Patto: Patto & Hold Your Fire – Album Reviews
CD/DL and 2CD/DL
Released 28th April 2017
Reissues of the legendary 70s rockers Patto’s first two albums, with bonus tracks on the eponymous debut and a whole extra disc of BBC performances and demos with “Hold Your Fire”….LTW’s Ian Canty looks at a great lost band….
As the swinging 60s drew to a close and new decade dawned, Patto mutated out of Mod favourites Timebox (best known for their popular cover of the Four Seasons’ “Beggin'”, which got to number 38 in the UK charts), gaining their new moniker from the surname of vocalist Mike Patto. Noticing a change in their audience from the wild Mod dancers of the mid-60s to hippy folk who mostly sat cross-legged on the floor taking in the sounds rather than bopping to them, they amended their modus operandi a little by introducing a “progressive” edge (but in truth they always retained some of the Soul and R’n’B punch that they had successfully nurtured for the previous few years before the name change). The most drastic alteration though and the one that added a whole new dimension to Patto was that in scaling down to a four piece, vibraphone player Ollie Halsall moved over onto guitar. Though only playing the instrument for a couple of months, Halsall was a natural talent and made very rapid progress, quickly developing a distinctive style all of his own which helped to set Patto apart from other bands.
Though their self-titled, Muff Winwood produced debut does have its fair share of moments, it also shows Patto at this point in time as a work in progress. They appeared on first sight to be roughly ploughing the same field as the likes of the Faces and Free, swaggering Funky-tinged Blues Rock with exuberant vocals, but Halsall’s unpredictable playing/extensive soloing took them away from easy comparison. It could be somewhat of a “double-edge sword” though: the improvised Jazz noodling that takes up a fair amount of “Money Bag” and most of bonus track “Hanging Rope” is ok in a sort of “look no hands” sort of way, but it doesn’t make you want to listen to it again and did not add much to either song. Live I expect these things “flew” and impressed onlookers, but on record I was ho-humming until they got back to the “song”. Frustratingly in both cases there seems to be a decent piece of ebullient R’n’B tinged Rock buried in there which would have been better served by standing on its own. Now this could be a result of this platter being recorded “live” so I suppose at least this is an authentic representation of where Patto were at in 1970.
Despite those gripes this is a good debut album (ignoring the pretty horrible sleeve, something which would be replicated on “Hold Your Fire”. This may lead you to believe that graphic designers had it in for Patto) with a wealth of decent material and some strong songs. Mike Patto’s voice occasionally resembles Steve Marriott’s (never a bad thing), gutsy and full of soul. The better tracks on this record are when Patto keep it relatively simple – there are still the instrumental frills but they are managed within the context of the song, rather than swamping things. It works much better that way and when Patto do this they really are on top form and very enjoyable to listen to. The great “Government Man” brings together everything Patto did like no-one else wonderfully and bonus track “Love Me” is almost a Soul ballad with some lovely vibraphone playing and a superb grandstanding finale.
Drummer John Halsey (the artist formerly known as Barry Wom from the Rutles) observes in the sleeve-notes to “Hold You Fire” that in his view this is the best Patto record and I can’t argue with that. The evident potential shown on “Patto” is fully realised here, they sound far more confident and focussed than on their debut LP. As a consequence much of the album is taken at a measured pace (though there are some speedier rockers on here too) which suited the band, allowing Halsall to flesh out the songs with his inspired twiddling and Patto himself full range, but the entire band’s playing is out of the top draw on this album. The balance is just right, with Patto being able to stretch out, but not at the expense of a good groove/tune. The two tracks appended to this disc from the album sessions both bring Hasall’s vibes to the fore, with “Beat The Drum” being at least as good as anything on the actual LP, a great, stinging guitar break contrasting with the laid back nature of the song beautifully.
The bonus disc that is included here has a slightly ragged sounding but excellent live performance from the BBC’s long-running “In Concert” series. This section shows the band at the peak of their powers just before the release of “Hold Your Fire”. Host John Peel banters back and forth with Mike Patto in between songs and the band (bolstered by Bernie Holland on guitar so Halsall could play the vibes on live offerings) sound totally at ease and on fire in the live setting – the previously unissued “So Cold” is a full-on ecstatic Rocker with the band even managing to sneak a “Day Tripper” motif into the mix and “Sittin’ Back Easy” possibly trumping the version on “Patto”.
Although the BBC live stuff is good I found the sessions/demo tracks probably the prize pick on this disc. The six songs here also appear on “Hold Your Fire” (no “new” material), but they seem to me to work even better in their early, less “worked on” forms. “You, You Point Your Finger” is where the vocals of Mike Patto really come into their own – quite unlike say, Rod Stewart’s more cocksure delivery, he brings a wonderful and quite touching vulnerability to the song and the band’s playing compliments him perfectly. Almost definitely my favourite single track on either of the two offerings here, it is beautiful.
In the aftermath of “Hold Your Fire” it is a tad puzzling why they did not go onto more success. Perhaps whereas say both the Faces and Humble Pie had a ready-made and sizeable audience carried over from their halcyon days spent in the Small Faces and Free benefited from a massive hit single with “All Right Now”, Patto did not have the advantage of the SF-offshoots or have that one “killer” track that would break them into the charts like Paul Rodgers’ mob. Perhaps they were also a little too complicated in their approach for mass consumption with hard-bitten lyrics combining with Ollie Halsall’s flights of fancy? No matter, because now we can enjoy them for the treasure they were rather than what they weren’t thanks to these reissues.
Patto stuck out from the crowd because they didn’t tread the familiar path, despite being easily capable of commercial Blues/Rock. They preferred to strike out in their own direction with Halsall’s eccentricities and Mike Patto’s full-bodied vocal style their calling cards. Though the first album seems to me a bit “padded out” by a little too much in the way of jazz improv, they really hit the mark with “Hold Your Fire”, an assured and entrancing record that compares well with their contemporaries and even today is a refreshing listen. The opportunity to experience the wild force of nature that was Patto in full flight, even at this late stage, should not be easily passed up.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here