Landscape was a unique band that didn’t quite fit anywhere. A jazz/funk outfit with a DIY punk methodology. A synth pop band with a trombone player but no guitarist. A group whose biggest hit was told from the perspective of a mad scientist bent on global annihilation. A band who had just two UK hit singles but whose lead singer was awarded an MBE for services to music. Quite how all of this happened is the subject of a new 5CD set, Landscape A Go Go.
Landscape’s roots go back to mid-1970s London, when a quintet consisting of drummer Richard James Burgess, saxophonist John Walters, keyboard player Christopher Heaton, trombonist Peter Thoms, and bassist Andy Pask began building a following through constant gigging. Their all instrumental, left field style of jazz didn’t readily find a home on the London pub rock scene but undeterred, as their audience grew, they were able to rent out venues and promote their own gigs. The band subsequently formed their own independent label, Event Horizon, and pressed two 7” EPs from the live recordings (of which, more later) which they sold at their gigs.
Landscape’s growing live following attracted the attention of RCA Records, culminating in Landscape’s self-titled 1979 debut. It was an entirely instrumental album that utilised synthesizers and electronic percussion and helped to refine and advance the band’s sound. Tracks such as ‘Kaptain Whorlix’, ‘Japan’ and ‘Highly Suspicious’ remain an enjoyable mix of jazz, funk, and electronic experimentation but it is the bonus live material that is revelatory. The remarkable ‘Caterpillar Tracks’, clocking in at nearly twelve minutes, not only showcases their excellent musicianship but also captures what an astonishingly good live band Landscape were.
Landscape then took a quantum leap forward sonically as Richard James Burgess and engineer Dave Simmons developed the ground-breaking Simmons SDS-V electronic drum kit and incorporated it into their sound. They also became one of the first bands to utilise the Fairlight CMI sampler and Roland MC-8 Micro composer sequencer. This came to fruition on 1981’s From the Tea-Rooms of Mars…To the Hell-Holes of Uranus, which saw Landscape going full-tilt futuristic, with commercial pop songs, vocals, state of the art production and a sporadically unsettling undercurrent.
The brilliant but bonkers ‘Einstein A Go Go’ became a top five hit. The phone calls to the White House and The Kremlin at the start of the song are apparently authentic ones, placed by group member John Walters. The sinister, Psycho themed ‘Norman Bates’ became the group’s only other hit. Lead single ‘European Man’, merited similar success and I always thought that the group missed a trick by not releasing ‘Shake The West Awake’ as a single too. There were still a number of instrumentals; ‘New Religion’ harked back to the band’s debut album but with a technological veneer, ‘Sisters’ descends into a chaotic swirl of processed brass whilst ‘The Doll’s House’ with its huge drum sound (engineered by Hugh Padgham) and disembodied voices is flat out creepy.
The momentum proved hard to sustain however, as the band’s relationship with RCA became strained and 1982’s Manhattan Boogie-Woogie failed to produce a hit single. The album still has its moments, ‘One Rule For The Rich’, ‘It’s Not My Real Name’ and ‘Colour Code’ are strong tracks whilst the title track retains elements of Landscape’s earlier jazz influences.
Disc Four, entitled Before and After, is a treasure trove, and rounds up the material prior to Landscape’s debut album and where the band went after their final one. Tracks from their 1977 debut EP and the 1978 follow up ‘Worker’s Playtime’ receive their first CD release and indicate what all the fuss was about. The rock/soul stomp of ‘U2XME1X2MUCH’ with its jazz flourishes and distorted keyboard solo and the razor sharp ‘Don’t Gimme No Rebop’ make it clear why Landscape described their early sound as ‘punk jazz’. These six tracks, bolstered by a further seven unreleased ones, effectively represents a whole album by a pre-RCA Landscape.
By 1983, Pask, Walters and Burgess had reconfigured as Landscape III. They released a couple of unashamedly pop oriented singles in ‘So good, So Pure, So Kind’ and ‘You Know How To Hurt Me’ while an unreleased third single ‘(I’d Love To) Fly Away’ makes its debut here. At the time I think I was hankering for the Landscape sound that I knew, but at this distance the chilled out acoustic vibe of these songs is a breath of fresh air.
Disc Five, entitled XCursions 2 Other Versions brings together disparate extended mixes and alternate versions. There is even a 2023 remix of ‘Einstein A Go Go’ created especially for this set.
All the members of Landscape went on to have long and successful careers as musicians, producers, composers, arrangers, and authors, but Landscape a Go-Go brings together the strands of their wildly eclectic body of work and wraps it all up with a wealth of previously unreleased material. Landscape did not fit into any one genre, and they were not to everyone’s taste, but this lovingly curated five-disc set amply demonstrates that there was far more to them than their best-known song.