Quintessence & After:
Prof Cornelius’ Guide to Quintessence Listening Pleasure
Giants walked the Land…
Long long ago, a remarkable band sprang forth fully formed from the fertile ground of London’s Notting Hill Gate – an area which saw the first of the city’s alternative/hippie strongholds slowly coalesce. They called themselves Quintessence, partly lived in an extended spiritual community, and duly taught their audiences to chant, dance and generally groove along with their intoxicating sounds. They even filled the Albert Hall – not once but twice.
By the time Quintessence finally disbanded, the hippie dream was already distant memory, Notting Hill Gate had turned to reggae, and the band’s audience had evaporated. But, for a brief few years, Quintessence lit up the musical landscape of Europe with a sound and message so unique that to this day no-one has ever managed to emulate it.
In this more brutal age we now live in, the idea of musicians urging their audience to chant Hindu mantras, with the audience gladly responding, might seem unrealistic at best. But in the brief years when hippies ruled in the UK, between 1969-1972, peace love and good vibes still meant a great deal, and the dream of a larger community had not been split apart. The youth of Europe were open to exploration, and Quintessence certainly gave them something to explore. Instead of preaching hedonism and self indulgence, the band had a far more enlightening message: search for God within – and dance while you are doing so.
The band ploughed a fascinating path – improvised music and long jams like the Grateful Dead, or the UK’s now-forgotten Mighty Baby but with the added vibes of spirituality centred around their very own live-in guru, the god-intoxicated Swami Ambikananda. At the time, there were subtle but unmistakeable differences between the styles of the famous US West Groups such as the Dead, Airplane and Quicksilver and the more blues-based UK bands such as Ten Years After, Jethro Tull and the original Fleetwood Mac. Quintessence managed a rock style somewhere between these two schools, another unique achievement.
They were, as respected music journalist Chris Welch (another hero of the time) enthusiastically observes, above all an astounding live act. In fact their message was so intoxicating and powerful that people to this day attest to life changing experiences from hearing them. And what other band could begin a song with “I was sitting, pondering the wonders of the universe..” and get away with it? Truly unique.
Quintessence music could veer from out-and-out rockers through to well-known Indian chants, taking along the way as many fascinating musical twists and turns as the audience could handle. At their peak, Quintessence not only filled the Albert Hall, but played two big rock festivals including the second ever festival at Glastonbury (catch a brief glimpse of the band on the Glastonbury Fayre movie), toured English cathedrals and persuaded their record company to produce some of the most beautiful album sleeves that have ever existed. They inspired a generation, the many thousands of young men and women who went on to follow spiritual practices and leave their hippie days behind them. Their work was God-directed and inspirational, but sadly the dynamics of touring, communal living and different lifestyle choices in the end broke them apart.
The band’s legacy scarcely lived on at all for many years, as other musical styles came and went and the original members went their separate ways. Quintessence was as good as forgotten.
But slowly, magically, this decade the Quintessence back catalogue has resurfaced, and interest in the band’s music has grown again. Better still, Swiss musician Rudra Beauvert has lovingly cajoled the band’s enigmatic lead singer Shiva Jones back to the microphone. The two have now released two fine albums carrying on the Quintessence tradition and where necessary reinterpreting some Q classics. What goes around, as they say, comes around. And perhaps Quintessence is finally due the acclaim the band deserves as a pioneering, unique act.
The magic of Quintessence is in one sense hinted at by the name, because there was a definite spiritual alchemy at work, and Quintessence is an alchemical word.
Shiva was the front man, looking like a young Byronic romantic poet or, for followers of Eastern religion, an ecstatic young Lord Chaitanya, the Bengali saint who inspired a whole devotional movement in the 10th century. Shiva had presence. He seemed to spring fully formed out of nowhere, but in fact was a reincarnated Australian blues man who moved to the UK for a change of lifestyle. Shiva knew how to move the crowd, and hold a stage.
If Shiva was the yang of the group, Raja Ram was the counter-balancing yin. An inspired, playful figure with a flute, he produced extraordinary, haunting sounds way before the New Age had even been thought of. Raja Ram, the pied piper, perfectly complemented Shiva’s intensity.
The third element to the band was the guitar skill of the introspective Allan Mostert. It is through Allan’s measured interplay that we hear the unmistakeable similarities to Jerry Garcia as he was at his 1970s peak before the drugs slowed him down. Allan could cook up a storm – de rigeur in the blues boom atmosphere of the late sixties – but he was equally a thoughtful guitarist who could play exquisitely subtle passages. As Quintessence evolved, so did Allan’s style – he learned to leave aside his effects pedals and play soft.
