Album review: Big Hogg – Pageant of Beasts

Album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Glasgow’s Big Hogg have become a beloved and recognisable fixture on that city’s music scene, regularly collaborating with local fellow travellers such as members of the much missed Trembling Bells, as well as with visiting luminaries such as Ex Reverie (the band recently backed Gillian Chadwick on her and Julia Jeffries excellent ‘Isobel Gowdie’ opus). Effortlessly blending particular strands of West Coast psych, 70’s funk and full on British Fairport folk rock, they offer an alluring and heady brew that also strongly retains their own unique mark and identifiable style. Previous albums, such as 2015’s blistering self-titled debut and its follow up ‘Gargoyles’, have charted the growth of Big Hogg into a unit that can happily swim in experimental waters whilst holding both a steady groove and a strong melodic sensibility, an ability that has earned them significant critical acclaim and recognition. Originally conceptualised in the late summer of 2018, ‘Pageant of Beasts’ consolidates and expands upon previous BH releases, both sonically and in terms of songwriting, no doubt helped by being written and recorded by the entire group together in a nearby Glasgow studio and then mixed during lockdown. There is a genuine and tangible sense of cohesion and ‘locking’ together of disparate parts and styles here; a fusion of sorts, a magic that has occurred with the exactly the correct components and players, at precisely the right time.

Opener ‘Golden Beasts’ is a fanfare; a solo trumpet salute to what is to come, it is suitably regal and full of pregnant promise. ‘Here Come The Moles’ mixes Funkadelic with a full-on psych workout, expertly anchored and framed by both the brass section and an alternately chiming and searing guitar. Sophie Sexon’s vocals blend perfectly with Justin Lumsden‘s; indeed, Big Hogg weave a hugely effective tapestry with each part and player adding seamlessly to the aural picture. Next, ‘Man Overboard’ accentuates its 70’s soul leanings with a flurry of deft flute runs, again with a hint of baroque psych a la Nirvana or The Left Banke. Ex-Trembling Bell Lavinia Blackwell can be heard contributing her distinctive vocals, indeed fellow Bell Mike Hastings also appears on the album, as does multi-instrumentalist Georgia Seddon, daughter of The Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron. ‘Smoking Again’ dips into the flaming psych rock that Big Hogg can conjure up like it is within their very being; however, the seemingly effortless performance belies an impressively complex interplay between bursts of molten guitar and brass, like a heady mix of ‘Village Preservation’-era Kinks and TS McPhee. A truly spellbinding version of Paul Giovanni’s ‘Willow’s Song’ from The Wicker Man follows, both shimmering and bewitching. The band cleverly captures the otherworldliness inherent in the song, allowing plenty of space for bucolic woodwind and spectral electronic echoes to add an uneasy edge. ‘Red Rum’ doffs its cap to Pentangle, double bass threading and binding a thrilling contrast between quieter, jazz inflected exploratory moments and an array of breathtaking brass and guitar descending runs.

Next, ‘All Alone Stoned’s trumpet intro leads into a Canterbury-scene hued, reflective and wistful beauty, its flanged guitars and delicate instrumentation offering a gentle yearning that displays yet another side or strand to Big Hogg, replete with Richard Sinclair styled fuzz organ. The song concludes with the ‘Ringtone Round’ chant from The Quatermass Conclusion, adding a pleasingly unsettling and haunting eeriness. ‘Magisetellus’ is a glistening, psychedelic slice of mellow cosmiche, though with interim bursts of minor key flute and brass adding an undercurrent of tension and quiet drama. Remaining in the cosmos, analogue synths introduce ‘Wyverns’, a spiralling prog imbued piece of space rock that is truly transportive and floating in its own utterly unique and ornate universe. A possible album highlight, the star filled skyscape that BH invokes here certainly points towards a musical corner that would be a most welcome one for them to explore further. ‘Bouffant Tail’s brass skronking and freeform approach provides the background to some curious performance poetry – and offers space to catch breath – before leading to the laconic chamber pop of ‘Cat Fool’, which already sounds like timeless classic, or something you would unearth from a collection of critically acclaimed 70’s vinyl (the breakdown at the end alone is worth the price of admission). Bookending the album, the lone trumpet returns, closing the journey (and it is a visually powerful album, with both its lyrical imagery and multi layered harmonies conjuring various historical eras and geographical areas, from Kevin Ayers’ England to the late 60s/ 70s Californian West Coast, with a hint of New York and Chicago in between).

A triumph then and another jewel in Big Hogg’s growing discography. If this is your cup of tea then delve into their previous releases, there is treasure to be found. Beautifully packaged, as with previous releases, in a Julia Jeffrey designed and illustrated cover, the album is available on CD, download and vinyl from the band’s Bandcamp page.

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