Facelift Magazine, September 1996


A Sense of the Absurd

Vertigo 528 696-2

By Chris Bussicott

Fact: Patto were one of the best, and least recognised, UK bands of all time.  In effect this is a bargain priced re-release of their first two LPs, together with some interesting unreleased material.

The "Canterbury" connection comes through the late great Ollie Halsall who spent his last years as unassuming sideman to Kevin Ayers.  But if you want to hear what a simply phenomenal guitarist he was, you really need to listen to these recordings.  Combined with the warm gravel of Mike Patto's voice and the flexible rhythm laid down by drummer John Halsey and bassist Clive Griffiths, Patto were one heck of a band by any standards.

Their self titled debut is attractively complex rock music with delightful jazz overtones heavily featuring Ollie's fluid guitar and equally accomplished vibes playing.  It's a satisfying and unusual blend that works to perfection on classic tracks like 'San Antone' which rocks along with all elements in place and unlikely but effective doo-wop backing vocals.  The lengthy "Money Bag" is a show-case for the jazz informed sensibilities of the band with all the players cutting loose in style.

Appended to this disc is the unreleased Hanging Rope - a long workout in similar vein to 'Money Bag' with yet more lashings of dazzling instrumental work.

'Hold Your Fire', their second release, is generally tighter and more accessible.  It's widely considered their classic album, and will set you back the best part of 100 if you can find a copy on the original Vertigo "swirl label" vinyl.

It's more overtly rock oriented, ranging from good time boogie like 'See You At The Dance Tonight', to some brooding ballads like the closing 'Magic Door'.  'How's Your Father' and 'Air Raid Shelter' showcase Ollie's dazzling "all four fingers and the thumb" technique to perfection (when they played live I remember seeing his hand scuttling around the fretboard using all five digits like an amphetamine fuelled spider - at least I think that's what he was doing!) - the man's technique was certainly unrepeatable!

Three additional tracks here, including an alternative version of 'Air Raid Shelter' find the mood swinging back to a nice, jazzy feel again and all are well worth hearing.

Mike Patto died of cancer some years before Ollie Halsall's demise, and Griffiths and Halsey were both appallingly injured in a car smash back in the early 1980's, so we'll certainly never see their like again - more's the pity.

There's so much stuff re-released these days of frankly questionable worth, but this is simply great.  I urge you to try it not just for it historical interest as an obscure part of the Canterbury family tree but because it is music of the finest quality.

Chris Bussicott


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