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Looking back on ALQUIN’s career, they must be surely considered as one of the very best melodic overseas prog bands, and a band with high consistency of musicianship and songwriting, though only over five quite memorable albums.
ALQUIN started life in 1971 as R&B band, Threshold Fear, in Delft, Holland. The first line-up was Ferdinand Bakker (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Dick Franssen (keyboards), Job Tarenskeen (vocals, sax, recorder), Ronald Ottenhof (sax, flute), Hein Mars (bass, vocals) and Bert Terlaah (drums). A single was released on the Negram label, ‘Sally Saddlepeis’ (b/w `Thank Me Not’); both produced by Peter Vink (later of FINCH).
By February 1972, the group had been renamed after a student society and rehearsal room (“Alcuin”), by which time Peter Westrate had replaced Terlaak. ALQUIN’s first album, MARKS (1972) {*8}, was produced by Hans Von Oosterhout, a man known for his work with Dutch prog contemporaries SUPERSISTER. The opening notes were played on flute and acoustic guitar, introducing a successful suite of music with an early electric piano solo and mellifluous recorder in the style of FOCUS. The electric guitar, too, had its moments, with some fine soloing as the album progressed, whilst brass and percussion interludes suggested the playfulness of a more American or Caribbean brand of progressive jazz. The violin even made an appearance on more experimental moments in a mixture of jig and free-jazz recalling that of EAST OF EDEN. Vocals were not the group’s strongest point at this stage, and were used only sparingly on songs like ‘I Wish I Could’ – with its opening salvo sounding similar to PINK FLOYD’s ‘Echoes’ – and the second side of the album was less successful than the first. A single was also released: ‘You Can Always Change’ (b/w `Hard Royce’).
In 1973, ALQUIN toured the UK and appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test. THE MOUNTAIN QUEEN (1973) {*8} was produced by Derek Lawrence, who’d worked with DEEP PURPLE and WISHBONE ASH. The vocals were much improved and the lengthy opening track, ‘The Dance’, established their prog credentials and their distinctive sound, hinged around chunky organ chords. The title track had stylistic similarities to GENESIS or RARE BIRD, and the album moreover had a strong conclusion via a cover of ‘Don And Dewey’ segueing into part of ‘Mr Barnum Junior’; a theme that continued from the debut.
In 1974, the group toured Europe with GOLDEN EARRING and The WHO. In the autumn of that year Michael Van Dijk (ex-BRAINBOX, ex-ERUPTION) joined for a third album, NOBODY CAN WAIT FOREVER (1975) {*8}; recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales. This LP was less progressive; with heavier, funkier songs a wise direction to go with the context of the changing times. The formula was unchanged though, with wonderful passages of organ, guitar and sax, and a driving rhythm unit. By this time, Job Tarenskeen had taken over Westrate’s drum duties when the latter was drafted. A single platter, ‘Wheelchair Groupie’, was released. This was one of many catchy pieces, including ‘New Guinea Sunrise’, an infectious barnstorming opener that perfectly demonstrated what a high-octane act ALQUIN was. There were further personnel changes as Hein Mars left; to be replaced by Rob Ten Bokum (then Jan Visser).
1976’s BEST KEPT SECRET {*6} continued in the vein of its predecessor, and the successful musical formula of the group remained intact, carried by strong vocals on songs like ‘Fool In The Mirror’. The more funky approach, sustained organ notes and a tight rhythm section maintained the integrity of their “progressive approach” (some songs still clocking in at 8 or 9 minutes), and the electric piano and guitar breaks were still there, making for a visceral listen. ‘One More Night’ was perhaps not as accomplished a piece as previous sorties, however, it was still full of energy, quoting briefly from the previous album. ‘Take Any Road’ had all the hallmarks of early record and the more commercial direction didn’t deflect too much from the deep musicality of an underrated group who never took the obvious path.
Alas this was nearly the end for ALQUIN and a live LP, ON TOUR (1976) {*7}, would be their swan song. This contained a marathon 15-minute version of ‘The Dance’; the combination of organ, sax and guitar soloing giving way to reflective flute in true FOCUS style; electric piano once again played its part. ‘I Wish I Could’ also appeared in extended form, and the clean, fluid electric guitar and flute lines were a joy to behold along with a driving rhythm section, an imposing jazzy sax break and an impassioned vocal. The album opened with the irresistible rock “riffery” of the two part ‘New Guinea Sunrise’ (‘Sunrise’ and ‘Wake Me Up’). This was articulate and intelligent music that one could also dance to (with great sound as well). After the split, Bakker and Tarenskeen formed The METEORS, who signed to EMI, releasing three albums, the first of which was “Teenage Heart” (1979).
In 1995 there was an ALQUIN reunion in their home town of Delft, and a tour in ‘96. Several years on there was another tour; this time captured on a double-CD/DVD entitled, ONE MORE NIGHT (2003) {*6}, in which the band were in great form; it also included a new song ‘Sweet Surrender’. Their post-millennium period – bassist Walter Latuperisa in for Koenn – also unveiled BLUE PLANET (2005) {*6} and SAILORS AND SINNERS (2009) {*6}, until they truly split in 2012.
© MC Strong/MCS 1997/GPD // rev-up PJ/Phil Jackson Apr2018

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