Jan Dukes De Grey
Jan Dukes De Grey - Mice And Rats In The Loft (1971)
Artist: Jan Dukes De Grey
Album: Mice And Rats In The Loft
Released: 1971 (2005)
Genre: Acid Folk, Progressive Rock
Label: Strange Days Records - WAS-1046
Digi pack CD version of the rare second album by one of the most legendary underground acoustic folk bands to come out of the UK in this era. Although the band released just two LPs, it achieved cult status and is considered responsible for spawning a whole new genre. Recorded for Transatlantic in 1971, their second LP was (despite the addition of drummer Denis Conlan) much more freeform than the first. While still essentially a folk album, the band's progressive leanings are far more pronounced, dissolving song structure and taking the audience on a wild, semi-improvised journey. - Freak Emporium
Awesome progressive acid-folk. Reminiscent of the excellent Fuchsia album but somewhat darker, slightly more rock oriented and "out," and peppered with almost Gong-like jams. And maybe a tiny touch of Tim Buckley in the vocals? The first side-length track features great melodies and intelligent, complex, well-arranged song structures that make it a delight to parse. The two songs of the second side are more freeform but equally engaging. Highly recommended... - Lost-In-Tyme
Every time I find one of hidden/lost early 70's gems, I find myself always carried some 30 years back even if I discover them now. Of course only a small percentage of those gems turns to be diamonds, but I believe this is one of them. How is it possible that such grandiose masterpieces are still not common knowledge among progheads? Because we are dealing with one of those masterpieces of Folk Prog to be classified along with other pearls such as Comus or Algarnas Tradgard.
The music is of an incredible and highly original nature that bond high vocal prowesses ala Tim Buckley with a rather sombre timber reminding you of Audience's Howard Werth (Hammill is not far away, either and so is Van Morrison) and outstanding musicianship so much that both original members Noy and Bairstow play multiple instruments and apparently with great ease. The third member, drummer Conlan has his hands full accompanying his comrades and I believe he also plays congas, although this is not mentioned on the credits. The only outside help they got are additional strings for the last 12 mins of their magnum opus Sun Synfonia.
And what a masterpiece this tune turns out to be!! If the first six minutes develop a good mix of folk rock somewhere between the Comus and Jethro Tull (circa Brick album), the strings come in and the music plunges into a deep madness likely to sink you into insanity if the strings were not to bring you back to the surface for a breath of fresh air every so often. The melange between the 12 string guitar strums, superb drumming all underlined by a swirling cluster of wind instruments and the strings (it does not mention the size of the orchestra, but my guess is a quintet) is one of the most perfect blend ever achieved far from the many catastrophes of the era (I will not name the guilty groups but only Procol and Caravan fared correctly). As Travis/Con Safo mentions in his excellent review below, the lyrics become intensely disturbing also, but do not reach the eerie call for murder and rape that Comus does in their song Drip Drip but they do curdle the blood. The beautiful atmosphere is completely different than Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die masterpiece but one cannot help thinking about it as those wild and sombre ambiances are driving you to the outer edges of reason. Nevertheless, the superb 12 min finale is completely spine chilling, hair raising, shivers and goose bumps being also on the menu as the abrupt end leaves a empty feel that can be assimilated to the last glass of wine of a 1947 Grand Cru Cos D'Estournel is emptied.
The second side pales a bit in comparison, but by no means are those two tracks anything else than gems themselves. Call Of The Wild is probably the folksiest of the three tunes, starts off with a great acoustic 12-string guitar beautifully underlined by a splendid yet serene flute. Again Comus is not far away from the mind even when the track moves through a series of wild tempo changes sometimes hinting at Indian Classical music. Yet another perfect call! A strange siren alerts you that the third and final track (the title track depicted by the strange artwork sleeve) just got under way, and that you are not yet through with madness as comes in a psyched guitar and great sax and insane vocals. The last part of the track is dedicated to improvisations on that theme and they come out grandiosely successful at it.
