The Studio Albums (1979 – 1987) – Sky
The Sky Studio Albums Box Set is one of the more recent releases by Esoteric Recordings and having noticed it a month or so back I very much pre-ordered it. I have always been fond of Sky’s music since they released their debut album back in 1979. Though I only ever brought their first 3 albums back then on vinyl. Later on in the 90’s I also brought those same 3 albums on CD only to be completely disappointed simply because the recordings were absolutely that diabolical, I could not even play them.
To be honest when I pre-ordered this box set I could not wait to get my hands on it because it was the first time I had ever seen any Sky album on CD to be remastered. Those CD’s on the Music Club I brought in the 90’s were certainly not remastered and sounded purely dreadful.
I was also totally unaware that Esoteric Recordings had remastered all the Sky albums and released them individually around 3 years ago. I only noticed them via gazing at the Esoteric Recordings website about a week before this box set was released. I also noticed that all these individual releases came in a Deluxe Edition which had a CD & DVD.
Had the DVD contained a 5.1 recording of the albums I would of certainly have cancelled this box set and got those. But unfortunately the only material on the DVD’s with those releases was nostalgic old video footage of the band, and as they was priced at around £12 each. I decided to stick with the box set.
As this is a box set and contains quite a few albums to get through. I am only going to take you through the highlights of each album, rather than review all the individual tracks of the album. But first let’s take a look at what you get for your money here.
The Sky Studio Albums (1979 – 1987) (Box Set) In Review…
The Sky Box Set was released on 30th March 2018. I pre-ordered it from Amazon on the 29th January and it arrived on the day of its release. The Box Set contains 8 Discs. 7 of them are all of Sky’s 7 Studio Albums. Plus a DVD of the band playing live in Nottingham. England back in 1990. The Box Set costs £25 which works out at around £3.12 per disc which is quite a bargain.
It’s a shame they did not include the bands live album which was titled Sky 5 Live. This is the only album that is missing from the bands complete discography here. But it does state Studio Albums and at this price one can certainly not complain.
Though I did actually complain on Esoteric Recordings Facebook Page when I opened the box set :)))))) because something appeared to be missing. More about that as we take a look now inside.
The Packaging & Contents…
The box that holds all the discs is what they call a Clamshell Box. I like the way that box opens up like a door and it does not come with a lid you simply remove to get at the contents. All the discs are housed in cardboard sleeves and come with the original artwork.
My only real complaint here is that they never included one gatefold sleeve, and I know that Sky 2 originally had a gatefold sleeve as it’s a double album. But once again for the price point you cannot really complain.
My biggest complaint and the reason I did complain too Esoteric Recordings was down to the fact that they never included a Booklet. This is something a Box Set like this should really have, and I rather think it was very lazy and cheap of them not to include one.
The back of the box and the backs of the CD’s sleeves do contain the track listing. But as for any other information there is simply nothing. All because the Esoteric Recordings were trying to make a fast buck. They are nothing but a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes :)))))).
However along with my complaint to them, I did also give them a bit of praise too. Simply because these recordings are superb and sound in every way as good as the original vinyl albums, if not even better I would say. They really have done a superb job here. So before I review the individual albums, let’s first take a look at a brief history of the band.
The Band Sky (A Brief History)…
The band Sky were formed in 1978 by a couple of well known musicians who enjoyed travelling quite a lot. The band is made up of both English and Australian musicians and it was the English bass guitarist Herbie Flowers and the Australian classical guitar virtuoso John Williams who got together and put the band together.
It was not long before another couple of fine musicians from England namely the keyboardist Francis Monkman and drummer and percussionist Tristan Fry were recruited. The final member they recruited was the Australian guitarist Kevin Peek and many of its members had collaborated with each other before at some point.
Around the time the band were assembled the classical guitarist John Williams had already been causing quite a stir with “Cavatina” from the film the Deer Hunter in the box office/ It later went on to become a hit. So the rest of the band sort of seen him as their selling point so to speak.
Most of the musicians who made up the band Sky were classically trained and well known session players. Tristan Fry for example started his career as a timpanist in the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Francis Monkman was a classically trained harpsichord player and had also played keyboards for the band Curved Air.
Herbie Flowers had played with the bands Blue Mink and T.Rex besides playing as a session player for many well known artists including Elton John. David Bowie. Cat Stevens to name a few. He had also played the bass on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War Of The Worlds the year before he formed Sky. He is also known for his Tuba playing too.
Kevin Peek was perhaps the most least known out of all of them at the time, though he had played sessions for well known artists such as Cliff Richard. Tom Jones and a few others too. He also was one of the main artists along with Rick Wakeman on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of Holst’s Planets which was entitled Beyond The Planets.
All 5 members that made up the band Sky were highly talented musicians and it did not take them that long to make their mark and put together some pretty amazing music, that consisted of their own arrangements of classical music, and they’re own written compositions.
Though like many bands a few members dropped out along the way, and other new members were brought in to replace them through their short career that lasted just over a decade.
The Sky Studio Albums In review…
Having secured a record deal with a small European record Label Ariola Records. The 5 members of the band booked into Abbey Road Studios London in December 1978 to set to work on their self titled debut album. The album was released sometime in May 1979 and even though they released the track “Cannonball” as a single that never did a thing. The album itself went Gold 7 weeks after its release. By the end of May the band were on the road touring and promoting their album and increasing its sales.
The self tiled debut album Sky contains 6 instrumental tracks over a playing time of 36 minutes, 47 seconds. The album was produced by the band and the 2 recording engineers Tony Clarke and Haydn Bendall remained with the band throughout its entire career. They recorded a great many transcriptions of various classical pieces and their own compositions.
At this early stage of the bands career it was only Francis Monkman and Herbie Flowers who came up as the main writers and contributed to 4 of the original compositions out of the 6 we get here. Kevin Peek arranged the Argentinean composer Pipo’s “Danza” whilst John Williams arranged Satie’s “Gymnopaedia No.1“.
