With their best album sales to date and sell out concerts Fruupp appeared to be on a roll as they went into Christmas 1974 unaware of the bombshell that (for three of them at least) was soon to come there way. On the 19th January 1975 Houston played his final gig with the band having announced he was leaving to follow his recently adopted Christian beliefs (where have you heard that story before!). It was an ironic turn of events given that Houston had just established a more prominent role as songwriter within the band. Undaunted the remaining trio returned to the studio that summer with a new keyboardist (John Mason) and producer (Ian MacDonald of King Crimson fame) resulting in their fourth and final album released almost exactly a year after its predecessor.
Modern Masquerades turned out to be a far better effort than I for one expected due in no small part to Mason’s musicianship and writing talents. It’s McCusker who is responsible for the two opening songs however leading with the guitar propelled Misty Morning Way with its stirring Hackett flavoured guitar sound. The rhythm partnership of Farrelly and Foye are on top form sounding as sure footed as ever. Masquerading With Dawn includes references to the traditional folk tune Greensleeves albeit disguised under strident guitar and pulsating keys. The vocals and harmonies have never sounded as smooth as they do here. Gormenghast represents Mason’s first compositional foray with a beautifully gentle tune and more modern sounding keyboards than on previous Fruupp albums. With the emphasis on electric piano and synth it presents a jazzier (and dare I say more Transatlantic) sound with unexpected sax embellishments courtesy of the producer. It seemed to bode well for the bands future which unfortunately wasn’t to be.
The explosive Mystery Might opens with a shimmering wall of keys very like Saga’s Don’t Be Late and contains a typical Fruupp galloping rhythm and a very untypical organ dominated jazzy instrumental workout. McCusker’s plaintive Why is an unashamed ballad which allows the guitarist to bare his soul through Farrelly’s sensitive vocal aided by Mason’s glossy piano. Another departure is the light hearted, trumpet led and rhythmic Janet Planet. Bringing The Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour to mind it was obviously intended as a single and in that format was released three weeks before the album. The final Sheba's Song features a lively electric piano riff very reminiscent of Supertramp’s Dreamer and flawless CSN style harmonies. The searing guitar and horns coda provides a fittingly poignant and proggy ending to the album and the recording career of Fruupp.
During the tour that followed they were supported by a band that within months evolved into The Clash, symbolic of the future for Fruupp and prog in general. Although they recorded demos for the next intended release with a live album also on the cards the band dissolved in July 1976 with neither seeing the light of day. Given their reputation as a stage act is particularly unfortunate that the master tapes for the live album were lost in a fire at the bands London apartment. Since then, there has been little to report from the Fruupp camp until now of course with this Esoteric collection making all four albums readily available on CD for the first time. There was a recent rumour from Stephen Houston’s website of a possible reunion but given the circumstances of his abrupt departure that hardly seems likely. For now however there is the opportunity to wallow in nostalgia with at least one if not all four recordings from one of the great unsung bands of the ‘70’s.
by Geoff Feakes
1. Misty Morning Way - 6:57
2. Masquerading With Dawn - 7:16
3. Gormenghast (John Mason) - 10:47
4. Mystery Might - 8:23
5. Why - 4:12
6. Janet Planet (Paul Charles, Vincent McCusker) - 2:58
7. Sheba's Song (John Mason, Paul Charles) - 8:31
All songs written by Vincent McCusker except where stated
*Peter Farrelly - Bass, Flute, Lead Vocals
*Martin Foye - Drums, Percussion
*Vincent McCusker - Acoustic, Electric Guitars, Vocals
*Ian McDonald - Alto Saxophone, Percussion
*John Mason - Keyboards, Vibraphone, Vocals