Take two concept albums by two prog rock keyboard legends, remaster them and add a third concept that didn’t see the light of day until now (damn those tight record companies!) with a couple of extra songs thrown in…that’s a recipe to delight prog rock fans and it is now available thanks to Burning Shed Records.
I am, of course, talking about Oliver Wakeman and Clive Nolan who see their 1999 release, Jabberwocky, their 2002 release The Hound Of The Baskervilles joined by the intended Frankenstein album, now called Dark Fables packaged together in a 3CD box called Tales By Gaslight.
Listening to them chronologically means Jabberwocky is first: now I am no fan of the original poem by Lewis Carroll after all, it’s not that difficult to write gibberish…I do it all the time! For example, I could sum this release up thus: Cliver Nolkeman did keybred and hammble in the eskudio tapwyrming stavering critchies to manrec on the vinlyne
Seriously though, with the vocal talents of Bob Catley heralding the Overture with parping synths washing colour into the background, it is a good start and Father Rick’s narration is suitably semi-serious. It does wander a bit into Lloyd Webber territory, but is very much the definition of prog rock…and it doesn’t falter: Catley’s duet with Tracey Hitchings on Burgundy Rose is a real plus, as is their handling of The Mission.
The remastering has allowed the massed instrumentation to become more audible, and that makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable…Jabberwocky is a Rock Opera in the vein of Rick’s Six Wives and it does a good job of actually making some sense of the nonsense poem it was inspired by.
The Hound Of The Baskervilles which, as you are aware, was a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The narration this time is provided by Robert Powell, an actor I’ve always had time for be it in Jesus or, preferably as the bungling policeman alongside Jasper Carrot!
Musically, it flows little muddier that the first CD as there is much more narration to ensure the music doesn’t get ahead of the storyline; it still works, although it feels even more rock opera-ish. Highlights have to be the return of Bob Catley to illuminate the darkness of Shadow Of Fate. As one of the few people on the planet that finds Bat Out Of Hell miasmic, priapic nonsense I find A Home In The Mire a bit too Meatloaf for me but, as millions of people bought that album, this is just my opinion.
The third disc, called Dark Fables, is thirty minutes of unused tracks from the previous releases, a full reading of Jabberwocky by Rick Wakeman and tracks that should have been (but for lack of money) their third story, that of Frankenstein. Strangely, for me at least, it is this one that I return to; The Overture to Mary Shelley’s story is still synth-led prog but feels a little heavier…sort of Don Airey like. Add in Andy Sears and Gordon Giltrap on Elizabeth and Why Do You Hate Me? and you have a greater variation and depth. The unused tracks are, in isolation, more than worthy as we get the jazzy bounce of 221B (Benedict Cumberbatch’s address) with the synth and piano over a cracking bassline and snare work. The lyrics and melodies in A Man Called Sherlock are somehow less tortuous and The Baker Street Irregulars is suitably playful and does conjure those ‘little helpers’.
In short, if you love keyboard led, operatic/rock opera offerings, then they don’t get much better than this. They also work in playlists or shuffle too as even the narrated tracks aren’t separated, but included in the running times.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a Wonderful, progtastic set that, if you have the originals, brings a more revealing listen; if you don’t have them and like Six Wives etc. then you need these…disc three to both parties is also a must.
Coming To Town
A Glimmer Of Light
The Burgundy Rose
Call To Arms
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
The Curse Of The Baskervilles
Three Broken Threads
Shadows of Fate
A Home in The Mire
Run for your Life
Picture of a Lady
Death on the Moor
By Your Side
Chasing the Hound
The Man Called Sherlock
The Baker Street Irregulars
I’d Give You Everything
Why Do You Hate Me?
The Wedding Approaches
A Descent into Madness
The Jabberwocky (read by Rick Wakeman)
Rick Wakeman and Robert Powell narrate some sections and the long list of star musicians include: Ian Salmon (Arena/John Young Band), Peter Banks (The Syn/Yes), Bob Catley (Magnum/Hard Rain), Michelle Young (Glass Hammer), John Jowitt (IQ/Arena), John Mitchell (Froth*/Lonely Robot), John Jeary (Threshold) and Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq), Gordon Giltrap, Paul Manzi (Arena, Oliver Wakeman Band, Sweet) Andy Sears (Twelfth Night) and David Mark Pearce (Oliver Wakeman Band).
(iTunes decided alphabetically, though apposite, to serve up some 1970 style prog from a Scottish band that deserved so much more: The Clouds were a Hammond led, psychedelic/progressive/rock band of skill and invention. One listen to their brilliant Watercolour Days shows what progressive meant back then and I’m convinced their inventiveness has had an influence on many a band and even more so keyboard players…including Oliver’s Dad!)