Retro Action 32: The Odyssey of the Edgar Broughton Band, 1975-1982

Whenever I sit down to start one of these columns, I often have to literally rack my brain to come up with artists that are true standouts. Specifically, I’m referring to the ones that have pioneered something new, informed future movements, or, at the very least, contributed something a little bit different to the sordid legacy of rock ‘n’ roll. In that spirit, I bring you the truly oddball and eccentric Edgar Broughton Band. The somewhat mundane and literal name aside, this scrappy UK band, which first began releasing music in the late ‘60s for major label Harvest Records, is a standout for several reasons. We’ll get to that in just a few. The main reason they’re here this time out is to unpack a killer new box set from Esoteric Recordings, commemorating the band’s later years, Speak Down The Wires: The Recordings 1975-1982.   

The Edgar Broughton Band was formed in Warwick England by none other than—you guessed it—Edgar Broughton (vocals and guitars), along with his brother Steve Broughton (drums) and Arthur Grant (bass). Like so many other UK combos at the time, the band’s sound started out as a loud, drug-fueled version of bluesy rock and psychedelia that epitomized ‘60s British music scene at the time. But what separated the band from so many of its contemporaries was its quirky, idiosyncratic approach along with the fact that it wore its social consciousness on its sleeve. In very basic terms, think Black Sabbath meets Frank Zappa or Deep Purple meets Captain Beefheart. And, all of the madness was embellished by Broughton’s gruff, raspy vocals and filthy guitar tone.

The band developed a following for its raucous live shows that often incited violent crowds, causing the band to be banned at several venues. Harvest Records, a subsidiary of EMI that focused more on prog- and heavy blues-oriented bands of the day and released its debut Wasa Wasa in 1969. A deviant, proto-metal affair, the album showcased the band’s rawness, regurgitated Hendrix riffs filtered through the basement of a smog-laden steel factory with some werewolf vocals overlaid across the top. While significant for its contributions to early heavy metal music, it lacks some of the grander psychedelic flourishes and more overt social commentary of later albums.

Fast forward a few years, and the band’s lineup had shifted a fair amount, while its pedigree in the freakish world of underground hard rock had grown leaps and bounds. But Broughton was never one to sitting idly by and follow the status quo. By the mid-’70s, as times were changing, the band found itself in a bit of limbo. Their record deal with Harvest had ended, and even though their final album for the label OORA (1973), was a triumph in terms of musical adventurism—with a bevy of styles ranging from arthouse prog to stomping glam anthems—the band’s fortunes had fallen on the whole. A two-year hiatus would see the band change labels and release a few more albums, which is what this new set Speak Down The Wires takes into account.

The set includes all of the LPs released by the band from 1975-1982, in remastered form, including bonus tracks, a book and poster. The set kicks off with the  Bandages album (1975), which sheds much of the band’s prior sludginess and glam stomp for more of an experimental pop feel. Idiosyncratic in spades and laden in synths along with Broughton’s signature howls, it’s pretty much unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Standouts include the bizarre folky “Get a Rise” and the proggy, pre-new wave “John Wayne,” which could’ve also fit well in the early Roxy Music or Queen catalogs (without the pristine operatic vocals of Freddie Mercury, of course).

Next up in the set is the live offering Live Hits Harder!. After the critically acclaimed Bandages, the band needed a much-needed break, but did record a few European shows, which would eventually culminate in this live album released years later. In spite of the problems the band faced with labels, management and the fact that its last couple of releases failed to catch fire, this live LP features the band in fine form with tracks “Side By Side” and “Freedom” sounding energized and alive.

1979’s Parlez-Vous English? saw the band shorten its name to The Broughtons and attempt to get back on the horse after a few years of strife and a prolonged studio absence. This album sees the band shed its sonic riffery for a quirky, keyboard-laden approach that is more akin to say, the pop-prog of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia than anything resembling the grit and gutter approach of the earlier albums. It also deepened the rift between fans who yearned for the heaviness of the early days and those who saw the band embrace modern technology and changing trends. Think early ’80s Bowie meets Oingo Boingo.

The last album featured in this set is the uncanny and somewhat prophetic Superchip: The Final Silicon Solution (1982), a futuristic concept album of sorts documenting the dystopian world of the near future, set to a new wave soundtrack a la the aforementioned Oingo Boingo and Devo. By now, the band was thoroughly immersed in the modern sounds of the day and from this vantage point, perhaps wanted to be seen as elder statesmen in the relatively new, post-punk scene. The album is heavily keyboard-driven with Broughton sounding more theatrical and vocally absurd than on prior outings.

While unique in its musical scope and creative approach, by this time, the post-punk scene was producing a slew of younger artists pushing the sonic boundaries of the day, so legacy bands such as The Broughtons and ELO, who were now producing their own versions of the new wave seemed slightly passé.  But, Superchip is an amazing offering nonetheless, with eerie experimental tracks such as the title track and “The Last Electioneer,” and it’s high-concept cover art.

Superchip would end up to be final studio offering by the Edgar Broughton Band. While certainly not for everyone, the band’s counter-cultural stance and musical odyssey that began with its proto-metal devastation, all the way up to its pop-prog and post-punk contributions is something is something very few others have accomplished. And, Speak Down The Wires is a great way to experience the second half of the band’s oddball legacy.

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