This is the kind of album I will personally make sure more people will know within the following months - a bit the same as I did for Comus, Circus and a few other gems. Run, walk, fly to your first vendor and order it (it is distributed by Sanctuary Record - a fitting name for such a masterpiece), because your life cannot be complete without having heard this. A pure moment of intense orgasmic pleasure!!!!!! - Hugues Chantraine
Jan Dukes De Grey are a forgotten relic of progressive music. Their brilliant free-from album "Mice And Rats In The Loft" was the pinnacle of their musical expression, a semi-improvised journey into madness. The album opens with the epic track "Sun Symphonica" which embodies everything that was excellent about this band. Starting rather lighthearted, bracing you for the sonic assault soon to be unleashed in your mind. Lots of clever instrumental work and 12 string strumming, Noy and Bairstow create a spiraling maelstrom with many different instruments including saxophones, flutes, trumpets, trombones, even a zelda chord(!). All made with the help of a backing orchestra, which gives the music a symphonic and epic feel. Brilliant. A more sinister atmosphere is revealed halfway through the song, describing the beheading of a young girl, made even more disturbing by Derek's theatric voice. An intense instrumental section kicks in after this, and we are taken on an incredible improvised journey. The song then reprises the beginning, but in a negative light. "Sunshine/Come Screaming Through My Window/Another Lonely Day Is Through" Breathtaking.
The album never does return to the intensity of Sun Symphonica, but the last two tracks are still excellent. "Call Of The Wild" uses multi-vocal harmonies to create an eery sound, very unique. The distorted acoustic guitars give it a very dark mood and original sound. The song structure dissolves and Derek takes us on a journey with his guitar alone. Improvised riffs and atmospheric strumming give the feel of being deep in a forest, surrounded by cool, misty air. Beautiful. At around the 8 minute mark the song bursts into a jazzy finale, very cool outro.
The title track "Mice And Rats In The Loft" is a psych masterpiece. Hendrix style guitar gives the song a very psychedelic feel, creating pools of sound around your feet. The lyrics are a chilling tale of religious sacrifice, all adding to the intense mood and atmosphere of the track. "The blade descended like lightning/Tore him open from chest to gut/And the priest thrust his hand inside/And ripped out the still beating heart". The song follows a similar rhythm all the way through, but builds upon it with odd sounding instruments and awesome buildups.
A criminally underrated album that deserves its place in prog history! - ProgArchives.com
This is the long overdue CD reissue of one of the most mythical, sought-after albums from the British progressive folk scene of the early 1970s. Right up there with classics like Comus' First Utterance and Simon Finn's Pass the Distance, Jan Dukes De Grey's 1971 LP Mice and Rats in the Loft is a brilliant work of psychedelic folk with a seething undercurrent of malevolence. Apparently having learned a lesson from the artistic and commercial failure of their first LP, 1970's Sorcerers on the Nova label, the duo of Derek Noy and Michael Bairstow enlisted drummer Denis Conlan, and quickly disposed of all notions of pop songcraft to which they might have initially aspired. Instead, they recorded the distinctly uncommercial 19-minute sidelong "Sun Symphonica," a breathtaking, dynamic work of epic genius, fusing together at least five separate musical movements into an unfolding narrative that begins with a hippie paean to the sun and proceeds through progressively darker and more twisted realms. The instrumental bridges are brilliantly conceived, referencing the medieval idiom popular in British folk of this period, but impregnating it with an energy that smolders with intensity and immediacy. Effortlessly wielding 12-string guitar, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, recorder, harmonica and a dizzying assortment of percussion, the trio plays with all the poise of an experienced jazz ensemble, but produces something altogether heavier and more psychedelic, as if Amon Duul II had restricted themselves to acoustic instruments and decided to compose a soundtrack to The Wicker Man. As the "Sun Symphonica" trudges on through its many moods and phases, it gradually becomes clear that a distinctly pagan formula is at work, and the solar imagery is quickly eclipsed by its more primordial counterpart: the devil in the form of dead, bloated corpses covered with maggots rotting under the intense noonday sun. By the 15-minute mark, the track is a swirling maelstrom of simmering instrumental fragments flying around the stereo channels in a lunatic dance, as the "sunshine" mantra returns once more, where in a savage irony it has been transformed into a terrifying hex. Unfortunately, the album never again reaches the maniacal heights of Side A, but where it does go is nearly as fascinating. "Call of the Wild" utilizes the voices of all three band members to create dizzying vocal harmonies in a song which celebrates the savage nature of man, and advocates the expression of inner, suppressed primalisms. By the halfway mark, the song experiences a radical break with str
cture and turns into a seething echo chamber of wicked guitar improvisation. The final track is also by far the strangest, the eight-minute title track, which creates a hypnotic whirlpool of electric fuzz guitar over which Derek Noy narrates in great detail a ritual human sacrifice with a zeal that would set H.P. Lovecraft's hair on end. Mice and Rats in the Loft is uneasy listening at its finest, and Breathless' first-ever CD reissue does an admirable job of reproducing the cover art in their foldout digipack. The booklet contains new liner notes by David Tibet, which should come as no surprise, as the influence of this album can certainly be felt in Current 93 efforts such as Thunder Perfect Mind and Tamlin. Anyone interested would be advised to pick up a copy of this limited reissue before this masterpiece fades back into obscurity once again. - Jonathan Dean, Brainwashed
JAN DUKES DE GREY is one of the most underrated progressive folk bands of our time, and only released two albums in their short life span. JAN DUKES DE GREY formed in 1969 and were one of the very last prog rock bands to be signed to Decca's prog label. They originally started out as just a duo and were rivals to pre glam rock T Rex folk duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Their first album, "Sorcerers" was a typical acid folk album, not particularly adventerous but showcased Derek Noy's and Michael Bairstow's multi-instrumental talents. The album made little impact and is only available through bootleg. But their greatest work was to come, with the addition of drummer Denis Conlan they recorded their masterpiece "Mice And Rats In The Loft" in 1971. Consisting of three lengthy, psych drenched tracks, It was a lot more free form than their last and had much more progressive leaning. Mindblowing use of a huge assortment of instruments, even utiilizing an orchestra.
Think JETHRO TULL plus THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND and a ton of acid. Sadly the album made little impact, and JAN DUKES DE GREY disbanded after its release. A brilliant recording that never recieved its proper praise... Highly recommended! - ProgArchives.com
Originally released in 1971-- a particularly ripe vintage for freewheeling progressive folk-rock-- British trio Jan Dukes De Grey's second album Mice and Rats in the Loft ranks alongside Comus' First Utterance as one of the wildest relics of the era. Now available on CD for the first time, complete with liner notes by Current 93's David Tibet, this album is the type of bizarre curio that-- though it can't honestly be said to have universal appeal-- should be an endless source of fascination for those with an appetite for florid post-hippie excess.
Comprised of three lengthy tracks, Mice and Rats in the Loft amply showcases the formidable talents of multi-instrumentalists Michael Bairstow and Derek Noy, joined here by drummer Dennis Conlan. Throughout these pieces, the musicians gallop exuberantly across genre borderlines, gobbling everything in their path as though afraid that some stray idea or blinker of inspiration might somehow escape their clutches before they can commit it to tape.
The album opens with the utterly staggering prog-folk epic "Sun Symphonica". Over the course of nearly 19 minutes, it careens chaotically from hyperactive folk strumming through meadows of muted jazzy woodwinds, lazing for a time in ornate chamber music splendor before again returning to THC-addled art-rock reminiscent of such groups as the Soft Machine or Gong. Overflowing with trilling, theatrical vocals and contributions by flute, violin, clarinet, and exotic percussion, this manic tour de force is so dense that after awhile it becomes difficult to name instruments that don't get used. Towards song's end they even cap the indulgence with a completely gratuitous harmonica solo, drawing the confounding piece to an appropriately arbitrary close.
The following "Call of the Wild" finds Jan Dukes in somewhat more conventional British folk regions, raising their strident voices in praise of the liberated life ("I will be free to sleep where I want and with who and what I will.") These vocals emote even more fervently on the closing title track, telling gruesome tales of ancient bloody rituals ("The screams of the victims still echo/ though it's centuries since they died") with gleeful relish as heavy droplets of Hendrixian wah-wah guitar gather in puddles at their feet. Some of the more flute-heavy passages veer uncomfortably close to Jethro Tull territory, but Mice and Rats in the Loft generally manages to avoid the prog-rock pitfalls of bloated self-satisfaction and pomposity, as the Jan Dukes instead infuse their music with enough psychedelic grit, sonic invention, and sheer unfaked strangeness to make this album a knotty puzzle worth many return visits. - Matthew Murphy
Jan Dukes de Grey were a real bunch of weirdos. This English group started out as a duo playing strange folk music, releasing a debut [which is much more ordinary, but still good if you like folk rock] on Decca in 1969 ['Sorcerers']. The cover artwork is deliciously psychedelic and looks like it was done by the same guy who did the cover for the first Galliard album.
