Music Notes: Comus, the cult heroes of acid folk


Comus - Credit: Archant

They were courted by Bowie in his Arts Lab days, influenced a generation of musicians and were even midwife to the birth of black metal. Prog-psychedelic folk rockers Comus are one of those underground bands whose legacy lives on.

Through the impassioned and complex rock music with a medieval flavour they created — music that to this day defies a satisfying definition.

They made just two albums, of which their debut, 1971's First Utterance, has become the Holy Grail for acid folk collectors.

The band's fanatical fan-base has spawned exponentially across the web in recent years. And in 2008, Comus devotee Michael Akerfeld persuaded them – against all the odds – to reform for what turned out to be an electrifying, tumultuously received appearance at the Melloboat Festival in Sweden, an event that attracted fans from around the world.

The band has continued to play on an ad hoc basis since then, but concerts are extremely rare and when they do occur they're not to be missed. There is plenty of excitement therefore that they will be taking to the stage at Norwich Arts Centre this weekend.

They have lost none of the intense live quality that has helped make them one of the most unique and influential cult bands the UK has ever produced. Over the last 40 years, this influence has gone far beyond the folk scene into many diverse genres. So expect a wildly diverse crowd at their Norwich gig — from folkies to jazzers, space-rockers to metalheads.

Comus began with the meeting of Roger Wootton and Glenn Goring, both aged 17, at Ravensbourne college of Art in Kent in 1967. They both played guitar, and shared a liking for the work of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch (who were forming Pentangle at the time), and for the Velvet Underground.

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The pair began playing at local folk clubs and on a visit to the local club in Beckenham, the Arts Lab, they become friendly with the organizer, one David Bowie.

By June 1970 they had secured a recording deal with the Pye/Dawn label after a prestigious gig at the Purcell Rooms, part of the Royal Festival Hall complex on London's South Bank, supporting Bowie, who, at the time was enjoying the success of his first hit Space Oddity.

In February 1971, 'First Utterance' was released, preceded by the 'maxi single', 'Diana', both with original sleeve art by Roger and Glenn. A combination of circumstances led to the album failing to break through commercially, and although Comus continued to tour, the momentum of the band began to wane. A second album the legendary Malgaard Suite was never recorded.

However three of the original band members did re-convene in 1974, at the behest of the newly formed Virgin label, to record a follow-up album, the hotly debated To Keep From Crying. Once again commercial success eluded the group, and Comus disbanded. For 34 years.

However band members Roger Wootton, Glenn Goring, Andy Hellaby, Colin Pearson, Bobbie Seagroatt, and Jon Seagroatt, who between them play six and twelve-string acoustic guitars, bass guitar, violin, viola, flute, recorder, saxophone, bongos, and an array of percussion instruments, are now they are back. Breathing new life into this mysterious beguiling music.

t Comus play Norwich Arts centre on April 6

t Further listening: