December 01, 2009

The Dragon Wakes. Rare pearls from the Third Ear Band archives: a project never realized.

On October 2000, just after Paul Minns’ suicide and Glen’s recover in hospital, I got the idea to realized a CD-tribute with unrealized and rare tracks from my private archive.
In spite Carolyn Looker’s aid, Glen’s wife, that painted the cover (see at the end of this post), my project has never seen the light. The following text (written on October 2000 and revisited on January 2008) is from the CD booklet, translated from English to Italian by Rosemary Barbieri.
The Dragon Wakes
Rare pearls from the Third Ear Band archives
a) Raga in D
b) Raga n. 1 (The Dragon Wakes)
c) Water
d) Eternity in D
e) Druid (One)
All compositions by The Third Ear Band
Copyright Alchemical Music Ltd.
CD project by Luca Ferrari
Tracks selection and booklet notes by Luca Ferrari
English booklet translation by Rosemary Barbieri
a) recorded at Abbey Road Studios (London) on December 1968;
b) recorded at Abbey Road Studios (London) on February 1971;
c), d), e) recorded live at BBC Studios (London) on 17th January, 1971
Remastered by Stefano Amerio at “Arte Suono” Recording Studio (Cavalicchio, Udine) on 29th July, 1999
Dedicated to Carolyn Looker, Richard Coff, Ursula Smith, Ben Cartland, Kathryn Ade
In memory of Glen Sweeney, drummer (1936-2005) and Paul Minns, oboist (1946-1997)
For further information about the Third Ear Band read the authorised biography (Italian/English) "Third Ear Band. Necromancers of the drifting west" written by Luca Ferrari and published by Stampa Alternativa Edizioni.
Write to: Nuovi Equilibri – P.O.Box 97 – 01100 Viterbo (Italy)

In July of 1987 I found myself in London, still on the tracks of Syd Barrett, the brilliant and inventive founder of the Pink Floyd. Even though I had already published “Tatuato sul Muro” (Gammalibri, Milan 1985) a few months earlier, the mystery surrounding his “disappearance” remained unresolved. It still is today, and even if the character and setting have changed somewhat, he has inevitably become a cult, an out and out reference for the next rock generations.
During an interview with Peter Jenner, who talked about his days as Pink Floyd’s manager at Blackhill Enterprises, the magical name of a group I’d never forgotten came up in the conversation, and what was even more incredible was the fact that I’d never ceased listening to their music.
“Now you mention them: what ever happened to the Third Ear Band?” I asked the ex producer. In an unusual display of fair play, Jenner gave me the address of the “old” drummer Glen Sweeney, the soul of the project that broke through the reassuring confines of popular music with three beautifully rare albums between 1969 and 1972...
You can imagine my shock at actually hearing him speak on the phone a few hours later... he sounded a bit hoarse, I thought, too many cigarettes probably...
It was easy, at least it was in the beginning to arrange an interview with him – and he was persuaded – because the music paper I’d been working for at the time seemed interested in doing his story (It was only later that I found out that they were just the empty promises music editors usually make...).
We arranged the interview for eight in the evening in a dodgy part of Shepherds Bush and Glen immediately struck me as being a bit perplexed and wary about my enthusiasm for the story of the group, swallowed up in time.
There were long embarrassing silences in what seemed like anything but a “conversation”. The musician, an elf with a shaved head and a few days stubble, made such an impact on me with his magnetising stare and his apparent inner calm. I was really electrified by the meeting, but on that particular evening we didn’t actually get round to doing a proper interview.
I went back to the hotel with all these questions running through my mind: what had really happened to the Third Ear Band in all those years? Did the group still exist? How did Sweeney make a living? What ever happened to the hand drums that used to beat time in many of my nights listening to Alchemy?
Summer came and went and September arrived. It was only once back at home that I decided to give it another try: this time I wrote to him, thinking that it was the best way to approach him and gain his trust.
No matter how many letters I wrote, I still didn’t manage to get anything other than reticent diffident replies for the whole of the following year – his, was a story that was difficult to reconstruct even with a basic outline and remained faithful to the effect of that music, in an aura of mystery.
I understood that the group must have run into a series of misfortunes, and great naivety, probably due to the management at that time; that somehow all the opportunities they had to break new ground with their music (even a collaboration for the soundtrack of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange!) had vanished into nothing and signed the way into glorious oblivion in the rock encyclopaedias and retrospective music papers.
It was only at the beginning of ’88 when Sweeney realised that my insistence wasn’t because I was trying to get my hands on some of their old tapes to make a few bootlegs (as he later admitted years after in the fanzine “Unhinged”!), but because I wanted to retrace a story that had marked the same evolution of the word popular. Sweeney was finally convinced to “collaborate”, letting me penetrate his amazing universe of scattered memories.
I even managed to persuade him to get the old Band back together again, and although there weren’t many guarantees, he willingly accepted the offer of playing live with two Italian dates (in Bergamo and Umbertide) that I was lucky to organise thanks to the interest of some tenacious local promoters.
It was even easier to get the group back in the studio after fifteen years, once they had signed a record deal with S. Giovanni Valdarno’s Materiali Sonori (Arezzo), one of Italy’s most prestigious Italian indie labels.
Three brand new CD’s were to be released in the space of five years, years in which the group played all over Italy.

