Jonas Söderström writes to BtP
Their music was unique: rock mixed with music of a completely different genre, to a unique and truly original blend. Tony Visconti was involved in their first albums. They recorded on the Regal Zonophone label. They toured with Jethro Tull and seemed to be on their way to stardom. But somehow mismanagement, or bad luck or general befuddlement struck and the great promises were not fulfilled.
Sounds familiar? Yet it is not Procol Harum; but Carmen - a band that today seem even more forgotten than our boys. As you might guess from their name, Carmen mixed their rock with flamenco music, including tap-dancing and handclaps. (And if anyone would interpret the name as "The Car-Men" or something, the record cover with a guitarist and female dancer in traditional Spanish outfit would definitely show them they were mistaken.)
It was a friend that showed me those records back in the early seventies - and played them to me. God knows where he found them. They were totally unknown to me at the time. That friend is long since lost to me, so I haven't heard the music in maybe twenty years. (And I don't think I ever have met anyone that knows about the band or remembers it at all.)
There is, as far as I have been able to find out, not one single fan webpage devoted to the band. They are briefly mentioned in a few encyclopaedia-websites of rock or progressive rock, but apart from that - almost nothing. A few of the words that are used to describe Carmen's music in those pages sound very familiar to any PH fan:
And I do remember that I liked them very much, too. Front man in Carmen was guitarist David Allen (not to be confused with Daevid Allen of Gong). Allen played flamenco styled rock guitar, with the same force as an acoustic flamenco player.
The other distinct part of the band's sound was the castanet-taps and heel-clicks of Allen's wife Angela and of lead singer Roberto Amaral, doing flamenco dancing. Live, the band had a special stage that was miked, and Roberto and Angela would dance as part of their show. Angela Allen occasionally played keyboards. Drummer Paul Fenton also added to the rhythm.
Bassplayer in Carmen was John Glascock, formerly of Chicken Shack, who had joined the band in 1972 in Los Angeles. John Glascock was later to become bass player with Jethro Tull. And one of the few places where Carmen seems to be remembered today is at the official Jethro Tull website, www.j-tull.com. This text is taken from the musician's webpages at that website:
"In 1972, John went to visit Brian, who was living in L.A., to check out the avant-garde Flamenco-Rock fusion band his brother was playing in. The band, to be known as Carmen, had excellent credentials and a fresh, unique sound. They didn't fit into any existing rock genre, and were finding it difficult to find a market. Carmen needed a bass player, so John decided to stay, intrigued by the art of Flamenco, and left the success of Chicken Shack for a new venture.
It appeared for a while that everything was going to go right for Carmen: They moved to London, recorded two albums with Tony Visconti, David Bowie's producer, appeared with Bowie on the Midnight Special, toured England, and then returned to the United States to open for major rock acts. In January 1975, they landed a 13-week engagement, opening for Jethro Tull on the War Child tour.
It was after the tour with Jethro Tull, where Ian first encountered John, the band found out they were broke, they no longer had a recording contract, and that their upcoming tour opening for the Rolling Stones had fallen through. That, coupled with their drummer's serious injury from a fall off a horse abruptly ended the band in 1975."
John Glascock joined JT and played with them from 1975 to 1979, when he died, tragically, at the age of just twenty-eight, from complications stemming from a congenital heart defect. He was replaced by David Pegg (whose son, Matt Pegg, played with Procol in the mid-nineties!)
Carmen released three albums, as far as I know:
Line records released a CD with both Fandangos in space and Dancing on a cold wind, but that CD has now expired.
What has this to do with PH? Apart from the similarities... well, at least it makes me wonder how much good music that is out there; the brilliant songs that didn't make it, music sadly never heard. It makes you humble.
So even if we sometimes experience a sting of bitterness for the success our boys didn't get but deserved... maybe we should really consider ourselves very lucky, for all the praise the band in fact did get - and for the continuing love shown by a small but loyal following at this website and the mailing list - a love that just refuses to die.
More Feature articles at BtP