Then came the rhythm section – Maha Dev on rhythm guitar, stoking the engine and keeping it going – and keeping right on the spiritual message; Shambu on sturdy bass guitar that kept pace with Allan’s inspired leaps, and Jake on drums and percussion. The three were the roots of a very exotic tree.
The final influences of the band are more hidden. First up is producer John Barham, who like in any legendary group, shared the band’s vision and lifestyle. Then there was the extended ashram family, there to see in a famous picture of the group in an English park with wives, girlfriends, roadies, dogs, babies, and friends plus Swami-ji. Finally, the audiences: young, respectful, not yet drowned by the more brutal musical trends that were about to follow.
And, of course, drugs. Given the time, the place, and the generation, hallucinogens were believed to aid spiritual realization and the cultural impact of acid in particular explains how a band as quirky as Quintessence could ever have gathered an audience in the first place. It also explains the derision of the generation that followed – speed was their favoured drug of choice - , and the subsequent caricatures any ex-hippies have had to live with ever after. Shame. As Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe put it perfectly at the time nihilistic punk reigned the airwaves, “what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”
The legacy of the band is contained in three lavishly-packaged albums released under the then ground-breaking Island label, and the final two albums released by RCA. A slender legacy, and crucially Quintessence never released a wholly live album – “Self” is the nearest thing to it. But those albums deserve a close listen. Thankfully, they are all now available on re-issued CDs.
Each Quintessence album follows the same rough blueprint, which defines the band’s unusual direction. But each album in turn refines this blueprint, showing how tight the musicians became from constant playing and touring.
First, comes the Indian-tinged sitar/flute/tabla influence, together with lyrical concerns based on Vedanta and the devotional traditions of the great Bengali sage Ramakrishna. Ordinary love songs? Forget them. These are tunes dedicated to the Divine Mother, or extolling the virtues of Krishna, Mahadev Shiva and Vishnu, meditation and self exploration. Making modern music out of such exalted religious traditions is a skill that few have ever acquired – and Quintessence pull it off, time and time again.
Then, interspersed throughout the albums, are brief Hindu or devotional chants, reminders that the band really did practice what it preached.
The third element provides much of the creative tension in the band, because hidden under the sophisticated Indian veneer is a blues jam band struggling to get out. Not that the band was all bluster and wah-wah pedals. The interplay between Allan Mostert’s lead and Shambu’s bass gets better and better as the albums progress, but the real power comes from MahaDev’s rhythmn guitar and Jake’s assured drumming.
That is the Quintessence mix, and their music reflects tension between these elements at times. One can only guess, down the years, at the different camps and power groups within the band that led to their demise, but musically it is this very tension that gives the band an edge. Fast, furious, to gentle and contemplative is quite a leap, but Quintessence manage it with skill. See what you think and have a listen.
Album by album
IN BLISSFUL COMPANY (ISLAND 1969)
6-PEARL AND BIRD
7-NOTTING HILL GATE
Produced by John Barham, Island Records 1969
The first remarkable thing about the album is the sleeve. Even reduced as it now is down to a CD, the shining golden-faced figure sitting in lotus in what looks like the Himalayas is instantly arresting. It looks to be Vishnu/Narayan rather than as some think, Shiva or even one of the Goddesses (check out the tilak on the forehead) but even more remarkable is the gentle, almost bashful expression on this God’s face.
The album’s cover is an uncompromising statement of intent. No messing around with sex and drugs on this one.. But it is also not quite the band at its peak. At places Quintessence sounds like most other bands of the period – with lead guitar and blues based chord progressions to the fore. Raja Ram’s flute is not quite the dominant force it later became. Still, the band has an album deal and the backing of the record company.. so off they go and come up with a near-masterpiece. If you think that the only other alternative for flute-rich music at the time was Jethro Tull (then riding high in the charts) you can understand how different Quintessence really was, right from the start.
And so the album begins with a chopping rhythm guitar and a song about a vanished race who walked “a green country”. The song slowly devolves into a brief burst of feedback leading to a fiery jam with wah-wah to the full which brings Allan’s lead guitar to the fore, but so far not a chant in sight. Shiva then reenters with a keening falsetto and before you know it you are in one of those whirling jams that was the band’s trademark. The updated version of this track on Shiva’s Quintessence Cosmic Surfer album is a better effort, just for its wonderfully serene middle section. But both are worthy.
On we go with a twirl of Raja Ram to another continent and another mysterious song which awakens all sorts of Inca associations. The song is taken at a slow pace with a compelling strum of.. presumably.. Maha Dev’s rhythm guitar. Now just what were they singing about? On comes a burst of blues lead and the song picks up momentum, morphing into a jazzy jam
Just a brilliant track if only for Shiva’s vocals, which reek of emotion and intensity and suddenly break out into the harsh chorus. Man, that golden boy could wail! But also the song demonstrates that the band knew about dynamics, as it slows and quietens before a final strong climax. Somewhere in there is a brief touch of keyboards..