Although Sweeney himself admitted his disclosures are unreliable, devoted to trivial divertissement, gratuitous inventions and sensational boutade like other incomparable histrions (Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart...), he tried nonetheless, on a few occasions to tell his story of the group. What follows, goes back to June 1988 and is one of his rare organic reconstructions, though it’s worth mentioning that its authenticity leaves room for a few doubts...
“The Sun Trolley fought a musical guerrilla war against the authorities in Hyde Park. Music was banned, so The Sun Trolley would capture the small bandstand and play until the park police arrived, then the fun would begin: one policeman would be sent to find the keys to the bandstand gate, while the others demanded we stop playing. “No music in the park!, they would shout. “What about the birds?” we would say. Eventually to our delight the local newspapers headlines read “Police ban birdsong in the park”. We felt we had won a victory.
Another event in Oxford, staged for German TV. The Sun Trolley had taken over a small public garden, we began to play, around us hippies had climbed the trees and were flapping their hands and making bird whistles. The police approached, gazed solemly at the chaos. One produced a notebook, looking at my bassdrum. He wrote: “The Giant Sun Trolley”, asked my name and then he said “I’m sorry , sir, but you cannot park here!”.
Luckily the U.F.O. Club opened in time to save us. At U.F.O. we had to play at dawn as the club closed, so we invented such songs as Eternity in D, in which everybody played one note as long as possible or until the club was empty – which did not take long!
The final gig for The Sun Trolley was the Alexandra Palace’s 14th Hour Technicolor Dream. Dave Tomlin went to India to study, I discovered The Hydrogen Jukebox.
The Hydrogen Jukebox was a name looking for a band. I found the band at the Roundhouse (an old engine shed taken over by the underground). They were a free/avantgarde group, and we began to do gigs: one night at the U.F.O. Club I wired up a large pair of scissors to the P.A. with a contact mike and as the band began to play Dick Dadem (trombone) began to slowly cut the dress from his girlfriend. The effects was sensational: we were famous for one whole night. The next morning we found the van and all the instruments had been stolen.
The band slowly drifted apart. It reunited in the late ’70 to make one album, Apocalyptic Anthems, never made (Materiali Sonori published it in 1995 as ).
I now had to try this experiment which had been in my head for years. What if I selected some musicians and we just  sat down and played. We had no amplification now, so it would have to be acoustic. The musicians would have to be free spirits!
I selected Paul Minns, oboe, Richard Coff, violin, Mel Davis, cello, and myself on hand drums. I chose these instruments  because whatever mixture of sounds we played – rock, jazz, folk, it would sound avantgarde…
That same weekend we went to the London Arts Lab. We played for one hour, and at the end we had come up with three very strange tunes!
That same night we went to the “Folk Cellar” in Soho where we played for two hours. “Third Ear Band was born”.
I called the music “alchemical” because it was produced by repetition. Each tune would change every time we played it. On the drums, the beat reduced itself to minimalism to the point of almost microtonality. It was listening to each beat as if it was a symphony.
Third Ear Band finally met the famed Blackhill Enterprises, an underground agency. They had discovered Pink Floyd, Deep Purple etc., so I made sure they discovered Third Ear. They had a project cooking with E.M.I., a label called Harvest Records – it was to be “underground”. So we signed and completed the first album titled Alchemy in one weekend. It sold well, but a lot of the people from E.M.I. disliked the cover, so the distribution of the record was very bad.
Meanwhile Blackhill had started free gigs in Hyde Park ad asked us if we would like to open them. We started with Blind Faith: it was magic playing to 150.000 people, the energy was fantastic!
We went on the Isle of Wight, but we met bad vibes. The Bob Dylan appearance was full of hassles and Bob had not fully recovered from his motorbike crash.
Back in the studios for the second album, we found negative vibes everywhere. Harvest had tired of the underground and the engineer refused to mix the Fire track, so we muddled through as best we could. The album was doomed.
The band gigged on. Occult forces now seemed to manifest themselves. A club in Manchester that we played regularly was located in an old crypt – the seats infact were old stone coffins. As we played late one night a ghost appeared and no one could believe their eyes. The gig was cancelled. “Bad for business”, said the manager.
We went to the druids to seek their protection, and played with them at their holy places and solstices. Things got better but the band needed a rest.
We were in Blackhill office one day when the phone rang. Andrew King picked it up, I couldn’t hear the conversation, but Andrew began to give me strange looks. He put the phone down. “Do you know who that was, Glen?” “No!” “A guy called Stanley Kubrick… He wants to use the Air track from the second album for a film titled Clockwork Orange”. “You must be kidding”, I said. Andrew gave me a funny look: “Own up Glen, it’s some friend of yours, right?” “No! What did you tell him?” Andrew grinned “I told him to piss off!!!”. “Why?”, I said.
Then the phone rang again. “Hallo, Blackhill Enterprises”. Something was happening… I could tell by Andrew’s face. “Roman who?”. He bellowed: “Polanski!” I panicked and grabbed the phone from Andrew’s nervous fingers (as they say)…
It turned out to be the Macbeth film, which we recorded at George Martin’s Air Studios… Of course, you know what they say about Macbeth and… bad luck! They are probably right!”