For me personally it’s the original compositions on this album that make it so magical and not the covers. The album kicks off with a great track penned by Flowers & Monkman entitled “Westway“. Flowers gave the title to the piece and it was inspired from driving home from the studio along an elevated road which was called the Westway. His bass on this track has a great driving groove to it, and the band play around it superbly.
The 2nd track on the album is another piece penned by Flowers, only this he co-wrote with another musician who goes by the name of Ian Gomm. It was most likely written before the band got together and he decided to use it for this album, unless he co-wrote it with Gomm at his home. “Carillon” is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album and in my own personal opinion it’s perhaps the single of the album and was the second single release from the album.
The final 2 tracks on the album are both penned by Monkman and for me they are both my personal favourites of the album. “Cannonball” sets the album on fire with its up-tempo groove and feel. And the Epic 5 movement suite entitled “Where Opposites Meet” is my personal favourite track on the album. It’s a masterpiece of prog rock and is the longest track on the album and weighs in at 19 minutes and 21 seconds.
Sky’s debut album is a truly remarkable album and quite a solid album in that every track is played so skilfully by all 5 members of the band. The diversity and chord progression is quite immaculate and played precisely. The band lineup is as follows:
John Williams: Acoustic Guitars. Kevin Peek: Electric & Acoustic Guitars. Francis Monkman: Piano/Synthesiser/Harpsichord. Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar. Tristan Fry: Drums & Percussion.
My personal highlights from this album are as follows: “Where Opposites Meet“. “Cannonball“. “Westway” and “Carillon“. Oddly enough they are all the bands original compositions.
The album track listing is as follows: 1. Westway. 3:39. 2. Carillon. 3:29. 3. Danza. 2:57. 4. Gymnopedie No. 1. 3:40. 5. Cannonball. 3:41. 6. Where Opposites Meet. 19:21.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.
After their European tour and a bit of a break for Christmas in the following year 1980. The band decided to go back into the studios at Abbey Road to work on what was to become their 2nd album Sky 2. They actually got the idea that as the album was going to their 2nd album and titled as such, that it would be appropriate to make a double album this time around. By now all of the bands 5 members where contributing to the writing and arranging, though it was still perhaps Herbie Flowers and Francis Monkman who contributed to the biggest chunk of it.
They also included 5 classical pieces from other composers that they arranged to keep in touch with their formidable symphonic prog rock classical style. One of those 4 covers they decided to do was a guitar arrangement of Bach’s Toccata which was arranged by Kevin Peek & Leroy Holmes. It was released as a single here in the UK and gave the band a lot more success and reached number 5 in the UK charts and got them on the television on top of the pops. The album also reached number 1 in the UK charts and was the 10th bestselling album of the year in 1980.
The double album Sky 2 was released in April 1980. It contained 13 instrumental tracks spanned over an overall playing time of 79 minutes, 24 seconds. The success of the album meant that they could broaden their field a bit more, and they went on to do an international tour and even went as far as Australia to promote the album even more. It was to be the bands most successful album ever.
No doubt once again the band had produced another really great album that never had a bad track upon it, and was continuing in their own great style with the music they was presenting that was found on their debut album.
Once again Herbie Flowers set the groove for the opening track “Hotta” to which he co-wrote with Kevin Peek. It was a piece that they wrote in the previous year and also played live a few times before settling for this arrangement of it. This piece as got to be one of the contenders for top spot on the album.
Another couple of contenders for the top spot of the album were also written by Peek & Flowers only this time individually and not together. The 3rd track on the album “Sahara” was penned by Kevin Peek and is gorgeous track that shows great diversity from the band and contains a most beautiful electric guitar solo from Peek himself. This beauty of a piece may have inspired the albums artwork on the front cover of the desert.
“Scipio” is my personal favourite of Herbie Flowers self penned 3 tracks he writ on his own for the album. It’s much more adventurous and goes in more places than the other two pieces “Dance of the Little Fairies” and “Tuba Smarties” he wrote. Though the latter of these two is quite comical and he plays the tuba on it. It was also recorded live too from a show they played in the previous year.
Originally “Scipio” was also faded out and was missing about a minute on the CD release because of fitting the double vinyl album onto 1 CD. To be honest I am not quite sure why they did this in the first place, because even with this box set they have put the double album on 1 CD and managed to get it all on, including that missing minute.
John Williams contributes to the arrangement of 3 of the 5 classical pieces on the album. Although one of them “El Cielo” is actually his own composition to some degree. He was always fond of traditional Spanish folk songs and constructed this piece out of 2 of his favourites. The other 2 pieces he arranged on the album were “Ballet – Volta” originally composed by Michael Praetorius and Vivaldi’s “Andante“.
The other 2 classical pieces not written by the band are Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Gavotte & Variations” and a piece inspired from Vivaldi that was written by Curved Air’s violinist Daryl Way entitled “Vivaldi“.
Even the bands drummer and percussionist Tristan Fry gets in on the act and wrote a piece he entitled “Tristan’s Magic Garden“. The piece is played entirely by Fry himself on the album with the use of marimba, vibes, timps and anything he can have a bash on. Though when it was played live you would often see both Williams and Peek on marimba and vibes and Monkman on the drums.
I have saved the best till last, and this is in fact the only piece that Francis Monkman contributed to on the album and wrote. Though once again it is in fact quite a hefty chunk because it took up the whole of side 2 of the vinyl album and takes up 17 minutes and 13 seconds.
“FIFO” is my personal favourite track on the album and just like the lengthy track he wrote on the bands debut album “Where Opposites Meet” it goes places and as plenty of diversity and chord progression. Though personally I do not feel it as good as that track. But it speaks well enough to me to merit it with the top spot on the album award.