If anything could be considered the band’s signature tune, this would be it. It was a live concert favourite (check out the incendiary version on the Band’s masterpiece “Self”) ripe for audience participation. The song is a chant of praise to the river Ganges, personified as the goddess Ganga-mai in Hindu mythology, and this version has a wonderful light, surefooted bounce to it. A highlight of the album.
A curious hybrid of English wassailing carol and maha mantra sung by what sounds like the ashram choir plus swami. Actually this is rather compelling, especially if you only know the famous Hare Krishna version from the Iskcon/ Apple melody. Gives you a hint of what the Quintessence community must have been like at its height.
Pearl and Bird
The lyrics are slightly hard to follow in this complex track, but you get the general idea by now. Simple love sing this ain’t, more like a potted Bhagavad Gita in three minutes. Which reminds me of a comic of the Mahabarata (massive Indian epic that contains the Bhagavad Gita), that boiled the Gita down to one frame: Fight, Arjuna!
Notting Hill Gate
This became briefly a hippie anthem – at least in Notting Hill Gate – but for all its sing-alonga-bility has always seemed to me a bit too simplistic and coy. The single version contained as a bonus is more concise and bearable. Compare and contrast with the Clash’s later “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” for a brief introduction as to why and how the vibe changed in West London!
This is the masterpiece of the album, a lengthy, brooding piece that gradually builds into one of those wonderful swirling jams at which the band so excelled. Shiva sings double tracked to himself (daring at the time) in a confidential, intimate manner before the band slowly lumbers into gear, as if he has just wandered into the studio with his own double. The lyrics are mainline Vedic before we touch on the mother lode with a typical Raja Ram flourish. Gradually the band moves into gear, first flute, then drums, then rhythmn guitar, bass and so on until Allan’s lead makes a blistering debut. The track fades out with a long drone of the tambouras.. another daring idea for the time.
On the CD reissue, two extra tracks are included, the single version of Notting Hill Gate and the mediocre Move Into the Light.. noteworthy for its mention of the phrase New Age
QUINTESSENCE (ISLAND 1970)
1-JESUS BUDDHA MOSES GAURANGA
2-SEA OF IMMORTALITY
3-HIGH ON MOUNT KAILASH (arr. by John Barham)*
4-BURNING BUSH (live)
6-PRISMS (conception J.Barham)
9-ONLY LOVE CAN SAVE US
11-INFINITUM (conception J.Barham)
This eponymous album is probably the best-loved and best known of all Quintessence’s work. Again, the sleeve is a masterpiece, worth the price of the album itself, and even in the CD version still holds its own, as it folds out from the glowing, kaleidoscope-lensed picture of the band into the main painting of a hallucinogenic Jesus in a celestial landscape. It’s an album that pretty much defines the Quintessence sound and the lyrical concerns of the band and is a must-get. Raja Ram’s flute is by now more securely pushed up into the mix and Shiva’s intensity shines throughout. The album shows off the full range of Quintessence. Like its predecessor, despite the wonderful sleeve, the album was a relative commercial failure, peaking at No22 in the album chart. Yet, years later, listeners still attest to the power of its message.
Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga
An absolute classic track, totally uncompromising and in your face, beginning with the unforgettable chorus “Jes-us!! Budd-dhaa!! Moses!! Gauraaaaaaaanga!!”. As a friend used to say, listening to this was a perfect way to start your day. Gauranga in this case refers to the “golden boy” of Hinduism, the devotional saint Chaitanya, who came into public prominence at the time through the influence of the Hare Krishna movement. The band are tight, the flutes overdubbed, and there is no messing about here.
Sea of Immortality
The title track might suggest a long languorous passage through echoing New Age ambience, but in fact this song is as bouncy as they come and features an unfettered Shiva singing his heart out “Lord Hari’s holy name”, giving way to yet another fast and furious track with Allan’s lead to the fore. There is a marvelous moment when the lead settles into a wah wah passage with a burst of feedback as the band speeds up with a breakneck momentum. Fantastic stuff.
High on Mt Kailash
A personal perennial favourite, tantalizingly billed as “excerpt from an opera”, this is unforgettable wide-angled and cinematic as Shiva sings, double tracked, seemingly in the depth of an Indian dawn. The echoing repetition of “rebirth rebirth” is Quintessence at its majestic, mysterious best. What opera it was, history so far does not relate.
This finds the band in mid flow during a particularly fiery jam, all dragon music and yang energy. It’s a reminder that, scratch the surface and you find a powerhouse of a blues/prog rock outfit. All too brief..
