Most people familiar with my work will already know of my appreciation for the work of keyboardist Vincent Crane; Night Circus was dedicated half to him. I contributed to the site put up by his widow, Jean. But these things won't tell you what it was in his work that excited me so much, what it made me think of, or why it inspired me. I'll be a little more specific.
My first exposure to Crane, as with most people, was on The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Haunted house carnival organ by way of smokin' R&B, tinged with classical and boogie woogie. The classical sounds were not modern classical, but very old; the horn fanfares (part of Crane's orchestration for the album) bring to mind medieval times, brutality, wizardry and the plague moreso than they do 18th century drawing rooms and stately dances. The boogie woogie and heavy-handed organ and piano give the whole thing a feeling of a particularly colorful voodoo shop full of masks and potions, candles and powders. There is a certain primitive but potent essence throughout not only this album but embedded in Crane's playing in general. It's as though he's found the roots that tie all of these styles together, deep dark emotional shoots that rise to the surface as music, here as classical, here as blues or soul or jazz. They come up intact, refined enough to sing but rough enough to let you know in no uncertain terms that they all come from the same dark earth.
Also part of this album are recurrent themes or multiple reprises, which tie the songs of the first half together into a sort of suite. This was not my first exposure to the concept, which, on a smaller level, is heard in every pop song. But certainly it was my first exposure for using this as a framework throughout a number of songs, or a whole album. This album put that concept practically into my DNA, and definitely into the forefront of my bag of stylistic devices, as anyone who has listened to my work since 2000 can attest. Whether or not you like how I've used it, this is where I picked it up from.
Crane carried these sounds with him into his own band, Atomic Rooster. Through various lineups, Crane was the one constant, and it shows. His style as a player and a writer/arranger are very recognizable. Even on other people's albums- even on tracks he wrote for but didn't actually play on- it's unmistakeable. Take the opening riff from "Space Plucks", off the first album of Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come. Who else could have written that? I knew his work the minute I heard it, but his name wasn't listed in the credits on the sleeve. But when I looked at the label on the record itself, there it was. This was the next Brown album out after Crazy World, so it was probably in development when Crane left. This kind of readily identifiable sound never left Crane, and was in evidence just as much in the full orchestra arrangments on the Brown/Crane lp "Faster Than The Speed Of Light". It remained to the very last track on the last Atomic Rooster album, the song "Time" on the "Headline News" release. Haunting, poignant, difficult to forget. Crane has always reminded me of Poe in this way, and I think of his music in much the same way as Poe's verse, especially.
I was a young child when the "Crazy World" lp came out. It was a part of my environment for a year or two and was played multiple times a day, every day, for much of that time. It entered my mind and never left, coloring my aesthetic sense, wearing channels in it, helping form it. Perhaps, this being formative experience, I am unable to judge its value too objectively. I'm not sure I believe that, and either way I don't care. It's something like knowing where you're from and making no excuses or apologies if someone finds fault with those origins. You know where you're from. And you're proud of it.
For more info on Vincent Crane, go to Vincent Crane's Atomic Rooster- A History of- by Jean Cheesman, at www.atomic-rooster.com