But the duo hankered after success on their own terms. The result was two outstanding tracks, 'Living In The World Today' and 'Snow Covered Eyes', cut at Rockfield studios in November 1973 and featuring Youatt on bass and guitars, Ryan on keyboards and John 'Pugwash' Weathers (a bandmate of Ryan’s in the 1960s band Eyes of Blue) moonlighting from Gentle Giant on drums. A contract with UA secured, the duo brought in what Ryan laughingly calls "a cast of thousands", and "began to have more specific ideas on who we wanted on what." By the time of the second session for what would become 'Black Hole Star' in April 1974 at Chipping Norton studios, ex-Incredible String Band violinist Stuart Gordon had been recruited to bring a folky flavour to proceedings. His friend, 17 year-old Caromay Dixon, added her vocal talents to the likes of 'Mermaid And Chips' - for which old pal Pete Brown provided lyrics - while another ex-Eyes of Blue/Piblokto! stalwart, Taff Williams, had arrived to augment Youatt on the guitar front. Extrovert singer-songwriter Martin Wallace, who Phil knew from schooldays, was intended to be the band's frontman - but, Ryan recalls, "we pushed him to the sidelines because Will and I were going full steam ahead and were very ambitious." He had, however, brought Dixon and Gordon into the fold. Martin and Phil hailed from Port Talbot, the subject of 'Doom City', a bluesy number with a five-way credit that opened the album's second (vinyl) side. Wallace's main contribution was the eastern-flavoured 'Feel', featuring the hand drums of future Dire Straits man Pick Withers; another of his songs, 'Suzy And The Wonder Boy', backed ‘Dance Of The Psychedelic Lounge Lizards', released as a single three months before the album in June 1974.
Welsh studio wizard Dave Edmunds contributed slide guitar to 'Suzy’. To clear up any confusion, The Quickies, credited with backing vocals on 'Going To India', are Will Youatt's former group Quicksand, while Will himself is credited as 'Y Willis' to avoid a music-publishing conflict. The bassist was pleased with the results of the sessions, as "Man always seemed to be in the studios for five days, then we'd be working on the road. This was the first time we had the time to listen." Nevertheless, Andrew Lauder wanted them to promote their product, and this they did, opening their set with a stunning 15-minute jam. Their live line-up comprised Messrs. Ryan, Youatt, Williams and Wallace plus Caromay Dixon on second keyboards and vocals; Pugwash having declined the invitation to tour (as had Stuart Gordon), the road drummer's role was taken by former Splendid Human Stuart Halliday. If the first album's cover was a bodge job - the gatefold original having been scrapped in favour of a generic silver sleeve - the second was even more unfortunate.
"It was totally misinterpreted," complains Ryan of the sci-fi styled artwork. His inspiration had been "a shot of Woodstock from a helicopter, with thousands of people in blue sleeping bags..." Ah well, at least the Rick Griffin logo remained! 'Tales From The Blue Cocoons' contained some numbers that had been road-tested live, notably the instrumental 'Welsh R Blunt' which dated back to Piblokto! days and had even been played by Man in the short-lived Phil/Will era. Unfortunately, the Phil/Will era of the Neutrons was to prove equally short-lived as a "run-down and exhausted" Youatt was unable to attend mixing sessions. "Phil did his best to battle though and get it finished," he recalls, "but it wouldn't be an album I'd put on, other than for 'The Jam Eaters', by Phil, and 'Come Into My Cave'." Ryan pinpoints the latter, a song that sums up its writer's frazzled state of mind at the time, as containing "some of the best lyrics Will's ever written." Significantly, the pair who had collaborated on virtually every first-album song hadn't created anything together second time around. Martin Wallace collaborated twice with Phil in Will's absence and contributed the stunning 'Northern Midnight' (with memorable guitars from Will and Taff Williams, who himself penned the short, pointed 'Live Your Lie'). The gigs that followed the album's release in April 1975 were intensive but less successful than before: Taff Williams had quit for more stable employment, leaving Richard Treece, ex- of UA labelmates Help Yourself, to plug the guitar gap.
"I'd seen them at the Roundhouse and thought they were quite magical," he recalled. "It was a buzz to play with a musician of the calibre of Phil Ryan." The Nut-Rons, as they were once mistakenly billed, finally cracked in the summer of 1975. Ryan accepted an invitation to rejoin Man, where he remains to this day. Youatt teamed with one-time Quicksand partner Jimmy Davies and, with drummer Halliday still in tow, formed Alkatraz (one album on UA), while Stuart Gordon, such a star of the first album, played with the high-profile likes of Tori Amos, Peter Hammill and Peter Gabriel. Dave Charles – Drums Caromay Dixon – Vocals Phil Ryan – Keyboards Martin Wallace - Guitar, Vocals Ray Taff Williams – Guitar Will Youatt - Guitar, Bass Read more on Last.fm.
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