Straightforward Om Namah Shivayah chant brings us right back to the Quintessence ashram. Sounds like Swami Ambikananda chanting. If you listen closely you can hear some decidedly off-key chanting going on, which merely adds to the charm of this brief piece.
Flute Central here, with Raja Ram bouncing off his overdubbed self to create this fractalled, shimmering little gem.
Not THE twilight zone, but another curious Quintessence outing with a lovely, subdued beginning as Shiva sings of “between the visions of your dreams” and the band yet again jumps into a funky groove. Jake’s drumming is a delight on this track.
Yup it's that Hare Krishna mantra in full swing… another ashram delight! But it’s over almost before it has begun..
Classic track that seems far longer than it actually is, mainly because of a masterly display of dynamics. This must have been a stormer live, as the band gets behind the rallying call “only love can save us, my sisters and brothers gather round”. It shows the power of Shiva’s singing as he ends up giving his all as the track builds in a typical Quintessence acceleration. Unmissable.
Another tantalizing live track that shows the band in full flight, an awesome sight it was. Here Allan’s lead guitar is prominent once again without a vocal in sight.
Like Prisms, but with vocals. Full deep throated Tibetan sounding chanting as the echo is turned full on and the album leaves its original hippie listeners in an altered state on the floors of their bedsits..
The CD contains a disappointingly thin-sounding bonus version of “Jesus, Buddha..” Pity, that.
DIVE DEEP (ISLAND 1971)
2-DANCE FOR THE ONE (lyrics by Stanley Barr)
3-BRAHMAN (arr. and produced by John Barham)
5-EPITAPH FOR TOMORROW (lyrics by Bhava)
6-SRI RAM CHANT (by Swami Ambikananda)
The repackaging of this album is almost the best of the lot, with yet again some great liner notes from Chris Welch which gives us some information about the abrupt departure of two key members Shiva and Maha Dev. One of the photos is strangely ominous, showing Shiva and Maha Dev off to the side of the other members – a portent of what was to come. This album has by far the cleanest and crispest sound and is another masterpiece, if a little brief. I’d put it next to Self as the second best album.. had not heard it for years after losing my copy but you can buy it now in all its glory. The album is also refreshingly textured, keyboards play a supportive role, and vibraphone. It’s well produced and sounds as bright as if it were recorded yesterday. So, another essential.
Fantastic intro.. all the albums have good beginnings but this always makes me smile, because it seems to be a track that’s full of a kind of sly humour, is very confident, and seems far longer than it is (in a nice way) with a great proto rap about what advice a young man got about diving deep. Great track.
Dance for the One
Lengthy, a tad self indulgent because Raja Ram and his echoing flute is well to the fore, in fact dominates the beginning, but it gives you a sense of how the band’s jams would coalesce, from one mood to another, as we begin the stately chord progression and the band draws together. Slightly similar in feel to “Only Love” and the final bit of Pink Floyd’s “Saucerful of Secrets”. Another Shiva epic performance, The sound is fleshed out by keyboards, and the track finally turns into an absolute stormer. “my body floats, my mind floats” sings the great man against a buzzy haze of distorted guitars..
Moody track, quintessentially Quintessence. Who else could cook up a song about Brahman, and make it singable? A favourite Q moment. And not a sitar around.
Ballad with a gentle electric piano.. a sitar makes a brief apologetic appearance. Sort of Spanish vibe as Shiva sings of a realised master, the Seer, with his usual intensity. This is a track much liked by Q fans but is done better on the much later Shiva Shakti album.
Epitaph for tomorrow A shamanic intro, is that a didge we hear? Another epic, and the extra coloration evident throughout the album does this track proud, though it is not the strongest of Q tracks. “When we see in each other your loyal soul brother” is all the more poignant considering what was around the corner for the band. Not the greatest of Allen’s lead breaks, but Maha Dev helps keep the track ignited. Towards the end the track morphs and quietens with some very Revolver-esque feedback from all concerned, and the end is the most beautiful part of the track as each band member adds their own little trills and whirls, reminiscent of the Dead. Then it briefly revives into a full blown jam before fading away.
Sri Ram Chant
Sitars, flute, and a Swami Ambikananda version of Sri Ram. Crystal clear, actually one of the most beautiful of all the Q chants. Plus the Q choir. I don’t know who is playing the tablas, but they do a good job.
