Brian Auger

TrackAlbum
Bumpin' On SunsetDefinitely What
Compared To WhatCloser To It
Foolish GirlReinforcements
Freedom Jazz DanceSecond Wind
Happiness Is Just Around The BendCloser To It
I Wanna Take You HigherBefour
Indian Rope ManStreetnoise
Road To Cairo45rpm (1968)
Second WindSecond Wind
TrampOpen

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Contributor: Rob Millis

Despite plaudits from the likes of Herbie Hancock and decades of residence and success in the US of A, just five minutes in the company of Brian Auger and you come away thinking how quintessentially English he still is, hardly changed from his roots.

Which, of course, started, playing organ in that mid-sixties London club favourite act Steampacket, with Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll as the featured vocal turns. As many will know, the iconic and drop-dead-gorgeous Driscoll jumped ship with Auger and the formidable Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity became a reality, mixing Auger’s hip Hammond stylings with Driscoll’s distinctive vocals. We’ll take the pumping soul of Tramp (from debut LP Open) and from Streetnoise, the double LP follow up, Indian Rope Man. Two pretty notable singles from 1968 spring to mind. I’ll be awkward and take Road To Cairo (rather than This Wheel’s On Fire).

Following each of the above releases were LPs by Brian and The Trinity sans Driscoll. On Definitely What, you’ll find Bumpin’ On Sunset – still a feature of Auger’s live set at least as recently as when I saw him about ten years ago, and every bit as impressive. Guitarist Gary Winston Boyle joined in for the second Driscoll-less LP, Befour. It was to be the last before the next phase of Auger’s career and my choice from it is a great version of Sly Stone’s I Wanna Take You Higher. There’s something about that song that for me sums up the handover of the sixties to the seventies – it was there on the Woodstock movie and Brian Auger’s last Trinity release.

The seventies, as for many, ushered in a change of direction and Auger was no exception, embracing jazz-rock with great aplomb in his new venture Oblivion Express. I’m going to skip the first couple of LPs and head straight for 1972’s Second Wind, from which I have chosen the title cut and the jaw-dropping romp through jazzer Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance. Don’t be put off by jazz-rock in this instance: Jim Mullen’s guitar always has a bluesy sensibility to it, Auger’s own keyboards are never more than a note or two away from funky and vocalist Alex Ligertwood (later in Santana) has a range that almost defies belief. If that doesn’t convince you this isn’t stiff old fusion of the kind rightly derided, the fact that the late, great Robbie McIntosh was behind the kit really should.

The Oblivion Express went through line-up changes – Auger himself would handle vocals after Ligertwood departed, although such luminaries as bassist Clive Chaman and drummer Steve Ferrone have been involved along the way. 1973’s Closer To It featured both the infectious electric piano-led summer song Happiness Is Just Around The Bend and the slow-burning funk of Compared To What among other highlights.

Ligertwood was back for 1975’s Reinforcements and his stellar performance, along with a monster organ break from Auger nudged me, upon listening to the LP again, to pick the funky soul of Foolish Girl from this set rather than the opening instrumental Brain Damage that I was convinced I’d go for. That’s ten songs from one of the finest organ and piano talents the UK has ever produced, and a satisfying mix of styles to boot.

Auger continues to tour (when I last saw him it was with his son Karma on drums and on successive tours daughters Ali and Savannah have each taken the lead vocal role) and still has that intense fire, that passion … how many sixties Swinging London instrumentalists can you say that about?

Footnote: I must mention that Auger is one of the most gracious and helpful gentlemen you could hope to meet. After a date at London’s Jazz Café back in the nineties I was delighted to meet him, having not long purchased my first Hammond. He was so full of advice and encouragement that the next thing we knew the venue had been swept and the staff were ready to lock up. There are an awful lot of fragile egos in the music business and Brian Auger is not one of them.

 

The official website of Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express

Brian Auger biography (iTunes)

Following her albums with Brian Auger and the Trinity, Julie Tippetts, née Driscoll, along with husband Keith, has had an extraordinarily long career as a recording artist under the radar of many a popular music fan. So, could we be having a Jools toppermost anyone?

TopperPost #124

4 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Nov 12, 2013

    I’d have to go back to Steampacket, another band like Joey Dee (an almost adjacent Toppermost chronologically) where the organ wasn’t colouration, but was the centre and bedrock of the live sound. The problem with Steampacket is lack of adequate recordings. There are half a dozen CD versions of the same basic live album from December 1965, and they can be found not in record stores, but in places like Poundland or book remainder stores, never costing more than £1 to £2. “Rod Stewart live” is one misleading title. The sound is muddy, but I found a French vinyl version (Rock Generation Vol 6: Steampacket) which has been remastered and sounds much better. You can’t bottle or certify memories, but I saw Steampacket two or three times, and that front line up of Rod Stewart and Julie Driscoll, flanking Long John Baldry with Brian Auger’s organ swirling around them was as good a live band as I’ve seen. If you want to hear Steampacket full belt, it’d be Baby Don’t Do It, but this is a Brian Auger post so “Back At The Chicken Shack” has him exercising the full Jimmy Smith. Then he went into an instrumental version of “The In Crowd” with Vic Briggs on guitar, Mickey Waller on drums. I do remember they built up an instrumental head of steam before those three very different but equally great singers strutted on. For the organ fans, the track called “Own Up, Lady Astor” is a Brian Auger showcase, so would be in my list. It’s easy to find. The other one I’d have to have is This Wheel’s On Fire. I see why Rob chose Road to Cairo, as everyone must have a copy of This Wheel’s On Fire on a compilation somewhere, or if not can hear Jools voice every time they see Absolutely Fabulous credits. But TWOF is a rarity. It was written by Bob Dylan & Rick Danko, perhaps Dylan’s first co-write, and comes from The Basement Tapes. The Auger/Driscoll/Trinity version isn’t a “cover” in that it was the first officially released version, followed months later by The Band, then The Byrds. Three tremendous versions, but actually Jools’ chilling voice with Auger’s organ swirling furiously round it is one of the definitive sounds of 1968, and the only Band song where I prefer someone else’s version. They thought the same when they made it the AbFab theme (though I guess that’s not Auger on the re-done version).

  2. Rob Millis
    Nov 12, 2013

    Peter, how gracious of you to not guffaw loud and long after I’d forgotten Rod the Mod in my brief lines on Steampacket. I started to write his name then thought “No, he was in Shotgun Express” (a near copy of Steampacket with Peter Bardens on organ and co-vocalist Beryl Marsden). Was so convinced by this it didn’t seem necessary to check it…

  3. Peter Viney
    Nov 13, 2013

    Hadn’t noticed Rod’s absence, as he was implanted in my mind automatically. On which there is a reasonable quality “Can I Get A Witness” from the Steampacket album on Rod’s “Storyteller Anthology” together with a great “Shake” which Rod credits to “with Brian Auger & The Trinity”.

  4. Colin Duncan
    Nov 18, 2013

    Enjoyed the article, Rob. Feel I have neglected this band. Will seek them out. I remember the iconic photograph of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart, which seemed to define an era. There’s an Average White Band connection in that Robbie McIntosh played on the first three Brian Auger albums before joining AWB. After he died tragicallly of a heart attack, after taking heroin thinking it was cocaine at a party after a week’s residency at the Troubador in Los Angeles he was replaced by Steve Ferrone. Robbie McIntosh was an outstanding talent. I think Jim Mullen toured with AWB also, but am not sure about this.

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