Ariel was an Australian progressive rock band based around the duo Mike Rudd and Bill Putt, who formed the band in 1973 after the breakup of their previous group Spectrum (which also performed under the alter-ego Indelible Murtceps). The original Ariel line-up was Rudd (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Putt (bass), Tim Gaze (guitar), Nigel Macara (drums) and John Mills (keyboards). Gaze and Macara were recruited from seminal Australian progressive rock band Tamam Shud.
The band released three studio albums and two live albums between 1973 and 1977, during which there were several line-up changes, with Rudd and Putt the only permanent members. Other members of Ariel included guitarists Harvey James and Glyn Mason and keyboard player Tony Slavich.
Their debut album A Strange Fantastic Dream, produced by Peter Dawkins was released on EMI's progressive label Harvest in December 1973 and reached No. 12 on the Australian LP charts in February 1974. It included their most successful single "Jamaican Farewell", which peaked at No. 34, its success hampered by lack of airplay, especially in Sydney, although it impressed the industry enough to win the FACB 'Single Of The Year'. According to the liner notes for the CD release of the album, there were calls to ban the LP because of its psychedelic cover artwork by Stephen Nelson, which included a figure holding a hypodermic syringe. Airplay for the LP was further hindered by the banning of three songs (the darkly satirical "Confessions Of A Psychotic Cowpoke", "Medicine Man" and "Chicken Shit") by the commercial radio industry's self-regulatory body in Australia, the FACB. Critical reception to A Strange Fantastic Dream was glowing.
According to Australian popular music and culture website Milesago:
One particularly important outcome for the group was that EMI International's President, Allan Davies, fell in love with the album: "You know, Peter," he enthused to Dawkins, "I can't recall ever hearing a song about necrophilia!" Renowned British DJ John Peel also picked up both album and single and "said some really nice things about both of them". These and other factors led to Ariel being invited to tour the UK and record their next album at Abbey Rd sic.
The remastered re-release of A Strange Fantastic Dream was described as "extraordinary" by The Sydney Morning Herald in September 2002.
Gaze and Nigel Macara left the band abruptly after a trip to Perth in early 1973, so Rudd and Putt began work on an ambitious science-fiction themed concept work entitled The Jellabad Mutant, which they hoped to record. For rehearsals they brought in drummer John Lee (later a member of The Dingoes) who in turn brought in Harvey James, thereby establishing the second lineup of the group, which lasted until early 1975.
Ariel recorded a full demo of The Jellabad Mutant and presented it to their label EMI, but it was rejected. On the strength of the first LP, EMI in Britain had arranged recording time for the group at their famous Abbey Road Studios in London, but the rejection of The Jellabad Mutant by EMI Australia forced Ariel to fall back on reworked material from Rudd's previous group Spectrum, supplemented by new songs hastily written by Rudd for the sessions. Despite the problems surrounding the recording, the resultant album Rock & Roll Scars (1975) is now regarded as one of the best Australian albums of the period, although it failed to make any significant commercial impression. It was mixed in the UK by Geoff Emerick, who worked on many of the later recordings by The Beatles, and produced by Peter Dawkins.
Concerning the rejection of the Jellabad Mutant project, Rudd later said:
It's interesting to speculate what might have happened had we been allowed to proceed with the Mutant with an intact budget EMI slashed the budget for Rock'n Roll Scars adding to the pressure and with the time to reflect and be creative with the raw material you hear in the demos. I regret not going in to bat for it at the time. We had a fabulous opportunity with the best technical assistance any band could have wanted. But I didn't sell the dream, even to myself.
After returning to Australia in early 1975 Ariel added a fifth member, singer-guitarist Glyn Mason, formally of Chain, Jeff St John & Copperwine and Home. The five-piece version of the band performed for several months but recorded only one single, although unofficial live recordings of this lineup have survived. It was during this period that Rudd introduced Dawkins to newly arrived New Zealand band Dragon. Dawkins (who had by then moved to CBS Records immediately signed Dragon and went on to produce a string of Australian hit albums and singles with them in the late 1970s.
After the expiration of their EMI contract the group signed with CBS Records for their third LP Goodnight Fiona (1976) and their only other charting single, the non-album track I'll take you high which reached No. 36 in January 1976. They made another trip to the UK in April 1976 but while there drummer John Lee left the band. He briefly joined English group Dirty Tricks and then finally rejoined The Dingoes after they relocated to America. Lee was replaced in Ariel by Nigel Macara.
Harvey James quit Ariel abruptly later in 1976 after he was invited to join leading Australian pop group Sherbet, where he replaced founding member Clive Shakespeare. James' first recording with Sherbet was their Australian No. 1 and UK Top 5 hit "Howzat". James was replaced in Ariel by keyboard player Tony Slavich.
Macara left again in October 1976 and was replaced by another former Richard Clapton Band member, Iain McLennan. The single "Disco Dilemma" was released in April 1977, just before expiration of their CBS contract, after which they signed to local independent label Image Records. They recorded the single "It's Only Love" for their new label; the song featured lead vocals from its writer Glyn Mason.
Ariel announced its breakup in July 1977 and, just before their CBS contract expired, the "Island Fantasy" themed farewell concert was staged on Sunday 21 August 1977 at the Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne. The show was recorded and released over the two albums Ariel Aloha (Oct 1977) and Live - More From Before (1978). These two albums were subsequently reissued in 1980 as Ariel Live In Concert.
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