Exposé Online banner

National Health — Missing Pieces
(East Side Digital ESD 81172, 1974/1996, CD)

by Jeff Melton, 1997-02-01:

Missing Pieces Cover art

Finally! Most of the missing links between the last Hatfield and the North (1975) and the first National Health (1977) albums make their way into the light of day. Several copies of these sessions have been making the rounds with traders for 20 years while the master tapes have been sequestered away in Dave Stewart's keen, but pervasive clutches. Now we all get to hear the results of 'warts and all' demos, BBC sessions, and miscellaneous recordings meant to quell fan outcries, once and for all time. Warning: this is not quite the same band that brought you the "Bryden Two-Step for Amphibians." True: we do get to listen to Bill Bruford and Steve Hillage playing along side each other on a few tracks. But several of the songs were written by Mont (now Dirk) Campbell, who had a knack for writing obtuse songs. These tracks don’t rock much, and fall into the category of small orchestral works (which was the original basis of this band). It's 'good strange', but nevertheless strange and not what I expected when I first heard them. Alas, only one real gripe: missing from the missing is "Trident Asleep," another trademark Gowen composition (only known version from the London School of Economics gig). Anecdotal liner notes are by the inimitable Dave Stewart, who manages to pull as many puns out of his hat as Bullwinkle the Moose. It gives you the sense that all seriousness is set aside for pure fun and amusement in the midst of the dire circumstances the band constantly found itself in. They didn't make any money, didn't get much recognition, and this configuration never had the chance to really get started during the onslaught of the ever-changing English music scene. But they knew there were weird and too good for their own good. Now these relics of the past can at least help remind us of what we never knew in the first place!


by Mike Grimes, 1997-02-01:

After 20 or so years in the vault, many unreleased National Health treasures finally see the light of day. National Health ranks up there among the most important progressive rock bands of all time. They were England's answer to Magma. Their complex arrangements, difficult rhythms, and distorted view of harmony were far more progressive than any of their British "progressive" counterparts of the day. National Health composed and performed the type stuff that Frank Zappa might have listened to and thought, "Man, this is complicated!" Most of the tracks on Missing Pieces feature musicians that never appeared on any of the three National Health albums — Bill Bruford, Phil Lee, Mont Campbell, and Steve Hillage. Largely, the tracks herein are recordings of the earliest incarnations of National Health — before their first album. A good portion of the tunes were penned by original bassist Mont Campbell. That, combined with Bill Bruford's unique drumming style and either Phil Lee or Steve Hillage on second guitar, give these tunes a distinctly different flavor than anything the band ever did afterwards. As usual, the songs have so much depth that even after several listens, there is something new with each hearing. Keyboardist Dave Stewart provides his typical humorous, detailed liner notes that are worth the price of admission by themselves. There's a few "bonus" type tracks on the CD too — Stewart / Gaskin's re-recording of Mont Campbell's "Starlight and Seaweed" plus snippets from a few live shows. Believe it or not, Missing Pieces is probably less accessible than any of the other three albums. In the liner notes, Dave Stewart admits that during this time period, he and Mont Campbell were competing to see who could write the most complicated stuff! (Mont won by the way.) It's probably not the ideal starting point for those wanting to become familiar with National Health, but for those who have heard and liked any of their other albums, Missing Pieces is a must.


by Peter Thelen, 1997-02-01:

Normally, Exposé reserves roundtable reviews for new releases by current artists, but an exception has been made in this case — a CD of "lost" recordings by the initial formation of National Health, pre-dating their first official album by — in some cases — two years. Indeed, even though these recordings have been around on bootleg tapes for many years (most are taken from demos and radio sessions), the fact that they are all collected here, cleaned up and presented as one cohesive package makes this quite noteworthy in itself. Unlike many early archival recordings by so many bands, these early NH tapes are still in superb shape; there are very few dropouts to be heard anywhere, even when listening with headphones, and the hiss level is very low. These recordings represent National Health at their most spirited and challenging, featuring compositions mostly by Dave Stewart and then-bassist Mont Campbell, apparently trying to outdo one another with regards to complexity and pure technicality. Bill Bruford's precision drumming... well, what does one need to say other than all the pieces of this puzzle fit together perfectly? Rather than doing a track-by-track rundown, this writer's general assessment is that among all National Health albums, this one is by far the most captivating and engaging. My highest recommendation.


Filed under: Archives , Issue 11 , 1996 releases, 1974 releases

Related artist(s): Bill Bruford / Earthworks, Phil Miller, Steve Hillage / System 7, Dave Stewart, National Health, Pip Pyle, John Greaves, Dirk (Mont) Campbell, Alan Gowen

More info

Latest news

2019-10-06
Ginger Baker RIP – Legendary English drummer Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80. After coming to fame with Cream in the 60s alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, he became one of the most recognized and influential drummers of the rock era. On September 25, his family announced that he was critically ill, and on October 6 his death was confirmed. » Read more

2019-08-20
Alex's Hand Seeks Spa Treatment – American / European band Alex's Hand has a new album in the works called Hungarian Spa, which looks to be their biggest and best yet, featuring a large roster of guest musicians. They're seeking funding to take the project on the road, and are looking for help from the crowd of wisdom. » Read more

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Lili Haydn - Lili – It was February when I bought this on a whim, and it only took a few listens for me to revise my Best of 97 list to include it. Lili Haydn is a violinist of great talent. She’s apparently been doing...  (1999) » Read more

Biota - Object Holder – A project over two years in the making, this effort includes a huge number of musicians on 24 tracks, the most notable names being RIO staple Chris Cutler (percussion, electronics) and Susanne Lewis...  (1995) » Read more

Alo Mattiisen - Read – After some none-too-fulfilling encounters with the likes of Eloy Fritsch and Artemiy Artemiev, I was becoming weary of what my next task with reviewing synthesizer-based music would hold. Alas, this...  (2001) » Read more

Receptor Sight - Cycles and Connections – Besides the eight track titles, the CD packaging contains like, zero information. Recall from their earlier disc Undogmamind (reviewed in issue 27), Receptor Sight is an experimental duo from Sonoma...  (2006) » Read more

Magenta - The Singles – Magenta has always had a healthy output of singles alongside their three studio albums. Rather than keep re-releasing singles, Rob Reed (the group’s keyboard player, composer and producer) has...  (2008) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues