Hatfield and the North

Hatfield and the North were an English jazz-rock band that released the 1974/75 Virgin albums Hatfield and the North and The Rotter’s Club.

They were formed by ex-members of Caravan, Delivery, and Matching Mole. Keyboardist Dave Stewart (Arzachel, Egg, Khan) completed the band. Their backing vocalists, The Northettes, included singer Barbara Gaskin (Spirogyra). Three-fourths of Hatfield continued as National Health. Stewart and Barbara later formed a charting synthpop duo.

Members: Richard Sinclair (bass, vocals), Phil Miller (guitar), Pip Pyle (drums), Dave Sinclair (keyboards, 1972-73), Dave Stewart (keyboards, 1973-75)


Background

Hatfield and the North formed in late 1972 from the remnants of an aborted reunion of soul-rockers Delivery, which featured guitarist Phil Miller and drummer Pip Pyle. In the two years since Delivery’s 1970 one-off Fools Meeting, Miller cut two albums with Matching Mole and Pyle toured with Gong. For this reunion, they were joined by ex-Caravan bassist/singer Richard Sinclair.

A sequence of keyboardists passed through the lineup: ex-Delivery/Caravan Wurlitzer pianist Steve Miller (Phil’s brother); ex-Matching Mole Hammond organist Dave Sinclair (Richard’s cousin). During the latter’s brief tenure, Delivery renamed itself Hatfield and the North, inspired by the signage of the main A1 road that heads north from London (“The NORTH Hatfield”). After an appearance with Robert Wyatt on the French TV program Rockenstock, Dave Sinclair cleared out for keyboardist Dave Stewart, co-founder of the Ottawa Music Co., an avant-rock collective of multiple artists.

Stewart hailed from the organ-trio Egg, which hatched from the psych-rock band Arzachel (originally Uriel) with guitarist Steve Hillage. When Egg cracked, Stewart joined Hillage’s band Khan for the 1972 release Space Shantey. Through Hillage’s ties to the Canterbury scene, Stewart got acquainted with locals Caravan and Spirogyra. The latter’s singer, Barbara Gaskin, partook in Ottawa and formed Hatfield’s backing vocal trio, The Northettes, with Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal.

Virgin Records — buoyed by the breakout success of its debut release: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield — added Hatfield and the North to its nascent roster.


1974: Hatfield and the North (first album)

Hatfield and the North released their self-titled debut album in February 1974 on Virgin. It starts with a bubbly prelude, “The Stubbs Effect,” that segues to the vocal introduction “Big Jobs (Poo Poo Extract),” which heralds Stewart’s “Going Up to People and Tinkling,” marked by staccato keys, nimble bass, and misty ride cymbal. That blends into Miller’s “Calyx,” a serene stretch of vocalized counterpoint between Sinclair and Robert Wyatt.

The “uh-uh’s” of that track give way to Stewart’s “Son of ‘There’s No Place Like Homerton’,” a lengthy (10:10) sequence of booming open cadences (in F#) → tensed up keyboard/reed interplay → harp-like tones over an ascending ostinato → lithe wording, counter vocals, and airy syllables by the Northettes → oozing fuzz to a martial beat → more harp-like keys, forming a three-chord melody (Bm7–A–E), cut by female vocalizing → intensified, free-reed finale.

The penultimate track on side one, Miller’s “Aigrette,” is a scat-sung interlude of chromatic chords, hitting random notes before isolating a hummable melody. It drops into Sinclair’s loud, intense “Rifferama,” a crash course in strident guitar, brisk drumming, chaotic keyboard/sax interplay, and all-around mayhem.

Side two opens with “Fol de Rol,” a slow chant accompanied with watery bass. That fades with a ring into Pyle’s “Shaving Is Boring” (8:45), a sputtering vortex of odd meters, supplanted by a jerky, fuzz-laden motif in D, which persists for several minutes amid echoey effects and random noises. The piece goes door rummaging (bits of other tracks), then starts another fuzz-laden sequence, resolving with a guitar/keyboard dual over a slippery bassline in E.

