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Greenslade

+ {Dave Greenslade}

Son of Arthur Greenslade; conductor, arranger, and orchestra leader of music for films and television, keyboard player Dave Greenslade (ex-COLOSSEUM) formed a group in 1972 comprising bassist Tony Reeves (ex-COLOSSEUM, ex-JOHN MAYALL); vocalist/keyboardist Dave Lawson (ex-EPISODE SIX, ex-ALAN BOWN SET, ex-WEB, ex-SAMURAI), and drummer Andy McCulloch (ex-MANFRED MANN, ex-KING CRIMSON/Shy Limbs).
An exhilarating and visceral debut, GREENSLADE (1973) {*8} was full of memorable tracks like ‘Feathered Friends’, a rocking, soulful testimony to the group’s support of Friends of the Earth where Dave Lawson’s strained falsetto vocals served to emphasise the anguish of topical environmental concerns; ‘Drowning Man’, a salutary variation of “The Lord’s Prayer”, with an exquisite vocal by Lawson; ‘Temple Song’, which was released as a 45; and ‘Melange’ which provided a showcase for some resplendent Mellotron and Reeves’ inventive lead fuzz and wah bass lines. These and ‘Sundance’, with its gracious piano introduction and flowing organ solo, all qualified as prime examples of progressive rock, while the memorable ‘What Are You Doin’ To Me?’ was more of a straightforward rocker.
An equally strong album appeared in the same year, BEDSIDE MANNERS ARE EXTRA (1973) {*8}, included another Roger Dean gatefold cover and great lyrical hooks on songs such as ‘Sunkissed You’re Not’; written by Lawson, who was becoming more fully involved in the writing process. As on its predecessor there was efficacious use of Mellotron, creating pastoral shades and originality in synth attack that having two gifted keyboard players facilitated. This was evident on tracks like ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, one of three instrumental tracks of the six, one of them a Greenslade/McCulloch collaboration entitled ‘Drum Folk’, with the drummer’s unique driving style and copious use of drum rolls matched by an excellent bluesy solo by Greenslade. While a drum solo recorded in the studio didn’t please everybody it was in the spirit of the one take recording of the album, with only vocals overdubbed (and also in keeping with GREENSLADE’s prowess as a live band where they experimented freely with their material, reflecting their jazz roots as heard on songs like ‘Time to Dream’). The album’s infectious title track was a Lawson/ Greenslade ballad deriding private medical practice and was to become a staple of live performances.
The group’s most commercially successful album was SPYGLASS GUEST (1974) {*8}, which reached the Top 40 of the album charts and featured a full array of keyboards and percussive sounds including harmonium, glockenspiel and tubular bells in addition to ARP synthesizer and clavinet. The fugue-like opening instrumental, ‘Spirit of the Dance’, recalled EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER and provided an energising start with nice use of organ, Mellotron and rhythm. ‘Little Red Fry Up’ on the other hand, could be compared to KING CRIMSON’s ‘Cat Food’ in its capricious eccentricity (musically closely resembling GENTLE GIANT), the catchy synth line, the electric guitar of Dave “Clem” Clempson (ex-COLOSSEUM), and the stereo separated vocals adding greatly to its success. The set also contained one of the group’s most ambient and impressionistic pieces, ‘Rainbow’, featuring fine vocal harmonies and Fender Rhodes electric piano. On the eight minute plus ‘Joie de Vivre’ there was church organ along with the subtlest of electric piano, and a synth and violin melody; the latter played by guest Graham Smith. ‘Melancholic Race’ touched on jazz at times with sizzling synth and piano solos. Final track, a straightforward cover of JACK BRUCE’s ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’, added little to the original but the good work had already been done.
TIME AND TIDE (1975) {*7} boasted another striking cover (by Patrick Woodroffe this time around), and started with two short songs, the second ‘Newsworth’ a vitriolic dig at music journalists. Then Dave Greenslade’s orchestral roots were revealed in two pieces entitled ‘Time’ and ‘Tide’, the first with the Treverva Male Voice Choir, the second featuring gorgeous Mellotron, Fender Rhodes and synthesised voices. These twin pieces segued nicely into the Flamenco flavoured ‘Catalan’ (the single accompanying the album backed with album opener ‘Animal Farm’). ‘The Flattery Stakes’ was another fine piece of Lawson vitriol, essentially a rocker with eloquent keyboard arrangements, that included a rare guitar lead break by Martin Briley, Tony Reeves’ successor on bass (Reeves had left to concentrate on music production). `The Waltz for a Fallen Idol’ /Ass’s Ears’ sequence’ was an album standout, more like the expansive music on the first two albums. ‘Doldrums’ was a lachrymose piece with Lawson’s vocals at their most visceral and a worthy precursor of a strong instrumental, ‘Gangsters’, the theme tune for a BBC TV series with Greenslade’s trademark clavinet sound defining the piece. ‘Gangsters’ was also issued as a single (backed with ‘Rubber Face and Lonely Eyes’), a pleasant if unremarkable and quirky instrumental and another indication of the filmic direction Dave Greenslade was at that time heading into. Greenslade never pursued complexity for complexity’s sake with the emphasis on hummable melodies and exquisitely crafted keyboard passages. They were fortunate in having such a uniquely talented array of musician who gelled so well together and carried off a two keyboard line-up, unusual even for the progressive rock era.
