söndag 25 december 2016

Big Sleep - Bluebell Wood (Progressive/Folkrock UK 1971) SHM-CD

270:- (SHM-CD 2016 års Limited Remaster Edition (Utgåvan från "Belle-Antique Records". Original utvik konvolut samt en helt ny remastering.)

Released in 1971 on the Pegasus label, Big Sleep's “Bluebell Wood” represents a brief stepping stone between the Eyes Of Blue and several other groups who feature inMan's history. Big Sleep was the name chosen in an attempt by Mercury's UK A&R chief Lou Reizner to revitalise the Eyes Of Blue, but the group never performed live under the new name and folded within months of its release. Of the players in this short-lived project, Phil Ryan would quickly join Pete Brown's Piblokto! for a few months before teaming up with Clive John and forming the abortive Iowerth Pritchard and The Neutrons. Phil's next step was to join Man. John 'Pugwash' Weathers would follow Gary Pickford-Hopkins into Wild Turkey and then join Graham Bond's Organisation before Gentle Giant beckoned. Weathers would eventually become Man's longest-serving drummer, taking the stool between 1983 and 1995.

"Bluebell Wood" is an accomplished album although the quirky nature of the production does sometimes fail to integrate the music into a seamless whole. Sombre in overall feel, Phil Ryan described it in 1976 as "the most miserable LP - it makes Lou Reed look like the Bay City Rollers!" With two keyboard players the album is laden with piano/organ textures and, as Martin Mycock noted in his 1993 TWC review, "Overall the album is definitely more coherent than previous [Eyes Of Blue] efforts with more emphasis on instrumental work - rightly so with players of the calibre of Taff and Phil". 

The album opens with 'Death Of A Hope' from John Weathers which features a liberal sprinkling of strings and an almost orchestral arrangement. Gary Pickford-Hopkins supplies the next track, 'Odd Song', with its subtly syncopated acoustic beat. Another, more successful Weathers song follows, 'Free Life'. The five remaining tracks all stem from pianist and bassist Ritchie Francis and these nicely bridge the gap between sixties pop and seventies progressive rock.

 'Aunty James' includes some simple but beautifully appropriate organ fills from Phil Ryan, and then 'Saint And Sceptic' is introduced with some baroque if unimaginative wah-wah guitar from Williams. The title track, 'Bluebell Wood', is a progressive tour-de-force, mainly instrumental but with an occasional quasi-mystical lyric thrown in to season the recipe. 'Watching Love Grow' is a straight-forward acoustic-tinged ballad which leads to the final track, 'When The Sun Was Out', which seems slightly misplaced being a more obviously commercial number, perhaps conceived as a single.

Big Sleep was a second-life 1971 formation of the British Psychedelic Rock band Eyes Of Blue.The two bands shared keyboardist Phil Ryan, singer/guitarist Gary Pickford-Hopkins, drummer John Weathers, bassist/pianist Ritchie Francis and Raymond Williams on guitar.Francis abandoned the guitar and had taken the place of Ray Bennett, who went on to join Flash, while Wlliams switched from bass to guitar duties.Their only album was recorded at the Chappell Recording Studios in London and released under the title ''Bluebell wood'' in 1971 on Pegasus.

Big Sleep had obviously kept many elements from the musical profile of Eyes Of Blue, but they also showed a tendency towards more sophisticated arrangements with a couple of longer tracks and a vast range of different influences, including Blues, Swing, classic Rock, Classical Music and organ-based Psychedelic Rock.Not much of an instrumental masturbation or excessive technical displays, but they were off to a different direction, which now was propelled by the meld of varied themes in the same track, passing from acoustic to electric sounds, always led by a love for refined and striking melodies.For example ''Saint & sceptic'' contains an extended orchestral delivery, arranged by Phil Ryan, backed up by some intense electric guitar and later flavored by Ryan's good organ work.Or the 11-min. title piece, which features light symphonic and jazzy lines, Hard/Psych guitar-based jamming and even some Mellotron- and flute-drenched gears.Somewhere between PROCOL HARUM and KING CRIMSON, producing different kinds of energetic levels and climate changes.A couple of leftover echoes from their previous stint like the short closers ''Watching love grow'' and ''When the sun was out'' sound closer to 60's Psych/Pop and are extremely outdated compared to the rest of the tracklist.

The band dissolved just weeks after the release of the album.Weathers went on to Hard Rockers Wild Turkey, became a stable member of Gentle Giant and later played with Man.Ryan became also a member of Man as well as The Neutrons, where he rejoined Ray Williams and Weathers, the latter met again with Hopkins on the aforementioned Wild Turkey.Only Francis followed a solo career, but this was way too short with just one personal record in 1972, titled ''Song bird''.

Decent Psych/Prog with emphasis on the psychedelic side, but certain influences from the emerging progressive wave.Cool and recommended listening, if you're after the interesting first steps of early-70's Prog/Art Rock.

01. Death of a Hope 5:35
02. Odd Song 3:54
03. Free Life 6:29
04. Aunty James 4:44
05. Saint & Sceptic 6:36
06. Bluebell Wood 11:26
07. Watching Love Grow 2:35
08. When the Sun Was Out 3:42