Prior to recording their fourth album, Yes went through yet another personnel change: Tony Kaye was given the axe (though rectified in the ensuing decade) in favor of London's hottest keyboard player at the time. Rick Wakeman, who had just finished a musically unceremonious tenancy with the Strawbs, was a Royal College of Music dropout, best known inside the studios of London. Yes offered him the opportunity to flaunt his talent, on the pretext that an infusion of more diverse keyboard sounds would further their music. It did indeed. With its rich vocal harmonies and classic analog textures, the album's opener "Roundabout" stands as the quintessential prog rock tune; though its crowning achievement is one of the wickedest bass lines since the Beatles' "Rain". It was an AM radio hit in edited form and FM radio staple, helping to propel the album into the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. "South Side of The Sky" displays the band's hand at heavy rock (courtesy of Steve Howe's angular guitar line) albeit with a gorgeous piano break thrown in the middle. But the second side's "Long Distance Runaround/The Fish" and "Heart of The Sunrise" are Yes' greatest moments on record. The seemingly innocuous choice of sounds committed to tape - whether Bill Bruford's distinct snare, Chris Squire's trebly Rickenbacker bass, or one of Wakeman's many keyboards - are sonic perfection; within the prog context, it's perhaps the ultimate recording of the era's analog instruments. In contrast to their previous (and future) albums, Yes did more with less on Fragile. The musical ideas are by no means simple and are actually quite exceptional. Yet the technical dexterity isn't lost in itself, as the deceivingly effortless execution and spartan production create the band's most organic sounding output. One could even excuse the near -fatal inclusion of individual "ideas" (solo tracks from each member ranging from short and sweet to pure high-brow filler) for not destroying the continuity of the album as a whole. The album reached No. 7 in the UK, while going up to No. 4 in the US.
Ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks was enlisted for a (very) short stint in Blodwyn Pig before forming Flash. True to their name, Flash appeared quickly on the horizon, released three albums for Capitol and vanished. Banks recruited vocalist Colin Carter, bassist Ray Bennett and drummer Mike Hough, with ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye filling in on their debut. The album offers exactly what you'd expect: middleweight prog rock very reminiscent of the first two Yes albums: just check out "Children Of the Universe". Still, Banks is a gifted guitarist and "Dreams Of Heaven" in particular showcases his considerable talent. Carter too is an original enough vocalist (though the vocal harmonies on the album are way overdone), the acoustic "Morning Haze" is perhaps his best performance. Their debut record, as well as the edited single "Small Beginnings", had some chart action in the US, both reaching the Top 30. Kaye then left to join the Christian rock group Badger, with ex-Warriors bassist David Foster. Banks recorded two more albums with Flash. In The Can appeared later the same year, while Out Of Our Hands was released in late 1973. They offered neither more or less than the debut, in fact they may even be just as well known for their "flashy" gatefold jackets from Hipgnosis. So despite a more than capable band, Flash's songwriting would remain its Achilles' heel. In September 1973, Banks released his eponymous solo album, The Two Sides Of. Largely instrumental, the album is quite good. It featured somewhat of a prog rock who's who, but in reality was mostly a duet with ace guitarist Jan Akkerman of Focus. Their dueling guitar work on "Knights" and "Battles" are the standouts, as is the spontaneous jam "Stop That". Flash broke up in early 1974, and Banks then relocated to the US in an attempt to secure a deal for this next band, the sub-par Empire. Little was heard from him after.
Prog rock from England was a huge hit in Italy during the early '70s, so it was only a matter of course before the Italians steered their own music into more progressive pastures. At the forefront of this was the unlikely named Premiata Forneria Marconi, (translating to "Award Winning Marconi Bakery"). Originally the beat/psychedelic group Quelli, they had some relative success in Italy as both a covers band and as session musicians. But by the end of 1970, drummer Franz Di Cioccio, guitarist Franco Mussida, bassist Giorgio Piazza and keyboardist Flavio Premoli had formed PFM, named after the shop above their rehearsal space. Multi-instrumentalist Mauro Pagani joined shortly after, adding flute and violin. Their early shows were often in support of UK groups (Yes, Deep Purple) and their set included King Crimson and Jethro Tull covers. Their first album, Storia di un Minuto, is a brilliant statement. Although some English influences are apparent (most notably King Crimson), the album is uniquely Italian and PFM. The opener "Impressioni di Settembre" displays a detail quite unlike their British contemporaries. The tarantella of "E' Festa!" (I like to call it "circus prog") is both lively and loopy, a testament to both their virtuosity and lightheartedness. The compositions on the second side combine many styles, but the spirited performance keeps the album as fresh as it is unique, in particular on the dramatic "Grazie Davvero". Although the album is sung in Italian, the language has a lyrical feel (to this author anyway), rendering it more familiar rather than foreign. Prog rock turned out to be a significant movement in Italy, as droves of Italian men would produce their own unique twist on the genre. However, few, Italian, British or otherwise would surpass the excellence of PFM.
