Comus - Biography

By Marcus Kagler

Named after an obscure John Milton masque—essentially a 16th century version of a musical production—Comus’ avant-folk meets prog-rock bent was intense, weird, and way too far ahead of its time to be appreciated during the early ’70s. As the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Roger Wootton and guitarist/arranger Glenn Goring, the band utilized mostly acoustic instrumentation ranging from 12-string guitars to string and woodwind instruments to spin macabre and often violent odes (disguised as prog-rock). The subject matter of Comus’ catalog ranged from rape to mental insanity, which was a far cry from the lilting melodies of Pentangle or the populist folk of Fairport Convention that they were lumped in with.

Formed in the late 1960s, Comus was comprised of principle songwriters Wootton and Goring, along with bassist Andy Hellaby, vocalist Bobbie Watson, flute/oboe player Rob Young, and violinist Colin Pearson. While still a struggling folk band without an album’s worth of material to their name, they were nevertheless championed by David Bowie. In 1969, Bowie invited Comus to open a show at London’s Purcell Rooms, which gave the band some notoriety.

Filled with dark mood swings, violent lyrical content, acoustical beauty, haunting violins and vocal barking, Comus’s debut album, First Utterances (1971 Dawn) was a critical dud. After its dark/light message failed to take fire, Comus disbanding later that year.

Three years later Wootton, Hellaby, and Watson returned as Comus with all new players for the more upbeat full-length, To Keep From Crying (1974 Virgin). Enlisting bassoonist Lindsay Cooper (of Henry Cow) and saxophonist Didier Malherbe (of Gong), the album was lighter than its predecessor on whole, but still creepy in parts, such as in the instrumental one-minute song, “Waves and Caves.” To Keep From Crying was another commercial and critical failure, and Comus called it quits for good not long after the album’s release.

During the next 30 odd years both of Comus’ LPs have developed a hardcore cult following, with original vinyl issues of First Utterances fetching as much as £300 on the collector’s circuit. A complete box set, Songs to Comus: The Complete Collections (Castle) was released in 2005. The set featured both full-length albums as well as an unreleased track, “All The Colours Of Darkness,” and an exclusive interview with the group. As an homage to its fans, Comus played a reunion show on the Silja Symphony—the largest ferry in the Baltic Sea—for the Mellotronen Festival 2008 in Sweden.

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