Lee Speaks About Music… #184

Animation (Expanded & Remastered Digipak Edition) – Jon Anderson

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Introduction…

John Anderson’s third solo album Animation is the latest to be re-released and reissued by Esoteric Recordings and I have to admit I quite like how they have been repackaging his albums in quality Digipaks. However, as to why any of these newly remastered albums in this series come advertised as “Expanded” sure as hell beats the life out of me. But perhaps one of the most disappointing things about all these reissues is that they do not come with a 5.1 surround mix and Jon Anderson or his record company Atlantic Records must have been very careless when he made these albums for non of the multi-track tapes to survive.

Like I mentioned in my other reviews I only ever had his debut album from many moons ago and this album is really new to me as I have never heard anything of it until now. To be perfectly honest having purchased his second solo album Song Of Seven I was not even gonna bother buying any more of his albums as I found it quite disappointing and only a couple of tracks really stood out. The thing that twisted my arm in the first place to buy this album and his second album was really down to the review I saw of Animation on Barry’s Classic Album Review to which he was unboxing it a month before it was due to be released. I was quite taken in by some of the strong positive comments left on his unboxing video and even his own views reflected a positive vibe for the album.

If you have not tuned into Barry’s Youtube channel I highly recommend it and he really is a guy who can speak about music and I always enjoy his reviews. I even used his affiliated link to pre-order my copy which gave him a few micro pennies for the good work he is doing.

Having read quite a bit of the praise this album got within those positive comments do they really measure up to it being a good album? Well of course we all have different perceptions of how we ourselves perceive music and my opinion and that of many others are bound to vary. One of the comments even pointed out that it was as good as any Yes album but is it really? Well before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

The CD comes in a quality cardboard Gatefold Digipak that replicates the original vinyl album cover very well. The good thing about Digipaks is that they come with the same plastic insert and hub to hold the disc in place as you will find in a standard jewel case so they do provide the same ample protection for the disc. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK on the 28th of March and it arrived on the day of its release. It came at a very respectable price and I even saved 97p by pre-ordering it and got it for £10.02.

Artwork.
The album cover artwork was inspired by a photo that someone had taken and Anderson quite liked the effect they had done so he used it for the album cover. The CD Package Design was done by Meriel Waissan. I cannot say it’s the best picture of Jon Anderson I have seen and personally I think it’s the worst and I think the album cover looks dreadful 😊😊😊.

The Album In Review…

Jon Anderson’s 3rd solo album Animation was released sometime in April 1982. The album contained 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 32 seconds. This new reissue by Esoteric Recordings was released on the 30th of April 2021 and has once again been defined as an “Expanded” edition. It contains 11 tracks over an overall playing time of 57 minutes. 22 seconds, though I beg to differ that a couple of bonus tracks would hardly make any album “Expanded” in the right sense of the word and there is nothing unusual when it comes to adding a few bonus tracks with CD releases. They have done so for years simply because Vinyl has its restrictions with what you can actually fit on it which is why bonus tracks are often associated with CD’s down to the fact that they have twice the capacity.

To “Expand” any album you would really need to be looking for material that was recorded during the sessions of making the original album. It could be material that was left off the album or longer versions of the original tracks that were edited down for the final album. One example would be the differences between the Vinyl and CD releases of Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits where the CD version is a lot longer and that version could very well be seen as “Expanded”. Other examples are where they place material that was recorded at the same time in between the tracks of the original album and not at the end which is the norm for the placement of bonus tracks.

Only one of the bonus tracks you get here came from the original recording sessions of the album and was used for the B-Side of the single release of one of the tracks from the original album. The other bonus track comes from another time period and was not done during the recording sessions of the album.

Animation is an album that has not been reissued that many times and it was not until 2006 that the album first surfaced on a CD. It was released here in the UK on an independent label known as Opio Media and due to the fact that many other of Anderson’s solo albums (and only his) have appeared later on this label over the years, suggests that it is Anderson himself who is running this label.

Opio Media

Judging by the design of the record labels logo above, also puts me in mind that it is Anderson who is behind it. This particular CD release was mastered by Daniel Earnshaw at Vortex Sound Studios in Boston, Massachusetts. Those who purchased it had nothing but complaints about its inferior quality claiming that the recording was not taken from the original master tapes but from a worn-out vinyl record.

It was also released in the same year in Japan only on the Arcàngelo label. This edition came in a paper sleeve and my guess is that they copied the UK CD release and popped in a paper sleeve and this is so typical of Japanese releases to which many claim are far more superior recordings. I am not stating that Japan does this all the time with recordings and some of them can be excellent and a proper job has been done with them. Though with my experience over the years with Japanese imports I would say the biggest majority of the time you will get ripped off and pay extra for the privilege as well 😊😊😊.

There is also another factor that suggests that Anderson was behind this 2006 CD release and that is down to the previously unreleased bonus track “The Spell” which is also included in this new expanded edition along with “Spider” which was officially released as the B-Side of “Surrender“. It’s unfortunate that “The Spell” only exists as a demo on a Cassette to which only Anderson has in his possession. Esoteric Recordings have replicated this 2006 release and rehashed it as an “Expanded Edition” when in reality it’s nothing of the sort. The quality, however, might be a bit better than that 2006 release apart from the rough demo to which nothing really could be done with it.

Most of the material that found its way onto Animation was written by Anderson in 1981 and recorded once again at his home studio between 1981/82. It was also a very busy year for him as he was also working with both Mike Oldfield and Vangelis at the same time. Neil Kernon who was noted for working with acts such as Brand X, Daryl Hall and John Oates was at the helm of most of the production and it also contains a song that was produced with Tony Visconti who is perhaps more renowned as a record producer and had worked with more mainstream British acts such as David Bowie and T. Rex to name a couple.

The albums title and self-titled track were inspired by the birth of his daughter Jade in 1980 and it was the beautiful way she moved in an animated way that made him choose the title in honour of her. I am guessing that the picture that was used for the album cover may have been taken around the time of her birth which is another reason he wanted to use it.

Animation did not sell well upon its release and did not quite break into the UK Top 40 Album charts like his previous album did and peaked just outside at number 43. In the US it did even worse and only reached 176 in the Billboard charts. Two singles were released from the album though neither of them managed to make a dent in the charts. He even put on more shows than his previous album and performed 23 shows in the US between the 7th of June to the 25th of August after the release of the album. All of the main core of the band that played on the album was assembled for the live tour apart from Simon Phillips who was not available and was replaced by Guy Shiffman.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Jon Anderson & Neil Kernon except “All Gods Children” Produced by Tony Visconti & Jon Anderson. All songs were written by Jon Anderson (except “All Gods Children”) by Jon & Jennifer Anderson. Recorded sometime between 1981/82 at Seer Green Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Recording Engineers Mark Wallace & Raphael Preston (except for “Olympia”) Mike Dunne. Engineered and Mixed by Neil Kernon & Jon Anderson. Cover Design by Jon Anderson. CD Package Design by Meriel Waissan. Conducted Interview Essay by Malcolm Dome. 24-bit digital remastering from the original master tapes by Paschal Byrne at The Audio Archiving Company Hertfordshire, England.

Musicians.
Jon Anderson: Vocals – Acoustic Guitar.
Clem Clempson: Guitars.
Stefano Cerri: Bass.
David Sancious: Keyboards.
Simon Phillips: Drums & Percussion.
Chris Rainbow: Vocals.

Additional Musicians.
Dave Lawson / Ronnie Leahy / Blue Weaver: Keyboards.
Jack Bruce / John Giblin: Bass.
Billy Kristian: Guitar.
Ian Wallace: Drums.
Morris Pert / Brother James / Brazil Idiots: Percussion.
Brass Section: Dick Morrissey / Henry Lowther / Chris Pyne / Tony Stanton.
Delmé String Quartet: Arranged by David Ogden.
The Gosplets Choir: Arranged by Eugene Sister Moule.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Glancing at the musicians who appear on the album many of them played on his previous album only here they have been shuffled around a bit and both Clem Clempson and Simon Phillips are now in the main core of the band and not in the additional musician’s list. Chris Rainbow is the only one to have kept his place in the main core line-up and both David Sancious and Stefano Cerri who were not on the previous album make up the main core of the band. It’s also noticeable that Morris Pert who played the drums on the previous album has been relegated to the additional musician’s list and that may have been down to Anderson working with Phillips on the new Mike Oldfield album Crises at the time.

Although even additional musicians can have a sufficient role as a session player and according to the former Greenslade keyboardist Dave Lawson he had a vivid recollection of the 6 tracks he contributed overdubs to which he did them all on the 30th of July 1981 and was paid £517.50 for his time. The fact there are a total of four keyboard players on this album suggests that Anderson was looking for a more keyboard orientated album or even to give it more of an electronic approach. Technology was moving on with keyboards in the 80’s especially with the birth of midi and Anderson was very much aware of it.

I have to confess that keyboard orientated music is not really my cup of tea and it was down to that in the 80’s that made me turn my back on many bands even to the point of having no further interest in the radio especially as far as pop music goes. But once again he has onboard some highly skilled musicians but is that enough to turn things around for my personal taste? Well, let’s find out as I go through the album tracks and the couple of bonus tracks.

Track 1. Olympia.

Most people would associate the title of this song with Greece and sports. However, the Olympia that Anderson is refering to in these lyrics is an exhibition centre in London and the inspiration came from a time he came across a lot of new technology at the place to which opened up a new world to him. The technology that did interest him was the electronic side of things and you can hear that in this song although the opening guitar riff by Clem Clempson is nothing new around this time and it’s a bit remiscent to the sythesized sound Steve Hillage had on his guitar much earlier than this.

The song it’s self is very uptempo and perhaps typical of 80’s rock in that it all sounds rather lightweight. This song does not want remastering it needs a new mix to put some HUMPH! into the thing. It very much reminds me of how badly mixed Meatloaf’sBat Out Of Hell” was mixed where the frequencies are way to high. You cannot rock anything out with a tin box recording and that’s why neither of these two songs have the power to rock even if they have the energy. The only people who are gonna get off with this song are those who listen to music on transistor radios and tin boxes 😊😊😊.

Track 2. Animation.

The albums self-titled track is the longest track on the album (excluding bonus tracks) weighing in at just over 9 minutes. This has a lot more progression and transitional changes in it and it’s quite THEMATIC! and verging on CINEMATIC! in parts. The quirky rather bizarre opening is interesting with the use of keyboard and vocal effects and puts me in mind of Frank Zappa and the effects they used on “Ritual” from Topographic Oceans. Some of the thematic keyboard parts put me in mind of Asia and the heavy percussion works very well too.

Like I mentioned earlier this particular song was done in honour of the birth of his daughter Jade and the lyrics very much pertain to that and although they are meaningful lyrics I am not really sure that they fit the musical presentation we have here. Though Anderson does express them well with his voice and the musical structure and recording is much better than the opening track on the album.

There are quite a few transitional changes along the path of this song and the section from 3:50 onwards utilises the Delmé String Quartet: Arranged by David Ogden very well. The song also trickles its way out nicely in almost Vangelis style with Anderson’s voice and the electric piano. It is by far the best track on the album and might be the only good track on the album but let’s see.

Track 3. Surrender.

Anderson is in the tropical summer holiday mood like we saw with some of the songs on his previous album it was the main single release from the album. The way of surrendering is perhaps unusual in that it’s a peaceful way to do so and the words are pertaining to the government surrendering all the weapons of mass destruction so they can blow them up in space so everybody can celebrate in a joyous way. The intentions are good if anything else though it’s easy to see why the single release never did a thing.

Track 4. All in a Matter of Time.

Another single release from the album that pertains to the wonders of the world that we wake up to each day and I suppose it takes time to take them all in sort of thing. The song has the presence of happiness about it and Anderson’s voice is in fine shape for the song. The bass and guitars do a fine job here too, although a song like this is hardly going to set the world on fire no matter how much time it takes 😊😊😊.

Track 5. Unlearning (The Dividing Line).

Another song that has quite a dominant bassline and one that ticks over at a sort of uplifting pace. It’s quite a simplistic song and whoever out the two bass players is playing the bass is perhaps the most interesting thing here. The keyboard work is as straightforward as you can get and is just playing simple chords. Like the previous song it does nothing for me I am afraid and even the lyrical content is weird even if they do pertain to the title of the song.

Track 6. Boundaries.

This next song not only appeared later on Anderson’s 11th studio album The Promise Ring under the title of “O’er” but also on the Yes album Open Your Eyes under the title of “Somehow, Someday” in the same year. This version has more of a Celtic ballad feel about it that’s quite different to how Yes did it though both versions are not fitting to Yes Music which is why that particular Yes album never said a Dickie Bird to me when I wasted my money on it back in 1997. He also changed the lyrics for the Yes version whereas the other version on The Promising Ring was just a different arrangement to which he sang the original words and accompanied himself on a keyboard.

Track 7. Pressure Point.

This is very much a keyboard orientated song and my guess is that Anderson was trying to keep up with the electro vibe that many were doing back in the 80’s. The only thing that sounds remotely interesting about this song is the pounding drums and percussion and the keyboard solo which is verging on the synth sound that Patrick Moraz used. This is not my cup of tea at all and the less said about it the better me thinks 😊😊😊.

Track 8. Much Better Reason.

An uptempo love song to which the band are all in the groove and they GEL! quite well together here. The bass and drums in particular are well in the groove of things and the middle section has a sort of Calypso and Samba jive about it. Anderson also sings a bit of Italian along the way and lyrically it’s pertaining to feeling good with yourself. It’s a song one could dance to and one of the better songs on the album which is really down to how tight and close nit the band are and nothing else.

Track 9. All Gods Children.

The final track on the original album is perhaps like a Gospel Anthem sort of like Leonard Cohen’sHallelujah” only funked up in a modern way and if you are into song’s like that then this might float your boat so to speak. Anderson co-wrote this song with his wife and it was produced by Tony Visconti. It also features Eugene Sister Moule and The Gosplets Choir and to be honest I am not sure if it’s just the voice of Moule making up the choir himself or if he has a choir and is conducting and arranging them. However, all are doing a fine job here even if it’s not my cup of tea.

Bonus Tracks…

The first of the two bonus tracks is entitled “Spider” and was left off the original album and used for the B-Side of “Surrender“. According to Anderson, the song is based on an old Irish story about the 13th sign of the zodiac, the spider sign. It’s only a short song just under 3 minutes and he has his daughter Deborah explaining the story. It’s not a bad song and personally, I prefer it to the A-Side it also features a nice little guitar solo from Clemson.

The second bonus track entitled “The Spell” was a piece that Anderson recorded quite a while before “Animation” and it was originally called “Twins” and was a story he was writing in the way of a concept album but at the time the record company did not get it so it got shelved. What you get here is an outtake in the form of an 11 minute, 42-second rough demo and the recording came from a cassette. As rough as it is I personally think this is better than anything on this album and it puts me in mind of how he worked with Vangelis on the self-titled track “The Friends of Mr Cairo” with the dramatisation of the story.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up and conclude my review of Animation by Jon Anderson. I found the more times I played the album the less I liked it and it had very little to offer over the original nine tracks on the album, even less than his second album Song Of Seven which was only a half-decent album. I think one of the key factors of how this album is let down is really down to the mix and the actual source of the recordings that were used. Out of his first three albums that have so far been remastered and reissued by Esoteric Recordings Song Of Seven is the only album that sounds alright whereas this album and his debut album are pretty much inferior recordings and I doubt very much they used any master tapes at all and if they did all I can say is that they were not in good shape.

It’s not so much the songs on Animation that let it down in some cases but these dreadful recordings. Although I will admit some of the material on the album is not my cup of tea at all, whereas tracks like “Olympia” and “All in a Matter of Time” may have appealed a lot more to me if it was not for the mix. This is an album that really needs to be remixed rather than remastered. The albums self-titled track “Animation” is my only real highlight from the original tracks on the album and I would also throw in the couple of bonus tracks to which I personally think is better-written material than the biggest majority of the tracks along the original album.

I did mention in my review of Olias of Sunhillow (in this three-part series of his albums) that I would give Anderson’s solo career another chance after 40 years because it was down to him changing his direction into a more popified persona that put me off in the first place. Having purchased this album I would say I wasted my money and this is where I now draw the line and have decided to knock it on the head and not bother with any future releases that Esoteric Recordings might have planned to release from his discography. You could say I Surrender 😊😊😊.

Sometimes it pays to go by your own gut instinct rather than go by reviews. As for any of the material on Animation being likened or as good as Yes as some of the comments pointed out. It’s nothing remotely like Yes Music and it’s really an album that personifies much of the keyboard orientated music that was going on back in the 80’s. If you are into that sort of music from that decade this album might float your boat a lot more than myself. I would also say if you have the original vinyl album I would stick with that rather than throw money at this release.

I Really Do Surrender…

The CD Tracklisting is as follows:

01. Olympia. 4:58.
02. Animation. 9:05.
03. Surrender. 3:55.
04. All In A Matter Of Time. 3:07.
05. Unlearning (The Divided Line). 4:55.
06. Boundaries. 3:19.
07. Pressure Point. 4:32.
08. Much Better Reason. 4:24.
09. All God’s Children. 4:30.
10. Spider (Bonus Track). 2:55.
11. Spell [Outtake] (Bonus Track). 11:42.

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

The Album Rating Score. 3/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #183

Song’s Of Seven (Expanded & Remastered Digipak Edition) – Jon Anderson

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Introduction…

Jon Anderson’s second solo album Song of Seven see’s him taking a different direction in relation to his debut album Olias Of Sunhillow not only in the musical side of things but also down to the fact that other musicians were brought in to lend a hand in the making of it. He did in fact bring in quite an array of musicians and gave them the title of The New Life Band. The album was made at the time Anderson had departed from Yes back in 1980 and it was very much down to its musical differences that were the reason I myself never took any interest nor bothered with it. I do remember him either on the radio or on the TV doing one of the songs from the album and it was not really my cup of tea and perhaps too popified for my liking.

Now some 40 odd years later and since the re-release of his debut album that’s been done in conjunction with Esoteric Recordings, I thought it was time to give his solo career a bit more of a chance and see if it speaks to me any better today. After all, the price point is very reasonably cheap enough to do so and it’s not going to break the bank in doing so. Not only that I quite like how Esoteric Recordings have repackaged these new reissues so before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork per usual.

Packaging & Artwork…

The CD comes in a very neat cardboard quality Digipak that has a glossy finish and overall gives the album a very stylish presentation. They certainly have not skimped here and neither did they with the 24-page booklet that not only comes with all the lyrics, linear and production credit notes but also you get a very informative essay written by Malcolm Dome that came out of the interview he conducted with Anderson back in September 2020. I got my copy from Amazon for £10.99 which is an excellent price.

Artwork.
The albums illustrative artwork was done by Ian Nicholson and although Anderson is credited for the cover design he simply left the artist to show him some ideas and rough sketches. The photographs were done by his wife at the time Jennifer Elizabeth Anderson and Alwyn Clayden provided the art direction. Overall, I think it’s a good enough album cover with the stained glass windows and they were something that Anderson liked himself.

The Album In Review…

Song of Seven by Jon Anderson was released on the 7th of November 1980. The original album contained 9 tracks spread over an overall time of just over 39 minutes. This new so-called “Expanded” edition was released on the 27th of November 2020 and comes with 2 additional bonus tracks giving the album an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 12 seconds. I say the so-called “Expanded” edition simply because the two bonus tracks that are included are merely edited down shorter versions of a couple of tracks on the album namely “Some Are Born” and “Heart of the Matter“. The reason why they were shortened down was for promotional purposes for release in the US.

Like his debut album, Olias Of Sunhillow Anderson recorded the tracks at his home studio in Seer Green Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, and recording engineer Mike Dunne was once again at the helm of it. Four of the 9 tracks on the album “Some Are Born“, “Days“, “Everybody Loves You” and “Hear It” was originally written and demoed during the Tormato sessions with his former band. I have to admit that particular Yes album was heavily criticized (by myself included) although in all fairness the material that did make it on the Tormato album was certainly stronger than what we have here and in all honesty, there is more quality and progression on the first couple of Yes albums than what we have here too.

It was most likely the disappointing reviews and heavy criticism that Tormato received that led to both Anderson and Rick Wakeman leaving rather than them struggling to record a new album. Anderson did say to put the band on hold to which quite rightly the other members refused to do hence why we got the Yes album Drama in the same year.

Having left the band in 1980 things looked to be on the up for Anderson when Virgin Records offered him a contract and a big fat cheque upfront in the hope of further catapulting his solo career into stardom. It was around the same time Phil Collins of Genesis was offered a contract with the record company and he was about to embark and launch his own solo career. To be honest it perhaps comes as no surprise why Virgin would offer Anderson such a contract when you look at the success he not only had with his former band but more so with Vangelis when it comes down to popularity and music aimed for singles in the pop charts.

However, what was to be an exciting prospect at the time all backfired when having heard a couple of the songs and ideas he was working on, the chaps at Virgin were not impressed and demanded their money back to which he handed it all back. By comparison to Collins, you could say that Anderson’s popularity was waning and perhaps more on par with Tony Banks solo career when it came down to popularity. Whereas Collins solo career ROCKETED! and he went on to sell more records than Anderson, Yes and Genesis combined.

In the end, Anderson signed back up with Atlantic Records basically because Ahmet Ertegun was not like many others who were hunting for potential hit records and let the artists do their own thing. The album was not widely received although it did manage to get into the UK Top 40 album charts peaking at number 38. In the US Billboard charts, it managed to reach 143. Four singles in total were released from the album both “Some Are Born” and “Take Your Time” were released in the US whilst “Heart of the Matter” was the UK single release. “Everybody Loves You” was a single release in the Netherlands though none of them was successful.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Jon Anderson. All songs written and arranged by Jon Anderson except track 4 “Heart of the Matter” written by Jon Anderson & Ronnie Leahy. Recorded sometime between spring and summer 1980 at Seer Green Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Recording Engineer Mike Dunne. Electronics Brian Gaylor. Cover Design by Jon Anderson. Illustrative Artwork by Ian Nicholson. Art Direction by Alwyn Clayden. Photography by Jennifer Elizabeth Anderson. Conducted Interview Essay by Malcolm Dome. 24-bit digital remastering from the original master tapes by Ben Wiseman at Broadlake Studios Hertfordshire, England.

Musicians.
Jon Anderson: Lead Vocals – Acoustic Guitar (Track 2) – Keyboards (Tracks 1,7,8) – Harp (Track 9).
Ian Bairnson: Guitars (Tracks 1,2,3,5,6,7,8) – Bass (Track 2) – Backing Vocals (Track 2).
John Giblin: Fretless Bass (Tracks 1,3,6,7,8,9).
Ronnie Leahy: Keyboards (All Tracks).
Morris Pert: Drums & Percussion (Tracks 1,2,3,5,6,7,9).
Chris Rainbow: Backing Vocals (Tracks 2,3,4,6,8,8).

Additional Musicians.
Clem Clempson: Guitar (Tracks 4,9).
Jack Bruce: Bass (Track4).
Mel: Bass (Track 5).
Simon Phillips: Drums (Track 4).
Dick Morrissey: Saxophone (Tracks 2,4).
Johnny Dankworth: Alto Saxophone (Track 3).
Damian Anderson: Keyboards (Track 5).
Deborah Anderson: Harmony Vocals (Track 9).
Delmé String Quartet: Arranged by David Ogden (Track9).

The Album Tracks In Review…

As you can see by the list of musicians above there are some well recognisable ones and much of it was down to Anderson’s good friend and keyboard player Ronnie Leahy who knew a lot of musicians and he roped most of them in. Leahy first gained recognition as a keyboardist in the second line-up of Scottish band Stone the Crows back in the early 70’s. He also played on Steve Howe’s second solo album The Steve Howe Album and later went on to be the keyboard player for the rock band, Nazareth.

It was also Leahy who assembled the lineup of The New Life Band to take it on the road to promote the album towards the end of the following year that the album was released. Although it was not an extensive live tour and they only played six shows during December 1981 in the UK and one in Germany that preceded them a month earlier. Much of the lineup was the same core members of the band except for guitarist Ian Bairnson who was most likely doing something else and guitarists Les Davidson and Joe Partridge stepped into his shoes so to speak. The drummer Barry de Souza was also brought in to play alongside Morris Pert.

Song of Seven is not an album that has a concept unlike his debut album and is a collection of songs that make it up. As to the meaning of the album title, it illudes and confuses me with how Anderson says it’s obvious when describing it in the interview that was conducted by Malcolm Dome. He also went on to say the following:

The number ‘seven’ has always been very important. You think about it. There are seven days in the week for a start. And if you ask anyone to choose a number between one and twelve the chances are that they will opt for seven every time. So, as far as I was concerned, this was the logical choice for the album title. 

Personally, I rather think that making an album with seven songs would have been more fitting to describe the album’s title and it may have been the logical thing to do. As for asking anyone to choose a number between one and twelve I hardly think that is the case although the chances of seven popping up more times might apply when rolling the dice and seven has also been noted as a lucky number for some and there may be more logic in that 😊😊😊. But anyway let’s now take a look at the individual tracks on the album and see if we can find seven good songs out of the nine.

Track 1. For You for Me.

The opening song is very much heavily synth-driven by Ronnie Leahy’s keyboards, also Anderson plays alongside him on the keyboards on this song. However, John Giblin’s bass and Ian Bairnson guitar manage to cut through quite well were as Morris Pert’s drums and percussion are perhaps held back a bit too much in the mix but nevertheless lend a light-hearted feel to keep the song ticking over. Anderson’s voice conveys the words and the message very well and this is a song that runs along at the same sort of pace as “The State of Independence” that he went on to do with Vangelis a year later on their The Friends of Mr Cairo album. 

One of the strong points about this particular song is Anderson’s lyrics and although the song pertains to love the picture I chose does not really touch on everything to which the song is really about and it takes in the creation of our planet and how mankind has destroyed the home that was provided for us sort thing. He’s conveying the right message in the song and he’s penned the lyrical content very well into context.

The musical side of things (despite having some really GREAT! musicians who have played for countless other artists over the years) is where I feel the weakness of the song creeps in because although there is a chorus it all sounds the same and tends to run along in one direction.  

Track 2. Some Are Born.

This next song is one of the 4 demos that were written back in 1978 when Yes we working on their Tormato album. Here it’s quite evident that the song has been finished and in all fairness is a lot better than the demo he did with his former band. The lyrical content is almost intact to the original demo and it’s the arrangement where the biggest difference lies and he’s given the song more of an uplifting Caribean feel. In some respects, it puts me in mind of the Calypso vibe that was put into “Brother of Mine” on the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe album that came along later. 

The song features Dick Morrissey on saxophone who does a solid job as ever and it’s one of the many songs to feature Chris Rainbow on backing vocals. In the interview that Malcolm Dome conducted with Anderson, he speaks highly of Rainbow’s voice, though I have to say the poor chap can hardly be heard half the time 😊😊😊.

Track 3. Don’t Forget (Nostalgia).

This song is sort of like the approach that Ian Matthews gave to the cover version he did of “Groovin’” penned by Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere. It was a song that featured on his 1976 album Go For Broke and once again we have a Caribean, Calypso vibe going on with this song too. It’s perhaps the sort of song you could dance along to and the lyrical content is very much love related and basically, they are the typical words you will find in most love songs. Johnny Dankworth plays the alto sax on this one and like Morrisey also does a splendid job of it.

Track 4. Heart of the Matter.

Just by looking at the title of the song, it’s plain to see this is another love song and this one Anderson co-wrote with Leahy. Musically it’s very much uptempo and the band are well in the swing of things here. Jack Bruce plays bass on this one and his bass guitar is cooking on gas and is a dominant feature throughout. It also features Clem Clempson on guitar and Simon Phillips on drums. Morrissey is on the sax again and Rainbow’s voice is quite evident in this song. It’s quite evident that Anderson was going full-on pop with this album and it’s a long way away from what he was doing with his former band.

Track 5. Hear It.

This is the shortest track on the album just under two minutes, it’s also another one of the demos from the Tormato sessions. The original demo was well rough and I am fairly sure that only Anderson was playing on it. The version we have here is much better especially in the acoustic guitar department and Ian Bairnson has more of a dominant role-playing it. I would even say it is more guitar-driven in relation to the demo. Anderson’s son Damien Anderson also contributes some keyboards and Mel whoever that is plays bass on this song.

Track 6. Everybody Loves You.

This is another of the songs that came from the Tormato sessions and in comparison to the rough demo, this really puts the Yes version to shame. As far as pop love songs go this is about the best one on the album and I’m surprised it was only released as a single in the Netherlands. Giblin’s bass plays a dominant role along with Bairnson’s guitar. Anderson’s voice shines on this song and I like how they have ended the song.

Track 7. Take Your Time.

This next song is a real beauty and the arrangement is what makes it stand out regarding its musical structure. It’s got a laid back old fashioned feeling and that’s perhaps down the Euphonium. I guess it’s that instrument that makes me think of the Hovis TV commercial years ago that was filmed on the cobbled streets in Lancashire where Anderson was born.

Anderson’s voice is as sweet as a nut and Giblin’s bass work is also outstanding. It was released as a single in the US though personally, this is more of an album track I feel. It’s my personal favourite track on the album and merits the TOP SPOT AWARD!.

