By Richie Unterberger

In the wake of his hugely critically acclaimed soundtrack to the 1973 film O Lucky Man! (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), Alan Price embarked on an even more ambitious project. The musical he had in mind, "The Brass Band Man," was to be based on the life of his family in Newcastle, England after his father was killed in an industrial explosion when Price was six years old. "I've had quite a few people express an interest in it already," he said in the August 14, 1973 Melody Maker. "Obviously, the film's created waves. But it'll take a lot of time. I want it to be successful, I want it to be commercially viable, I want it to be seen on the stage and I want the record to be done as well. It might be made into a film, I don't know."

    While "The Brass Band Man" would not grow into a film, it would provide much of the basis for his next album after O Lucky Man!, 1974's Between Today and Yesterday. The disc would be Price's most commercially successful LP as a solo artist, at least in his native UK, where it went to #9 in the charts and spawned a #6 hit single, "Jarrow Song." Like most of his solo efforts, however, it failed to chart in the United States, where Price remains most known for playing organ in the mid-1960s lineup of the Animals, despite a lengthy subsequent career on his own.

    The album that evolved into Between Today and Yesterday would be somewhat different in texture than the more straightforward, rock-oriented O Lucky Man!, even though Price retained the services of guitarist Colin Green and bassist Dave Markee. In part that was because of the brassy orchestrations of Derek Wandsworth, a trombonist who had once played in an actual Northern brass band in the UK.

    "It's very important to get the right flavor and when I met Derek again recently, I decided we should work together," he explained to Melody Maker's Chris Welch. "He had helped me on a song I'd done [on a 1969 single] called 'The Trimdon Grange Explosion' which was about a mining disaster. It was a song by Tony Armstrong, the miners' poet. Derek did an arrangement for me on it, and it was done very well. He lives not far from me, so it was very handy." On the Between Today and Yesterday album, he added, "I wanted to put on one side all the songs that I'd written for the musical and were involved in [a BBC television documentary on Price for the Omnibus series] as well, which epitomized the 1940s and age of austerity, then up to the '50s and then bring in the son who starts to play music. It's got to be semi-autobiographical because that's the only way you can give it the ring of truth."

    As for the production of the record, "the lads I've got now are all session men and professionals and I do the bulk of the writing. When they come, they know what they've got to play. I think they're glad to play with me and I'm pleased with their high standard of professionalism...the band I have now put down the album in seven days. Of course it was longer to mix and dub vocals tracks, but the back of the thing was broken in seven days, basically 'cos I'd written the songs, played them to all the guys and rehearsed them." Ultimately, however, not all of the songs for the projected musical were used on Between Today and Yesterday, some showing up on his next LP, Metropolitan Man (released later in 1974).

    One song from Between Today and Yesterday, "Jarrow Song," came out slightly in advance of the LP as a single, becoming one of the tunes for which Price is most noted for in his native UK, though it failed to chart in the US. The number, he confirmed to Welch, was "specially written for Omnibus because with my family background, the North East [of England] and Socialism and all that sort of, they wanted me to write a song about Jarrow." The tune's subject matter, in fact, guaranteed that much of its context would be lost on Americans. A town near Newcastle, Jarrow is famous in Britain (though not so famous overseas) as a place from which more than 200 men marched to London in October 1936 to protest unemployment and poverty in the midst of the Great Depression. It is also the town in which Price himself was raised.

    "The union that organized the March was the Unemployed Workers' Union," he elaborated in to Karl Dallas in a subsequent Melody Maker article. "It wasn't me speaking; I was speaking for them, how I was taught, the feeling I used to get back off them when they talked about it. It wasn't just a nothing subject, you know! It was around all the time when I was a kid. My dad was killed in an industrial accident. Do you know the effect that sort of thing can have on people's lives? There's nothing really heroic about being killed in an industrial accident."

    Continued Price, "I'm not really qualified to talk about politics. I can only talk from a gut reaction, how things are, that's not necessarily how they should be. Some people win and some people lose. I just know that the ones who lose usually aren't those who deserve to...I never ever thought 'Jarrow Song' would evoke so many bloody different reactions. I got a letter from a woman who helped to clothe and feed the marchers as they walked down. Letters from Geordies that have moved down to London, and people that thought I was being very bolshie and didn't like it. I didn't know what it was supposed to represent! I just made up an idea."

    For all the tragedy at the heart of the genesis of some of Between Today and Yesterday's material, the actual execution was actually very likably humble, warm, humorously witty, and melodic. The combination of contemporary rock with liberal influences from theatrical musicals, vaudeville, and Tin Pan Alley pop was very much in the same school as Randy Newman, which was likely hardly a coincidence; Price had been one of the first notable artists anywhere to cover Randy Newman songs back in the 1960s, most famously on the #4 1967 British hit single "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear." While not nearly as similar to the work of Ray Davies, certainly fans of the head Kink would find much to appreciate in Price's uniquely British form of whimsy as well. And for Animals fans, there was even a flash of his jazz-blues organ chops on "You're Telling Me." Still, the more sociopolitical tinges of the lyrics were not totally lost on the audience. As Price told Melody Maker, "I've noticed that places which had near-Socialist governments, like Chile, the album Between Today and Yesterday sold really well there, and O Lucky Man! especially, which was about justice. That pleased me."

    Jon Landau gave Between Today and Yesterday a positive but mixed review in Rolling Stone, finding it "more ambitious but less successful than Alan Price's score for O Lucky Man! Price presented his philosophy of survival and his social observations with the aid of only a small combo and a sure but light touch. And yet the result flowed with an inexorable energy so insidious that I was caught up in it before I knew it. Price has continued in a similar lyrical vein but now exposes other sides to his musical background. On Between Today and Yesterday he shows off more of his pop and cabaret bag, and uses large orchestrations and slick arrangements. When his lyrics and singing play against the grain of the music the results are stimulating; when the words are unexceptional or bland, as they are on most of the second side, then the LP wears thin."

    Added Landau, "Price is an excellent stylist but lacks a first-rate voice. On less assuming numbers his ability to communicate a sense of intimacy compensates for his lack of vocal power. But on a ballad that requires a truly disciplined performance, he lacks the wherewithal to hold all the elements in line, and on the second version of 'Between Today and Yesterday,' he finally retreats behind a weak and ineffectual falsetto. Between Today and Yesterday is a good album but Price has given up too much of the spontaneity, earthiness, directness and looseness of O Lucky Man! in order merely to expand. The album is more self-consciously constructed and performed, but doesn't hold together as well." Like "Jarrow Song," the LP failed to make the US charts, consigning once again to Anglophile collectors one of the finer works by one of the most idiosyncratic talents to emerge from the British Invasion. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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