The Strawberry Hill Boys were a bluegrass trio founded by Dave Cousins, Tony Hooper and Ron Chesterman in 1967. Sandy Denny briefly passed through the band, recording one unreleased album before joining Fairport Convention. In 1969 they shortened their name and landed a recording contract with A&M. The Strawbs recorded two early albums with production heavyweights Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti, respectively. In 1970, Chesterman left and Cousins and Hooper added the rhythm section of John Ford and Richard Hudson. Session-keyboard wiz Rick Wakeman, recently extricated from the Royal Academy of Music, was next to join. His debut, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios, was recorded live at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall; however his role was really just that of a soloist. The album managed to chart in the UK. Producer Visconti urged more electric influence on Cousin's songwriting and the resulting From The Witchwood, though still reflecting the band's folk roots, again put the band in the UK Top 40. By the time of Grave New World, Blue Weaver had replaced Wakeman. More importantly though, Cousins' songwriting had now gone progressive; it'd best demonstrated here on "Tomorrow" and "New World". The album ranges from the acoustic of "On Going Older" to the more eclectic rock of "Queen of Dreams". Cousins is a unique vocalist, his raspy voice not unlike Peter Gabriel or Roger Chapman. The album became the band's best selling to date, reaching No. 11 in the UK. However, boosted by the single "Part Of The Union" at year's end, their next album, Bursting at The Seams, proved to be their commercial peak. Weathering some personnel changes, the Strawbs would continue with varying success until their eventual demise in 1978.
Caravan's fourth album was a bit of a departure: new keyboard player Steve Miller had previously been in Carol Grimes' Delivery. With his background in British blues, Richard Sinclair brought Miller in to "jazz" up the Caravan sound. "Waterloo Lily", a song about a heavy-set hooker, would be one of the last songs Sinclair would sing with the band. It's a fairly simple number, but Miller's extended electric piano solo signals the change. The next track, "Nothing At All", is extremely out of character for the band; not to its discredit though, some strong soloing by guitarist Phil Miller (Steve's brother) and saxophonist Lol Coxhill grace the number. Miller's "It's Coming Soon" is similarly blues-based. The second side is book- ended by some more conventional Caravan numbers, but its highlight is the lengthy "The Love In Your Eye." Very much in the tradition of "For Richard", the track has several instrumental sections that flow together effortlessly, and as to be expected, some more fine soloing from the band as well. Producer David Hitchcock suggested the string accompaniment and fortunately, Decca anted up. The album remains a controversial one in the Caravan catalog, but still credible nonetheless. The band toured the UK in the summer, but both Miller and Sinclair would then leave the band. A short-lived lineup with Derek Austin on keyboards and Stuart Evans on bass toured Australia in early 1973, unable to recorded before they too had moved on.
Formed in 1970, Hoelderlin initially occupied a unique space in German rock music, combining the influences of British folk with a musical classicism, obviously a nod to their namesake, the 19th century German poet Friedrich Hoelderlin. Formed in Wuppertal, the core of the band included the Grumbkow brothers, Christian and Joachim, and Christian's wife, Nanny de Ruig on vocals. Longtime members Christoph "Nopps" Noppeney on viola and Michael Bruchmann on drums also joined at this point, and story has it that after just a few gigs (and at the behest of German folkies Witthüser & Westrupp) krautrock svengali Rolf- Ulrich Kaiser offered the band a chance to record an album. Their debut, Hoelderlin's Traum, was released on the Pilz label. Primarily an acoustic album in a folk tradition, it is a record of evocative beauty, featuring the German language vocals of de Ruig. "Waren Wir" opens gently, but the Mellotron-led section under the quick beat highlights the electricity the band could generate. The following "Peter" is more conventional folk, yet the baroque melody of "Erwachen" adds a certain formality and classicism to the mix. Even over a short six minutes "Requiem fur Einen Wicht" showcases the band's extensive composition skills, while the quite acoustic "Wetterbericht" again features the melancholic beauty of de Ruig's voice. The instrumental "Traum" is another electric and eclectic number, pointing in the direction the band would eventually follow. The album has (rightly so) achieved cult status since its release. But relations with Pilz would dog the band for the next few years to come.