The piece comes in 4 movements to which are sub division titles. The first movement is the same name of the title track FIFO. Which by the way is an abbreviation of “First In, First Out”. The 2nd movement is titled as Adagio and the third moment Scherzo and the final 4th movement is simply called Watching The Aeroplanes :))))).
Monkman also played electric guitar on this lengthy track too, and it was panned to the left hand side to distinguish his bad playing in relation to the other two guitarists :)))).
Sadly this was to be Francis Monkman’s final contribution to the band and it came at the bands most pivotal point of their career. Though he did tour with the band before making his move, and left right at the end of the last show without any discussion what so ever. He left to pursue his own career in writing after the success he had in scoring the music for the film “The Long Good Friday”.
To be honest when Monkman left the band I personally thought Sky was finished. Because he was without a doubt my personal favourite composer at this stage of the bands career. Though they did prove me wrong and still continued to make great music despite not quite capturing the limelight as they did on this album.
Sky 2 is another really great solid album and great output from the band with the material that was written and arranged for it. For a band that started just as punk was going out of fashion and the new romantics and 80’s synth retro was about to explode. Sky did extremely well, and I am not surprised with the virtuosos that made up its band.
My personal highlights from this album are as follows: “FIFO“. “Scipio“. “Hotta“. “Sahara” and “Toccata“. Sky had managed to keep same lineup for their first two albums and the only thing that changed in this line up was perhaps the instrumentation slightly.
John Williams: Classical Guitars. Kevin Peek: Electric & Classical Guitars. Francis Monkman: Piano/Synthesiser/Harpsichord/Electric Guitar (On FIFO). Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar/Tuba (On Tuba Smarties). Tristan Fry: Drums/Vibraphone/Marimba/Bass Marimba/Tympani/Xylophones (Tuned Percussion (On Tristan’s Magic Garden) Trumpet (On Tuba Smarties).
The album track listing is as follows: 1. Hotta. 7:48. 2. Dance of the Little Fairies. 3:32. 3. Sahara. 6:56. 4. Fifo. 17:13. 5. Tuba Smarties. 3:22. 6. Ballet – Volta. 2:48. 7. Gavotte & Variations. 5:15. 8. Andante. 3:00. 9. Tristan’s Magic Garden. 4:11. 10. El Cielo. 4:24. 11. Vivaldi. 4:03. 12. Scipio. 12:10. 13. Toccata. 4:42.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.
I suppose the way the band Sky released their albums it was a bit like how Rupert Murdoch released his Sky Channels for the Satellite TV Giants later on. About the only thing if you type in the word “Sky” in Google these days you will see, all relates to the TV Giant’s and you will be lucky to find anything about the band Sky without adding the word “Band” to it.
With the departure of keyboard player Francis Monkman it did not take long for the band to find a replacement. The only possible replacement they could think of was Steve Gray another keyboard virtuoso who had been a session player for many well known artists and perhaps more associated with Jazz. He had played for the likes of Quincy Jones. Henry Mancini. Sammy Davis Junior and John Barry to name a few.
With Monkman no longer in the band most of burden for writing original compositions fell to Herbie Flowers and Kevin Peek. They decided to give the band a bit more of a Jazz style, most likely to entice Gray to want to stay with the band. Though Gray was also a composer in his own rights and also contributed to writing a couple of tracks we get here.
With their new keyboard player now in the driving seat, it was time to work on a new album to which some of the material came off the back of a European tour they also embarked on.
As 1981 was approaching it suddenly occurred to them to take on a special event, and on the 24th February 1981 the day of the announcement of Prince Charles wedding to Lady Diana Spencer. Sky played their one and only live concert in Westminster Abbey London. To mark the 20th Anniversary of Amnesty International, a cause which many of the band members had always supported.
They opened that particular show up with their own version of Handel’s “Sarabande“. They also included a version of it on what was to become the bands 3rd album Sky 3. The concert was also filmed for television and the band thought it was a good launching pad for their new album.
Sky 3 was released in March 1981 and people still had enough interest in the band particularly in the UK (including myself) for them to break into the top 10 of the album charts, and it’s highest peak was at number 8. The album contained 11 instrumental pieces and had a total playing time of 45 minutes, 25 seconds.
Handel’s “Sarabande” was the only cover on the entire album, to which John Williams arranged. The rest of the material was original compositions by the other 4 members of the band.
The album starts off with a 30 second introduction of a piece entitled “The Grace” written by Herbie Flowers. This rather nice little guitar ditty runs into “Chiropodie No.1” which is one of the 2 collaborative compositions written by Peek & Flowers that are on the album. It’s title is based around a bit of fun they was having playing around with the title of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1“. Though musically they are miles apart and “Chiropodie No.1” is much more up-tempo with its pumping bass line and as more of a rock style about it all. It gets the album off to a great start.
The other piece both of these guys wrote together is another fun full enough tune that in some ways could be seen as the son of “Tuba Smarties” which Flowers writ and played tuba on it, on their previous album. I guess you could also associate the title of “Dance of the Big Fairies” with “Dance of the Little Fairies” which Flowers also wrote on their previous album. Flowers also gets the tuba out again for “Dance of the Big Fairies” and musically this is one very skilful arrangement I will say.
Flowers also penned the last track on the album “Keep Me Safe and Keep Me Warm, Shelter Me from Darkness” although it’s title is quite long, once again it’s another little musical ditty and just another version of the opening track “The Grace“. They later on used to use the both version to open and close their live shows during the time they made the Five Live album.
“Meheeco” was the first collaborative piece that Flowers wrote with Steve Gray the newcomer to the band. They both wrote it at Gray’s home in Glastonbury. Gray also penned a couple of tracks for the album by himself and both “Sister Rose” and “Hello” are really great tracks. The first of them as more of a fiery upbeat about it, whilst the latter of the two compliments the subtleness and beauty you would find in “Carillon” on the bands debut album.
