Tractor

Tractor was the English post-psych duo of singer–guitarist Jim Milne and drummer Steve Clayton. They formed as The Way We Live, which released the 1971 album A Candle for Judith on John Peel’s Dandelion label. Renamed Tractor, they made a 1972 self-titled album. They half-completed a third album before Dandelion’s collapse and cut three singles between 1975 and 1981 on assorted indie labels.

Members: Jim Milne (vocals, guitar, bass), Steve Clayton (drums, bass), Dave Addison (bass, 1976-82), Tony Crabtree (keyboards, guitar, 1980-82)


Background

Tractor had its roots in The Way We Live, which originated as a beat group with guitarist–singer Jim Milne and drummer Steve Clayton.

The two met at Rochdale Grammar School in Greater Manchester. Milne idolized Shadows guitarist Hank Marvin and lived with his two brothers above a candy shop on Manchester Rd. Clayton, who banged on table tops from the age of nine, drummed in The Vulcans, a school band led by his older brother.

Milne and Clayton clicked after a Vulcans set at a Rochdale Grammar sixth form concert. When their guitarist quit, Milne joined the band. With a setlist of Beatles covers, they gigged around North Manchester for a year before Jim’s father ordered him to stop and focus on studies. However, Milne soon formed another band with Clayton and bassist Michael Slim Batsch. They named their act The Way We Live, the title of an article in a 1966 issue of Woman’s Own, a UK women’s magazine.

The Way We Live initially featured a fourth member, singer Alan Burgess, who purportedly struggled with pitch outside the key of G. They gigged for two years as a trio with a setlist of Hendrix, Cream, and Beatles numbers. (Milne also named Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, The Nice, and Pink Floyd as inspirations.) After the departure of Slim Batsch, Milne and Clayton de-emphasized concerts for studio work.

In 1970, Milne and Clayton commenced with songwriting. They demoed material for an album in the attic studio of their producer–engineer, John Brierley, who sent the tapes to Elektra UK. BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel (an erstwhile Rochdale resident) heard the tapes and signed The Way We Live to a “five album” deal with his upstart label Dandelion Records.


The Way We Live – A Candle for Judith

The Way We Live released A Candle for Judith in January 1971 on Dandelion (UK, Australia). It features eight originals, including “Siderial,” “Storm,” and the epics “Willow” and “The Way Ahead.” Jim Milne and Steve Clayton co-wrote everything apart from “Angle,” Milne’s lone-credited interlude.

The Way We Live function as a self-contained duo with no auxiliary musicianship. Milne sings and plays bass, piano, and organ in addition to electric and acoustic guitar. Clayton, credited with all percussion, co-arranged the material.

A1. “King Dick II” (3:19)
A2. “Squares” (4:44)
A3. “Siderial” (3:45)
A4. “Angle” (1:25)
A5. “Storm” (5:17)
B1. “Willow” (6:42)
B2. “Madrigal” (1:59)
B3. “The Way Ahead” (8:55)

Sessions took place across two days in the summer of 1970 at London’s Spot Sound Studio. Brierley produced and engineered A Candle for Judith, which credits Dandelion co-founder John Peel as executive producer. The album’s title references Clayton’s girlfriend Judith, a Manchester market researcher whose white collar profession contrasted Steve’s bohemian lifestyle.

A Candle for Judith appeared in a gatefold joint-credited to three designers, including Nick Cudworth, the pianist in Kevin Coyne’s Siren, a fellow Dandelion act. The inner-gate shows two framed portrait photos of Milne and Clayton posed side-to-side in stark visual contrast: Jim with his long ringlet hair (styled with wash soap) and Steve with his parted Beatle-esque moptop.

King Dick II” appears on Dandelion Sampler, a four-track 1971 7″ with Siren and labelmates Stack Waddy and Principal Edwards Magic Theatre. Milne and Clayton also provide musical backing on the 1971 release Creation, the second of two Dandelion titles by singer–songwriter Beau.


“Stoney Glory”

John Peel gifted the duo new recording equipment and a stereo PA system. After he spotted a tractor outside the kitchen window of his Suffolk property, he convinced The Way We Live to rename their act Tractor, a succinct band moniker. They debuted as Tractor with the 1972 Dandelion maxi-single “Stoney Glory,” comprised of three Jim Milne originals:

A. “Stoney Glory” (3:16)
B1. “Marie”
B2. “As You Say”


Tractor

Tractor released their self-titled album in 1972 on Dandelion Records. It features eight numbers credited to Jim Milne, including the lengthy guitar–percussion jams “All Ends Up,” “Little Girl In Yellow” and “Make the Journey.”

