|*Samurai - Greenwich Gramophone Co. 1971|
Although critically acclaimed, Colosseum struggled to garner much in the way of album sales and the band split in 1971 with their last release, Colosseum Live, regarded by many as their best. Meanwhile Greenslade and Colosseum bass player Tony Reeves decided it might be a good idea to form a band with two keyboard players.
Immediately after Colosseum, Tony Reeves became the A&R director for the independent progressive label Greenwich Gramophone Co. and he invited keyboard player Dave Lawson of Samurai, a commercially struggling act with the label, to join the group. Lawson had previously been a member of the Alan Bown Set and Web. To complete the line-up, they recruited drummer Andrew McCulloch, formerly with Manfred Mann and Arthur Brown. McCulloch had also briefly been a member of King Crimson, having replaced Michael Giles and appearing on just one KC album, the very jazz orientated Lizard in 1970. He had also been a member of the band Fields, together with Graham Fields, founder of another predominantly keyboard act, Rare Bird.
The album itself featured seven tracks, most of which are on the mellow side. It did, however, establish a sound that gave the band a small prog rock place of its own with strong organ and synth melodies over lavish mellotron. But what really made this band different was the jazzy/blues feel provided by the rhythm section. McCulloch’s busy drumming accentuates the band’s sometimes unusual time signatures. Reeves shows himself to be an exceptional bass player, often playing lead lines where you might expect guitar patterns to appear. Dave Lawson's vocals are not to everyone's taste and he was, by his own admission, never destined to be the archetypal overbearing prog frontman. Over 80% of the music is instrumental, so what vocal parts he does provide simply add to the overall feel of the songs, rather than being a major contribution.
Kicking off with fan favourite “Feathered Friends” with its fast-paced opening, sliding effortlessly into what can only be described as a blues motif with some excellent bass work by Reeves adding additional colour. It’s a fine showpiece for the band's unique configuration. The ecological message relayed in the song is still relevant today. “An English Western” is an inspired instrumental, highlighting Dave Greenslade's Hammond organ work. With Lawson adding lush grand and electric pianos to the piece, there’s a definite blues feel in there as well. Next up “Drowning Man” goes from a slow, dark beginning through phases of jazz, blues and classic symphonic prog themes. As the title suggests, “Temple Song” has an oriental feel and could probably be described as a ballad. Lawson uses a much lighter vocal approach that blends well with the gentle theme of the song and brings side one of the original vinyl release neatly to an end.
|*Bedside Manners Are Extra - Warner Bros. Nov.1973|
For the first time the songs were written by individual band members. Opener “Spirit Of The Dance” is a Dave Greenslade-penned instrumental sounding, dare I say it, almost folky in places. As the title suggests this has a real spring in its step with many themes that can only be classed as jigs and reels. It’s also mellotron heaven, if you’re an enthusiast.
“Little Red Fry Up” could be the soundtrack for a cartoon. Written and sung by Lawson, it's very up tempo and has the first guitar break on any Greenslade album. Clem Clempson lets fly in the middle eight, wasting no time stamping his hard rock pedigree on the song, with a solo remarkably similar to his work with current employers Humble Pie. It’s worth noting that later in 1974 Clem applied for the job to replace Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, but was famously overlooked. The slot was taken instead by American hot-shot guitarist Tommy Bolin.
“Rainbow” and “Siam Seesaw” are both mellow, atmospheric songs. The first is the closest Greenslade gets to a ballad, the latter instrumental has acoustic guitar from guest Andy Roberts who at the time was plying his trade with UK folk act Plainsong. His walking acoustic guitar signature acts as a simple backing to some great synth and moog meandering before Clem Clempson gets in on the act with another blistering guitar solo. From there the band winds back into the acoustic guitar theme, bringing the song to a close. “Joie De Vivre” is probably the high point of the album, featuring all the classic Greenslade themes plus some violin work from guest Graham Smith, who was playing with UK prog act String Driven Thing at the time.
The interplay between the keyboards and the rhythm section really shine throughout. “Red Light” is a playful ode to the “oldest trade”. A Lawson song in every respect, it almost has pop sensibilities. Written by Dave Greenslade, “Melancholic Race” is an instrumental piece which builds slowly to a wonderful jazz fusion interlude, with every tool in the box hauled out and used to great effect. The album closes with the only cover song Greenslade ever recorded, “Theme For An Imaginary Western”. Written by Jack Bruce with his long-time collaborator Pete Brown, this song originally appeared on Jack’s 1969 album Songs For A Tailor. Producer Felix Pappalardi worked on the Bruce album and he then took “Theme For An Imaginary Western” to his own band Mountain for their 1970 album Climbing! Mountain also played the song at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
Initially Dave Lawson wasn’t keen to cover “Theme For An Imaginary Western” as it was outside his range. Strangely, as is often the case with these things Lawson, who suffered a collapsed lung during the recording process, sang what has often been cited as his best vocal performance. It really does stand alone in the band's body of work but, for me, it’s a worthy inclusion on this album.
Time And Tide, Greenslade’s fourth and final album for Warner Brothers, has the feel of a band struggling to find direction. Although both Dave Greenslade and Lawson were writing together, the approach was very different. With the exception of a couple of songs, the progressive themes and interplay between the band members was phased out to make way for more traditional rock songs. A move, one suspects, purely down to the commercial pressure of a record label waiting for a payday after three critically acclaimed releases but very little in the way of sales.
The new style was almost glam rock, but very punchy and bursting with originality. Songs like “Animal Farm”, “Newsworth” and “Flattery Stakes” really kick butt, with fiery keyboard stabs and guitar flourishes all over them. Dave Lawson puts in a sterling effort both lyrically and vocally, although the latter is a real opinion splitter, as many people never really got on with his high raspy contributions. But 45 years later I can’t imagine these songs any other way.
The only song I would class as an out-and-out prog rock track, in the vein of their earlier material, is “The Ass’s Ears”, bursting out from the dark and melancholic “Waltz For A Fallen Idol”. It’s dramatic and edgy with some absolutely stunning drum fills from McCulloch, a track I’ve never tired of. I remember seeing them play this song on the 70’s UK teatime music TV show Supersonic as if it were yesterday. It blew me away. How they managed to get on this show remains a mystery but clearly it wasn’t a chart driven programme as they occasionally had some very obscure bands in the studio, which was probably the only reason I caught this one. I seem to remember Dave Lawson wearing a t-shirt with the words “Is This Music Really Shit?” emblazoned on the back. It wasn’t to me, of course but, alas, not many others agreed, as this album also failed to chart.
With another stunning cover by sci-fi and fantasy artist Patrick Woodroffe and a crisp production by Hugh Jackman, aided by studio stalwart Martin Briley, there was potential for a killer album. Infamously, the album was only around 32 minutes long and some tracks felt a little like filler even at that length. Closer “Gangsters” is a theme tune from a television crime series, and good as it is, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Elsewhere, songs like the title track and the other instrumental “Catalan” are OK but not brilliant. They took the album out on the road, but it never escaped the slow lane in terms of sales. Sadly, later that year the band went their separate ways.
So, there we are, almost four albums in four years. Although never regarded as giants in their field, Greenslade should not be overlooked, since they were real contenders in the golden era of prog. Probably more than anything else, the lack of an enigmatic front man saw the band become more of an acquired taste than having an immediate commercial and broad appeal. Their sound was unique, and the playing and songcraft nearly always top notch. In later years, there were the usual solo albums and re-unions but none got close to those original three and a half albums.