Track 8. Days.

This is another fine laid back song that once again features some outstanding bass work from Giblin. It’s the final of the 3 demos that Anderson took from the Tormato sessions and I have to say on this album they do really bloom with how they have been finished. Though it’s easy to see why any of these songs would be fitting for Yes music. The song nicely tailspins into the final song on the album.

Track 9. Song Of Seven.

The albums self-titled track is the longest track on the album weighing in at some near enough 11.5 minutes. It’s perhaps a bit more adventurous though it’s far from PROG! as we know it despite the progression along its path. It’s a piece that has been split into three parts and it utilises the Delmé String Quartet: Arranged by David Ogden on the first part in the way of an opening overture. It is, without doubt, a contender for the albums TOP SPOT! and for some, it could be their favourite of the album.

Personally, I think the transition with the piano that brings in the second part is not a perfect marriage although after a good few spins you get used to it. I also think the mix in this section is weak and lacks weight. This is the second song on the album that features Clemson on guitar and his solo that comes into play around the 7:30 mark is touching on Steve Howe’s style a bit and it was perhaps intended to make it sound like Howe.

The final part is quite interesting and Leahy’s electric piano has a Vangelis sound to it and with Anderson’s voice, it puts me in mind of “Besides” which was also from The Friends of Mr Cairo album. It makes you wonder if Anderson was working with Vangelis whilst putting this album together and that album was released in the following year. This section also features his daughter Deborah Anderson on harmony vocals and we have a bit of “Circus of Heaven” from the Tormato album going on again. There are some nice touches on the guitar from Clemson towards the end and it puts the album nicely to bed.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up and conclude Jon Anderson’s second solo album Songs of Seven it’s quite a different pedigree in relation to his debut album and it’s obvious that his intentions were to go down the road of trying to be a pop star. Anderson always liked The Beatles and Paul MacCartney in particular was who he wanted to be. Most of the material on the first side of the album is your fairly average typical run of the mill and it’s quite easy to see why Virgin Records wanted their money back when you look at the biggest majority of the material that was written. It’s hardly Top of the Pops material and the three of the four singles that were released from the album pretty much vouch for it.

The second side of the album is what really holds the album up and speaks to me a lot more. Both “Take Your Time” and the albums self-titled track “Song of Seven” are my personal highlights from the album and at a push, if I had to try and squeeze something else in here it would be both “Everybody Loves You” and “Days“.

It’s only really a half-decent album even though the musicians that feature on the album are very strong and well-accomplished players. It’s really the material on the first side of the album that is weak and lets it down. Though others might not see it like myself and after all, we all have different perceptions about the music we like. I personally don’t think I wasted my money and it does give me some pleasure even if it’s far from a solid album. 

A Half Decent Love Afair…

The CD Tracklisting is as follows:

01. For You for Me. 4:24.
02. Some Are Born. 4:06.
03. Don’t Forget (Nostalgia). 3:01.
04. Heart of the Matter. 4:23.
05. Hear It. 1:51.
06. Everybody Loves You. 4:04.
07. Days. 3:10.
08. Take Your Time. 3:30.
09. Song of Seven. 11:24.
10. Some Are Born [US Promotional Single Edited Version]. 3:47.
11. Heart Of The Matter [US Promotional Single Edited Version]. 3:32.

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

The Album Rating Score. 5/10.

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #182

Olias Of Sunhillow (Expanded & Remastered Edition) – Jon Anderson

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Introduction…

It appears that the former Yes frontman and singer Jon Anderson has just lately been repackaging and re-releasing his solo discography and they are being reissued by Esoteric Recordings who we seen put out Chris Squire’s solo album Fish Out Of Water back in 2017 in the form of a box set and later as a single Blu Ray release. However, it’s rather unfortunate that his debut album Olias Of Sunhillow has been given a somewhat lesser treatment. There are obvious reasons why to which I will go into later on in my review but I am no stranger to this album and all the solo albums the members of that band put out around the same time when Yes broke up for a two-year hiatus after finishing the tour of their album Relayer back in 1975.

I have to confess that out of all 5 members of the line-up that Yes had on Relayer, Jon Anderson’s solo career was the one that least interested me and perhaps Alan White (who only made one album) and I only ever brought his debut album. Whereas with the other 3 members Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Patrick Moraz I more or less brought all their solo albums. That’s not to say that I did not like Olias Of Sunhillow and it would have been down to him pursuing more of a pop career with his subsequent albums that later followed it in the ’80s. I did however buy the albums he did with Vangelis and The Friends of Mr Cairo was a terrific album and by far the best of the 3 albums he did with him.

Having spotted this new reissue by Esoteric Recordings I pre-ordered it and it even made me follow the series so far they have put out and I purchased both his second album Songs Of Seven and his third album Animation which is the latest to be repackaged and reissued. However, for the life of me, I cannot see why they are calling any of these new reissues “Expanded”. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

The discs are housed in a quality cardboard 4-panel Digipak or 8-panel if you are counting all the sides of it. I myself always refer to it has 4-panels simply because a panel has two sides. It does also represent the original vinyl album cover very well and the only downside is the minute size of the printing inside you cannot even read it with reading glasses and one would most likely need a special magnifying glass from NASA to be able to read it 😊😊😊.

However, it does come with two booklets the first being a 20-page one with some useful informative information about the time the album was made as it comes with a written interview that Malcolm Dome conducted with Jon Anderson. The second is an 8-page booklet that contains all the lyrics. Both booklets also come with reasonable size fonts which is more than I can say for the job done on the packaging itself.

I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK on the 9th February for £15.49 which is a reasonable price for a CD & DVD package. However, it did not arrive till a couple of weeks later after its release date due to some delay with Esoteric Recordings getting enough copies pressed out in time for the release date or something like that. I was not the only one waiting for it to get released I can assure you.

Artwork.

Due to Roger Dean being busy Anderson approached Hipgnosis to do the cover design and it was Dave Roe who was at the helm of it. Although looking at the Galleon Ship on the front cover you would think it was the work of Dean. You’d be right to observe that as well and I will go a bit more into the album cover and how it came to be later in my review. But I personally think Roe has done a good job here.

The Album In Review…

Jon Anderson’s solo debut album Olias Of Sunhillow was originally released on the 24th July 1976 and contained 8 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 44 minutes, 10 seconds. This new so-called “Expanded Edition” was released by Esoteric Recordings on the 26th March 2021 and contains the same amount of tracks spread over the same time, has to why they are calling it an expanded edition I honestly could not tell you. This new edition does also come with a DVD but in no way at all is it an expansion of the original album and there is not even any bonus tracks to extend the album. To be honest Esoteric Recordings generally do a good job with the old albums they reissue however, this new release is perhaps one you really should avoid and I will explain later on as I go through my review here.

Jon Anderson is most noted for his distinguished high pitch voice and his vocal range does extend in the higher regions and is really well polished and refined, its qualities are well-fitting with his former band Yes and PROG! music alike. Many have even voted him as the best prog-rock singer of all time and his voice does without any doubt shine.

His work with his former band Yes and Vangelis is exemplary and it is his voice and his writing ability where he excels the most. He is not really noted for playing musical instruments but over the years and even back in those days he did buy quite an array of musical instruments and liked to dabble with them. With his former band the Yes you would sometimes see him live playing guitar, harp, keyboards and percussion but by no means is he really an accomplished player when it comes to playing instruments.

It was at the end of the tour of Relayer back in 1975 that the band decided to put things on hold and take some time out to make their own solo albums. Anderson turned the garage of his house into a recording studio and locked himself up in there for 4 months playing and dabbling with the array of instruments he had acquired by then. Everything on the album is played entirely by himself. Here is a list of the instruments he uses to make the album.

Keyboards – Mini Moog, Korg Mini, Korg MK 1 & 2, Farfisa Organ, Rhodes 66 Electric Piano, Double Manual Mellotron, Beaconsfield Church Organ, Baldwin Baby Grand Piano, Freeman String Symphonizer. Guitars – Martin & Gibson Acoustic Guitars, Gibson Melody Maker, Hofner Violin Bass. Other Stringed Instruments – Gibson Mandocello, Sitar,  Saz, Irish Harp. Wind Instruments – Assorted African Wooden Flutes, Bazouki. Percussion – Brass Band Drum & Snare, Caribbean Long Drums, Navajo & African Skin Drums, Tabla, Wooden Blocks, Tambourine, Triangle, Marimba, Glockenspiel, Toy Xylophone, Thumb Piano, Cymbal Tree, Cymbals, Gongs, Bells and Cowbells.

I dare say many of the instruments were also hired as he went along making the album at least two-thirds of the album was at first recorded onto 8-track before transferring them to 24-track and he hired recording engineer Mike Dunne to give him a hand with the recording and mixing. Anderson was very cautious about his music and refused to play it to anyone including his wife and Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun in case they never liked it. Although I am sure he never needed to worry because the album was quite well received upon its release and reached number 8 in the UK album charts and 47 in the American Billboard album charts.

As with most albums that come with a DVD it’s very much regarded as a bonus and in reality, should be a bonus. The thing is with this package is that it does not even make this an expanded addition or much of a bonus at all if the truth be told. So let’s now take a look at the DVD itself.

The DVD.

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DVD Main Menu

The DVD’s main menu uses the album artwork for its backdrop and it does look quite nice. However, because this image has been blown up it’s not as pristine as it should look and it can look a bit more on the blurred side of things. Its navigation system is pretty straightforward to get around and you are presented with 3 options to choose from “Play Album”, “Track Select” and “Audio Select”.

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Track Select Menu

The “Track Select” menu gives you the opportunity to play any of the album tracks instead of playing the whole album as you can see above. Although the menus navigation is well designed there is a slight delay as it loads from one page to the other, though they have added a nice wipe transition to make it look more effective. The other thing they have added to all the menus is some leaves or debris floating about giving it a touch of animation which works well to good effect too.

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Audio Select Menu

The “Audio Select” menu offers you a generous choice of 3 Soundtracks as you can see above. Both the LPCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround gives you the highest quality with them being 96k/24bit formats. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix comes with a lower format of 48k and is 448Kbps in relation to the DTS 1.5Mbps.

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Track Display Menus

During the playback, you get a slightly animated picture from part of the album cover moving around the screen which is nice to see especially in relation to having nothing at all. It also displays the name of the track you are playing and overall a very good job has been done on the DVD.

Stereo & Surround Mixes.

It is really unfortunate that the multitrack master tapes were not located and the so-called 5.1 mixes we have here are only upmixed to 5.1 with the use of software and this is perhaps more commonly known as a Pseudo 5.1 mix and not the real deal. Having listened to both of the upmixes in DTS and Dolby Digital I do actually find that for some reason the Dolby Digital mix is clearer, it’s also louder than the DTS mix. However, neither of these mixes are going to give you an immersive experience and are really that disappointing and not worth bothering with at all in my honest opinion. 

The only real bonus regarding the DVD is that you have a high-resolution stereo mix and I would say that it is the best possible recording of the album you can actually get. The only real drawback is that the album was under-produced and quite loose and this recording will reflect that even more so. The stereo recording is the only real winner here and in all honesty, you would be better off sticking with whatever recording you have rather than purchasing this. 

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced, Written & Performed by Jon Anderson. Recorded between 1975/76 at Seer Green Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Recording Engineer Mike Dunne. Coordination, equipment and goodies provided by John Martin. Mastered at RCA by Brian East. Art Direction by Hipgnosis. Cover Design & Illustration by Dave Roe. Portrait by Jeff Cummings. Portrait colouring by Richard Manning.

Musicians.
Jon Anderson: Lead & Backing Vocals – Keyboards – Guitars – Bass – Assorted African Wooden Flutes – Drums & Percussion – Irish Harp – Thumb Piano – Bazoukie – Toy Xylophone.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The mystical story that Jon Anderson had written for the concept of Olias stretches back to 1971 and the inspiration came from the artwork that Roger Dean had done for the album Fragile. It was the flying ship in particular from that album cover that was the inspiration for his story plus the fact that he had been reading a couple of novels written by Vera Stanley Alder, notably The Third Eye and Initiation of the World. He also wanted Dean to do the artwork for his album and although he was busy at the time Anderson did keep pestering him to do it. I can only presume that the fact that Dean had refused led to the falling out between them both and why the next Yes album Going For The One’s cover art was done by Hipgnosis.

The story itself is like a Sci-Fi Spiritual Fantasy though I have to admit it runs along too deep and is too far out of this world for my liking, no doubt he has put a lot into it even to the point of creating another or even his own language so to speak. Anderson always had a way with words and even the words he wrote for classic Yes songs such as “Yours is no Disgrace“, “Starship Trooper“, “Roundabout” and many more from that particular period have had some folk call him a creative genius. He very much had a way of using any word that rhymed even if it made no sense at all as in these words from “Siberian Khatru“.

Bluetail, tailfly
Luther, in time
Suntower, asking
Cover, lover
June cast, moon fast
As one changes

I am sure like myself many have spent hours trying to decipher his lyrics and make some sort of sense out of them. I often thought his lyrics had some symbolic meaning years ago though these days they do tend to be meaningless and gobbledygook but that’s not to say I do not like them and you do have to be some sort of a genius to come up with them in the first place. They’ve always had me singing along to them as well and the good thing about many songs lyrics is that you can make your own interpretation out of them. 

Track 1. Ocean Song.

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Most of the album is built up of instrumental soundscapes as with this opening instrumental piece and even though there is not a lot of progression here he has made it interesting with the colour and textures from the instrumentation. It’s far from any boring space soundscape that has been made on keyboards alone and in all honesty, even I could make one of those things if I fell asleep at my keyboard especially with today’s multitimbral keyboards.

The sounds describe the ocean very well with the heavy drone of rumbling wind on the intro and he has layered in the other elements of instruments very well here and even gave it a kind of oriental vibe sort of thing. It also sets up an introduction to the mystical story we have and gets the album off to quite a good start.

Track 2. “Meeting (Garden of Geda) / Sound Out the Galleon.

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Many of the tracks on the album take in two or three parts to the story in that they have more than one title to them. It is perhaps uncommon for tracks like this to be titled that way because they are relatively short tracks unlike Yes songs. When it comes to the vocal side of things this track is really one of the few tracks on the album that stand out and like I said there is not much in the vocal department on this album at all apart from chants which are most unusual.

There is quite a bit of chanting going on in this song, however, the way he has layered all the three and four-part harmonies that make up the choir is very well done and quite clever considering there is only one voice here. The use of percussion also works well with this song. I quite often found with many of the early Yes songs that Anderson quite often chose to write about space and religion in his lyrics “Starship Trooper” and “And You And I” are prime examples and he crosses the two plains with the story we have here.

For example, the garden of Geda could easily be the garden of Gethsemane and in the meeting here they are looking at Olias to build them a ship to travel off to space. You also get the impression of Noah’s Ark with how the ship is to be built to hold all those they are taking with them. My own interpretation of this set of lyrics is that they are pertaining to getting away from this planet of evil and set up in a safer environment somewhere in space.

Track 3. Dance of Ranyart/ Olias (To Build the Moorglade).

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This next track is really two tracks put together and as they are not joined together and two separate pieces I have no idea why Anderson decided to do this with them. The first part is an instrumental piece to which utilises the harp very well whilst the second part is a short song with vocals and the shorter piece of the two. It’s here in the story where Olias is building the Moorglade which is the flying Gallion of a ship to take everyone off to another place in the void of space so to speak. There is not much to the second part at all apart from it being a continuation of the story and it may have been that it was too short that he decided to put both tracks together. The instrumental piece is the better of the two-tracks here and more interesting in my opinion.

Track 4. Qoquaq Ën Transic / Naon / Transic Tö.

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This three-part track does run over a longer distance and is the second-longest track on the album being a tad over 7 minutes, however parts 1 & 3 are the same mystical instrumental pieces that were constructed on the keyboard whilst the bit in the middle has more of a tribal rejoicing celebration going on with words and percussion. This is also where Anderson creates his own language as you can see by the titles we have here. The mystic Qoquaq is the one who unites all the 4 tribes to leave the planet whilst Olias is the magician and the architect of the ark. It’s all one big flight of fantasy the plot of this storyline.

Track 5. Flight of the Moorglade.

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One of the better songs on the album and perhaps one of few real highlights on the album where Anderson gets to sing a proper song with more words to sing something about. He’s also done quite a good all-around job of it too and it’s my second favourite track on the album and he’s in full flight here. 

Track 6. Solid Space.

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This is where our travellers are riding through the vacuum of space and although this is a song with words the music does tend to slightly overpower Anderson’s voice in the mix. The music also tends to run in one direction for the first 3 minutes, 17 seconds which can be a bit tedious and boring. However, it does have a nice key change at this point and the transitional change towards the end to take it into the next track is quite interesting.

Track 7. Moon Ra / Chords / Song of Search.

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The longest track on the album and another one that comes in three parts. The first part is perhaps a bit reminiscent of the ending of Elton John’sCurtains” from his Captain Fantastic album that came out in the year before in 1975 with the “Lum-De-Lum-Day” sort of thing, though we do also get some words. The second part is a lot more interesting and although there is no real lead work on this album we do get a nice bit of acoustic guitar very nicely fingerpicked by Anderson. He did it that well that I actually thought he had Steve Howe playing it.

The final part is an instrumental piece and I am not really sure how it works as a third part because unlike the first two parts that interweave with each other with how they are joined, there is quite a pause before this comes into play. It does sound like another track and I am not really sure why it was not put on another track unless there was a certain rule by the record company of how many tracks the album should have. It is, however, very well orchestrated.

Track 8. To the Runner.

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This track on the album does for some reason sound like it is separate from the rest of the albums concept story and it is not quite fitting with the rest of the material and it’s as if Anderson wrote it has an intended B-Side. However, it is personally for me the most memorable song on the album and my personal favourite track. It was also the very song I first heard from the album on the radio before it was released and persuaded me to buy the album. The instrumental section at the end is also very well orchestrated and round off the album quite well.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up the new Expanded Edition of Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow. I fail to see how this edition has been expanded and in all honesty, it offers nothing that the original version never gave you already. The 5.1 upmix is very disappointing but then again what do you expect with an upmix when you could just as easily use the upmix facilities that come with your AV Reciever such as Dolby Pro Logic II, Neo 6 and others. The only advantage the so-called High-Resolution Stereo mix on the DVD is gonna give you is that you can hear how more the album was so loose and underproduced. In all honesty, the CD sounds like they used a recording from a Cassette rather than any master tapes.

It is, without doubt, most unusual for Esoteric Recordings to do such a poor quality job but I guess they done the best with whatever original recording they had which was most likely several generations down the line. The best thing about this release is the package and even that is spoilt by the small print. This is one release that I would suggest you avoid I am sorry to say and stick with whatever copy you have rather than throw money at this is my advice.

As for the album itself, is not bad considering Anderson does not possess the technique and skills of the musicians in his former band at the time. It offers nothing in the way of any lead work however, he does manage to keep it interesting enough with the soundscapes and his voice. It does also sound more like the Yes in relation to what the other four members of the Relayer line-up of the band did with their debut albums at the same time. But that is really down to his voice and not much more.

I personally think Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Patrick Moraz done better with their solo debut albums and this album only really has a few highlights which are “Meeting (Garden of Geda)”/”Sound Out the Galleon“, “Flight of the Moorglade” and “To the Runner“. As concept albums go it’s not up there with the best of them that’s for sure and the mystical fairytale of a story behind it all is hardly going to set the world on fire. However, I do feel that the album has stood its test of time over the years even if this new release does not bring it back to life so to speak.

Expanded Yarn…

The CD & DVD Track Listing is as follows:

01. Ocean Song. 3:05.
02. Meeting (Garden of Geda) / Sound out the Galleon. 3:34.
03. Dance of Ranyart / Olias (Build the Moorglade). 4:19.
04. Qoquaq Ën Transic / Naon / Taransic Cö. 7:08.
05. Flight of the Moorglade. 3:24.
06. Solid Space. 5:21.
07. Moon Ra / Chords / Song of Search. 12:48.
08. To the Runner. 4:29.

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 8/10.

The Surround Mix Rating Score. 2/10.

The Stereo Mix Rating Score. 10/10.

The Album Rating Score. 6.5/10.

 

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #181

Prelude / Deodato 2 – Deodato

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Introduction…

Well I have picked up some right bargains in the past and when it comes to bargains the Dutton Vocalion website certainly have plenty to offer and they do not come much better than what we have here. What you are getting here is Deodato’s first two albums for the price of one, but not only that they come on one Hybrid SACD that gives you the choice of both stereo and quadrophonic mixes of both albums. If ever there was a reason for you STEREOHEADS! to go out and upgrade to a Multichannel Surround AV System I certainly think now is the time because what we have here is what I would most definitely call reference quad recordings that are simply to die for and simply cannot be beaten.

I have to confess that although my first introduction to Eumir Deodato was back in 1973 when I heard his version of Richard Strauss’sAlso Sprach Zarathustra“. I only brought the single release and have never heard or owned any of his albums before. As a matter of a fact I had not even heard Strauss’s version at the time apart from the introduction played on an organ to which is the part that Deodato decided to FUNK! up and was used for Stanley Kubick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1968. It was one of those records I heard on the radio at the time that instantly appealed to me to go out and buy it.

Now some 48 years later I am revisiting it again and I can honestly say I am getting more joy and pleasure from doing so today than I did all those years ago thanks to Michael J. Dutton who has done another excellent job of remastering these old recordings. Not only that he is giving you 100% value for the buck and these recordings are far more superior than the original recordings in my opinion. I have nothing but praise for what this guy is doing and I only wish all records were sold through his website with the great work he is doing with them.

Packaging & Artwork…

The SACD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which is perhaps a bit outdated these days in relation to Digpaks but nevertheless, it keeps the disc well protected. It comes with an 8-page booklet that provides you with some useful informative information in an essay written by David Zimmerman. It also comes with the usual linear and credits and a couple of pictures. I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £12.99 which is excellent value.  

Artwork.
The original cover design for both Deodato’s first two albums was done by Bob Ciano. One of the downsides in a package like this where two albums come together is that you do not get to see much of the cover design due to both albums covers put together like they do with these types of packages. However, one should never put the artwork before the music and considering you are getting two albums not just in Stereo but also in Quadrophonic there is more of an upside to this release. The original photos were done by Duane Michals, Pete Tuner and Alen MacWeeney.

Deodato In Brief History…

The Brazilian pianist and composer, Eumir Deodato is perhaps best known earlier for his work in arrangement and that’s how he started out back in the late 60’s when he moved to New York and was hired by the record producer Creed Taylor of CTI Records doing arrangements for other peoples songs such as the likes of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Wes Montgomery, George Benson and many others. Prior to that he worked as a freelance arranger for Odeon Records and formed his own band with Menescal in 1962. Although he strictly worked in the jazz genre he later went into production work and produced and arranged music on more than 500 albums including artists such as Kool and the Gang, Con Funk Shun, Björk, Christophe, and K.D. Lang.

It was whilst doing work for Creed Taylor at CTI Records in the 70’s that he got to work on his album Prelude which was to launch his own solo career and was produced by Taylor. The album was an instant smash in the US and his second album Deodato 2 which followed in the same year also picked up enough interest to break into the US and Australian albums charts. Although as far as albums go his solo career was short-lived and it was only the odd hit single release from some of his later albums that kept his solo career afloat.

Looking at the material that was contained on his first couple of albums it’s perhaps notable that Deodato was more of an arranger than a composer with what little of his own compositions appeared on both albums. Although he did write the scores for the films The Gentle Rain (1966), The Black Pearl (1977), The Onion Field (1979) and Bossa Nova (2000) respectively. It was his study of orchestration, conducting, and arranging that pretty much paved the way to much of his success throughout his musical career and he is quite a talented musician and one who no doubt made a mark.

The Albums In Review…

Both Prelude & Deodato 2 by Deodato were originally released in the months of January and July 1973 respectively, they were also released in stereo and quadrophonic back then too. The other notable thing about the two albums is that they were relatively short in length which is why Michael J. Dutton most likely decided to put them out as a two for one release. This particular Hybrid SACD was released by Dutton Vocalion back in October 2017 and its the first time the Quadraphonic mixes of both albums are now once again available and have been remastered from the original multitrack tapes.

Because I have two albums to get through I shall briefly run through the album tracks rather than go into more detail like I do in most of my reviews, but try and keep a focus on the main points and features and include more of his history along the way. So let’s now jump straight into it with his debut album Prelude.

Prelude_album_by_DeodatoPrelude

Deodato’s debut album Prelude was originally released in early January 1973. The album contains 6 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 31 minutes, 42 seconds. The material on the album is very much fifty, fifty in that it’s 50% original and 50% arranged and it was the single release of one of the arranged tracks on the album that not only catapulted Deodato into instant stardom and success but also made people more aware of CTI Records and at the time very much put them on the map so to speak. I suppose in some respects you could liken Creed Taylor with Richard Branson with the way their record companies got off to a flying start although the outcome was certainly not the same.

There is without a doubt more to Deodato than what meets the eye and in my brief history of him, I have barely touched the surface of how well this guy is at arranging. Before he came to America he had already been involved in several collaborations and he appeared on several albums in his own country of Brazil. Having done several arrangements for the Brazilian guitarist and composer Luiz Bonfá, who was the guy who suggested Deodato go to America and even paid him his fare to get there. Having got there and putting himself about as an arranger in the states it did not take long for Creed Taylor to spot his talent to which he had him onboard at CTI as a session player and arranger.

There is no doubt that Deodato got to work with some of the finest jazz musicians in the world. Some of the finest musicians were also assembled to play with him on his debut album too. Though as much of the talent that was coming through the door of CTI Records there was not one of them that could touch the success that Deodato himself gave to the record company. It was his arranged version of Richard Strauss’sAlso Sprach Zarathustra” that done the trick.

The single version did very well on its release reaching number 2 on the American Billboard Charts. Ironically it was only held off the top spot by Roberta Flack’sKilling Me Softly With His Song” which came from an album that Deodato had written a couple of arrangements for. The single sold very well in other countries too reaching number 7 here in the UK charts and catapulted the sales of the album. Although Deodato was primarily a jazz musician he was now all of a sudden a pop star and attracting a lot more attention than those who worked in that field of music which was most unusual at the time.

It was through his success that CTI Records were able to expand their business and open up nine distribution centres across the US which was unheard of for an independent record label. Although financially this was not a good decision and they soon found they had to close down half of them. This would also lead to Deodato departing from the company not long after when they did not have the means to promote his second album.

VanGelderRecordingStudio_841_FotorVan Gelder Studios

Both the album Prelude and Deodato 2 were recorded at the legendary Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey with Rudy Van Gelder at the helm of the recording and mixing. Van Gelder originally set up his studio back in 1952 at his parent’s house at 25 Prospect Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey, and recorded many famous jazz artists and many of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins albums were recorded there before he moved to Englewood Cliffs in 1959 to which many more jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and many more would be rolling up at his door so to speak. His studio has been used to record many albums released by jazz labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse!, Verve and CTI.

The album Prelude was recorded in 3 days between the 12th to the 14th of September 1972 and a medium-sized orchestra of musicians were assembled to play alongside Deodato that included no less than 35 musicians counting himself. The line-up included a strong string, brass and woodwind sections as well as notable musicians Stanley Clark (Bass), Billy Cobham (drums) and Airto Moreira (percussion) who were more widely known for their roles in jazz fusion. Deodato not only arranged but conducted all the musicians so let’s now take a look at the musicians and credits.

Musicians & Credits…

Deodato_Fotor

Produced by Creed Taylor. Arranged and conducted by Eumir Deodato. Tracks 2 & 3. Written by Eumir Deodato. Track 6. Written by Eumir Deodato & Billy Cobham. Track 1. Written by Richard Strauss. Track 4. Written by Robert Wright & George Forrest. Track 5. Written by Claude Debussy. Recorded between September 12th – 14th 1972 at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. USA. Recording & Mixing Engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Cover Design by Bob Ciano. Photography by Duane Michals & Pete Tuner. Remastered Stereo & Quadrophonic Mixes by Michael J. Dutton.

Band Musicians:
Eumir Deodato – Acoustic & Electric Piano.
John Tropea – Electric Guitar.
Jay Berliner – Acoustic Guitar.
Ron Carter – Acoustic Bass / Electric Bass (Track 3).
Stanley Clarke – Bass (Track 1).
Billy Cobham – Drums.
Airto Moreira – Percussion.
Ray Barretto – Congas.

Orchestral Musicians:
Violins: Max Ellen, David Nadien, Paul Gershman, Gene Orloff, Emanuel Green, Elliot Rosoff, Harry Lookofsky.
Violas: Alfred Brown, Emanuel Vardi.
Cellos: Seymour Barab, Charles McCracken, Harvey Shapiro.
Flutes: Hubert Laws, Phil Bodner, George Marge, Romeo Penque.
Trumpets: John Frosk, Marvin Stamm, Marky Markowitz, Joe Shepley.
Trombones: Bill Watrous, Paul Faulise.
French Horns: Jim Buffington, Peter Gordon.