Kevin Peek’s both solo contributions on the album “West Wind” and “Moonroof” are also very good. The latter of the two is perhaps more sprightly though they are both up-tempo pieces and for me personally “West Wind” grabs the top spot on the album award and is my favourite track. Though I have to say it’s extremely difficult to pick a favourite track on this album and I perhaps gave it to this track for the great change in the middle section of the piece.
Perhaps one of the most diverse tracks on the album is the one and only track penned by Tristan Fry. His piece “Connecting Rooms” is the longest track on the album. To be honest I am not entirely sure how a drummer and percussionist could write a piece like this apart from it coming from the percussion side of the piano.
In some ways the way the first part of it builds up, reminds me of Francis Monkman’s writing and I do miss his diversity on this album a lot. It’s very much like a two part piece with how its powerful build up comes down around the 4:10 mark and goes into a more graceful section of beauty. It almost has me singing “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters and the melody line is very reminiscent of it.
Overall Sky 3 is quite a good album. I think despite losing one of their main writers Francis Monkman they still done remarkably well. The band no doubt managed to maintain their great style, though they may have lost that progressive rock edge without Monkman’s epic lengthy pieces.
In some ways it’s got more of a subtle rock approach to this album in relation to their 2 previous albums. John Williams also got more involved on the electric guitar on this album too, and perhaps that was down to the way a lot of the material was written. My personal highlights from the album are “West Wind“. “Sister Rose“. “Connecting Rooms“. “Chiropodie No.1” and “Hello“.
The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Piano/Synthesiser/Harpsichord/Clavinet. Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar/Double Bass/Tuba. Tristan Fry: Drums/Marimba/Vibraphone/Waterphone.
The album track listing is as follows: 1. The Grace. 0:30. 2. Chiropodie No. 1. 4:24. 3. West Wind. 6:22. 4. Sarabande. 3:04. 5. Connecting Rooms. 7:16. 6. Moonroof. 4:05. 7. Sister Rose. 4:34. 8. Hello. 4:14. 9. Dance of the Big Fairies. 3:24. 10. Meheeco. 6:35. 11. Keep Me Safe and Keep Me Warm, Shelter Me from Darkness. 0:57.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.
Sky 4 Forthcoming
Well just as you thought the band were very well getting the writing together on their last album with it only containing one cover. They did completely the opposite here and apart from 1 track written by Kevin Peek. The rest of the album contained arrangements of many classical greats. The band also felt that many of the arrangements were not the best and they was not so satisfied with the end result.
Sky 4 Forthcoming was released in April 1982. The album contained 10 instrumentals and had an overall playing time of 39 minutes, 47 seconds. Despite the band not being that satisfied with album, the album it still managed to sell enough to reach number 7 in the UK album charts. Though I would of thought many of their fans would of brought the album without even hearing a track from it, especially those who like myself already had their 3 previous albums.
Oddly enough I myself never brought another Sky album after Sky 3. Although Sky 3 was not a bad album, I did not think it quite captivated me like their first 2 albums did, and I was missing Francis Monkman’s contribution to the writing. I enjoyed his lengthy compositions a lot and personally liked the diversity and progression you got in his compositions.
Once Monkman left the lengthy compositions went more or less out of the window. Though no doubt both Flowers & Peek did also write some great tracks too. To be honest I am so glad I brought this box set to see what I missed out on, and there is also a couple of great albums in it as well. Though Sky 4 Forthcoming is perhaps not one of their best and very patchy on that score.
To be honest I know that Sky had a reputation to live up too, and was often seen as a band of classical virtuosos who would incorporate classical music into their repertoire so to speak. I think in general a lot of their fans admired them for doing so. But up until now, the band only ever did the odd track here and there that they arranged for their first 3 albums. Most of the material on those albums were original and their own written compositions, and that for me was my personal favourite side of the band and what I admired about them the most.
To make an album consisting of 9 covers and 1 original piece is where I think they personally went wrong on this album. The best track on this album is without a doubt the one solitary piece of music written by Kevin Peek entitled “My Giselle“. This one track alone contains more diversity than the other 9 tracks put together :))))) and it just goes to show that classical music is not a great as most people think it is. It merits the top spot on the album with ease.
To be honest I do not mind some classical music, though I am not a fan of listening to chunks of it like this album presents you with. I have also without a doubt heard better arrangements of some of the classics they have arranged on this album. I do not think any band (no matter how good of musician you may be) can get it right all the time, and this was perhaps one of the bands low points in their career.
Not everything on the bands 4th studio album is not that bad, for example it opens up nicely enough with “Masquerade” to which was composed by Aram Khachaturian a Russian composer who is perhaps more noted for his ballet music. The bands keyboard player Steve Gray done the arrangement for this piece, and he also arranged another 3 of the tracks on the album. It’s certainly suited for John Williams classical guitar this piece and is quite pleasant.
“March to the Scaffold” is another fine arrangement and this Richard Wagner composition perhaps benefits being arranged by a percussionist and is Tristan Fry’s one and only solo contribution to the arrangements of the 9 covers on this album. John Williams arranges a couple of the tracks on the album and the best of those is Bach’s “Fantasy“. The combination of guitar and harpsichord works a treat on this one.
I quite like the vibes on the arrangement of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Xango” that the whole band arranged. Although apart from the way piece builds up, it does not say a lot, and is not a particularly well constructed piece of music on that score.
Both Herbie Flowers & Kevin Peek do a better job of the arrangement of Alonso Mudarra’s “Fantasia“. Just as the album started off pleasantly with a fine Steve Gray arrangement, he also arranges the American Jazz Composer Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark“. and puts the album nicely to sleep.
Overall the album Sky 4 Forthcoming is an half decent enough album, though I do think the band lost some of it’s great style along the way somewhere. My personal highlights are “My Giselle“. “March to the Scaffold” “Fantasia” and “Fantasy“.
The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Acoustic & Electric Guitars. Kevin Peek: Acoustic & Electric Guitars/Guitar Synths. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass Guitar/Double Bass/Tuba. Tristan Fry: Drums/Marimba/Celeste.
