Ollie Halsall

Caves

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AllMusic Review by

Guitarist Peter "Ollie" Halsall truly found himself at a low ebb when he recorded these multi-instrumental demos in 1979. Cancer had claimed old collaborator Mike Patto, the beloved frontman for their underrated prog rock band of the same name. Attempts at bottling heavy rock lightning with Boxer had met with similar indifference, while Halsall walked away from a short-lived stint in the Glitter Band with only a star-shaped guitar for his trouble. Halsall was reportedly subsisting without amenities like electricity and phone service, when he knocked out these songs on borrowed (!) equipment. His defiant eclectic streak nods to '50s rock ("Hey, Hey, Little Girl"), Bo Diddley-styled rave-ups ("Door to Door Daughter"), rockabilly ("First Day in New York"), and pop ("Come on Let's Go"). Slinky guitar wizardry abounds on "Lovers Leaping" and "Back Against the Wall"'s winsome moodiness ("Take me away from here/I need a change of atmosphere"). However, the emphasis is less on Halsall the musician; his songs show greater self-awareness than presumed by the chroniclers of his dissipation. The ballad "Traveling Show" captures Halsall's life as well as any article ever could ("Traveling show/I just go/New York, Paris and Rome"), as does "Stepping Out" ("All they know is that I'm weird/That I drink too much"). In another universe, Halsall would have hit the jackpot with the sprightly almost-new wave of "Summertime Kids," or the heart-stopping guitar pyrotechnics that brighten "Airplane Food"'s neo-boogie goofiness. In some ways, serendipity might have been a curse for Halsall, because the tapes weren't meant for an album -- yet the only reason they exist is because his fellow wildman John Otway still had them. The result is a fascinating glimpse behind the unassuming sideman persona commonly associated with Halsall.

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