Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Act One/Waters Of Change by BEGGARS OPERA (2014 Beat Goes On 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

This CD contains the album "Act One" released in November 1970

“…Silver Peacock…” 

Scotland wasn’t exactly the bedrock of Progressive Rock in 1969 – but arising of the Glasgow circuit came school chums BEGGARS OPERA - their name reputedly taken from the 18th Century Poet and Dramatist John Gay. Heavily featuring Classical Music influences like Bach, Mozart and Grieg allied with Guitar versus Mellotron - they made four albums for England’s Vertigo label between 1970 and 1973 – and this excellent Beat Goes On 2CD reissue gives us their 1970 debut and its follow up from 1971. When Universal put out their 3CD Retrospective on the Vertigo label in 2005 – they named the mini Box Set after one of their songs. Here are the Time Machine details…

UK released November 2014 – “Act One/Waters Of Change” by BEGGARS OPERA on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1168 (Barcode 5017261211682) breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (42:06 minutes):
1. Poet And Peasant
2. Passacaglia
3. Memory
4. Raymond’s Road [Side 2]
5. Light Cavalry
Tracks 1 to 5 are their debut album “Act One” - released November 1970 in the UK on Vertigo (Spiral) 6360 018 and in the USA on Verve Records V6 5080

Disc 2 (42:06 minutes):
1. Time Machine
2. Lament
3. I’ve No Idea
4. Nimbus
5. Festival [Side 2]
6. Silver Peacock (Intro)
7. Silver Peacock
8. Impromptu
9. The Fox
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 2nd album “Waters Of Change” - released September 1971 in the UK on Vertigo (Spiral) 6360 054 (no US release)

For “Act One” BEGGARS OPERA was:
Organ, Piano – ALAN PARK

For “Waters Of Change” the line-up remained the same except for:
GORDON SELLAR replaced Marshall Erskine on Bass
As well as Alan Park - VIRGINIA SCOTT played Mellotron and Sang

BILL MARTIN and PHIL COULTER originally produced both of these Progressive Rock heavyweights in London - released on the now hugely collectable Vertigo label (both on the Spiral variant). They sold zip at the time and have now acquired price tags usually in excess of £100 each for original gatefold vinyl issues. ANDREW THOMPSON has carried out the 2014 CD remaster at Sound Performance on London for Beat Goes On and the audio is up to his usual standard – full of power and presence – the original tapes in great shape. The 12-page inlay reproduces the original recording credits and has a short but informative piece on this obscure band by NEIL DANIELS that explains their formation and touring history with the likes of Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and even Fleetwood Mac (they built up a sizeable following in Germany). There’s also their outer card wrap that gives the whole reissue a classy feel.

“Act One” opens with “Poet And Peasant” – a theme based on an 1846 Opera by Austrian composer Franz Von Suppe called “Dichter Und Bauer”. Beggars Opera rearranged it into a seven minute Mellotron romp that comes at you like Vaudeville meets Progressive Rock melodrama as Martin Griffiths bursts in with his effected vocals (Focus ahoy). Easier on the ear is “Passacaglia” (written by Virginia Scott and Marshall Erskine) which gives some great Steve Howe type-guitar in its rocking mid-section. Side One ends with “Memory” which at just under four-minutes is the shortest piece on the album. The audio quality on this cleverly structured song is fantastic – the drums, guitars and vocals all clear as day (“her hair blown…her lips are chilled…”). Side Two gives us to twelve-minute opus pieces “Raymond’s Road” and another Franz Von Suppe piece “Light Cavalry” (based on “Leichte Kavallerie”) – both are largely instrumental Prog workouts that frankly test the patience.

Their 2nd album is largely self-penned with Park and Griffiths taking over the songwriting credits – and again the audio is superb. The keyboards and drum march of the instrumental “Lament” gives way to “I’ve No Idea” – for me probably the best track on the album. It grooves and well as Prog Rocks and then goes into a lovely Mellotron passage in the centre with top vocals and surprisingly pleading lyrics about his lady. The acoustic/strings “”Impromptu” is another lovely instrumental interlude before finishing with the seven-minute ELP Prog of “The Fox” that again features a wicked Guitar/Vocal break two-minutes in.

Niggles - they produced one single “Sarabande” b/w “Think” released in the UK on Vertigo 6059 026 in 1971 and many other European territories (in rare Picture Sleeves) – both tracks are non-album and it’s a shame they weren’t used as bonus tracks here.

Having said all of that – if you’ve any interest in Progressive Rock – you’ll be glad BGO reissued these – and in such top-notch sound quality too…

PS: as a reviewer of longstanding this is the only time I can recall - where a band has produced two albums that weigh in at exactly the same playing time (see above)…

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