Thursday, March 7, 2024

Water Into Wine Band - Harvest Time (1976 uk, elegant baroque folk rock, 2008 remaster)

In June 1976 the band decided to record another album. Booking into London's Freerange Studio the tracks on 'Harvest Time' were, if anything, even more ambitious and less "commercial" than its predecessor. There was an eight-minute plus "Scottish Suite" containing a medley of such traditional perennials as "Coming Through The Rye", the reel "Peter Gray" (expertly played by Bill Thorp), "Skye Boat Song" and "McPherson's Rant". The album also contained a highly tongue-in-cheek rendition of the Tin Pan Alley standard "Moonglow" with the group helped out by Judy Mackenzie (vocals) and Dave Cooke (guitar), the group having played some gigs with the Mackenzie/Cooke duo.

But by far the more ambitious number on 'Harvest Time' was the 18 minute plus title track. After a delicate orchestral introduction featuring George Caird on oboe, John Payne on clarinet, William Prince on horn and Jeremy Ward on bassoon, "Harvest Time" flows into a medieval-sounding Sandford/Thorp composition featuring the haunting refrain "Though the sower may be sad/Harvest time will make him glad". The song continues to build, the woodwind interweaving with Bill Thorp's elegant piano and then violin, acoustic guitar and woodwind swirl around to take the listener to the telling vocal climax "All that we need is a handful of seed/All that we want is to live/Won't you turn to the sower/Forget all your greed/Ask, and I know he will give".

Such intricate pastoral delights were of course light years away from Cliff Richard immediacy and the emergent US CCM, so there was no attempt to put 'Harvest Time' with a record label. The band pressed some copies (there seems to be some debate whether the pressing was 500 or 1000 copies) and took them to the Greenbelt Arts Festival to sell at what was to be their final concert. Trevor Sandford explained the band's decision to make the 1976 Greenbelt the Water Into Wine Band's swansong. "I guess we all had other careers and things we'd trained to do or wanted to do. We've all ended up doing completely different things. Bill, the violinist, plays with the Academy Of Ancient Music, you may have heard of them, they're a top international music ensemble. I went a different way into other things. Pete's an architect. We said let's give it a couple of years but we realised that we'd either then have to become commercial to really make a living out of it or else we'd be 60 and still earning £10 a year. We were on survival rations basically and we decided that yes, it was okay and we enjoyed it and had a great time but let's quit while we're winning."

As it turned out, of course, that wasn't the end of the story. Over the next two decades record collectors began to emerge keen to explore the obscurer denizens of progressive folk music. In America and, of all places, Japan, vinyl copies of the UK version of 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' and 'Harvest Time' began to change hands for ever increasing amounts of cash. In 1999 such was the demand amongst collectors that a Korean label Hugo-Montes bootlegged 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' without, of course, the knowledge of the band. Two years later entrepreneur Steve Smith, aware of the collector interest in the band, did his homework and tracked down members of the Water Into Wine Band and with the band's cooperation released a double CD package reissue featuring both the UK and USA versions of 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' and the 'Harvest Time' album on his Kissing Spell Records.

Today, the four original members still have some contact with each other and indeed haven't completely forgotten the days when they were long haired folkies. Explained Trevor, who when not running his business, is a County Officer with Kent County Council and a member of the Kent Chamber Choir, "I've got a bit of decking in my back garden which sits above the ground and people can gather round and hear from a distance. We did have a bit of a reunion when a round number birthday came around not that long ago. So maybe we'll do it again at that level. Most of the audience were our kids who are now at university. They thought it was quite cool to have dads who were able to do this kind of stuff." 
by Tony Cummings
1. Wedding Song (Trevor Sandford) - 4:15
2. Waiting For Another Day (Ray Wright) - 6:26
3. Scottish Suite (Traditional) - 7:54
4. Patience (Is A Virtue) (Trevor Sandford, Bill Thorp) - 3:16
5. Moonglow (Will Hudson, Irving Mills, Eddie DeLange) - 2:34
6. Harvest Time (Trevor Sandford, Bill Thorp) - 15:51

Water Into Wine Band
*Bill Thorp - Vocals, Violin, Piano, Bass, Bongos 
*Pete McMunn - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
*Ray Wright - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Bass, Bongos
*Trevor Sandford - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass
*Gari Williams - Flute
*George Caird - Oboe
*John Payne - Clarinet
*William Prince - Horn
*Jeremy Ward - Bassoon