Esoteric Records’ Maid in Ireland by Fruupp is a grand compilation that focusses on the best of their four albums.
Release Date: 24th July 2020
Label: Esoteric Records
Format: CD / DL
If you were a participant in the 70s college gig circuit, Fruupp will, no doubt, be familiar to you. If you weren’t, they almost certainly won’t be. Formed in Belfast in 1971, Fruupp was put together by guitarist Vince McCusker and, alongside Vince, featured classically trained musicians Stephen Houston on keyboards and oboe, Peter Farrelly on bass and Martin Foye on drums. Vocal duties were shared between McCusker, Houston and Farrelly, with Peter Farrelly using taking the lead.
They were signed to Pye Records’ Progressive offshoot Dawn and, between 1973 and 1975, they released four fascinating albums, all of which sank virtually without trace. Maid In Ireland is a compilation of tracks from those four albums: Future Legends (1973), Seven Secrets (1974), The Prince Of Heaven’s Eyes (1974) and Modern Masquerades (1975).
Fruupp’s music is almost indescribable. The four members are all masters of their instruments and in full flow, they combine with a virtuosity that is breath-taking. There’s a strong classical influence and theme to their music, but it doesn’t end there. Listen closely and folk influences reveal their Irish roots, as well as strains of hard rock, pop – there’s a detectable resemblance to Supertramp in some of their pieces. Touches of prog noodling that recall Yes and Genesis in their prog pomp.
When I first skimmed the track listing for this latest offering, I have to admit to having been slightly underwhelmed. The selection seemed somewhat biased towards the Seven Secrets album and their most ambitious work, The Prince Of Heaven’s Eyes is represented only by the epic Knowing You. Were where classic cuts such as Annie Austere and It’s All Up Now, not to mention Stephen Houston’s brilliant Faced With Shekinah and Vince McCusker’s Masquerading With Dawn?
However, upon listening to the collection, I realised that I was wrong and compiler, Fruupp’s ex-manager Paul Charles, was right. This is a truly representative and well-balanced document of the band’s career.
Taking their discography chronologically, Future Legends is represented by what are surely the album’s strongest tracks, Decision and Graveyard Epistles. Decision is a song that epitomises the Fruupp sound – Peter Farrelly’s bass is high in the mix and comes over as a second lead guitar, a typically soaring guitar solo is introduced by a scream that would fit well into Careful With Axe Eugene and the quasi orchestral ending is dramatic and thunderous, Graveyard Epistle starts gently and slowly builds, with Stephen Houston excelling on his organ solo and the other three band members interacting majestically to achieve the sound that first drew me into the world of Fruupp.
Seven Secrets is, in my view, Fruupp’s strongest album, and three tracks, Three Spires, White Eyes and Wise As Wisdom all make the cut here. I would have liked to see Faced With Shekinah, with its bursts of Handel’s Water Music included also, but that would, perhaps, have tipped the balance of the selection too far towards Seven Secrets and, without doubt, the chosen tracks are all enjoyable. Three Spires starts like a string quartet before heading off towards its “Leaving, Yes…” refrain, White Eyes features some excellent vocal inputs from Peter, Stephen and Vince and seems to veer effortlessly between orchestral, folk and jazz themes. and Wise As Wisdom builds steadily from its quiet, pastoral beginnings into a virtuoso passage of instrumentation in which Martin’s restrained yet fluent drumming is demonstrated to its best effect.
Prince Of Heaven’s Eyes was the band’s most ambitious offering; a concept album that tells the story of the travels of the young Mud Flanagan, and it probably came closest to giving the band their deserved breakthrough. Sadly it wasn’t to be and the effects of the album’s comparative failure were compounded in January 1975 when Stephen Houston left the band. The album does contain some excellent tracks, including the aforementioned Annie Austere and It’s All Up Now, but, once again, Paul Charles made the right call by selecting Knowing You, probably the centrepiece to the whole Prince Of Heaven’s Eyes album. The song is a microcosm of its parent album; it starts with the ‘walking’ theme that links the tracks and scenes of the concept album, before developing first into a tender ballad, sung wonderfully by Peter, and then segueing into the soaring Crystal Brook. There’s also some nice flute and oboe work from Stephen, an archetypal Vince McCusker guitar solo and some more awesome drumming from Martin to get your teeth into.
For their final album, Modern Masquerades, the keyboard stool vacated by Stephen Houston was filled by John Mason. Once more, the album is represented by what are probably its two best tracks, the slightly poppy Janet Planet on which the band sound eerily like Supertramp and Sheba’s Song, a number with a jazzy feel and charming lyrics inspired by a news story about a wild cat that escaped from a zoo. Each of these songs shows how seamlessly John Mason was managing to fill the considerable void that had been left by Stephen Houston’s departure. Unfortunately, Punk was on the way and, late in 1976, Fruupp decided that their time was up.
The collection is completed by Prince Of Heaven, a song written for, but omitted from, the original release of The Prince Of Heaven’s Eyes. It did, however, see the light of day when it was included on the 2009 CD release of Prince.
So, happily, my initial doubts about the track selection for Maid In Ireland are assuaged. This is an excellent, concise memoir of a band that deserved far more recognition than they managed to receive, and a collection that provides a showcase for the talents of five excellent musicians. There has, of course, been an earlier Fruupp compilation. 2004’s It’s All Up Now anthology includes every track except Three Spires From Maid In Ireland but, as a double CD, it loses the focus that has been achieved so admirably by this latest set.
Listen to Decision here: