RILEY RILEY WOOD & WAGGETT Shape Of The Rain
Who? I hear you cry, well in this instance I would echo that myself. I like to think after 50 + years in this business that even if I don’t know their work I will at least have heard of them, but I must confess not this time. So let’s investigate, come with me back to the end of the 60’s/start of the 70’s. Many bands had dropped their previous incarnation’s and gone ‘psych’ ‘prog’ ‘freakbeat’ ‘experimental’ etc etc. To cater for these ‘underground’ bands, the major Record Labels all created offshoot labels, EMI had Harvest, Pye Had Dawn, Philips had Vertigo, Decca had Deram and bringing up the rear was RCA with Neon. Now I have this particular quirk that remembers Record Labels (I used to file my mobile disco records by label) so I DO remember Neon but for another long forgotten band in Dando Shaft. In operation for just over a year from 1971 -2 the label only had 11 releases of which SOTR was number 7. Hailing from an area of the country bounded by Sheffield and Chesterfield the band came together originally as a Everly Bros style duo of cousins Keith Riley (lead vocals/guitar),and Brian Wood (guitar vocals before being joined by Keith’s brother Len Riley (bass) and Iain ‘Tag’ Waggett (drums). The band’s name changed constantly, The Gear (inspired by their covers of Liverpudlian bands and Beatlesque sound) The Reaction was another and it was at this point they recorded a brace of demo’s and a local record shop owner David McPhie took an interest (he also represented Sheffield’s own Joe Cocker) and duly became their manager. With a name change to the more contemporary Shape Of The Rain all was set. This 3CD package covers their 1971 album RRW&W, a host of demo’s, outtakes, alternative versions, the demo’s for the aborted second album, a 50 minute live show from May 1970 and more. Disc 1 contains the original album kicking off with ‘Woman’ which, as noted in the sleevenotes, is a riff heavy pop/rock number sounding in structure very similar to Atomic Rooster’s ‘Devil’s Answer’ (co-incidentally issued on the same day!), this was issued as a single but didn’t trouble the charts at all, But this didn’t bother Neon, singles ‘weren’t cool man’ this was the dawn of the album…much cooler…er..man. After all the man in charge at Neon was Olav Wyper who in his previous life had been at CBS where he had dreamed up the much lauded sampler ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’. Why am I banging on about labels? because that’s where the problem with the success or rather lack of it for Shape Of The Rain lies. They were a good sounding band, they wrote their own material, and where they didn’t ,had excellent taste performing material by The Byrd’s and Love. Now as any reader of my reviews, column’s etc will know Love is a band really close to my heart. Shape Of The Rain were clearly heavily influenced by the prevailing West Coast Sound, track 7 ‘Dusty Road’ is a prime example as is the following track ‘Willowing Tree’s. And this is my point about success, had SOTR been on RCA’s main label there would have been more emphasis on promotion and put frankly money spent. To be fair even the band admit they were ‘musically confused’ but being hidden away, on a albeit ‘cool’ underground label served them badly. Their music is hook laden, delicate and contains some stunning arrangement’s, the Press of the time were impressed comparing them favourably to the like’s of Traffic and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman took them to his heart as a big fan. So you had a commercially adept band hidden away on an obscure label, it was a no win situation as the fans of the ‘underground labels’ were looking for something more esoteric than SOTR and the main label fans of RCA were being treated to Bowie, Sweet etc i.e. the commercially successful acts of which SOTR could have been one. They have also been compared to Badfinger which I think is a fair comment, good hooky melodic songs and credibility to boot. The songs written for the second unreleased album show a growing confidence ‘The Very First Clown’ and ‘Listen To Your Heart’ being two examples.
The 3rd disc in the set is the previously mentioned ‘live recording’ taped at Manchester University (supporting Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and given the recording restraints of the time is remarkably good, it captures the band in fine form (love the ‘Hendrix’ licks) mostly made up of new material at the time it did include a great version of ‘Willowing Tree’s from the Riley, Riley, Wood & Waggett album. And what about that album title? hardly jumps off the sleeve does it? I have a horrible suspicion somebody said something along the lines of ‘Crosby, Stills & Nash’ that’s cool man lets do that with this album. enough said! Eventually the band transferred to the main label and carried on til the mid 70’s before going their separate ways. Its a fact that there is more 60’s & 70’s music available to listen too today than there was then, incredible but true, so many albums never saw the light of day for so many reasons and some rightly so but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Shape Of The Rain and plugging a gap in my musical knowledge. Grapefruit Records have done their usual sterling job on the presentation of the set and the 24 page booklet contains many evocative photo’s and pictures of vintage poster’s and sound quality is excellent. Enjoy.
Til next time….please all stay safe and well……Colin
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