Home > Out There with Morales > The Story of Norman Haines: Part 1

The Story of Norman Haines: Part 1

Locomotive1
Norman Haines (center)

by David Morales

Norman Haines is responsible for two of the most sought-after albums of British progressive rock. Like many other brilliant artists, it took the world decades to recognize the brilliance of Haines’ work. He took soul, jazz, psych, and classical music to a place it had not been before, with lyrics based in reality during a time of social and political unrest.

Norman mixed all these influences into several brilliant singles and two lyrically and musically powerful albums. His career began in Birmingham in 1963 with the beat group The Van Dels, who changed their name a year later to The Brumbeats. By day he ran a small record shop taking in all the latest musical crazes and at night he put his knowledge to use in his band as they played clubs around Birmingham. The Brumbeats often played support for local heroes The Locomotive. By the end of ’66 Haines was asked to join the group on keys.

Before Haines joined the group, The Locomotive played mostly popular Tamla, and Motown soul. Haines brought in ska music to their set. They gigged all over and in 1967 they got a deal with the label Direction to record their first single, Haines’ original “Broken Heart” and the B-side “Rudy – A Message To You.” The single was not a hit but it got them a deal with Parlophone to record another Haines ska original “Rudi’s In Love,” which became a top 25 hit in 1968.

The band had done what most groups had hoped to achieve: they got a hit. They were now known as a ska group but this would end up to be their downfall as the group was starting to get into more ‘progressive’ styles of music. Around this time, founding member Jim Simpson leaves the band to become full time manager of The Locomotive and his other project, local band, Earth. Norman takes over as band leader and writes new material for their debut full length. In late 1968 they begin recording at Abbey Road Studios.

Locomotive+We+Are+Everything+You+See

We Are Everything You See is an amazing piece of work from start to finish. Heavily influenced by classical music, the album begins with an overture, a short summary of the album’s main themes through beautiful strings, and a little interplay with clarinet before the strings raise the pressure and fade into one of the crowning achievements of British progressive rock. “Mr. Armageddon” has been included in countless compilations and for good reason. This song is a monster. Pounding drums, wah guitar, piercing organ and Norman’s unsympathetic lyrical delivery. Picture him as ‘the man,’ ten feet tall: “I am everything you see / and what is more / I am father of a thousand children / Mother… / Of a thousand million more!” The main horn riff is what makes this song. The ending takes it even higher as it drives to the end of the song and the drums and even the vocals just trying to keep up. This ending pretty much made me a believer in progressive rock music.

The next track, “Now Is The End – The End Is When,” solidifies the doomed mood of the album; the jazzy bassline and phased-out drums are brilliant. Then comes “Lay Me Down Gently,” another killer with back and forth time signatures, and the harmonizing is a nice touch. There is not a bad track on this album. The pounding drums on “You Must Be Joking,” and the screeching organ get along like a cat and dog. I love it. “Rain” is the perfect title for the ninth track, a mellow slow burner that the horns help to pick up during the end. The final song starts off simply enough, then it gets jazzy and the pace quickly picks up and pounds into the dizzying finale. The album also features reworked versions of two songs from the band United States of America.

Before the album was even completed the band had already fallen apart. Some members complained that the album was getting too progressive. Haines disagreed and quit the band before mixing was completed in mid 1969. With no band to support it the album was quietly released six months later in February 1970. The album went completely unnoticed and was soon deleted. Some of the members formed a new group called The Dog That Bit People. Haines started his own group called Sacrifice.

Stay tuned for further installments of the Norman Haines story.

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  1. April 4, 2013 at 11:54 am

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