Pyramids of SNAFU e.p. review

Alternative Present - The Pyramids of SNAFU
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The Pyramids of SNAFU are a band in the (broader) Hawkwind tradition, playing jam-orientated music
at festivals around the UK.  Their live performances in 2003 included appearances at Glastonbury (joined
onstage by Mick Slattery) and the Kingston Green Fair.  The band have on occasion been joined onstage
by other ex-members of Hawkwind, for example Nik Turner as well as Mr.Slattery at Glastonbury in
2002, and consist of a core of Col Wilson (vocals & guitar), Melissa Joseph (bass), Chris Barnett
(violin) and Terry Ollis (drums, and also ex-Hawkwind, of course!).  They are joined here by Stuart
Barton (keyboard & guitar), Mick Slattery on lead guitar, and Jaki Windmill, lately of Space Ritual, on
Djembe and backing vocals.  Col and Stuart have also played together in Anomie.  This CD, titled
"Alternative Present",  represents The Pyramids of SNAFU's first EP and is available for £5.99 from CD
Services...not bad for 25 minutes of music!  The tracklisting is:  First Love (5:14), Beyond Belief (4:32),
Chatter (7:34) and Free Energy (7:19).  Terry Ollis did the arrangements on the latter track.

The band reckon it's not space rock but if it's not, it's somewhere in the neighbourhood.  First Love has
the groove-based qualities to make it so, with a boomy / cavernous backing, a soulful psychedelic guitar
solo and a rootsy violin.  There's definitely a krautrock touch in the atmospherics.  Any Hawkwind
reference would probably relate back to a We-Do-It, 1971 type of inner space exploration.

The next track, Beyond Belief, runs with these same elements and the minor chords in the progression
of both numbers so far set this apart from the jam-by-numbers efforts of lesser breeds.  The Pyramids
definitely have an original edge to them, and there's a punk / new wave element in this too, with the
generally raw guitar sounds and carefully picked out bass runs - which are not just the root note of
every chord, but do stay tightly tucked within the time signature of each number - no double-stops or
flurries here.  This new wave vibe and the use of the minor chords somehow dovetails nicely with the
early 70's Hawkwind influence, but without sounding dated at all....Alternative Present, indeed.  (I hear
echoes of Doll By Doll and even Roxy Music, by way of other references, on Chatter, the third track.)

The EP closes out with Free Energy, kicking off with almost a Rolling Stones guitar riff, but once again
the slightly off-centre elements that characterise the Pyramids of SNAFU move the whole thing
sideways.  Middle-eastern sounding backing vocals from Jaki and a very "live" drum sound combine
well with the violin and psychedelic guitar to make this a very enjoyable insturmental jam.  The last 30
seconds or so sees the track accelerate into a sonic maelstrom.  (Wow, that was a bit of real rock
journalism purple prose, there!)  I find I'm disappointed that that's the end of the CD.

My main criticisms would be that the boomy / cavernous quality I mentioned on the first number
permeates all of them, and that the bass player needn't be so afraid of letting the side down - she can
play, and it would be good to hear music of this kind expressed a little more adventurously in terms of
the timing, with the bass perhaps exploring the by-ways here and there.  Possibly I am wrong about
this: most of the instruments are on the 'busy' side (not that anybody overplays) and perhaps the bass is
holding it all together, like Noel Redding in the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Going back to the sound, it's probably down to production / recording issues, and of course not every
band has the luxury of going into a 48-track digital studio to record their debut EP.  The sleeve notes
confirmed that this EP was recorded live in the studio, and it sounds to me as though it was done in a
large room with the microphones pulled back a little way from the band's amps and drums.  They also
subtitle this EP as "An excursion into Zep Tepi, the forthcoming album."  On the strength of this, I will
definitely want to buy the album, and I think many Hawkwind fans would enjoy the Pyramids of
SNAFU too.