Since its release in 1978, Bob Bell’s Necropolis has grown in stature to become one of Canada’s most highly sought after private-press LPs. The glassy-eyed Vancouver longhair gazing out from the album’s cover photo—strikingly shot from an ant’s eye view pointing up at his denim crotch—doesn’t welcome listeners into his musical world as much as dare them to join him. Recorded over forty-eight hours during which Bell presided over two separate trios, it has him playing guitar on the A-side in four superhuman bursts of psychedelic basement rock by one trio, and switching to alto sax on the flip side for a fifteen-minute free-jazz blastoff by the other trio.
Bell’s blazing guitar skills become obvious within the first minute of the LP's opening untitled number, with tentative stabs storming into cyclical riffs as Paul Franklin’s tumbling drums match his intensity. Track two finds bassist Mark Franklin taking over with some of the busiest fretting this side of Soft Machine’s Hugh Hopper if he were joined in a fantasy band with Sonny Sharrock. The Franklin brothers, who would later join space-rock collective Melodic Energy Commission, featuring Hawkwind’s Del Dettmar (whose album Migration of the Snails was also recently reissued by Telephone Explosion), proved their mettle with this descent into sonic madness.
The album’s B-side finds Bell’s squealing sax in heated conversation with double bassist Lisle Ellis and pianist Paul Plimley, who later became acclaimed free-improv figures. Bell stayed the course as well, sharing stages with Miles Davis and James Blood Ulmer, and remaining a fixture on Vancouver’s avant-garde scene while working in the jazz department at A&B Sound. Four decades later, the unearthing of his Necropolis still sounds like a graveyard smash.
Jesse Locke is a writer, editor, podcaster, and musician, based in Toronto. He hosts the experimental-music podcast “Tracing Spaces” and cohosts with Kritty Uranowski the interview podcast “Come for a Ride.” Jesse currently writes for Aquarium Drunkard, Bandcamp Daily, The Ringer, and Musicworks, and plays drums in the bands Tough Age, Motorists, Lavender Bruisers, and Chandra. Follow him on Twitter at @wipeoutbeat.
Canadian guitarist Bob Bell released a monster of a debut album, Necropolis, in 1978. This obscure private press LP is about to be reissued, so now is an opportune time to write about it on this here blog. Necropolis is a one-of-a-kind record—certainly worthy of wider exposure.
Released on Bob Bell’s own label, ISM Records, Necropolis is an experimental work that recalls the skronk of ‘70s Miles Davis, the heavy progressive rock of King Crimson, free-form krautrock, free jazz, and avant-garde classical. Bell leads his band through the instrumental pieces, playing guitar on the first four tracks (his guitar tone is positively filthy), before switching to alto saxophone for the side-long number on the second side. The results are mind-blowing. If you’ve never heard Necropolis, prepare to have your socks knocked clean off.
Bell has subsequently released records under a myriad of monikers. When playing live, his group usually goes by “Bob Bell,” or some variation, but has also frequently used the title of his stunning debut LP—which is Greek for “city of the dead.”
released October 1, 1978
All music composed and improvised by the musicians.
Recorded live on August 2 and 10, 1978 at Pinewood Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Produced by Bob Bell and Brian Lord