Matching Mole were a short-lived British progressive rock band from the Canterbury-scene and best-known for the song O Caroline. The band was formed in October 1971 by Robert Wyatt after he had left Soft Machine and after recording his first solo album The End Of An Ear (1970). He continued on vocals and drums and was joined by David Sinclair (Caravan) on organ and piano, Phil Miller (In Cahoots) on guitar and Bill MacCormick, formerly of Quiet Sun, on bass. The name is a pun on Machine Molle, the French translation of Wyatt's previous group Soft Machine.
The first eponymous album was released in April 1972. The bulk of the songs was composed by Robert Wyatt except for Part Of The Dance, which was written by Phil Miller, and O Caroline composed by David Sinclair, though Wyatt wrote the lyrics dealing with the then recent break-up with his girlfriend Caroline Coon. Their second album Matching Mole's Little Red Record was released in November 1972. The album title refers to Chairman Mao's little red book. This reference is also carried over to the Chinese style of the album cover, which is reminiscent of posters created during the Chinese cultural revolution. The album was produced by Robert Fripp of King Crimson. Sinclair was already replaced then by the New Zealand-born keyboard player and composer Dave MacRae, who had played as a guest on the debut album. Sinclair left because he wanted to do song-orientated material instead of playing improvised music. The second album was more of a team effort. Wyatt concentrated more on the lyrics and vocal melodies leaving the compositions to the other musicians. Brian Eno featured as a guest; another guest was Ruby Crystal, a pseudonym for the famous British actress Julie Christie.
Matching Mole disbanded in late September 1972 immediately upon the completion of a European tour supporting Soft Machine. Sinclair and Miller went on to form the successful band Hatfield And The North. A new line-up consisting of Wyatt, MacCormick, ex- Curved Air keyboardist Francis Monkman and jazz saxophonist Gary Windo, was due to record a third album in 1973. This was cancelled when Wyatt fell from a window in June 1973, and was paralysed down from the waist and therefore unable to continue drumming.
Until lately I never actually had the chance to listen to both albums. However, thanks to the fact that they got a fine re-release by the British label Esoteric Recordings, it became possible for me to review not only these albums, but also the bonus discs with additional material. On their eponymous debut album you certainly hear influences from the English Canterbury scene. This is mainly due to the involvement of David Sinclair on organ and piano. From time to time it seems as if you're listening to Caravan's In The Land Of Grey And Pink. Thanks to the Mellotron, played by Wyatt, the more progressive rock sound emerges. Also Wyatt's playing on the drums is excellent with many prog rock references that sometimes tend to Pink Floyd. Besides, Wyatt's singing is quite similar to that of David Gilmour. However, the album isn't only connected to the Canterbury scene or to prog rock. The typical jazz-rock style played by Soft Machine can be recognized regularly. People who like jazz-rock certainly will appreciate this album. Matching Mole also improvised a lot; this can be heard on the bonus disc which is added to the reissue. Listen for instance to the two sessions for the John Peel Show and you'll get my drift. Furthermore previously unreleased studio sessions, alternate takes and the single versions of O Caroline and Signed Curtain are included as well.
The second album Matching Mole's Little Red Record once again contained trademarks of the Canterbury scene. However, on their second effort, Matching Mole shifted even more in the direction of jazz-rock and improvised music. For keyboardist Dave MacRae and guitarist Phil Miller, this album was a perfect vehicle to perform solos on their instruments. Except for God Song this album is instrumental. Unfortunately the Mellotron is lacking this time. The second bonus disc that was added to this reissue contains even more previously unreleased studio sessions and alternate takes. Also Matching Mole's appearance on BBC Radio One in July 1972 has been featured. This live recording proves that the band gladly improvised.
All together I liked to listen to this band that I only knew by name. Matching Mole surely recorded fantastic progressive rock music. Their mixture of Canterbury scene, jazz-rock and prog rock worked very well for me. I would like to advise people who like this blend of musical styles to check out these historic albums.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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