Band Of Light – Total Union

I now have worked out how Gil Mathews got the nick-name “Rats”.  Gil (who is responsible for his labour of love label, Aztec Music) has released another classic vinyl album onto CD, Band Of Light’s 1973 release Total Union. This album was such a sort after release as a second hand collectable, it would have fetched around $300 – now it’s valued at $30, what a Rat !!!

Band Of Light was originally put together by Kiwi, Phil Key, formally a member of The La De Das who in late ‘72 wasn’t happy with the direction that the band was taking so he took bassist Peter Roberts with him to start a new band, Band of Light. (Roberts left after only three gigs). Ian Rilen bought a bass guitar from soon-to-be-deported La De Das member, Reno Teouh and then drifted into Band Of Light. Norm Roue took up the cause on slide guitar and Tony Buettel (The Valentines) on drums completed the final line-up.

Listening to this album again you can’t help noticing Norm Roue’s brilliant slide guitar playing. At times raw and powerful, at other times his precision playing lends an opulent refrain to enhance a basic tune. Be careful though, a lot of Roue’s licks will linger in your head after one hearing.

The rhythm section of Rilen and Buettel, are simple and tight providing a strong background for Roue and Key to shine. Angry Anderson who was later to join Rilen in Rose Tattoo was once asked to describe Rilen’s bass sound. He replied: “It’s like the first time you hear that Tyrannosauras Rex howl in Jurassic Park . He’s got that low sting in it , but it’s almost like you expect it to go into this blood-curdling shriek, but it never really gets there, it threatens to do that all the time.” That quote is pretty close to the bone on this recording.

Most of the tracks on this release were written by Key and his wife Pam (they went under the pseudonym of Wheel. Very hippy indeed). Lyrically the songs address such issues as imminent birth, such as in ‘My First Home’:

I am so sleepy and warm,
inside my water safe bubble,
But don’t be afraid of me,
I won’t give you no trouble.
Hey Mamma, I’m on my way,
From whipped cream paradise,
into your uncertain life,
where tears of grey turn to ice.

Or world famine – a big issue back then – can you remember your parents telling you off for not finishing your dinner then explaining how the poor countries in Africa have nothing to eat !

‘Free Them From Hunger’:

Hearts loaded with suffering,
Our turn to be offering,
Are we so shallow and tight,
because our skin is not white.
What’s with you politicians,
Making all the wrong decisions,
Spending our money on war,
It could feed people poor.

Now that’s kind of relevant even in this day and age.

While ‘Spaces Of Time’ explores the mental and physical effects of music:

Regenerate my life,
And thrill me to the end,
As loud as you can pound,
Let it inside me bend.

’ If ’  is a love song. ‘Earthbound Blues’ tackles the afterlife 1973 style. And ‘The Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse’  tackles biblical revelations.

As with every Aztec Vintage Collection Series release this one comes with bonus tracks. ‘The Destiny Song’ was released as single in April ‘73. It was a hit and got the band exposure on radio. Its B side aptly named ‘Over B’  is included too, an instrumental, actually it’s my favourite track, all band members get a credit. Blues and boogie at its brilliant best. Roue and Key go head to head, Roue’s slide vs Key’s wah wah soloing with a little touch of Rilen magic on his own before Roue and Key dive in together at the end. The band issued a single in November ‘Moonstruck ’ ( it failed to chart ) and that’s included on this issue with another b-side to the single ‘The Cat’. Another highlight included, is a cover that was recorded live at Sunbury in ‘73, ‘Messin’ With The Kid’.

This album is clearly of its time but after 30 odd years there is still some freshness about it. Roue, Rilen and Buettel left the band in June 1974. Roue joined Buffalo where they got back to their blues roots for their album Mother’s Choice ( to be re-released this year on Aztec ). One wonders where Pete Wells got the idea to switch to slide guitar after having Roue in their band. Wells and Roue have their own styles of course. Now that Pete Wells has passed away I’m wondering if Roue will ever come out of retirement and thrill us once more? We can but wonder.

As for the rest of the band – for Ian Rilen , Rose Tattoo was just around the corner. Buettel slipped into production work, while Key sadly passed away in May 1984 from a congenitial heart condition.