Sunbeam Records SBRCD5001
Although often described as a "lost Traffic album", Gordon Jackson's Thinking Back, upon closer examination, reveals itself to be something more. It's true that almost every track on this rare 1969 album does have Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Steve Winwood playing on it. But what we have here is a highly personal collection of songs composed by a long-overlooked talent who was then at the crossroads of his career.
In the beginning, there were The Hellions - a Worcester-based band who during the mid 1960s came close to breaking into the charts with a series of finely crafted pop singles. The line-up was drummer/vocalist Jim Capaldi, and guitarists/vocalists Dave Mason and Gordon Jackson along with bass guitarist Dave Meredith and John "Poli" Palmer on flute and vibes.
The Hellions (minus Dave Mason and Meredith) with the addition of Luther Grosvenor, evolved into Deep Feeling who, produced by Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky, could well have developed into a force to be reckoned with. Ultimately, this was not to be and Deep Feeling were sacrificed when Jim Capaldi left to form the legendary Traffic along with Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood. Poli Palmer joined Blossom Toes and later became a pivotal member of Family. Luther Grosvenor went on to success in Spooky Tooth and later Mott The Hoople under the alias of "Arial Bender"
Getting back to the story, following the demise of Deep Feeling, Gordon Jackson and Poli Palmer continued on as a song-writing team until Georgio Gomelsky offered Gordon a solo contract on his own Marmalade Records label. The result of this was the release of a single in 1968 by Gordon Jackson entitled Me Am My Zoo which was produced by Dave Mason as well as featuring the complete Traffic line-up.
By late 1968, Gordon Jackson began the recording of tracks for his solo album in top London studios such as Advision, Morgan and Olympic with the sessions produced by Dave Mason. All the songs were composed by Gordon Jackson who sings the lead vocal and plays acoustic guitar on every track. Not only did the recordings feature Traffic members, a large number of other luminaries from the late 1960s British rock scene dropped by the studios to contribute. The list includes Gordon's former Deep Feeling band-mates Poli Palmer and Luther Grosvenor, Chicken Shack's Robbie Blunt, Julie Driscoll, Rick Grech, Jim King and Meic Stevens, percussionist Rocky Dzidzorni as well as members of the Blossom Toes. Even Gordon Jackson admits he was never certain who would drop by to play on the sessions!
'Thinking Back' was issued on the Marmalade Records label in July of 1969 with an initial pressing of around 2,000 copies. Despite the obvious potential of such a release, there were immediate problems with distribution and the record received little if any promotion. The financial collapse of the Marmalade label came as a bitter blow to Gordon Jackson who had already endured the loss of his previous band and was now consigned to the back-benches of the music business while watching many of his former colleagues enjoy high-profile careers in other bands. Thirty five years later, Gordon Jackson's long-lost solo album was given the chance it deserved and re-released on the Sunbeam Records label. We are now fortunate to enjoy it for the first time on the CD format along with five additional bonus tracks.
The Sunbeam Records issue of Gordon Jackson's Thinking Back comes attractively packaged with reproductions of the original album artwork including the front cover featuring a portrait of Gordon's daughter Cherie as well as various other original photos supplied by him. The CD booklet has a detailed track listing with information about who played on what, and an informative and well-written Gordon Jackson biography by Richard Morton Jack. The audio quality is very good as copied from the original master tapes although I do detect some "crackles" on a couple of the bonus tracks and surmise they were recorded from surviving vinyl or acetates.
The album opens with a fantastic track called 'The Journey' which I must say, could not sound more like it came from Traffic's Mr. Fantasy LP if it wasn't for Gordon Jackson's distinctive vocal. The recording has all the trademarks of that great psychedelic Traffic sound complete with tabla, sitar and eastern influences but with a wonderful melody that makes you want to play it over and over again. The song even received airplay on John Peel's 'Top Gear' and would have made a fine single release.
This is followed by 'My Ship, My Star' - a slow and beautiful track featuring acoustic guitar and piano. Possibly the most vividly personal song on the album, Gordon Jackson's plaintive vocal comes close to cracking on this one which only adds to the fragile and atmospheric depth of the recording.
'Me And My Dog' was originally titled 'Me Am My Zoo' when it was issued as the A-side of a single in 1968. The song is irritatingly catchy with a simple melody and inane lyrics that are out-of-character with the rest of the album but is highly listenable none the less. The track features all the Traffic members - Steve Winwood (bass, piano), Dave Mason (slide guitar), Jim Capaldi (drums), and Chris Wood (flute). The instrumental build-up towards the end of the recording is quite memorable and is appreciated further with the inclusion of the longer unedited version as a bonus track on this CD.
'A Day At The Cottage' was the non-album B-side to this single and composed by Gordon Jackson while staying at the legendary "Traffic cottage" in Berkshire. The track chugs along with a rather "loose" feeling to it while sounding very much a product of the moment. This recording again features the entire Traffic line-up along with Gordon's lead vocal but the production is somewhat less "polished" than the songs on his album.
The highly-driven 'Song For Freedom' is really one of the stand-out tracks on the album. With Gordon Jackson's acoustic intro, it combines a fantastic rhythm section powered along by congas courtesy of Rocky Dzidzorni and Jim Capaldi's characteristic drumming along with Dave Mason's distinctive bass. You can really dance to this one and indeed will have a hard time resisting the urge to! Brilliant backing vocal by Julie Driscoll (of Brian Auger and The Trinity) who almost topped the charts in 1968 with 'This Wheel's On Fire'. Note also the atmospheric tenor sax and organ contributed by Chris Wood and Poli Palmer respectively.
'Sing To Me Woman' is an all-out rocker and one of those recordings that were highly characteristic of the period. Again with a powerful acoustic intro, the record features some stinging electric guitar from Dave Mason and a good saxophone solo from Chris Wood. The track was apparently composed during a late-night jam session and has a great "live" feel to it. In fact, most of the tracks on this album have that feeling of spontaneous energy and a sense that all involved were having a good time recording them.
The next track on the album 'When You Are Small' (which at seven-plus minutes is also the longest) opens with a vocal introduction from Steve Winwood and then slips into a laid-back groove similar to what the Beatles would create on their Abbey Road recording of 'Because'. Gordon Jackson's use of the electric sitar contributes much to the atmosphere on this track which also features Steve Winwood on bass and piano. Lyrically, it's a trip back in time to Gordon's youth and may have been the inspiration to Thinking Back as the title of the album and his observation that "Thinking back to yesterday may help us find tomorrow".
The final track on the original album is entitled 'Snakes And Ladders'. This one is dominated by rather menacing organ and piano overtones from Poli Palmer along with acoustic slide guitar by Dave Mason. Watch out for the unexpected tempo-changes (Jim Capaldi did a great job holding this one together!) and the massed backing vocal on the choruses. It's probably one of the more lyrically obscure tracks - something about climbing up snakes and falling down ladders - but hey it was, after all, the 1960s and so does it HAVE to make sense?
I must admit to playing this album many times in the weeks before writing this review but with every play there was (and still is) something else new to be found. It's unfortunate that Gordon Jackson's career as a musician was cut short as his songwriting showed much originality despite his recordings existing under the shadow of Traffic's towering legacy. Thinking Back is certainly worth exploring for those who are fans of the late 1960's British pop/psychedelic/rock scene. It's a trip where the journey is ultimately more satisfying than arriving at the destination. For fans of Traffic need I say more - just dive right in!
For more information about Gordon Jackson's Thinking Back CD, visit the Sunbeam Records web site at at: www.sunbeamrecords.comCopyright © John R Woodhouse 2006