While I was working on the only written biography of the group (Third Ear Band. Necromancers of the Drifting West, Stampa Alternativa Edizioni, Roma 1997), I got the chance to ask Sweeney’s wife Carolyn Looker, to write down her own “memories” of the golden years of the Third Ear Band. It seemed like a good idea to combine the artists’ memories with those of someone ‘external’, that it could evoke sensations, ideas and emotions of that period from a feminine angle, in a story that was lived and written from a predominantly male point of view. This is her personal photograph:

“Really the partnership of Glen and Dave Tomlin for The Giant Sun Trolley was the beginning of the Third Ear Band, just Glen on drums and Dave on flute and sax, sometimes accompanied by a “singing dog”! It was early Flower Power days and they had a regular gig at U.F.O., the club where it was all “happening”.
It was a huge place which was open all night every Friday, totally mixed media light shows, incense, all kinds of music – classical, jazz, pop, Indian – poets, dancers, films, and always packed with amazing people. Anyway each week Glen and Dave would think up an original approach to their music, hence “the singing dog”!
Happenings took place everywhere, turning people on the “turn on, tune in and drop out” and The Sun Trolley was always the music used for these events which were parks, streets and colleges, frequently being filmed and written up in the press.
Eventually Dave left to go to India and it was then that Glen got the Third Ear Band together.
The Arts Lab in Covent Garden was run by Jim Haynes, an underground entrepeneur, and it was there that the first Third ear Band’s gig took place and was such as a success  that it became a regular event: quite often the band would play music for poetry readings with such people as Christopher Lodge and the actor Rip Torn.
This was also the time of The Alchemical Wedding at the Albert Hall, the Third Ear Band’s first big gig, topping the bill were John Lennon and Yoko Ono… (Glen and I had previously worked with Yoko on her White Bicycle Ballet - we rode our bikes whilst she crawled around in a sack!). Yes,  this took place in an established theatre…
Another regular venue for the band was All Saints in Notting Hill which was transformed into an incense filled hippy club once a week. It was here that the band were heard by Pete Drummond, a radio D.J., who recommended them to Blackhill Enterprises.
John Peel also was into the band and the mythology which Glen promoted (Atlantis, lay lines, UFO’s… It was he who with the band tried to levitate St. Pancras tube station!): the group also played on quite a few of his radio shows and did a lot of gigs with him.
By now Blackhill were getting lots of work for the band all over England and the continent… College events and outdoor concerts, the band were on all the Hyde Park free concerts, opening them and creating a beautiful atmosphere of peace and love. However there was a lot of pressure on them at these events as they had the reputation of making the sunshine, and you know what the English weather is like!
Because the band attracted all types of people they were able to go from stoned hippy clubs to straight concerts like the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room and getting reviews in underground I.T. (the International Time) and The Times, Observer etc. In the straight press.
There were many gigs in Holland at the Paradiso and in France, Belgium and Germany, where they appeared on TV shows.
In Germany they did the music for a film titled Abelard and Heloise (that one edited in the Stampa Alternativa book in 1997), and it was the actress in this who turned Roman Polanski on the music and Macbeth came about.
Obviously because of the strangeness of the music there would be the odd gig that didn’t work out, there would be the occasional heckler! Glen would deal with this by stopping playing and getting into a verbal discourse with the audience and on the most occasions win them over …
I can remember a couple of times when it was impossible: one was at Bournemouth Pavillon, when they were supporting the Who, so you can imagine the audience! The other was at the Cambridge May Ball, where the University students were totally out of it and wanted something heavier than the Thirds, and in the end the audience consisted of a couple of dons with their wives! 
I think for me the most memorable gig was the first free Hyde Park concert. The music fitted the occasion perfectly… It was sunny, hot, the air filled with incense and the huge crowd totally receptive to the mood the music created. Another has to be the druid solstice at Glastonbury Tor, totally magical…
Most memorable image…? Glen dancing the tango with Polanski in a local pub in Northumbria where they were on location for Macbeth…”