Sinclair’s loungey “Licks for the Ladies” offers respite before a string of recap interludes (“Bossa Nochance,” “Big Jobs No. 2”) prepare for Stewart’s second stretch. “Lobster in Cleavage Probe” starts as a slow Northettes showcase, overtaken by a running bassline that heralds brisk, chromatic interplay. “Gigantic Land Crabs in Earth Takeover Bid” is three minutes of fuzz-tinged organ and fretboard madness over a plunging two-note descent. “The Other Stubbs Effect” takes things out into the distance on winding fizz.

Hatfield and the North features guest appearances by Henry Cow tenor saxist and flutist Geoff Leigh (“No Place Like Homerton,” “Lobster”), Gong tenor saxist Didier Malherbe (“Rifferama”), and pixiephone/flutist Jeremy Baines (same tracks as Leigh). Stewart’s arsenal consists of Fender Rhodes electric piano, Hammond organ, Hohner Pianet, piano, tone generator, and Minimoog.

The Hatfield’s produced the album with engineer Tom Newman, Oldfield’s tech hand who once played in July, the precursor to Jade Warrior. He also worked on 1972/73 albums by Colin Scot, Dick Heckstall-Smith (A Story Ended), Kevin Coyne, and Leo Sayer (Silverbird). Sessions took place between October 1973 and January 1974 at Manor Studios, an Oxfordshire mansion owned by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson. The site was used for Tubular Bells and recent recordings by Sandy Denny, Claire Hamill, Magma, and label-mates Henry Cow.

Hatfield and the North was issued worldwide on Virgin’s colored twins label. UK and European copies sport a gatefold sleeve designed by photographer Laurie Lewis. It shows a desolate industrial English township at the crack of dawn with an apparition of clustered Romans in strife, taken from a high-relief Renaissance marble. The inner-spread features a dark studio shot of the band, plus the Northettes and assorted guests (Baines, Leigh, Wyatt) with doctored-in imagery of a flying dog and the cast of Bonanza. Lewis’s prior credits include covers for Vinegar Joe and Hawkwind.

Going Up to People and Tinkling” appears on the 1975 Japanese comp Virgin Sound with cuts by Oldfield, Wyatt, Henry Cow, Gong, Comus, Edgar Froese, Faust, and Tangerine Dream.

Between albums, Sinclair played on Wyatt’s second solo album Rock Bottom, recorded April–May 1974 and released in July. On September 8, Stewart backed Wyatt at the singer’s first and only headlining concert after his 1973 paralysis. The event took place at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London with participants Oldfield, Julie Tippett, Fred Frith, Hugh Hopper, Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), and Brotherhood of Breath alumni Gary Windo and Mongezi Feza. “Calyx” featured in the set among numbers from Rock Bottom and the Matching Mole catalog.

In November 1974, Hatfield released a stop-gap single: the Sinclair/Pyle composition “Let’s Eat (Real Soon),” backed with the first take of Pyle’s “Fitter Stoke Has a Bath.” The vocal a-side is built on a straight descending pattern (F–Em–Dm–C–Gm–C) with vague music hall undertones, contrasted with a rhythmically fluid mid-section.

Meanwhile, Stewart held a studio reunion of his prior band, Egg. In August 1974, they recorded material that their bassist, Mont Campbell, stockpiled during their final months together in late 1971/early 1972. The resulting album, The Civil Surface, appeared in December 1974 on Virgin-subsidiary Caroline with contributions from the Northettes, Baines, Hillage, and Henry Cow reedists Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson. The last two, plus Campbell, would guest on the second Hatfield album.


1975: The Rotter’s Club

Hatfield and the North’s second album, The Rotter’s Club, appeared in March 1975 on Virgin. Side one starts with “Share It,” an uptempo Pyle/Sinclair jazz-pop vocal number with the opening line “tadpoles keep screaming in my ear.” Miller’s “Lounging There Trying” moves from legato licks to galloping rhythmic/arpeggio-laden interplay.

A sequence of miniatures build up to a pair of Pyle compositions: “The Yes No Interlude” and “Fitter Stoke Has a Bath.” On the brisk former, smoldering chords and scales entwine with oozing keyboards and fluttering reeds over bobbing ostinatos in A and E. It blends into “Fitter,” which morphs from a jazz-vocal ballad to a jumpy, fluid scat-sung passage, swallowed by a dark sound collage. That blends into Sinclair’s “Didn’t Matter Anyway,” a tranquil flute-laden ballad, semi-vocalized with oily keyboard textures.