In protest to the misconception over the previous Jethro Tull album, Ian Anderson delivered what might be the mother of all concept albums, the wryly-titled Thick As A Brick. Based on a "poem written by eight-year old Gerald Bostock and set to musical accompaniment by rock group Jethro Tull", the album contains a single "song" spanning both sides of the vinyl. So much for the approach pioneered on aqualung! This isn't a bunch of discrete sections strung together either; the track has considerable continuity and consistency over its sides, certainly a credit to Anderson's compositional ability. But more poignantly, the tight performance within is testament to Jethro Tull, the band. Although former Blackpool-mate Barriemore Barlow was the newcomer on drums, the album presents a core of musicians who had finally coalesced into a band. John Evan in particular shines through on the Hammond organ, an instrument that never really comes to mind when thinking of the band. Of course, all the other stock Tull sounds are within, with no shortage of flute and acoustic passages. Just as important, Anderson's penchant for writing a memorable melody isn't lost in the massive composition either: the main theme, with its killer hook and direct lyric, is an instant classic. The album sported a tabloid gatefold, "The St. Cleve Chronicle", which probably remains the most elaborate record sleeve ever printed. It immediately rose to No. 5 in the UK and No. 1 in the US. Regardless of intent or delivery, the response to the album was massive, and certainly a testament to the times in which it was created. Imagine, one forty minute-plus piece of music topping the charts. The album was and remains a rock milestone.
Matching Mole was Robert Wyatt's post-Soft Machine group, its name a play on the French "machine molle". He recruited a great band: bassist Bill MacCormick was previously in Quiet Sun, guitarist Phil Miller in Delivery, and pianist David MacRae in Nucleus. He also managed to draw Dave Sinclair, who rounded out the lineup as second keyboardist, from Caravan. The debut album begins with Wyatt's idiosyncratic and affected "O Caroline", one of only two vocal songs on the record. It slides straight into the sublime "Instant Pussy", where Wyatt's voice is used in a non-singing role. From there, the album is instrumental, flush with fusion-like textures that rely heavy on improvisation. There is a hint of the so-called Canterbury sound, but the playing is distinctively looser and decidedly jazzier. Of course, the performances are all first rate, particularly on Miller's "Part Of The Dance", the only non-Wyatt composition. The album closes with the Crimson-esque Mellotron-fest "Immediate Curtain". Not surprisingly then, Robert Fripp was called in to produce the band's second album, Little Red Record, released in October of the same year. Absent was both Wyatt from the composition credits and Sinclair's fuzzed- out Hammond, the latter having left for Hatfield & the North. Overall, the sound is decidedly heavier; the uncharacteristic "Gloria Gloom", sounding not unlike its title, features guest Brian Eno. The debut's charming cover was replaced with an equally charming play on a Chinese communist postcard, a not-so-subtle hint at Wyatt's political future. In June 1973, Wyatt's paralysis from an accident led to the group's abrupt end, shortly before a third album with a new lineup (with Francis Monkman on bass) could be recorded. Wyatt spent the next six months in hospital recuperating.
Italy, more than any other country represented in the timeline, produced some of the most genuine and decadently delicious progressive rock during the early ‘70s. Even more obscure than the English “cult classics”, only the polycarbonate and aluminum of the compact disc has allowed these treasures, originally pressed in the hundreds, to be resurrected from both obscurity and oral legend. One of the most prime examples is Il Balletto di Bronzo (“bronze ballet”). Another Neapolitan band, their debut album Sirio 2222, released in 1970 on RCA, owed much to the ‘60s psychedelia; prog rock it certainly wasn’t. However, in 1971, guitarist Lino Ajello and drummer Giancarlo Stinga added two new players to the line-up: bassist Vito Manzari and most significantly, ex Città Frontale keyboardist Gianni Leone. Leone quickly instigated a new musical direction for the band, and the resulting album, Ys, remains one of the most revered classics of the era. A concept album about a mythical city in Breton folklore, the album consists of five movements. With a foreboding chorus, “Introduzione” unfolds to the classically inspired organ of Leone. Halfway through the track Manzari’s bass cues up a prog rock workout which the band hammers out with a manic intensity reminiscent of Van Der Graaf Generator, yet certainly original in their own right. While the band is up to task, it’s Leone’s keyboards that steal the show, presenting a classic palette throughout: organ, piano, Mellotron, Moog and spinet (similar to a harpsichord); it’s almost a dissolute pleasure. Leone’s Italian language vocals and the female chorus are similarly discordant, as “Secondo Incontro” (“second encounter”) attests, yet throughout the album, Il Balletto di Bronzo is heavy, dissonant, reckless, completely over the top and all the more wonderful for it. This is classic Italian progressive rock. The band attempted an English language version of the album, however it never saw completion. (Decades later two tracks were released as a CD single; in addition to the English lyrics, it features a different mix from the album). After a bout of touring and a second single in 1973, the band broke up due to lack of success. So again, I’d like to tip my glass to Il Balletto di Bronzo, and the many, many other Italian progsters that offered some of the most interesting and eclectic music of the era. Salute!
Uriah Heep, named after the Charles Dickens character, was certainly one of the most critically-derided bands of the era. The classic quote goes something like "if this band makes it I'll have to kill myself ". Sadly, a few of the members did. Bassist Gary Thain died in 1976 while lead singer David Byron took his own life a decade later. Byron and guitarist Mick Box had previously been in the band Spice, while keyboardist Ken Hensley came from The Gods. Uriah Heep's debut album appeared in 1970, followed quickly by two albums in 1971. Heep's sound was much closer to the heavy thunder of Deep Purple or Lucifer's Friend than anything progressive, but their albums were original enough. All through this, the band went through several personnel changes before settling down with Thain on bass and Lee Kerslake on drums. Demons and Wizards is certainly their finest hour. It has all the accoutrements of a good prog rock record - songs about wizards and demons, plenty of Hammond organ, and a Roger Dean cover. But the one element that raises the bar is quite simply, great songs. Whether "The Wizard" or "Traveler In Time", each track rocks hard and is full of tasty hooks. From start to finish, the album moves with total consistency and sets a blueprint for the stadium-sized anthem rock that appeared later in the decade. The Heep nearly had a hit single in the classic "Easy Livin'" and the album reached the Top 20 in both the UK and US, earning gold status as well. The follow-up album, Magician's Birthday, was (according to the band) even more "experimental", yet later efforts veered farther and farther away from anything progressive. The band continues to this day.
Aphrodite's Child was a Greek singles group that had some success in the UK, but more importantly spawned two of Greece's greatest musical exports, singer Demis Roussos and composer/performer Vangelis. By the time their seminal 666 was released, the beat era and any pop legacy were all behind them. Based on the Apocalypse of St. John, 13/18, the double-album was recorded in Paris over the prior two years. Musically it's all over the map; what Vangelis offers here is something far more psychedelic and progressive, and as wholly conceived a concept as any other record of the era. From great pop hooks ("The Four Horsemen"), heavy rock ("Do It"), to Magma-esque prog rock ("Altamont"), the album covers a lot of musical ground while remaining unique, cohesive and even quite idiosyncratic of Vangelis' later solo recordings. "Infinity", a female orgasm trip offered by Irene Papas, was controversial upon the album's release, yet any of which has certainly worn off with age. The performances are all top notch, in particular, Silver Koulouris' psychedelic guitar work and Lucas Sideras' drumming. The album's magnum opus, the twenty-minute finale "All The Seats Were Occupied" is simply fantastic. Drifting in and out of the mix, the twenty-minute track reprises the album's various themes as it gradually unfolds into a tight psychedelic groove. The album would be the last for the band. Roussos left for a solo career in Greece after the recording, while Vangelis would eventually move to London to begin a long and distinguished solo career.