As you can see there is quite a strong personnel of musicians onboard though it is only mostly the main band that feature on the albums opening track “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” and I dare say the addition of “2001” in the title here was inspired by Stanley Kubick’s 1968 film. This opening track is the GEM! on the album by far and still till this day (since I brought the single back in 1973) I honestly cannot say I have ever heard a better rendition of how to play the Fender Rhodes. I can guarantee that whenever a conversation arises about an electric piano Deodato will instantly spring to mind every time. For me personally, he is my ultimate reference for the instrument and its vibe and groove on this FUNKED UP! version of Strauss’s music is the perfect demonstration of what the electric piano is capable of doing.

The beauty about the version on the album is that it’s the full version and 9 minutes long, something I had not heard until now some 48 years later and it’s a good 4 minutes longer than the single release and is PURE BLISS! Even more so hearing it in Quadraphonic. What makes this work so well is the syncopated rhythm played on the keys which drives it along with the rhythm section. It won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance back in 1974 and it’s hardly surprising.

Not only did Deodato funk up Strauss’s original introductory piece but he popularised it to sound like a smash hit record with words even though it was an instrumental piece. I have many times in the past mentioned how hard it is to make a cover better than the original and I honestly believe not only did Deodato do justice to the piece, but he did carve out a better version. The arrangement is what makes it the winner and that’s a skill that I do not even think Richard Strauss could have visualized at the time and I am pretty sure he would have approved and loved what Deodato had done to his piece.

Moving onto the next track “Spirit Of Summer” this is very much straight jazz and utilises a lot more than the band in the musician department. It’s another of the tracks I know from the album because it was used for the B-Side of the single. Thinking back now it might have been hearing this that deterred me from buying the album back then. I am not remotely saying that it’s a bad track and that is far from the case, it’s very skilfully done and a very well written piece I will say and shows just how good of a writer Deodato is too. Like a lot of his own written pieces on the album, they are perhaps reminiscent of TV Themes from the late 60’s and early 70’s which is very much a different vibe in relation to the opening track which is more along the lines of jazz-funk and jazz fusion.

The album does tend to switch from jazz-funk to straight jazz with how it flows and I suppose in a way it’s these contrasting styles that may have put me off getting the album. It does take a bit of getting used to and at first and I suppose it’s a bit like buying an album by Chic and finding Mantovani is also on it 😁😁😁. That’s perhaps not the best example and what he is doing here is perhaps something more along the lines of Weather Report who could do the same thing on some of their albums. I never could get into that band for that reason. There is a lot of beauty in this piece though and I do get a lot more pleasure out of it now hearing it in Quadraphonic. It also features a nice bit of trill playing on the acoustic guitar by Jay Berliner.

Another of Deodato’s own written pieces is up next and “Carly & Carole” is a piece he dedicated to the songwriters Carly Simon & Carol King hence the women’s names in the title. This is another bit of straight jazz that sounds a bit like the music that they used for comedy TV sitcoms like Man About The House and Robins Nest here in the UK back in 70’s. It also has a Burt Bacharach feel to it and reminds me a bit like Do You Know the Way to San Jose” that he wrote with Hal David for Dionne Warwick. It’s quite a relaxed piece and I particularly like how Billy Cobham’s drums are punctuated on this track and Deodato himself adds in a nice funky solo on the keys.

Baubles, Bangles and Beads” is a popular jazzy little number that was written by Robert Wright & George Forrest for the musical Kismet back in 1953. It was also the same year that Peggy Lee recorded the song which was the best selling version. Over the years it’s been a popular tune for JAZZERS! to have a play around with due to its beguiling melody and advanced harmonic structure and Deodato & Co. are well in the swing of things here. “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” follows next and here Deodato has chosen to arrange another classical piece and he’s latched onto the main melody or motif of Claude Debussy’s famous piece and funked it up a bit and done his own thing with it. It features solos from Marvin Stamm on trumpet and Hubert Laws on flute respectively and the percussion works some wonders on this piece too.

The album ends off with a co-written piece penned by Deodato & Billy Cobham entitled “September 13” to which the title was named after the day it was recorded on and was inspired by a Cobham drum beat which is why he was credited in the writing. They FUNK! things up very well here although it’s perhaps more of a jam than a written piece, but nevertheless it spices things up very well and gives the guitarist John Tropea another chance to let fly. The brass and flute section works very well with the arrangement and the percussion plays an eminent role too. It sort of puts me in mind of “Pick Up The Pieces” by The Average White Band sort of thing and it rounds off the album very well.

Overall, Eumir Deodato’s debut album Prelude is perhaps not quite a solid album but nevertheless one that works very well in giving you some satisfaction. The material is a mixture of jazz-funk and straight jazz that is more associated with light entertainment music but very skillfully arranged and played by well-accomplished musicians. If I was gonna pick faults regarding composition it would have to be with the final track on the album to which apart from the arrangement of the brass it does feel more like a jam than a written piece. However, like the albums opening track it does provide the fire to lift the album up. My personal highlights of the album are as follows: “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)“. “Carly & Carole” and “September 13“.

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001). 9:04. 2. Spirit Of Summer. 4:07. 3. Carly & Carole. 2:42. 4. Baubles, Bangles and Beads. 5:22. 5. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. 5:16. 6. September 13. 5:25.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.


71SDrH58RQL._SL1500_Deodato 2

Deodato’s second album followed very quickly and having seen how popular he was at the time Creed Taylor wasted no time getting him back in the studio and thought he would strike whilst the iron was hot so to speak. Once again Deodato decided to rearrange some popular classic tunes and wrote a couple of his own, most of the musicians who appeared on his debut album were also present along with a few others. The album was recorded at the same studios with recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder onboard and the material was recorded on a couple of days over the months of April and May allowing Deodato to write the material whilst he was on the road playing live shows. He also maintained a busy schedule as an arranger and orchestrated and conducted the Jacaranda album for his old friend Luiz Bonfá.

Deodato 2 was released on the 18th of July 1973. The album contained 5 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 32 minutes, 35 seconds which was slightly longer than his debut album. The fact that it also had one less track meant that much of the material was more on the lengthier side of things. The album hit the record shelves just as his debut album Prelude fell off the pop charts though it did not quite make the same impact. Although it did break into the top 20 of the American Billboard charts peaking at number 19. The single release from the album which was an arranged and adapted version of George Gershwin’sRhapsody in Blue” did not manage to break into the Top 40 and peaked at 41.

It was quite evident that the limelight was no longer shining on Deodato and the dimmer switch had been activated to which he blamed CTI Records for closing down half of its distribution centres to give the album the right amount of promotion. Deodato soon parted company with Creed Taylor and CTI Records and signed up to MCA Records. Five years later CTI Records ran into further financial difficulties and dissolved.

When looking back at many of the GREAT! musicians and albums that came out of CTI Records. I don’t think any of them sold the number of units that Prelude had done. It was really what Deodato had done with Richard Strauss’sAlso Sprach Zarathustra” that ignited the flame and brought in the sales. I even think that today the music is more associated with Deodato than Strauss himself. It was always going to be a difficult task to follow up despite the vast amount of music out there you had to choose from to arrange and adapt to your own unique style and make it work and stand out.

I think it’s even more of a difficult task when you choose covers over your own material simply because it is hard to do them any better than the original and I personally feel that his own material is a lot better constructed. I do feel on Deodato 2 it is what little we have of his own material that does tend to stand out more and would be the highlights of the album for the biggest majority of people I would have thought.

Musicians & Credits…

DEODATO-Nice1_Fotor

Produced by Creed Taylor. Arranged and conducted by Eumir Deodato. Tracks 3 & 4. Written by Eumir Deodato. Track 1. Written by Justin Hayward. Track 2. Written by Maurice Ravel. Track 5. Written by George Gershwin. Recorded on the 12th of April & 18th of May 1973 at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. USA. Recording & Mixing Engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Cover Design by Bob Ciano. Photography by Duane Michals & Alen MacWeeney. Remastered Stereo & Quadrophonic Mixes by Michael J. Dutton.

Band Musicians:
Eumir Deodato – Keyboards. John Tropea – Electric Guitar. Stanley Clarke & John Giulino – Bass Guitars. Billy Cobham & Rick Marotta – Drums. Rubens Bassini & Gilmore Degap – Percussion.

Orchestral Musicians:
Violins: Max Ellen, David Nadien, Paul Gershman, Gene Orloff, Emanuel Green, Elliot Rosoff, Harry Lookofsky. Harry Cykman, Harry Glickman, Harold Kohon, Joe Malin, Irving Spice.
Violas: Alfred Brown, Emanuel Vardi.
Cellos: Charles McCracken, George Ricci, Alan Shulman.
Arco Basses: Alvin Brehm, Russell Savakus.
Flutes: Hubert Laws, Jerry Dodgion, George Marge, Romeo Penque.
Trumpets / Flugelhorns: Jon Faddis, Alan Rubin, Marvin Stamm.
Trumpets: Burt Collins, Victor Paz, Joe Shepley.
Trombones: Wayne Andre, Garnett Brown, Tony Stud (Bass Trombone).
French Horns: Jim Buffington, Brooks Tilotson.
Baritone Saxophone: Joe Temperley.

Judging by the other musicians who were brought in it’s perhaps more evident that the string section has increased in size a bit and considering that Deodato also chose to play synths on the album it baffles me why he brought in a stronger string section. He made extensive use of the ARP Pro Soloist Synthesizer which was one of the first commercially successful preset synthesizers and was widely used by Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Billy Preston around 1972 – 1977. It was even used extensively on Gary Numan’s 1980 album Telekon.

ARP_Pro-Soloist_FotorARP PRO Soloist Synthesizer

Unlike the ARP Soloist that was not taken seriously by musicians, the Pro version had 30 presets and stayed in tune. Donald Fagan used the ARP Soloist whilst making the Steely Dan album Countdown to Ecstasy back in 1973 and got that fed up of it going out of tune that he threw it down the stairwell in the recording studio and jumped up and down on it. The producer of the album Gary Katz decided to join in with some alcohol and they burned the ARP into a pile of melted plastic 😁😁😁.

The album kicks off with a Moody Blues classic and one of their most popular songs penned by Justin Hayward entitled “Nights in White Satin“. In all honesty, you are pushing things here trying to do an instrumental version and make it shine like the original without a voice, and no doubt Hayward certainly has one of the finest. I am even fairly sure that an instrumental version would have more chance of being heard in your local supermarket or on the TV when it closes down for the night and only broadcasts light music until the morning when it starts to broadcast TV Programs again than getting played on the radio where it would have attracted more attention back in those days. However, this is not that bad and the synth, guitars and brass section do quite a good job of beefing and rocking it up a bit.

The arrangement is quite interesting and Deodato decides to start it off by using part of the lead break section of the song before going into the main melody. The middle section is perhaps more interesting and it sounds like he’s lifted the lead break from “MacArthur Park” to make it up and I like how the Fender Rhodes drives this section along too. The string section gets utilised very well on Ravel’sPavane for a Dead Princess” and unlike what he did on his debut album with Debussy’sPrelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by funking it up he’s very much playing the piece as it is. It’s quite a soothing piece though I still prefer what Isao Tomita and Joe Walsh did with their arrangements to what we have here.

The first of two of his own compositions are up next and “Skyscrapers” features Stanley Clarke on bass and they get to funk things up here and the brass section also makes a strong statement regarding its main melody. Both John Tropea and Deodato get to fly out some guitar and synth solo’s respectively and they really do the business here and it’s my personal favourite track on the album. “Super Strut” the second of his own written pieces got to feature on the Soundtrack for the video game Grand Theft Auto Vice City and was also covered by the acid jazz band The Apostles on their 1992 eponymous album. Once again the funk is flowing very well and the drums and percussion drive this along very well and we get some GREAT! guitar work from Tropea and Deodato on the keys and it’s another GREAT! track on the album.

The album ends off very well with him doing a funked-up version of George Gershwin’sRhapsody in Blue” and I do feel this is much more like the arrangement he did with  Strauss’sAlso Sprach Zarathustra” and it uses extensive use of the Rhodes which I personally prefer in relation to the synthesizer and is much more suited to his style. It also sounds like he’s utilised the whole of 19 strong string orchestra and with the rest of the band really do a very good version of it. This was also the single release from the album (only a shorter edited version was used) and I do feel this is a much better arrangement than the opening two tracks on the album and puts the album to bed very well.

Overall, I don’t personally think Deodato 2 is as strong as his debut album but nevertheless, it still has enough to offer I feel and its better moments are perhaps captured on the final three tracks of the album. My personal highlights from the album are “Skyscrapers” and “Super Strut” and I do feel his own compositions are the strongest output here. Though I could also throw in the arrangement he did with Gershwin’sRhapsody in Blue” because it is quite good and the funky vibe works well on it.

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Nights in White Satin. 6:03. 2. Pavane for a Dead Princess. 4:08. 3. Skyscrapers. 6:41. 4. Super Strut. 9:01. 5. Rhapsody in Blue. 8:52.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.

Summary & Conclusion…

Overall you cannot go wrong with this reissue of Deodato’s first two albums by Dutton Vocalion and personally, both the stereo and quadrophonic recordings on this Hybrid SACD cannot be beaten and they are in every way reference-point quality recordings. It’s an absolute GEM! of a bargain too considering you are getting two albums on an SACD for the price of a single CD. Both of these albums are an absolute pleasure to listen to in quadrophonic and it was purchasing this SACD that really opened up my eyes and ears as to how good quadrophonic really is.

In the past, I have shunned away from Quad mixes and I think it was buying Rick Wakeman’s Deluxe Edition of The Six Wives of Henry VIII that was released in 2015 that put me right off them. But that is such a bad mix and no way is it Quadrophonic either. I have always preferred 5.1 recordings and never really bothered with Quad mixes at all and even though Pink Floyd’s Immersion Box Set of Wish You Were Here comes with 5.1 and Quad mixes. I always played the 5.1 mix until I listened to this release and boy was I surprised at how good the quad mix was of that album too.

Right now multitrack recordings have never been so good and it’s quite evident that more mixing engineers from years ago had the right ears to do a Quadrophonic mix whereas with 5.1 there are still very few who know how to do them right. For surround FREAKS! like myself, the very fact that many of the original Quad mixes from all those years ago are starting to surface means a lot more pleasure can be had from this niche market of surround sound. This release is simply a SURROUND FREAKS PARADISE!

The Package Rating. 7/10.
The Price Point Rating. 10/10.
The Quad Mix Rating. 10/10.
The Stereo Mix Rating. 10/10.

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #180

The Fields – Napier’s Bones

Introduction…

Messers Midgley & Tillett are back again and it’s been a few years since the release of the bands 5th album Monuments back in 2018. They did put out a compilation album in the following year though I don’t really count those albums and I very rarely will buy one either. Gordon Midgley the bands main writer and musician has also released quite a few of his own albums and worked on various other projects in the past and more recently has been demonstrating some of the new guitars and gear he has been adding to his collection on the Tube with his Long, Long Skies series of videos. It’s a very interesting channel too as you can see from one of his latest videos here:

I have no idea what Nathan has been up to lately as I left Soundcloud back in 2017 and I am not even sure he is on Facebook anymore. But it’s good to see the partnership in this particular project is still ongoing and he is very much the rock voice behind the project and for the music that Gordon presents for this project, it is needed to deliver the goods so to speak. He also is the one who designs the album covers and does a terrific job of them.

As with all Napier’s Bones albums there is always a concept story written for them and this one appears to have a bit of history behind it. I’ve never been a historian myself and I once remember Sting saying history will teach us nothing. However, what I find with a lot of Midgley’s concepts is that they are fascinating and they do teach me a thing or two and keep me busy doing some research for my reviews of his albums.

Their latest offering The Fields is perhaps not set in the “Fields Of Gold” or New York even if there are some Englishmen involved but set in the turmoil that followed the twenty-five years of the Napoleonic Wars back in the early part of the 19th century on St Peter’s Fields outside Manchester, England. Around sixty thousand men and women gathered and campaigned peacefully for freedom the rest is history and the rest also happened on the fields and they invite you to come with them upon this journey back in the past. It’s also done in this duos formidable style. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as ever.

Packaging & Artwork…

Well as you can see the album comes in the form of a Digital Download only and that is to cut down on cost and a sensible decision on Gordon Midgley’s part considering music does not sell very well these days and it’s not as if he is an artist who is going to sell albums by the bucket load. Its price point of under-five English pounds (including taxes) is not going to empty your bank account or even your pocket and you are still onto a winner and a bargain here.

Artwork.
Nathan has always done an impressive job on the cover designs for all the Napier’s Bones albums and this one is no exception. The colour and the hands have a bit of similarity with the compilation album Five Years in the Wood as seen below and I quite like how the lighter shade of green has been blended with other textures.

Judging by the horseshoe on the cover of their latest album it appears that not even the horses had much luck on these fields 😊😊😊. Although I will say it is well apt and well-fitting with the albums concept story and another GRAND! job has been done here.

The Album In Review…

The Fields is the 6th studio album release to date by Napier’s Bones and was released on the 23rd of April 2021. It comes with 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 8 seconds which is a very respectable time slot. The album itself was produced, mixed and mastered by Midgley at Scanulf Studios which is his home recording studio. I believe he started to work on the material for the new album back in December last year. Some of the ideas may have been earlier and the inspiration to work on the musical side of the new album came from making backing tracks for use on his Long, Long Skies project of demonstrations he puts on his Youtube channel to which he extended some of them for use on the new album.

Much of the material was also written between January – March this year and it was during those months that Tillett could not record any vocals due to the lockdown with his kids being at home from school. However, despite all the confrontations and complications, the pair are back with what appears to be another solid piece of work that is very distinctive to their formidable style.

For those who have never heard Napier’s Bones their music is very much a PROGMATIC! affair that incorporates many influences from the world of progrock, rock and other genres of music. They have also put their own stamp on it even though you will hear many other influences. Over the past 7 years since the release of their debut album The Wistman Tales back in 2014, their music has grown from strength to strength especially in production terms and it shows very much in particular on their last album Monuments how far they have come along, that particular album is also what I would call their personal best output.

Coming off the back of their last album it was always going to be a challenge to keep the rhythm of consistency flowing and measure up to its strength especially after 3 years. However, in terms of strength, I would say their latest album The Fields draws its strength from the story that it’s portraying and in musical terms, it is articulated in the same mannerisms of combining acoustic and electric guitars which is one of the best things I love about Midgely’s approach to music in the way he utilises them both.

Besides the many guitars, Midgley has added to his collection he also added a new synth and it features quite a lot on this new album and I will say he has put it to good use. It’s a very tasty looking synth too and one of Moog’s more recent synths to hit the market over the past few years.

Moog Matriarch

The Moog Matriarch is a semi-modular paraphonic analogue synthesizer that officially was debuted at the Moogfest in 2018. For those wondering what “Paraphonic” is, it is where multiple oscillators can be used to play different notes, but all of those oscillators route through the same signal path (VCF/DCF, VCA/DCA, etc.), as opposed to true polyphony, where each oscillator feeds its own filter, amplifier, and so on. It’s also a 4 note polyphonic synthesizer and I have to say once again that it really is a very TASTY! looking synth.

Over the past few years, Midgely also took up playing the drums and although they featured on both his EP Guests and the mini-album Long, Long Long Skies that were released last year, this is actually the first Napier’s Bones album to feature them. This video shows you him putting the finishing touches on one of the songs on the new album.

However, whatever song this extract was from for some reason or another did not make it on the album well I certainly could not hear it anywhere. I did confront Gordon about this because it was puzzling me as to why it was left off because it does sound very good even if my own video edit is not visually up to scratch due to the original video footage being captured on a mobile phone and not shot in HD. He did tell me that this was part of a 15-minute song and he was intending to make a double album at the time.

This next extract is also from the same track that never made the album and although Midgley has been adding more guitars to his arsenal and array of gear here he is using his PRS SE Custom 24 to which he may have further customised himself at this time by changing the pickups to Seymour Duncan JB/Jazz. He’s also using a couple of effect pedals to give it that extra swelling distortion and bite.

I have to say that is a well tasty guitar solo and was well surprised by how it was left off the album. Though he did inform me that It will appear on the 7th Napier’s Bones album and no doubt that will be something to look forward to in the future. I also edited his original video and thought it would be appropriate to put him in a field.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Gordon Midgley. All music and lyrics by Gordon Midgley. Recorded by Gordon Midgley sometime between December 2020 to March 2021 at Scanulf Studios Bradford, England. Mixed & Mastered by Gordon Midgley. Album Cover Design by Nathan Jon Tillet.

Musicians.
Gordon Midgley: Acoustic & Electric Guitars – Bass – Keyboards – Drums – Backing Vocals.
Nathan Tillett: Lead Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The album’s concept is based around the Peterloo Massacre that took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, Lancashire, England on Monday the 16th of August 1819. It was brought on from the second of two slumps to which the first was brought on at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 which was accompanied by chronic unemployment and harvest failure and worsened by the Corn Laws, which kept the price of bread high. When the second slump occurred in early 1819 radical reformers sought to mobilise huge crowds to force the government to back down from raising the price of food to extortionate prices and a mass rally of protestors organised by the well-known radical orator Henry Hunt was put into action. Shortly after the protest was in place local magistrates called on the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Hunt and several others on the platform with him.

The Yeomanry not only arrested Hunt but were butchers and charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation and left 18 people dead and around 400 – 700 people injured and those are only the reported figures. The historic event was described as the bloodiest political event of the 19th century on English soil. The event was first labelled the “Peterloo Massacre” by the radical Manchester Observer newspaper in a bitterly ironic reference to the bloody Battle of Waterloo which had taken place four years earlier.

There is much more to this piece of history of Peterloo and I have briefly touched upon it and you can find out more about it on sites such as Wikipedia. Although Midgley has always been good at putting words into context and now it’s been brought back in a PROGMATIC! way and even a bit of theatrics have been thrown in for good measure. So let’s now go on this journey through the fields and see how it all pans out.

Track 1. From The Fields.

The album gets off to a fine start with its acoustic opening and not only does it get utilised on the intro and outro of the song but also plays its part here and there throughout. The way the music has been structured with its transitions to allow the other instruments and the vocals to come into play is very well thought out and this is a song that has some contrasting folk and rock styles and could even be touching on the Celtic side of things with the acoustic in particular.

Because of the way the music does tend to shift tempo and pace every now and then it is very much combining both the ballad and rock side of things together which allows Tillett to utilise his voice in both mannerisms and it works perhaps in more of a sweet way on this song in particular even if there are some parts where his voice is used with a bit more edge. Lyrically the words are very much written in the way of a prologue pertaining to all the events that are about to happen and have happened in the story which gives you an insight into what is about to unfold at the beginning and the end. I suppose in some ways it’s like they are bookended just like the acoustic intro and outro.

The transitional changes allow for both keyboard and guitar solos and there are quite a few influences I am hearing along its 6 minutes and 40 seconds including the likes of Rush, Genesis, Pink Floyd perhaps even Guns N’ Roses on the acoustic intro and outro when thinking along the lines of “Civil War” from their Use Your Illusion II album back 1991 and much more. The particular transition at the 2:19 mark even gave me an Alice Cooper feel for some reason. The Moog Matriarch has also been put to good use around the 3:50 mark and I do feel that the musical side of things not only give it a PROGMATIC! feel but along with how Tillett expresses the vocals it’s all fitting to this barbaric bit of history we have here.

Track 2. Something Changed.

The way this next song opens up with the synth pumping along with the rhythm puts me in mind of Fish’s version of Alex Harvey’s song “The Faith Healer” from his Raingods With Zippo’s album. The song has quite a long musical intro and incorporates some fine GILMOUR-ESC! lead lines on the guitar from Midgley. In some ways, it’s a bit like a new fresher approach to “Breathe” from TDSOTM. Regarding the songs title and the lyrics, I am wondering if an error has been made here because Tillet sings the words “Nothings Changed” instead and to be honest they are more fitting with the times we are talking about here in this piece of history and the events around it.

The same sun rises in the East to begin the day
The same village folk in darkness live then ebb away
Long gone hero’s welcome, that war ended long ago
Now with pain, despair, and hunger, nothing’s changed

The same sermons and their promised lands await the meek
They break their backs to feed the young who go in turn to feed machines
Lions once to looms now bound, a tyranny of smoke and steam
A sea of downcast faces, nothing’s changed

The lyrics, however, are very well put into context as you can see above and Midgley has always had a clever way of moulding his lyrics to make the story much more interesting and these are really good lyrics. The last two lines of the first verse I have highlighted is well apt to the Napoleonic War in 1815 and how the second slump occurred in early 1819 and in that respect nothing has changed.

Track 3. One More Lost.

Rather than welcome to the machine here we have a case of one more lost to the machine and there are some well interesting effects used in this particular song that might have you thinking once again of Pink Floyd and other sorts. By the sounds of it, the machines are also steam-powered and no doubt both keyboards and guitar FX have been very well utilised in quite a creative way. It’s a song that ticks or chugs its way along at a slow but steady pace for Tillett to deliver once again the well-written words and he’s also putting the right feeling into delivering the words very well.

We also get some fine swells from Midgley on the guitar that are more HACKETT ESC! Effectively this is a song that is used to portray the scene more than a song that is going to rock your socks off. Nevertheless, there is also a nice transitional break that breaks things up a bit around the four-minute mark and this effectively is what one might call PROGMATIC STEAMPUNK!

Track 4. A Better Way.

The acoustic is back out for this next song and Midgley also joins in with Tillett on the vocals in particular on the chorus and it even has a bit of a canticle thingy going on too. Like the opening track on the album, it’s verging on the Celtic side of things again although it’s perhaps more on the side of Folk-Rock. There are some lovely tones that he plays on the electric guitar and the effect reminds me of Richard Thompson back in his heyday with Fairport Convention

Midgley is using a Celtic tuning as you can see in this demo video he made during the making of the album demonstrating the part of the acoustic guitar. It’s quite an uplifting song with a tight dominating bass line and is almost like an anthem with how they end it off with their voices. 

Track 5. Restoring Order.

This is the longest track on the album weighing in at seven and half minutes and things are hotting up in the story and more power is needed. This is where things start to ROCK! up a bit and the opening riff on the guitar is like a cross between Black Sabbath and early Rush, although it perhaps leans more to the Sabbath side of things and is a bit reminiscent of “Electric Funeral” in parts. Midgley takes on the vocal duties solely on this song and he’s incorporated quite a tasty guitar solo into it that comes into play around the 4:47 mark.

Track 6. August Afternoon.

This is the part where a bit of theatrics comes into play and it takes me back to “Vox Populi” from their second album Tregeagle’s Choice with how things are done here only with the maddening crowd you get an acoustic guitar here instead of a synth. I suppose in a way it’s a bit like he has created pomp and circumstance with what he has done here and it really is excellent with how he’s incorporated his voice into the bustling crowd and background noise.

The way it opens up with the acoustic has me thinking of Floyd’s or rather Roger WatersGrandchester Meadows” only instead of nature singing in the background with the birds and bees you get Midgely’s voice and guitar mixed in with a bustling crowd. It’s very clever how he’s put all this together and it must have taken some time to get it perfected like this too. I also noticed he’s thrown in a bit of “Rule Britania” to end it all off.

Track 7. Break Out.

Tillett returns back to vocal duties and they continue to ROCK! things out once again and this is a well-driven song where they both share the vocal duties and play their role in putting this part of the story across. Besides the driving force of the guitars, the bass line pretty much cooks on gas on this song and is also a driving force with how well it stands out.

It’s very much a song that is driven and races along at a fast pace and I quite like the change that comes into play around the 2:38 mark which is sort of like a Rick Wakeman choral passage followed by some nice twin lead guitars that at first is perhaps reminiscent to Wishbone Ash and many others as it drives its way home. It is one of the more powerful tracks on the album and cooks on gas.

Track 8. Aftermath.

The synths are very well utilised in this next track and they do a very good job of dramatising the aftermath of the blood and tears left on the fields in this horrendous event. You do get the feeling that it’s an instrumental track until Tillett’s voice comes into play and once again he’s putting his heart into it to put it all across with his fine delivery. It also ends off nicely with a synth solo and another fine job has been done here by both.

Track 9. Back To The Fields.

Just like the album kicked off with a prologue it finishes off with the epilogue to remind us of the tragic event and the fear of never letting it happen again. They ROCK! things out for the final time here and once again the combination of the heavy guitar riff and the synth solo put me in mind of Sabbath and Rush. Tillet gets the vocal duties for the final time and once again does a stellar job of expressing the well-written lyrics penned by Midgley. It puts the album to bed in fine style.

Summary & Conclusion… 

The Feilds by Napier’s Bones is an album that works very well at portraying the tragic historical event of the Peterloo massacre that took place on the fields and the words have been very cleverly put into context. I would also say that it’s a solid album in that respect. It might not have the balls or quite the PROGMATIC! aspects that their previous album Monuments had and that is an album where they might have even excelled themselves. However, production standards are still quite high and there is nothing here that disappoints. Like all their albums it has their own distinctive style despite the many influences and the material has been been very well-thought-out, played and constructed. It’s also quite a strong body of work that merits its price point or more.

It’s an album that is perhaps less haunting in relation to many of the other conceptional stories Midgely has written about for his Napier’s Bones project and his solo works in the past. I do also think this is an album that is not going to hit you straight away and it needs more spins for it to really speak to you. But like most good albums you do need to grow into them and once you have you will benefit from the rewards it will return.  