Tractor is a self-contianed recording between Milne and Steve Clayton, who plays piano, flute, and whistle (“snake charmer”) in addition to drums, maracas, and bongos. Milne sings and plays all guitar (lead and rhythm; electric and acoustic; 6- and 12-string), plus bass on everything but “Shubunkin” and “Everytime It Happens,” which feature Clayton’s basswork.

A1. “All Ends Up” (6:52)
A2. “Little Girl In Yellow” (8:15)
A3. “The Watcher” (2:02)
A4. “Ravenscroft’s 13 Bar Boogie” (3:28)
B1. “Shubunkin” (3:10)
B2. “Hope In Favour” (2:50)
B3. “Everytime It Happens” (6:01)
B4. “Make the Journey” (9:54)

John Brierley produced and engineered Tractor at Dandelion Studio, a coverted attic–bedroom space in Rochdale. Milne achieved his fuzz tone with a rare vintage Marshall pedal and direct mixer injection. Tractor appeared in a single sleeve designed by Hamish Grimes of the design firm Hamish & Gustav (Atomic Rooster, Bee Gees, Cream, Gass, Pentangle, Slade, Taste). It features a purple-tinted pic of Milne and Clayton by early Way We Live vocalist Alan Burgess.

Tractor reached No. 18 on the Radio Luxembourg Album Charts and No. 30 on the Virgin Bestseller Chart. The duo plugged their album with a round of concerts that included double-bills with Trapeze (Bolton Institute of Technology) and Mike Heron (Champness Hall Rochdale).


Later Activity

In 1973, Peel financed Tractor Sound Studios, a new recording facility on Market St. in Heywood, built by Milne, Clayton, Burgess, and Tractor manager Chris Hewitt. On the brink of Dandelion’s closure, Tractor half-finished a proposed third album with 21-minute, seven-part suite titled “Peterloo.”

Tractor remained a part-time concern as the members persued teaching (Jim) and painting (Steve). At CBS studios, they performed “We Three Country Gentleman” (from the Peterloo suite) before A&R Dan Loggins (Kenny‘s brother) and ex-Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, but nothing came of the audition.

In 1975, Tractor cut two Milne originals, “Roll the Dice” (b/w “Vicious Circle”) for Jonathan King’s UK Records label.

A. “Roll the Dice” (2:58)
B. “Vicious Circle” (2:28)

In 1976, Tractor became a trio with bassist Dave Addison. Milne supplied two songs, “No More Rock ‘N Roll” and “Northern City,” for release on the indie label Cargo Records.

A. “No More Rock ‘N Roll” (2:44)
B. “Northern City” ()

The London indie label Beggars Banquet included “No More Rock ‘N Roll” on Streets, a 1977 multi-artist punk compilation with tracks by The Art Attacks (“Arabs In ‘Arrads”), The Doll (“Trash”), The Drones (“Lookalikes”), John Cooper Clarke (“Innocents”), The Lurkers (“Be My Prisoner”), The Members (“Fear On the Streets”), The Nosebleeds (“Aint Bin to No Music School”), Pork Dukes (“Bend and Flush”), The Reaction (“Talk Talk Talk Talk”), Slaughter & The Dogs (“Cranked Up Really High”), and The Zeroes (“Hungry”).

In 1980, Milne and Clayton recorded once more with Addison and a fourth musican, blind keyboardist Tony Crabtree. Two Milne originals, “Average Man’s Hero” (b/w “Big Big Boy”), appeared in 1981 on Hewitt’s four-press Roach Records, which billed the act as Tractor 81.

A. “Average Man’s Hero” (4:20)
B. “Big Big Boy”

Milne and Clayton parted ways nearly two decades. In December 2001, they reunited at Limelught and Crew, a concert arranged by their ongoing mutual friend, Chris Hewitt. Within thirty minutes, they performed an impromptu Tractor set and resumed the band for the 21st century.


Discography:

  • A Candle for Judith (1971 • The Way We Live)
  • Tractor (1972)
  • “Roll the Dice” / “Vicious Circle” (1975)
  • “No More Rock ‘n’ Roll” / “Northern City” (1977)
  • “Average Man’s Hero” / “Big Big Boy” (1981)

Sources:

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