Formed in Toronto in the late ’60s, Syrinx was John Mills-Cockell on keyboards, Doug Pringle on saxophone, and percussionist Alan Wells.
Mills-Cockell had worked with Kensington Market, recording the AARDVARK album with producer Felix Pappalardi, before moving to Vancouver to join Hydro-Electric Streetcar. He connected with percussionist Wells, and with the support of Pappalardi, they recorded the first tracks for a new album. Moving back to Toronto, the two reconnected with Pringle, who had earlier partnered with Mills-Cockell for art performances, and Syrinx was born.
Mills-Cockell formed the group with the idea of blending what he had learned in classical music with world music influences and the psychedelic pop rock that was running rampant at the time. The first Canadian groups to employ Moog synthesizers in live performances, they were playing the Toronto coffee house circuit when Bernie Finklestein, who’d just started up True North Records, caught them live and signed them to a deal in 1970.
Their self-titled debut was released that summer, running rampant with synthesized pop that blended eclectic sequencer rhythms and world beats, more often than not courtesy of conga drums. All instrumental and trippy before its time, the record featured several extended tracks, like “Appalosa-Pegasus” and “Chant For Your Dragon King,” both running over 10 minutes each, as well as the eerie “Melina’s Torch” and “Father of Light”, that made it one of the most experimental records of the ’70s anywhere.
The group toured intensively during the early ’70s, playing on bills with Miles Davis on the Bitches Brew tour, and Ravi Shankar in Montreal, and took on ambitious projects writing music for the National Ballet of Canada and the Toronto Dance Theatre. The band’s bigger than life, if not somewhat operatic approach to rock, got the attention of CTV television executives who were looking for someone to write a theme song for a new series, “Here Come The Seventies.” Syrinx was hired, and wrote “Tillicum” or the occasion.
The exposure led to their second album, LONG LOST RELATIVES in ’71, a record that almost didn’t happen. While laying down tracks at Magic Tracks Recording Studios, an accidental fire destroyed much of the studio and all the equipment inside. Undeterred, the band carried on when fellow musicians decided to hold a benefit show for them, cramming over 2,000 people into a the St Lawrence Market hall. They rented time at Eastern Sound, Thunder Sound, and Pathe-Humphries studios to finish the album.
The record was produced by Eugene Martynec again full of forays into the pop realm, often producing opuses over eight minutes long. “Tillicum” was released as a single, and entered Canada’s RPM chart in the top 100, eventually peaking at #38. Other tracks included “December Angel,” originally conceived for Peter Randazzo’s solo dance with the Toronto Dance Theatre. That song, along with “Syren,” “Ibistix,” and “Field Hymn” made up the composition called “Stringspace.”
They got some additional exposure performing on CBC TV’s program “Music to See,” and added Malcolm Tomlinson on drums and vocals for the upcoming tour that saw them play throughout Ontario and selected dates throughout Canada, and shared the stage with the likes of Deep Purple and a roster of international acts at the Strawberry Fields pop festival.
The band quietly folded in 1973 and everyone went on to do outside projects. Tracks from both albums were given a new life in the new millennium, when club DJs began sampling them. Alan Wells passed away in 2010. (by johnmillscockell.ca)
A masterwork which against all odds, prevails up to this day.
Against the odds of sharing their name with 2 other bands (one of them is also included here in PA), being way, way ahead of their time music wise and coming from a not exactly “Electronic nor Avant Garde/RiO” country like Canada in 1971 (Tim Hecker and Aidan Baker came much later ).
Not to make a big fuzz, but this work would have been by far, more appreciated in the more “open-minded” , Avant Garde and RiO sub-genre.
It deals a fair amount of synths and electronics, but basically, its music structure is not exactly electronic-like based or better yet, it is the perfect balance between both sub-genres (although the RiO spirit outweights the electronics.)
John Mills-Cockell who makes his synths sound like “real” strings (not joking), headmaster of this SYRINX, had an electronic project in 1968 which went by the name of “INTERSYSTEMS” , which only release appeared the same year, by the same name. So it is undisputable, that Syrinx has an “electronic” upbringing.
But bandmate Doug Pringle’s bold, , strong yet subtle saxophone lines, makes this kind of “magic blend” happen. In short, in this, their second 1971 last release, they went for all the marbles. (of course the percussions of Malcolm Tomlinson and Alan Wells (deceased November 3, 2010), build up this alternate structure.)
Daring, original, genial, well balanced, way ahead of their times in both sub-genre’s musical composition language and absolutely unpretentious. The mark of the true geniuses
*****5 “flawless” PA stars in both sub-genres. What else can you ask for? (by admireArt)
A great highlight is “December Angel ” and this tune sounds a little bit like the titeltrack of the TV movie “Twin Peaks”.
John Mills-Cockell (keyboards, synthesizer)
Douglas Pringle (saxophone, bongos, bells, guiro)
Alan Wells (congas, timpani, gong, tambourine)
Vair Capper (orchestral percussion)
Hohn Dembeck – Berul Sugarman – Stanley Solomon – Ronald Lurie – Sam Davis
01. Tumblers To The Vault 3.30
02. Syren 6.00
03. December Angel 9.00
04. Ibistix 8.07
05. Field Hymn (Epiloque) 2.55
06. Tillicum 1.54
07. Better Deaf And Dumb From The First 2.54
08. Aurora Spinray 3.30
All tracks written by John Mills-Cockell – Douglas Pringle – Alan Wells