Trax: 1-COSMIC SURFER 2-WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE 3-VISHNU-NARAYAN 4-HALLELUJAD 5-CELESTIAL PROCESSION 6-SELF (by Swami Ambikananda) 7-FREEDOM* 8-WATER GODDESS* By the time this album was released in 1972, the original
band had split apart and Shiva and Maha Dev were no longer with the rest. It was
typical of the band’s luck that this personnel implosion happened before the release
of their finest album. Presumably the label change reflected the poor commercial
returns and costs of the previous Island albums, but RCA got a good deal: “Self”
is a masterpiece. As usual, the album did not sell and was in effect the last
full Quintessence album. There are so many reasons to like “Self”, but the
main one is that it finally allows us to hear live Quintessence in majestic full
flight. The two final tracks are in fact one long jam recorded one night at Exeter
University and what a night that must have been. Oh to hear the rest of that gig! What
we do have is a fantastic slice of musical action, incorporating all the different
styles of the band’s music but thankfully eschewing the wah-wah pedals for Allan’s
lead (they transmigrate briefly to Raja Ram’s flute). To top it all we have, in
“Celestial Procession”, the best brief ambient slice of Quintessence.
2-WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE
6-SELF (by Swami Ambikananda)
By the time this album was released in 1972, the original band had split apart and Shiva and Maha Dev were no longer with the rest. It was typical of the band’s luck that this personnel implosion happened before the release of their finest album. Presumably the label change reflected the poor commercial returns and costs of the previous Island albums, but RCA got a good deal: “Self” is a masterpiece. As usual, the album did not sell and was in effect the last full Quintessence album.
There are so many reasons to like “Self”, but the main one is that it finally allows us to hear live Quintessence in majestic full flight. The two final tracks are in fact one long jam recorded one night at Exeter University and what a night that must have been. Oh to hear the rest of that gig! What we do have is a fantastic slice of musical action, incorporating all the different styles of the band’s music but thankfully eschewing the wah-wah pedals for Allan’s lead (they transmigrate briefly to Raja Ram’s flute). To top it all we have, in “Celestial Procession”, the best brief ambient slice of Quintessence.
This is a great track, it should have been a hit and has an infectious momentum to it with a great chorus and relatively restrained jam. There is a sort of sly humour to it that is hard to pin down. It’s a great soundtrack for any Seeker’s life.
Wonders of the Universe
Just fantastic. This is the song with the bare courage to begin “I was sitting, pondering, the wonders of the universe..” You’ve got to love a man that sings that. A great great favourite.
An alert that all is not as it seems in the Quintessence camp, because for once the lead singer, isn’t Shiva but Mahadev, although Shiva sings harmonies. Despite the absence of the main man, this too is a wonderful surprise because it begins as if it is an entirely normal pop song until you realize what the band is singing about “the truth was realized by everyone” . From this cheerful beguiling beginning the track turns out to be a bona-fide masterpiece, full of punch and dynamic control.
I could write a book about this fantastic song, with its stately beginning and fantastic chant at the end. This, too, must have been a great song to hear live and has also been reworked in an excellent version on the Shiva’s Quintessence album. There is a palpable reverence and beauty about this track that makes it a real stand-out. The full Quintessence choir is also in evidence, so you get in the end this feeling that thousands are singing as Shiva leads the assembled congregation ever onwards. Underneath it all, some brilliant drumming from Jake.
Side two of the original album begins with this little slice of heaven, the pastures of plenty, sheep, water, flutes, sitar, that kind of thing, a perfect opener for what is to come.
Fantastic slice of the kind of English language chant you might hear at a Ramakrishna or Sivananda ashram. The whole band and choir steps up for this. “Love incomprehensible; transcendental”. Now if Yes had tried to carry this off, it would have been laughable. Quintessence, however, plus extended family, do it with aplomb.
The peak of Quintessence’s recorded career, these two tracks show how far the band have come in their journey.. we join them as they launch into an impassioned harangue from Shiva about what you have to do if you want your freedom, and he gradually lowers the intensity and turns to the congas.. which in turn gives way to music that matches the Dead’s “Dark Star” as Mostert plays with incredible fluidity all the while paced by the rhythmn section. At times this jam is indistinguishable from 1972-style Grateful Dead interplay between Garcia and Phil Lesh, but with a slight extra silvery edge. This is music that shimmers and dances, demands perfect synchronicity between musicians and audience.
You get to hear how the musicians also gave each other space. Raja Ram gets his turn and his flute has never sounded better as he, too, leads the music gently on to the safe shores of Ganga Mai. Here we get to listen to exactly how the band interacts with the audience. Shiva’s regal “Yes, you may sing” is one of my all-time favourite stage comments ever. How could one dare refuse as the music leads you on? I assume Raja Ram acts as the ring master and crowd encourager and the chant carries on in call and response fashion – another favourite moment is Shambu’s bass as it powers the chant. Then, woe, the track fades out, the circus passes and it’s the end. Not even any bonus tracks on the CD reissue which combines Self with Indweller. But for a brief shining few minutes, you are there in some sweaty hall, listening to complex, celestial music from a band at its peak.
