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Amazing Blondel

+ {Methuselah} + {Blondel}

Lincolnshire in the late 60s wasn’t exactly the hive of the burgeoning prog/folk-rock movement, but it had its fair share of quintessential bards, none more so than the bawdy, pseudo-Elizabethian baroquers, The AMAZING BLONDEL. Main conspirator (and songwriter) John D. Gladwin had, with fellow retro muso Terry Wincott, cut his/their proverbial teeth via pop-psych outfit the Dimples (one Decca 45: `The Love Of A Lifetime’, b/w `My Heart Is Tied To You’); subsequent splinter quintet Gospel Garden (also issued one platter: `Finders Keepers’ / `Just A Tear’, for Camp records in 1968) – comprised Gladwin, Wincott, Craig Austin, Steve Cox and Jeff Tindall. When Cox and Tindall were superseded by guitarist Les Nicol and drummer Mick Bradley, Scunthorpe-based METHUSELAH – the group – was born. Signed to New York-based Elektra Records, their only LP MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE & JOHN (1969) {*5}, was shunted in Britain; later described, by Wincott himself, as very loud. It’s now a collector’s piece.
With an array of mostly medieval/Tudor-period instruments in hand (and there were many), AMAZING BLONDEL (mainly singer Gladwin, Wincott and Edward Baird), took up a position in renaissance rock as contenders to JETHRO TULL, GRYPHON, GENTLE GIANT, FAIRPORT CONVENTION and the newly formed STEELEYE SPAN. THE AMAZING BLONDEL & A FEW FACES (1970) {*5} – the album – never quite gave them the impact or impetus they needed; released on Bell Records, it did feature session guitar work from Big Jim Sullivan.
Eccentric but elegant, the trio continued to self-indulge in Middle Age madrigals and bawdy ballads, newbie fans of the act now finding new words to play with such as crumhorn, tabor pipe and theorbo. Recommended by fellow hairy rockers of sorts FREE, they were a surprise signing by Chris Blackwell to Island Records, where they almost immediately delivered a sophomore, Paul Samwell-Smith produced set, EVENSONG (1970) {*6}. With a hey-nonny-nonny and a nod to all things “Greensleeves”-ish, the trio were at their best on charmers such as `St. Crispin’s Day’, `Willowood’, `Under The Greenwood Tree’, `Old Moot Hall’ and the sole Baird-scribed contribution, `Queen Of Scots’.
Album number three, FANTASIA LINDUM (1971) {*8}, was a neo-classical concept LP (on the theme of man versus love, God and nature) featuring a 20-minute, multi-part title track. Dressed like three Oliver Cromwell acolytes (with big dog!), the sardonic sleeve depicted a serious side rather than their light-hearted chamber muzak. Uplifting, autumnal and delightful best described songs like `Swifts, Swains And Leafy Lanes’, `Lincolnshire Lullaby’ and `Celestial Light (For Lincoln Cathedral)’ on the lengthy side one. Flipped – quite literally! – side two was positively pastoral courtesy of `Toye’, `Three Seasons Almaine’ and Wincott’s contribution, the very Scots-bagpipe-like dirge `Siege Of Yaddlethorpe’ (featuring drummer Jim Capaldi of TRAFFIC).
With three pastoral pieces for voice, flute, guitar and orchestra, `The Paintings’ (parts I-III: `Seascape’, `Landscape’ and `Afterglow’), another long 17-minute piece that opened the band’s next set, ENGLAND (1972) {*7}. If you could bottle romanticised summers, never ending sunsets or a picnic in the countryside, this album oozed the very essence of carefree Englishness. `A Spring Of Air’, `Dolor Dulcis (Sweet Sorrow)’ and the aforementioned `The Paintings’, were sadly the final offerings of Gladwin, who jumped ship to the equally baroque ENGLISHE MUSICKE (incidentally, the name of a later retrospective CD of Blondel’s early 70s Island albums).
The not so amazing BLONDEL (1973) {*5} – aka “the Purple Album” – was interesting in the fact that it featured rockers Steve Winwood (from TRAFFIC), Simon Kirke and Paul Rodgers (from BAD COMPANY); Adrian Hopkins (of the aforementioned Englische…) provided harpsichord sounds and string arrangements, while Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie sang backing vocals. Easy-listening in some respects, the BLONDEL duo and Co forsook medieval folk-rock for a soft-rock approach alienating most of their fanbase. There were a few hummable highlights, although `Easy Come, Easy Go’ and Wincott’s classical dirge, `Solo’ (only really credited on the CD re-issue), were hardly the album’s saving grace.