The album track listing is as follows: 1. Masquerade. 3:22. 2. Ride of the Balkyries. 5:06. 3. March to the Scafford. 4:57. 4. To Yelasto Pedi. 4:01. 5. Waltz No. 2. 2:33. 6. Fantasy. 3:15. 7. My Giselle. 4:37. 8. Xangô. 5:04. 9. Fantasia. 3:44. 10. Skylark. 3:08.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 5/10.
Sky’s 5th studio album Cadmium was released in December 1983. It was the first album not to be associated with a number. Even their double live album Sky 5 Live was given a number and although it’s not a studio album, it still could be in a way seen as the bands 5th album because it did contain new material as well as older material from their 4 albums.
Once again the album contains 10 tracks that span over a playing time of 48 minutes 32 seconds. By now I guess the band were losing most of its fans after the disappointment they got from their 4th studio album, and this album failed to make an impact on the album charts. Not even their so called rocked up version of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Troika” they released as a single did anything. But the one good thing that did happen here is that at least the band got back to writing some of their own compositions.
To be honest Cadmium is not a bad album and it’s certainly better than their previous attempt even if the band have perhaps adapted a new approach to their music. I do not think it’s gonna set the world on fire though, and in many ways I can see why John Williams decided to quit the band after its release. His lack of interest perhaps shows on this album, and he did not even contribute anything to the writing or the arranging of the 10 tracks we get here.
Besides the Russian composers “Troika” that Tristan Fry arranged the other 2 tracks on the album that was not written by the band were both written by Alan Tarney who is a close friend of Kevin Peek and also wrote a lot of songs for Cliff Richard. As these both compositions were going spare Peek decided that the band could use them and do something with them.
I quite like the more modern approach Sky have given to both Tarney’s compositions “A Girl in Winter” and “Return to Me” they bring a bit of zest and life to the album. Kevin Peek also contributed a couple of pieces of his own and both “Fayre” and “Night” are quite sprightly up-tempo tracks. The first of those having quite a Christmas feel about it like the opening track on the album “Troika“.
Herbie Flowers’s 2 contributions to the album “Telex From Peru” and “The Boy From Dundee” are a bit of an hit and miss. The first of them is the longest track on the album and by far the better of the two. In some respects its perhaps a bit like what the band used to be about in relation to their more modern approach on this album, though this is not entirely a classic like he did with “Scipio” on Sky 2 but I would say it is contender for the top spot on the album. The latter of the 2 tracks is very disappointing.
Just like Flowers, Steve Gray also contributed 2 tracks to the album. His first one “Mother Russia” is also very disappointing. The 2nd of the two “Son Of Hotta” is very much my favourite track on the album and merits the top spot award. I am surprised Herbie Flowers never come up with something like this, after all it was he who wrote the original “Hotta” on Sky 2.
Another contender for the top spot goes to “Then & Now” penned by Tristan Fry. This graceful beauty also harks back to how Sky used to be and it’s a lovely piece.
Overall the album Cadmium is like I said earlier is perhaps not gonna set the world on fire. If anything it’s a bit of late night light entertaining music pleasure for your ears. The sort of music you may have found on the television in the early hours of the morning when it closed down.
It’s also got quite a Christmas feel about a few of the tracks which was intentional and the band did purposely release the album in December in time to catch the Christmas spirit of things and it’s market. It’s not a solid album by any means, but it’s pleasant enough if you’re in the right mood for it.
The 3 studio albums and the live album this incarnation of the band made. Made it the most constant line-up of the bands career. After John Williams left the band, for many it may have been the end for Sky as they always seen him as the bands main attraction.
Though Williams did also state in an interview in 1979 when they released their debut album, that he would only commit about 5 years to the band, so it was no surprise when he did leave.
My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Son Of Hotta“. “Telex From Peru“. “Then & Now“. “A Girl in Winter” and “Fayre“.
The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass. Tristan Fry: Drums.
The album track listing is as follows: 1. Troika. 2:58. 2. Fayre. 3:09. 3. A Girl in Winter. 3:35. 4. Mother Russia. 6:57. 5. Telex From Peru. 8:11. 6. The Boy From Dundee. 5:31. 7. Night. 4:07. 8. Then & Now. 3:21. 9. Return to Me. 3:38. 10. Son of Hotta. 7:05.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7/10.
The Great Balloon Race
With the departure of John Williams the band decided to carry on as 4 piece rather than bring in another member. To be honest I seen no reason why they could not either, because Williams never really contributed anything to the writing in Sky and only really got involved with a few arrangements.
Sky’s 6th studio album The Great Balloon Race was released in April 1985. The album contained 9 tracks over a playing time of 42 minutes. It’s the most adventurous album of all Sky albums and for the first time we even get a vocal track.
Personally I do not feel the band missed John Williams and if anything without him the band had more liberation to do what they wanted. This for me is the best Sky album since Sky 2. OK no doubt this is much more of a more modern approach, but the written material is quite stunning.
It’s a shame really because by the time this album came out, I bet a lot of their fans just like myself back then had lost interest. Having just recently brought this box set and listened to this album I was well surprised of how stunningly good this album is. Though the band did also rope in some guest musicians to make it work.
The album kicks off with Sky’s first ever vocal track entitled “Desperate for Your Love“. To be honest I did remember hearing this song back in the 80’s on the radio and had no idea it was by Sky. It was also released as a single, though it may have been in Australia only.
The song was written by the English keyboard player and composer Tony Hymas who also plays synthesizer and sings on this track. It also features Clare Torry harmonising on vocals. Torry was more renowned for her vocals on “The Great Gig In The Sky” by Pink Floyd. The song very much as an 80’s retro keyboard style and was typical of what most bands were doing back in that decade. It’s so typical of what bands were doing back then, that it’s no wonder I never thought that Sky did it, as it’s so unfamiliar with their music.