INDWELLER (RCA 1972)
1-JESUS MY LIFE (by Swami Ambikananda)
3-IT'S ALL THE SAME
7-SAI BABA (by Swami Ambikananda)
8-ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL
11-MOTHER OF THE UNIVERSE
Quintessence without Shiva and Mahadev just did not work out, and this is mostly a sadly inferior album with very little magic to it. Amiable, but the vocals from Shambu are more enthusiastic than soaring, and the general feel of the album is muddied, purity lost. But at its best it’s a sort of Workingman’s Dead Quintessence, stripped down to acoustic guitars. Maybe it represents the yearnings of a band that has seen too much, too fast. But it was relative commercial suicide.
Just when you think there is no redeeming feature, however, comes the final Quintessence masterpiece, the staggering “Bliss Trip”. But why, lads, why? Why did you break up..
The album does not fully merit a track by track break down, but you can only feel for a band that was rapidly finding itself out of its own time. This came out in 1972, just as Gary Glitter, Marc Bolan and David Bowie were about to hit it big and sweep away for ever the hippie era. Some of the tracks are fairly lightweight jams, others are just plainly substandard. But ,as I said, listen to the three final tracks for a glimpse of the old Quintessence.. chants into “Bliss Trip” , a track that irresistibly draws you into stillness. It is a masterpiece, beginning with thunder, wind, gongs and the low throb of what sounds like a church organ. On top of that, Raja Ram sounds at his most Indian with brief flute phases. But the whole direction of this song is down, quieter and lower. In a way it is an elegy to the whole band’s history, somber, impenetrable, meditative. It is the soundtrack to a wonderful era that has now passed.
The other noteworthy track is the jaunty “Jesus my life” which starts the album off.. not a sitar or flute to be heard. But just as you might be thinking the band has suddenly turned all born-again on you, you suddenly realize the lyrics are a wonderfully subversive take on Jesus.. “eternal cosmic consciousness” etc.. not something you can hear in an average church, that’s for sure.
SHIVA SHAKTI (MYSTIC RECORDS 2003)
1-NOTTING HILL GATE
3-HIGH ON MT.KAILASH
4-MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
9-SEA OF IMMORTALITY
The reappearance of Shiva Jones as he reunites himself with the old Quintessence catalogue began with this album, released in 2003. Shiva was inspired by Rudra Beauvert, a man with a deep love of Quintessence music and knowledge of that particular milieu from which the band sprang. I guess the remit was to see how the project went, but luckily the Q tracks are treated with reverence and the new stuff is pretty good as well. The album is, however, like its successor, short of pure instrumental passages, so you get basically vocals, chants, and more vocals. But the good news is the participation of one more Q band member Mahadev (Dave Codling). The other good news is that Shiva’s voice still sounds good.. at times unerringly like his youthful self, and he also sounds in good spirit. No gloom here.
The album that followed this first effort is generally better and more confident, but this, too has plenty to recommend it. The two musicians blend well, Rudra is sympathetic to the original Q legacy but also not overawed by it. Still, it isn’t Quintessence and that’s the main caveat.
Notting Hill Gate
Better version than the rather tedious poppy original, with a new bridge, and even a flute synth included. But there is no doubt we are in the 21st century here, and not a wah-wah guitar sound can be spotted. Rudra does a good job of providing at times an almost Hawkwind-esque backing.
Never my favourite Q track at all, it sounded a little too sickly. This version is far better , Rudra does a fine job moving the song along with a few touches of a mellotronic synth. The song, though, is still a little naff as we say in the UK. It morphs into a Ramakrishna chant before the bouncy injunction “Do the Shiva dance”. Not my cup of tea, this track.
High on Mt Kailash
One of the greatest Q tracks ever, this version is no slouch either. What is different is the rhythmn track added, which gives a changed flavour, less meditative and more dancey, especially when it opens out to another chant, this time a famous Krishna chant. Back we go to Shiva, but hey the track can cope. Rudra adds a bit of accordion somewhere in the mix. So it is more upbeat, less contemplative than the Q version. Ends well, everything tied together.
More than Meets the Eye
Begins well with the sound of a conch or a temple horn, then takes a sharp dive to the ground, with a few mock Indian voices and a sample of.. well it sounds like from that movie about Shangri-La, Lost horizons, but I could be wrong. There is no middle ground. You’ll either love this track.. it must have been a lot of fun to make.. or you wont. It’s funny, I guess, but a bit of a joyful mess. I reckon they should have just let the music speak a while on this track. Trippy. That’s the word I’m looking for.
