Sunday, July 11, 2021

Rare Bird - Beautiful Scarlet The Recordings (1969-75 uk, fabulous prog jazz rock, 2021 six disc box set)

The Rare Bird story is both a cautionary tale and one full of missed opportunities and naivety, for this was a group who showed great talent and promise and yet let it all slip away somehow.

Rare Bird were the first act signed to the fledgling Charisma label that had been set up by Tony Stratton-Smith, who had become fed up with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records (who his then charges The Nice were signed to). Because of his dissatisfaction he set up his own label to whom he signed Rare Bird, amongst others like Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Monty Python and Vivian StanshalLevin 

Rare Bird Released their eponymous debut album in 1969 and this yielded an unexpected hit single in the track Sympathy, which reached the top 30 in 1970 and was a hit in Holland, France, and Italy. This is possibly where the problems began as the group completely failed to capitalize on that success and proceeded to continue to trek around the UK circuit when, in fact, they should have been touring the continent.

The single also made inroads into the US Charts with the album being released through an ABC offshoot called Probe although, yet again, we find the band failing, or certainly being failed by their Record Company and Management who had not lined up any shows for them. They did manage to appear at the Agora Ballrooms in Chicago on a bill with Rare Earth, It’s a Beautiful Day and The Grateful DeaDave This was a very well received gig, by all accounts but, sadly, further gigs did not materialize and they returned home disillusioned by their sole stateside excursion.

Their second album, ‘As Your Mind Flies By’, was a good album they were busy doing a lots of European TV performances and this reduced their time to work on the album and, as a result, it was rushed and not really as good as it could have been. It does, however, have a monster track in the form of Flight which lasts for 19 minutes (the whole of one side of the album), comprises of 4 Sections and allows lots of room for the keyboard players to really indulge and show their talents and what they could achieve as a band given the opportunity. Sadly the album did not really sell well enough and Charisma lost interest in the group and dropped them from the labeLevin  This was obviously a major blow for the band, with the upshot being that Graham Field (Keyboards) and Mark Ashton (Drums) both decided that enough was enough and quit the banDave 

This left Steve Gould in charge of the group and they changed their direction somewhat reeling back the progressive aspects significantly as most of that influence had come from Graham Fields really and his departure meant and allowed a new direction to emerge.

Graham Field got an offer from CBS and formed his own group Fields with Andrew McCullough and Alan Barry which met with limited succesSteve A second album was recorded but was left unreleased in the CBS Vaults until 2015 when it got a release through Esoteric. Fields then split and Graham semi-retired and wrote TV music for many yearSteve

Mark Ashton also had his own solo career under the name of Headstone and recorded two albums for Trident, with whom he was involveDave Trident’s other act was Queen, and we all know what happened with them! Mark is now a painter who lives in the south of France and exhibits his works around the worlDave 

This left Steve Gould and David Kaffinetti (keyboards) to soldier on, which they did successfully (after a fashion), signing to Polydor who released their next three albums, starting with ‘Epic Forest’ in 1972. This album was a lot softer in sound and style, with hints of the US west coast sound, although the title track is an epic song in itself and, in addition, the album was released with a 3 track, 33 RPM, single with the last track You’re Lost clocking in at ten minutes pluSteve The album is not prog per-se but is an interesting slice of early 1970’s rock with great bass playing from Paul Karas and some bite in the sounDave By then Steve Gould had switched to 2nd guitar with lead guitar coming from Ced Curtis, who certainly tears it up on the album. Other songs were more subdued and reflective but with strong instrumentation, making them sound gooDave 

Title track Epic Forest starts like Crosby, Still and Nash with harmonic vocals and acoustic guitars before getting louder and rockier with some strong rhythm guitar work and keyboard textures standing out as the pace picks up. There is a lengthy organ solo that is very pleasing and harks back to their earlier albums, although this has guitar interplay as welLevin  There is a further instrumental section full ff guitars and this sounds terrific, really melodic and appealing. The song then moves into a piano part that is stately, subtle and atmospheric, before returning to the main part once again. This is really an effective and well-developed song by any standard and it certainly is a highlight of the album, as is You’re Lost which has a similar feel and tone to it, although this one has a fabulous ending sequence full of minor chord progressions along with some excellent guitar playing from Ced and Steve. This is fluid soloing and most agreeable to these earSteve There then follows an extended keyboard section with guitars for the next six minutes, remarkably interesting and inventive, a bit of a minor prog rock classic really. It is highly possible that most folks will not have heard this excellent song and dexterous musical chops before now so I urge you to rectify that for yourselFred This is simply magnificent music that deserves a far wider audience than it initially receiveDave 

The magic continued on their next album ‘Somebody’s Watching’, which gave the world a fine song in the form of the title track which opens with lush keyboards and a chunky guitar part, this time around they add a soulful sound to proceedings allowing Steve Gould to really show his voice to fine effect. The track combo of Dollars and A Few Dollars More is a real highlight of this excellent album, this time with John Wetton on basSteve Opening with gentle piano, it literally gains pace with a surging guitar line from A Few Dollars More (the classic spaghetti western by Sergio Leone with music by Ennio Morricone) that the band re-interpret here again to fine effect, it really is an imaginative piece performed and realized very welLevin 

The last album in the set is their final studio album ‘Born Again’, which is a bit of a misnomer as the band were on their last legs and about to throw in the towel due to their last set of demo’s with a full album’s worth of maerial, all with John Wetton on vocals, being dismisseDave However the group soldiered on to record this one last album in 1974. This record took a far softer, American West Coast, sound even further and is a minor classic in its style and fabulous voice/keyboards interplay. The strongest tracks are Last Tango In Beulah, Redman and Live For Each Other. It really is a far more laid back album than the previous one but is still a fine closing chapter in the story.

