John Peel’s Tractor ‘The Road From Townhead Mill Rochdale’

John Peel’s Tractor ‘The Road From Townhead Mill Rochdale: 40th Anniversary Ozit Dandelion LP 8020

Through the unstinting efforts of Chris Hewitt and Ozit records,Rochdale psych rockers Tractor have probably enjoyed more profile and success in recent times than at any time in their 40 plus year career.


Intrinsically routed in a local Rochdalescene that received both financial and inspirational encouragement from John Peel – hence John Peel’s Tractor – the band signed to Peel’s Dandelion label in the early 70’s. They later lent their name to the famed Tractor Sound studios in Rochdale, which they built and which was a recipient of a blue plaque award in 2009. The album title refers to John Peel’s short stint at Townhead Mill in Rochdalein 1959, while the actual 40th anniversary is a reference to Peel’s first Tractor release on Dandelion. He may have adoptedLiverpool as his city of choice, but his belief in, and backing of Tractor and theRochdale music scene remained steadfast.


Tractor garnered critical acclaim for their music, immersed themselves in Rochdale’s most famous studio(used by the likes Julian Cope, Joy Division, the fall etc) and played a pivotal role in the Deeply Vale Festival, but recording success eluded the duo of guitarist Jim Milne, drummer Steve Clayton and engineer John Brierly.

Perhaps it was all due to a bad timing as prog’s purple patch was already on the wane as things started to happen for the band. Whatever the reasons, Tractor’s unique musical blend is well captured on this 40th anniversary cd and vinyl release and is a timely reminder of some truly inspired music that straddled prog rock and psychedelia.  There’s snatched of early Hawkwind, Yes, Gentle Giant and Floyd influences among a handful of catchy melodies, shaped by steely riffs and music of real substance.

The album is filled fill of the duo’s startling sonic presence and in Jim Milne they have an intense guitarist who varies his attack and tone as part of several extended work outs, all neatly linked by Steve Clayton running commentary. The fuzzed up, quasi metal and psychedelic drone of ‘Little Girl in Yellow’ and the psychedelic anthem of ‘Shubunkin’ are highlights, closely matched by the fuzz guitar and rich harmonies of ‘Everytime It Happens’.


The riff driven ‘Willow’ is reminiscent of the hard rocking Stray, and Tractor’s broad musical sweep is highlighted by ‘Storm’, with echoes of Floyd in its proggy finish and the acoustic intro and quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Lost On The Ocean’.

For the rest there’s a mix of unreleased tracks, demo’s and live snippets including a radio broadcast reprise of the lyrically autobiographical ‘Argument For One’ and a pre release demo of their rare NME chart single ‘No More Rock & Roll’.

Tractor’s intense mix of psychedelic prog rock is played with verve, passion, intelligence and real imagination and both the cd and splendid double gate fold vinyl are worth investigating.

**** (4/5)

© Pete Feenstra


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