Quintessence was a rock band formed in April 1969 in Notting Hill, London, England. The style was a mixture of jazz, psychedelic rock and progressive rock with an influence of music from India.
The original line-up included Shiva Shankar Jones (voice, keyboards, percussion), Raja Ram (flute, percussion), Sambhu Baba (bass guitar, guitar), Maha Dev (guitar), Allan Mostert (lead guitar, bass guitar, sitar), and Jake Milton (drums, percussion). Quintessence were tagged a 'spiritual' band, but were playing New Age rock before the term was born.
They rehearsed in All Saints Hall which was a converted church near Portobello Road, and recorded three albums for Island Records between 1969 and 1971, with two further albums recorded in 1972 for RCA. The first of the latter set, Self, featured studio material on side one, with the band recorded playing live at Exeter University, on 11 December 1971, on side two.
Not unlike the Grateful Dead, they did a lot of collective jamming with an intention to trance out their audiences by a forceful combination of the chanting of mantras with the Krishna flute lines and the lyrical guitar soloing. Often the local Hare Krishna disciples would provide an extra percussion section. Quintessence had their household guru in Swami Ambikananda.
They built a reputation on solid club work and were deemed London's Underground Sensation in 1970. Besides appearing at the first two Glastonbury Festivals (then called 'Fayres'), in 1970/71, they also were invited to play the Montreux Jazz Festival. At their peak they sold out the Royal Albert Hall twice.
On 18 September 1971 Quintessence played a benefit concert for Bangladesh at The Oval, Kennington. They appeared on a bill that included The Who, Mott the Hoople, Lindisfarne, Atomic Rooster, The Grease Band and America.
Although Quintessence played many hundred of concerts and festivals all over Europe, they turned down a U.S. record deal negotiated by Island Records' Chris Blackwell and did not play at a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall lined up in early 1972, or tour the U.S., because four of the band's members wanted a larger monetary advance. This disappointed Blackwell and he dropped the band from the record label. Quintessence then signed with RCA and recorded one album with Jones and Dev. Raja Ram then unexpectedly 'fired' the pair after that album was released.
Jones and Dev went on to form the short-lived outfit called Kala. According to Jones, Kala broke up because Bradley's Records (a subsidiary of ATV) changed their policy towards their artists. They no longer wanted bands to make albums, and insisted on them being singles pop artists.
The Quintessence played on into the 1980s before breaking up.
Jake Milton went on to form Blurt with his brother Ted Milton.
Dev released his first solo album, and Jones' Quintessence continues to record spasmodically.
Raja Ram went on to help create the psytrance style of electronic music in the 1990s, and continues to produce electronic music to this day, being most well known for his involvement in Shpongle.
In 2010 Maha Dev's new Quintessence were invited by Micheal Eavis to play the 40th Anniversary Glastonbury Festival where they were joined by original vocalist Shiva Jones. This performance was recorded released as Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury in 2011. Maha Dev's Quintessence continue to perform sporadically in the UK recreating the 'classic' Island Records era Quintessence sounds. The rebirth of Dev's Quintessence was documented in a BBC 1 Inside Out programme which was aired in November 2010.
NOTE: Sources for this section are as follows:
In Blissful Company (Island Records, 1969),
Quintessence (Island Records, 1970) - UK No. 22,
Dive Deep (Island Records, 1971) - UK No. 43,
Self (RCA, 1972) - UK No. 50,
Indweller (RCA, 1972)