Unicorn – Uphill All The Way (1971)

FrontCover1And this is the story of Unicorn:

Fans of rock music from the 1970s may remember Unicorn, a local band, that made some great albums, but unfortunately never had the fame they justly deserved.

Unicorn’s bass player was Pat Martin, who grew up in Send. In 1963 he began making music with Ken Baker, a friend from St Bede’s School, in Send. During the summer holidays Pat would ride his bike from his home to Ken’s house in Ockham with his guitar. They then both plugged into a home-made amplifier that Ken’s uncle had made.

Pat says: “My dad thought that if continued to pursue my love of beat music, it might keep me away from what he termed ‘the yobs’ he said I was mixing with.

“He bought us some better equipment, became our manager and we soon recruited a drummer, Pete Perryer.”

PinkBears01

The band was originally called the Senders. They then became the Pink Bears, later changing their name to the Late. They played many gigs in and around the local area and not long after they had left school aged 17, they were performing as a living. In the early days various members came and went, including, Trevor Mee. He was a gifted guitarist, so Pat switched to playing bass guitar.

Other gigs Pat recalls playing with his band include the Stereo club that was above the Co-op store in Woking. He says: “We got a gig there as a replacement to another band. I don’t think it was a licensed premises, but there was a lot of good beat and rhythm ’n’ blues bands who played there.”

PinkBears02

Not only did Pat and his bandmates play at Woking’s famous Atalanta club, he saw many other bands there – some of whom are now legendary. He says: “I saw the Who, the Turtles, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Graham Bond Organisation, and Cream, who were playing their second-ever gig when I saw them there.”

Atalanta owner Bob Potter managed Pat’s band the Late for three years. Pat recalls: “We did an audition for him and he liked us as we sounded like the Hollies. We were signed to him from 1967 to 1969. He had a studio in Mytchett and when we had some free time we recorded some demo tapes there.

The Late

“Under his management we got gigs from Hampshire down to Cornwall and up to North Wales. We never made much money, but it was great fun.”

The band rehearsed in Pat’s dad’s garage, which he had converted into a studio for them. They called it The Shed. Some recordings they made in it, have now been released on CD.

After a while their bookings for gigs slowed up, but they were lucky in that they became singer Billy J Kramer’s backing band. It was regular money, but they quit after about nine months as the routine of playing a medley of all of Kramer’s hits every day became somewhat tiresome.

By this time band member Ken Baker was writing his own songs and they got a break when Transatlantic Records offered them a deal. Now named Unicorn, the album was titled Uphill All The Way and was released in 1971.

Unicorn01

Their style was soft rock with a country tinge plus lots of vocal harmonies. Gigs took them to countries in Europe such as Sweden and Italy where they were well received.

In 1973, David Gilmour, the guitarist in the world famous rock band Pink Floyd took Unicorn under his wing and the results were the albums Blue Pine Trees (released in 1974), Too Many Crooks and Unicorn2 (both released in 1976) and One More Tomorrow (1977).

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Pat recalls this as an exciting time as they toured the USA, playing support to such bands as Fleetwood Mac, Manfred Man’s Earthband, Billy Joel and Linda Ronstadt. Unfortunately, Unicorn never made it big in their own right and by 1977 the emergence of punk music meant only the biggest country-soft rock bands could survive.

Unicorn played its last gig that year in Canning Town, London, to an audience that was so small the band cut the performance short.

After driving lorries for a living and also driving a mobile library bus for a while, Pat has now retired, but music is in his blood and he still plays. (by David Rose)

Single

And here´s their debut album:

It’s easy to dismiss Unicorn’s debut LP as little more than a Crosby, Stills & Nash ripoff, but listen closely — what Uphill All the Way lacks in originality it makes up for in craftsmanship, with a beauty and grace that render arguments about innovation moot. Harmonies this natural simply can’t be taught, let alone copied, and Ken Baker’s original compositions — though products of rainswept London — effortlessly evoke the beaches and canyons of a southern California that only exists in dreams anyway. And while the counterculture ethos that inspired CSN resulted in songs that now seem quaint and even a bit silly, Uphill All the Way — for years essentially lost to all but the most avid British folk-rock aficionados — remains fresh and timeless by comparison. Highly recommended.(by Jason Ankeny)

The Unicorn’s first album, Uphill All the Way, sounds like a band simply ecstatic at the possibilities of this new brand of folk-rock; they cover all the greats of the genre: Neil Young, Jimmy Webb, John Stewart, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, and Gerry Rafferty. But the originals by Ken Baker show that he was just as good at evoking the sun drenched canyons of the beaches of Southern California as his influences; which is all the more impressive considering he was writing and singing from the famously overcast and rainy London.

Still Baker’s songwriting wasn’t yet up to snuff, the best song here is their beautiful interpretation of Webb’s P.F. Sloan, a tribute to the American songwriter. The amazing harmonies on this track reveal Unicorn was more than just a CSN rip-off like so many bands of this breed; these guys are the real deal. (by Stephen Belden)

BackCover1

Personnel:
Ken Baker (guitar, keyboards, vocals)
Pat Martin (bass, vocals)
Trevor Mee (guitar, flute, vocals)
Peter Perrier (drums, percussion, vocals
+
Hugh Murphy (tambourine)
Kevin Smith (guitar, mandolin)

LPBooklet1

Tracklist:
01. P.F. Sloan (Webb) 4.30
02. 115 Bar Joy (Baker) 3.52
03. I’ve Loved Her So Long (Young) 2.43
04. Don’t Ever Give Up Trying (Ken Baker) – 5:08
05. Country Road (James Taylor) – 4:16
06. Something To Say (Joe Cocker) – 4:43
07. Ain’t Got A Lot Of Future (Ken Baker) – 6:49
08. Never Going Back (John Stewart) – 3:21
09. You, You, Hate Me (Ken Baker) – 5:38
10.Please Sing A Song For Us (Gerry Rafferty) – 3:13
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11.Going Back Home (Ken Baker) – 3:36
12.Cosmic Kid (Ken Baker) – 2:57
13.All We Really Want To Do (Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett) – 3:17
14.P.F. Sloan (2006 Remix) (Jimmy Webb) – 4:40

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