A Brief History
I doubt whether the name Earthforce would be familiar to any of the readers of DPRP and this is mainly due to the fact that Earthforce only existed for a couple of years without any commercial recordings to their credit apart from a cassette recording, of which about 60 copies were distributed. The album features a number of tracks recorded in the period 1977 to 1979 and the main instigator behind this is Steve Bayfield, who in 2002 started working on digitally remastering a number of recordings of the 1977 cassette, as well as live recordings from that period.
The name Earthforce was taken from a book called "The Pattern Of The Past" by Guy Underwood and is a term used to describe the underground energies that are detectable by dowsing. The name works well with this band because the music is indeed mystical and the band itself seemed to be a collection of musicians (energies) who appeared to be at the right place at the right time. Little can be found about Earthforce on the net and in the various books I have tried to research the band in with the only source of information being the liner notes of the album as well as the website set up by Steve Bayfield.
Earthforce seems to have been a gathering of musicians sharing a love for similar styles of music heavily influenced by Middle Eastern tablature with various folk and mystic references. The band appears to have been born out of the OA Band which disbanded in 1976. This band included Steve Bayfield together with John Bland (drums), Alan Shipgood (bass) and James Gleave (keyboards). Bayfield seems to have moved towards the more acoustic side of music, away from the influences of avant-garde jazz bands such as Henry Cow, Ian Carr's Nucleus and Robert Wyatt, and by 1977 wanted to get a band together with a view to expanding these new found styles.
Thus Earthforce came about as a form of musical collective. The musical fulcrum revolved around a trio of musicians, namely Steve Bayfield (who was playing sitar and 12-string guitar), Alan Shipgood (bass) and Tony Pettitt (harmonium). This trio was augmented by Mick Marsh, James Gleave and Jenie and Raymond Critchell. However, apart from a few gigs it appeared that Earthforce would never take off, with various members about to leave the UK. The Critchell's were about to leave for France, Tony Pettitt was to move to Carmarthen, South Wales while James Gleave would later move to Europe.
In the years 1974-75, Bayfield and Norman Jon Kissoon ran a mobile recording unit called AHVS (Atom Heart Visual Sound) in the London area which consisted of a 10 inch reel-to-reel half track. In July 1977, Bayfield contacted Kissoon with a view to recording Earthforce before the whole group disbanded.
The first recording session took place on 30/31 July 1977 in Farnborough, Hampshire with a second session added three weeks later at Merrow, near Guildford, Surrey. By October an Earthforce cassette was ready for distribution (about 60 copies were produced).
The final event in this period was at the Bellerby Theatre, Guildford in November 1978, "An Evening with Earthforce". On the bill were John Lathey, Simon Rowan, Savourna Stevenson (on Celtic harp), Steve Bayfield on sitar with John Bland on tabla, and the electric band - blurring the "Oa Band" into "Earthforce" with the Oa line-up plus Nic Griffiths on saxophone.
Steve Bayfield has remained active musically till this very day playing in a variety of bands, all of which are mentioned on his interesting website. Alan Shipgood would play with him in the band following Earthforce, Home Brew. James Gleave went on to play in Tax Free (1976) and Talisker (1977) while John Bland still gigs occasionally as well as writes music. Of the remaining members, only two seem to have pursued a successful musical career. Kirsty Anderson plays with the Jim McRae band while Savourna Stevenson is one of the top harpists ion the British folk scene having played with almost everyone in this scene including Richard Thompson, Davy Spillane and June Tabor. Sadly Jenie Critchell passed away in 1995 at age 38 after a career as a soprano with recordings for the Deutsche Gramophone label. In fact this album is dedicated to her memory.
