We are here because we agreed to agree.” That is the simple explanation singer-bassist Richard Sinclair gave at the start of the improbable dream that came true June 25th at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York: the reunion and first-ever New York concert appearance of British art-rock cult heroes Hatfield and the North. Descended from late-Sixties and Seventies prog-rock royals Caravan, Gong, Egg and Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North (named after a exit sign on an English motorway) made two albums in their three years together: 1974’s Hatfield and the North and 1975’s The Rotter’s Club, both marvelous time capsules of pastoral psychedelia, furiously subdivided rhythms and heated improvisation.
Three-fourths of the band finally made it to America — Sinclair, guitarist Phil Miller and drummer Pip Pyle — while new keyboardist Alex Maguire ably reprised and built on the organ-synth inventions of original member Dave Stewart. It wasn’t much of a tour; the band only played one other date a couple of nights earlier, in Bethlehem, PA. But Hatfield and the North made up for the thirty-year wait to see them Stateside (the New York debut was co-presented by the Downtown Music Gallery, a highly-recommended Bowery record store specializing in progressive rock and avant-garde jazz) by playing two hour-long sets. And they arrived with freshly written material as well as enough vintage complexity to drive the house full of longtime fans to heights of delight. One moving new piece was “Psychic Warrior,” written by Pyle and Maguire for the late British sax giant Elton Dean, who died in February, and sung by Sinclair in his surprisingly ageless boy-angel tenor.
It was strange to watch Sinclair intoning the lyric whimsey of “Fitter Stoke Has a Bath” (a 1974 B-side) dressed in a patterned shirt and fishing cap, as if he’d just come in from bagging marlin. But there was no sign of three decades’ wear in his nimble bass work and vocals in “Share It” (from The Rotter’s Club), Pyle’s hard, sharp drum math during “Halfway Between Heaven and Hell” and Miller’s biting guitar flourishes and solos all night. Hatfield and the North were, in their first lifetime, a supergroup — four of the best players and composers in the Canterbury school of British art rock. In this rare sighting, they were every bit as good as their legend.