Like many concept albums you are best listening to the album as a whole and this is how this album works best. Although there are a few tracks that stand out perhaps a bit more I did find it hard to choose a particular favourite one. If I had to choose one I guess I would go for it would be “Break Out” for the way it’s structured and along with “Restoring Order” and “Back To The Fields” they are my personal highlights from the album.  

If you like your music on the PROGMATIC! side and are into concept albums. The music that Napier’s Bones presents should appeal to you and I highly recommend checking it out. You can listen to the album for free or even purchase it for as little as £4 @ Bandcamp from the following link: https://napiersbones.bandcamp.com/album/the-fields

Historic PROG!…

The album tracklisting is as follows:

01. From The Fields. 6:40.
02. Something Changed. 4:12.
03. One More Lost. 6:06.
04. A Better Way. 4:50.
05. Restoring Order. 7:32.
06. August Afternoon. 4:04.
07. Break Out. 5:40.
08. Aftermath. 5:56.
09. Back To The Fields. 5:08.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7.5/10.

 
 

Lee Speaks About Music… #179

Daphnis Et Chloé – Tomita

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Introduction…

This is the second of Tomita’s albums to be re-issued and re-released on a Hybrid SACD by Dutton Vocalion and this was actually the first of the two albums that Michael J. Dutton decided to remaster. I am well impressed by these new reissues from Tomita’s back catalogue of music and I do hope at some point we will get to see more of his albums get the same GREAT! treatment done to them. Obtaining what little multichannel mixes have been done in the past of his music is extremely hard to get hold of here in the UK and you will end up paying through the back teeth for them and are well overpriced. This is where I give praise to such record labels for giving you genuine quality at a GREAT! price.

Like his debut album Snowflakes are Dancing, Tomita returns to his love of French music, only this time instead of Debussy he decided to electronically create the music of Ravel. I have to confess that when I first brought this album I was not even aware of Ravel’s music, though classical music was not really my cup of tea so to speak so it was hardly surprising.

Like I mentioned in my previous review of Tomita’s Firebird album it was really him who introduced me to classical music though I had heard some of the music by more well-known composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky for example. I am pretty sure I would have heard “Bolero” used for the background music for ice skaters to dance to on the television too, but would not have been aware who composed the music and had no interest in it at all.

For me personally, what Tomita did with classical music was making it much more interesting and more appealing for my taste buds and I would even say he made it more accessible. In my youth the biggest majority of classical music I found very boring and still do today. It was through Tomita that I later spent a bit more time listening to classical music and in particular the pieces of music he electronically covered. I would not say that Tomita does everything better especially when it comes to pieces like “Clair de Lune” and for my ears that is a piece of music where its real beauty is expressed and brought to life on one instrument such as the piano. It’s more of the string section of an orchestra that bores me because it can lack variation at most times, unlike a violin solo which has much more expression.

My favourite genre of music progressive rock is very much derived from classical music and in general, the way that the music is structured and can go in many different directions and take you somewhere else is what I particularly like about it. That is the key and my definitive way to describe progrock and it has nothing to do with if the music is fused with genres of classical, jazz, folk, rock or whatever or even its strange time signatures. In some ways, even jazz fusion can be derived from classical music especially if you listen to Rachmaninoff whose music is more sporadic and nonsensical. No doubt it’s complex but just like the biggest majority of it does not even speak in musical terms to me and I find it can go right off the rails so to speak.

Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis Et Chloé is far from nonsensical and the way Isao Tomita presents it very much reminds me of progrock even though he’s electronically created it and once again he has managed to breathe new life into it. I also believe that Michael J. Dutton has also given us the opportunity to hear much of the life that was originally breathed into it with the Quad Mix, but before we go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

The disc comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case and I think that’s the norm with all releases from Dutton Vocalion and most likely used to keep the cost down. With its low price point of £11.99 plus a couple of pound postage & packing for a hybrid SACD that comes with Stereo and Quad mixes I certainly have no complaints here and this is a genuine bargain and streal at the price.

Artwork.

The albums design was done by Toshio Kajiura who used an illustrated painting done by Hiroo Isono for the front cover. Isono extensively travelled to varied forests and jungles in Japan such as the Yaeyama Islands and his main theme of work was often based around the subject of jungles, forests, or tropical climes and his art convey a serene atmosphere, coupled with the strength and appeal of Nature’s wonder. It really is a beautiful landscape and is well-fitting to beauty and romance behind Ravel’s music.

The Album In Review…

Tomita’s 7th studio album Daphnis et Chloé was originally released back in 1979. The original vinyl album contained 4 tracks spread over an overall playing time of around 54 minutes. The CD editions of the album split the second suite on the album up making up 8 tracks spread over the same distance. This particular Multichannel Hybrid SACD edition contains 8 tracks and was released on the 4th of January 2019. It’s the first time a Quadrophonic or multichannel mix of the album has surfaced since it was released on vinyl back in 1979 and back then it was released in Japan only.

The album was subtitled “The Ravel Album” and all the music on it was composed by the French classical composer Maurice Ravel who like Claude Debussy often had a touch of romanticism about their music. This is actually Tomita’s favourite album and he presented it to his daughter on her marriage. In the USA and Italy, the album was released under the title Boléro with different artwork and track running order. The artwork was done by Barron Storey and was also used for the 7″ and 12″ single release of “Boléro” here in the UK.

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The single was released in 1980 in the UK by popular demand in the light of the success of the Movie “10” that featured Bo Derek and Dudley Moore and was scored by Henry Mancini. It even broke into the top 100 UK Singles charts and peaked at number 75.

By 1979 Tomita was expanding his studio and due to his success, he was adding more keyboards to his arsenal such as many Roland synthesisers including the Roland Vocoder VP-330 and he even added the BEAST! of keyboards to his collection the Yamaha CS-80 which is one of the rarest and most expensive synths widely still sort after today.

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It was around this time that all those well-used analogue tape machines were about to witness the dawn of digital multitrack recorders, with the 3M and SoundStream systems. Tomita very much reached the peak of analogue overkill on this album at this stage of his career before venturing into the Digital Age that was around the corner.

I have no idea how well Daphnis et Chloé done on its release but I do remember its release avoiding me and I never even knew the album existed until it was released on CD in 1984. Back then you never had the internet to keep an eye out for new releases and had to rely on keeping your eyes open in the record stores and the odd magazine. I would not have thought this album would have attracted the attention in relation to his first four albums but nevertheless, it is an album that does have some fine moments and a well worthy addition to Tomita’s catalogue of music.

Musicians & Credits…

unnamed_Fotor

Produced by Plasma Music, Inc. Music Composed by Maurice Ravel, Electronically Created & Arranged by Isao Tomita. Recorded at Plasma Music Inc studios Japan 1979. Stereo & Quadrophonic Mixes by Isao Tomita. Remastered from the Original Master Tapes by Michael J. Dutton. Cover Design by Toshio Kajiura. Cover Illustration by Hiroo Isono.

Musicians.

Isao Tomita uses the following: Moog Synths: Moog HIP. Moog System 55. Polymoog. Scale Programmer 950-B. Bode Ring Modulator 6401. Bode Frequency Shifter 1630. Roland Synths: System 700. Strings RS-202. Jupiter 4. Yamaha Synths: CS-80. Strings SS-30. Vocoders: Roland Pulse VP-330. Korg VC-10. Fender Electric Piano. Hohner Clavinet C. Mellotron. Sequencer: Roland Micro Computer MC-8. Graphic Equalizers: 2 x Victor SEA-770. Roland GE-810 & GE-820. Mixers: Quad 8 Compumix (24 Channel). 3 x Teac Model 1 (8 Channel). 5 x Teac Model 3 (8 Channel). Tape Recorders: Ampex MM-1100 (16 Track) & AG-440 (4 Track). Teac 90-16. 80-8. A-3340S (4 Track). 7040GSL (2 Track). Sony TC-9040 (4 Track). Noise Reduction: DBX 187. 4 x Teac DX-8. Accessories: AKG BX20E & BX10 Echo Units. Roland RV-800 (stereo) & Revo 30 Reverb Units. Roland PH-830 Stereo Phaser. 4 x Korg MS-02. Binson Echorec “2”. Roland RE-201 Space Echo. Roland Dimension D. Eventide Clockworks Instant Phaser, Instant Flanger & Harmonizer. Fender Dimension 4. Leslie Speaker Model 147.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Like I already mentioned this album is very much like revisiting his debut album with the drama and the romanticism that is distinguishable of both Ravel’s and Debussy’s music. Tomita has a lot of admiration for the music and is not trying to analyse and arrange it through an oscillator but playing the orchestral pieces on his synthesizers. He has quite a unique way of extracting the dramatic essence even to the point of human breathing which is an element he also injected into his synthesizers and was inspired by watching the famous Kabuki actor Tamasaburo dance.

Pictures and colour are very much what Tomita likes to work with so let’s now take a closer look at the album and see how it all pans out as I take you through the individual tracks.

Track 1. Daphnis Et Chloé: Suite No.2. (a) Daybreak. (b) Pantomime. (c) General Dance.

Daphnis Et Chloé is Maurice Ravel’s longest piece of work and the original score is nearly an hour-long. The piece itself was split into two suites and three parts and Tomita chose to take on the final part of the story. The music itself was written for a ballet adapted by Michel Fokine who was a Russian Ballet dancer and choreographer to which Ravel himself referred to the piece as a choreographic symphony. His music was set to a romantic story written by the romantic Greek writer Longus and is thought to date from around the 2nd century AD.

What we have here is a piece that is in no hurry to build up to its climax in the final part over its near enough 18 minutes. The first two parts in particular tend to drag themselves along in a patient manner though as ever Tomita always throws something interesting into the pot. I did say that this was an album that had its moments and one of the magical moments on this album is the third part of this suite “General Dance” which is more like a battle or military affair and the most PROGMATIC! part of the album. Interestingly enough before it comes into play at around the 13-minute mark we get a touch of Vangelis which is perhaps unusual for Tomita.

Although this is a fine piece of work that Tomita has done with Ravel’s suite and he has tried to make it more interesting. There is no doubt you do have to have the patience to get through it at times and apart from the final third of the suite it does not merit enough to make this an epic track over this distance. In my opinion, Ravel is perhaps not one of the GREATS! in relation to many other composers and his music can be a bit tedious and boring at times and I put the blame on him and not Tomita.

Track 2. Pavane For A Dead Princess.

Although its title reflects the mournful side of things, strangely enough, that was not the vision Ravel had for the piece and it was more of a courtly dance from the Renaissance period and wasn’t for mourning the death of a princess and was more of a wistful daydream that the Spanish princess might have danced along too. Tomita’s approach perhaps reflects both the mournful and dance side of things in particular with the use of the pipe organ in the opening and perhaps turns it into more of a serenade by the time he’s finished with it. He really has done an excellent job with the arrangement and the sounds he uses are quite captivating and keep you attentive to the piece. It is, without doubt, in my eyes the best track on the album as a whole even if there are better standout moments in other places.

Track 3. Boléro.

Most classical music in general ventures down another path for it to go somewhere else just like good progrock music. However, “Bolero” is a piece I literally detest for not being adventurous and for it being more along the lines of punk rock with how it says the same thing throughout its entirety. Effectively it’s like listening to Alexei Sale say “hello John got a new motor” repeatedly over and over and it bores me to death 😁😁😁.

Not even Tomita’s electronic version rescues me from the depths of boredom I am afraid however he does make the panning effects interesting and even in stereo it works like a surround mix with how it circles itself all around you. It’s even more effective in Quadrophonic and I am pretty sure he must have used something like a ring modulator to produce the effect. He does also make it more interestingly by adding more elements in the arrangement and I personally think his arrangement is better in that respect.

To be honest Ravel’s piece might have worked better over a shorter distance rather than 9 minutes and that is what really kills the piece for me. No doubt it’s a piece that is more popular with other people than myself and even many other artists have covered part of it over the years, some rock artists, in particular, have even rocked it out on their guitars. But for me, it’s just a piece that builds itself up and travels along in one direction and is way too monotonous.

Tracks 4-8. Mother Goose Suite: (a) Pavane Of The Sleeping Beauty. (b) Hop-O’-My-Thumb. (c) Laideronnette, Empress Of The Pagodas. (d) Conversations Of Beauty And The Beast. (e) The Fairy Garden.

The final track on the album is another Suite and this was originally a five-part suite Ravel wrote as a piano duet for the  Godebski children back in 1910. Children’s fairy stories such as Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb and Beauty and the Beast is what he adapted the music around. A year later he orchestrated the work and expanded it into a ballet adding four new interludes and a couple of movements to it and the ballet premiered at the Théâtre des Arts in Paris, France on the 29th of January 1912.

Tomita based his version around the original that was written for a piano duet and orchestrates it in his own electronic way quite masterfully. The first part of the suite I first encountered on Joe Walsh’s 1974 album So What and had no idea it was written by Ravel. I quite like both versions and Tomita gives it more of a choral and orchestral way of presenting it in relation to the synthesized version of what Walsh did with it.

The third part is certainly one of the most interesting and another one of the standout sections or moments on the album and this is Tomita utilising some of the sounds that he used on “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” and “Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells” from his first two albums Snowflakes are Dancing and Pictures at an Exhibition. When you are thinking of music that is made for children as this suite of Ravel’s was this is more like it and it’s very playful.

Summary And Conclusion…

Daphnis et Chloé or The Ravel Album by Tomita might not have the fire and energy that can be found on some of his previous albums but nevertheless, its smoother edges and standout sections are perhaps enough to merit adding this album to your collection of his works. The original Quadrophonic mix done by Tomita makes it even more of a reason to add it to your collection and I would say this is easily the definitive edition and another reason to buy the album all over again. It does not come with any bonus tracks but considering the price point of this HYBRID, SACD is the same as a normal CD that is very much a bonus in itself and once again I have nothing but praise for Michael J. Dutton and his Vocalion Record company.

In the world of electronic music, Tomita is like a painter with a huge pallet of many colours and there is no doubt in my mind that he has skilfully painted his way through Ravel’s music and gave it a new lease of life. The beauty and romance in Ravel’s music are still very evident and even with the synthesis of electronics its captured its very essence in fine detail. I can see why it is Tomita’s favourite album even if it’s not mine, simply because it resembles and emulates in many ways some form of BEAUTIFICATION!

My personal highlights from the album are “Pavane For A Dead Princess“, “Daphnis Et Chloé: Suite No.2 (Part C)” and “Mother Goose Suite (Part C)”.

Ravelling Electronically With Ravel…

The SACD Track Listing is as follows:

01. Daphnis et Chloe: Suite No.2. (a) Daybreak. (b) Pantomime. (c) General Dance. 17:46.
02. Pavane For A Dead Princess. 7:19.
03. Boléro. 9:20.
04. Mother Goose Suite: (a) Pavane Of The Sleeping Beauty. (b) Hop-O’-My-Thumb. (c) Laideronnette, Empress Of The Pagodas. (d) Conversations Of Beauty And The Beast. (e) The Fairy Garden. 19:35.

The Package Rating. 7/10.
The Price Point Rating. 10/10.
The Quad Mix Rating. 10/10.
The Stereo Mix Rating. 10/10.
The Album Rating. 6/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #178

Firebird – Tomita

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Introduction…

Electronic music is something I very rarely play these days though from time to time I still keep a watchful eye out for some of those electronic artists who I had in my record collection back in the 70’s which is where that genre of music got more of the time of day spinning on my turntable so to speak. Oddly enough the 80’s was a decade I detested for popular chart music which made me more or less turn my back on the radio and TV programs like Top Of The Pops. That was really down to all that retro synth orientated pop music that artists and bands like Gary Numan, Howard Jones, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Pet Shop Boys and many more were churning out.

The 80’s was a strange decade for music and even most of my beloved progrock bands like Yes and Genesis had gone pop and most of the rock bands had gone into more commercial rock music. One of the only things that kept my particular taste buds happy and alive in the 80’s were Tangerine Dream and I felt they had got a lot better in that decade due to the likes of  Johannes Schmoelling joining the band and later Paul Haslinger after he had left. In that decade I would say that they were more PROG! than the biggest majority of progrock bands and PROG! was very much on its way out and it was only really Marillion who had tried to revive it in that same decade who was the start of what’s known as Neo-Progrock.

My first introduction to electronic music came from a friend of mine in the mid-seventies around 74/75 and he was a big fan of Tangerine Dream though it was not them at the time who impressed me. It was this odd-looking album cover that looked like it had Mr Spock from Star Trek on the front cover that caught my eye and prompted me to ask him what it was all about and for him to stick it on his turntable.

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To be perfectly honest I was not impressed one bit by the album cover and it was only the fact that to me it looked like one of those CHEAPO! albums that made me take the piss out of it that really made my mate stick it on for me. Having listened to it I thought it was very strange yet soothing in parts and even comical with some of the sounds that were being generated in particular with the voice-like sounds. One of the other things I instantly picked up on about the recording, in particular, was that if like myself you liked the effect a stereo recording could deliver, this recording was a STEREOPHILE’S PARADISE! and one of the best reference stereo albums you could get. Though as fascinating it was hearing it for the first time it did not make me want to go out and buy the album at the time. 

By 1976 I had left school and got a job which meant I had more money to spend on albums and that was the year that my oldest brother first brought electronic music into my parent’s house when he purchased Jean Michel Jarre’s debut album Oxygene. That was an album that did impress me to which I later added to my own collection along with many more of his albums. But thinking back to my youth it was also a time when me and my brother tried to impress one another by bringing in a new artist to our record collections. It was like we were bragging to each other that I introduced you to so and so and was all rather childish at the time.

It was in that same year that whilst I was in the record store that I noticed Tomita’s new album release of Firebird. I had only vaguely heard of his music from that time of listening to Snowflakes Are Dancing round my mate’s house and it may have been down to the fact that my brother had brought some electronic music into the household that made me purchase the album to show him sort of thing. However, when I took it home and played it on the turntable we were both quite blown away and this album was not only like progrock but it was also my first real introduction to classical music.

Isao Tomita is very much what I would call an electronic genius and still to this day I regard him as the number one electronic artist and I don’t think anybody could personally touch him. Firebird has always been my personal favourite album of his and the strange thing about this relatively new reissue of the album is that it’s done in the way of a CHEAPO! by another record company. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The disc comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case to keep the cost down though personally, I don’t mind paying that bit extra for a cardboard Digipak or DigiSleeve because it does give a better overall presentation. One of the good things about it is that it not only comes with the usual linear production and credit notes but also all the original informative information that was on the original vinyl album. Over the years I have collected his albums on both vinyl and CD and I have yet to come across any of his CD’s come in anything but a plastic jewel case. This is a shame because this artist does deserve a lot more respect.

This is actually the third time I have brought this album and it’s the first time it’s ever been released on an SACD which is why I purchased it again. For its price point of £11.99 plus £2 postage & packing it’s an absolute bargain for a hybrid SACD that comes with stereo and multichannel mixes. I shall go into more detail about the record company later in my review of the album and how I have nothing but high praise for them.

Artwork.
The artwork was done by the art director and graphic designer  J.J. Stelmach who done the artwork for the biggest majority of Tomita’s albums and many other major artists over the years. He’s also won Grammy Awards for his artwork and the phoenix bird of fire is very apt to the album’s title.

Tomita In Brief History…

Isao Tomita more commonly known as Tomita is a Japanese composer and is regarded as one of the pioneers in electronic and space music. Though predominantly he is best known for his electronic arrangements of some of the classical GREATS! rather than his own compositions. Although in his earlier and later years he did put more into his own compositions. For example, after he graduated from university studying art history in 1955 he became a full-time composer for television, film and theatre. It was also during those earlier days at university that he took private lessons in orchestration and composition and in 1966 he wrote a tone poem based on Kimba the White Lion.

Throughout his career, he worked in both electronic music and wrote scores for orchestration even later on with the releases of albums such as Grand Canyon and Storm From The East in 1982 and 1992 respectively. The odd one or two of his own compositions would also find their way onto some of his electronic albums but on albums such as Firebird all the music was originally composed by classical composers such as Stravinsky, Debussy and Mussorgsky. That was generally the norm with the 4 electronic albums he released between 1974 – 1976.

Tomita’s influence and inspiration for electronic music came from two things. The first having heard the Wendy Carlos seminal album Switched-On Bach in 1968 and the second was the Moog synthesiser to which he took delivery of his first modular Moog synthesiser, along with a sequencer, in 1971. Although by then he had already composed much music and even released an album of cover songs of the likes of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel entitled Switched on Rock in 1972 under the name of Electric Samurai. The release of Snowflakes Are Dancing in 1974 was his first worldwide solo release and is noted as his debut album.

By the 80’s technology had moved on with the birth of midi and this also provided him with the use of technology to create his own Plasma Symphony Orchestra which was a computer synthesizer process using the waveforms of electromagnetic emanations from various stars and constellations for the sonic textures. This was first used on his 1982 album Grand Canyon and it meant that his analogue synths had taken a back seat with the introduction of digital instruments. He virtually abandoned analogue with the acquisition of his custom-built, one-of-a-kind Casio Cosmo system around 1984. Though he did return to analogue in the 90’s with the release of his 1996 album Bach Fantasy which was released in Japan only.

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It was also with the aid of new technology in the 80’s that he was able to play live performances and put on big shows such as the concert in Linz, Austria in 1984 which drew 80,000 people. In 1986, a gigantic concert called “Back to the Earth” was held in New York in commemoration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. He performed a number of outdoor “Sound Cloud” concerts, with speakers surrounding the audience in a “cloud of sound” with the use of helicopters suspending the speakers in the air. His last Sound Cloud event was in Nagoya, Japan in 1997, featuring guest performances by The Manhattan Transfer, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, and Rick Wakeman.

In the 2000’s he went back into music for films and collaborated with The Walt Disney Company in 2001 and followed it up with a synthesizer score featuring acoustic soloists for the 2002 film The Twilight Samurai. He also performed a version of Claude Debussy’sClair de lune” for the soundtrack of Ocean’s 13 in 2007. In 2012 he performed “Symphony Ihatov” in Tokyo, directing the Japan Philarmonic, an accompanying choir, and featuring cyber-celebrity/diva, Hatsune Miku, a digital avatar created by the Japanese company Crypton Future Media. He suffered from a heart condition for many years and sadly passed away of heart failure in Tokyo on the 5th of May 2016.

Most artists and bands think they have made it when they get to play in Japan hence the expression BIG In JAPAN! Tomita was not big in Japan he was MASSIVE! and his music stretched to other shores as well and he was, without doubt, an innovated creative genius in the world of electronic music.

The Album In Review…

Tomita’s third studio album Firebird was originally released sometime in 1976. The original Vinyl release contained 3 tracks and depending on which CD re-issue of the album you have it will either contain 9 tracks as in the 1984 UK & Europe edition or 6 tracks as in the 1991 remastered UK & Europe edition. Whatever edition you have the album comes with an overall playing time of around 48 minutes, 30 seconds. This particular SACD edition contains 6 tracks and was released on the 31st of May 2019. It’s the first time a Quadrophonic mix has surfaced in any other country apart from Japan and the US since the time of its original release back in 1976.

Isao Tomita was not only a composer but also a recording and mixing engineer who set up his own studio in 1973 which was known as Plasma Music, Inc. Sound played a vital role in the development of his music and he was obviously a wealthy man to be able to set up his own studio with the mass of equipment he used to make his music. I am fairly sure that he did Quad mixes for most of his albums back in the 70’s. Although back then you would have had to be quite wealthy yourself to be able to afford a Quadrophonic setup which is why the format soon died simply because the biggest majority of people including myself could not afford it.

These days setting up your own recording studio and even getting a multichannel AV Surround setup is not going to cost you an arm and a leg and such luxuries can even be a pittance in relation to what it would have cost back then. Take it from me Quadrophonic did not die out because the format was inferior, that was far from the case. In my opinion, it’s more superior to stereo and can project far more detail of what goes into a recording down to its better separation of having 4 channels instead of 2.

The sound did play vital importance to his recordings and to be honest even in stereo they can produce a sound very similar to surround sound with how the music projects from the speakers. Like I mentioned earlier his recordings are very much a STEREOPHILE’S PARADISE! and to some that might be enough and they might even think of how a Quadrophonic mix can in any way improve upon it. 

Well, thanks to the record company Dutton Vocalion I now have the chance to make my own comparison and I can honestly say that although this might sound like a CHEAPO! This record company in particular with its lower price point they are selling these recordings are in fact one of the best record companies I have recently stumbled upon and are giving you genuine value for the buck. I actually stumbled across them as a third party seller on Amazon UK and was impressed by their service and their website. So let’s sidetrack a bit to tell you more about them.

Dutton Laboratories was established and set up by British recording and re-mastering engineer Michael J. Dutton originally back in 1993. This first section of the company specialised in historic classical music performances that originally appeared on 78-rpm shellac discs. The Vocalion series was set up in 1997 and various other sections were set up a bit later on and basically, this is a record label or company that specialises in putting music that was made between the 1920’s to the 1970’s onto modern-day digital recordings. The company is bringing out new releases every month and mostly sells SACD and CD’s.

To be honest there is not much for me that they do sell because it does mainly cater for the classical side of things. I was even surprised to find Tomita on there and I am pretty sure he’s the only electronic artist they do have on there. But there are a few albums on there of interest by artists such as Art Garfunkel, Mott The Hoople and Argent that I noticed and some you get 2 albums on one CD sort of thing. I actually picked up Deodato’s debut album Prelude and his second album Deodato 2 on a single Hybrid SACD both come with Quadrophonic mixes for £11.99. I will review later and the other Tomita album I picked up.

In 1991 the first 5 of his albums were remastered and released on CD in the US & Canada they are also said to be in multichannel Dolby Surround. I remember my mate who introduced me to Tomita buying them all and paid around £10 more for each disc due to them being imports. He was more into electronic music than myself and I remember spending an afternoon around his house making comparisons with the original recordings. Each disc came with a modified album cover as seen below.

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 I was not impressed at all by these releases and the whole multichannel thing was a farce simply because there was no way you could put a multichannel recording on a standard CD and would need an SACD or DVD to do such a thing in the first place. Like I mentioned earlier his albums were already capable of producing a sound very similar to surround sound and even though some of these 1991 editions sounded good, there were some that sounded worse. There was not enough in the difference between the original recordings to merit spending the extra money on them. The only real difference would have been down to the remastering and nothing else.

In 2003 the company that make AV & HiFi components Denon released a 5.1 mix of Tomita’s 4th album The Planets on DVD Audio. They also went on to release Ultimate Editions of some of his albums in Quadrophonic on SACD though they were only released in Japan and were quite expensive to get hold of. Some of them were given different titles and did not contain all the tracks from the original album and were mixed with other tracks from his other albums such as the Clair De Lune Ultimate Edition which is supposed to be his debut album Snowflakes Are Dancing. Yet it only contains 3 out of the 10 tracks that were on the original album.

My mate purchased some of these multichannel mixes but I was not impressed with what they were doing to them and compilation albums were never my thing and I certainly would not spend over the odds on such a thing either. However, the Ultimate Edition of The Planets that was released on SACD in 2011 did contain all the tracks from the album and a bonus track.

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It’s generally priced over £30 and recently I did come across an online store selling it for £28 and I sent for it. But have heard nothing from them and luckily for me, they have not taken the money out of my account either. What you will also find with most of these Japanese imports is that all the linear credit notes are in Japanese and there is no English on them. I cannot say I like what they have done with the artwork either and that is nothing like the original artwork.

There is a reason why some of Tomita’s albums were released in the US first and some were only ever released in the US and Japan. His connection with the US market, in particular, was really down to his own country rejecting his debut album Snowflakes Are Dancing because it was not pop, or even classical and they could not find a convenient category to market it. So he decided to go to New York and over there he met Peter Manders at RCA Records and luckily for him he was a fan of the Wendy Carlos album Switched-On Bach. Having heard the tapes Manders was well impressed and on the same day he decided to release it and it became quite a big success in America. Some ten months later having returned back to Japan his Japanese record company finally released the album over there.

Firebird did very well on its release back in 1976 and sold over 100,000 copies in the first three months getting to the top of both pop and classical charts and it even appeared in some jazz charts. His fourth album The Planets was also released in the same year and it always amazed me how he was able to churn out 4 albums over a few years with how time-consuming it was to create the sounds. A lot of equipment is used to create and generate the sounds so let’s now take a look at what it took to make it.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Plasma Music, Inc. Music Composed by Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy and Modest Mussorgsky. Electronically Created & Arranged by Isao Tomita. Recorded at Plasma Music Inc studios Japan 1975. Remastered from the Original Master Tapes by Michael J. Dutton. Cover Design by J.J. Stelmach. Reissue Graphics by Paul Evans.

