|Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press February/March, 1975
PATTO – A British Tragedy
By Ben Richardson
In early 1971 Mercury Productions Inc. (now known as Phonogram) obtained American distribution rights to a small British independent company called Vertigo. The label’s very first stateside offering featured one of Great Britain’s most brilliant and overlooked bands of the early ‘70’s — Patto. Originally known as Timebox, the band amassed a strong, loyal following in France by virtue of their continuous live performances. A couple of pop oriented 45’s were cut for Deram, as well as a now legendary demo tape that included cover versions of Four Seasons’ hits done while under the influence of demerol (cough medicine). Timebox lost their organist as well as their title, only to be later reborn as Patto.
The nucleus of Patto was formed by lead singer, main lyricist, occasional piano player and namesake, Mike Patto and Olly Halsall who plays guitars, keyboards, and vibraphone all with equal ease and contributes vocals and the basic melodies that embrace Mike’s lyrics so well. It was the combined efforts of extremely clever lyrics and most unconventional rock and jazz chord progressions that separated Patto from all those other Vertigo/Mercury heavies. As a guitar player Olly Halsall is on par with the very best flash/speed guitarists that Great Britain has ever produced. Complementing the two co-leaders were bass player/back-up vocalist Clive Griffiths and drummer/percussionist John Halsey. Griffiths lays down a loud uncomplicated bass figure that can always be felt rather than heard, and Halsey is very much Keith Moonish in style, execution, and mind. In other words, Patto were four multi-talented virtuosos who had been making music together for roughly five years. And before their demise, they put together three of the most imaginative, sometimes insane, but always delightful rock LP’s that have ever been unleashed from the British Isles and ignored by an American audience.
Their first album, Patto, was released in March 1971, and, of the three, is the one I have no qualms in recommending a full 100 per cent. Once you get past the bizarre cover artwork and the foolish record label (all song titles are listed on one side while the Vertigo logo covers the other), you’re in for nearly forty minutes worth of raw British progressive rock. This is due to a large extent to the excellent fiery production work of Muff Winwood (ex-Spencer Davis guitarist and Steve’s big brother), who contributes his skills on all three Patto albums.
"The Man" starts as a quiet jazzish piece that works Olly’s gentle vibe tinklings around some tricky drum and bass time signatures. All things stay relatively restrained until the repeated "I saw the man" chorus builds, at which time the energy level rises rapidly. Halsey’s snare/tom-tom explosions push both guitar and bass, while Mike screams out each word. The frenzy continues to increase and not even the fade begins to relieve the tension.
The lyrics to "Hold Me Back" are wrapped around the most catchy rock melody that can be imagined. Halsall’s lightning lead guitar runs are all over the place in the break, and Halsey’s drumming meshes perfectly with them. Mike Patto sings with so much lustful frustration here that you begin to wonder if’ this recount of a thirteen-year-old jailbait flirt isn’t at least slightly autobiographical. Any English album worth its weight in British pounds includes a mandatory acoustic track, and "Time to Die," complete with its double acoustic guitars accentuated by a firm bass progression, fills the requirements splendidly. "Red Glow" contains huge doses of guitars and drums. Patto’s vocal is as gritty as can be, coupled with flurries of guitar scales that run rampant. By the time you get around to flipping the record over, you’ve already begun to realize that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill mortal rock outfit, but four individuals approaching super-human musical stature.
Side two opens with "San Antone." It includes the most conventional chord structure of any of the songs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a novel chord twist here and there. The break allows the listener to hear 0lly tickle the ivories in the right channel while simultaneously burning out his usual great guitar lines in the left. The back-up chorus antics and Halsey’s tub poundings propel the piece along at a brisk pace. The down-tempo "Government Man" follows and takes a few political shots in the process. "Money Bag" is about seven minutes worth of atonal jazz noodlings with plenty of rapid fire guitar and drum exchanges before things settle into a more relaxed jazz groove. The grand finale, "Sittin' Back Easy," is constructed from two totally different chord progressions, linked by a Hendrixish type of bridge. 1965 Who drumming and power chording, combined with lots of echo in Patto’s voice, pushes this marvel to the brink. Producer Winwood mixed the bass line so loud here that you sense that there is an even chance your speakers will blow. As the song rumbles toward the fade, the power chording continues as split-second Halsall guitar riffs dart out at various angles and intensities. A truly magnificent corker on an equally magnificent record — a record with plenty of rough, ragged edges that create an energetic rawness akin to My Generation or Are You Experienced? Patto can be found in the cut-out bins with prices that range from 49 cents to $1.98, but even at six bucks, this one’s still a bargain.
