Esoteric [Release date: 20.10.17]
Unless the thought of ‘your collar being felt’ finds favour, there are some tracks that should never be played while driving. Formed in 1966 when they were callow youths of 14 years of age, West London beat-to-hard rock (via pretty much everything else going) power quartet Stray may not have made it to top billing as much as they deserved but nobody can claim it was not through want of trying.
A potent live experience (and still going strong), they worked the circuit hard and fast, got noticed by music buyers, bookers, and other bands – some of which they would later regularly support. Nat Joseph’s indie folk label Transatlantic signed Stray in 1970 (no doubt a shock to consumers of Sallyangie and Pentangle) and was duly delivered a fully-blown workout in rock, blues and spacey psychedelia that includes the song this 4CD clamshell boxed set kicks off with.
‘All in Your Mind’ bottles the essence of early Stray – ticking away quietly to start with, Del Bromham’s nagging guitar hook intro ensnares the innocent listener to listen on and so he does and the pace builds slowly but surely until suddenly Gary Giles’ pounding bass coupled to Ritchie Cole’s staccato percussion crash into the room and here’s power vocalist Steve Gadd only just about finding some space to tell his side of the story and Oh Calamity! … now we know why we should not be behind the wheel listening to this music.
These albums have been about for a while inevitably but Esoteric’s celebration of this startling debut and Stray’s other four Transatlantic albums plus a bonus CD of studio out-takes, demos and rare singles is pretty much un-improvable-on.
What stands out as you track the band through its time with the label is the extraordinary versatility of Bromham and Gadd’s compositions. There’s the blues, a dot of soul, bags of psych, beat pop, space rock: there’s organ, brass, backing singers (the redoubtable PP Arnold, Barry St John, Lisa Strike et al).
Compare that lean, mean debut with 1973′s orchestra and brass-heavy ‘Mudanzas’ and it was clear Stray could and would deliver what it took to ‘make it’ and if that meant diversifying, then so be it. Only they didn’t ‘make it’ – and probably precisely for that reason. But what diversification, what joys and gems. There is much to feast on here and Malcolm Dome’s booklet notes stoke up the appetite nicely, too. *****
Review by Peter Muir
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