Side two begins with Miller’s “Underdub,” a chromatic free-fall of vibe-tone keys over cocktail chords. Stewart’s 20-minute “Mumps” consumes the rest of the album in four parts:

  • “Your Majesty Is Like a Cream Donut (Quiet)” — A slow, subdued Northettes showcase.
  • “Lumps” — Twelve minutes of brisk, intense, contrapuntal interplay.
  • “Prenut” — A tight bassline in B, flanked with flute, electric piano, and feminine Northette la-la-la’s.
  • “Your Majesty Is Like a Cream Donut” (Loud) — A fuller recap of the main ideas.

Hatfield self-produced The Rotter’s Club at Saturn Studios, Worthing, the site where Stewart and his Egg colleagues recorded The Civil Surface with the same engineer, Dave Ruffell, who also worked on 1975 albums by the free-jazz groups S.O.S. (with Alan Skidmore and John Surman) and Ken Hyder’s Talisker. Sessions occurred during January–February 1975.

Musical guests include Campbell (French horn), Hodgkinson (clarinet), and Jimmy Hastings — the brother of Caravan guitarist/singer Pye Hastings — who plays flute and saxophone (tenor, soprano). Lindsay, who plays bassoon on “The Yes No Interlude,” had just replaced Leigh in Henry Cow. Wyatt does the vocalized mid-section on “Fitter Stoke.” 

The Rotter’s Club is housed in a single sleeve with a colorized 1946 stock photo of actress Joan Crawford. In the original pic, she’s signing her autograph on a publicity photo of herself. Here, she’s writing the album title on a photocopy of the back cover: a 1920s b&w image of striking workers and school children under a torrential sky with nymphs on winged horses.

Lewis, the designer, subsequently did covers for Hopper, Michael Mantler, and the first two National Health albums. During the ’80s, he did artwork for the Armoury Show, Big Sound Authority, Madness, Tears for Fears, and Zerra One.

The album’s release coincided with Hatfield’s set at “Over the Rainbow,” billed as the final concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre. (In reality, the venue only stayed closed for several months of repairs). The March 16 event included sets by Frankie Miller, John Martyn, Richard & Linda Thompson, Procol Harum, and Welsh rockers Sassafras. Months later, Virgin issued Over the Rainbow (The Last Concert, Live!), featuring one song from each act, including Hatfield’s “Halfway Between Heaven and Earth.”

“Your Majesty Is Like a Cream Donut (Incorporating Oh What a Lonely Lifetime)” appears on V, a 1975 two-LP Virgin comp with cuts by Oldfield, Wyatt, Newman, Ivor Cutler, Slapp Happy, Captain Beefheart, Chili Charles, Clearlight, and White Noise.


After Hatfield

During the final months of Hatfield, Stewart befriended keyboardist Alan Gowan of Gilgamesh. When both groups crumbled in 1975, the pair formed National Health with Campbell, Miller, guitarist Phil Lee (Gilgamesh) and drummer Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson). They demoed material, then Pyle replaced Bruford, who toured with Genesis and formed UK with guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Tempest, Soft Machine). The arrival of bassist Neil Murray (Colosseum II) completed the lineup that recorded Nation Health, released in 1978 on Affinity.

That year, after Gowan rebooted Gilgamesh, Murray cleared for bassist John Greaves (Henry Cow, Kew Rhone) for the the second National Health album, Of Queues and Cures. Meanwhile, Stewart played on Feels Good to Me, the debut by Bruford, the namesake’s vehicle with Holdsworth. Stewart joined Bruford for the 1979/80 albums One of a Kind and Gradually Going Tornado.

After Gowan passed from leukemia in 1981, Stewart regrouped National Health for D.S. Al Coda, comprised of unrecorded Gowan compositions. Richard Sinclair, who’d left the music scene, sings on one track. In 1982, Stewart and Pyle played on Dogged by Dogma, a split-record arranged by musician Charlie Summers and released under the ad hoc name The Ghoulies.

By this time, Stewart entered his chart phase in collaboration with ex-Zombies vocalist Colin Blunstone (“What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”) and Barbara Gaskin (“It’s My Party”). Stewart and Barbara formed a synthpop duo, which toured and recorded further singles with Pyle, who also partook in Miller’s revolving-door project In Cahoots.


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