Ben

Ben was an English jazz-rock band that released a self-titled album in 1971 on Vertigo.

Members: Peter Davey (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute, clarinet), Alex MacLeery (electric piano, harpsichord, Moog), Dave Sheen (drums, congas, percussion, vocals), Gerry Reid (electric guitar, acoustic guitar), Len Surtees (bass)


Background

Ben was led by reedist Peter Davey, who wrote and arranged most of the material. The other members were guitarist Gerry Reid, bassist Len Surtees, drummer Dave Sheen, and keyboardist Alex MacLeery. Sheen was fresh off an unrecorded stint in Graham Bond’s short-lived Initiation. Ben signed to Vertigo, the underground division of Philips.


The Album

Their singular album, Ben, was released in the UK in 1971. The first piece, “The Influence” (10:05), is divided into seven movements (A1a–A1g), credited to assorted members, plus two sections (a and f, “The Wooing of the Child”) credited to Keith Jarret. It’s followed by “Gibbon” (9:32), a Davey/Reid composition. Side two consists of two Davey pieces: “Christmas Execution” (7:21) and “Gismo” (11:50).

Ben was produced by Malcolm Koss (Black Widow, Snafu, Freedom) and engineered by Dave Humphries, who produced the early, pre-album (Orange label) singles by John Miles. The cover sports an illustration of lilac-tinted glasses on a pink-liquid-dripping water faucet.

The original Ben LP is one of the rarest titles in the Vertigo “swirl label” series. As of 2021, copies sell on Discogs at a median price of $487.80.


Reissues

Beyond the 1972 Italian Vertigo pressing, the album was unavailable after its initial release until 1991, when German archivists Repertoire Records reissued it for the first time on CD. Due to the relative lack of info on the band, the accompanying booklet devotes seven pages to the Vertigo story and its roster of artists (Colosseum, Black Sabbath, Gracious, Affinity, Trader Horne, Warhorse, Magna Carta, Patto, Nucleus, May Blitz, etc.).

The booklet in a later Repertoire pressing (UK, 2014) includes several pages of analysis inspired by “The Canterbury Tales,” a collection of short stories by 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Since 2003, Ben has also been reissued by Arkama (Italy), Belle Antique (Japan), and Trading Places (Europe, on vinyl).


Post-Ben Activity

Davey reappeared as the alto saxist in Bob Bradford’s Big Band, a 16-piece retro jazz ensemble based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Their undated album, Big Band Bombshell – Live at the Carlton, was issued by Tandem Recording Studios. Surtees surfaced in an ’80s-era lineup of ’60s beatsters The Nashville Teens.

Sheen played on two 1974/75 albums by Irish singer/songwriter Jonathan Kelly. In 1977, he surfaced in the jazz-rock combo Mirage with ex-Blossom Toes/Centipede guitarist Brian Godding. Their one album, Now You See It…, appeared on the Norwegian label Compendium Records. With Godding, Sheen also played on albums by Annette Peacock (X-Dreams) and Kevin Coyne. They later recorded three tracks in the ad hoc trio GLS, compiled on Godding’s 1988 Reckless Records release Slaughter on Shaftesbury Avenue. Separately, Sheen played in the jazz-funk combos Paz and Iona.

For a brief time, Sheen drummed in the Soft Machine-spinoff Soft Head (“Head” an acronym of the member’s forenames: Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, Alan Gowen, and Dave Sheen). He played on their 1978 Ogun release Rogue Element. After his replacement by ex-Hatfield and the North drummer Pip Pyle, they modified their name to Soft Heap.

In 2010, Sheen cut a disc in the Lewis Riley Trio with bassist Mike Thorn (not to be confused with the producer), who played on ’70s-era albums by Tony Hatch and David Essex.


Discography:

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