 1971. The LP opens with 'King Dick II', which is exciting prog rock (I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms!), with superb guitar, lots of spiky riffs and a worthy revolutionary message. 'Squares' is mellow-paced, but NOT easy listening, it's a great "downer" piece - "Life is a circle of emptiness..."
Eastern-style licks abound on the manically paced instrumental 'Siderial'. 'Angel' (often misprinted as "Angle" or even "Angie"!) is gentle and melodic, whilst 'Storm' is a great rock work-out, with some superlative drumming, whose pace suddenly drops and goes all bootiful and soft-like, then fast again, then soft, then... you get the idea. 'Willow' is a number done in Led Zep style. 'Madrigal' funnily enough has its eye set firmly on the time when wenches wore wimples and geezers stuck swords in each other - last week in Clapham? No, the middle ages! Very much like Magna Carta. ‘The Way Ahead' is a WONDERFUL tripped-out fuzz buster with echoed, Moody Blues-styled, harmony vocals and multiple time changes. A thrilling journey into the centre of the third eye!
The second album, issued in 1972, by which time they'd changed their name to the more prosaic Tractor, featured material (thankfully!)in a similar vein to the former. 'All Ends Up' kicks off the LP with a magnificent, sustained, ear-splitting whistling, before ascending to heavy fuzz rock heaven. Nice "Beware Of The Man" lyrics and a tasteful, long fade, dominated by distorted guitar, before it lets rip again. Up next is 'Little Girl In Yellow', which is at the other extreme - all semi-acoustic strumming and dreamy, acid wisdom lyrics. "Riding in my goblin ship / Guided by a mermaid / Watch out for the treasure isle / All you wish and more is there for you..." 'The Watcher' is laid back, folk-tinged. And 'Ravenscroft's 13 Bar Boogie' is simply what its name doth clearly state - no more, no less. 'Shubunkin' (nice fish, nice track!) is an eerie, acid-soaked, phased freak-out which then opens up like a rose, revealing a beatific soothing melody, where the vocals are so deep in the mix as to be both unintelligible and as warm and wistful as a half-remembered dream - a truly fantastic piece of work! 'Hope In Favour' is solid rock, with some wicked distorted lead vocal parts and a basement/home studio feel. 'Everytime It Happened', which always reminds me of Bowie's poignant 'Letter To Hermione', probably due to their shared, languid yet strained, vocal performance, and overall exhausted aura.
The final track, which echoes the closer on 'A Candle For Judith', is this album's crown jewel. A 10-minute long piece, whose sentiments, obvious from its transparent title - 'Make (Take) The Journey (The Trip)', and lyrical declarations of acid enlightenment - "The pieces fit together like a puzzle on the floor / All at once I see it all / I've looked so long before". But the journey is not without risk, as underlined by some musical mayhem - brilliant guitar playing, forceful and hypnotic percussive blasts and a wonderful conclusion, highly redolent of Floyd's 'Bike' - eerie echoes and a long fade-out, terminated by a barrage of off-kilter musical box spookiness, the ideal soundtrack to a nightmare in the nursery.
Now comes the sermon... These LPs have suffered an unwarranted neglect. I would wager that a majority of those persons who are enamoured of 60s psychedelia are ignorant of these LPs and quite oblivious to their not inconsiderable charms; and at the "other end" of the musical spectrum, those positively disposed towards progressive rock are equally neglectful of these LPs’ brand of "tardo-psych". All of this is regrettable and perhaps impossible of rectification. For it is due to the very nature of "70s psych" (the genre which shouldn't exist!) that LPs such as this have long since fallen into the artificial chasm which has opened up between 60s "psych" and 70s "prog".