Third Ear Band Biography

Described by founder Glenn Sweeney as ‘electric-acid-raga’, the music of the UK-based Third Ear Band employed the drone-like figures and improvisatory techniques beloved by fellow pioneers the Soft Machine and Terry Riley. However, the esoteric, almost preternatural sweep of their work gave the band its originality as they studiously invoked an aura of ley-lines, druids and cosmology. Sweeney (drums, percussion) had been part of London’s free-jazz circle prior to forming two avant garde ensembles, the Sun Trolly and the Hydrogen Juke-Box. Paul Minns (oboe, recorder), Richard Coff (violin) and cellist Mel Davis completed the line-up on the Third Ear Band’s 1969 debut, Alchemy. The band found the hazy summers of the late 60s an ideal setting for their always original ideas. They were the ideal act to open an open air festival, setting the tone for whatever progressive rock band would follow.

Ursula Smith replaced Davis on the band’s self-titled second album, which featured four long and strikingly eclectic tracks. The unit was then commissioned to compose the soundtrack to a German television film about the doomed lovers Pierre Abélard and Héloise Fulbert, which was finally made available on the Blueprint label in 1999. Smith was replaced in the line-up by three new members, Paul Buckmaster, Simon House (ex-High Tide) and Denim Bridges, for the Third Ear Band’s soundtrack work on Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Macbeth (released on vinyl as Music From Macbeth). However, although their ethereal music provided the ideal accompaniment to this remarkable project, the band’s highly stylized approach proved too specialized for mainstream acceptance. Unless the listener was prepared to ‘get their ear in’, the band would find their worthy sounds being treated as ideal for background, and not, as they intended, listened to with genuine concentration.

The Third Ear Band performed only sporadically during the rest of the decade, before Sweeney and Minns instigated a more permanent reunion in 1988. Featuring new members Allen Samuel (violin) and Mick Carter (guitar), Live Ghosts revealed that the passage of time had not dimmed the band’s vision. Minns and Samuel were replaced by Neil Black (violin) and Lyn Dobson (saxophone, flute) on the subsequent studio release, Magic Music. Sweeney continues to lead the Third Ear Band into the new millennium.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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