Circle Records CPW L108, C108
Breakthru were a powerful live act from Birmingham who never managed to "break through" into the record charts despite a talented and charismatic line-up. Forty years later, Circle Records has released a compilation of their recorded material that we can now hear and appreciate for the first time.
Breakthru never managed to have an album released of their own which was unfortunate as their only record was a solitary single 'Ice Cream Tree' that has since appeared on various 1960s compilations. The group were never happy with the single as it was not a good representation of their "sound", and particularly as the song was not composed by the band themselves.
All the group members were actively involved in song writing with some of this backlog occasionally committed to tape whenever time and money would permit. Now, decades later, the previously un-released recordings they made have been assembled into the one and only Breakthru album titled "Adventures Highway". This collection the band members say, represents how they would like the group to be best remembered.
Circle Records is an independent U.K. based record label that specializes in obscure groups from the 1960s and 70s. Operated by Peter Wild, the label prides itself in releasing high-quality vinyl pressings and CDs with the emphasis on attention to detail as well as respect for the artists themselves. "Quality not Quantity" is their motto so if the Breakthru album is any indication of this, I look forward to any other projects they do involving West Midlands bands.
Circle Records have done an amazing job in putting this package together. With full co-operation and assistance from former group members, the Breakthru 'Adventures Highway' album includes the best of the band's previously un-issued recordings from 1967 to 1970. The audio quality of some individual tracks does vary as you can pretty much tell those done as demos or salvaged from acetates but do not let this distract you from enjoying the music. Reportedly a year in the making, the complete "Breakthru package" comprises two compact discs (CD and CD EP) in a jewel case with booklet, a vinyl LP in an attractive printed sleeve with full-size book, and a reproduction vinyl 45 rpm single in its own printed sleeve.
You can order the CDs separate from the vinyl, but then you'd be missing out on the full-size artwork and book. After getting used to CDs over the years, it feels wonderful to hold a new "vinyl" album in my hands again and being able to clearly read all the liner notes and book without use of a magnifying glass!
The quality of the packaging for both LP and CD is exceptional with full-colour artwork throughout and more than 100 vintage photos (some in colour) of the band as taken by their "official" photographer Barry Gonen. Also appearing in the artwork are reproductions of original advertisements and other memorabilia associated with the group. The CD booklet comprises 16 pages with a well-researched and highly detailed history of the group as written by Mike Stax of 'Ugly Things' magazine.
Getting down now to the music - did I mention there was music in this package? Well yes and lots of it too! Chronologically and starting with the poppy 'Ice-Cream Tree', this was the A-side to the group's only single and issued in 1968. It's very much a period piece but really not half as bad as the group made it out to be. I rather like it as there's a very catchy chorus (ring-a-ring of roses I can see, let's all dance round the ice cream tree...) and indeed could have become a hit. Just as well for the band it wasn't though so they were spared the embarrassment of having to perform it for more than a few times live on stage.
The B-side titled 'Julius Caesar' was an original composition by drummer Richard Thomas and less "pop" but more "rock". I love the drums and bass on this one - too bad it didn't go on for longer as it lends itself to an extended instrumental solo somewhere in the middle.
Going now to the unreleased material, the first batch of which was recorded at Tetlow's Recording Studio in Birmingham at the end of 1967. The group-written 'Yours' was an early attempt of an original song but would have been difficult to dance to with its stops and shifting rhythm. A cover of the Gershwin classic 'Summertime' sounds much more accessible with plenty of Hammond organ powering it along.
'Toyland' from 1968 was an unusual one for the band as it was a cover of the Alan Bown version and according to Keith Abingdon, may not have ever been played live by the group. All these mentioned tracks appear on the CD EP that comes with the standard CD package.
As for the 'Adventures Highway' album itself, this was assembled from a combination of unreleased-demos, BBC sessions, and surviving recordings from the results of various excursions into the studio by the group between 1967 and 1970. Side one kicks off with the high-energy group-composed 'Believe It' from 1970. You can just imagine the band going all out on this one with its high-energy blues-driven attack.
'Here Comes The End' from 1967 is a lot more psychedelic sounding with abundant echo effects but still very powerful. The bluesy cover of Willie Dixon's 'Spoonful' really gives an indication of what Breakthru were all about. Gary Aflalo's blues-harmonica playing on this one is exceptional against a backdrop of thundering hammond organ and distorted guitars. If you hate your neighbours then this is the one to play loud!
'Love Is Strange' starts out with some crashing guitars/bass/drums highly reminiscent of The Beatles 'Rain'. This one is supposedly based on the Everly Brother's version of the song and features both Gary Aflalo and Keith Abingdon doing a good job harmonizing on the vocals.
This is followed by the album's title track 'Adventures Highway' from 1968 and what a number it is too! Menacing hammond organ joined by pounding drums and guitar build into a climax of sheer volume that soon becomes a backdrop for spaced-out lyrics; Oh let's get transmitted, there's no planet that's too far. We'll see Jupiter and Mars, we'll see strange and weird sights on our space bound trip tonight... (make of it what you will).
The melodic and hypnotic 'I Have A Dream' composed by Geoff Garratley, reaches the height of social consciousness to include actual recorded excerpts from Martin Luther King's famous speech. Interestingly, this track was left off the vinyl version of the Breakthru album. Bob Booth's 'Growing Older' is similarly laid-back but does include some wild hammond fingering towards the end.
'Troubleshoot' co-written by Keith Abingdon and Richard Thomas is an excellent psychedelic rampage with lyrics to match. It has some great wah-wah guitar effects similar to what Roy Wood was doing at the time on many of The Move's records. We then go right into 'The Story Of Peer Gynt' with its opening riff taken directly from 'Hall Of The Mountain King' (almost seems like a tradition amongst Brum bands to pay tribute to classical music at some time or another). This rocking track was considered for single release at the time but for some reason it never happened. A pity as it would surely have made a good follow up to Ice Cream Tree.
The remaining tracks on the album were recorded in 1970 at London's Piccadilly studios. Although the group were on the verge of splitting by this time, they recorded (ironically) what are regarded as some of their best tracks. 'Alice Dropped Out' from these sessions, would have made a fine single.
As one of several Breakthru tracks co-composed by Keith Abingdon and Richard Thomas, this one is a driving blues-rock number with guitars very much at the forefront and the trademark hammond absent. This would have been a powerful one when performed by the band live. It is followed on the album by 'Happiness' which shows the band could still be tuneful in a commercial direction when they wanted to. 'Shake Off That Lead' is another such radio-friendly track that bounces along with a catchy keyboard-driven melody.
The final track on the Breakthru album is titled 'Sailor Song'. A wonderfully harmonious partnership of keyboard and guitar, and as the title suggests, the lyrics tell of a seafaring character who would rather spend his life out on the ocean rather than be troubled by the problems experienced by those on land. Maybe it's meant as an expression of ultimate freedom (or freedom of expression) that seems to run through the groups music from start to finish on these collected tracks that make up the Breakthru album.
The Circle Records 'Breakthru' album package serves as a fine tribute to one of the West Midlands great performing groups of the late 1960s. Breakthru were one of those bands who were at the leading edge of the pop music revolution at a time when innovation and the growth of new musical ideas was reaching its peak during the 1960s. 'Adventures Highway' fulfills a dream they had back then and this time you can join them on their journey. Highly reccommended!
The track listing for the LP is as follows:
The track listing for CD 1 is as follows:
CD (EP) 2:
For more information about Breakthru's Adventures Highway LP and CD, visit the Circle Records web site at at: www.circlerecords.co.ukCopyright © John R Woodhouse 2008