Albums In My Collection
– Hatfield And The North
– The Rotters’ Club
Hatfield And The North were a rather fun band that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously, yet, sadly, the band didn’t last very long either.
Part of Prog-Rock’s “Canterbury Scene”—and created by former members of bands such as Egg, Caravan, and Gong, basically making them a “supergroup” of the genre—the band possessed all the elements and the talent to make for some exciting music—whimsical lyrics and vocals, highly complicated arrangements where each musician was given the chance to shine, the liberal use of sax and woodwinds, and even scores of odd time signatures/rhythm shifts. Jazz influences on many of the tracks also lent heavily to their overall sound, which sometimes reminds me of Zappa/Mothers Of Invention, Gentle Giant, National Health, Camel, Caravan, and a host of other truly creative acts of the era.
Of course, again because of the musicians involved—their experience both prior to Hatfield And The North’s formation or shortly after its quick demise—the comparisons to National Health, Camel, Caravan shouldn’t come as any great shock. The genre, as a whole, seemed to be quite incestuous, with many of its musicians joining together into various packs for brief periods of time, then disbanding, only to have those members create new bands with members from other recently disbanded packs, and so on and so on as the years advanced. This made for some interesting combinations of musicians along the way, and some terrific and unforgettable music, but many of the albums produced by one outfit sounded quite similar to those produced by other outfits due to this intermingling of musicians. The one thing Hatfield And The North had going for it is that the two mere albums the band produced before disbanding were truly memorable and exceptional. In other words, this particular combination of musicians didn’t stick together long enough to get boring or complacent and, for these two releases, were at the height of a creative peak.
Regardless of the band’s influences or each members’ individual histories, Hatfield And The North somehow created its own style/sound, its own identity, and often seemed ahead of its time. It amazes me that they aren’t better known and lauded more broadly within the Prog-Rock community, although perhaps their limited output has something to do with that.
Although I find the second album, The Rotter’s Club, a near masterpiece, both albums are nevertheless quite exceptional examples of the “Canterbury Scene” genre. Even though both releases contain a slew of short tracks, most of them interconnect, running into each other and sandwiching a few lengthier pieces, giving each album the feeling of having only one long song gracing each album side. Not many other bands could pull this off successfully, but Hatfield And The North seems to have done it with ease.
And even though I find most of the band’s individual tracks fascinating, thus making it impossible to list my favorites, I must make special mention of the multi-part track “Mumps,” the undeniable “must hear” epic that takes up nearly the entire “B” side of The Rotter’s Club. If anyone wants a succinct lesson of what the entire “Canterbury Scene” of Progressive Rock was truly all about regarding its general sound, they need not hunt any further for a better example than this twenty-and-a-half minute track—it’s the entire genre presented in a nutshell of utter perfection. Every fan of Prog-Rock should own a copy of this track from this (occasionally) horribly overlooked band.