Khan was the brainchild of Steve Hillage. Previously in Uriel (or Arzachel, whichever your prefer), the guitarist went off to complete his studies at Canterbury University, where much of the album was subsequently written. In 1971, he formed Khan with Nick Greenwood on bass and Eric Peachy on drums, gaining support from Caravan's manager Terry King. Dave Stewart replaced original keyboardist Dick Henningham just prior to recording Space Shanty, their first and only album. The title track reveals some heavy psychedelic rock, but with a fair amount of melody and hippie flair. Building on the Arzachel/Egg formula, the record obviously showcases Hillage's guitar playing. He's found the echo effect that would provide a signature to his guitar work with Gong, but also doesn't shy away from bending a few notes and rocking out either. Stewart's organ, of course, is the perfect compliment, in particular on "Stranded". Hillage's first solo album, Fish Rising would be the logical successor to the album; just check out the closing section of "Driving to Amsterdam". After the album's release, Hillage and Stewart carried on with a new rhythm section for a few short months, but offers from Kevin Ayers and Hatfield And The North lured both away and the band came to an abrupt end. The album was originally issued by Deram in the UK and Brain in Germany, but also reissued years later in the US on Passport Records.
The Osanna story begins in Naples, with the band Città Frontale. The original lineup consisted of vocalist Lino Vairetti, drummer Massimo Guarino, bassist Lello Brandi and guitarist Danilo Rustici. When keyboardist Gianni Leone left for Il Balletto di Bronzo in 1971, they added Elio D'Anna on sax and flute, and changed their name to Osanna. The band earned quite a reputation as a live act, being one of the first to wear costumes on stage and integrate theatre. In addition to playing the major Italian festivals, they opened for Genesis on one of their earliest tours of Italy... Their first album, L'Uomo, released in 1971 on Fonit Cetra was a curious mix of hard rock with progressive overtones, with more than a little affinity to the earliest of Jethro Tull's works. In 1972, they teamed up with Luis Enríquez Bacalov to produce Milano Calibro 9, a soundtrack for the film noir by Fernando Di Leo. Bacalov of course, was hot on the heels of the New Trolls' Concerto Grosso. "Preludio" sets the stage: the contrast of flute and synthesizer yield to the sharp string arrangements; when the band kicks in, they're in high gear. Throughout each of the seven "Variatione" the combination is genuinely eclectic, except perhaps for the closing "Canzona". Yet it's not just the strings mixed with rock instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums + synthesizer and flute) that makes the album unique; it completely ignores the British idiom of adding orchestral arrangements as an accouterment: it's a true fusion of rock and classical music. Of course the Italians of this generation had a rich musical heritage rooted in baroque music and little tradition of rock-n-roll. Yes, the album does take some listening to fully understand and there's no concealing the fact that the album sounds dated; but none of that's really the point. The album was the first released on the Peters International Cosmos Label in May of 1974, in a valiant attempt to bring "Eurobands" to the US. Osanna would release two more albums; Palepoli would follow up in 1973, while after a break, Landscape Of Life would appear in 1974 (again seeing a US release). However, success not in the cards, the band broke up. Vairetti and Guarino would reform Città Frontale for one record in 1975, before reuniting as Osanna again (with Rustici) to release one final album in 1978 on CBS.
Roxy Music was a pop experiment that - among other things - also provided a fertile spawning ground for many Progressive musicians. John Wetton, Eddie Jobson, John Gustafson, in addition to longtime members Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera, all had tenure in the band. Of course, the other thing was the two Brians (sic). Both Ferry and Eno were dominant characters and their clashes would eventually lead to Eno's exit from the band after the second album. With all this talent, Roxy was indeed an influential force in the years to come. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Their debut album, produced by Crimson alumnus Peter Sinfield, was written entirely by Ferry. It offered pop music disguised as art rock. The Bowie-esque "Remake/Remodel" is a standout, as is the single "Virginia Plain". Neither is hard to digest, but given the full "roxy" treatment, both gain another dimension beyond simple pop and certainly one that is progressive. Even the overwrought warble of Ferry didn't deter: the album made the UK Top 10. But it is a track like "If There Was Every Something" that despite starting off slow, descends into the type of instrumental workout that often kept Roxy albums appealing to Progressive audiences for years to come. The band would reach a creative zenith on 1974's Country Life, before taking a break mid-decade, only to return with even smoother records at the turn of the decade. In between, Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay would contribute to dozens of solo and side-projects, all of interest to the progressive listener.
