- Michael (Slim) Batsch - bass
- Alan Burgess - vocals
- Steve Clayton - keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, flute
- Jim Milne - vocals, guitar, bass
- Beau (Steve Clayton and Jim Milne)
- The Way We Live (Steve Clayton and Jim Milne)
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Catalog: 2130 217
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: UK pressing
Growing up in Rochdale, Lancashire, Michael Batsch, Alan Burgess, Steve Clayton and Jim Milne were all schoolboy buddies. Sharing a common interest in rock and roll, in 1966 the four formed a beat band. They also began hanging out with fellow school mate John Brierley who had built what amounted to a primitive recording studio in his parents' house. By the late 1960s, Batsch and Burgess had dropped out of the group, leaving Brierley, Clayton and Milne to continue pursuing their musical interests.
Between school (Milne enrolled in college intending to become a teacher) and work, the trio found time to record a series of demo tapes, eventually shopping them around as The Way We Live (the name pulled from an article they'd read in a women's magazine). Among the labels contacted was John Peel's newly-established Dandelion Records. Impressed with the material, Peel reportedly signed the group the day after he heard their material. Once signed to Dandelion, Peel suggested the trio re-record their demo material. Given a shoestring budget, they were hustled into a London studio and given two days to finish the job. The resulting set was released as "A Candle To Judith" (named in honor of Clayton's girlfriend, soon-to-be-wife). In spite of glowing critical reviews, the album failed to sell.
Disappointed, but still supportive, Peel agreed to finance a second album. He also suggested the band consider a name change - Tractor being his recommendation. For whatever reason, the name stuck.
As Tractor, the band debuted with the instantly obscure 1971 maxi-single "Stoney Glory" b/w "Marie" and "As You Say" (Dandelion catalog number 2001 282 ). While the single vanished without a trace, Dandelion elected to finance an album.
In support of the album, Clayton and Milne (with Brierly handling sound and engineering) undertook their first live performances as part of a brief UK college tour. Unfortunately, the always dreaded creative differences appeared. With Brierley and Milne arguing over future direction, the former tendered his resignation, turning his attention to engineering and production work. His role as sound engineer was quickly replaced by former band member/photographer Alan Burgess.
Returning to Rochdale, recording sessions for the album took place at Dandelion Studios. Interestingly, Dandelion was nothing more than a name given to Brierley's home studio. Brierley, Clayton and Milne literally recorded the album in one of the home's bedrooms, while taping and mixing took place in the attic. In spite of the fact, the set was recorded in extremely primitive circumstances (a pair of tape recorders, several microphones and a six-channel mixer), 1972's "Tractor" sounds surprisingly impressive. Also worth mentioning, at least to our ears, the set's characterized by an extremely sharp sound. Admittedly not a very technical description - you'll just have to listen to it. With Clayton and Milne collaborating on the music, the collection bounces between electronics-tinged hard rock (check out "Shubunkin") and occasional stabs at lighter acoustic faire ("The Watcher"). Milne had a decent voice that was quite versatile and well-matched to the material. Interestingly, on a couple of tracks such as the opener, "All Ends Up", he bore a faint resemblance to Ozzy Osbourne (no kidding). Sure, Milne's lyrics are occasionally a little bit on the dated side ("Little Girl In Yellow"), but the only true disappointment was the atypical throwaway boogie workout, "Ravenscroft's 13-Bar Boogie". All told, one of our favorite recent finds!
"Tractor" track listing:
1) All Ends Up (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
2) Little Girl In Yellow (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
3) The Watcher (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
4) Ravenscroft's 13 Bar Boogie (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
1) Shubunkin (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
2) Hope In Flavour (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
3) Everytime It Happens (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)
4) Make the Journey (Jim Milne - Steve Clayton)