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With a very mysterious "English" allure one-album-wonder Room recorded this avant garde psychedelic blues rooted album on the DECCA subsidiary label DERAM after winning second place in a NME battle-of-the-bands competition in 1969. Active in and around the Bournemouth popular music scene between 1968 and 1971 they faded into virtual obscurity after the record company failed to market them adequately. These days a mint original vinyl specimen can fetch ridiculous prices on record trading websites that are responsible for resurrections of such bands, elevating them from the " where are they now file" to the more prestigious "lost classic" status.
At risk of employing that annoying " ahead of their time " cliché term, it is fair to say that Room was as experimental and adventurous as it got back in the late 60s and early seventies and could hold it's own with any British art rock band of the day with the possible exception of King Crimson. While the music heard on the 7 tracks on the LP ranged from straight forward ( but solid ) guitar led folky blues/rock to more complex extended compositions that leaned more towards progressive rock, they astonishingly featured audacious string and brass arrangements in lieu of keyboards! Classically trained musicians were recruited conducted by Richard Hartley who would go on to become involved with numerous theatrical, television and film musical projects and is probably best known for his arrangements for the 1975 film version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as well as work with such diverse artists as Meat Loaf & Bananarama! Although Room are to be commended for their ambitious employment of the string and brass sections they sometimes become discordant with the 4 piece rock band they are accompanying which might turn some tastes unless one is into the esoterics of bands like Gentle Giant, Gnidrolog or Egg. Occasionally, I noticed that they can sound like some of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar orchestrations, veering into 19th century classical from time-to-time. But it is really the mezmerising jazzy alto intonations of singer Jane Kevern with her almost deadpan lyrical deliveries that provide Room with their unique mood and atmosphere that can sometimes be as depressing as Black Sabbath's first three albums. This is best sampled on the title track with it's introductory cappella harmonies as well as the other two extended tracks "Andromena" and "War". On the ethereal "No Warmth In My Life" she really shines with a flugel horn playing clever counterpoint melodies while the two bluesy tracks, "Big John Blues" and "Where Did I go Wrong " are run-of-the-mill Britsh blues of the day. There were several other tracks that didn't make the final cut that are still locked up in the vaults somewhere in England that guitarist Steve Edge claims could have given the album less of a doomy and gloomy ambience .
Although it it does not approach the heaviness or pessimism, "War" can also be distantly likened to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". It even commences with an air raid siren sound effect but overall, is much more subtle and more in flower power mode. It predates the Sabbath piece so there can be no plagarism accusations here and I'm pretty sure that Ozzy & co. didn't copy Room either, but it's interresting to hear similar philosophies being interpreted and expressed by two very different bands from roughly the same era. The album concludes with "Cemetery Junction", a two part instrumental interpretation of a landscape near Bournemouth where the band emanated from. It gives the album a sort of spooky closure, making extensive use of the string and brass sections demonstrating the group's compositional prowess and could be considered the most " progressive" track on the album that definitely invites a repeat listen.
So difficult to categorize is Room's singular effort. I can't help but thinking of Fairport Convention and Pentangle but only a bit more adventurous. Although Preflight features accomplished musicianship and compositional skill it was still obviously a band still trying to find it's groove and this is evident during some of the improvisational sections that sometimes lose direction. If they could have developed further I'm sure that they would have fit in comfortably with some Canterbury scene bands like Caravan, Camel and Curved Air after some tweeking.
Although the album is easily obtained in CD format the quirky hippie triplane and house artwork by bass player Roy Putt can be best appreciated on a 2006 Italian 18 grain vinyl edition. Forget an original DERAM edition unless you are made of money though. In any case, Pre-flight is a jewel from the dawn of the glorious seventies that should not be missed by anyone into that era.
Member: Phil Jackson (Profile) (All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
Format: CD (Album)
Described as an ambitious blend of rock, blues, jazz and classical influences these all come together well on the 9 minute opener “Pre-Flight Parts I and II” where Room are backed by their very own 14 strong ‘orchestra’ of brass and strings.
The trouble is that on “Where Did I Go Wrong?” Room sound like hundreds of other blues rock bands around in 1970 albeit well played with a female singer Jane Kevern. I thought Kevern’s voice was more suited to the jazz-rock of “No Warmth in my Life”. Following the guitar notes in ‘scat’ style of course is also a fairly standard ploy and like the second track ‘Big John Blues’ does not for me fit into the overall concept of the album even though once again it is well played.
“Andromeda” is musically much more interesting with Kevern sounding uncannily like Sonja Kristina at times. “War” has a catchy melody but doesn’t really add much to “Andromeda” and the lyrics could have done with some work!
The album ends as it began with another ambitious piece, instrumental this time with the ‘orchestra’ restored in full (“Cemetery Junction Parts One and Two”). The music has great energy largely due to a propulsive drummer Bob Jenkins and Roy Putt’s adept bass playing.
Room are well worth checking out as a lost progressive ‘gem’, one of those bands you would have expected to be on Vertigo perhaps and ripe for sampling by Andy Votel! Guitarist Steve Edge tells the story in the liner notes. (There are actually two lead guitarists, Chris Williams being the other and they could be pretty heavy at times!)
B E Jackson (Amazon Review)
A BRILLIANT piece of progressive rock from the early 70's- this album contains heavy guitar playing, melodic riffs and solos, and lengthy pieces that are so extremely good (and underrated) I can't put into words how important it is for you to check out this wonderful album.
Even though it's quite expensive to buy, it's worth every penny. I can't imagine a more enjoyable and energetic prog rock band than the Room. You HAVE to hear "Cemetary Junction". It will blow your mind. It's about as heavy as Cream, Zeppelin, Sabbath, or any other rock band from the early 70's. Why nobody has written a review for it yet is a huge mystery. Great great stuff.
Darian Dennison (Amazon)
I definitely agree with you that Room is a highly underrated progressive rock band and they should've been much bigger than what they were, the guitar solo around five and a half minutes into "Cemetery Junction" definitely reminds me of listening to Black Sabbath and it's ranked one of my all time favorite songs, I also love the title track as well as "Cemetery Junction".
I've first discovered Room on SIRIUS Radio and the first song I've ever heard of by Room is "Cemetery Junction".
I went to school with Steve Edge, the lead guitarist. From the age of 12 he always had a guitar with him - a shy guy, though, but with a pleasant crooked smile.
I lost this album years ago, so it is good to see it resurrected. Jane Kevern's vocals (I had a bit of a crush on her back then) was one of the points of difference with this band, as well as the fact that they were very difficult to pigeon hole. Bursting with imagination and invention, rather like "Family", another British band that were impossible to categorise...