- Hardcover: 592 pages
- Publisher: Desert Hearts (1 Sept. 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 189894802X
- ISBN-13: 978-1898948025
- Package Dimensions: 23.8 x 16.2 x 5.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 143,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Mellotron: The Machine and the Musicians that Revolutionised Rock Hardcover – Illustrated, 1 Sep 2008
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It's heyday coincided with my formative musical experiences so i was really looking forward to reading about this instrument but although at times an informative and enjoyable read it also proved quite frustrating too.
It opens with quite a bit of technical information about the "beast" and perhaps if you were a musician (i couldn't tell one chord from another, even to save my life!!) it might be enlightening but i found this section hard going. You then get more than 20 chapters, each dedicated to a particular musician, who gives their opinions on what it was like to play the mellotron. Most of the underlying comments were "it was a great machine when it worked but was a devil to tour with as it often broke down".
A lot of these chapters contained few (if any) anecdotal stories of the mellotron itself and would be better characterized as a general history of that person's career, which actually was often very interesting but not always especially mellotron related?
The end of the book was also mostly a general history of music eras and how the mellotron fitted in and even included lists of birthdays/birthplaces of the earlier contributors...who knew there were no sagittarian mellotron players?
Most of it was readable/enjoyable, but for me more as a book on 70's/80's progressive music in general, and definitely some serious editing would have been helpful, but purely as a book concentrating on mellotrons alone it left me a bit disappointed.
The nominal subject is, of course, the Mellotron, which for those who don't know was a keyboard instrument which worked by playing short tapes of recorded sounds when you pressed the keys. The theory was that it would sound like a string orchestra, or a choir, or whatever; in practice the instrument had an utterly unique sound, reminiscent of strings and choirs and so on but transformed into something rich and strange. You can hear it on early songs by the Moody Blues, the Strawbs and King Crimson, to name but three. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the Beast (as it was called) they were monstrously delicate and unreliable things, prone to break down at the slightest provocation, and all but impossible to tour with. Robert Fripp of King Crimson is quoted at the beginning of the book as saying "Tuning a Mellotron doesn't," and he's not the only one to express his dissatisfaction. When the first string synths came out, the Arp Solina and others, therefore, many groups gratefully abandoned the Tron for something that could be relied upon to work, and it fell into disrepute for a long time. (I'm actually surprised that more punk bands didn't pick up on it; it could be viewed as a uniquely punkish instrument, if you think about it.) But now, saved by sampling technology, the voice of the Mellotron is heard in the land once more, and personally I rejoice. That sound you hear at the beginning of the Strawbs' "Hero and Heroine" or "In The Court Of The Crimson King" could hardly have been achieved any other way, and gods is it visceral.
The author has interviewed many of the best Tron players of the past and present, though sadly Wakeman was willing but too busy (which is in itself no bad thing; nice to know the boy's in work) and Fripp was only able to provide technical assistance. In the course of these wide-ranging and candid interviews, covering not only the use of the Mellotron but the performers' lives, musical influences and careers, we get a historical snapshot of a time in music when anything seemed possible, when music didn't absolutely have to be easy (though it could be), and when God could speak out of a big white thing the size of a sideboard, if it happened to be working at the time.
The author and his interviewees are kinder to punk that I would ever be, but on the whole, I love this book.
To bookend the interviews Awde treats us to some philosophising journalese during which he writes "I wanted to know where the musicians and songwriters in this book had come from, how they grew up, how they got their first breaks", but my retort to that is "I wanted to read about the Mellotron"!
Excellent contributions come from Pinder, Banks, Webb and McCluskey in particular, whose many stories and anecdotes are interesting and illuminating. Sadly though, large chunks of most interviews are more concerned with musicians' pasts and views on music in general, which are OK in their place but I expected a book more focussed on the Mellotron.
Some interviewees are bizarre - neither Greg Lake nor Bill Bruford are exactly noted for being leading exponents of the 'Tron, yet they are given a far larger slice of the pie than Andy Thompson, who must have a huge wealth of interesting things to say yet is tacked on at the end almost as an afterthought.
It's worth reading, and you will learn something, but for me there is simply too much 'filler'!
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