Review Summary: One of the best albums from the Canterbury scene. An album you shouldn’t miss.
“Space Shanty” is the debut and only album of Khan and was released in 1972. The line up on the album is Steve Hillage, Dave Stewart, Nick Greenwood and Eric Peachey.
Khan was a UK progressive rock band associated with the Canterbury scene. They were only active in 1971 and 1972 and released only one album, “Space Shanty”. “Space Shanty” was released in June 1972, followed by a UK live tour supporting Caravan. It’s a true classic progressive rock album of the Canterbury scene. It’s a question of love or hate to proggies. Some love its loose, jazzy jams, and others hate its hippie lyrics and flowery arrangements. Some others say that its sound has more to do with a hard rock album than to a Canterbury classic album. But what’s notable is that “Space Shanty” is a distillation of the many styles of the Canterbury scene, with its cosmic hippy humour, the fascinating and busy arrangements but, above all, it remains completely new, fresh and exciting. This is a progressive rock album of the first class, and it’s, definitely, one of the best albums where Hillage and Stewart have played on.
Khan was a super group, one of the first ones. As is typical with the Canterbury scene, each member was also a member of a number of other bands. Keyboardist Dave Stewart played with Arzachel, Egg, Gong, Hatfield And The North, and National Health, to name a few. Guitarist Steve Hillage went on to play and record a number of notable albums with Kevin Ayers, Gong, and as a solo artist. Khan was the second band of Steve Hillage, he had actually played in a very early incarnation of Egg. Bassist Nick Greenwood had done time with the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.
Musically, “Space Shanty” is absolutely a superb classic early 70’s progressive rock of the first class. This is also one of the best albums that were released by what is today called the Canterbury scene, apparently an improbable place for so many and great prog bands. The bands that surfaced from that English provincial city produced some of the most consistently and interesting prog music released in the 70’s. Khan can be considered as one of the best examples, but we can add many others like Caravan, Gong, Soft Machine, Egg, Hatfield And The North, National Health and Quiet Sun.
About the tracks, the opening title track is representative for the album, both in quality and style. Lengthy and complex with tons of strong melodies, riffs and some very extended instrumental parts that will impress and satisfy any true progressive rock fan. Stewart’s organ sound is immediately recognisable, and the addition of Hillage’s guitar work gives the band a sonic range that the otherwise excellent Egg didn’t have. There is a slight space edge to some of the instrumental parts, quite natural with an album title like this, but I still wouldn’t consider the overall sound to be spacey or space rock. “Stranded (Effervescent Psychonovelty No. 5)” features a beautiful deep organ tone from Stewart along with sprinkling piano and a very strong vocal melody. The instrumental part burst out in a heavy riff, and an acoustic flamenco influenced guitar solo makes a surprising appearance. This song flows right into “Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains”. The instrumental parts on this one have a slightly jazzier feel, with wordless vocals and lots of soloing between Hillage and Stewart. “Driving To Amsterdam” also starts a bit jazzy and turns quickly into some delicious melodies played by Hillage and Stewart simultaneously. The melody on the vocal part is perhaps the most beautiful on the whole album. The first seconds of “Stargazers” reminds a lot of Gentle Giant, and the song itself is progressive rock at its catchiest and most immediate. “Hollow Stone (Escape Of The Space Pirates)” has some soft and pleasant vocal passages with Stewart’s dreamy organ in the background, while the more distorted side of his sound dominates the solo parts. The track ends with an incredibly grand sounding heavy riff that creates a hell of a climax to the song, really.
The 2005 reissued release includes two bonus tracks, “Break The Chains” and a fantastic first version of “Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains”. With these two additional tracks the running time of this new release increases to 55 minutes.
Conclusion: “Space Shanty” is a must have and it’s too bad that they didn’t last long enough to make more albums. The music has a real sense of scale and joy, and the guys are clearly enjoying themselves with their instruments. The recording is warm and straightforward with panning and flanging done to good effect. The music here is quite innovative, particularly with combining effects pedals with keyboards. In this time weren’t relying too much on studio trickery and tape manipulation. This is one of the jewels in the crown of Canterbury prog and one of my favourite albums of that sub-genre. It’s highly recommended for all fans and collectors of the early 70’s British progressive rock scene. Canterbury rock didn’t start with Khan. But, if you’re not intimate with that genre, then “Space Shanty” would be a perfect place for you to start, despite its heaviness. This is a pure gold plated classic progressive rock album, really.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)