I have to confess I was never fond of the 80’s retro keyboard orientated music myself, but I really quite like this song they have done. In some respects it’s perhaps a bit out of place, but not that far when you listen to some of the other adventurous material on this album. It’s quite breathtakingly fresh from Sky and even holds up well today.
Hymas himself was noted by Jack Bruce between 1976 to 1978 and played in the Jack Bruce Band back then too. Even Jeff Beck took notice of him and had him playing for him and he featured on his album There & Back and wrote many songs for Jeff Beck during the 80’s. He also formed the 3 piece trio band Ph.D. with a couple of musicians from Jeff Beck’s band. The singer Jim Diamond and the drummer Simon Phillips. And he also played keyboards with the prog rock band Camel.
Steve Gray wrote the next track “Allegro” and it’s one of the 3 pieces he did write on his own for the album, he also co-wrote another one of the tracks with Herbie Flowers. “Allegro” means “Quick” and this track certainly is without a doubt. It features some superb bass playing from Flowers, and blistering paced keyboards and guitars from Gray and Peek respectively. Sky purely rock this one out and this certainly different from what they ever did before, but suits them well.
“The Land” was penned by Trevor Spencer & Kevin Peek. Peek and his friend Spencer were trying to capture the feeling of their native land in Australia. They did quite a good job of it too and got quite a folky feel about the fine piece. Though it’s perhaps less adventurous than some of the other tracks on the album.
Speaking of being adventurous the next couple of tracks penned by Herbie Flowers certainly are, and for me personally this is best bit of writing I have heard from Flowers since Sky 2 even if this is nothing remotely like the material that was on that album. The first of them is “Peter’s Wedding“. The song got its title from the bands manager Peter Todd who married Isobel on a boat in Sydney Harbour in the previous year.
“Peter’s Wedding” is the longest track on the album at 7 minutes, 21 seconds it’s the most diverse track on the album and goes on a very funny adventure to which features Flowers using his voice in a very strange way. The way the whole thing builds up is superb and it features one of the guest musicians Ron Aspery on Saxophone & Flute.
After about 2 and half minutes it comes down with some fine double bass from Flowers and this is also where he brings in his funny sense of humour with his voice, and then it races off like the clappers in the mad movies with Gray playing some fine honky tonk piano at a blistering pace. Asprey’s job on the sax and flute work solid in the piece, it was not the first time Asprey had played for Sky either. They quite often used him on their live tours when they could.
“Peter’s Wedding” is my personal favourite track on the album, and merits my top spot award. But even the self titled track that follows it “The Great Balloon Race” is another cracking piece penned by Flowers and very much one of the contenders for the top spot on the album.
The magic does not quite stop here either as the next track to follow suit is “The Lady and the Imp” penned by Flowers & Gray. Once again this is a piece with great diversity. It not only displays beauty but goes off into what I can only describe as an Heavy Rock Irish Jig. This is my 2nd favourite track on the album and the strongest contender for the top spit on the album.
The next track up is another one of Steve Gray’s compositions “Caldando” and although it’s the 7th track on the album, it’s perhaps the first track that certainly does have that old familiar Sky feel about it. It’s another real Gem that features lush nylon string guitars, piano and keyboards, and features another couple of guest musicians Lee Fothergill on guitar and Adrian Brett on pan pipes.
Kevin Peek’s “Roleystone” rocks the album back up a bit. The title got its name from the place where he lives in Australia. To be honest both the tracks that Peek contributed to on this album are a bit under par to his usual standards, but they are both pretty much OK and short enough not to let the album down.
Another Steve Gray composition “Night Sky” puts the album to bed, and once again this is another beauty that is so familiar with Sky’s earlier style from their first 2 albums. It’s simply short sweet and delicious.
Overall the album The Great Balloon Race by Sky has to be their most diverse and adventurous album ever, and it works so well. I personally cannot fault a track on the album and it hit me in the face with quite a few surprises. If you have not heard this album by Sky you don’t know what you’re missing, because it’s up there with the best of their albums. The album is that good I simply had to take you through every track in my review here of this one.
My personal highlights are “Peter’s Wedding“. “The Lady and the Imp“. “Caldando“. “The Great Balloon Race” and “Desperate for Your Love“.
The musicians are as follows: John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass. Tristan Fry: Drums.
The guest musicians are as follows: Tony Hymas (Synthesiser & Vocals on Desperate For Your Love). Clare Torry (Vocals on Desperate For Your Love), Ron Aspery (Saxophones & Flutes on Peter’s Wedding). Lee Fothergill (Guitarson Caldando). Adrian Brett (Pan Pipes on Caldando).
The album track listing is as follows: 1. Desperate for Your Love. 6:40. 2. Allegro. 3:35. 3. The Land. 3:19. 4. Peter’s Wedding. 7:21. 5. The Great Balloon Race. 4:51. 6. The Lady and the Imp. 5:43. 7. Caldando. 4:36. 8. Roleystone. 3:25. 9. Night Sky. 2:31.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.
Well just as Sky had done their most adventurous album The Great Balloon Race back in 1985. A couple of years later they perhaps released their most bizarre album ever. Unfortunately their 7th Studio album Mozart was their final studio album.
But the biggest unfortunate thing is the fact that the album Mozart is not like listening to a Sky album what so ever. It’s very much like listening to an orchestra, and they contribute more to what’s going on here than the band. To put it in a nutshell. The band may as well of stayed at home :))))).
The album Mozart was released in November 1987. The album contains 12 tracks and as a playing time of 50 minutes, 50 seconds. All the 12 pieces of music on the album were composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and was performed by Guest Musicians who play for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sky. It’s a sort of Chamber Orchestra and the whole thing is conducted by Sir Neville Marriner whoever he might be :)))))).
If you love classical music and the music of Mozart you are in for a treat here, because this album is no different to buying Mozart’s music performed by one of the many orchestras. For most of the album you are not even going to recognise there is a member of the band Sky playing here at all :)))))).
