Skin Alley was formed in 1968 through a series of important personnel changes to finally stabilize around Thomas Crimble (keyboards, bass and vocals), Bob James (saxophone and guitar), Krzysztof Henryk Justkiewicz (keyboards) and Alvin Pope ( drums). Clearwater strategy to publicize Skin Alley with labels is their potential to play a maximum of free concerts in the London area. During one of these concerts in August 1969 with High Tide and Skin Alley, training unknown name Group X has squatter equipment and played his first concert: the audience has to know the future Hawkwind. The famous DJ John Peel attended the concert and Skin Alley allows to record a show broadcast in the legendary show on Radio One.
Some companies point the nose to sign Skin Alley and finally CBS offers the best deal. The band entered the studio in November 1969 and wax layer on what to do first album based progressive rock and jazz rock. Before the release of this album, CBS included the first song "Living in sin" on the compilation "Fill your head with rock" published in 1970. This little warm-up helps to know a little better Skin Alley, whose album was released in March 1970 with the single "Better be blind / Tell me" loaded to bait the public.
"Skin Alley" is a good album of progressive uneventful, with great moments like "Living in sin" or the beautiful and melodic "Tell me." Groundwater organ sounding and subtle flûtiaux introduce a "Mother please help your child"-like blues saint-Sulpician. Product of progressive jazz with great pomp recalls Graham Bond Organisation or Artwoods ("Marsha"). "All Alone" is a long slow sadness which would be perfect for a surprise party in a funeral home. The album ends with the honest boogie "(Going down the) highway" highly enriched saxophones and organs.
This first album was very well received by critics and Skin Alley promote share in France during the spring of 1970, a tour which also vying Kevin Ayers and the Edgar Broughton Band. CBS has enough confidence in his new protégé allow him to record a second album. The group enters the De Lane Lea studios in June 1970, with producer Fritz Fryer and sound engineer Martin Birch (who later produce Deep Purple, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Whitesnake and Iron Maiden legend) . It is precisely at this time that Thomas Crimble share in Hawkwind and is replaced by Nick Graham (ex-Atomic Rooster).
The album "To Pagham and Beyond" marks a more jazzy improvisation and more progressive than its predecessor. This second album contains three long jams that give a spatial aspect: "Big Brother is watching you", "The queen of bad intentions" and "Take me to your leader's daughter." The group also includes the "Walking in the park" by Graham Bond, leading to a more adventurous and more content released on the first album.
Skin Alley received shortly after the recording of her second album, an order for the soundtrack of a German documentary about the supermodel Verushka. The group has recorded songs like "Shower music", "First drug scene" and "Cemetery scene" in a funky style in their infancy. This film was to be called "Stop Verushka" is finally stillborn and the soundtrack that would accompany ends into oblivion CBS offices.
Big Brother is Watching You – The CBS Recordings Anthology brings together the first two albums from Skin Alley – their 1970 eponymous debut and it’s follow up (also 1970) To Pagham and Beyond – along with a single ‘Better Be Blind’ and the unreleased soundtrack album to the equally unreleased film, Stop Veruschka. A rare old package and no mistaking, Guvnor.
Skin Alley blended a formidable sonic stew, flavouring their musical melting pot with elements of psychedelia, folk and the occasional dash of jazz horns, played out against a snarling undercurrent of bluesy riffage. This was served to an eager audience of free-festival-dwelling counter culturites, on a sizeable platter of proto-progressive rock. Close your eyes for a second, while listening to Big Brother is Watching You, and witness the seething mass of barnets that their particular brand of underground stylings sailed across, undulating as a single consciousness on a summer’s afternoon in Dorset, 1969.
‘Living in Sin’ is a case in point of how the musical machinations of Skin Alley evoke a certain spirit of freedom, long laid to rest, that eschews cynicism in favour of swirling flute melodies. The kind that unwrap an exquisite picture box of late 60?s hippy imagery, as imagined callow young things spin like dervishes upon the hallowed soil of Olde England, giving “The Man” something to fill his next half-century’s worth of quietly anaemic nostalgia TV shows with.
As ‘Living in Sin’ kicks off the original Skin Alley album, so it does this anthology, which is split into two discs: the first presenting the self-titled debut, with the second disc showcasing To Pagham and Beyond. For understandable reasons, the aforementioned Stop Veruschka is spread across both discs, tail-ending the first two albums so as not to break up their continuity. It’s largely forgettable, apart from one ray of light in ‘Sun Music’, which would reappear on Skin Alley’s third release, Two Quid Deal.
Whereas Skin Alley is a tight collection of the socially conscious and the sinister (‘All Alone’ sounding uncannily similar Country Joe and the Fish’s spectacularly eerie ‘Bass Strings’), To Pagham and Beyond opts for a more laidback approach, with extended jams and a heavier acknowledgement of the jazz influences. The nine minute ‘Take Me to Your Leader’s Daughter’ illustrates this perfectly, as meandering instrumental passages intertwine with brief vocal departures; the type of thing that would easily have gone on for another 40 minutes when performed on stage.
Big Brother is Watching You, brings the two albums together nicely, with both discs having their fair share of high points. Those old HFoS favourites, the Mellotron and the Hammond Organ, are incorporated liberally throughout and there’s even room left for a Harpsichord on the medievally-flavoured folk instrumental ‘Country Aire’. The flute be the real star though, providing the thread that binds a great deal of this excellent anthology together. If you’re a fan of the rough-around-the-edges underground rock rawness demonstrated by High Tide, Mighty Baby, Edgar Broughton and Hawkwind, to name a small few, then this band of hirsute ne’er-do-wells could be right up your (Skin) alley.
Taken From The Album Skin Alley
1. Living In Sin - 4:41
2. Tell Me - 4:39
3. Mother, Please Help Your Child - 4:11
4. Marsha - 7:18
5. Country Aire - 2:16
6. All Alone - 8:13
7. Night Time - 5:32
8. Concerto Grosso (Take Heed) - 0:29
9. (Going Down The) Highway - 4:16
A and B Sides Of Single
10.Better Be Blind - 3:02
11.Tell Me (Single Version) - 3:58
Taken From The Unreleased Soundtrack Album Stop Veruschka
12.Shower Music - 3:34
13.Sofa, Taxi And Sand Themes - 5:10
14.Cemetery Scene - 4:40
15.First Drug Scene - 5:15
Taken From The Album To Pagham And Beyond
1. Big Brother Is Watching You - 6:47
2. Take Me To Your Leaders Daughter - 8:46
3. Walking In The Park - 6:41
4. The Queen Of Bad Intentions - 6:47
5. Sweaty Betty - 8:04
6. Easy To Lie - 5:17
Taken From The Unreleased Soundtrack Album Stop Veruschka
7. Russian Boogaloo - 4:09
8. Skin Valley Serenade - 5:30
9. Sun Music - 5:26
10.Bird Music - 4:16
11.Snow Music - 2:33
* Thomas Crimble - Bass, Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
* Bob James - Saxophone, Flute, Guitar, Vocals
* Krzysztof Henryk Juszkiewicz - Organ, Piano, Harpsichord, Melotron, Vocals, Trumpet
* Giles 'Alvin' Pope - Drums, Percussion
* Nick Graham - Vocals, Keyboards, Bass, Flute
* Tony Knight - Drums, Vocals