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Rare Bird Rare Bird
Album: Somebody's Watching
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 9

Rare Bird will be best known to most people for their superb late 1969 single “Sympathy” which sold over million copies around the world but , inexplicably, only reached number 27 on the UK charts. This poignant song about the inequalities of the world has been extensively covered , notably by Marillion who reached number 17 in 1992 and it has also been sampled by Faithless.

Rare Bird were, along with such notable bands as The Nice, Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator and Lindisfarne , one of the first bands to be signed to Tony Stratton-Smith’s Charisma Records.

Unfortunately, Rare Bird did not repeat the massive success of “Sympathy” but they made a total of five albums during their existence between 1969 and 1975.

The album now under review , “Somebody’s Watching”,was their penultimate release in 1973 and was originally on the Polydor label. Talking Elephant have now reissued the album with a bonus track “Virginia”,which was released as a single in late 1973.

By the time of “Somebody’s Watching” ,the two remaining original members Steve Gould [guitar/vocals] and Dave Kaffinetti [keyboards] had been joined by Andy Curtis [guitar] , Fred Kelly [drums] and bass guitarist Nic Potter [ex- Van der Graaf Generator].

The changes in personnel and changes in musical tastes meant that Rare Bird were no longer in a position to pursue the “progressive” keyboard-based sounds of their first two albums and they needed to find a new musical identity to satisfy their new record company Polydor.

On the evidence of this album, it is not clear whether they wanted to be a jazz/rock/funk outfit, like, for example, Steve Winwood’s Traffic , or whether they intended to follow a more mellow, soft rock approach a la Crosby Stills and Nash. The album is ,somewhat confusedly , split between the two styles.

In the first category we have the excellent title track which opens the album. This has a loose, funky groove, with some great interplay between guitar and keyboard. Equally funky [and good]is the following “Third Time Around”, with its driving drums, catchy guitar riff and soulful vocals from Steve Gould.The track then develops into a splendidly funky jam with some sterling wah-wah guitar , courtesy of Andy Curtis.

The remaining track in the jazz/rock/ funk category is “Dollars/A Few Dollars More” ,which is a superb jazz funk interpretation of Ennio Morricone’s theme to the classic western film. Over a percussive beat the band really stretch out instrumentally ,with excellent piano and keyboard solos . Interestingly ,the funky bass part is played by the late ,great John Wetton of Family/King Crimson/Roxy Music/UK/Asia fame. This is an outstanding piece of work and if the rest of the album had been up to this standard, it would have been a gem.

However, Rare Bird were clearly under pressure to deliver a hit single and the remaining tracks follow a soft-rock path which, whilst pleasant enough ,are not very distinctive. Indeed, on the gentle “Turn Your Head” Steve Gould sounds uncannily like Graham Nash ,whilst the harmonies on Blondie Chaplin/ Ricky Fataar’s “Hard Time” are a dead ringer for CSN.

Possibly the most “commercial” track is the non-album single “Virginia” and it is difficult to reconcile the fact that this is the same band that recorded “Dollars” .

So ,all in all, this is something of a Curate’s Egg, good in parts. If the band had kept up the standard of the first, second and last tracks, it would have been a cracker.

Peter Cowley