For example you may hear Herbie Flowers bass and Tuba on a good few tracks. I dare say you will get to hear Tristan Fry on percussion on a good few tracks as well. You will get to hear Steve Gray on piano and harpsichord in a few tracks too, most notably “Symphony No. 34: Last Movement“. “Come, Sweet May” and “Alla Turka: Rondo“.
You will also get to hear Kevin Peek’s classical guitar on “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo“. Symphony No. 34: Last Movement” and “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza“. And the only piece that does have some sort of resemblance of the band Sky is perhaps track 10 to which is entitled “A Musical Joke: Presto“.
All the tracks on the album have been arranged by Sky but to be perfectly honest this album is no different to sticking a classical record on the turntable. For lovers of classical music it will suit perfectly, but for people like myself, your only ever gonna stick this album on once in blue moon :)))))).
We all know that the band Sky incorporated classical music into the music they presented with the odd track here and there, but here they have gone completely over the top, even to the extent that there is no way that if you heard this album on Classical FM you would know it was Sky.
There is no doubt the whole thing as been professionally done, and if I was gonna be perfectly honest I would even rate this album better than Sky 4 The Forthcoming. But this is a long shot off what I brought Sky for in the first place, and in some ways it says very little about the band and more about the orchestra playing here.
Overall Mozart by Sky will suit the classical lovers and it’s a pleasant enough album showcasing Mozart’s great music, but it’s not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea that’s for sure. It could be that the bands last album The Great Balloon Race never sold that well so they thought stuff it let’s not bother writing any of our own material.
Which is a damn shame, because I always liked their original material the best, and it was a damn site more creative than playing somebody else’s music. It also made the band what they was, and made them stand out from the crowd. This album does not I am afraid and after doing something like this, it’s no wonder the band never made another album.
The band did continue to play live however and in 1990 they even recruited the multi instrumentalist Paul Hart to make the band once again a quintet. In 1991 Kevin Peek decided to call it a day because he was involved with too many projects and it was expensive coming to England all the time from his home in Australia. Even his parts on this album were recorded in his own studio by himself and not with the band.
In 1992 the band recruited guitarist Richard Durrant to replace Kevin Peek though by 1994 the bands popularity was waning and they decided to call it a day.
The musicians are as follows: The Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra. Conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. John Williams: Guitars. Kevin Peek: Guitars. Steve Gray: Keyboards. Herbie Flowers: Bass/Tuba. Tristan Fry: Drums.
The album track listing is as follows: 1. The Marriage Of Figaro: Overture. 3:56. 2. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo. 2:43. 3. The Marriage Of Figaro: Non So Piu, Cosa Son. 2:33. 4. Symphony No. 34: Last Movement. 3:49. 5. Symphony No. 35: (“Haffner”): Andante. 5:25. 6. The Magic Flute: Overture. 6:51. 7. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza. 5:34. 8. Horn Concerto No. 4 In Eь: Rondo. 3:36. 9. Don Giovanni: La Ci Darem La Mano. 2:59. 10. A Musical Joke: Presto. 3:59. 11. Come, Sweet May. 2:55. 12. Alla Turka: Rondo. 6:30.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.
Live In Nottingham (Bonus DVD)
The 8th disc in the Box Set is a bonus DVD in which the band were filmed for television back in 1990 at the Central Television Studios in Nottingham. The Central Television Studios were actually in my own town of Birmingham before moving their premises to Nottingham. It’s actually now been moved back to Birmingham.
Many artists were filmed in the Central Television Studios for TV back then including Steve Hackett and Rick Wakeman. I have both of those concerts that was filmed back then and many of them were released later on DVD and CD by Classic Rock Records at a cheap price.
I actually remember watching this live concert Sky performed on the television back then, and the concerts of the other two artists mentioned here along with many others. Though most of the times unless you actually videoed the concert yourself from the television, the video and CD releases you could buy from the shop were always edited down, and you was missing a couple of the songs they played. As was the case with both the video and CD release that Classic Rock Legends decided to release in 2001 of this live concert.
As with any concert filmed for television back then, the bands and artists only generally got about an hour’s slot to do their thing. Some were a bit more lucky and got to slot in another half hour, though in general the TV only ever broadcast an hour of the concert.
The bonus DVD in this Box Set released by Esoteric Recordings does feature for the first time more or less the full concert they played in the Central Television Studios in Nottingham. Though as with all these type of DVD’s they have released, even with the individual Deluxe Editions of the albums Esoteric Recordings released, they are not of the best quality.
But having watched it. I have to say it’s not that bad at all, though the sound quality is not up to the great sound quality that Esoteric Recordings have done with remastering the CD’s in this box set. So let’s take a closer look at what you get here as a bonus.
The DVD comes with no bells and whistles and is pretty straight forward and box standard. The menu gives you 2 choices. “Play Concert” and “The Set List“. Regarding the audio it’s most likely in mono only to be honest it’s pretty hard to tell and you are going to have to whack the volume on your HiFi right up to actually hear anything. Once you have done, sound wise it’s not that bad and acceptable for something perhaps this old.
To be honest I thought Esoteric Recordings were based here in England in the UK and a part of Cherry Red Records in London. But judging by the DVD and the fact that it’s in a format of NTSC they must be based in America. NTSC is a video format that came out of North America and even though it scans at 30 frames per second in relation to the PAL format here in the UK which only scans at 25 frames per second. NTSC is quite inferior to PAL because it uses less lines to scan with.
But in saying all that. The Picture quality is very good and a lot better than what I expected and what they have done with the audio here.
“The Set List” presents you with the choice of selecting a favourite track, it’s always a useful feature if you want to show one of your fronds something quickly. For those who have the Classic Rock Legends DVD or CD you are going to notice 3 tracks missing, and also 1 track that’s on that release that is not here at all.
I will go further into that as I now review the live concert we have here.