After the final break up of the band in 1993 and following the release of Brain Waves, interest for the Third Ear Band has once again abated. The group and their story swallowed up into oblivion, even though, as I would have written in the biography in ’97, “The Third Ear Band, the Polar Star of popular music, indicated the road of a possible salvation from the aggressive violence of contemporary civilisation...” And concluded with: “Theirs was an inevitable sacrifice in the clashing of the logic of profit and the congenital silence of the majority: those drifting necromancers of the West who knew how to read the depths of the past and the present, foreseeing the dark times ahead. Music from another time, was also written. It was probably too profound at the time (of life and death...) for the majority to listen to, and too abrasive to the ears because it was mind burning and unbearably agonising for the soul.”
1997 was the year that marked the controversial, unfortunate story of the group by an unexpected tragic event: the suicide of Paul Minns. He had moved to Scotland years ago and returned on the scene in the occasion of the first tour of the reunion in ’88. Because of the distance from London and a few divergences with Sweeney regarding the artistic direction of the group, he had decided to go back to his work in graphics. For the biography in ’97 in which collaborated with unexpected passion, he would have wanted me to write: “... he lives with his wife Kathryn in the country doing graphics and playing music, but he only plays the piano as a hobby. Even though he passionately collaborated with this book, he doesn’t feel any nostalgia for the past and is happy the way he is.”
Paul Minns was one of the most inspiring and original oboists of popular music. This collection is dedicated to his memory.
As for Glen Sweeney, the winter of ’94 saw him suffer a stroke from which he seemed to recover from in the space of a few months. I went to see him the during the summer the year after and he seemed to be on the mend, with the usual thousand ideas in his head (write a group biography, a novel and go back to playing a duet with Dave Tomlin...) and his wonderful sense of humour (“Just look at the state of me? It’s all thanks to that bike...!”, he told me – and he didn’t even have a driving license...). But the medication he had to take every day had made him vulnerable and emotionally unstable, and it felt really strange when I left his flat in Shepherds Bush because I had a feeling that at that point, even before the controversial artistic career could have done, something had already happened that would have put an end to everything once and for all.
Unfortunately another more attack got the better of Glen, and in the spring of ’99, he was taken into a clinic for a long period. Carolyn wrote to me saying that it was unlikely that he would make a full recovery and go back to being the Glen that I knew – a whirling kaleidoscope of words, irony, reflections and expressions of such sensitivity and rare depth – because this time his brain had been affected.
I visited him again on March, 2000 in a Richmond residential clinic, where he was recovered, and I had confirmation of his definitive psychic and mental decline: with the view on the wonderful park inhabited by fallow-deer and the Alexis Korner rock blues music on the background, our meeting consumed briefly on embarrassment, under Carolyn’s lovely look.
He died some years later, on August 17th, 2005 – “peacefully”, as his wife said.
Popular music is indebted to one of the most unprejudiced intuitions of world music, the land where different cultures only meet in irreconcilable appearances.
The critics should take this into account, if anyone decides to write a counter-story about popular music that isn’t simply based on the “popularity” criteria.