Deep throated Oms begin the track as Shiva sings the words of Swami Ambikananda. It’s a beautiful track, the highlight of the album., although again the vocals clutter at times and it needs a little more instrumental space to breathe fully. Shiva’s double tracked here. The didge, or a didge synth finallyt begins to grow, percussion follows, a very Raja Ram-esque flute, and before you know, you are into a Rudra techno riff . Very spacey, inspirational. How great if they could have got young Shiva duetting with older Shiva.
Orthodox techno reworking of a chant to the Divine Mother in her various forms. Song to chant along to, so no surprises here.
This was one of the most brooding, almost menacing Q tracks ever, despite its subject matter “you are Brahman, we are Brahman” etc. Shiva does a great job in taking it slow and gentle. When he sings without trying to sound raw and rough, it is amazing how much his voice sounds completely unchanged. This is a version which exceeds the original, and the injunction “everything is Brahman” is masterfully done, as it subsides back to the mysterious main melody. Rudra adds a delicate instrumental bridge that sounds vaguely Chinese until we build to the climax.. another favourite original Q moment . Excellent track, sounds at points like early Genesis or Yes. Fades into a mysterious cosmic breath.
Jungle noises, harmonica, and then… bluesy attack on humanity. Another comic and mordant satire, which moves along well enough and the harp is great.
Sea of Immortality
Another much loved Q classic from the band’s best-known album. Shiva is more than up to the job and the track morphs into another chant in a suitably oceanic way. Good work all around, another stand-out.
Rudra’s chance to shine in this peaen to Shyama Sundara, the dark faced Krishna. Great beginning, great subject matter, then the track gets down and dirty. Can’t help liking this one.
SHIVA'S QUINTESSENCE - COSMIC SURFER (ECLECTIC DISCS 2005)
1-REPTILIAN CORPORATE SIGN LANGUAGE
2-BUT WHAT AM I ?
4-BLUE IS BEAUTIFUL
5-DIDGERIDOO MEDICINE MAN
6-EVERYTHING IS WEIRD
8-NEW AGE BREADHEAD
8-SRI RAM/HARI NARAYANA
9-OM MANE PADME HUM
Shiva and new musical partner Rudra Beauvert set out their stall with an ambitious 2 disc set , and Quintessence fans will immediately head for Disc 2, which contains some excellent reworkings of old classics. But one suspects that the real interest of this project for both were the new songs on Disc 1. Over the years Shiva, aka Phil Jones, has found some rootedness back in Australia and runs a busy if unusual ministry – healing through the use of didgeridoo. All power to him. In an age where hot stones placed on backs can cost you $100 a session, didgeridoo and sound vibrational healing deserves to find a ready audience. Anyway, his new mission in life involves touring of another sort – this seems to be Shiva’s destiny – and while on the road, ideas come tumbling out. This album is the result, and it demands careful listening. Or, as Shiva so aptly says “don’t you come the raw prawn with me, mate” .
The album is well packaged and Shiva himself writes some excellent notes explaining where he’s at and what the album is about, as well as praising his buddy Rudra and lauding the spirit of the original Quintessence. You are on safe ground.. “I’m saying; Hi everybody! Just when we need another Quintessence, I’m back” Good on yer, blue. Great vocal back-ups too especially in the chanting.
I guess what some might miss here, however are longer ambient tracks which can build atmosphere, but given this highlights Shiva’s vocals, maybe next time, eh? Part of Quintessence’s strength was its ability to jam and push the boat out, but this project seems to span continents, so that kind of in-house “let’s streeeeeeeetch” gets lost. Still, all in all, another great effort and a valuable update on Shiva’s progression from blues singer, through to moody chanting rock god, and back to earth as an all-round earthy vibrational shaman with an eye for the absurdities of the New Age movement.
Reptilian Corporate Sign Language
David Icke would be proud of this mordant take on modern consumer culture which begins the album. Rudra plus guests create a spiky, techno pulse as Shiva sings of the hidden forces behind modern life.. “Obey, conform, breed consume”.. This is like the Moody Blues dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. Jennifer Jones (Shiva’s wife) is in there adding subliminal vocals just to further scramble yr brain.
But What am I?
Goodness knows what the original Q community would have thought of this mini space opera with its sound effects and characterizations.. a normal Aussie working man appears to have been abducted by a UFO, together with an Indian who is the alien. “The swami does not like you, get off, get off..”. Strange vocal echoes of early Pink Floyd give this a compelling complexity. And Rudra navigates with confidence through this epic. And, by god, a mellotron even appears. You can’t help laughing with this one. Or is it at this one? The more I listen, the more I reckon this has cult classic stamped all over it.
Ah! The sea, with a gentle crash of waves here we are in the tropical warmth, and Shiva’s voice sounds uncannily like his younger self. This is a beautiful track and is a glimpse of what the modern Quintessence would have sounded like. Just that word “Freeeeeeeee” awakens all sorts of hippie associations. An album highlight, perfect hallucinogenic summer music. Rhymning “manatee” with “humanity” takes some nerve, too!