With no promotional fanfare whatsoever, Patto’s second effort, Hold Your Fire, was released at the tail end of 1971. Generally speaking, Hold Your Fire is musically more complex than Patto, but lacks some of the more savage aspects of it. This is not to imply that Hold Your Fire isn’t a worthwhile recording, but that the first album’s rawness gives way on the second to a slightly smoother feel. Winwood employed a less cluttered sound approach here, eliminating the multi-over-dubbed guitar tracks of Patto in favor of a single-tracked guitar augmented by key boards. The individual tracks hinge upon loose jazz-based constructions, utilizing standard rock techniques. The results are varied, but always innovative.
The title song, "Hold Your Fire," combines fine instrumentation, lyrics, and vocals, but rambles pointlessly to no obvious conclusion. The same goes with "How’s Your Father," one of three Halsall lyrical endeavors. "Air Raid Shelter" roots itself deeply in free-form jazz, while "See You At the Dance Tonight" is contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, into which Olly injects a most fluid lead guitar line. "Tell Me Where You’ve Been" is a study in pure musicianship. Built from the barest of musical skeletons, guitars swirl and interweave around Patto’s vocals, while Griffith’s off-tempo bass figures create a counter point for Halsey’s straight ahead rock drumming.
The album’s two standout cuts are a ballad, "You Point Your Finger," and a rocker, "Give It All Away." "You Point Your Finger," with its catchy background chorus, deals with the hackneyed "we (the counter-culture) shall overcome someday" rhetoric. It’s the structuring of each stanza and the total disregard of subtlety that makes for an effective statement. "But remember when you point and stare, and wave your arms up in the air; When you bastards die, we’ll still be here, then we’ll take over."* In between the last chorus, which is repeated three times for full impact, 0lly offers some personally stylized guitar passages that clinch the total effect. Mike Patto, who can run the vocal gamut of a Daltrey, Stewart, or Cocker, gathers up all his force in delivering the lyrics to "Give It All Away." The song combines drum hammerings, piano rattlings, a.great chorus, and yet one more spectacular Halsall guitar break. The soothing "Magic Door" includes vibes, cymbal embellishments, and nice chorus touches to end the album on a lighter-than-air note. With Hold Your Fire, Patto took one step away from traditional British rock and one step toward American jazz. The end result is a highly enjoyable fusion of various derivative musical forms, ideas, and modes of expression.
The eccentricities which Patto only hinted at on their first two albums compound themselves into an array of blatant lunacy on their third effort. Issued on Island Records, November 1972, Roll ‘em Smoke ’em Put Another Line Out is loosely a concept album dealing with insanity. The tracks are presented with false beginnings and endings and various bits of studio clowning, attempting to give the record an atmosphere of informality and spontaneity. Considering the musical contents, the idea works.
For openers there is one of the best titles I can think of in a long while, "Singing The Blues On Reds." It’s a funky display, depicting a rock ‘n’ roll band’s life on the road. "Singing the blues on reds/Screwin’ in hotel beds/Singing the blues on reds/Keepin’ an eye on the feds."* "Flat Footed Woman" is a showcase for Halsall’s piano playing, with a top-notch percussion performance from Halsey. I can’t help but think that the whole effort, including Patto’s vocal phrasing, isn’t a deliberate attempt at parodying middle-period Van Morrison. Next, John Halsey’s Oedipus Complex fantasies pervert things with his own "Mommy." "Loud Green Song" is heavy metal at its dumbest best. The nonsense lyrics, three super charged guitar breaks by Halsall, and plenty of screaming by Mike makes the listener not forget that these were the same four Englishmen who made Patto.
Lyrically, "Turn Turtle" is related to "Hold Me Back," the twist being that the town flirt has contacted a case of frigidity. The melody holds together by an odd piano/chorus arrangement, which builds in layers only to collapse in the end. Mike Patto’s slow—tempo "I Got Rhythm" is a satirical look at the black culture from a white racist middle-class perspective. Halsall is "allowed" to sing his own composition, "Peter Abraham," and, not so surprisingly, it comes off as a mishmash of tempo changes, undecipherable lyrics, and general delerium. "Cap’n ‘P’ and the Atto’s (Sea Biscuits Parts I & 2)" clearly indicates that neither Halsey nor Halsall (co-authors) have yet completely kicked the demerol habit. This two-part sea chantey, which crossbreeds The Bonzo Dog Band with the Firesign Theatre, makes a strong case for putting the entire group under heavy sedation and close psychiatric care.
‘Roll ’em Smoke ’em isn’t recommended for everyone, only those looking for some thing a bit different within the scope of British rock.
So there you have it - three records, each nearly 180 degrees apart from the other two. Where many artists find .a successful formula and stick ever so close to it, Patto experimented with unorthodox concepts and devices, and succeeded handsomely with each attempt. Here are twenty-four singular ambitious tracks to captivate your ears. The tragedy of all this is that very few ears have ever heard any of them, or probably ever will.
Patto - Vertigo Vel- 1001
*"Hold Me Back" -PRS Ltd. (ASCAP)
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