ELP returned from a tour of the US in the spring to complete their third studio album, Trilogy. The album's opener, "The Endless Enigma", highlights the often-overlooked potential of the band. Anchored by Greg Lake's bass, the fantastic interplay between Keith Emerson's blaring Hammond organ and Carl Palmer's spry drum work is both spacious and economical. Lake's bass provides counterpoint to the melody of Emerson's solo piano on "Fugue", before the final refrain of "Part Two" winds things up. Lake's lyrics are succinct, but this would be the last album he'd write entirely for. His exceptionally bright acoustic guitar on the compulsory acoustic number "From The Beginning" is complimented with a subdued electric guitar solo. The song saw some chart action as a single in the US, hitting the lower reaches of the Top 40. The time ELP spent in America had some influence in the band's choice of material too as the Wild West provides inspiration for the next two tracks. The indulgent but genuine rocker "The Sheriff" begins with a roll around the drum kit from Palmer, while Copeland's "Hoedown" sports a very effective arrangement. The bulk of the second side though moves back to appropriation. Here the band taps another American composer, George Gershwin, for the opening moments of the overly romantic "Trilogy". The track changes gear swiftly, highlighting the multi-tracked keyboards of Emerson. "Living Sin" is a welcome hard-rocking throwback to the previous Tarkus. The circular motion of "Abaddon's Bolero", building slowly with each successive repetition of its main theme, is a rare but welcome undertaking for ELP. Eddie Offord's production throughout is impeccable, but the sheer diversity of its compositions renders the album one of the band's most enduring works; it reached the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic.
For their third album, Gentle Giant made their first definitive foray into the realm of the concept album, and as such, it's one of the bands most coherent and satisfying records. As the title suggests, Three Friends does indeed revolve around the lives of three childhood friends. All of the Giant's cleverness one had "acquired a taste" for from the previous records are present, but direct and rock steady, the six compositions here reflect a bluesy (if not ballsy) performance. The rollicking "Prologue" opens, its main theme punctuated to great effect with a fat saw-tooth Moog line. In contrast, the atonal interplay between vibes and guitar on the ensuing "School Days" is probably the odd-man out on the record. Effortlessly afloat, it yields only to the gorgeous piano and Mellotron of the middle section. Accordingly "Working All Day" gets a little dirty; the band add a horn section over the laid back rhythm, and the heavy break down features a great organ solo from Kerry Minnear. The second side slowly ambles before exploding into the Giant rocking riff of "Peel The Paint", finally digressing into a mess of drums and echo guitar (not that I'm complaining). The band bounces right back with the snappy "Mister Class and Quality". Underneath Minnear's hard-driven organ, the track seamlessly glides into the symphonic refrain of "Three Friends". Malcolm Mortimore had joined on drums for the album and ensuing European tour supporting Jethro Tull, however, his time in the band was cut short due to a motorcycle accident. Further tour commitments forced the band to quickly find a replacement, but what a replacement they found: John Weathers would weather the band's fortunes until their bitter end. The album was the first of two released on Columbia in the US.
This double-album offers a chronological retrospective of Jethro Tull's career to date, compiling non-album singles and recordings from 1968-1971. However, with only four tracks from the previous studio albums, many (myself included) consider it an album of nearly all-new material. And given the bulky proposition of Thick As A Brick released earlier in the year, many too found Living In The Past much easier to digest. In fact, the album did break into the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The title track, a UK hit for the band in mid-1969, made it back into the US charts shortly before the album's release. The packaging also rivaled that of TAAB, its thick cardboard cover resembling a hardcover book more than a record jacket. But all of that aside, the compilation remains one of the most satisfying Tull records, due in part to the era it encompasses: their best. Much like the previous Benefit in composition and feel, the album focuses on Ian Anderson as singer-songwriter. Some of his most delicate tunes are within; in particular the primarily acoustic numbers on the fourth side, including "Wondering Again", "Life Is A Long Song" and "Up The Pool". The instrumental "For Later" is the sleeper however, speaking volumes of prog rock in its brief two minutes and eight seconds. The third side of the album contains part of a live concert recorded in late 1970 at Carnegie Hall, but (unfortunately) it's just a lot of soloing from John Evan and Clive Bunker. The remaining and far more interesting portions of that concert were released in 1992 as part of the Jethro Tull 25th Anniversary box set.