Blue is Beautiful
On comes the didge, and back comes the voices.. from the stars, a fantastic take on a born again US preacher leading us into a catchy melody that sounds like a cross between Andre 3000 from Outkast, early Floyd, and.. Shiva Jones! Have a listen and see what I mean. Some kind of space opera is unfolding before our ears…
Didgeridoo Medicine Man
Starts off with a flourish of blues guitar as Shiva sings about his life as a didge medicine man who “cleanses yr aura right to the core-a”. A touch of early Bowie about the chorus and I can imagine this track was lot of fun to make. If you could sing like Shiva well, why not sing about yr life… but the track soon settles down to an ambient hum, from which we travel to Om Namah Shivayah chant sung beautifully by Parvati Devi and then joined by Shiva.. and once again we are in Quintessence space. So, a good segue.
Everything is Weird
Punchy, concise; an anthem for the distressed, and yes here we have Shiva rapping about pollution, the twisted world, with a great chorus of thousands chanting along to “everything is weird”. This is a stand-out track.
The beginning brings us, via synth washes, to a melancholy take on blame and dumping negativity on others. There’s a sort of sing-song bridge as Shiva takes us deeper on the samsaric merry-go-round. Again, Rudra’s music is perfect for the job. Good guitar break from guest Ronnie Levine.
New Age Breadhead
“She’s a new age breadhead/used to be a hippie deadhead..” Great loping feel to this track, a biting satire on the New Age movement “She thinks she’s Isis/ in the midst of a crisis” .. this song is full of couplets that will make you laugh out a lot. Next time I go to any workshop I’m going to remember this subversive ditty… You can just imagine Shiva driving to his next New Age gig singing this song. Bless.
Disc One closes with yet another biting satire on tinseltown Swamis. We end with a mock TV show, bursts of applause, as the earth crumbles.. Yoga chicks to the fore.
Fantastic new version of a song that originally transformed into a Q jam. In this version, we move instead to a lyrical, peaceful bridge Annunaki then onto mention of the Nephelim.. the cosmology behind this track is complex, but if you follow the lyrics you get the general idea. Mahadev is well to the fore. The more I listen to this, the more I think this is an absolute classic version.
This was one of the bona fide classics from the Quintessence song-book, and the original is hard to top. This version sounds certainly more modern and less cluttered .. a bit like a Hawkwind track, but Shiva’s voice is eerily reminiscent of his younger self. A matter of taste as to which version is better.
We are transported to the Ganges itself, for this great new version of one of the Quintessence essentials. Again, Shiva’s voice is untouched by time, and Rudra is respectful with his flutes. This is a great traveling song, drones, techno pulses and enough space to really evoke some brown, muddy Indian landscape. This is World music at its best. And, yes, the famous gangamayi chant survives the modernization process. The track then slows down, with another splash of river sound effects,;leading to a very Yes-sounding coda. No jams, though.. it’s a crowded ,sing alonga kind of track.
A Shiva love song! And not to the Mother of the Universe! Times have changed. Shiva sings feelingly of his love for his wife in a fairly conventional little structure .. not a dry eye in the house. “I lived my life on the burning sand and now I reach out and take your hand..”
According to the album notes, this is one of those songs originally intended for Quintessence, so you have to take a leap of the imagination to imagine the band at work. Actually this is a good recreation of the Quintessence sound, including a few Jake drum rolls. “It shines in you, and it shines in me, yeah”, pure Quintessence..
Not the easiest tracks, this, an interpretation of the famous words of the Catholic Rosary. You can, however, imagine Quintessence setting to work on it. As with other of the so-called “Christian” chants from the Q stable, this is not entirely as it seems, as it transforms into an equally famous Hindu chant. No conflict, of course in Hindu terms to link Mother Mary to Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati as different faces of the devi, but I could see a few Christians look distinctly uncomfortable.
Improving on perfection is impossible, and the original Q version on “Self” cannot be bettered. This version is pretty faithful to the original, with the addition of some bird noises at the start and a subdued backing. Shiva does a good job singing it, but as I said.. it’s still a beautiful song. Smooth as silk.
Sri Ram Chant
Back to chanting, with a good version of this Q staple. Rudra provides some clever, thoughtful backing. And I guess it is Maha Dev’s rhymn guitar up in the mix. The chant then morphs into Hari Narayana.
Om Mane Padme Hum
With a boom of Tibetan horns and a loping reggae beat,Shiva intones “We have a message for you” and we are into a funky and very free work out of this famous mantra. It’s kind of Quintessence vocal improvisation combined with sure-footed 21st century snake funk. It all knits together nicely.
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