August 03, 2020

Alessandro Monti (Unfolk)'s review on "The Dragon Wakes" CD.

Being attached to my last effort on the Third Ear Band, avantgarde musician Alessandro Monti reviews "The Dragon Wakes" CD. Note that he wrote for Ghettoraga Archive also another very interesting piece about the TEB's remastered CD "Elements 1970-1971" (read at


A midsummer's night dream: unearthing TEB.  

After years of work and disappointments from publishers and labels, Luca's dream became reality at last. Thanks to his never ending research Glen Sweeney's Book Of Alchemies and The Dragon Wakes fabled recordings have now secured their place in history thanks to ReR Megacorp. It would be almost impossible to review the book here: years and years of details about recordings, concerts and real life on the road were collected by Luca using the vast amount of material available on this website, from the beginning to the days when he actually managed the band in the late 80's and beyond; Chris Cutler's explanatory notes for the newcomers are an extra bonus: as he writes on the preface he was there during most of Third Ear Band's history, I think few musicians could add infos about that era with better knowledge and open mind (I found out in the book that his band Henry Cow even played on the same program with TEB in some occasions). 

The unreleased music on the attached compact disc is of great historical importance and succeeds in putting those musical pioneers in better focus, plus it finally completes the rare studio sessions collected on the "Elements 1970-1971" remaster of the second album (released by Esoteric), bringing that epic story full circle. Few pieces are missing from the puzzle now! I wondered to myself: how could I listen to the music to get an organic idea of Third Ear Band's method of work? The best solution seemed to compile a special folder including all the unreleased music recorded between 1970 and the late 1971 and listen to it non-stop in a sort of alchemical flux. Needless to say that the result was so instructive and rewarding that I suggest this full-immersion to everyone to fully appreciate the new electric direction taken by TEB during those months of continuous change. They were actually working on a radically different sound during the making of the fabled third album, a project then replaced by the ambitious soundtrack of Roman Polanski's Macbeth. All that music laid forgotten for years, but it's definitely among the most interesting documents of the progressive era. Here's a possible and fascinating sequence:

Mammatus (Electric Air)
Sulis Stirs
Druid One
Hexagonal Wheel
Tellus, the Earth
The Rising Seed
(All included on the CD attached and perhaps the most finished pieces.)

Very Fine...Far Away
The Dragon Wakes
Mistress To The Sun
Evening Awakening
In D
(The above tracks being part of the 2nd & 3rd CDs on the Esoteric remaster.) 

Raga No.1
(Surfaced on the incredible "Necromancers Of The Drifting West" compiled by Luca for Gonzo Multimedia, it dates from the same sessions as Mammatus & Druid One (February 1971): an adventurous piece of free form jazzrock performed by the quartet Sweeney, Minns, Buckmaster & Bridges, an electric jam without a violin.)

Hyde Park (audio)
(I added this nice song from the Lost Broadcasts DVD as a bonus to round the compilation: it dates from the earliest days of the new electric phase and it seems that they only performed it in concert, so it's the only version available.)

I already wrote my short impressions of the "Elements 1970-1971" set, so lets focus on the first 6 tracks this time, the newly discovered gems from Denim Bridges' archive: “The Dragon Wakes”. The nice yellow artwork with a modern red dragon has everything written on it: you can visually picture that transformation from acoustic to electric. TEB quickly developed their new sound approach merely in the space of weeks and the opening piece on the CD is their new version of “Air”, a track fom the last album. Glen plays trap drums instead of hand drums, giving the track a strong rhythm edge; the original piece on the second album had the peculiar sound of a rhythm loop, here the drum set is closer to Nick Mason's famous section in Pink Floyd's “A Saucerful Of Secrets”. The sound effects are the perfect link to the classic version. This and track n. 3, “Druid One” are mono recordings and they probably survived some loss in sound through the years; they use some familiar themes from the official recordings to great effect, while exploring electricity and pre-dating the other stereo pieces of a few months. Richard Coff seems to play on these, looking forward to a still uncertain direction. Track n. 2, “Sulis Stirs” is a welcome surprise: a rockin' TEB! Perhaps the only true rock piece ever played by the band is something of an oddity in their catalogue. Denim Bridges' distorted sound takes the music in some other dimension; towards the end of the piece I can hear a brass sound, a trumpet or a trombone? I may be wrong but this will probably be another mystery to solve. The next piece “Hexagonal Wheel”, is a beautiful variation on the new electric area with an interesting pop-rock feel by the whole band. Finally on “Tellus, The Earth”, the famous bass riff by Paul Buckmaster has its definitive version. The notes, a simpler sequence than the one used by Miles Davis on “Bitches Brew” (see the Paul Buckmaster interview in this website), are so perfectly chosen that could literally go on for hours. The track has Paul simultaneously playing his electric cello, while Denim Bridges' double tracked guitar is more convincing and focused here than on both live versions available (BBC in concert and Beat Club): they seemed rather in progress and unfinished in comparison. Paul Minns' jazzy oboe here reminds me of Karl Jenkins' use of that instruments in some alien context (Nucleus and Soft Machine) or the late great Lindsay Cooper (Henry Cow), even if TEB arrangement seems on a unique wavelength of controlled freedom. The last track on “The Dragon Wakes” CD has a beautiful and meditative intro, morphing itself into an exact anticipaton of the “Music From Macbeth” soundtrack. No VCS3 synth here but Glen Sweeney is back to familiar hand drums, supported by great harmonies on bass by Paul Buckmaster and dynamic violins: it seems to me that the style could be Simon House's.

We can only be grateful that, after almost 50 years this music is now available: it's a confirmation that so many hours of recording sessions were poorly documented on the original releases; we should say a huge thank you to the following people who made this edition possible:

Denim Bridges for keeping all recordings and cleaning up the sound in time for the digital age;
Chris Cutler for believing in the project with such enthusiasm and competence;
Luca Chino Ferrari (the éminence grise): the hidden man behind all this music, words and images. 

I wrote the above review without reading the actual credits on the cd; it seems that the violinist on the mono tracks (1&3) is Simon House, so perhaps I got it wrong! Nevermind... enjoy the music anyway!

Alessandro Monti :: Unfolk 

 no©2020 Luca Chino Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)


  1. It really is amazing that these recordings have sat on the shelf all these years. Thank goodness that they have survived. I just about remember the news in Melody Maker that the Electric Earband had formed with Paul Buckmaster, and they were recording. And then..nothing. Until now. And because the 3rd Ear Band were so different, so striking, so memorable, this has stayed in my mind all these years. Finally, the brilliant people in the Third Ear Band are starting to get the credit and recognition they deserve

  2. It is a wonderful read, and thanks for the playlist recommendation ! I've been playing the Dragon Wakes tracks trying to get an idea of how the original lp may have sounded had it come to fruition at the time, and your list is a good place to start. I do love and appreciate the Esoteric releases, but they tend to jumble unrelated pieces together a bit (a small gripe !). Anyway, the book and cd are great stuff. Thanks for the review.

  3. Thanks M & Manon Lebus for your comments (also on behalf of the great Editor). I'm happy that you both enjoyed the small article: it is a magical moment indeed for TEB fans and totally unexpected in these uncertain times!
    Best wishes to all TEB fans and stay safe!