Progressive Rock’s resurgence in popularity has brought many a one-and-done band out from the deeper and darker realms of the record collector world. The peculiarly named 9:30 Fly is one such band; consisting of members from Britain and America, their 1972 self-titled debut came and went without much notice, and has become a highly sought after album in collectors circles. Led by the husband-and-wife duo of Michael and Barbara Wainwright, their sole release is an interesting listening experience; certainly it is the type of record that fails to make a good first impression, but yet compels the listener to listen again, becoming a bit more rewarding with each successive listen.
If once must say something about 9:30 Fly, it’s that they have an identity crisis. Aside from the band name, 9:30 Fly is pretty standard issue psychedelic rock. They key elements are all here: vaguely political lyrics, sudden tempo changes, loud guitars augmented by keyboard and the occasional sitar, with just a smidgen of jazz and folk, just to keep things interesting and lively. “September” is a charming singalong, “Summer Days,” which starts off with a lackadaisical keyboard melody, soon turns into a heavy jazz-rock number. Barbara Wainwright’s gorgeous singing on “Brooklyn Thoughts” sounds like a proto-Cocteau Twins, while the epic “Mr. 509” is not to be missed. However, the same cannot be said about “Time Of War,” an eight minute anti-war piece that delves into heavy blues rock that borders on heavy metal, until it morphs into a pastoral folk number and concludes as…Celtic music, replete with pan pipe. It is something straight from the Spinal Tap files, an overwhelmingly sincere creation that sounds so unintentionally funny. It screams “1972” and “Prog Rock” and is the only moment of 9:30 Fly that is impossible to warm up to, a dated piece of work that deserves to stay obscure.
Yet don’t be fooled; even though 9:30 Fly sounds a bit dated, the unreleased bonus track “Song For L.A.” most definitely isn’t. The song sounds nothing like the rest of the music found here, which is probably why it went unreleased. It’s a stripped-down acoustic number, but it isn’t folk; considering its title, it’s a country-rock affair that is more attuned to the Laurel Canyon soft-rock sound than the British progressive scene. It doesn’t sound finished; the vocals are a bit on the rough side, but it definitely shows that there were some interesting sounds floating around in Wainwright’s head.
9:30 Fly is a conceptual record, even if it doesn’t really have a defined concept. It isn’t a bad record; it’s very much a debut, and is good in the same way Yes and The Electric Light Orchestra are good—not definitive, not quite there in terms of identity and sound, but one that shows much promise. Unfortunately, they never got the chance, splitting after the album’s release. Still, there’s something pleasant about the 9:30 Fly listening experience; it’s enjoyable for what it is, a band giving its all in the face of overshadowing obscurity.