At times commanding several hundred dollars in traders' circles, SI copies of Live At The Target won't be quite as scarce now that the alliance between Brian Devoil and Cyclops Records has yielded some fabulous results — Fact and Fiction and Art & Illusion remasters surfaced in recent years, and this is the one TN fans have been waiting for! Wrongly tagged as Genesis wannabe's by many a neo-prog nonfan, the color of Night's sound was much more tonally varied than to be written off with such immediacy. Elements of Hillage, Gong, Floyd, and even Hawkwind ("East To West") (and yes, Hackett) can be found within the music's aural folds. Twelfth Night is easily the most unique-sounding outfit out of the late 1970's/early 1980's cast that includes IQ, Marillion, Pallas, Pendragon, and Jadis.
With The First Tape Album and Twelfth Night (aka Early Material) cassette albums under their belts, guitarist Andy Revell, bassist Clive Mitten, keyboardist Rick Battersby and drummer Brian Devoil bid adieu to their "elusive" vocalist, Electra McLeod. The quartet agreed to greenlight an official pressed debut (they'd saved up several thousand pounds expressly for that purpose) that would be — surprise! — entirely instrumental. The band had a good wad of material built up by that point in time, you see. The year 1981 was still fresh, and the tracks would be culled from back-to-back nights in the middle of January at the Target Club in Reading. Live At The Target would come about by way of a mobile 8-track, with four very specific pieces chosen, due to cost limitations. As students at Reading University, the four all met there (five, if you include Geoff Mann), and would no doubt get an enthusiastic response.
"Für Helene, Part 1" opens with a beefy anthemic prelude that's particularly apt. Things calm for a bit before opening back up into a spatially-tinged, quasi~funk groove. At just under seven minutes, this is the shortest piece! "After The Eclipse" touches down on a six-note, right-hand arpeggio by Battersby; in no time, Mitten's aggressive 6-string bass lead takes over propulsion duty. Battersby's coolly-modulated solo may sound dated to some, but it pivots on that hallmark Baumann-era Tang vibe, and thus sounds fine, if too short. Mitten's solo-bass part (as opposed to bass solo) bridges the first and second halves. A fine helping of plasmic space rock! "East To West" was the first track I ever heard from this album, and it remains my favorite. Revell's delay pedal enables his guitar to cast a rather hypnotic spell. The first third is a nicely-styled TN jam, which segues into a minute-long atmospheric interlude by Battersby and Devoil. The next section is almost dirge-like, and the reason for my liking this as I do. Revell's guitar melody caters to something of a witchy whine, countering Mitten's bluesy bassline — the 7.5 minute mark ushers in another sort of urgency, kicking things uptempo (Devoil also gets fairly thrashy as he goes into power drummer mode). After a tease, the final section reprises and gradually settles—the epitome of thematique.
"Sequences" is the same epic Geoff Mann masterfully added his lyrics and voice to, as found on Collector's Item. It's just that, at twenty minutes, this version is roughly four minutes longer — the longest version ever committed to tape. Revell's echo-axe again opens the proceedings for seven-odd minutes of the TN formula as experienced on the previous three tracks. His acidic wah-spiced solo around the ten-minute mark has a very Krautrock flavor, a la Wallenstein. The funny thing is, this reviewer is so used to the Mann version of "Sequences" by now, that my own mind is "filling in" his vocals as the track progresses! Still, it's a joy to finally possess a real version of this original text-free epic. Thought Battersby plays no Mellotron, his background string sound (which must come from a Logan or similar model) behind Revell's beautiful, quiet lead two-thirds of the way in is just as suitable. Shades of Shadowfax, even, though it's highly unlikely the band (or many outside the USA) knew of Shadowfax around that time. The point at 16:50 will remind everybody of a watermark lyrical moment in the later version.
Bonus tracks: each appearing for the first time in digital, the three extras (again, sans vocals) were once only to be had on the aforementioned Early Material and First tapes. "Afghan Red," "Freddie Hepburn," and "Encore Une Fois" all have a passably spontaneous (read: live) vibe, sounding a bit raw yet arranged. Productionwise, "Afghan Red" fared the best and will be easily recognized by the oldest TN fans — those lucky bastards who lived in the UK and saw the shows! Mitten's pumped-up bass lead (six stringer, remember) is as much a draw as anything here, the band weaving its way in and out of various sonic corridors that comprise a superb pastiche of other tracks while retaining a peerless composure — nice solo by Battersby, too. On "Hepburn," Devoil's hyperactive hi-hat almost seems programmed, and Battersby's synth is louder than on any other track, while Revell is sorely downmixed, drowned out. "Encore" was designed to be just that, a jam-wired show finale.
The remastering of this album is first-rate, especially considering the prolonged decay that plagues analog tapes. Grit is detectable in "Sequences," but Andrews Clegg & Le Vien made do with the best sources, transferring the sounds into the digital domain and then sprucing them up. The booklet has new liner notes by Brian Devoil and longtime friend, Mark Hughes, and plenty of "big hair" photos from way back. A job well done for the album that led to an invite to open the Reading Festival in '81!
It's not over, yet: future releases include an expanded Smiling At Grief and two collections, one that will focus on the four vocalists (Mann, McLeod, Andy Sears and Martyn Watson) who are part of the TN canon, and one that will focus on rarities. Sooner or later, we'll finally get to hear Electra's treatments of "East To West," Keep The Aspidistra Flying," and "The Cunning Man"!
1. Für Helene [Part I] (6:56)
2. After The Eclipse (7:43)
3. East To West (10:55)
4. Sequences (20:10)
— Bonus Tracks —
5. Afghan Red (12:16)
6. Freddie Hepburn (8:45)
7. Encore Une Fois (6:46)
Total time – 73:12