Brass rock came into existence in the late 1960s when it seems free love was getting a lot of unlikely musical genres cuddling up together. While the most famous bands of this hybridization were indubitably Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, there was in reality a huge roster of bands who joined this heavy brass-filled rock frenzy that was in its peak from 1969-72. In the US alone there were several other bands including Aura, Chase, Dreams, The Electric Flag, Gas Mask, The Ides Of March, Lighthouse, Second Coming, The Sons Of Champlin and Ten Wheel Drive. While usually accustomed to exporting musical ideas across the pond, musicians in England had no problem following a trend from afar and several bands emerged on British soil including Colosseum, Galliard, The Greatest Show on Earth, Heaven, If, The Keef Harley Band, Walrus and the London based outfit BRAINCHILD which joined the party fairly early on in 1970 with their only release HEALING OF THE LUNATIC OWL which packs in a heavy brass jazz sound into their catchy well crafted pop melodies but what really sets BRAINCHILD apart from their contemporaries is how they carefully they weaved in progressive rock elements with slight psychedelic overtones.
The band consisted of Harvey Coles (bass, vocals), Bill Edwards (guitar, vocals), Dave Miller (drums), Chris Jennings (organ, piano), Brian Wilshaw (sax, flute), Lloyd Williams (trumpet) and trombone duties shared by Ian Goss and Pat Strachan. While the brass rock sound of the era could vary from heavy brass tinged pop a la Chicago to more funk-jazz band acts such as Cymande, BRAINCHILD delivered mostly accessible rock tunes embellished with the subordinate brass jazz elements. The music is generally upbeat rock oriented with lots of emphasis placed on a beefy groove-based bass line, jazzy guitars all dressed up with the horn section as to smooth it out and create counterpoints to the rhythm structures. While the music is riff based incorporating many different grooves and hooks that are instantly addictive, BRAINCHILD also unleashes progressive rock song structures that not only have long extended periods where musicians can strut their chops but there are also unexpected time signature changes and a tendency to have a Krautrock edge at times. The title track is an example of the side of the band that gravitates towards the Chicago playbook with a bouncy beat, lounge lizard vocal style with the rock music being accompanied by the the jazz elements at times merely adding a layer to the overall sound and at times totally doing their own unique thing. While tracks like these begin it can almost bring a Las Vegas casino show to mind but once the musicians let loose and add the prog touches, it becomes magical.
Despite this band being highly talented and keeping it tight with well constructed songwriting skills, they were and still remain an obscure curiosity from the brass rock band era where the popular groups more than stole the thunder from the competition. While they may have never properly made it, they did succeed in releasing one fantastic album that is one of the earliest examples of how to properly fuse catchy pop / rock with jazz and prog. While i find the music on this one mesmerizing, the one element of this band that keeps it from being an outright masterpiece is the limited vocal skills where i feel the dynamics of the music demand a more talented vox box that can play around a bit more. Perhaps a more prog oriented version of Ella Fitzgerald could have filled this role, but having said that there is nothing inherently bad or incompetent per se with the role of the vocalists, they simply could have stepped it up a level or two and perhaps if a second album were to have emerged that very well could have been the case. As it stands, the sole release from BRAINCHILD is still an excellent slice of pop, rock, blues and swinging jazz smorgasbord with more than enough progressive rock instrumental prowess to impress the most hardened jazz-fusionist. HEALING OF THE LUNATIC OWL is a woefully overlooked and under-appreciated relic from the early jazz-fusion era.