Component Equipment Used by Tomita for This Album
Moog Synthesizer Quantity
914 Extended Range Fixed Filter Bank
125Hz – 5KHz, 12-Band Highpass/Lowpass Filter
2
904-A Voltage-Controlled Lowpass Filter
24dB per Octave Classic Moog Lowpass Filter
3
904-B Voltage-Controlled Highpass Filter
24dB per Octave Highpass Filter
2
904-C Filter Coupler 1
901 Voltage-Controlled Oscillator
Used as a VCO or an LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) as on the Minimoog
1
921 Voltage-Controlled Oscillator
0.01Hz – 40kHz Frequency Range
1
901-A Oscillator Controller
1 Volt per Octave
3
921-A Oscillator Driver
1 Volt per Octave
2
901-B Oscillator
The Basis of the Moog Sound
9
921-B Oscillator
Newer and More Stable than 901-B
6
903-A Random Signal Generator
White/Pink Noise Generator for Wind/Rain/Sea Effects
3
911 Envelope Generator
2ms – 10s Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release Configuration
12
911-A Dual Trigger Delay
2ms – 10s 2 Channel Delay Unit
2
902 Voltage-Controlled Amplifier
Linear/Exponential Amplifier with 2 Inputs, 2 Outputs, 3 Control Voltages
5
912 Envelope Follower 2
984 Four-Channel Mixer 1
960 Sequential Controller
8 Steps by 3 Rows Sequencer with Fully Variable Voltages
3
961 Interface
CV/Trigger to Moog S-Trig Convertor for 960 Sequencer
2
962 Sequential Switch
Configures 960 Sequencer
4
950 Keyboard Controller
49-Note Monophonic Keyboard
2
950-B Scale Programmer 1
956 Ribbon Controller
Alternative to the Keyboard
1
6401 Bode Ring Modulator
Combines 2 Inputs, and Outputs the Sum and Difference,
Classically Used for Metallic Sounds, Such as Bells,
Designed by Harald Bode
1
1630 Bode Frequency Shifter 1
959 X-Y Controller
Joystick Controller for Mixing 2 Signals
2
905 Reverberation Unit
Spring-Type Reverberation
1
Mixer Quantity
Quad/Eight Compumix (24 Ch.) 1
Sony MX-710 (8 Ch.) 2
Sony MX-16 (8 Ch.) 3
Sony MX-12 (6 Ch.) 2
Accessory Quantity
AKG BX20E Echo Unit 1
Binson Echorec “2” 2
Roland Space Echo RE-201 1
Eventide Clockworks “Instant Phaser” 1
Maestro Phase Shifter 1
Roland Phase Shifter 2
Fender “Dimention IV” 1
Maestro Sound System for Woodwinds 1
Maestro Rhythm ‘n’ Sound for Guitar 1
Fender Electronic Piano
Probably a Rhodes Suitcase Model
1
Hohner Clavinet C 1
Sitar (Made in India) with Barcus-Berry  
Contact Microphone 1
Mellotron
Not Listed in Equipment Used
1
Tape Recorder Tape Speed
Ampex MM-1100 16 Tracks 76 cm/s
Ampex AG-440 4 Tracks (1/2″) 38 cm/s
Sony TC-9040 4 Tracks (1/4″) 38 cm/s
TEAC A-3340S 4 Tracks (1/4″) 38 cm/s
TEAC 7030GSL 2 Tracks 38 cm/s

The Album Tracks In Review…

Even though Tomita crossed over from analogue to digital in his later years in many of his interviews he always praised analogue even though it was time-consuming creating all the sounds. But the thing he noted it for was that it allowed you to develop your own unique sound which is important for every artist to have. Tomita very much has his own unique sound that distinguishes him from every other electronic artist and there is no mistaking it for anything else. He very much has his own unique way of arranging classical music. Though in general the music will follow the path of the original score and it is only the sounds he uses that make the biggest difference in relation to how the music is put across.

Just like classical music, there is a certain amount of progression and transitional changes that are commonly associated with that particular music and progressive rock. Tomita’s approach to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is really not much different to prog-rock and parts of it even remind me of Yes even though this is electronic music done with synthesizers and twiddling knobs. I guess in a way his music could be seen as electronic progressive rock. So, let’s now go through the individual tracks on the album.

Tracks 1-4. Firebird Suite: (a) Introduction And Dance Of The Firebird. (b) Round Of The Princesses (Khorovod). (c) Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei. (d) Berceuse And Finale.

Most people will be familiar with Stravinsky’sFirebird Suite” and the prog-rock giants Yes often used its “Finale” as an introduction to open up their live shows. The suite here is split into four sections or parts though a couple of them are two parts in one so I guess it could even be six parts. On the original vinyl album, this particular suite took up the whole of the first side of the album just like a good few albums that Yes produced back then. Like I mentioned there are some similarities with Yes and they go beyond the structure of how an album was put together with 3 tracks.

The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky wrote the Firebird Suite in 1910 and it was composed for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company. The scenario set for the ballet was based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. The music can be very dramatic and captivating, articulating not only the sense of danger and fear but also a certain amount of joy and beauty that was thrown into the plot behind the story it’s portraying.

The original suite Stravinsky wrote was twice as long as the version we have here, however for live performances it was stripped back to around half of its length like we do have here. They also re-arranged how the story was put across in some of the variations too and the version of the suite Tomita has chosen to follow was created in Switzerland for conductor Ernest Anserme in 1919.

Tomita very much broadened his pallet of sounds on this album and his vision to put across the story of the Firebird is nothing short of a master-stroke genius with how he manipulates and articulates his way along with the suite. I honestly do not believe there is a better version than this that exists. The first two-part section of the suite “Introduction And Dance Of The Firebird” goes through quite a few transitional changes and captivates the danger and fear with its introduction and its movement in the dance. He’s very much expressed it in a Cinematic way with his approach and the music not only puts you in the picture but it’s like it was made for a film and this how precise he’s portrayed it with the use of manipulating the sounds he’s created. 

The second part “Round Of The Princesses (Khorovod)” expresses beauty even though according to the fairytale thirteen princesses are caught under the spell of an evil demon named Kashchei. Here Tomita uses coral voices and a Mantovani of strings mostly to express the mystical story and these days you would think nothing of how they can emulate the sounds of an orchestra with all the samples that have been put into softsynth software you can get. But back then this was quite an achievement. It even sounds like he’s got Steve Howe’s Coral Sitar in here too 😁😁😁.

The third part “Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei” is my favourite section and it’s very much a battle and portrays the part of the story where the prince wanders into Kashchei’s garden to free the princesses. This section and the battle here puts me in mind of the battle in the middle section of the “Gates Of Delirium” by Yes with how menacing it is. This is very much prog-rock in my opinion and sounds purely FANTASTIC! and Tomita has really gone to town here by utilising all that he’s learnt about his craft of manipulating sounds and its pure DYNAMICS!

The advantage Tomita has over most musicians is that he not only studied melody and composition but he also studied how to create sound and besides doing scores for movies he also worked in creating some of the sounds that go into them and even worked on cartoons. He’s even created pots and pans and the sound of a Woodpecker for this section and it’s purely SYNTHTASTIC! I’ve always been fascinated by the sounds that go into a movie more so than the actual music that was made for the score. There really is a fine art to designing and creating sounds and to do them electronically the way he does them it does take a lot of manipulating with frequencies to get them as precise as he does.

The final two-part section “Berceuse And Finale” is once again masterfully created by Tomita. The first part is very much a lullaby and is quite haunting, the second part is perhaps the most familiar part of the suite that projects power to put an ending to the story. The whole of Stravinsky’s suite is a really GREAT! piece of work and the way Tomita has presented it is quite breathtaking and the whole suite is my personal favourite track on the album.

Track 5. Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun.

One of Claude Debussy’s popular pieces has been skilfully and masterfully given the electronic treatment by Tomita and this is another haunting bit of beauty with how it’s expressed with the sounds he has created for it. I think like many classical pieces they are more famous for their short melodic motifs or major theme rather than the whole piece in general. I guess that would be down to TV adverts and movies that only use short extracts to which nine times out of ten it is only the short motif or common theme they use.

This is another piece written for ballet and it was inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem “L’après-midi d’un Fauneand is very much one of his symphonic poem’s. I guess that even classical musicians had the same inspiration as many prog-rock musicians who base their lyrics around Greek Mythology and his poem was about intoxicating dreams of passion, lust, nymphs and naiads.

To be perfectly honest I would not give twopence for this piece of Debussy’s and it is only Tomita that makes it more interesting in my book. Personally, I think it fails to capture the structure and beauty in comparison to “Clair De Lune” which is one of his more refined and renowned popular pieces.

Track 6. A Night On Bare Mountain.

No matter whether it’s a night on “Bare” or “Bald” mountain the way Tomita has electronically handled Modest Mussorgsky‘s masterpiece is nothing short of SPECTACULAR! He did the same impressive job with Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition a year earlier. The piece was originally titled “St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain” and the music was set to a story about St. John seeing witches throwing a wild party on the bald mountain near Kiev in the old Russian Empire, to which they all vanish when the church bell strikes at 6am. Mussorgsky wrote a number of different versions of the piece, none of them got finished and was put aside because his teacher told him they were not good enough.

Most of Mussorgsky’s works were unfinished and left to others to finish off and it was his friend and fellow composer Rimsky Korsakov who re-arranged the music for orchestra and this is the piece we know today. Sadly his music became more popular after his death and it was the inclusion of this piece in the Walt Disney film Fantasia in 1940 that boosted its popularity.

This is another of my personal all-time favourites with what Tomita has done with it and I will often use this particular piece as a reference to show this GREAT! man’s ability in the field of electronic music. He really brings this piece MAJESTICALLY! to life with all he’s put into it and it’s another purely SYNTHTASTIC! track on the album and equally merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! along with the Firebird Suite. It also winds up the album superbly.

Summary & Conclusion…

Tomita’s third studio album the Firebird is a skilful and masterful presentation of bringing classical music into a new age or another light and I would even go as far as to say that it really brings out the PROG! and more defines it than what you will ever find in classical music itself. There is only one Isao Tomita and he was, without doubt, an electronic genius who had a magical vision of breathing a fresher approach into classical music and made it much more interesting for those like myself who are not into classical music. He was my first real introduction to classical music and he for me personally took away all the boredom that is associated with that field of music and made it more accessible for my ears. 

Don’t get me wrong I admire the skill that goes into the composition and the playing of classical music and unlike the genres of Rap, Reggae and Punk Rock I don’t despise it like those genres of music either. There was even a time that I even started a little collection of classical music and I quite liked the music of Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and a few others. However, I find that an orchestra of strings all sounds too familiar and it does not offer enough variation for my liking. The best way to hear any classical music is to go to a concert and listen to it there simply because you could never capture that on a recording. That is where classical music can really stand out from the rest. But on record, it can bore my pants off.

Speaking of recordings this Hybrid SACD comes with the original Stereo & Quadrophonic mixes of the album that were mixed by Tomita and have been remastered by Michael J. Dutton. The good thing about Tomita’s albums is the fact that they were never reissued that many times unlike much more popular artists such as Elton John, Led Zeppelin and so on which means that the original master tapes are still very much intact and of good quality. Vocalion Dutton may appear to look like a CHEAPO! record label as I mentioned earlier but there is a lot more quality about the company than meets the eye so to speak.

To obtain a licence from Sony to release anything on SACD is not always easy and the company do on most occasions control what is released on the format. These days SACD’s are mainly used for classical and jazz music only which is something that Sony decided to do with the format over a decade ago when they introduced Blu Ray onto the market. I honestly hate the company for what they are doing with the format and they have held back many major artists albums from being released on the format. So if like myself you are hoping many more of Tomita’s albums surface on the format in the near future the chances are it is not going to happen.

As I have already mentioned most electronic music has more of an ambient presence to make it sound more than just a stereo mix especially if like myself you have a dedicated listening seat positioned in the middle of the two speakers. Tomita was very articulate where he placed sounds in the mix which is why his albums do have a STEREOPHILE’S PARADISE! presence about them. You could say that the stereo field is ample enough for his music and it does not need more channels to bring out what lies within and beneath its surface.

Though being the surround FREAK! I am these days I have in the past experimented with his albums by using the UP-MIX! facilities that come with AV Receivers such as Dolby Prologic II and 7 Channel Stereo and these have produced some very satisfying and even amazing results and have made them sound even better. But of course these UP-MIX! facilities are only a simulation of a surround mix and not the real deal and when it comes to multi-channel mixes it is all about the placement of the instruments that make the big difference in giving you much more of an immersive experience. The more channels you have the more it can bring out of a recording and you will hear things you have never heard before. Separation is the key factor and it always has been in Hi-Fi even though many Audiophiles today claim that it was never the case, yet if like myself you brought HiFi mags many moons ago it was plastered all over them.

There is no doubt in my own personal experience that multichannel recordings have quite an advantage over stereo and offer the listener much more of not only an immersive experience but also to be able to hear much more that goes into a recording. Although like with all recordings it is down to how well the music was mixed in the first place and when it comes to multichannel recordings there are very few engineers who have the right vision to work in this field especially for those who do new mixes. My personal GODS! who have all that it takes to get a multichannel recording to sound right are Eliot Shiner, Steve Wilson and Chuck Ainlay.

I would also say that the biggest majority of albums from years ago were very well mixed in the first place and Michael J. Dutton has only remastered them from the original master tapes and not done a new mix with them. So with this release, you are getting to hear how well Tomita worked in surround sound with a quad mix and he clearly has the right vision and knew precisely what he was doing. There is also no doubt in my mind that even electronic music can benefit from multichannel recordings and this Quad Mix of Tomita’s Firebird album is to die for and will give you a much better presentation of his music and give you a very satisfying immersive experience. I have nothing but admiration and praise for what Michael is doing at Vocalion Dutton and will keep a watchful eye on his website for further new releases.

Tomita’s Firebird does really benefit from a Quad mix and it really does breathe new life into it and for its price point of £11.99 it’s a genuine steal and one I would highly recommend. I would also recommend the Vocalion Dutton website and it is cheaper to get it direct from them. They are well worth checking out and here is the link to their website: https://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/

Quadrophonic Fire…

The SACD Track Listing is as follows:

01. Introduction / Dance Of The Firebird. 5:00.
02. Round Of The Princesses (Khorovod). 7:06.
03. Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei. 4:11.
04. Berceuse / Finale. 8:57.
05. Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun. 10:10.
06. A Night On Bare Mountain. 12:51.

The Package Rating. 7/10.
The Price Point Rating. 10/10.
The Quad Mix Rating. 10/10.
The Stereo Mix Rating. 10/10.
The Album Rating. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #177

Wish You Were Here (Immersion Box Set) – Pink Floyd

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Introduction…

Well, I generally stay clear of expensive box sets such as this and at the time I saw that this particular box set had been substantially reduced in price since its release I did have on pre-order the John Lennon Box Set Give Me Some Truth which was due to be released on the anniversary of his birthday back in October last year. To be honest, I am not one for compilation albums and I do not have any albums by Lennon or The Beatles in my record collection but at one point was willing to shell out the £48 for it. However, around the same time I was hunting for Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here on SACD because having Dark Side Of The Moon on SACD and loving the immersive experience of the 5.1 surround mix I very much wanted it. Though the cheapest I could find it (second hand that is) was for the same price of £48 on Discogs has it’s been out of print for a good while now.

One of the good things about pre-ordering anything on Amazon is that they do not take your money till they dispatch the item and has I always pre-order things months in advance it gives you plenty of time to cancel your order at any time beforehand. I was not quite willing to shell out £48 on one SACD especially when I only paid £10 for the SACD of Dark Side Of The Moon many moons ago so it very much appeared that my £48 was going on the Lennon box set.

I am pretty sure the release of Lennon’s box set also got put back a week or so and it was about 3 days before its release that I stumbled across the Wish You Were Here Immersion Box Set going brand new on Amazon UK for the same price of £48. This particular box set cost twice that when it was originally released and perhaps even a bit more and has it offered more for the buck the Lennon box set sort of went out of the window and I got this instead. I am fairly sure I made a wise choice but do these expensive box sets really give you your monies worth? Before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging, artwork and contents.

Packaging & Artwork…

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Well as you can see the box set is quite chunky and around the same size as a vinyl album only a lot thicker to hold its contents. Box sets like this do take up a lot of media space especially if like myself you no longer collect vinyl. Although for vinyl collectors I don’t think it would present them with a problem and it would be much easier to store. For my own purposes, I always prefer media storage that comes with adjustable shelves to cater for CD’s DVD’s and Blu Rays and even though box sets like this might look nice displayed in my media storage (as seen below) however, they do take up the space of around 60 to 70 CD’s.

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That’s why I like the way Ian Anderson has repackaged the reissues of his Jethro Tull discography into a hardback book and I honestly believe they are the best box set anybody has come up with. They are so much easier to store (as you can see below) and can easily be stored along with your DVD collection and take up way less space. In reality, his box or book sets also come with much more than what you will find in this box set at a fraction of the price, which makes them by far the best value for money box set you could ever buy.

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One of the biggest downfalls with any box set like this is getting at the contents inside and you do have to fiddle about a bit trying to get the lid off the box. But what makes the design of this particular box set even worse is down to them not printing the contents of the box on the back of the box itself. Instead, they have printed them onto a card (as seen below) and at times it can be a nightmare trying to line it up to get the lid back on the box. Honestly, some of these designers must have the brains of a rocking horse 😊😊😊.

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As you can see in the photos above it comes with a separate printed piece of card with the contents printed onto which has been folded on the one end so you can insert it into the one side of the lid. Why they could not have printed the contents onto the back of the box is beyond me and I can only assume that less thought and attention was put into the design as they went along making it. Somewhere along the line, I am sure those behind it all are losing their MARBLES!

Artwork.

The box design and artwork were done at Storm Studios by Storm Thorgerson, Jerry Sweet, Lee Baker, Laura Truman and Peter Curzon. The artwork on the front of the box is known as the “Desert Man” and was said to done back in 1975 and was an outtake of one of the pieces of artwork that were intended to be used on the back of the album to which “The Diver” was used instead. It did also appeared in a Pink Floyd calendar back in 2005 and I quite like this artwork but it’s perhaps understandable why it was not used thinking of the album’s title and why “The Diver” was used instead. But then again when taking a look at both “The Burning Man” and “The Claw” that were used for the UK and US front covers of the album. I would hardly say they were fitting to the album’s title either 😊😊😊.

The Packaging Contents…

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As with many box sets such as this, they come with various trinkets and things you do not really need and are not going to offer you anything extra at all in the way of value in relation to the media content. To be honest most of the contents inside this box set I have not even opened to have a closer look at but you can tell just by looking at some of the items that some of the stuff in this box set is made entirely on the cheap and would not be suitable for the purpose they were originally meant for.

As you can see (by the picture above) the inside of the box presents you with a ribbon and a piece of foam which is aimed at giving it that bit of luxury feel to it and hold everything in place. The problem is that they do tend to put too many things in the box set for it to stop many of the items from moving about inside including the discs. So don’t be surprised to see that some of the discs have come loose when you open it.

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First of all, let’s take a look at some of the junk that comes in the box and there is only really one item in the picture above that is not junk and that is the very thing I brought this for in the first place which is the Blu Ray (pictured in the bottom right of the picture above). As to why this was not stored with the rest of the discs in the box set is obviously another cock-up by the designers and the picture on the cardboard sleeve they have used for the cover looks diabolical. It would have looked a lot better if they used the picture on the front of the box set or the original album cover.

The rest of the items here I have not bothered with because they have no real value. For example, just by feeling the quality of the scarf, it would not keep a nats armpit warm in the winter it’s that thin it would be pointless wearing. The 9 coasters spell out “Pink Floyd” and have various Storm Thorgerson pictures on the other side of them. I know this by looking at the unboxing of the package on the tube and even though I have not opened mine you can tell by looking at them that if you were to put any drink on these coasters they would turn to paper mache in no time because they have not even been coated with any substance to make them water-resistant.

The two black envelopes contain 4 collectors pictures on cards and 2 smaller memorabilia cards with replicas of a stage pass, and a ticket printed on them. To be honest I quite like the collector’s cards. You also get a big card with “The Diver” picture although this is much better in one of the booklets because it has a glossy finish and on the card here it looks really dull. The final item here in this picture is a bag of marbles, 3 in total and they are just clear glass, unlike the ones that came with the other Immersion Box Sets and less interesting. What all that is about I don’t know unless they are there to remind us that Syd lost his marbles 😊😊😊.

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The box set comes with three booklets although the grey one is more of an 8-page leaflet and contains all the linear notes and production credits. I have no idea why they could not have included this information inside one of the other booklets but I suppose once again whoever designed the box set was not thinking straight and certain things had to be added later on as they were missed out in the first place.

The other two larger booklets are perhaps the only real bit of extra quality you get besides the music media on the discs in the box. The black one is a 36-page book designed by Storm Thorgerson, and includes the song lyrics along with some recording information, sleeve artwork, concert ticket and poster reprints and other pics. The white booklet is a 24-page photo book of Pink Floyd Circa “1973 – 1975”, including photographs By Jill Furmanovsky and Hipgnosis.  Finally (pictured below) we have the other 4 discs which are stored right at the back of the box which is not really ideal when you consider that you have to remove all other contents in the box to get at them.

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Overall, it is only the music media and perhaps a couple of books in this box set that has any real value and I rather think a lack of thought went into the design of the box set. There certainly is not a hundred pounds worth or more which was its original retail price when it was released and realistically a box set like this should have retailed for around half that price and I feel that the £48 I paid for it is about the right price point it should have retailed for. It also lacks a lot of informative information especially in comparison to what you get in the Jethro Tull box sets for £30 and in all honesty this box set could never compete with the Tull ones and shoddy workmanship has gone into the making of it.

The Immersion Media In Review…

Pink Floyd’s Immersion Box Set of Wish You Were Here was released on the 4th of November 2011. The music media content in the box set is spread over 5 discs and you get 2 CD’s, 2 DVD’s and a Blu Ray. Every way I look at this particular box set and its media content it’s plain to see that it was aimed to rip off surround FREAKS! such as myself simply because the only bonus content that had not been previously released before (besides the 5.1 mix of the original album) can be found on the second CD (only) and that was released at the same time in a 2 CD package known as the Experience Edition for around 20 bucks. So let’s now take a look at the media content.

CD’s 1 & 2.
The first disc contains a 2011 remaster of the original album which was done by James Guthrie and Joel Plante in the same year at Das Boot recording studios California, America. As with any remaster they can be either here or there regarding any improvement over the original recording and this is perhaps an album that has been re-issued and remastered to the hilt over the years. However, I have no complaints with this recording and it does sound excellent to my ears.

The second disc is perhaps another reason to get this box set although the fact it was reissued as 2 CD package entitled “The Experience Edition” it would certainly be cheaper to get that and I honestly do recommend it as well because this is really good bonus content that I myself had never heard before. I would also say that the Experience Edition comes in a damn site better package too as you can see by the picture below.

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The disc comes with 6 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 66 minutes, 49 seconds and it’s the live material contained on the first 3 tracks that I personally think are the real highlights here and the reason to get this edition. Some of the tracks have odd titles, though I am sure any Floyd fan would recognise them when they hear them. The opening 3 live tracks are all taken from the bands performance at the Empire Pool Wembley, London back in November 1974 which was before the album was released.

You get treated to a 20-minute early version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and it’s perhaps not that unusual for any band to play new material live before it’s released. However, the next couple of tracks “Raving And Drooling” and “You’ve Got To Be Crazy” are very early demos of “Dogs” and “Sheep” which eventually wound up on their 1977 album Animals and these were aired well early. No doubt various bootlegs of these recordings have surfaced over the years but these recordings are quality and are really excellent bonus material to have. Both Andy Jackson and Damon Iddins were at the helm of the new mixes here and have done a CRACKING! job I will say.

The next track “Wine Glasses” is the shortest track out of the 6 and is one of the many pieces that came from The ‘Household Objects’ Project which began back in 1969 I believe. This piece was recorded at Abbey Road Studios back in 1973 and engineered by Alan Parsons and sounds more like Richard Wright playing the opening of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” on his keyboards than actual wine glasses. The final couple of tracks were also recorded at Abbey Road back in 1975 and were engineered by Brian Humphries. You get an alternative version of “Have A Cigar” with Waters singing it and a version of “Wish You Were Here” featuring Stéphane Grappelli on violin. Overall, the second disc is a very pleasing surprise and a GREAT! addition to have.

DVD’s 1 & 2.

The first of the DVD’s is audio-only and it contains the 5.1 surround and stereo mixes of the album Wish You Were Here newly mixed by James Guthrie. You have the choice of 448kbps and 640kbps and also the choice of Dolby Digital and DTS 48KHz/24 bit for the surround mix and an LPCM stereo mix. It also includes the original Quadrophonic mix which was created by Brian Humphries and assisted by Peter James and is credited as being mastered by Peter Mew at Abbey Road Studios. It only contains the album tracks and no other bonus content.

The second DVD contains the visual bonus content to which is very short. You get the Concert Screen Films from 1975, which can be viewed while playing back in either surround sound or stereo and this section contains two snippets of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” one that is 4 minutes, 56 seconds and the other runs for 7 minutes, 47 seconds. You also get the visuals put to “Welcome To The Machine” which I personally think is the best of the bunch here. Finally, it includes the 6-minute short film by Storm Thorgerson that was done back in the year 2000 which is in stereo only.

Blu Ray.

The Blu Ray contains the same content that is on the two DVD’s only it’s got more of a High Resolution as it’s uncompressed and comes with 96KHz/24-bit audio instead of 48KHz/24-bit. The other bonus content of the Concert Screen Films and short film are the same format as on the DVD.

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Blu Ray Main Menu

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DVD Main Menu

As you can see from the pictures above both the Blu Ray and DVD Menus are different with their presentation and both are animated and you get to see “The Claw” open up and join hands together with an audio clip of “Shine On” playing in the background. Even though the main menu screen does look smaller on the blu ray it is far more superior in detail and has more of a pristine HD quality look about it.

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The other advantage the blu ray gives you is with how the menus function and by clicking on either “Audio” or “Visual” it simply displays the other options without having to load up to another screen as you can see in the pictures above. This Flash-like menu system has hardly any delay and is much quicker to navigate your way around.

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The DVD’s navigation (as seen in the couple of pictures above) is slower and there is more delay as it loads from one screen to the other. Though it’s not a snail and both the blu ray and DVD menus have been very well designed and also animated to good effect.

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The couple of pictures above shows you how all the menu options on the Blu Ray are accessible on one single screen without having to load to another screen as with the DVD. The other advantage the Blu Ray has is everything is on one disc instead of two that you have with the DVD.

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Both the Blu Ray and DVD also come with a surround setup. Although you can just as easily do that on your AV Reciever and I myself prefer to do so and often find the ones put onto discs are there to make it look like you got another added bonus.

One of the most unusual aspects about playing the album is that there are no pictures for you to look at and you are merely presented with a blank screen. Pink Floyd are a band that is generally noted for putting visuals to their music and it would have been nice to have some of Storms artwork to run along with the music. Although perhaps they saw it as a distraction and wanted the listener to focus more on the music. However, I have no complaints here because I do think they have gone to town with the music and how they have presented it for surround FREAKS! in particular. So, let’s now take a look at the surround mixes.

The Surround Mixes.

One of the things I love about the mixes in this box set is that it offers you two GREAT! alternative ways to listen to the album as it not only comes with a 5.1 surround mix but also the original Quad mix. That is something the SACD does not give you and where this edition really is the winner of the two. Both James Guthrie‘s 5.1 mix and Brian Humphries original Quad mix gives you a superb immersive experience and when it comes to how both mixes project across the room they really do offer you alternative ways of hearing the album. I cannot fault any of them and they both give you the ultimate album experience in my book over the stereo mix. I also could not pick a winner out of the two and it really does give you two magical ways of listening to the album.

The Album In Review…

Pink Floyd’s 9th studio album Wish You Were Here was originally released on the 12th of September 1975. The album itself contains 5 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 44 minutes, 11 seconds and was received with mixed reviews upon its release although mostly positive and it had no problem reaching Number 1 in both the UK and US album charts. It’s sold well over 20 million copies over the years and over 6 million copies in the US alone. It also reached Number 1 in many other countries and had Platinum and Gold sales worldwide. The album is also noted to be both Richard Wright and David Gilmour’s favourite Floyd album.

I have to admit that coming off the back of the bands most iconic album The Dark Side of the Moon (which is my personal favourite Floyd album) the band done extremely well to follow it up and no doubt they had found their feet in the new direction they were going in by now. Although ego’s between the band members were starting to crack in particular with one of its band members who thought he was in the PINK! rather than the red more so than the others so to speak. Although things had not quite reached a boiling point at this stage and they were not quite at loggerheads with each other, but after the tour of their previous album they were somewhat drained of ideas. Although you would not have thought so considering they played 3 new songs during that tour.

The band once again assembled in Abbey Road to record the album and spent a good 6 months from January to July 1975 working on new material for the album, the pressure had very much got to them of how they could maintain the consistency of their previous album and follow it up. Alan Parsons was no longer interested in working with them due to him working on his own solo career and engineer Brian Humphries who they worked with earlier on the soundtrack album More was roped into to work with them.

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EMI’s Abbey Road set-up was not that familiar to Humphries and on one occasion he inadvertently spoiled the backing tracks for “Shine On” which both Waters and Mason had spent hours perfecting. The entire piece had to be recorded again. In 2014 Humphries also pointed out in an interview how the band were struggling to come up with ideas and how they spent much of their time playing darts, shooting with an air rifle, also playing word games and sitting around getting drunk. The band spent four days each week from 2:30 pm until very late in the evening working on the album. Six months was a long time to spend making the album but luckily for them eventually everything started to fall in place despite the expense and all the stress that came with it.