This, like its successor, has become a rare collector's item. Unfortunately, the recent Decca/Deram 3cd anthology of 'underground' and progressive rock, 'Legend Of A Mind', didn't include any tracks from this album, although the liner notes did refer to the guitarists desire to record from within a tent he'd set up in the studio...
Presumably sales of the Decca album were far from impressive, as the next album was released on another label, Transatlantic [in 1971]. By this time the duo had expanded their musical range and added a drummer. Where the first album had 18 short songs, this featured 3 lengthy compositions, none of which had a chance commercially, all of which [in my opinion] encompass sheer brilliance and originality. This new [and final] line-up featured Derek Noy [guitar, trumpet, trombone, zelda chord (!?)], Michael Bairstow [flute, clarinet, saxophone] and Denis Conlan [drums]. Poor Denis, he looks the most normal of the lot judging by the photos - the other two guys look like borderline psychotics, and not only are they dressed in some weird kung-fu dayglo hippie garb, one of the nuts is brandishing a friggin' rifle!
'Sun Symphonica' takes up all of side 1, going through many twists and turns. The beginning of the song hardly hints at the madness to come - mellowish flute, acoustic guitar and lyrics about sunshine all seem fairly innocent. Then the sax riffing enters and the whole piece takes on a more sinister streak. It would be ridiculous to try to describe this track blow-by-blow; suffice to say it doesn't stay in one place for too long. Every now and then the band revert to something a bit more 'normal', but not for long. Inspired and unpredictable guitar breaks come out of nowhere, linking to further unpredictable segments of 'proggish' stuff in many guises. The mellower bits [sometimes with strings] are beautiful but kinda creepy at the same time. These weird prog-folk bits remind me a lot of the moods invoked on the first album by English folk-rock legends Comus ['First Utterance'], who operated at a similar level of genius. Again akin to Comus, much of the lyrical focus is dark and disturbing, but with a mythical and romantic sensibility. Apart from that, I find it really quite difficult to think of any other groups with which Jan Dukes de Grey are comparable in style. Although they are, in some ways, like Comus, they are in many other ways totally different. Some people have detected some Van der Graaf Generator influence, which can perhaps be seen in some of the more repetitive riff trance-outs utilising sax and plenty of unresolved tension, but on the whole it's a misleading comparison.
'Call of the Wild' opens side 2 - and the nice folk-rock moves at the beginning could almost pass for something by Forest or Trees. It's not long, of course, until the group begin to slide off the rails again, spinning into unexpected diversion after unexpected diversion. Still, the predominant music on the first portion of this track features only vocals, acoustic guitar, a bit of flute, and the occasional drums. In the more interesting moments, the guitar is really quite exploratory, and although its player obviously isn't quite as technically proficient as he would like, he sure makes a damn good go of it! This is complex and demanding unconventional playing, so the occasional bit of stiffness in a tricky run of notes is perfectly excusable. This illustrates one of the things I love about these guys as musicians - they aren't afraid to experiment up to and a little beyond their actual abilities, in order to try to achieve something really unique. 'Call of the Wild' resolves with a smooth transition back into the weird proggy territory I failed to adequately describe above, then back again into an acoustic finale.
The final track, 'Mice and Rats in the Loft', is the rockiest piece on the album, with plenty of raw distorted guitar riffing, and the most morbid lyrical obsessions yet. Here's an example - "The blade descended like lightning, tore him open from chest to gut, and the priest thrust his hand inside, and ripped out the still-beating heeaaaarrt!!!" Charming, innit? And there's plenty more where that came from. Musically, a bit past the half-way mark someone lets rip with something really weird, but it's hard to describe - I just can't tell what it is! Someone playing a freeform solo on a freshly oiled amplified buzzsaw in an echo chamber? Something like that. This song is just nuts, just the thing to play to your mum to make her wonder if you're really the same nice child she gave birth to all those years ago - Head Heritage
Michael Bairstow - flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, percussion, keyboards
Denis Conlan - drums
Derek Noy - vocals, guitar, bas, keyboards, percussion
1 Sun Symphonica 18:57
2 Call of the Wild 12:51
3 Mice and Rats in the Loft 08:22