Like all of us, I have spent many hours over the years debating the greatest albums ever. On occasion I have even been known, usually with Buxton, to debate what the best ever single side of an album was - not something you can do so easily these days. But I'm not sure even I have ever had a conversation about what the best first two tracks on an album were.
If I did the answer would be easy. The album is Mike Heron's "Smiling Men With Bad Reputations" and the two tracks are "Call Me Diamond" and "Flowers Of The Forest". They are completely different but equally fantastic. The rest of the album doesn't maintain the same standard, but it has several other highlights such as "Feast Of Stephen" and "Beautiful Stranger" and is well worth getting hold of.
As you might expect from an album released in 1971 by a member of the Incredible String Band it is somewhat eclectic. "Call Me Diamond" features the ace South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana. "Flowers Of The Forest" has a guitar solo by Richard Thompson. Subsequent tracks featured John Cale on viola and harmonium, Indian musicians and - on "Warm Heart Pastry" - The Who minus Roger Daltrey under the pseudonym "Tommy & The Bijoux". It should be a mess but somehow it works.
Here is the great one-two:
"Call Me Diamond"
"Flowers Of The Forest"
Mike is still going strong, performing with a line-up of the Incredible String Band, solo, and with his very talented daughter, Georgia Seddon. I have been lucky enough to see him a couple of times this year in various ensemble pieces. His voice is still a bit all over the place but for me that just adds to his considerable charm.
Here is a clip of Mike and the gang way back when with "All Writ Down".