Desert Hearts first operated as a rock three-piece that also, somewhat confusingly, played under the name of Dr Wu in 1990 before becoming a more complex four-piece in 1991 with Awde on vocals, guitar and violin, Andy Matthews on bass and vocals, Leo Katana on guitars, plus a string of drummers (aka the Spinal Tap Syndrome). Both line-ups put out band-produced cassettes – Dr Wu’s Magic Rock Brew and Dr Wu Too. Amongst the original material, all songs written by Awde, were also covers of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man, Strawbs' Hero and Heroine and Neil Young's Hey Hey My My. Dropping the Dr Wu tag, Awde went into the studio in 1993 to produce sessions with ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward. Awde provided vocals and played all other instruments – guitars, bass, keyboards and violin. Some of the songs were released as a Desert Hearts band-produced cassette, Desert Hearts, and included the satirical epic rocker Rumble Fish, the Steely Dan-tinged Meryl Streep and a bizarre cover of Elton John's Rocket Man (complete with howling wolf chorus).
Frustrated with the sidelining of much of rock music in the early 90s, Awde put the group on hold and moved creativity into other areas. He wrote the satirical musical Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Musical – described by the Virgin Encyclopedia of Stage and Film Musicals as “a bizarre mix of spoof and satire” – and continued to develop his career as a cartoonist and illustrator. He also worked on expanding Desert Hearts as an organic creative force, a concept that Awde has been working on since 1986.
Meanwhile, Awde continued to write songs, releasing a number of them in lyric form as the verse book I Saw Satan on the Northern Line – billed as “a CD without music” – which he promoted with a handful of acoustic gigs in London, accompanied by Leo Katana on second guitar.
Having moved from illustration into plays – Awde wrote with Chris Bartlett the 2006 West End hit Pete and Dud: Come Again (about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) – the idea of writing another musical arose – I’ve Seen that Movie Too, a "chamber" musical. There was little interest in the project because the songs were “too rocky” for Theatreland's tastes, having more in common with Noel Gallagher than Rodgers & Hammerstein. A rethink and four years later, some of those songs have become the core of the new CD Sweet Revolutions.
2009's Sweet Revolutions is a mix of world rock/pop songs laced with Mellotron keyboard arrangements and sung not only in English but also in Arabic, Spanish, French and Italian. The list of guest musicians is eclectic if not unique and includes Knox of the punk rock group The Vibrators on guitars, New York singer-songwriter Dean Friedman (of hit Lucky Stars fame) on piano, and ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward. The songs – covers and originals – are short and almost poppy, but the mini-epic structure of each hints at underlying progressive rock influences, a phenomenon Awde calls “prog pop”.
The concept behind Sweet Revolutions is to show the short pop side of progressive rock while also showing that “world music” isn’t all quaint nose flutes and wailing but that there are serious songwriters outside of Western Europe and North America who have produced pop/rock classics of their own. Also running through as a theme is the concept of revolution, that some of the most unlikely songs hide a revolutionary message.
Hoy Mi Deber Era (Today My Duty Was...) is a plaintive love song to the motherland written by Cuban Silvio Rodríguez, one of the leading lights of the Nueva Trova movement, while Souad Massi’s Raoui (Storyteller) is a startling plea for truth from a young songwriter whose love of rock and pop forced her to leave her native Algeria. Awde’s original songs take a different take on the idea of revolution since Britain is neither Cuba nor Algeria. Accordingly Rumble Fish is revisited as a take on consumerism, while the up-tempo Revolution Alley – taken from I’ve Seen that Movie Too – sees the revolution in Chile through an exile's eyes.
The album is significant too because the songs and production values complement Awde's 2008 book Mellotron: The Machine and the Musicians that Revolutionised Rock Some of Britain and Europe's most influential musicians, songwriters and producers chart their careers with the Mellotron, the world's first sampler keyboard. Across 20-plus interviews classic acts include the Moody Blues, Strawbs, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD), plus later groups such as IQ and the Flower Kings. The result is a unique insight into the history of British rock and pop and its lasting influence worldwide that has direct resonances with the music played on Sweet Revolutions.