Not all of progressive rock dealt with sci-fi fantasy, silver capes and airbrushed art; Family was proof positive of that. Their music lacked the overt virtuosity (and accompanying pretentiousness) of most prog rock music, but still contained sophistication greater than most bands of the day. The prior year was one of transition for the band. The only new release was the compilation Old Songs New Songs, which contained remixes (a first?) of songs from their prior albums (the band was unhappy with the originals). A new single “In My Own Time” b/w “Seasons” reached the UK No. 4 in June of 1971, followed by the excellent Fearless album in October. Bassist John Wetton from Mogul Thrash was the new blood, replacing John Weider who was off to play guitar in Stud. Bandstand, again featuring a unique die-cut jacket like the previous album, is perhaps their finest recording. The symphonic textures of “Bolero Babe” and “Top Of The Hill” are pure art school, while the simple meandering of “Dark Eyes” speaks volumes over its short two minutes. The single from the album, “Burlesque”, reached No. 13 in the UK, however the acoustic “My Friend The Sun” failed to chart (but certainly not to charm). But as the excellent “Broken Nose” demonstrates, Family could rock as hard as any other. The album is another installment of the songwriting genius of Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney, yet even a support slot for Elton John couldn’t change the band’s fortunes in the US; despite reaching No. 15 in the UK, the album did not chart in the US. Both Wetton and Poli Palmer would depart shortly after the album’s release. Family then added Jim Cregan and Tony Ashton as replacements and setup their own Raft label. They recorded one final album It’s Only A Movie before breaking up in late 1973, never again to reform. Chapman and Whitney would later emerge as the hard-rocking Streetwalkers, recording a string of albums for A&M.
Nektar was a group of British ex-patriots that like many during the mid-'60s made a living by working and touring in Europe. Bassist Derek "Mo" Moore, drummer Ron Howden and keyboardist Allan "Taff" Freeman were in a band called Prophesy. By 1969, guitarist and vocalist Roye Albrighton had joined up and the name Nektar was adopted. They made Hamburg, Germany their base and signed to Peter Hauke's Bacillus label. Released in 1971, their debut album, Journey To The Centre Of The Eye, took an anti-nuclear stance; not surprisingly, as it was rooted in '60s psychedelia. The band then moved into more progressive territory for their second record, A Tab In the Ocean. The album-side long title track pounds right through its continually-shifting themes over a short sixteen minutes. Throughout, the rhythm section of Moore and Howden provides a solid foundation for the music, but with Albrighton's guitar always to the fore. "Desolation Valley/Waves" kicks off the second side, which again plays continuous. Both feature some of the jazzy subtleties of the Nektar sound. "Cryin' In The Dark" gets a lot heavier, incorporating some excellent interplay between the band members, while the churning riff and vocal harmonies of "King Of Twilight" are more straight-ahead rock. The album's original mix, courtesy of Dieter Dierks, is a classic example of heavy rock from the era. In February of 1973, the band recorded a "live in the studio" album, Sounds Like This. Less polished, it had more of a hard rock jam-band feel to it. Shortly after, Nektar launched their first tour of the UK in June, with Welsh rockers Man.
Following the departure of Graham Field, Rare Bird, now signed to Polydor, shifted musical focus to a very guitar-centric sound. Steve Gould switched to guitar and guitarist Andy “Ced” Curtis was recruited, while Fred Kelly joined on drums and Paul Karas added bass and additional lead vocals. The lead off track “Baby Listen” immediately reveals the difference: a funky groove, driving bass and dual-lead guitars are about as far from their previous work as one could imagine. But change is good, especially with the caliber of Rare Bird’s songwriting. “Hey Man” and “Turning The Lights Out” reveals more of their great harmony vocals, while the title track “Epic Forest” is indeed epic, and, not to be forgotten, features some tasty electric piano from Kaffinetti. “Her Darkest Hour” and “Turn It All Around” fill the hauntingly beautiful acoustic number bill, but the latter includes an explosively heavy middle section, to great effect. The duelling lead guitars (ala Wishbone Ash) and vocal harmonies are back in full force for the driving “Title No. 1 Again (Birdland)”, another potent rocker. The UK pressing included a bonus three-song 7” with initial copies, again filled with more-than-album-worthy tracks. All in all, the new musical direction couldn’t be more than welcome, but unfortunately record sales weren’t forthcoming. With various new members (including Nic Potter), Kaffinetti and Gould continued on, releasing a few more albums until 1976. But unfortunately they’re of lesser interest to the progressive listener, the promise of Epic Forest somewhat lost. Kaffinetti would famously appear in This Is Spinal Tap, playing the part of drummer Viv Savage, while Gould would play bass for decades in Alvin Lee’s band. Ced Curtis would take part in the first Long Hello, featuring ex-VDGG members.