It has been a joyous time at my home, in my car, and anywhere else I could get away with. From the moment the album The Machine That Cried (1973) by String Driven Thing began pulsing through my speakers I was hooked. It's such a funny thing; despite the years of listening and collecting on my part, and given that I have a specific interest in the music of the early seventies, from time to time I still run across something I hadn't yet explored. Such was the case here. I had heard the name, I was aware of their expanding following, but none of my friends had played them for me, as was customary when I was young. Moreover, they never managed to gain airplay in my part of the world, and as a result I just missed them and over time they simply faded from my memory.
Well, from now on I'm a firm fan of this very special band hailing from Glasgow, Scotland. It turns out that I'm not alone in having missed them. Their time was typically short as was rather common during this time sadly, and there was a glut of great music being produced. Chris Adams (guitar, vocals) and his wife Pauline Adams (vocals, percussion) formed their group in 1967 as a folk-rock outfit, releasing two fine eponymous albums on independent labels in 1970 and 1972. Interest in them from major labels came quickly as they had chosen to not include a drummer in their line-up, instead depending upon Chris's aggressive down-picking on guitar and Pauline's occasional tambourine inserts to keep the music going. It was a clever gimmick that garnered the necessary attention.
All the right ingredients were in place by the release of their third album The Machine That Cried. They signed with Charisma Records, a new label that supported numerous prog acts including Van Der Graaf Generator and Genesis, with whom String Driven Thing had recently toured in the USA. However, the most significant changes came in the form of personnel. Upon the departure of the original guitarist John Mannion, the Adams chose instead to hire virtuoso violinist Graham Smith, leaving all of the guitar duties to Chris. They also opted to forgo their 'gimmick' and they sneak drummer Bill Fairly into the studio late at night, so Charisma didn't learn about the changes until the album was fully recorded. Naturally there was a significant risk of losing the support of the label had they become aware of the plot. Top it all off with bassist Colin Wilson and they were in full form.
How did it turn out? Well, that's the reason why I was so excited at first. This is a wonderful piece of musical artwork that spans a wide range of flavours and truly stands tall against the test of time. The moment track one began I took note of something familiar, and after a little digging in my own vinyl collection, I learned the truth: I was very familiar with Graham Smith from a different source. To my great pleasure I learned that he had joined Van Der Graaf for their 1977 studio album and my personal favourite of all their work The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome. It's Graham Smith's violin work on tracks like Lizard Play and Cat's Eye / Yellow Fever (Running) that just makes that album come alive for me. Now I understand why the moment track one Heartfeeder came on, I was reaching for the volume knob to turn it up, and the whole building was pulsing to this powerhouse of an album. The volume stayed up through many repeat performances, and String Driven Thing is playing yet again while I'm writing this review.
I must again offer congratulations to Esoteric Records / Cherry Red Records for another fine release of true classic prog rock. This edition is in many ways a definitive one; the final three tracks are bonus tracks that actually have merit on their own. It's A Game was released as a single only with Are You A Rock 'N' Roller being the B-side. Ironically, It's A Game did not chart for the band, but it was a hit a few years later for The Bay City Rollers. The same applies to I'll Sing This One For You being released only as a B-side of a single. The booklet included also continues on further with quite a lot more to their fascinating story. I consider it a 'must' read for a 'must have' album.
**** Thomas Rhymer (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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