Despite having been able to count on a following of faithful fans and admirers, there have never been any bootlegs of the group in circulation, live recordings or unreleased music from the “golden” period of the Third Ear Band (1968-1972).
The ones contained in this CD, like the soundtrack of "Abelard and Heloise" (included for the first time ever in my biography of 1997), are probably the only remaining documents.
It’s most likely that there are some studio tapes, especially the Alchemy sessions, and the BBC probably holds the original recordings of the few transmissions with John Peel, but it’s unlikely that anyone will decide to release them, considering the scarce commercial potential of the group.
These seemingly last pearls from the Third Ear archives, cover two very distinct periods, characterised by the early entirely acoustic sounds (in relation to the first two albums released by EMI), and a later successful attempt in exploring a musical hybrid form, electro-acoustic, on the wane with the introduction of instrumental classic-popular (hand drums, oboe, violin...) and new technology (synthesizers, guitar and electric bass and drums...), in the soundtrack of Macbeth.
The first track we present here is a tape that was found without a title and goes back to the Alchemy sessions (December 1968?), recorded in the Abbey Road studios with Glen Sweeney (hand drums), Paul Minns (oboe), Richard Coff (violin) and Ben Cartland (viola) – the first line-up of the Third Ear Band.
In a rare occasion Minns talked about the origin of that track:
“I nearly cried when I heard this. It was like the return of an old friend. This raga is called In D and was the nucleus for ragas such as Area Three and Ghetto Raga, both in the Alchemy album. This track should have been on as well as it was recorded at the start of that session but Cartland announced after two tracks that he wanted to play keyboards instead the viola. As this was totally unexpected and unacceptable he quit. He tended to be volatile and very hippy. The replacement was Mel Davis on cello who excelled and who I now realise was an inspired player and the best I have ever played with. His slide bagpipes (rubber inner tubes) on Dragon Lines was marvellous. The session at Abbey Road went like a dream and took over under a week.”
Just as Minns would have wanted, we’ve decided to call the track "Raga In D", and really emanates the fascinating mystery of the Alchemy recordings – an overall atmosphere that has miraculously been preserved for all these years, offers us an extraordinarily beautiful out-take, played live by harmonious musicians, determined in creating a well thought out sound project rooted in the classic Indian tradition.

The following track, a studio tape entitled "Raga N.1" – Third Ear Band 1969, depicts the group in a later period, and was probably intended to be used (but never was) on the third album of the band entitled "The Dragon Wakes" (February 1971). Minns said about the track:
“This can’t be 1969 as it is very electric. I think this was recorded at E.M.I. as the projected third album in 1971. Heavily influenced by Britches Brew by Miles Davis (an album I hated for its aggression), Paul Buckmaster drove this manically from the bass and flipped during the sessions. On acid he ran out into the  street screaming about the Gurdjeffian Eye and I believe stripping off his clothes. He was never the same person afterwards and the recording went no further. No surprisingly I hated this music as well!”

Raga N.1 – with Sweeney on drums, Minns on oboe, Paul Buckmaster on bass and synthesizer and Denim Bridges on electric guitar – despite the oboists opinion, it’s a good example of clever experimentation, timeless, where traditional forms are dissolved and continually ‘referred to’, exactly like in the ‘alchemy process’ that Sweeney had indicated back in ’67.

The remaining three tracks in this collection, come from the famous ‘70s English radio show, Sound of the ‘70s presented by the late great John Peel.. The three tracks were played live “on air” on 17 January 1971 by Sweeney (drums), Minns (oboe), Coff (violin), Buckmaster (bass and cello) and Bridges (guitar). These pieces reconfirm the electric direction the group took up in that year.
While two of the tracks of this brief set are arrangements of original compositions (a brave transfiguration of the splendid Water, from the second album of The Third Ear Band in 1970, and a “macbethian” Druid One, from Alchemy, here simply presented as Druid), what’s of special interest is the unreleased Eternity In D, that according to Sweeney could well derive from the first performances of the Giant Sun Trolley in 1967: on a rhythm section (bass and drums) obsessively repeated for the whole of the track with some complex oboe and guitar improvisations, establishing a form that for how ever much it could be considered naive and dated today, moves between pop and jazz, avant-garde and folk, and is undoubtedly rare for a music scene that was immersed in hard rock and symphonic derived progressive music.

Nevertheless, Sweeney remained faithful to the minimalist nature of his musical philosophy, and considered this composition “rubbish”, a blatantly false move in his career as a musician.

no©2009 Luca Ferrari


  1. I think that the album could exist in the web as a downloadable file. This could help to give birth to this record, at the end. I could not believe that there is some commercial interest in it, really...

    all the best Vic

  2. I's a shame indeed that no one wants to release this album, but I agree with Vic. Maybe opening an official TEB's page on MySpace could help...