With a move from Island to D.J.M. Records, MULGRAVE STREET (1974) {*4} fared even worse than its predecessor. Now augmented by drummer William Murray, guitarist Mick Feat and a host of top rock stars (including FREE alumni past and present Paul Kossoff, Boz Burrell, John Bundrick, Mick Ralphs, Rodgers, Kirke, plus Eddie Jobson and Pat Donaldson), the set was a stark diversion from their early novelty incarnation and definitely more contemporary. Baird was the man behind the majority of the tracks (think CLIFF RICHARD for `Light Your Light’, LINDISFARNE for `Help Us Get Along’ and SEALS & CROFT for `Love Must Be The Best Time Of Your Life’), although Wincott was afforded two cuts, the STRAWBS-like `Leader Of The Band’ and the shanty-ish `Goodbye Our Friends’.
INSPIRATION (1975) {*6} was indeed an inspiration, fresh from the shackles of a claustrophobic studio and completely abandoning pastures of olde for fresh, melodious, and BEATLES-like symphonics – the orchestras came courtesy of leaders Del Newman and Adrian Hopkins (check out `All The Time For You’ and `They’re Born, They Live And They Die’). More akin to the lush pop of ELTON JOHN, STEALERS WHEEL or GILBERT O’SULLIVAN, reflective ballads like `Thinking Of You’ and the uptempo `You Didn’t Have To Lie About It’, were, well, nice. Virtually a complete breakaway from folk-rock, although there were remnants floating about somewhere, the album was a hit or a miss, depending on how folk-purist one was.
Messrs Baird and Wincott were skating on thin ice by this point, with most folk, prog and even rock-pop fans kicking their behinds into touch after the dismal and downright disappointing, and commercial, BAD DREAMS (1976) {*3} being the ultimate nightmare of nightmares. Soppy, wimpy or cheesy, you could permute any of these fitting descriptions – because two out three IS indeed, bad. If one was to look for a saviour on show here, the small mercy would be `One Bad Dream’, which leans into JAMES TAYLOR/soft-folk/pop territory while exemplifying everything that’s wrong with The BEE GEES.
Concert albums were all the rage in the 70s, but what made the ‘Blondel think they could achieve similar accolades is anyone’s guess. LIVE IN TOKYO (1977) {*5} was their farewell gift to loyal fans who stuck the course and survived their musical car crash. Their awful Gladwin-less, mid-70s period is explored herein, although the orchestrations and individual acoustic performances shine somewhat better than their overladen studio noodling. The added temptation of new track `For Our Love’ fits perfectly with the pop-muse of `Lesson One’ and `Sad To See You Go’.
Disappearing off the musical map for two decades, Baird, Wincott and thankfully Gladwin regrouped and literally redressed the situation for what was to be, their final curtain-dropper,
the appropriately and poignantly titled, RESTORATION (1997) {*7}. Theatrical and baroque once more, this chamber-pop-meets-folk CD was just what ye doctor ordered, a medicinal compound of melodic harmonies set to a courtyard soundtrack. From the Latin-infused opener `Benedictus Es Domine’, to the hook-lines of `Cawder And Widdershins’ or `Sir John In Love Again’, each intricate piece shines like daylight through stained-glass windows.
The subsequent influx of archival, Mk.I live concert sets was a delight and saviour for everybody concerned (group and audience), especially ye olde material that graced LIVE ABROAD/A FOREIGN FIELD THAT IS FOREVER ENGLAND (1996/98) and ON WITH THE SHOW (2007).
With Wincott recovered after a successful heart bypass operation in 2005, the original AMAZING BLONDEL were back to the fore, releasing one studio set (THE AMAZING ELSIE EMERALD (2010) {*6}), and one concert album (DEAD: LIVE IN TRANSYLVANIA (2011) {*5}).
© MC Strong 1997-2010/GPD-GFD // rev-up MCS Oct2013

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  1. Liz Cook

    I seem to recall Blondel used to cart a harpsichord around with them that took aeons to tune. Am I right?
    I definitely remember one of the band had a Great Dane called Jacob. Fell in love with him instantly and subsequently went on to breed the biggest shown winning blue harlequin Dane in living memory – Ziran Zilch’s Beate.

    1. Martin Strong

      I know a man who’s publishing a book on Blondel. If you want further info I’ll pass on your message. Sadly, Adrian Hopkins passed away at the weekend.

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