The extra live disc is of interest as it was recorded at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane whilst supporting Barclay James Harvest and Rare Bird’s 8 song recording sees the light of day for the first time here and shows the group delivering a fine set of performances, especially on the versions of Last Tango and Dollars, both of which are the longer tracks on offer.

Rare Bird were, sadly, a very overlooked group and, as such, it is fabulous to have all their output gathered here with pristine sound, gatefold sleeves, worthy bonus tracks and a great, informative, booklet.

This is one fabulous package and I heartily recommend it to any who appreciates class music and great songs and performanceSteve

From the booklet it seems that both Mark Ashton and Steve Gould still feel badly about how Tony Stratton-Smith and Charisma treated them, which is sad as Rare Bird certainly had the talent to make it big but sadly never quite got the breaks they needed to do so. 
by John Wenlock-Smith
Disc 1 Rare Bird 1969
1. Iceberg - 6:56
2. Times - 3:24
3. You Went Away - 4:39
4. Melanie - 3:28
5. Beautiful Scarlet - 5:23
6. Sympathy - 2:30
7. Nature's Fruit - 2:32
8. Bird On A wing - 4:13
9. God Of War - 5:30
All songs by Graham Field, Dvid Kaffinetti, Steve Gould, Mark Ashton
Disc 2 As Your Mind Flies By 1970
1. What You Want To Know - 5:59
2. Down On The Floor - 2:41
3. Hammerhead - 3:31
4. I'm Thinking - 5:40
5. Flight - 19:39
…As Your Mind Flies By
…New York
…Central Park
6. What You Want To Know - 3:34
7. Hammerhead - 3:23
8. Red Man - 3:29
All compositions by Graham Field, Dvid Kaffinetti, Steve Gould, Mark Ashton
Disc 3 Epic Forest 1972
1. Baby Listen - 3:24
2. Hey Man - 5:50
3. House in the City - 4:22
4. Epic Forest - 9:12
5. Turning the Lights Out - 4:37
6. Her Darkest Hour - 3:33
7. Fears of the Night - 3:18
8. Turn It All Around - 4:42
9. Title No. 1 Again (Birdman) - 6:04
10.Roadside Welcome - 4:26
11.Four Grey Walls - 3:52
12.You're Lost - 10:07
Words and Music by Ced Curtis, Dave Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Paul Karas, Steve Gould 
Disc 4 Somebody's Watching 1973
1. Somebody's Watching (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 5:26  
2. Third Time Around (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 4:56  
3. Turn Your Head (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 4:39  
4. More And More (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 4:06  
5. Hard Time (Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar) - 3:06  
6. Who Is The Hero (Kevin Lamb) - 3:40  
7. High In The Morning (Paul Korda) - 3:32  
8. Dollars (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 0:31 
9. A Few Dollars More (Ennio Morricone) - 8:12 
10.Virginia (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti) - 3:11
11.Lonely Street (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti) - 4:16
Disc 5 Born Again 1974-75
1. Body And Soul (Levin Camm, Steve Gould) - 3:10
2. Live For Each Other (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 2:55
3. Diamonds (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 4:07
4. Reaching You (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 3:31
5. All That I Need (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 3:57
6. Redman (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould, Andy Curtis, Andy Hall) - 3:42
7. Peace Of Mind (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 5:24
8. Harlem (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould, Levin Camm) - 3:23
9. Lonley Street (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould, Levin Camm) - 3:13
10.Last Tango In Beulah (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 6:27
11.Don't Be Afraid (Dave  Kaffinetti, Steve Gould) - 3:38
12.Passing Through (Dave  Kaffinetti, Steve Gould) - 4:28
Disc 6 Live At The Theatre Royal 1974
1. Somebody's Watching (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 7:18  
2. Third Time Around (Steve Gould, Fred Kelly, Dave Kaffinetti, Andy Curtis) - 5:14
3. Hard Time (Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar) - 5:14
4. All That I Need (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 4:20
5. Lonley Street (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould, Levin Camm) - 5:33
6. Live For Each Other (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 4:15
7. Last Tango In Beulah (Dave  Kaffinetti, Fred Kelly, Steve Gould) - 7:01
8. Dollars (Ennio Morricone) - 6:03 

Rare Bird
*Mark Ashton - Drums, Vocals
*Graham Field - Organ, Keyboards
*Steve Gould - Bass Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals
*Dave Kaffinetti - Keyboards, Electric Piano
*Ced Curtis - Guitar (Disc 2 Track 8, Disc 3)
*Paul Holland - Guitar, Percussion, Vocals (Disc 3)
*Paul Karas - Bass, Vocals (Disc 3)
*Nic Potter - Bass (Disc 3 Track 5, Disc 4)
*Fred Kelly - Percussion, Drums, Vocals (Disc 2 Track 8, Discs 4, 5, 6)
*Andy Rae - Bass, Guitar (Discs 5, 6)
*John Wetton - Bass (Disc 4)
*Paul Korda - Vocals (Disc 4)
*Nicky James - Vocals (Disc 4)
*Kevin Lamb - Vocals (Discs 4, 5)
*Sammy Abu - Percussion, Conga (Disc 4)
*Paul Holland - Percussion, Conga (Disc 4)
*Al Matthews - Percussion, Conga (Disc 4)