Earthforce were: Steve Bayfield (sitar, 12 string guitar, voice, flageolet, electric guitars, fretless bass guitar); Tony Pettitt (harmonium, voice, doogi-synthesizer, acoustic guitar); Alan Shipgood (tabla, bass guitars), Mick Marsh (drums, cymbals), James Gleave (synthesizer, electric piano), Raymond Critchell (12 string guitars, voice), Jenie Critchell (acoustic guitar, voice), John Lathey (acoustic guitar), Kirsty Anderson (violin), John Bland (percussion)
Executive Producer - Steve Bayfield
Produced by - Richard S. Patz for Shroomangel Productions
Recording Engineer - Norman Jon Kissoon
Front Cover Design - Jilean Sherwood
Additional Artwork and Layout - Richard S. Patz
Tape Transfer and Remix - Steve Bayfield
Final Mastering - Jeff Risdon
Track 1 - recorded 5/22/75 at Cambridge Road - Farnboroough - Hampshire
Tracks 2,5 - recorded 7/30/77 - Farnborough - Hampshire
Tracks 3, 6, 10 - recorded 7/30/77 - Farnborough - Hampshire
Tracks 4, 8, 11 - recorded on 8/20/77 at Guildford, Surrey
Track 7 - recorded Live at Bellerby Theatre on 11/26/78 - Guildford, Surrey
Track 9 - recorded on 12/10/79 at Whitehill - Hampshire
Musically one has to admit that the music of Earhforce does sound somewhat dated, with its roots somehow not actually indicative of the late seventies (the punk era!) but rather to the late sixties when Middle Eastern influences dominated all the musical scene from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones. Musically the album falls within the psychedelic sphere with the occasional lapse into overt Indian references. Tracks like Dawn and Raga (as its name implies) are based on Indian music with the sitar taking the main stage with tablas as percussion. Dawn that is the most palatable of these tracks because of its gentle and ear-friendly tune with the occasional sound effect placed with great effect to convey the sense of that time of day. Unfortunately, Raga tends to suffer from a somewhat poor recording, possibly due to the fact that it was recorded live.
However, apart from these two tracks, the album seems to have much of that sixties acid touch. The recording itself appears to be high on the treble with the cymbals constantly coming and going in volume, probably an unintentional touch which really gives the music that cosmic touch! Much of the material, such as Song Of The Morning and Keep Moving, is acoustic in nature with the gentle strum of guitars accompanied by delicate vocals and the occasional harmony. Nowadays, one might call Earthforce a New Age band because of their inspirations and the obvious lyrics in their references as well as the artwork on the album depicting megaliths. On Keep Moving the band introduce a blend of acoustic and electric guitar and this gentle instrumental is one of the highlights of the album.
Carnemyn, written by Tony Pettitt whist walking through the Preseli Mountains, is the absolute stoner track on the album with narrative accompanying soaring keyboards with the occasional guitar acoustic lick thrown in. Probably this is the only piece that I can attribute to an influence on Earthforce and that would Gong. Of course, on the short Carnemyn (Slight Return), this is taken to greater heights. This style is revisited on the closer Moonrise.
It seems that at various periods in the band's history, Earthforce had started to incorporate an element of British folk music into their repertoire as is evidenced by the inclusion of violin and Celtic harp. Thus on pieces such as Wild Mountain Thyme, the sound has a much broader feel to it, though unfortunately this song is prone to the occasional drop-out. Jenie's Song on the other hand is a lovely simple piece showcasing Jenie Critchell's vocals who as mentioned in the liner notes was influenced by Joan Baez.
Earthforce is no ground breaking album but is an interesting look into a group of musicians gathered together to produce an interesting style of music that one does not usually come across from British bands from the mid-seventies. When you listen to this album, one wonders how many other unknown gems are hidden away in peoples attics or cupboards. Once again one should congratulate Shroomangel Productions for promoting these unknown gems, as well as Steve Bayfield who has persevered after all these years in keeping the Earthforce name alive.
The only information that one can find about Earthforce is from Steve Bayfield's personal website. In fact it is the only source of material and photos I could find related to Earthforce.