The first solo album by DAVE GREENSLADE saw a return to artwork by Roger Dean. CACTUS CHOIR (1976) {*8}; co-produced by Gregg Jackman and Rupert Hine, began with an energising shuffle, ‘Pedro’s Party’, before guest singer Steve Gould (ex-RARE BIRD) delivered a stylish song with a fine synth solo about the American Civil War, ‘Gettysburg’; co-written with legendary drummer Jon Hiseman (ex-COLOSSEUM, ex-TEMPEST). ‘Swings And Roundabouts’ had some Wurlitzer type keyboard sounds as instrumentals were alternated with vocal tracks. The end sequence leading to the church bell was reminiscent of PATRICK MORAZ’s early solo music as Greenslade made a rare appearance on vocals on the doleful, bluesy ‘Time Takes My Time’; Lissa Gray’s backing vocals helping greatly in the delivery, the inevitable classy synth solo embellishing the piece. Mick Grabham (ex-PLASTIC PENNY, ex-COCHISE, ex-PROCOL HARUM guitarist) added some bluesy refrains. Although there was no Andy McCulloch, an able replacement had been found in Simon Phillips on drums, while Tony Reeves, Dave Markee (ex-ALAN PRICE), and John Perry shared the bass duties. ‘Forever and Ever’ was an accomplished piece of music like ALAN PARSONS at his best, while the title track didn’t disappoint with its mixture of piano, organ and synth and orchestration by arranger Simon Jeffes and conductor Martin Ford. The second side was more of a suite than side one; ‘Country Dance’ having hints of nostalgic old west music, sympathetic orchestration erupting in an impressive classically inspired ‘Finale’. While only Reeves of the recently disbanded GREENSLADE played, the album captured the spirit of a great, innovative progressive rock band whose four albums constitute a fine legacy.
As the eighties approached Dave Greenslade as a solo artist released an expansive and expensive multi-media package comprising two LPs and a book illustrated by Patrick Woodroffe ,whose name also appeared on PENTATEUCH OF THE COSMOGONY (1979) {*7}, despite him not playing a note of music. Maligned in some quarters as self-indulgent and even tedious, this classic work must be seen in the mists of time as a marvellous achievement. The albums best listened to as one continuous piece preferably through headphones, a considerable challenge since it is 81 minutes in length! Echoes of ‘Cactus Choir’ can be heard in the opening passages, a jaunty synth bass and madrigal like lead synth lines follow. The variety of synth sounds and textures and stylistic variations maintain momentum with drums played alternately by John Lingwood (ex-STEAMHAMMER, ex-STOMU YAMASH’TA, ex-PHIL COLLINS). The third side had the most demonstrative music including ‘Vivat Regina’ which employed sting effects, flute settings and tubular bells. The vocoded vocals may not to be everyone’s taste but the melodies and rhythms were strong; the latter suggestive of aforementioned keyboard wizard MORAZ. Light and shade abounded and as the end of the album approached a Bach-like organ appeared, the denouement featuring a classic synth pulse akin to TANGERINE DREAM with string synth echoing and looping away. The album had a unique seamless integrity with a high standard of composition and arrangement.
Less successful was FROM THE DISCWORLD (1994) {*5}, which was DAVE GREENSLADE’s representation of locations and characters from the world of Terry Pratchett; with narration by Tony Robinson and Stephen Briggs. Mostly a solo effort with some guitar by Clem Clempson, the increased digitisation of the keyboards and unconvincing sampling; and a couple of songs sung by Tim Whitnall which sounded as if they were from another tiresome stage musical (which they were not), all conspired to undermine the cohesiveness and listenability of the project. Inevitably, humour was an essential part of the concept and ‘Stick and Bucket Dance’ and the novelty number ‘The Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End’, the Ankh-Morpork drinking song apparently, provided this. The darker moments worked better and one of Pratchett’s most memorable characters ‘Death’ was accompanied by mariachi trumpet. This and the Macbethian ‘Wyrd Sisters’ worked well, however the melodies were not as strong as on the previous album. Perhaps real orchestration would’ve helped.
GOING SOUTH (1999) {*5} was a 100% ambient solo album heavily reliant on digital synths and percussion. Piano and organ were used only occasionally, notably on two of the more prominent pieces: the jazzy `Piano Flamingo’ and `Flying U’, which was in the spirit of his old group with added classical flourishes. The title track faithfully evoked the worthy subject matter of bird migration, but mostly this was a set of laid-back impressionism and tracks like `Night Flight’, while well-constructed in its prolonged use of bass synths lacked the impact a bass guitar would have; a perennial problem with solo keyboard albums.
After a 25 year hiatus, another version of GREENSLADE went into the studio, with Tony Reeves back on bass and John Young (ex ASIA) on second keyboards and vocals, Chris Cozens taking over the drum stool. The result was LARGE AFTERNOON (2000) {*4}, a huge disappointment, especially the satire on creation ‘Hallelujah Anyway’, where the dull 80s-sounding synths smother the music. ‘Cakewalk’ was a strong instrumental opening to the album but was unfortunately not built upon. ‘On-Suite’ was more like the classic GREENSLADE of old, but Dave Lawson’s distinctive vocal style and Andy McCulloch’s dynamic drumming, which were defining features of their heyday sound, were sadly missed.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-1997/GRD // Phil Jackson/PJ Oct2019

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