‘The Heavenly Music Corporation’
Recorded at Eno’s Studio September, 1972
Recorded at Command Studios August, 1973
The parenthesis in the title are significant, as (No Pussyfooting) was the first solo (collaborative) recording by ex-Roxy Music synthesizer player Brian Eno, the music an interlude or afterthought (take your pick) before the first proper solo release Here Come the Warm Jets (1973). In typical fashion, the title is a play on words, suggesting both “get on with it” and temporary hiatus. Thanks Brian, we anticipate much fun as we review your 1970s post-Roxy solo career (As if Bryan Ferry wasn’t handfull enough).
Record label & management companions – E.G. Records had both Roxy Music and King Crimson on their roster – Brian Eno and Robert Fripp met professionally while Fripp was producing a record by Robert Wyatt‘s post-Soft Machine band Matching Mole – a group who would would play a future role in Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera‘s stellar 801 band. Little Red Record was recorded in the Fall of 1972 while Eno was still with Roxy Music, but had been given a weekend pass due to Bryan Ferry taking ill with tonsillitis, leaving the calendar free to contribute to other recording sessions. Eno played synthesizer on the track ‘Gloria Gloom‘ – a freaky hodgepodge of early 70s musical experimentation – while striking up a friendship with band leader Robert Wyatt (“playing scrabble … It’s always fun with Brian”) and flirting with actress Julie Christie – fresh from Venice shooting Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ – who, somehow, had been talked into providing voice-overs for the album. As all this was going on, according to Brian Eno biographer David Sheppard, Eno spent much of his time “observing Fripp at the mixing desk” (Sheppard, 103).
Brian Eno’s departure from Roxy Music was as certain (and required) as a recurring sunset, a dog hankering for a bone, the Queen’s speech at Christmas. A brilliant theoretician and musical originator, Eno could never be bound by the (often tedious) set-ups and formulas of rock music, no matter how well defined and delivered by the likes of Bowie or Roxy. While Roxy managers David Enthoven and John Gaydon, critics and fans, and even Bryan Ferry himself, have since indulged in the “what if” scenario of Eno remaining a member of the band – what glories! what masterpieces! – the thinking is simply incorrect, for it situates Brian Eno within the rock music continuum – a medium that relies on consistency, formula and repetition for success and revenue generation – and that was never going to be adequate payback for an artist who craved original experiences and outcomes. Eno enjoyed the rock n’ roll lifestyle for about a year and a-half with Roxy Music (1972 to mid 1973), quickly got bored with girls, glam, glitter (well, maybe not the girls) and started recording (No Pussyfooting) in his spare time, for fun and pleasure and no foreseeable financial return, while Roxy Music were enjoying their peak Top of the Pops moment with ‘Virginia Plain’ climbing the UK singles charts in September 1972.
For fans of Roxy Music, Brian Eno, and Phil Manzanera‘s solo and 801 projects – and for admirers of Robert Fripp and King Crimson – (No Pussyfooting) is an essential record – raw, experimental, pioneering, often beautiful, always surprising. The album was delivered incredibly cheap: the cost of recording was twelve quid ($24CDN, $19USD) and sold 100,000 copies (Burning Shed). While never selling records in the Rod Stewart or even Roxy Music category – no one has ever identified a period of “Eno-mania” in the 70s – Eno has always had the good business sense to keep costs down while providing a decent return on record label investment. The outcome has been a long and “interesting” (a favourite Eno word) career comprised of absolute freedom and unshackled artistic expression, resulting in collaborative, gorgeous music. One of the great myths of Eno’s career is that he is a “non-musician”, record producer, systems strategist, faker – but this non-musician has made some of the most beautiful music many of us have heard: tender, emotional, haunting. You can’t fake that.
(No Pussyfooting) is comprised of two tracks spread over one side each of the original LP release. The 2019 re-release split the first side ‘Heavenly Music Corporation’ into five parts and second side ‘Swastika Girls’ into two parts – and they needn’t have bothered. For many younger listeners NP sounds like it was made in the glacial age. One modern Prog fan has offered the unflattering view that “I cannot help to think of a mid-80’s hamburger fast food chain commercial campaign with little old ladies yelling: Where’s the beef?” “Yes, this album is historical,” says another – “inventive, progressive, but not very good.” (Prog Archives).
True, a record that is taped in someone’s bedroom for twelve quid may not stand the test of time – sonically at least – but (No Pussyfooting) is at least half-brilliant – ‘Heavenly Music Corporation’ is the standout – and also extremely important to the collection of artists covered in this blog: this is the clear start of Eno‘s fabulous solo career – from ambient, Bowie, Lanois, Cluster, 801, ‘Another Green World‘, Talking Heads, Fripptronics, John Cale, (Devo!) and so much more. And that’s just the musical side..
Beginning with the beautiful tone of unspooling electronic music, ‘Heavenly Music Corporation’ is the clear winner of the two pieces – a dream-filled auditory introduction to a ‘method’ created with very little equipment: Fripp’s Gibson Les Paul, The “Fripp Pedalboard”, and two of Eno’s modified Revox A77 tape recorders (see lead picture, above).
In a system later to be dubbed Frippertronics, Eno and Fripp set up two reel-to-reel tape decks that would allow audio elements to be added to a continuing tape loop, building up a dense layer of sound that slowly decayed as it turned around and around the deck’s playback head.
In keeping with his original role in Roxy Music, Eno plays the sound engineer on this session, mixing the performance live, playing with tape, changing volume levels, producing delay and distortion. As early as 1968 – in the Clare Market Review (the official journal of the London School of Economics’ Student Union!) – Eno was already describing the process as “a noise made at a given time” recorded “on both tracks of the tape… to be played back at C after a delay.” The degree of delay produced the sonic tone, and the sonic tone was influenced by the distances between tape machines (“Speed of tape affects accuracy of recording”).
With as little as 0:37 seconds into the piece, you can actually hear Eno playing with the sound controls – volume levels fade in and out – and by 2:53 the effect is wide-screen, panning out beyond the speaker’s circle, until we hit the 3:09 mark and Fripp enters with his Gibson and pedal-board. ‘Heavenly Music Corporation’ is the precursor to the most pleasing moments of the more highly regarded ‘Evening Star‘ (Fripp & Eno, 1975), as the sound builds into increasingly layered and overlapping sound. By ‘Heavenly Part III’ we have Jimi Hendrix-style dive-bombing effects (in 1975 Eno called Hendrix “probably still the greatest guitar player of all time” (Tamm). And Pink Floyd based an entire career on the close-out rumblings laid down effortlessly for ‘Heavenly Part V’.
(No Pussyfooting) may have been cheap to record, but the cover was conceived as a top shelf package (spare no expense). Reviewing the making of the sleeve, writer and curator Paul Gorman provides detail on Eno’s vision:
All of a piece with the music it packages – prismatic, playful, calm, cerebral, oblique – the four-part composition was photographed and designed at Eno’s behest by photographer/ filmmaker Willie Christie.
At the time of the shoot in 1972, Gorman continues, “Christie was an established fashion photographer and husband of the Vogue creative editor Grace Coddington” Christie’s roster included wife Coddington, Roxy alumni Amanda Lear and Bryan Ferry, rock star Mick Jagger, and King Crimson band members Bill Bruford and Robert Fripp himself.
“We hired the mirror from Chelsea Glassware and the zinc ‘floor’ came from a session I’d just done for (fashion publication) Over 21,” says Christie, who won an award from industry magazine Music Week for the design. “I’ve always felt badly for Brian that he didn’t share the credit, since it was his idea and we worked on it together.”
Quoted in Gorman, “Photography: Willie Christie on the (No Pussyfooting) cover.”
The effect of multilayered and repeatable sound is represented on the front cover by a hall-of-mirrors photograph of Fripp and Eno seated, looking purposely staged and pragmatic. Signifiers are placed everywhere: books, trinklets, and of course, much punning pornography – no ‘pussy foot’ refers to Eno’s position in the frame (say no more) and the whole piece reads like a next-step first take of an ambient classic – designed to take us on journeys of the mind and heart. The recording is magnificent and important, and just like those mirrors, the effects continue to reflect and influence across the ages. Eno, for one, would never look back.
Credits: Kobe Van Cauwenberghe is a German guitarist who has produced ‘No (More) Pussyfooting’ for recorded and live performances – the title shot comes from him; back cover ‘NP’ Willie Christie; Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Rooms exhibition at Tate Modern Spring 2021; 1968 Eno paper, Clare Market Review, more Willie Christie, see http://www.williechristie.com/
Next Month: Phew – that was a change of pace – no lyrics! Let’s keep up with Eno theme next month. And why not – Here Comes The Warm Jets has 4/5ths of Roxy Music playing on it. Be kind, be good – til next time!