It was at this time that Waters had taken more or less the driving seat and that the success of their previous album had more or less turned the name of the band into a brand and a product for the music industry. The band were that well off they could have even broken up at this point of their career. They were not completely at loggerheads with one another like I mentioned but the cracks had started to seep in and appear. Things could only get worse from this point onwards and not better.

As with their previous album the band used many effects some from their “Household Objects Project” which the band set up back in 1969. For those not familiar with the project I suppose in a way it’s a bit like the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop which was used to create sound effects by the use of many different objects. Floyd was always an experimental band and it was not unusual for them to use other sounds in their music even the sound of sausages and bacon frying in a pan as in “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” from their 1970 album Atom Heart Mother.

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Another tool used for making sound effects that were heavily used on their previous album is the EMS Synthi AKS and once again Waters, Gilmour and Wright made good use of it for this album especially on “Welcome To The Machine“. It’s very similar to the VCS-3 and was widely used in art-rock by many bands since 1971/2. Quite often when the band were short of ideas they would turn to this particular synth and household objects to get their creative juices flowing.

Musicians & Credits…

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All Tracks Written & Produced by Pink Floyd. All Lyrics by Roger Waters. Recorded between January – July 1975 at Abbey Road Studios London, England. Engineered by Brian Humphries. Assistant Engineer Peter James. Quadrophonic Mix by Brian Humphries. 5.1 Mix by James Guthrie. Artwork & Design by Storm Thorgerson, Jerry Sweet, Lee Baker, Laura Truman and Peter Curzon at Storm Studios.

Musicians.
David Gilmour: Vocals – Guitars – Pedal Steel Guitar – EMS Synthi AKS – Additional Bass – Glass Harmonica – Tape Effects.
Roger Waters: Vocals – Bass Guitar – EMS Synthi AKS – Additional Guitar – Glass Harmonica – Tape Effects.
Richard Wright: Hammond organ – ARP String Ensemble – Minimoog – Steinway Piano – EMS VCS 3 – Hohner Clavinet D6 – Wurlitzer –  EP 200 Electric Piano – Rhodes Piano – Glass Harmonica – Backing Vocals.
Nick Mason: Drums – Percussion – Tympani – Cymballs – Tape Effects.

Additional Musicians.
Dick Parry: Tenor & Baritone Saxophones (Shine On You Crazy Diamond).
Roy Harper: Lead Vocals (Have A Cigar).
Vanetta Fields & Carlena Williams: Backing Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Just like their previous album Wish You Were Here is their second album to also run along a conceptual theme written by Roger Waters and is based around the concept of absence and that is perhaps why the marbles in this box set are clear. The absence of Syd Barrett was certainly being remembered within some of the lines that were written for the albums mammoth epic opening and closing track and along with its other conceptional ideas that were penned in the words by Waters, it also has a stab at the music business in particular. Each track is seamlessly merged to run along with one another as is the case with most concept albums though it is far from a concept story album as such nevertheless it flows along very well with its track placement. So let’s now take a look at how the album pans out as I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V).

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Originally “Shine On” was one long track just like the band played it live at the Wembley Empire Pool in 1974 and it was Waters idea to split it up for the studio album to which Gilmour was not happy with has he thought it would be better for it to take up the one side of the album just as they had previously done with “Echoes” from their 1971 album Meddle. However, Gilmour was outvoted three to one and in all honesty, I think Waters had the right idea because has a 20-minute piece it can sound a bit too much of the same thing for my ears, although Dick Parry’s sax does help to break up some of its monogamous zones and it is perhaps more of an instrumental piece in relation to the little number of words that are contained in the actual song.

It’s a song that is built up very slowly and is mainly keyboard orientated although Gilmour’s notation and lines on his guitar are what really makes it shine. Floyd has always had a relaxed and chilled out style to their music and the pace this song eventually gets to roll along and could be likened to the same relaxed pace that “Us and Them” runs along from their previous album. Just like that song, it’s easy to see how Parry’s work on the sax fit in here too and he does an exceptional job on the piece.

Waters wrote the words in the way of a tribute to Syd Barrett in particular the lines “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun” and “You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon“. However, it was not entirely written about Syd and he was a symbol for all the extremes of absence. It was also by sheer coincidence that Barrett walked into the studio as the band were recording the song to which I am sure most people are aware of.

The intro also uses the wine glasses (that can be heard on the second CD that comes with the box set) and the reason I said it sounded like Wright’s keyboards is that the sound of the wine glasses was multi-tracked into chords. They are nowhere as evident in the recording as what Gilmour did at his Live At Pompeii concert where he hired a guy playing wine glasses in the street to play on the intro of the song. These remnants were lifted from their incomplete studio album Household Objects.

The song is credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters and no doubt is a Floyd classic. Waters also takes on the lead vocals and considering he has more of a talking voice he does sound like he’s singing on this one, though no doubt Gilmour’s voice and the backing singers Vanetta Fields & Carlena Williams give it more of a singing presence and help lift it up.

Track 2. Welcome To The Machine.

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Like I mentioned earlier this track features extensive use of the EMS Synthi AKS and it has been put to very good use and the so-called machine is the record company pushing you for your next record and another hit. The song was also used for the B-Side of their next hit single that follows it and was penned by Waters who he himself described in his own words “as a symbol of musical discovery and progress betrayed by a music industry more interested in greed and success”. Gilmour takes on the lead vocals and as always does a GRAND! job on it.

Track 3. Have A Cigar.

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Another of the songs that Waters penned to which also has a stab at the music industry and this along with the previous track are very much the rock songs of the album. It was also released as a single and reached number 1 in the UK charts. It’s a song that features neither Gilmour nor Waters on lead vocals and they roped in Roy Harper who had been previously on tour with Pink Floyd and was the support act for many of their shows. For some reason even though Waters knew he could not sing it at the time, Gilmour quite blankly refused to sing it although I personally think he could have sung it much better than Waters simply because he is no doubt the best vocalist in the band and I even think Wright is a better singer than Waters myself. However, Harper did a CRACKING! job with it.

Track 4. Wish You Were Here.

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The classic ballad song on the album to which the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony can be heard amongst the radio airwaves in the intro which was recorded from Gilmour’s car radio at the time. At the time they was in the studio both violinists Stéphane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin were performing in another studio at Abbey Road and were invited to record a piece for the new album. Grappelli obliged whilst Menuhin stood by and watched. The recording of it is on the bonus disc and even though it was never used for the album they paid Grappelli £300 for the session. I must admit I prefer it without the violin myself and it is, without doubt, a Floyd classic and happens to be Gilmour’s favourite Floyd song.

Track 5. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX).

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The album ends off very well as it runs into the final parts of “Shine On” to which I am pretty sure that the very final part was credited in the writing to Wright alone which is perhaps hardly surprising considering most of the song could have easily of been written on the keyboard. Though I will say I quite like how the band make a longer piece such as this interesting and even though there are transitions they are very subtle and smoothly done in the way of doing a variation of an existing theme and keeping it driving along with the other elements of instrumentation that comes into play. It finishes off the album in fine style.

Summary & Conclusion…

The Wish You Were Immersion Box Set by Pink Floyd is perhaps really only any value for those like myself who are Surround FREAKS! It’s far from a very well presented box set and a lack of thought has been put into making it. It offers very little for its original price point even though it seems like you are getting a lot for your money. It’s perhaps worth the £48 I paid for it but not really any more. Please also note that my price point rating score is based on the retail price of the box set and not its reduced price. The French words Ceci n’est pas une boite on the front cover of the box translates as ‘This is not a box’. I rather think that it should have said ‘This is not a good box’ 😊😊😊.

As with most of the bands box sets, they can be elaborately priced some are well over £300. It’s also worth noting that this box set is still widely available to purchase after a decade and as come down to less than half its price, it was obviously not a limited box set unless people are simply not buying it. It’s certainly not hard to obtain and it is even slightly cheaper on Amazon today than what I paid for it last year.

Pink Floyd’s 9th studio album Wish You Were Here is as solid as they come and because every track is so good it’s really impossible for me to choose a favourite track. Even my personal highlights of the album would be to stick the whole album on and play it all. The extra bonus material is also very good and both the 5.1 and Quad Mixes are superb and breathe new life back into the album. The fact that the Immersion box gives you a 5.1 and Quad mix is tempting me to buy The Dark Side Of The Moon Immersion box set for quad mix in particular.

There is no doubt that these Immersion box sets will give surround FREAKS! like myself, an excellent “Immersive” experience and this album is really brought back to life not only with its relatively new 5.1 mix but also with the original Quad mix done all those years back. Although you will not get the “Immersive” experience with The Wall Immersion box set has it does not come with any multichannel recordings at all and that is why I personally would not bother buying it. Though I have recently heard that their 1977 album Animals has finally been given at least the 5.1 treatment and will be repackaged differently.

It’s scheduled to be released at some point in 2021 and unfortunately, it’s one of those box sets where you have to buy the same thing 4 times over just to get your hands on the Blu Ray that comes with the 5.1 mix. No doubt this will retail at around the £80 – £100 mark when in reality it should cost no more than £50. It looks like the same sort of thing they did with Chris Squire’s 2017 box set of Fish Out Of Water I purchased and hopefully, at some later point they will see the sense to release a single Blu Ray Edition like they did with the Squire album. Though knowing this band its hardly likely has they do like you to sell a kidney now and then 😊😊😊.

Shines On In Surround…

The 2 CD tracklisting is as follows:

CD 1.
01. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V). 13:32.
02. Welcome To The Machine. 7:31.
03. Have A Cigar. 5:07.
04. Wish You Were Here. 5:34.
05. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX). 12:29.

CD 2.
01. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1 – 6) [Live]. 20:22.
02. Raving And Drooling [Live]. 12:35.
03. You’ve Got To Be Crazy [Live]. 18:12.
04. Wine Glasses. 2:16.
05. Have A Cigar [Alternative Version]. 7:11.
06. Wish You Were Here (With Stéphane Grappelli). 6:13.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 5/10.
Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 5/10.
Lee’s Stereo 5.1 & Quad Mix Rating Score. 10/10.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #176

The Studio Albums 1978 – 1991 – Dire Straits

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Introduction…

With all the new purchases I made back in September and October of last year, it took me quite a while to get the chance to review a couple of the box sets, I also purchased during those months. This particular Clamshell Box Set I only really brought for two reasons. The first being that it was very cheap and secondly because I had not updated my collection since I brought them when they were originally released.

Dire Straits are a band I have always loved ever since I heard them when they came out back in the late 70’s and hit the BIG TIME! with their first single release of “Sultans Of Swing” back in 1978. They are a GREAT! band who have a very distinctive guitarist who has a technique that stands out a mile from the rest of the crowd. It is without doubt Mark Knopfler’s distinctive guitar sound, style and Midas touch that has attracted the attention of millions to flock towards the bands music.

Another good thing about buying a box set like this is that it gives me the chance to review their albums which is something I don’t get time to do with all the new releases coming out. It would take me an eternity to review all the albums in my record collection which is why I only stick to reviewing the newer purchases I have made. It will also give me the chance to take a brief look back at the bands history. But before I do so, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The Clamshell box set looks quite neat with its design and the light blue stripe with the half-circle in the middle down the right-hand side of the box gives you the impression that you slide the box open to reveal its contents. Though has you can see in the picture below it opens like most Clamshell box sets and the good thing about this one is that it’s hinged.

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The CD’s are housed in Mini-Vinyl-Replica cardboard sleeves each containing a double folded poster with lyrics/credits. They do more or less replicate the original vinyl albums because if I remember rightly none of the original vinyl albums came in gatefold sleeves. The only one I can think of that may have was their last album On Every Street and that was the only album I did have on CD only were as the others I had on both vinyl and CD.

It’s very similar to the Every Move You Make (The Studio Recordings) Clamshell box set by The Police I reviewed last year, only in that box set they did use cardboard gatefold covers even though the original vinyl albums were only put out in a single sleeve. In terms of quality, the Police box set is better made especially regarding how the artwork of the album covers had a better print quality and look to them.

However, at its well low price point, I have no complaints here and I prefer the cardboard sleeves in relation to the plastic jewel cases that my other CD’s came in. Stored in a box like this they are fine and the only time single sleeves like this are not appropriate is if CD’s were sold in sleeves like this simply because they are too thin to be stored with your other CD’s on a shelf and it would be hard to find them. They may have cut down on the quality of how the artwork looks but they certainly have not cut down on the quality of these recordings and they are EXCELLENT!

Oddly enough I even paid the same price of £16.66 for this box set as the Police box set which works out about the same price I paid for all 5 original vinyl albums when they were originally released. The box set is still available to purchase on Amazon UK for £16.99 which is excellent value for the buck.

Dire Straits In Brief History…

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Dire Straits hit the scene around the same time as The Police and despite the fact that Punk Rock had exploded and raised its ugly head both bands managed to cut through all the nonsense and gained international success. The band were made up of two brothers Mark & David Knopfler from Newcastle in the northeast of England, and a couple of friends John Illsley and Pick Withers from Leicester in the east midlands region of England.

The bands drummer Withers, was the only one that came with any real experience in the music business having spent 10 years as a session player playing for the likes of Dave Edmunds, Gerry Rafferty, Magna Carta and others through the 70’s. He was also part of the group Spring, which recorded an album for RCA in 1971. At the time of the band’s formation, Mark was working as a teacher at art college, Illsley was studying at Goldsmiths’ College, and David was a social worker.

Both Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers played in a pub rock band known as Brewers Droop at different points around 1973 and at the time the band got together in 1975 they were initially known as the Café Racers. The name “Dire Straits” was given to them by Simon Cowe, of Lindisfarne back in 1977 who was Withers flatmate at the time and the name fitted in with the bands financial situation as Mark, in particular, was struggling to make ends meet as he was going through a divorce from his wife.

However, in the same year of 1977, they managed to record and put together a five-song demo tape that included “Sultans of Swing“, “Water of Love” and “Down to the Waterline” and took the demo tape to MCA in Soho only to be turned down. Mark used to listen to Honky Tonk on BBC Radio London on Sunday mornings and the presenter of the show Charlie Gillett seemed like a nice enough guy so he sent him the demo tape and asked him for some advice. What Gillett heard very much appealed to him and he played “Sultans of Swing” quite often on his show. A couple of months later the band signed a record contract with Vertigo Records a division of Phonogram and the rest was history.

The band drew its sound from various influences including country, blues, rock, folk and jazz and went on to have a stream of hit singles and blockbuster selling albums such as the bands 5th studio album Brothers In Arms. They also won many prestigious awards and won four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards and won Best British Group twice in 1983/86 and also picked up a couple of MTV Video Awards and various other awards throughout their active career. Like most bands there were also a few line-up changes along the way and I will delve a bit more into the bands history as I take you through all six of their studio albums.

The Albums In Review…

The CD Edition of The Studio Albums 1978 – 1991 by Dire Straits was released on the 9th of October 2020 which was near enough 7 years later than the Vinyl Edition of the box set that was released back in November 2013. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK on the 14th August 2020 and it arrived on the day of its release. This particular box set contains all six studio albums that the band had produced and put out over the 14-year career before the band dissolved at the end of their final world tour in 1992. It does not feature any bonus tracks or live recordings and neither does it come with new remasters. All six albums contain the remasters from 1996 when the whole catalogue was remastered and are believed to be the best recordings.

Because there is a lot to get through I am going to try and keep this review as brief as I can and merely point out the highlights rather than go through all the individual tracks on the album in more detail. I shall also go through all six albums in the chronological order that the albums were released.

Dire-Straits-albumDire Straits

The bands self-titled debut album was released on the 7th of October 1978. The album contained 9 tracks and has an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 34 minutes. The album was an international success owing to the success of the single release of “Sultans Of Swing” which had been released earlier in May of the same year and catapulted the sales of the album. The album went 2 times Platinum in many countries selling over 2 million copies in the US. It also went 4 times Platinum in Canada and Gold in many other countries.

Much of the material that had appeared on the bands first three studio albums had already been written by Mark Knopfler prior to the band getting a recording contract with Vertigo Records in the previous year. It’s also worth noting that the single release of “Sultans Of Swing” was in fact recorded as a demo in a different studio and was recorded at Pathway Studios, North London, in July 1977. It was this demo that got them the recording contract and was also used for the single release in the following year.

In February 1978 the band went into Basing Street Studios in London to record the material that would feature on their self-titled debut album. They even re-recorded some of the earlier demos that they recorded at Pathway Studios including “Sultans Of Swing” and finished off the recording process by March of the same year. The original release of the album also contained a slightly shorter version of the song omitting the last few seconds of the guitar solo. The full-length version was included in the remastered edition of the album.

The bands first concert tour kicked off on the 9th of June 1978 at the Lafayette Club in Wolverhampton, England. They played a series of 55 concerts across Europe with the first leg of the tour promoting the single release of “Sultans Of Swing” which was officially released in April of the same year. The second leg of the tour promoted their debut album and they played further afield than the UK playing in Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Germany ending it off back in the UK at the College of Education in Hitchin on the 18th of November 1978. At this stage of their career, the band was getting their foot in the door so to speak and typically performed in small halls where they met journalists and performed on television programs.

The bands debut album is quite a solid one with the material that was written for it. Although out of its 9 tracks it’s pretty much evident that “Sultans Of Swing” is the standout track on the album and perhaps the only one that would have been suitable enough for a single release. “Water of Love” was also released as a single in a few other countries with “Down to the Waterline” used for the B-Side. Though it did not have much success but did manage to scrape into the Dutch top 30 and peaked at 28.

Unlike The Police who were more about writing chart-topping hit singles, Dire Straits were certainly more of an albums band in the way the material was written. I would also say that the biggest majority of their albums do feel like an album in relation to the albums the Police made and that is where they rock my boat more than that band. As a songwriter, I can assure you that Mark Knopfler has just as much as a good head on his shoulders as Sting. Both bands enjoyed major success and you could even say that they disbanded for the same reasons.

Speaking of single releases the B-Side of “Sultans Of Swing” was one of the bands earlier demos entitled “Eastbound Train” which was only ever recorded live and has never been released on any of their albums including compilation albums. The band also used to play it as an encore at most of their concerts between 1977 – 1979 and the recording that was used for the B-Side of the single came from them playing at the Hope & Anchor pub in London sometime in December 1977.

1280px-Hope_&_Anchor_pub_Upper_Street,_Islington_FotorHope & Anchor

The Hope & Anchor originally opened its doors in 1880 and by the mid 70’s it was one of the first pubs to embrace the emergent, but brief, phenomenon of pub rock, it also went on to become a leading venue in the punk rock movement. The manager of the pub Dave Robinson went on to form Stiff Records with Jake Riviera and The Stranglers recorded a live album at the pub, and the pub was also featured in the 1980 film, Breaking Glass. Mark often wrote about the things around him and the lyrics to their hit single were inspired by a performance of a jazz band playing in the corner of an almost empty pub in Deptford, South London.

There was also a rumour spread around by American folk singer Bill Wilson who claimed to have written most of the lyrics to the hit song and he often told the story during his live performance of the song of how he met Mark in America and wrote the words on a paper napkin. He did not get a songwriting credit on the release but claimed to have received some monetary compensation for his input.

Some reviewers claimed that his story was false and that Mark had never been to America until 1979. Although strictly speaking that is not true either because he did go to America in 1976 having had a free greyhound ticket given him to travel around the country whilst he was working as a journalist. It was also that visit to the country that gave him the inspiration to quit his job when he got back home and go into music full time. Only Mark himself could clarify if Wilson’s claims were true and I personally believe that Wilson was spinning a right yarn and his claims were false.

The album was produced by Muff Winwood the older brother of Steve Winwood who was both former members of the Spencer Davis Group in the 60’s and the recording engineer onboard was Rhett Davies. Mark always had a keen interest in sound and later went on to produce and co-produce many albums himself. The album’s artwork was a commissioned painting done by Chuck Loyola who was part of a creative group known as Hothouse and were based in London’s west end. He did the paintings for The Lurkers and The Boomtown Rats around the same time and various other artists.

Many of the songs on the album reflected Mark’s experiences in Newcastle, Leeds, and London. The opening song on the album “Down To The Waterline” was inspired by his teenage memories of him walking his girlfriend along the river Tyne in Newcastle late at night, the ship’s foghorn on the intro depicts the scene. It’s a song that certainly gets into the swing of things with the rhythm from Dave’s guitar whilst Mark’s fingerpicking licks very much provide the tightness of it all along with the bass and drums. It really is a GREAT! song and gets the album off to a very cool start.

The next couple of songs “Water Of Love” and “Setting Me Up” have a J.J. Cale feel about them and the first of them runs along the lines of country blues and features Mark on dobro guitar and lyrically it’s most likely inspired from the break up of his marriage. The latter of them is more upbeat and in the style of country rockabilly and is a song that was soon picked up and covered by both Eric Clapton and Albert Lee. They have even done the song together and it was featured on Clapton’s double live album Just One Night in 1980. A decade later it was picked up by Highway 101 who released it as a single and it hit number 7 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in April 1989.

Next up we have one of the two punchy numbers on the album “Six Blade Knife” which features John’s dominant bassline driving it along and some cool licks from Mark’s guitar. This is perhaps another song where the lyrics pertain to the break-up of his marriage. The lyrical content behind “Southbound Again” might also appear to be along the same subject matter however, these are very much pertaining to the lifestyle of being away from home all the time with the busy schedule of being on the road with the band. This is another of the upbeat tracks on the album that has a bit of a swing to it.

Sultans of Swing” I have perhaps already said enough about and it is the standout track on the album and my personal favourite along with everyone else I would expect. It’s very much upbeat with its swing and a song that uses an Andalusian cadence (diatonic phrygian tetrachord) which is a term adopted from flamenco music for the chord progression. Although for me personally the second of the punchy numbers on the album “In The Gallery” is another of the albums standout tracks and this was written in a way of a tribute to the Leeds sculptor and artist Harry Phillips who was the father of the musician Steve Phillips who in 1986 formed the band The Notting Hillbillies with Mark Knopfler.

Phillips and Knopfler go back a long way and Mark’s first encounter with Steve came when he was working in Leeds as a junior reporter working for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Mark had called Steve up to interview him and soon became good friends and started playing together and called themselves The Duolian String Pickers. They played in different pubs until Mark left Leeds in 1973 and moved to London to become part of Brewers Droop. The final couple of the tracks on the album “Wild West End” and “Lions” were written by Mark in those early days in the capital city. The first of them pertains to walking around the city eyeing up the girls and it’s quite a classic song that also has an uncredited piano player on it. The latter of the two was inspired by the Sculptured Lions that were erected in 1868 and stand in Trafalgar Square.

Overall, the bands self-titled debut album is quite a solid and very well produced album and one that easily still stands its test of time today and has never really outdated. It is very much one of my personal favourite Dire Straits albums and is not so commercial in relation to some of the others that followed. The written material makes it more like an album rather than a string of hits that can easily wear off hearing them all the time which makes it more pleasurable to listen to as a whole without having to skip a track. My personal highlights are as follows: “Down To The Waterline”. “Water Of Love“. “Sultans of Swing“. “In The Gallery” and “Wild West End”.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Muff Winwood. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded between the 13th of February to the 5th of June 1978 at Basing Street Studios London, England. Recording Engineer Rhett Davies. Remastering by Bob Ludwig. Art Direction by Alan Schmidt. Cover Painting by Chuck Loyola. Photography by Paddy Eckersley.

Musicians.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Lead & Rhythm Guitars.
David Knopfler: Rhythm Guitars – Backing Vocals.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Pick Withers: Drums.

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Down To The Waterline. 3:59. 2. Water of Love. 3:25. 3. Setting Me Up. 3:18. 4. Six Blade Knife. 4:12. 5. Southbound Again. 3:00. 6. Sultans Of Swing. 5:48. 7. In The Gallery. 6:16. 8. Wild West End. 4:41. 9. Lions. 5:02.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.


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Like I mentioned Dire Straits were more of an albums band and this is perhaps an album that escaped a lot of people upon its release though I would say it’s very much on par and equal strength to the bands debut album. It may not have produced a hit single which is most likely why it escaped most people’s radar apart from in Germany where the album shot straight to number #1 whilst their debut album was still at number #3 upon its release. It was also the first time an album had entered the German charts and gone straight to the top. Like many of the bands their first few albums took longer to circulate but later very much went Gold and Platinum with the number of record sales. This is another of their albums that speaks highly to me and is amongst my three personal favourite albums of the band.

The bands second album Communiqué was released on the 15th of June 1979 and like their debut album it contained 9 tracks and came with an overall playing time of 42 minutes, 33 seconds. You could say that with the success of the hit single from their debut album that the band were no longer in “Dire Straits” and unlike the £12,500 it cost to make their debut album no expense was spared as they jetted off to the Bahamas to record their second album. The band were very much in demand and on their first tour of North America were they played 51 sell-out concerts over a period of 38 days. This did have an effect and caused a strain on the bands rhythm guitarist David Knopfler who eventually decided to leave.

The album was produced by Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler who were both veteran producers from Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the band spent a couple of weeks in the final couple of months of 1978 recording the album at Compass Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. The studio was founded and set up by Chris Blackwell the owner of Island Records back in 1977 and over a decade it at churned out many albums from many famous artists including ACDC, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Iron Maiden, Madness, Grace Jones, Talking Heads, Brian Eno and many more.

Compass CollageCompass Studios

As time went on Blackwell’s other business interests steadily increased and spent less time looking after the studio. It was after the death of the manager and producer Alex Sadkin in 1987 that the studio started to decline. Although in 1992 Blackwell took action to try and save the studio by hiring Terry and Sherrie Manning who upon their arrival began restoring the two large studios, tearing them apart and completely rewiring them with modern recording equipment. The studio was eventually closed in 2010 due to the amount of increasing crime in the area.

There is no doubt that Mark Knopfler has his own distinctive guitar style that gave Dire Straits its own distinguishable uniqueness and the set of songs he wrote for the bands second album if anything is perhaps less influenced. Like most songwriters, he tends to write about things he sees along his travels and in some places he might even visualize a different way of seeing things and putting them into another perspective so to speak. The opening song on the album “Once Upon A Time In The West” is such an example and you could say is a metaphor for the way he compares London’s west end with the wild west and it reflects upon the dangers of living in both.

You could say there is a sense of danger to many of the songs on the album and the next couple of songs are prime examples. “News” is a song that perhaps reflects back to his days as a journalist but not necessarily inspired by any of those stories. The words in the song refer to the dangers of drink driving and pertain to a motorcyclist meeting his fate. “Where Do You Think You’re Going” reflects on the dangers in a love affair where some men can be control freaks sort of thing. The albums title track “Communiqué” is perhaps more inspired from his days as a journalist and you could say is a journalist’s song with the amount of expressions and clichés that are contained in the songs lyrics.

There does tend to be a downbeat to all the songs on the first half of the album yet for my ears they sound “LUSH” and contain the better songs on the album, not that there is a bad song here mind. “Lady Writer” is perhaps the most uplifting and upbeat song on the album and perhaps more along the same lines of “Sultans Of Swing” with its uptempo and the way it swings along. The song was inspired by watching a lady writer on the TV hence its title and was also the only single release from the album with “Where Do You Think You’re Going” used for the B-Side. Unfortunately, the single release did not catch on and peaked just outside the top 50 here in the UK.

Angel Of Mercy” is another of the songs that have a good upbeat to it and is perhaps the rocker of the album and you do get the sense that the second side of the album is more driven along. “Portobello Belle” simmers the album down and is a fine folk song and lyrically follows similar lines to “Wild West End” and “Lions” from their debut album. “Single-Handed Sailor” brings the tempo back up and this is a song that was inspired by Sir Francis Chichester whose greatest achievement was to sail single-handedly around the world from West to East. The album then sinks back to its downbeat and ends off quite soothingly with “Follow Me Home” to which the lyrics are inspired by an incident he had in another country perhaps somewhere like Spain and it winds up the album very well.

The bands second album contains a very consistent set of songs and like its predecessor is quite a solid album. It’s perhaps one of those albums that got least mentioned when people talk about the band but the written material is very strong and well-fitting to the bands formidable style. My personal highlights are as follows: “Once Upon A Time In The West“. “News“. “Where Do You Think You’re Going“. “Communiqué” and “Lady Writer“.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Barry Beckett & Jerry Wexler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded between the 28th of November to the 12th of December 1978 at Compass Studios Nassau, Bahamas. Mixed January 1979 at Muscle Shoals Sound, Sheffield, Alabama. Sound effects provided by Clack Inc. Sound Studios, New York. Recording Engineer Jack Nuber. Mixing Engineer Gregg Hamm. Mastered by Bobby Hata. Mastering Supervisor Paul Wexler. Remastering by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Hothouse. Art Direction by Alan Schmidt. Illustrations by Geoff Halpin.

Musicians.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Lead & Rhythm Guitars.
David Knopfler: Rhythm Guitars – Backing Vocals.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Pick Withers: Drums.

Additional Musicians.
Barry Beckett – Keyboards.

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Once Upon A Time In The West. 5:24. 2. News. 4:13. 3. Where Do You Think You’re Going-. 3:49. 4. Communiqué. 5:48. 5. Lady Writer. 3:44. 6. Angel Of Mercy. 4:34. 7. Portobello Belle. 4:29. 8. Single-Handed Sailor. 4:42. 9. Follow Me Home. 5:50.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.


