Skin Alley: Skin Alley (1969) by Ben Miler
Skin Alley was an early progressive rock band that consisted of both British and American bands, but residing in Britain. In 1969, the band released their debut album on CBS and they were sure quick to hop on the progressive rock bandwagon, all in the same year of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, Van der Graaf Generator’s The Aerosol Grey Machine, East of Eden’s Mercator Projected, and Colosseum’s Valentyne Suite.
Skin Alley’s debut is certainly a wonderful example of early British progressive rock. “Living in Sin” is a great opening cut, with lots of nice organ work from Krzysztof-Henryk Juskiewicz, flute and sax from Bob James, as well as guitar from Bob himself. It’s such a great opening cut, I can’t think of a better way to open the album! “Tell Me” is a great symphonic piece, complete with Mellotron (Mark II) with the classic strings, as well as brass. I really like how it started off as a ballad, but the pace quickens with the organ and tron brass! “Mother Please Help Your Child” has a more doomy, psychedelic feel with some rather dramatic vocals. “Marsha” is an instrumental jazzy piece dominated by Bob James’ jazzy sax playing and jazzy drumming from Alvin Pope. “Country Aire” is a nice instrumental piece with a baroque feel, complete with harpsichord and flute. “All Alone” has a blues influence, without quite being blues, with some nice trippy organ. “Night Time” is another great symphonic piece complete with Mellotron. I really dig those jazzy passages that end this piece. “Concerto Grosso (Take Heed)” is simply a short interlude on harpsichord that leads to the wonderful bluesy closer, “(Going down the) Highway”. This is one of the better combination of the blues and progressive rock.
Anyway, Skin Alley’s debut is certainly one of the finer examples of early British progressive rock I’ve heard. Constant comparisons go to Jethro Tull and Van der Graaf Generator. I can understand the VdGG comparisons because of the sax, but Tull, I can’t understand. Flute is used, but never in the style of Ian Anderson. I can hear similar style to bands (that existed a little later, around 1970-72) like Gracious, Cressida, Beggars Opera, and even Black Widow (minus the Satanic stuff), meaning if you like any of these groups, you should have no problem with Skin Alley’s debut. While the original CBS LP is very hard to get a hold of, it’s been reissued on CD. Warning: stay away from the 2-for-1 deal that featured this album as well as To Pagham and Beyond (1970), as the debut is missing a cut, that is “Mother Please Help Your Child” (likely because it couldn’t fit on all one CD, although they could’ve put them on two CDs and sold it as a 2-for-1 like BGO did when they reissued both albums from Gracious). Anyway, you’re better off with a CD reissue that contains simply their debut album, like the Akarma reissue.
Certainly this album is one of those obscure classics that deserve your attention, they really deserved more attention!
– Krzysztof-Henryk Juskiewiec: organ, piano, harpsichord, Mellotron, vocals
– Bob James: guitar, alto sax, flute, vocals
– Thomas Crimble: bass, Mellotron, vocals
– Alvin Pope: drums, congas, timpani