Having learnt his craft on London's jazz scene at Lichfield Street's Cottage Club and later at (he Flamingo, Auger first scored hits in France but it wasn't until he teamed with Julie Driscoll in Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity that he made his name in the UK with two albums -1967's Open and 1969's Streetnoise - plus a Top 5 single, a lysergic rock reading of Bob Dylan's 'This Wheels On Fire'.
Having parted company with Driscoll after a disastrous US tour and feeling straitjacketed by the his trio. The Trinity, who had just seen 1970s Sefouralbum commercially flop, Auger decided to disband in the summer and take a break, "I went on holiday with my wife and our son Karma. When I came back there were calls waiting at the agency, musicians asking to work with me. Wanting to fry out tor the new band- Guitarist Jim Mullen was one of those guys. He was hired. Then we auditioned a few bassists and found Barry Dean and finally discovered Robbie Mclniosh playing in a casino in Nice in a band called the Piranhas. Later when Robbie left the Express to join the Average White Band, we went straight back to the casino and nabbed his replacement in the Piranhas' Steve Ferrone I don't think I was very welcome in the casino after that."
Their 1970 eponymous debut set their manifesto. "I wanted to wipe the slate clean but continue developing the idea of jazz rock. I heard 'In A Silent Way' by Miles Davis, he'd recorded it while we were doing Streetnoise (with Julie Driscolland the Trinity) and it gave me hope and direction. Here was my idol taking basslines from rock and combining them with /azz. I knew I was on the right path musically. I looked on the Oblivion Express as a school, a place where we could learn and experiment but because we were going against the musical tide I thought it was the quickest way to oblivion hence the name."
Recorded in London's Advision Studios over a twoweek period the album revealed a group keen to find their own identity. "I realised the key to this was writing my own material. I was listening to Eddie Ham's and Les McCann but my writing took me in a more rock direction There weren't that many musicians doing what we wanted to do so we basically/list explored. I also see myself primarily as a live player so I wanted to get in the studio and get it down in a couple of takes and get the best feel to it. I hoped to preserve some live-ness' about the album."
One artist who Auger did turn to for inspiration, however, was John Mclaughlin, whose 'Dragon Song' provides the album's opening cut. "John was an old friend of mine. When I was in New York in 1970 he asked me to drop by the studio and listen to the mix of his new LP. Devotion. I heard 'Dragon Song' and thought, wow! I'd like to try a version of that and that was one of the first things we went into the studio to cut ourselves."
A tumultuous onrush of progressive rock it introduced the Express at their heaviest with an exhilarating fusillade of melodramatic, gothic organ stabs, fills and runs, revealing Auger at his most accomplished to date. Self penned cuts: 'The Sword', 'The Light' and the title cut meanwhile looked more to Miles Davis for their spirit.
"I was aware that Miles' LPs were incredibly diverse, he went from one thing to something totally different each time out. you can see the progression of the artist growing in his work. As I had a free reign and my artistic development in my own hands I decided this was the time to explore. The debut really shows this, with me being the main writer. By its follow up A Better Land I was taking a more soft approach. I began to write a lot with Jim Mullen."
'The Light', propelled by Barry Dean's driving bassline provided a platform for Auger's vocal and Hammond organ prowess, mixing pulsating rhythms with euphoric, uplifting lyricism, while 'On The Road' delivers a note perfect blueprint for fusion. 'The Sword', as its title suggests is a vitriolic slice of heavy Hammond rock and the blazing title cut is piloted by raging guitars and Auger's gravelthroated vocal. While Auger was immensely pleased with his statement, the music press weren't.
Sadly both Oblivion Express and its follow up. 1971's A Better Land while securing the group a strong fanbase both in the UK and the US, were slated. "We took a real shellacking by the press. They hated me. If you weren't making prog rock like ELP. Yes and Genesis at the time you were seen as a has been."
Auger, however, was anything but. His third LP, Second Wind (which featured singer Alex Ligertwood) charted in the US and by 1973 the Oblivion Express1 future was cemented. Their fourth album, Closer Jo It appeared simultaneously on the US Billboard rock, jazz and R'n'B charts.
by Lois Wilson, MOJO magazine
(Thanks to Jon Harrington and Brian Auger)
1. Dragon Song (McLaughlin) - 4:27
2. Total Eclipse (Ball) - 11:35
3. The Light (Auger) - 4:24
4. On The Road (Mullen, Auger) - 5:26
5. The Sword (Auger) - 6:35
6. Oblivion Express (Auger) - 7:51
7. Dragon Song (Live, Reutling, Germany, Feb 1972) (McLaughlin) - 5:32
The Oblivion Express
*Brian Auger- Lead Vocals, Keyboards
*Jim Mullen - Guitar, Vocals
*Barry Dean - Bass, Vocals
*Robbie McIntosh - Drums
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express
1971 A Better Land (2006 japan remaster)
1972 Second Wind (2006 japan remaster)
1973 Closer To It (2006 japan remaster)