Sleeve_of_Making_Movies.svgMaking Movies

The bands third album Making Movies is my least favourite of all Dire Straits albums though it was perhaps more popular with many because it churned out a hit single that was to put the band back on the map so to speak. Though personally, I don’t think this album is a patch on its two predecessors. I put a lot of it down to the production and how some songs, in particular, are not that suited to the bands formidable style. Although I would not say that the album had a bad production but perhaps the best way I could describe it, is that it tends to be on the dry side of things which does not really allow some of the songs to breathe. Though I will say that the 1996 remaster of the album does make it sound a bit better and it’s perhaps the written material that is more on the dry side of things more than anything.

Making Movies was released on the 17th of October 1980 and unlike its predecessors, it only came with 7 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 38 minutes, 27 seconds. The album did very well on its release and was spurred on by the single release of “Romeo And Juliet” that broke into the Top 10 of the UK Single Charts and peaked at number #8. The album reached number #4 in the UK Album Charts and done even better in countries like Norway and Italy where it reached the number one spot. The album also accumulated double Platinum sales in the UK and US.

The album was produced by Jimmy Iovine and Mark Knopfler and it was having heard the production done on Patti Smith’sBecause the Night” that spurred Mark to get in touch with him. Iovine had also recorded and mixed a couple of albums for Bruce Springsteen and it was him who brought in the E-Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan to play keyboards on the album. It was during the recording sessions of the album that Mark’s brother David Knopfler decided to leave the band and pursue his own solo career. Although he does appear on video with the band playing a couple of live songs from the album these performances preceded the recording. Sid McGinnis who is uncredited on the album played the rhythm guitar on the album.

The album was recorded at the Power Station Studios between June and August 1980 the studio was originally set up and designed by the producer, recording engineer and studio designer Tony Bongiovi back in 1977. The building was originally Consolidated Edison power plant hence the reason for its name and it picked up countless awards over the years including winning the best studio six years running. It is in fact one of the most awarded and decorated recording studios in the world and churned out hundreds of gold platinum records from artists such as the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Madonna, Bob Dylan, the Clash, John Lennon, Pat Metheny, Sting, Joan Jett, Chic, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aerosmith, George Michael, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, the Kinks, Billy Joel, and many others recorded iconic albums at the studios.

Studio Collage 1980Power Station Studios

In 1996 the Power Station was renamed Avatar Studios and in 2017 the college of music Berklee in New York City renamed the facility the Power Station at Berklee by special arrangement in a nod to its founder Tony Bongiovi. Its live rooms are larger than typical recording studios thanks to their industrial origins, meaning the building is one of the last remaining complexes in the city capable of hosting a full-scale orchestra.

Perhaps one of the strangest things about the album Making Movies is that the albums self-titled song was left off the album and has never been released. They also recorded three other songs during the sessions that were also left off the album “Suicide Towers“. “Sucker for Punishment” and “Twisting by the Pool” to which the latter was released a couple of years later on an EP. This video taken from the BBC Arena documentary gives you an insight it how the song goes.

The material that Mark Knopfler wrote for the bands third album was perhaps more rock-driven and has a different feel to the country bluesy and even folky style that was associated with their first two albums and I personally do not think they have the right edge to rock in the same way general rock songs would rock out so to speak. In some ways I would even say the so-called rock songs on the album sound like they have a false pretence with how they are delivered especially its opening track “Tunnel Of Love” and the production does not really help it. I could say the same thing for “Solid Rock” too and although both of these songs sounded better played live I honestly think they lack the balls to rock out the way a rock song supposed too and they are not particularly suited to the bands formidable style.

No doubt others might consider “Tunnel Of Love” one of the bands classics and I dare say even Knopfler himself might lean more to it in that term being as it was written about where he grew up in Newcastle and holds some fond memories. “Romeo And Juliet” is by far the best-written composition on the album and would have been the song that I would have expected to have enticed most people to buy the album. Once again I do prefer it live in relation to the dryness of how the studio version presents it to you and the extended live version on the bands double live album Alchemy is much better for my ears.

You could say that “Skataway” is now the albums self-titled track being as they left it off the album and the words “making movies” are contained within the lyrics. Lyrically the song pertains to a female roller skater breezing through busy city streets listening to music on her portable radio with headphones on. A video was also made for the song and got quite a bit of airplay on MTV around the time. I don’t think that much of the lyrics but musically it perhaps does have more feel to it. “Expresso Love” is another song that potentially is meant to rock things up and personally I think it does so better than “Tunnel Of Love” and “Solid Rock“. It’s perhaps one of the bands heavier songs and lyrical content does hark back to some of the songs from their debut album that was written around the city of London such as “Wild West End” for example.

Hand In Hand” is another fine ballad of a song though perhaps does not measure up to the strength of “Romeo And Juliet” and is perhaps in some ways along the lines of “Love Over Gold” which was the self-titled track from the album that followed it. The album ends off with perhaps a bit of fun with “Les Boys” and it does seem like a bit of an oddball track that is completely different to the rest of the material on the album. The lyrical content might not go down with everyone too as it is written about the gay scene in Germany and is perhaps not “Gay Paris” 😊😊😊. However, it’s not that bad and the song does have a fine structure to it and some fine musical lines.

Personally, I don’t think the material for the album Making Movies lives up to the material that is on the bands first two albums and with the majority of the songs on the album they do try to rock things out a bit more but are perhaps lacking the edge. I was also never happy with the production of this album even though the album does sound better with the 1996 remaster it does tend to sound dry and dull and the songs benefited more from being played live. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Romeo And Juliet“. “Skataway” and “Expresso Love“.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Jimmy Iovine & Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler except an extract from “The Carousel Waltz” by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II. Recorded between the 20th of June to the 25th of August 1980 at the Power Station New York, USA. Recording & Mixing Engineer Shelly Yakus. Assistant Engineers Jeff Hendrickson & Jon Mathias. Mastered by Greg Calbi. Remastering by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design & Artwork by Neil Terk. Photography by Brian Griffin.

Musicians.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Pick Withers: Drums – Vocals.

Additional Musicians.
Roy Bittan: – Keyboards.
Sid McGinnis: Rhythm Guitar (Uncredited).

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Tunnel Of Love. 8:09. 2. Romeo and Juliet. 6:02. 3. Skateaway. 6:38. 4. Expresso Love. 5:14. 5. Hand In Hand. 4:48. 6. Solid Rock. 3:26. 7. Les Boys.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 5/10.


51rURFClIML._AC_SL1200_Love Over Gold

The bands fourth studio album Love Over Gold is where I personally feel they had reached their peak and this album to me has something the others don’t have and it’s perhaps down to its atmosphere. Unlike their previous album Making Movies which I thought lacked the space and ability to breathe this album for me personally has it all and has always been my personal favourite album of the band. With the departure of David Knopfler and the fact that the band quite often used session players to play keyboards, Mark Knopfler recruited two new members to the band. Both Alan Clark (keyboards) and Hal Lindes (guitar) had played on the bands On Location Tour to promote their previous album which is how they became involved in the making of this album.

Love Over Gold was released on the 20th of September 1982 and its material was made up of 5 tracks some of which were on the lengthier side spread over an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 13 seconds. The album was produced by Mark Knopfler and was the first in a long line of collaborations between him and the recording engineer Neil Dorfsman who was noted for his work with the likes of Paul McCartney, Bruce Hornsby and Sting. The album was recorded at the same studio as their previous album at the Power Station in New York between the 8h of March to the 11th of June 1982. Although only 5 tracks made it onto the album once again Knopfler had written a few more that never made it onto it. One of the songs he wrote that was intended for the album was “Private Dancer” to which he felt needed a woman’s voice rather than his own so he handed the song to Tina Turner for her comeback album of the same title.

One of the other songs entitled “The Way It Always Starts” he wrote at the time eventually found its way onto the soundtrack album for the film Local Hero to which he scored and featured Gerry Rafferty on vocals. “Badges, Posters, Stickers and T-Shirts” found its way onto the B-Side of “Private Investigations” which was one of the two single releases from the album reaching number 2 in the UK Singles Charts. Though I am pretty sure that “Industrial Disease” was only released as a single in the US and “Solid Rock” from their previous album was used for the B-Side. The album did very well on its release reaching number 1 in most countries and spent over 200 weeks in the album charts here in the UK.

This was the last album that the bands drummer Pick Withers played on and he decided to leave the band after the sessions for the album were completed in 1982 to spend more time with his family and to pursue jazz music. He was eventually replaced by Terry Williams who joined the band for the worldwide tour to promote the album. The new rhythm guitarist Hal Lindes also left after the tour of the album though he did also work with Knopfler on his Soundtrack album Local Hero and he himself went into making music for films. Though later in 1989 he did team up with Fish and played on his debut album Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors.

Dire Straits fourth album Love Over Gold really showcases Mark Knopfler’s guitar skills and it contains some very well crafted and adventurous material. The album opens up with quite an epic fourteen-minute song entitled “Telegraph Road” to which you would have thought that the band were now breaking into progrock territory. The song is in every way a pure classic rock song that tackles the toils of growing up in an industrial civilization with the GREAT! set of meaningful lyrics that were written for it. The lyrical content we get on a couple of songs on this album are perhaps more politically minded in relation to the subject matter that Knopfler normally writes about and these are lyrics I am sure everyone can relate to and they immediately draw you in to be more attentive.

Musically, I think one of the key combinations of how the music was structured and put together is how both Mark Knopfler and Alan Clark feed off each other and it is the combination of the guitar and keyboards on this song (and for the biggest majority of songs on this album) that make it work so well. To be perfectly honest I find it hard to believe how Clark never got a writing credit simply because the keyboards play a vital role in the way the music is structured. There is no doubt that “Telegraph Road” is a Dire Straits Classic and for some, it might not just be the best song on this album but their all-time favourite song of the band. Though I will stress that when it comes to this album I would even say the next couple of songs that follow it are in every way in contention for the best song on the album.

Next up we have a song that is said to be inspired by the American-British novelist, screenwriter and detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler and “Private Investigations” is another sure-fire classic and very well written and constructed song. It really shows how versatile Knopfler can be on the guitar and this is an absolute GORGEOUS! bit of nylon playing. It’s also one of the two songs on the album that features Mike Mainieri on marimba. “Industrial Disease” is the shortest track on the album and even this is near enough 6 minutes long. It’s also by far the most uptempo track on the album and in my opinion and sure-fire classic Dire Straits song.

This is the second song on the album where the lyrical content is politically minded and the subject matter of the cold war is raised very well here. Whenever a country gets too big for its boots you can bet your life that America will intervene and as usual sticks its nose in where it’s not wanted. America is the greediest country in the world and it does not like it whenever other countries are doing better than they are and will often cause a war over it. It’s very much a warmonger country and a country that breaks all the rules. It is, without doubt, their so-called government that are the biggest terrorists in the world. Back when this song was made it was Japan that was doing well. These days it’s China and once again the Americans had to poke their noses into it all. If you want to know where COVID-19 came from. I would suspect that it would be no further than the White House in America and certainly not China and that is my personal opinion.

The albums self-titled track “Love Over Gold” is another GORGEOUS! acoustic ballad of a song that also features some fine vibes and marimba from the session player Mike Mainieri. Lyrically this could be seen as a sequel to “Romeo and Juliet” and both songs were written about Knopfler’s ex-girlfriend Holly Vincent and so too is the final track on the album “It Never Rains” that is another GREAT! song that builds its way along into a powerful crescendo to end off the album in GREAT! style.

Overall, the album Love Over Gold takes Dire Straits to another level and even though the band may have found their feet after making 3 albums things are done so masterfully here in the way of setting them on the path of a new direction and approach to their music that works 100%. I do feel that more than one hundred percent was put into the writing and the making of the album and it’s very much a solid album that is enriched with the right atmosphere that embellishes it to make it work so well. My personal highlights from the album are “Telegraph Road“. “Private Investigations” and “Industrial Disease“.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded between the 8h of March to the 11th of June 1982 at the Power Station New York, USA. Recording & Mixing Engineer Neil Dorfsman. Assistant Engineer Barry Bongiovi. Mastered & Remastered by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design & Artwork by Michael Rowe. Photography by Peter Cunningham & Alan Lobel.

Musicians.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
Hal Lindes: Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Alan Clark: Piano – Organ – Synthesizers.
Pick Withers: Drums – Vocals.

Additional Musicians.
Mike Mainieri: – Vibes – Marimba (Tracks 2 & 4).
Ed Walsh: Synthesizer Programming.

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Telegraph Road. 14:18. 2. Private Investigations. 6:46. 3. Industrial Disease. 5:50. 4. Love over Gold. 6:17. 5. It Never Rains. 7:59.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.


R-768493-1441767625-6918.jpegBrothers In Arms

In terms of sales, Brothers In Arms could easily be seen as Dire Straits most iconic album, it’s also perhaps their most successful commercial album too. It’s actually the eighth best selling album in UK chart history and went 14 times Platinum here in the UK and spent 14 non-consecutive weeks at number one in the UK Album Charts. It also done well in other countries reaching number one in almost every country and went 9 times Platinum in the US and spent 9 non-consecutive weeks at number one and down under in Australia it spent 34 non-consecutive weeks at the top of their album charts. It’s sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

The album was released on the 13th of May 1985 and contained 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 40 seconds the vinyl version that is. However it was also the first-ever full “DDD” Digital album to be released on CD and that version had the same amount of tracks only it was much longer and the total playing time of the CD was 55 minutes, 11 seconds. This was very much down to vinyl restrictions and there are quite a few differences between a few of the tracks on the CD and Vinyl versions.

I have to admit that I myself first brought the vinyl album not having a CD Player at the time of its release and it was not until the following year in 1986 that I brought a CD Player to which I then went out and brought the album again on CD. I think what makes this album more commercially successful is really down to it producing 5 hit single releases from the 9 tracks on the album. Being more of an albums man myself I do not usually bother buying singles though I do remember buying “So Far Away” basically because it was the only single that was released before the album came out and I was that impressed by their previous album Love Over Gold that I could not wait to get my hands on their next release.

I do tend to think there is a danger of an album wearing off a lot quicker when a lot of the tracks are released as singles and that is perhaps why the longevity of The Police albums soon wore thin so to speak. Like I mentioned earlier The Police were more of a singles chart-topping band and the biggest majority of the material on their albums is written for that market. Up until this point, I saw Dire Straits as an albums band and the trouble is with albums like this is that you are more or less getting into the Greatest Hits territory of albums.

Though what I will say about this particular album is that it does have some very good well-written album tracks and they to me are what I personally like the most about this album and out of the 5 singles they did release I would also say that both the albums self-titled song “Brothers In Arms” and “Your Latest Trick” I do feel are more like album tracks and to perfectly honest I cannot see for the life of me why the latter of those two tracks was ever released as a single. The self-titled track of those two songs is the only track on the album that I feel that would have fitted in with the material that was written for their previous album Love Over Gold because it does have that same atmospheric sound and feel about it with its production.

Speaking of the production the same recording & mixing engineer Neil Dorfsman on their last album also had a hand in the production along with Knopfler for this album. He also picked up the best-engineered album award and the album did win at least 4 awards including the best selling International Album. Unlike the bands last couple of albums which were recorded at the Power Station in New York the band jetted off to the eastern Caribbean and recorded the album at Sir George Martin’s second studio AIR Montserrat.

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Quite a lot of GREAT! albums by many well-known artists came out of this studio during the decade from 1979 -1989 it was functional and in use. Unfortunately, Hurricane Hugo swept across Montserrat in 1989 and devastated much of the island forcing the studio to close. Things did not get much better on the island either and six years later the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, bombarding the land with lava flows and thick layers of ash. The ongoing volcanic eruptions have made nearly half of the island uninhabitable. These days Air Studios Montserrat is rotting away.

To cut down on the expense Mark Knopfler had already written the material for what was going to be the new album at the time and rehearsed it with the band before they booked Air Studios. Another keyboard player Guy Fletcher was recruited to the line-up from their previous tour and there is also quite an array of session musicians (mostly uncredited) who play on the album.

The album kicks off with “So Far Away” and like I mentioned earlier there is a difference in the timing on the CD although it’s nothing really to write home about and the ending is just a bit longer. To be honest I am not sure it benefits from being longer simply because it is one of those songs that can be a bit repetitious and tends to drag on a bit. That is something I did tend to find the more I played it. I could say the same thing for the following track “Money For Nothing” which has been extended even longer although lyrically at least the words are not too repetitive and with its uptempo, it’s easy to see why a song like this would appeal to many. Sting actually got a co-writing credit for this song although his contribution was nothing more than the words in the intro that get repeated along the way.

Walk of Life” is perhaps the oddball track of the album and personally I felt should have been left off the album simply because it does not fit in with the rest of the material. It’s very much your standard rock n’ roll song along the same lines of what Knopfler did with “Two Young Lovers” to which he did see the sense to leave off the bands previous album. There is no doubt this is single material and will appeal to more than the biggest majority of tracks on this entire album but personally, for me, it’s too much of the same old thing I am afraid and I might as well just of brought an album by Showaddywaddy or Shaking Stevens and it would have sat more with their albums than Dire Straits 😊😊😊.

Your Latest Trick” is the song where the biggest changes have been made between the Vinyl and CD releases and two different mixes were recorded of the song. The one on the CD release is much slower though both versions are very good I feel. “Why Worry” is another of the songs that have been extended only this time a 3-minute instrumental section has been added to the CD release and I have to say I prefer it for it as well. All the differences between both format releases appear on the first side of the album only.

The second side of the album is my personal favourite side and even though the albums self-titled track was released as a single it does feel more like an album track along with the other three songs on this side. “Ride Across The River” is a GREAT! song and one of my personal favourites on the album. It not only has GREAT! vibes but very well punctuated drums play their part in it. To be honest I am not sure who is playing the drums on this song but it could be Omar Hakim. I do know that once again Mike Mainieri is providing the vibes and marimba who played on the bands previous album.

The Man’s Too Strong” is a very good acoustic ballad of a song and features Jack Sonni on guitar synth which lends a hand to the accentuating parts of the song. One of my other personal favourite tracks on the album is “One World” and this is a very well spirited uptempo and uplifting driven song that is driven along by a dominating and punctuating bass line to which it is played by non-other than Tony Levin. The final track on the album “Brothers In Arms” is another of my personal favourite songs on the album and perhaps the best song on the album and it puts an end to the album SUPERBLY!

Overall, Dire Straits 5th studio album Brothers In Arms is quite a solid album. However, much of the material written for it was perhaps a bit more commercially derived which is why it gained its popularity and it’s perhaps not quite as adventurous as their 4th studio album Love Over Gold. The one thing that does help me personally still play this album today is that it was released with a 5.1 mix on a Hybrid SACD in 2005 to which was mixed by Chuck Ainlay who is another of my personal best surround mixing engineers and its no surprise to me that it also picked up the Best Surround Sound Album at the 48th Grammy Awards ceremony in the following year. The sad thing is that it is the only Dire Straits album to get the 5.1 Surround treatment and I would love to see Chuck do a surround mix for Love Over Gold which is really crying out for one.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Neil Dorfsman & Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler except track 2 written by Mark Knopfler & Sting. Recorded between October 1984 to February 1985 at AIR Studios, Montserrat W.1. Recording Engineer Neil Dorfsman. Assistant Engineer Steve Jackson. Mastered & Remastered by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Sutton Cooper & Andrew Prewett. Photography by Deborah Feingold. Painting by Thomas Steyer.

Musicians.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Alan Clark: Keyboards.
Guy Fletcher: Keyboards – Backing Vocals.
Terry Williams: Drums.

Additional Musicians.
Sting: Vocals (Track 2).
Tony Levin: Bass (Tracks 8).
Michael Brecker: Saxophone (Track 4).
Jack Sonni: Guitar Synth (Track 7).
Mike Mainieri: – Vibes – Marimba
Omar Hakim: Drums.

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. So Far Away. 5:12. 2. Money for Nothing. 8:26. 3. “Walk of Life. 4:12. 4. Your Latest Trick. 6:33. 5. Why Worry. 8:31. 6. Ride Across the River. 6:58. 7. The Man’s Too Strong. 4:40. 8. One World. 3:40. 9. Brothers In Arms. 6:59.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.


R-2276246-1300484896.jpegOn Every Street

The bands sixth studio album On Every Street is an album that was lucky to surface depending on how you look at it that is. It was after the tour of their most successful album Brothers In Arms in 1987 that Mark Knopfler decided to take a break and work on other projects and his own solo project with film Soundtracks. The limelight of success and stress had got to him just like it did with Sting with The Police. However, the band did get back together in 1988 for Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute concert staged on 11 June 1988 at Wembley Stadium, in which they were the headline act. Knopfler announced the dissolution of Dire Straits in September 1988. In the following year, he formed The Notting Hillbillies and it would be a good six years since the overwhelming success of their previous album before he decided to reform the band for one final time.

On Every Street was released on the 9th of September 1991 and the album contained 12 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 60 minutes, 16 seconds. Although the album took its time coming off the back of their most successful album it was always going to be a tough act to follow suit in the same popular motive vein so to speak. However, the album still managed to hit the Number One spot in the UK Albums Charts and had twice Platinum sales in many countries proving that Dire Straits were still very much a popular force in the music scene and a force to be reckoned with.

Despite there being a good 6 years in between their last studio album, Knopfler did manage to keep most of the band together apart from the bands drummer Terry Williams who left the band after the Brothers In Arms tour ended in 1988. The band were now down to a 4 piece with two keyboard players a guitarist, and bass player so once again many session players were called upon to record the new material for the album. Jeff Porcaro best known for his work with Toto and Steely Dan and has literally played on thousands of albums as a session player plays drums on most of the tracks. Another well-recognised drummer Manu Katché perhaps more widely known for his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting plays on a couple of the tracks.

The album was recorded at George Martin’s Air Studios only this time the one in London, England. Looking at the material that Knopfler wrote to make up the album it does appear to be a bit of a mixed bag and it’s perhaps trying to follow the same commercial vein with some of the songs that were written as their previous album and some of the songs do have a bit of familiarity about them. Once again an array of singles were released to promote the album and a total of 6 in all. But only 4 of them were major releases and 2 of them were only ever released in France, Germany and The Netherlands.

It’s very much an album of contrasting styles ranging from blues, rockabilly, folk, pop, jazz and rock. It does appear that Elvis has left the building with its opening track “Calling Elvis” which was the first single to be released from the album and made its way into the UK TOP 30 peaking at Number 21. Like the opening track on Brothers In Arms “So Far Away” it does have an ending that drags on only the lyrical content is much better on this song I feel and so to is the guitar riff which makes it less repetitious in some respects.

Sticking with the major singles from the album “Heavy Fuel” is another song that has similarities with “Money For Nothing” with its distorted guitar riff and you do get the impression that Knopfler was trying to make a carbon copy with how he’s gone about his writing on some of these songs. “The Bug” is another rockabilly number like “Walk of Life” and no doubt all of these songs are potential hitmakers and very good well written single material. The albums self-titled song “On Every Street” is perhaps the most unusual single release out of them all and is in every way more of an album track in relation to the other 3 songs here. Although personally for myself along with the well laid back song “You and Your Friend” are my chosen favourites from the album.

Iron Hand” is another song that could be likened to “The Man’s Too Strong” from their previous album and there is quite a few country songs on the album such as “When It Comes To You“, “How Long” and “Ticket to Heaven” which has a 60’s feel with George Martin’s strings and is perhaps something that Adam Faith would have sang all those years ago. “Fade To Black” is a deep down blues song and a good dose of humour is also thrown in for good measure with the up swinging “My Parties” and not forgetting the longest track on the album “Planet of New Orleans” which features some fine guitar playing by Knopfler has with most of the tracks.

On Every Street is perhaps an album that shows Mark Knopfler’s versatility and diversity when it comes to songwriting and you certainly get a mixture of styles on this album. In some ways, you could say that the material is a bit too versatile and diverse to make it stand up as a collective set of songs to put on one album and make it sound like a good album. All being said it is an album that has some fine moments and in terms of a rating I would put it on level par with their third album Making Movies. Though unlike that album this one is much better recorded and produced a lot better which is one of the things I personally think lets their third album down badly.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded at Air Studios London, England between November 1990 to May 1991. Recording Engineers Chuck Ainlay & Bill Schnee. Mixing Engineers Neil Dorfsman (Tracks 1 – 6 & 8 -12). Bob Clearmountain (Track 7). Assistant Engineers Steve Orchard, Andy Strange & Jack Joseph Puig. Mastered & Remastered by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Sutton Cooper & Paul Cummings. Photography by Paul Williams.

Musicians.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar.
Alan Clark: Organ – Piano – Synthesizer.
Guy Fletcher: Synthesizer – Backing Vocals.

Additional Musicians.
Jeff Porcaro: Drums – Percussion.
Phil Palmer: Guitar.
Chris White: Flute – Saxophone.
Manu Katché: Percussion – Drums (Tracks 7 & 11).
Vince Gill: – Guitar – Backing Vocals (Track 5).
Paul Franklin: Pedal Steel Guitar – Acoustic Lap Steel Guitar (Track 6).
George Martin: Conductor – String Arrangements (Track 9).

The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Calling Elvis. 6:26. 2. On Every Street. 5:04. 3. When It Comes to You. 5:02. 4. Fade to Black. 3:49. 5. The Bug. 4:18. 6. You and Your Friend. 5:59. 7. Heavy Fuel. 4:57. 8. Iron Hand. 3:09. 9. Ticket To Heaven. 4:26. 10. My Parties. 5:52. 11. Planet of New Orleans. 7:47. 12. How Long. 3:53.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.

Summary & Conclusion…

Dire Straits were, without doubt, a GREAT! band and one that that should appeal to most peoples taste in music I should think and a band that certainly left its mark in musical history. It was a vehicle for Mark Knopfler’s songwriting who still to this day writes such GREAT! songs in his own solo career. I would even go as far as to say that as a lyricist he has excelled himself since those days he was with Dire Straits. As much as I like his solo career I still prefer the musicality that was given to the songs in his former band and I can still play the albums he did with Dire Straits more so than the music he still churns out in his solos career. There are so many timeless classics that still sound GREAT! today and they are a band that have never been that far away from my turntable so to speak.

The Studio Albums 1978 – 1991 by Dire Straits offers you tremendous value for the money and £16.66 for 6 albums nicely presented in a Clamshell Box is hardly going to break the bank. No doubt many will already have their albums and this box set perhaps will not be of any interest to them unless you are an avid record collector who simply has to have everything. I myself am not an avid collector and brought it to update my old collection with the 1996 remasters that are said to be the best sounding recordings and I honestly cannot complain one bit because they do have the edge over the original recordings slightly apart from the Brothers In Arms SACD I have that is. For those who had their albums and sold them. This is the perfect way to replace them at its price point.

Lee’s overall Complete Box Set Value Rating…

The Box Set Presentation Rating Score. 8/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.


Lee Speaks About Music… #175

Tubular Bells / From The Manor Born – Tubular World

T W

Introduction…

This is a bit of an oddball release co-produced by Robert Reed who’s obviously a huge fan of Mike Oldfield and Tubular World I do believe was a forum that was originally started up by Oldfield himself many moons ago though I could be wrong as I have not really delved that deep into it. The forum also closed down a while back to and the name was also one of the tracks on his album The Songs Of Distant Earth. However, in the past through my Soundcloud connections I came across some musicians who share an interest in the forum Tubular Net and some who take part in producing music that is either structured or developed around the sound of Oldfield’s music.

Tubular Bells is perhaps Mike Oldfield’s most iconic album and it is without doubt one of my favourite albums of his. Though I have to confess that in general I am not the type of guy who would spend my money on an album by a tribute band playing it. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against tribute bands and I do not mind paying the smaller ticket price they charge in general to see them play live. But I draw the line when it comes to buying albums of them playing the same album of the artists you idolized in the first place.

Covers are all well and good but in reality, just how many of them were actually better than the original artist. I would say less than 1% and its extremely rare to come across any cover song that is better than the original. Jimi Hendrix cover of Bob Dylan’sAll Along The Watchtower” I personally think is one of the very few exceptions and examples where the cover was done better.

Like I mentioned covers are all well and good but even as nice as Magenta’s cover of the Yes song “Wondrous Stories” might sound it’s not the sort of thing I would personally buy and it’s never gonna cut the mustard with the original version I am afraid not meaning to be disrespectful in anyway because they did do a decent job of it. I personally think trying to do a cover of any song is more of a difficult task to do it any better than the original and its perhaps got more chance of appealing to you if you never heard the original version in the first place. Which is why it was only really the documentary that drew my attention to this release.

The oddball thing about the documentary entitled From The Manor Born that comes with this package, is that unlike the Mike Oldfield Story documentary that was put out some years back on the BBC. This documentary does not feature the man himself or Richard Branson who are both integral to the story. However, it does feature quite a few people who were involved in making the prolific album at the time.

The other odd thing about this release is that it’s not one I could recommend simply because it has completely disappeared and is no longer available for some reason. I even got lucky with my pre-order of it and I had no idea that the standard edition I originally ordered was a Limited Edition like the Deluxe Edition. As to if more physical copies will be made, I have no idea and all traces of it have completely disappeared from Tigermoth Records online store.

