John Peel's Tractor 'The Road From Townhead Mill Rochdale: 40th Anniversary'

Through the unstinting efforts of Chris Hewitt and Ozit records, Rochdale psych rockers Tractor have probably enjoyed more profile and success in recent times than at any time in their 40-plus year career.

Intrinsically routed in a local Rochdale scene that received both financial and inspirational encouragement from John Peel - hence John Peel's Tractor - the band signed to Peel's Dandelion label in the early 70s. They later lent their name to the famed Tractor Sound studios in Rochdale, which they built and which was a recipient of a blue plaque award in 2009. The album title refers to John Peel's short stint at Townhead Mill in Rochdale in 1959, while the actual 40th anniversary is a reference to Peel's first Tractor release on Dandelion. He may have adopted Liverpool as his city of choice, but his belief in, and backing of, Tractor and the Rochdale music scene remained steadfast.

Tractor garnered critical acclaim for their music, immersed themselves in Rochdale's most famous studio (used by the likes of Julian Cope, Joy Division, The Fall, etc.) and played a pivotal role in the Deeply Vale Festival, but recording success eluded the duo of guitarist Jim Milne and drummer Steve Clayton, who were aided by engineer John Brierly.

Perhaps it was all due to a bad timing, as prog's purple patch was already on the wane when things started to happen for the band. Whatever the reasons, Tractor's unique musical blend is well captured on this 40th anniversary CD and vinyl release and is a timely reminder of some truly inspired music that straddled prog-rock and psychedelia. There are snatches of early Hawkwind, Yes, Gentle Giant and Floyd influences among a handful of catchy melodies, shaped by steely riffs and music of real substance.

The album is full of the duo's startling sonic presence, and in Jim Milne they have an intense guitarist who varies his attack and tone as part of several extended workouts, all neatly linked by Steve Clayton's running commentary. The fuzzed-up, quasi-metal and psychedelic drone of 'Little Girl In Yellow' and the psychedelic anthem of 'Shubunkin' are highlights, closely matched by the fuzz guitar and rich harmonies of 'Everytime It Happens'.

The riff-driven 'Willow' is reminiscent of the hard-rocking Stray, and Tractor's broad musical sweep is highlighted by 'Storm', with echoes of Floyd in their proggy finish, and the acoustic intro and quiet/loud dynamics of 'Lost On The Ocean'.

For the rest there's a mix of unreleased tracks, demos and live snippets, including a radio broadcast reprise of the lyrically autobiographical 'Argument For One', and a pre-release demo of their rare NME chart single, 'No More Rock & Roll'.

Tractor's intense mix of psychedelic prog rock is played with verve, passion, intelligence and real imagination and both the CD and splendid double-gatefold vinyl are worth investigating.

**** (4/5)

Pete Feenstra