(4 / 5)
Long forgotten by many, this British soft rock meets country meets folk band from the 1970s were taken under the wing of Pink Floyd legend David Gilmour, after he got up on stage and jammed with the guys at a wedding.
He put up the cash to record them and his management got them a record deal. They were signed in the USA and opened for the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and many more – an unknown Patti Smith supporting them at the famed ‘Whisky a Go Go’ in L.A.
They were hot property in the USA and record label execs laid on the VIP treatment. In late1974 the band flew to the USA, met by two stretch limos. Capitol Records Executives told them that their album “Blue Pine Trees” was number one in the radio chart, based on the number of radio plays.
Unicorn made four albums from 1971 to 1977, a total of 10 singles and EP and a compilation album in 2002. By 1977 they had played nearly every University in England. The final album, “One More Tomorrow”, was produced by Gilmour and Muff Winwood. But by mid-1977 it was all over. The punk scene made them irrelevant. The last gig at a venue in London’s Camden Town was almost empty and the band cut the show short, and called it a day.
“Blue Pine Trees”, the 1974 album by Unicorn, featuring Ken Baker (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Pete Perryer (drums, vocals), Pat Martin (bass, vocals) and Kevin Smith (lead guitar, mandolin), is probably the best thing they put out. The 11-track record, released on the Charisma label, the band’s second LP. Produced by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, who also featured on pedal steel guitar and guitar on several tracks.
This new re-mastered edition features six bonus tracks; ‘Volcano’ (an out-take from the “Blue Pine Trees” sessions), ‘The Ballad of John and Julie’ (recorded for a BBC Radio session), ‘Bog Trotter’, ‘Ooh Mother’ (both sides of a 1974 single) along with ‘I’ll Believe in You (The Hymn)’ and ‘Take it Easy’ (issued as a single in 1975). The booklet features an interview with Pat Martin and fully restores the original Hipgnosis album artwork.
The band was initially formed in 1963 when Pat Martin met Ken Baker. Pete Perryer, a schoolmate of Ken, and Pat’s oldest friend, introduced the two at St. Bedes school in Send, Surrey. Factoid: St. Bedes was the secondary school attended by Eric Clapton who is a distant relation of Pat. They started playing at local youth clubs. When they were skint, they backed Billy J. Kramer as his band for nine months. In 1971 Unicorn’s debut album, “Uphill all The Way” came out and their label, Transatlantic arranged for Unicorn to open the show at the Festival Hall for Lindisfarne’s big launch in London. A tour of Britain supporting Stefan Grossman followed. He liked their harmony singing and used them on his next album.
Early in 1973 the band played at the wedding reception of a friend from their time with Transatlantic Records. Another guest was David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and he got up for a jam on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold. A week later David phoned Pat to invite the band to his newly opened private studio at his country home, giving them a day’s free recording to demo some songs. They recorded three songs and David played pedal steel guitar. They were invited back on several occasions to record. Two of the band played on early Kate Bush demos for Gilmour.
David Gilmour said he was prepared to put up the money to record an album of Unicorn songs. Pink Floyd’s manager quickly secured recording contracts with Charisma Records in the U.K, Capitol Records in the U.S. and EMI International for the rest of the world. All deals included decent advances of cash against record sales, and Capitol agreed to underwrite Unicorn for a tour of the United States.
This re-issue is a very nice reminder of what a damn good band they were, and how special this second album was back then. Nicely re-mastered and well worth adding to a collection.
By Christopher Weston
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’