However, Tubular Bells by Tubular World is still available to purchase in the form of a Digital Download and I have also noticed that the Double CD has now been reissued and was released again a few days ago on the 14th of January. But as for the documentary its hardly likely to be reissued.

Packaging & Artwork…

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Well as you can see even though I pre-ordered the Standard Edition I was sent the Deluxe Edition instead and the only logical reason I can think why they did such a thing was down to them running out of copies of the cheaper edition and it was not by mistake. There is a £10 difference between the two editions and in my own personal opinion it’s not worth shelling out the extra 10 bucks simply because the way the Deluxe Edition has been presented is not done right in my personal opinion. So, let’s now take a look at the two editions and weigh up what little extra you get for the money here.

The Standard Edition was priced at £25 and is what I pre-ordered on the 16th of November with the postage and packing it cost me £26.90. This might sound steep but considering you are getting 2 CD’s and 2 DVD’s in the package I personally think that’s a good deal and well worthy of its price point.

However, because they are individual packages, I cannot really see any reason why they could not have been sold separately and in a way by them doing it like this, it could be seen as a marketing ploy to bleed more money out of your pocket. Especially for those like myself who were more interested in the documentary and had to spend the extra cash just to obtain it.

S E

As you can see in the picture above the Standard Edition comes with the discs stored in two cardboard gatefold Digisleeves with die-cut pockets to hold the discs firmly in place. It does not come with a booklet and all the linear production notes and credits are printed on the inside of the sleeve. It also comes with an essay written by Paul Harris printed on the back of the sleeve. Overall, a quality job has been done here and it looks neat and tidy.

The Deluxe Edition was priced at £35 and this contains the same contents as above only they come in a steel tin that sort of replicates a Steelbook Edition of a Blu Ray or DVD. It also comes with 6-archive double sided photocards and Tom Newman’s mix notes. This was a Limited Edition and only 500 copies were made and the first 100 copies were signed by Tom Newman. The number is written on the back of the tin and mine is numbered 471. It does appear that the Standard Edition must have also been limited to around 500 copies with how it’s no longer available.

D E

Although the Deluxe Edition may look nice in that it comes in a steel tin. I personally do not think enough has been done here to merit its extra price point. For example, the 6-archive double sided photocards are hardly high-quality photos and look as if they have been taken from the TV. I’ve seen old Polaroid photos from the 70’s look as bad as this quality and they are nothing to write home about I am afraid. They really are dreadful quality. Tom Newman’s mix notes are not quite how I expected them to be either, and I would have expected a copy of his actual handwritten notes printed on a piece of paper. Not just printed words on the back of a photograph of him 😁😁😁. But to top it all as to where this presentation fails is how everything is just bunged in a tin as you can see in the picture above.

OK! it gives you the option to store everything along with your DVD’s on a shelf or even remove the music media and store the case on a DVD shelf and the discs along with your other CD’s but things could have been done better here. For starters the difference between the price of a Standard Edition and Deluxe Steelbook Edition film on Blu Ray is only £5. Furthermore, the steel tin comes with the picture printed on it not just a printed sticker stuck on it.

J SBE

Now I am not for one moment suggesting Rob Reed can compete with a film company who sells a hell of a lot more copies to be able to bring the cost of making the product down as in this example above. But if you are charging an extra £10 the very least, he could have done is made it more presentable by inserting a plastic case on both sides or a plastic hinged tray to hold the 4 discs on the one side and made a booklet to make the difference between the two editions standout from one another.

Bunging everything in a tin like this is hardly what I would call a Deluxe Edition and it certainly does not merit chucking an extra tenner at it which is why I ordered the standard edition in the first place. I should not really complain because I never forked out the extra 10 bucks but in reality, I personally don’t think I got anything of any real extra value for free. Others may have a different viewpoint than my own and like what’s been done here but I am perhaps too much of a realist regarding how I part with what little money I have to spend on such things and that is my honest opinion.

Artwork.

The albums cover art was done by Tenllado Studio who have done previous redesigns of some of Mike Oldfield’s albums in the past and post their work on forums such as Tubular Net. I have no idea if it is the work of one person or more but they do other artwork besides and I dare say the connection was made through the forum. The artwork is very fitting to name I will say and looks the part.

Tubular Bells By Tubular World In Review…

Tubular Bells by Tubular World was released on the 14th of December 2020 along with the documentary To The Manor Born and the only way to obtain a physical copy of the album was to purchase the both. However, the physical album has now been reissued and made available to purchase once again on the 14th of January. The album comes with 2 CD’s though its not a double album and the only difference is that Disc One has been mixed by Tom Newman and Disc Two has been mixed mainly by the other musicians who play on the album. The only other notable difference is the track listing of both discs.

The whole of this project was most likely masterminded by Rob Reed and he has worked in a collaborative way with many other musicians and Paul Harris in producing it and putting it all together. I should also mention that part of the proceeds is going in support for the mental health charity and organisation known as MIND. Although according to my further research the only reason this album came about was down to Reed thinking of what to use as a backing music or a soundtrack for the film footage of the documentary.

Knowing how hard it would be to get the clearance for using Oldfield’s original Tubular Bells as a backing track he set about recording a few sections of it with Les Penning. It was Harris who suggested asking all those musicians who have been influenced by Mike Oldfield and also had played with him, to contribute to a new version. Hence the reason why this album exists.

Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is an album I can never tire of hearing and one I have played more than once every year since its release back in 1973. Though I have to confess that the version I play 9 times out of 10 is Oldfield’s new remix he done and released in 2003 and this is by far the best recording that exists of the album. He very much decided to re-record parts of it again and the reason for this was that like myself he was never happy with the original mix. The original mix was not helped by putting it on vinyl and the length of the two tracks on both sides well exceeded vinyl limitations.

Though as my memory serves me hearing it on vinyl back in the 70’s was perhaps the best way to hear the original version because at least it never showed up the flaws like it did later in the 80’s when it was put on CD. Digital technology was responsible for cleaning things up and you will hear a hell of a lot more that goes into a recording and its mix on a CD in relation to vinyl. Vinyl has always had its limitations and no matter how much you spend on a turntable and a cartridge you will never eliminate the surface noise and its poor limitations I am afraid.

Though these days they can get around the vinyl limitations by splitting the album tracks up and putting them on two or three LP’s but that would never work with this album and by doing such things it also bumps up the cost, and vinyl today is already ridiculously overpriced as it is. As to why I don’t know or really understand because it certainly is not up to the quality of what the CD has to offer though with all recordings it is really down to how well the instruments have been recorded and how well the album has been mixed.

Even today with how things have been cleaned up to hear the vinyl album sound like it did back then you would have to have a vintage hi-fi setup from the 70’s because even amplification has been cleaned up since those days. Though thankfully Oldfield did remix the original version himself and released it in 2009 which I think is a better mix than the original though still not a patch on the 2003 reworked and remixed edition and the 5.1 DTS version of that is a SURROUND FREAKS PARADISE!

Having said all that just what does this new arrangement done by Tubular World have to offer. Well one of the first disappointing things I soon discovered when it arrived is that it does not come with a surround mix which is very unusual for Rob Reed’s standards. Though there is a bit of one on the DVD package which contains the documentary that I will go into in my review of From The Manor Born. Hopefully that is not the only thing that’s disappointing so let’s now take a look at the musicians and credits.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Robert Reed and Paul Harris. All tracks written by Mike Oldfield (Stage Three Publishing) except Sailor’s Hornpipe (Traditional). Tracks 2,5,6,7,8,11,13,15 Mixed by Robert Reed. Tracks 1 & 17 Mixed by Daniel Holdsworth. Track 3 Mixed by Scott Ampleford. Track 4 Mixed by Hubart Razack. Track 9 Mixed by Chris Kimber. Track 10 Mixed by Steve Smith. Track 12 Mixed by Rubén Alvarez. Track 14 Mixed by Ryan Yard. Track 16 Mixed by Manu Herrera & Álvaro Rodríguez Barroso. Cover Art by Tenllado Studio. Documentary: Interview Research & Interviews by Paul Harris. Filming & Sound Recording by Andrew Lawson. Editing by Robert Reed.

Musicians.

Robert Reed: Piano – Keyboards – Electric & Acoustic Guitars – Bass – Vibraphone – Organ.
Daniel Holdsworth: Piano – Farfisa Organ – Electric & Acoustic Guitars – Bass – Glockenspiel – Tape motor driven organ chord. Percussion.
Hubert Razack: Electric & Acoustic Guitars – Spanish Guitar – Bass – Piano – Organ – Mandolin.
Rubén Alvarez: Electric & Acoustic Guitars.
Manu Herrera: Electric & Acoustic Guitars.
Jay Stapley: Electric & Acoustic Guitars.
Steve Smith: Electric Guitar – Bass.
Silverio Carmona: Acoustic Guitars – Bass.
Nacho Soto: Electric Guitar – Voices.
Steve Hillage: Double Speed Guitar.
Cayetano Ruiz: Electric Guitar.
Rick Fenn: Acoustic Guitars.
James Stirling: Acoustic Guitar.
Miguel Engel Arcengelus: Mandolin.
Phil Toms: Double Bass & Bass Guitars.
Álvaro Rodríguez Barroso: Bass – Keyboards.
Phil Spalding: Bass.
Chris Kimber: Keyboards – Percussion.
Richard García: – Philicorda Organ – Piano.
Luis Suria: Electric Piano – Organ.
Juam García: Acoustic Piano.
Rich Nolan: Drums.
Pablo Egío: Drums.
Alasdair Malloy: Glockenspiel – Tubular Bells.
John Field: Flutes.
Marcial Picó: Flutes.
Stefano Fasce: Flute.
Les Penning: Recorders.
Steve Bingham: Violin.
Brenda Stewart: Viola.
Jim Carter: Master of Ceremonies.
Ariane Valdivié: Vocals.
Tom Newman: The Piltdown Man & Nasal Choir.
Ryan Yard: Keyboard – Programming.

The Album Tracks & Mixes In Review…

One of the biggest concerns Rob Reed had regarding bringing in other musicians to play different sections was how the mix would work out in putting it all together and that was one of the main reasons he chose to bring in Tom Newman to sort it all out and do a completely new mix from the multi tracks supplied by each artist. There is quite a notable difference between the mixes on the both CD’s and I can see why they chose Newman’s mix to be on the first disc because it does feel more complete and in line with the original even though it’s an alternative version with how he’s handled the stems.

For this review I am not going to go through every track on the two discs individually and merely pinpoint a few of the differences between the mixes that are spread over the couple of CDs you get here. There is actually a 28 second difference between the length of the both discs although that is not so noticeable in relation to the mixes and both discs will give you a full representation of Tubular Bells.

Disc One.

The first disc contains 2 tracks like Oldfield’s original version of the album mixed by Tom Newman and comes with an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 53 seconds. I think the significant thing about this particular mix is that Newman has mixed it more or less how he mixed the original album and he has done his own thing with the original stems from the other musicians. He’s even thrown in some additives and subtracted some minute parts along the way and gone for more of an ambient and subtle dynamic approach.

For example, this mix is not upfront or in your face in relation to how the other musicians mixed their parts has you can hear on the second CD. There is also a notable difference with the volume levels of the both discs as well and Newman’s mix uses way less compression and is the quieter of the two. It is perhaps the more discreet of the mixes and has been finely tuned and well balanced with how all the elements have been layered and panned out in the stereo field. I would also say its less choppy with how he has done everything here which is why I personally feel that it does feel more complete.

What Newman has done here is taken all the elements of instrumentation and gave them his own sound and even though his mix does feel more complete not everything is necessarily going to sound as good as some of the original mixes done by the other musicians. For example, the Nasal Choir to which he himself did and to which I personally feel he done a very good job of. Does sound better to me with Rob Reed’s mix on track 6 “Blues” on the second CD. The notable thing about it with Newman’s mix is that he panned it from left to right and by doing that it does take away some of the resonance that can be heard in bis voice.

Other notable differences on side one of the album are the ambient nuisances he’s added in “Basses” to which add well to the effect and he has toned down a bit of how the bass guitar projects on this section. One of his better additions however is that he’s put the chimes of Big Ben in the “Ghost Bells” section and I quite like that. Some of the notable differences on side two can be heard on the opening track and it’s quite evident that Newman’s mix not only sounds superior with the ambient presence but he’s also removed the quite evident bit of distortion that can be heard in Rubén Alvarez’s mix of “Harmonics” on the second disc.

There has always been to me a certain amount of beauty that was put into the second side of Tubular Bells and the section that was later entitled “Peace” certainly displays that. Personally, I think it’s more at home here with the way Newman has mixed it and I have to say he’s done a better job in particular with mixing the vocals and most of the vocal parts on the album he’s done exceptionally well throughout. There are more little nuisances and touches he has given to the mix but rather spending all day making comparisons I best get on with the mixes on the second CD.

Disc Two.

The second disc contains 17 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 25 seconds and the 17 titles are what Oldfield gave to them when he remixed the album himself and can be found on the Tubular Bells 2003 Reworked Edition. The biggest majority of the tracks were mixed by Rob Reed and the mixes on this album are fuller on and sound more up front and in your face in relation to Tom Newman’s mix. Some may prefer these mixes in relation to Newman’s and I personally feel you can take some good and bad points regarding all the mixes over the couple of CDs and like I said they will both give you a full representation of Oldfield’s iconic album.

The second disc gives you what the musicians themselves have brought to the table in some respect so for this disc I shall go into not only the mix but detail every track regarding who is actually playing on it. The promotional video above will also give you an incite of who’s playing on each section and the musicians who appear on the album.

Track 1. Introduction.

The opening section of Tubular Bells was the bit that was used mostly for the film score of The Exorcist and it was the release of the film that gave the album a boost to gaining its success. The album itself may very well appear to be of some lengthy distance over its two parts in that they are both over 20 minutes. Although when split into individual tracks like this it perhaps looks more like a pop album rather than a prog album and this opening section is the second longest track on it over its 5 minutes, 32 seconds.

This is one of two tracks on the album that was mixed and mostly played by Daniel Holdsworth. The only thing he is not playing is the flute to which is played by John Field who played it on the original album. Holdsworth is an Australian multi-instrumentalist and composer and the co-creator of the music-theatre production, Tubular Bells for Two alongside with Aidan Roberts originally. He has also performed in bands such as Darks Common Underground, The Maple Trail and The Saturns all of which including himself I have never heard of myself. He’s also composed music for film, television, theatre and dance.

His approach to the opening section we have here is more or less close to the original and he’s used more or less the same instrumentation that Oldfield used himself. It only sounds partially arranged with how it flows along with its sequence of notes played on the piano and farfisa organ and the only real difference is the piano section at the very end, to which he perhaps played as a tailspin to allow the next collaborator to continue from. That short piano section was also removed on Newman’s mix. There is no doubt that Holdsworth is a very talented musician and his acoustic and electric guitar playing I particularly like and its very close to Oldfield I will say too and he’s done a GRAND! job here.

Tracks 2 & 3. Fast Guitars / Basses.

This next section was mixed by Rob Reed and features him on electric, acoustic and bass guitar as well as keyboards. It also features Rubén Alvarez on electric guitar who is another unknown to me though and obviously another Oldfield NUT! judging by his Youtube channel plus Les Penning on recorders. This does have more of an arranged feel about it and almost has more of a light hearted approach until the bass and duel on the electric guitars come into play to which they all do a SPLENDID! job of. One of the many shorter tracks on the album “Basses” was mixed by Scott Ampleford and features Phil Toms on double bass and bass guitars with Rich Nolan on drums. Here it’s without the ambient nuisances that Newman added to his mix and is more or less how this section was originally played and they do a fine job of it.

Track 4. Latin.

Like many of the musicians on the album I have never heard of them and Hubert Razack is no exception and this section was mixed and played by him and features Stefano Fasce on flute. Razack is another multi-instrumentalist judging by his Youtube channel. The one thing I have noticed is that he is only one of the two musicians on this album that have used a mandolin yet there are a ton of sections throughout the album that sound like a mandolin was used on them. Like Daniel Holdsworth, he’s very much stuck to the original regarding the arrangement and done a very good job of it.

Track 5. A Minor Tune.

Speaking of the mandolin I have noticed by this promo video that Rob Reed posted on his Tube Channel a while back that he also is playing the instrument though it is not listed in the credit notes. It makes me wonder how many more of the musicians on the album are playing the instrument, although it’s not unusual for its sound to be also replicated and played on a guitar.

Here Reed is paired up once again with Les Penning on the recorder which is not that unusual to see with the many collaborative pieces they have done together over the past couple of years or so. I quite like how they both give their own feel to the piece rather than try and make it sound spot on to the original and it is done with more of an arrangement in mind.

Track 6. Blues.

Like the previous track this was also mixed by Reed and a couple of the tracks that follow it were also mixed by him. Here is on keyboards and guitar alongside Jay Stapley on guitar and Phil Spalding on bass both of which have played with Oldfield in the past and are session players. It also has Tom Newman doing the nasal choir to which I do prefer in this mix and they all do a GRAND! job of it.

Tracks 7, 8, 9, 10. Thrash / Jazz / Ghost Bells / Russian.

The next part is a series of short sections that build up towards the “Finale” and all of them are under a minute long. Both “Thrash” and “Jazz” feature the same musicians as the previous track and they provide the adrenalin to which is brought down by “Ghost Bells” which features Chris Kimber on keyboards another unknown musician to me who specialises in ambient and meditation music from my research of him. Here you can hear the bells without the chimes of Big Ben that Newman threw into his mix and they do sound like real tubular bells.

The final of these short pieces “Russians” was arranged by Phil Toms. It features James Stirling on acoustic guitar and Steve Smith on other guitars including bass and was mixed by him. It also features Steve Bingham on violin and Brenda Stewart on viola and I found this video of them performing it on the Tube.

I have always loved the acoustic guitar in this section and Stirling does a very admirable job of playing it too. The mix on the video I do feel is quite good however, on the CD it’s very muddy and distorted in particular where the orchestration of the violin and viola come into play. None of the mud and distortion are evident in Newman’s mix however, he has bathed it in reverb which does kill the beauty of how Stirling’s acoustic guitar sounds and I do feel that this video gives the best overall representation of the piece and not the CD.

Track 11. Finale.

This is another of Rob Reed’s mixes that features him on grand piano, organ and electric guitar and he’s got quite a guitar army behind him on this one including Steve Hillage on double speed guitar, Jay Stapley on one slightly distorted guitar, Manu Herrera acoustic & Spanish guitars, Rick Fenn acoustic guitars and once again Phil Spalding on bass. It also has the other credited mandolin player Miguel Engel Arcengelus, John Field on flutes and Oldfield’s long time live percussionist Alasdair Malloy on Glockenspiel plus Tubular Bells and Jim Carter as the Master of Ceremonies who gets to introduce all the instruments.

The Finale is the longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 10 seconds and ends off side one of the album it could also be seen as the pivotal section of the album. I have to admit over the many years of hearing many different people introduce the instruments playing the part of the Master of Ceremonies. It’s the first time I have ever heard the words “reed and pipe organ” pronounced so clearly and even on the original album with Vivian Stanshall playing the part I always thought it was “reedon pipe organ” as if it was referring to a brand name of the organ that was used on the album 😁😁😁.

Track 12. Harmonics.

Another of Rubén Alvarez’s mixes and on this he’s playing electric and Spanish guitars and no mention of a mandolin to which it does very much sound like one was used. It also features Richard García on Philicorda organ and piano and the chanting voice of Ariane Valdivié and it is her voice that I do feel has been slightly better treated with Newman’s mix. However, regarding everything else I think this mix does bring the instruments out better.

Track 13. Peace.

This has to be my favourite section of the second side of the album and it was brought even more to life when Oldfield reworked the piece back in 2003. This is another of Rob Reed’s mixes to which features him on electric and acoustic guitars, bass and keyboards. Though I also think he’s playing mandolin on this too and it is more evident in this mix that this is a real mandolin. It also features Les Penning on recorders, Rubén Alvarez on electric and Spanish guitars and the chanting voice of Ariane Valdivié.

Regarding Reed’s and Newman’s mixes I do feel both mixes are very good though I do feel that it even seats well with the reverb Newman has added to it. But it’s not all he has added either and he’s also threw some tubular bells in the mandolin section which are a nice addition.

Track 14. Bagpipe Guitars.

No guitars were harmed or even used on this piece and it’s all the work of one-man Ryan Yard using soft synths from Garageband, Korg Gadget 2, Kontakt 6 and Ravenscroft 275. On Newman’s mix he has added some brass to beef it up a bit more and threw in some sleigh bells and other additives to effect.

Track 15. Caveman.

Next up we have what I believe is a band from Spain who go by the name of Fadalack who are also totally NUTS! on Oldfield’s music and they can have 20 musicians in their line-up but here we have 7 of them who are as follows: Luis Suria (electric piano & organ). Juam García (acoustic piano). Nacho Soto (electric guitar & voices). Silverio Carmona (acoustic & bass guitars). Cayetano Ruiz (electric guitar). Marcial Picó (flutes). Pablo Egío (drums) and they also have Tom Newman doing the voice of The Piltdown Man.

Fadalack are very much a Mike Oldfield tribute band and I have to say they are very good too and you do need a lot of musicians on stage to pull off Oldfield’s music. I found this amateur shot video of them on the Tube performing this live with Tom Newman from a few years back and even Newman himself is having a ball here 😁😁😁.

Track 16. Ambient Guitars.

This next soothing section is played and mixed by Manu Herrera (Guitars) and Álvaro Rodríguez Barroso (Bass & Keyboards) and is played more or less spot on to the original. I do personally think their mix gives it more of the original sound too whereas Newman has mixed it with even more ambient presence and altered the sound to give more of an arranged feel sort of thing.

Track 17. The Sailor’s Hornpipe.

The final mix is by Daniel Holdsworth and it features him on acoustic & electric guitars and percussion and playing alongside him this time, we have Manu Herrera on electric guitar and Chris Kimber also on percussion. There is not much difference between this mix and Newman’s mix and both sound more of a bland arrangement in comparison to the original though all is well here and it rounds off the album in the same spirit sort of thing.

From The Manor Born In Review…

Like I mentioned earlier it was the documentary that comes in this package that was my personal interest in buying it, especially when I read that it was four hours long. I love documentaries myself and spend a lot of my time on Youtube watching them and even though Mike Oldfield and Richard Branson are very much integral to the story of Tubular Bells this is still quite a good one and I only wish the Mike Oldfield Story that was made earlier and first shown on the BBC back in 2013 was this long, an hour was never long enough in my opinion.

Many of the original cast that was in the Mike Oldfield Story are also here and some parts of the footage does even look like it’s been lifted from that older documentary though these are all new interviews and they have all been captured very well on film. The original producers of the iconic album Tom Newman, Simon Heyworth and Philip Newell are all present and so to is the head of Virgin Records, Simon Draper. You also get interviews with musicians Jon Field and Steve Broughton who played on the original studio album and the first couple of live performances along with Mike’s brother Terry Oldfield and Steve Hillage who also played on the first couple of live performances.

According to my research the idea of putting this documentary together came about from both Rob Reed and Paul Harris being disappointed with the Mike Oldfield Story BBC documentary because it never really asked the questions, they wanted answering. So, the pair of them set about making their own version of the Mike Oldfield story and the album that launched the Virgin empire and roped in Reed’s long-time cameraman Andrew Lawson to capture it all with Harris doing the interviewing and posing the questions and Reed pitching in with a few of his own.

Over 12 hours of film footage was captured to which Reed had the painstaking job of editing it down to 4 hours and by the promotional video (below) that he put out on his Tube Channel its quite evident that the team have done a professional job of it. Four hours may seem like a long time but it was interesting enough for me to sit and watch it in one sitting. I never even made a cup of tea whilst changing the DVD’s and was quite enthralled by it all and a TOP JOB! has been done of it I will say.

The documentary very much portrays the story of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and the birth of Virgin Records by the people who were behind it. One of the good things about the DVD menu’s in particular is that each chapter has been titled in relation to what they are discussing. This makes it easier for you to go back too should you have forgotten something and makes a very good reference point.

S 1_Fotor
S 2_Fotor

As you can see by the DVD’s main menu’s each chapter contains a reference point to the story which is something I was pleased to see and along with the navigation it’s plain and simple to navigate yourself along and all you really need for a documentary such as this. Personally, I would have used the photograph they chose for the cover of them standing outside the manor for the background.

S 3_Fotor

Like I mentioned earlier there was a bit of a surround mix and it’s unfortunate that they only decided to mix the “Finale” section. As you can see by the menu on the 2nd DVD you have the choice of Dolby Digital and DTS and the mix was done by Simon Heyworth. Both mixes are 48K and 448kbps & 1.5mbps respectively. The documentary is in Dolby Digital 2.0 48K stereo to be expected. Heyworth’s done quite a good job of the surround mix and it’s a shame that rest of the album was not done rather than give you one track from it.

I think overall the documentary raises some good issues and points about the iconic album, many of which I never knew myself and I feel the right questions were posed to all those being interviewed. For example although I knew Oldfield used a vacuum cleaner on another of his iconic albums Amarok. I was not aware one was used on Tubular Bells. Some of the other recording techniques can also be seen in this out-take that Reed also posted on his Tube Channel.

It’s all fascinating stuff and Tom Newman really is a right character to watch and can be quite funny. Looking at Simon Draper these days reminds me a lot of how Ian Gillan looks today and the sound of his voice is also reminiscent of him as well. I think it would of been GREAT! if they could of got hold of Mike Oldfield and Richard Branson but they are not missed with how it’s all been presented and put together and I certainly don’t think any Oldfield fans or those into his music will not be one bit disappointed with what has been done.

Summary & Conclusion…

It was the Documentary that enticed me to purchase this release and not another version of Oldfield’s iconic album. Tubular Bells is an album that can make my eyes well up with tears of joy whilst listening to it especially Mike Oldfield’s 2003 version of it because I do truly believe that album contains the best ever mix of it and is by far more superior to the original and the mixes we have here. I am not saying that the mixes here are inferior by any standards and they are quite good. But a tribute album like this is hardly gonna get the time of day on my turntable so to speak in relation to the original artist and in general it is not the thing I would spend my money on no matter how good it was.

Some people might also see this album as plagiarism and cashing in on another artist’s work. Personally, I don’t see it like that and there is more of a passionate thing that relates to the biggest majority of the musicians we have here. You only have to look at Rob Reed’s solo career to see where his passion lies for Oldfield’s music, but in all due respect that is where is real creative skill lies not in something like this.

In many respects listening to what he has done on all 3 of his Sanctuary albums is like listening to Oldfield but he’s playing his own music that has been sculptured by rearranging some of Oldfield’s original melodies just like Oldfield did himself when he done Tubular Bells II. That is something I do have the time of day for and admire and respect and speaks to me a damn site more than this album I can assure you. Like I also mentioned I don’t mind spending a bit of money going to see a tribute band. But the chances of me buying an album of them playing the other artists music leans mostly towards ZILCH!

There is only one Mike Oldfield and has gifted and talented he is himself I cannot take nothing away from all the musicians who are on this tribute album. What I will say about Tubular Bells by Tubular World is that it’s far from disappointing and can be quite enjoyable to listen to. But in some respects, I don’t think its alternative enough with its arrangement and some of the musicians have more or less played it to form or to the norm so to speak. I do feel that Tom Newman’s mix does at least try and give you that more of an alternative version and it’s easy enough to spot the differential differences from the mixes on the 2 CDs.

Whether there has been enough done here to float your boat is really down to you and your perception of how you view tribute albums such as this. I have nothing against covers like I already mentioned, but would rather have the odd one or two tracks on an album that also contains original material. Or even something like this example I came across on the Tube as a bonus video put on a DVD or Blu Ray.

These two chaps are not even on this tribute album and even though they are playing many different melodies from some of Oldfield’s classic albums. I do feel they are lending a bit more to the arrangement with how they are playing the melodies than what some of the musicians are doing on this tribute album.

The documentary From The Manor Born on the other hand in this package is what my money was on even though I had to fork out the extra expense to obtain it which does reflect in my price point rating. It’s also a shame that it is no longer available to purchase and I do feel it should have been sold separately. But despite the extra expense I am glad I did purchase it and I am sure if there is enough interest more copies may very well become available. Who knows it might also be shown on the BBC or Sky Arts in the future and its certainly worth watching?

The CD Track Listing is as follows:

CD 1.
01. Tubular Bells (Part One) 27:14.
02. Tubular Bells (Part Two) 23:39.

CD 2.
01. Introduction. 5:32.
02. Fast Guitars. 2:22.
03. Basses. 0:44.
04. Latin. 2:35.
05. A Minor Tune. 1:47.
06. Blues. 2:50.
07. Thrash. 0:36.
08. Jazz. 0:49.
09. Ghost Bells. 0:31.
10. Russian. 0:51.
11. Finale. 8:10.
12. Harmonics. 5:18.
13. Peace. 3:28.
14. Bagpipe Guitars. 2:49.
15. Caveman. 4:47.
16. Ambient Guitars. 5:18.
17. The Sailor’s Hornpipe. 1:58.

The Package Rating. 8/10.
The Price Point Rating. 6/10.
The Album Rating. 6/10.
The Documentary Rating. 10/10.