On To The Show…
The band kick off with “Son Of Hotta” my personal favourite track from their Cadmium album and then proceed with the classic “Cannonball” from their debut album. The next track up entitled “Found” on this DVD is in fact nowhere near to be found :)))))) and for those who have the Classic Rock Legends DVD or CD this track is in fact rightly titled “Jehad” and was a new piece written by Kevin Peek. So Esoteric Recordings have made a cockup here with the titles.
The live versions of both Bach’s “Toccata” and “Tuba Smarties” to which both studio versions can be found on Sky 2 are previously unreleased and was not included on the Classic Rock Legends DVD or CD. So in reality that earlier 2001 release is only missing these 2 tracks.
There is no doubt that the band Sky are really great musicians and perform these songs live really well. The fact that they added Paul Hart to line-up makes this concert work better for it. He also contributed a couple of new pieces to the live set here too with “Reverie” and “Praeludium“. Both pieces were played live at the London Palladium earlier in the same year, though they was not recorded or released from that show, and surfaced from this concert here in Nottingham.
To be honest watching the band Sky for about the first half hour of this show is perhaps a bit like watching paint dry. I have nothing against the performance at all, but the fact that they are all seated and do not even say a dicky bird to the audience gives you the impression that they are perhaps snubbing their own audience. This is the kind of crap you find with classical concerts and they all appear to be rather stuck up snotty nosed fukas.
It actually takes me back to being around my mates house back in the 90’s and he had just brought a live DVD by Neil Young. Now I quite like Neil Young a lot and have most of his albums and some of his live concerts. But this one was entirely different and no way on this earth would I buy it either having witnessed and sat through the whole concert at my mates house.
To be honest I cannot remember what the name of this concert is called of Young’s. But it did take place in the 90’s and he was entirely on his own with his guitar and piano. Throughout the entire concert he never said on word to his audience and he looked like he was in a right mood and got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.
The whole performance had no heart in it, and it was just completely boring. As a matter of fact if I was at that show myself. I would walked out after 10 minutes :))))). It was so unlike him.
Thankfully Sky did not do that throughout the duration of this show, and after about half hour or so, you did get some movement, and they actually stood up during their performance of “Toccata” :)))))).
There is some great highlights from this show though that do stand out very well. In some respects the multi talented instrumentalist Paul Hart steals the show. He’s a very skilled keyboard and violin player and it’s great to see both him and Herbie Flowers changing instruments during the performance of “Would You Say I’m In love With You“. This is one of the older Blue Mink pieces that Flowers co-wrote with his band mate Roger Cook back in those days.
Whilst Flowers starts the piece off on the ukulele Hart jumps on the bass, then towards the end Flowers jumps back on his bass and Hart jumps on the mandolin.
But the ultimate highlight of the show as to be “Tuba Smarties“. Flowers plays this on the oboe of course, only the oboe is crammed with lit up Christmas lights and during the performance the bands drummer Tristan Fry pulls out a trumpet and plays it with one hand, whilst his other hand plays the drums with one drumstick.
You have to wait a good 45 minutes before any of the band speak to the audience, and the only member who does speak to the audience is the new member Paul Hart. It’s quite funny as well because he says to the audience “for those who do not know me, I’m the new John Williams look alike” and then he introduces one of the new pieces he wrote for the band “Praeludium“. They then end the show off with another one of my favourite tracks from the Sky 2 “Hotta“.
Overall the concert can at first tend to appeal to be a bit dry, but it does have some good moments that spruce it up towards the end. The dryness comes from the band not interacting with the audience by not speaking to them. If you’re gonna entertain an audience you need to come out of your shell a bit, to make it that more entertaining, and this perhaps something the band lacked.
As a bonus disc it’s a good bit of nostalgia that comes with quite a quality picture and not something that’s broken up like really old film and video footage. I think Esoteric Recordings could of, and should of done something better with the sound, because you are really goona have to whack your HiFi near enough full blast to hear this concert at a reasonable level to enjoy it.
I like the fact that they have a mixed set list of old and new songs and once you’ve sorted out the volume levels it’s quite a good watchable concert.
Lee’s Live DVD Rating Score. 5/10.
To sum up the Sky Studio Albums Clamshell Box Set released by Esoteric Recordings. Overall it’s a very good package especially for its price point of £25. The recordings on all 7 of studio albums in my personal opinion are the best your gonna find of any recording of a Sky album including the original vinyl releases.
These are the same recordings that were released by Esoteric Recordings individually a few years back that came with the Deluxe Editions that come with a CD & DVD. The real quality is in the CD’s and not the DVD’s. Those only contain nostalgic video footage like we have on the bonus DVD in this box set.
If you want to spend around £90 just to have those DVD’s included and some bonus tracks then that is perhaps for the more serious record collector than myself. I dare say serious collectors will also buy this box set as well. What’s in this box set works at around £3.12 per disc and it speaks enough about the band for myself and my pocket. It’s genuine value for the money.
To conclude my review of the Sky box set. For the 25 bucks you cannot really go wrong at this price. It would of been nice if they included their double live album Sky 5 Live. To be honest had Esoteric Recordings released it in a cardboard Digipak instead of a plastic jewel case. I might have brought it and tried to squeeze it in this box set, being as there is no booklet. The fact they have not included a booklet in this box set is one of the biggest downfalls about it.
Like I said earlier in my review. I only ever had the first 3 Sky albums and having all 7 of their studio albums as opened my eyes up a bit more to the great music Sky did produce over their musical career. Both the albums Cadmium and The Great Balloon Race are really good albums. The latter of the 2 is a real Gem.
I personally felt that Sky was a great band. There is not a lot to dislike about their music. I suppose in some ways not liking Sky’s music is a bit like not liking The Shadows. Even though musically they are perhaps miles apart, they still have the same elegance and beauty about their music.
The Sky’s The Limit, Perhaps Not At This Excellent 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.