Paul Russell reviews Nigel Mazlyn Jones and ‘Planet for $ale’ 2007
“My first encounter with the music of Nigel Mazlyn Jones harks back to the glory days of vinyl when the likes of Roy Harper, John Martyn, and that other great but often overlooked British guitarist Gordon Giltrap vied for a spot on the turntable.
NMJ (as he was known) cut a rugged cavalier figure pointing at the raging ocean in a defiant yet vulnerable manner, guitar slung over one shoulder on the cover of his first album, the acoustic driven masterpiece that is Ship to Shore. A true genius with the 12 string guitar he wove a magical sometimes frantic spell on the epic title track and for over 12 mins NMJ pleads for guidance so we can survive the raging seas and keep the ship from destruction. Relief follows as the song drifts off onto dry land with a trippy coda conjured from the mighty Echoplex effects unit.
Two more albums followed Ship, the brooding Sentinel and the more upbeat and rock driven Breaking Cover featuring the percussive talents of Van der Graaf Generator drummer, Guy Evans. These albums were hard to find, but once acquired the same message was always there that we are continually destroying the very world beneath our feet.
NMJ was not a worrier of the pop charts and lived mostly on the road playing the festivals and the clubs throughout Europe often touring with the likes of Judy Tzuke, Camel, Renaissance and English AOR rockers Barclay James Harvest. Strange bed fellows but great exposure none the less, and my first exposure to the live NMJ. He played a solo acoustic set hunched over his guitar with a rack of effects at his side and among the pieces he played Ship to Shore stood out and held many of the ageing rockers mesmerized.
Over thirty years later and NMJ has released many fine albums and is still trying to make us aware of our planets gradual but increasingly obvious decline. He is based in the beautiful Cornish countryside not far from the battered coastline where the waves once tried to sweep him away. On ’Planet for $ale’ gone for now are the 12 string guitars and folk tinged melodies and instead a series of pulsing mixes and remixes by musicians old and new based on a simple but potent verse.
The album opens with a simple vocal over a clay pot rhythm. “Who’ll give us a dollar for a dead old globe?” a good question and while you think of the answer the first of the sequencer heavy mixes kicks off and leads the album on a winding pulsating journey with NMJ’s vocal dropping in and out to keep the message in the front of your mind.
On the System 7 remix legendary guitar guru Steve Hillage drops you right in the middle of the dance tent at Glastonbury and NMJ repeats “Keep the Garden Beautiful”. Banco De Gaia, percussive and dark with “Breathe a Little Life” and then the Guy Evans/ Mazlyn Jones mix is as expected drum heavy as Evans whips up a storm at the kit while NMJ threatens with some dark growling guitar lines. Its one of the albums most effective pieces.
Another highlight is the NMJ /Keith Halden mix “Doctor’s Orders”. On this almost 10 min epic some seriously heavy electric guitar is unleashed amid a stop start rhythm which benefits from being played at full volume and is quite startling in its power. The NMJ/John Acock mix “Only Passing Through” slows things right down with the help of some mellow piano courtesy of Margaret Phillips, before a rare but forceful appearance from the infamous 12 string.
In stark contrast the album ends as it began with the plaintive message of the title track and only a clay pot for accompaniment, NMJ sends out the warning one final time, well at least until you play it again.
Planet For Sale is not a happy album, its not meant to be. What it does is deliver a vital message in a number of musical styles which should appeal to wider audiences than the average protest songs would. It needs to be heard and spread across the generations. It should be played at the Eden Project on a Summer’s night in NMJ’s home county of Cornwall, amongst the mini ecosystems it is warning us we will one day lose.
As I write this from the snow-covered wastes of Ontario with a heavy minus reading on the gauge, all seems normal. But there was no snow at Christmas this year, the waters of Georgian Bay which is part of the mighty Lake Huron are not frozen as they should be, the snow has now come with a vengeance but will be gone in a couple of months and the effects of global warming are all too obvious from my window. ”It’s a dead old globe”.
Paul Russell, Feb 2007.
Paul Russell is a music writer and rock genre archivist. He published the complete guide to the Gabriel years and Genesis live shows ‘GENESIS - A LIVE GUIDE 1969-1974 Play Me My Song’ and researched and compiled retrospective albums for Genesis, Yes, Van Der Graaf Generator and other seminal bands.