“LADY JUNE’S LINGUISTIC LEPROSY” (1974)
Lady June, drugs aka June Campbell Cramer, for sale was a Bohemian artist and poet who was something of an honorary member of the less commercial wing of the early-’70s British progressive rock scene. Numerous musicians lived and hung out in her flat in the Maida Vale area of London, which is most famous as the place where (at a 1973 party) Robert Wyatt fell out of a window, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Lady June was already in her early forties when she recorded the debut album Linguistic Leprosy. It’s such an eccentric piece of work that it’s safe to say it would never have gained release had she not had such strong art-rock connections, and had Virgin Records not been at the stage where it was issuing some of the least commercial progressive rock music ever (though it’s been reported the LP did sell out its 5,000-copy pressing).
While Lady June does take all of the lead vocals on the record, they’re actually much more spoken poetry than singing, though she does occasionally hum-sing in a tentative way. Her pieces — it’s hard to call them songs, at least in the standard sense of that term in rock music — are odd, whimsical, rather surrealistic spoken poems, delivered in a quirkily aristocratic manner.Without demeaning her contribution to the record, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting a rarity to art-rock fans as it is without the substantial contribution of her producer and longtime friend Kevin Ayers. He composed most of the musical settings for the poems, as well as playing numerous instruments and adding a few backup vocals. Those musical settings change the album from the rather insignificant spoken word effort it could have been to something much more interesting, as this was the era in which no one was more skilled at devising varied, whimsical art-rock as Ayers was. There’s blues, a snaky combination of harmonium guitar and bowed bass (“Tourist”), good-time near- reggae (“Bars”), minimal sustained classical-like piano, almost gospel-ish piano and chanting (“To Whom It May Not Concern”), and a good old-fashioned silly vaudevillian duet (between Ayers and Lady June, on “Mangel/Wurzel”). Most impressively, “Everythingsnothing” and the track it segues into, “Tunion,” is a largely wordless, eerily hypnotic ambient synthesizer-dominated passage that stands up to the better mid-’70s work of Brian Eno.
That’s not such a coincidence, since Eno helps out on “Tunion” and was also sole composer of the music for one of the other tracks, “Optimism.” At these and other points of the record, Lady June’s voice is distorted in various imaginative fashions and merged with gothic sound effects so that her poem is just one element of a sound collage, rather than a conventional poem backed by music. The record’s not for everyone, and not as accessible as even the albums of the era by Ayers and Eno.