Music Reviews

Nucleus with Leon Thomas

Live 1970

Nucleus with Leon Thomas Live 1970

Gearbox Records

Formats available: CD

It is almost unbelievable that this recording has sat in a vault for well over four decades. Thankfully, Gearbox saw fit to release it first on 180gram vinyl and now in a gatefold cover CD. On paper nobody would have ever put Leon Thomas on the same stage as Nucleus but, thanks to Peter King who was their manager at the time, Nucleus often found themselves working as a backing band for visiting musicians at Ronnie Scott’s. So at the beginning of June 1970 they had been backing Leon Thomas for a good two weeks at the club. By the time they met again for this concert in Montreux, Nucleus were at one with Leon Thomas, often taking his peculiar spiritual mixture of blues and soul inflected post Coltranian jazz to a much wider context.

Thomas was then a largely conventional singer with more than a hint of the Joe Williams about him who had been caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the time. Out of sheer necessity, he had developed a type of guttural stop-start yodel that he liked to use a great deal in between lines. Here, the opening ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ with its long, languid rhythm patterns laid down by John Marshall and Jeff Clyne sees Thomas alternating conventional singing with  ample stretches of yodelling. Whilst the lyrics he sings on ‘Damn ‘Nam (Ain’t Going to Vietnam)’ are very much of their time, Chris Spedding’s scratchy and furious guitar matches the intense feelings note for note and are a joy to hear.

Elsewhere, Thomas takes things a step further with his intricate scatting on ‘One’ with Nucleus running at speed in a tight pack with highly charged soloing by Brian Smith on soprano sax and Ian Carr’s flugelhorn. Then, Thomas displays his credentials as a blues singer in the classic ‘Chains of Love’, with more persuasive interplay between singer and band.

More yodelling and an excellent oboe solo by Karl Jenkins over a rumbling, hypnotic far eastern sounding shuffle brings this set to its conclusion. Here the Nucleus front line clearly showed how far out they could go by interweaving the melody like a drunken Art ensemble of  Chicago. In the end, the crowd wanted more. A sentiment I heartily share.

Charles Imperatori

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