WizzardThis is a fascinating CD to revisit. Wizzard was Roy Wood’s post Electric Light Orchestra Project, and it was released after the success of a couple of singles – “Ball Park Incident” and “See My Baby Jive”. These were admittedly “heavy” in some respects, but Wood’s in-built pop sensibility showed through nonetheless, and they both ended up high in the charts. In retrospect, there are hints in these two singles of what was to come on the album, but it did nothing to prepare me for the shock when I bought Wizzard Brew in March 1973, lured by the singles and by the splendid cover. In those days buying a record was a fairly big investment, and for me the guilt factor of money not wisely spent soon kicked if I didn’t immediately like what I heard.

The opening track “You Can Dance the Rock and Roll” takes us straight away into very hardcore guitar rock territory, and then turns disconcertingly to dissonant free jazz for the second track, “Meet me at the Jail House”, with its extended passages for savage saxophones at the opening and closing. After that, another complete contrast: “Jolly Cup of Tea” is a Sousa-like piece for brass band, massed male voices and whistling that might easily have been recorded by the Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band, or the Beatles in “Yellow Submarine” mode. Roy also gets out his 1950s Elvis Presley rock and roll impersonation on “Gotta Crush (About You)” complete with anarchic instrumental interpolations.

The one track I did latch onto at the time was more in Wood’s epic melodic style, familiar from the Move and (particularly) ELO. “Wear a Fast Gun” is still the album’s highlight for me with its accessible pop melody mixed with florid classical horn solo lines and everything-but-the kitchen sink orchestration. Best of all is the lengthy coda where the hymn “Abide with Me” is introduced as a counter melody to powerful effect, either side of an elegiac orchestral interlude led by the cellos.

Those who buy the CD version nowadays get extra tracks – the four Wizzard hit singles plus the intriguing “Ball Park Incident” instrumental B-side called “The Carlsberg Special (Pianos Demolished)”. As if the original music on Wizzard Brew wasn’t diverse enough, the CD now ends with the pop novelty classic “I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday” – arguably one of the catchiest songs of all time, though still featuring massed horns, children’s choirs and whatever other instruments Roy Wood had to hand.

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