National Health for a Tuesday night. One of the short-lived bands that constituted part of the Canterbury Scene of the 1970s, National Health was made up of former members of Caravan, Wilde Flowers and Gilgamesh. It was one of the better examples of Prog-rock and sadly, one that suffered from a bad case of poor timing.
National Health got started in 1975. By 1978 they issued their first album and did extensive touring. In 1976, when this Peel session was recorded, Punk was showing up on the horizon. By 1978 it was full-blown and Prog-Rock was falling by the wayside in popularity. And even though they were an immensely talented group, they stuck to the almost-stereotype presentation of instrumentals and very long solos. Although Prog-Rock (with the exception of ELP, Yes and the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis) wasn’t embraced by mainstream audiences, they did have small and loyal followings, with influences among the fringes. But much of that got drowned out when Punk arrived and took Pop Music by storm, leaving the subtleties of nuanced playing buried in the dust.
And of course, National Health wasn’t the only band to pick the wrong time to get started – it’s almost a historic occurrence of bands and artists who arrived just a little too late to the party and who should have gotten there sooner.
National Health went through several personnel changes in the 6 years they were together. Finally putting it to rest when founding member Alan Gowen died in 1981. What they left behind were three studio albums, several live albums, and a compilation or two to remind those who missed them the first time around what they indeed had missed.
Fortunately, for reissues and re-evaluations, bands like National Health have the opportunity to be heard and discovered by audiences who either missed them completely or weren’t around at the time. Much like the other bands comprising the Canterbury Sound, discoveries have been plentiful over the years and what was a serious reservoir of musical talent has been getting its due through new fans.
So to get an idea of what National Health were like, or to be reminded of how they were when you were still holding out against The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Damned, here is that session as recorded for John Peel on July 17, 1976.