Collected works of one of the 70s most interesting and musically able bands – Greenslade.
Release Date: 25th June 2021
Label: Esoteric Records
Formats: 4CD clamshell box set
The story of Greenslade is one that is fairly typical of its era. The band were formed in late 1972 when former Colosseum members, keyboardist Dave Greenslade and bassist Tony Reeves linked up with Dave Lawson, former keyboard player in acts such as Samurai/Web and The Alan Brown Set, and ex-King Crimson drummer Andrew McCulloch. From the outset, Greenslade was envisaged as a keyboard-oriented band and Dave Greenslade was, for most of the band’s short life, adamant that he didn’t want to have a guitarist in the ranks.
The band members were all highly accomplished practitioners of their respective trades and the differing styles of Daves Greenslade and Lawson meant that the two keyboard players at the heart of the band’s lineup meshed together in an interesting and complementary way. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Greenslade were one of the most interesting and musically able bands of the 1970s.
Incidentally – it was only by accident that the band took the name of their founding and, arguably most famous, member – as Dave Greenslade recalls: “We had pages listing all sorts of crazy names, and I probably still have those lists somewhere. But we could never come up with one that seemed right. At the time, we were signed to Gaff Management, and they took to referring to us as ‘Greenslade.’ Whenever we were due in the office, they’d say, ‘Oh – Greenslade are coming in today.’ Eventually, when we couldn’t decide on a name for ourselves, that one pretty much stuck! But it was never my intention to call the band after myself. So you can blame our management for that.”
It being the early 1970s, and this being a new grouping of highly-rated musicians, Greenslade were quickly snapped up by Warner Brothers Records. Their first, eponymous, album was released in February 1973, encased in an elaborate sleeve illustrated by the (then) relatively unknown Roger Dean. It was critically well-received and the band started to attract a substantial following on the strength of the album and their well-received live performances on the UK college and club circuits.
Encouraged by the positive response to their debut album, Greenslade returned quickly to the studio and, in July 1973, started work on their follow-up, Bedside Manners Are Extra, which was released in November of that highly productive year. Bedside Manners Are Extra was also graced by Roger Dean cover art, and the album itself is revered by many Greenslade fans as the band’s best – an opinion with which I, and, apparently, Dave Greenslade tend to agree: “I think all our albums have a lot of merit. We were always progressing and trying different things. The relationship between the four of us was incredible, and that really came out when we did ‘Bedside Manners…’ It was a very positive time for the band and for that reason alone I do like the album.”
Spyglass Guest, Greenslade’s third album, was released in August 1974 and turned out to be the band’s best seller, reaching Number 34 in the UK Albums chart. Whilst the band members were all jointly involved in the composition of the band’s first two albums, the Spyglass Guest material featured individual contributions from the members. Nevertheless, Spyglass Guest still stands up as a strong album despite the remarkable fact that vocalist Dave Lawson was being treated for a collapsed lung throughout the period of the album’s recording!
After Spyglass Guest, things started to change. Even since the Colosseum days, bassist Tony Reeves had harboured an interest in production and was receiving numerous enquiries with regard to his availability in that capacity. He had also noted a divergence in musical direction amongst the members of Greenslade, and decided that the time was right for him to move on. He was replaced by Martin Briley, formerly guitarist in British pop outfit Mandrake, and a sought-after sessioneer, as Greenslade embarked upon the recording of their fourth and (until the start of the next millennium) final album, Time and Tide. Released in February 1975, Time And Tide was, like its predecessors, critically well-received. However, the album failed to propel Greenslade into the big league and, by the end of 1975, founding member Dave Lawson decided to quit, citing financial insecurities as a principal reason for his decision.
With hindsight, it is, perhaps, possible to view Lawson’s departure as a harbinger of the band’s disintegration. As Dave Greenslade has frequently explained, the band’s management company were not considered to be a particularly good fit, but financial ties made it impossible for band and management to split, an action that would have left Greenslade free to enter into a more comfortable arrangement with a more suitable management company. Left with no alternative, Greenslade announced their disbandment in early 1976.
Dave Greenslade now looks back fondly on the achievements of his erstwhile band. Speaking to Malcolm Dome, the author of the excellent, informative booklet that accompanies this new compilation, he said: “I suppose what we did was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but that was never our intention. We never wanted, or expected, to have a top ten single. We made music that appealed to us, and if that also got the attention of others, then we saw that as a blessing. But the main thing for us was to ensure we were satisfied with the artistic side of things. Everything else followed from that. When I listen to the music now, what strikes me is that there was a certain magic in the way all of us interacted musically. I am really proud of what we did. I am amazed at how complicated some of the compositions are.”
And that’s a pretty fair summary in my opinion, and one with which I am sure that listeners will concur when they’ve rediscovered this memorable yet under-rated band via this wonderfully packaged 4-disc offering from Esoteric. Each of the four albums released during Greenslade’s initial lifespan is included on its own disc. Perhaps unusually, and very welcome nonetheless, there are no additional alternative versions, works-in-progress or out-takes to take away the pleasure of rediscovery; the musical element of the set comprises the original albums, and nothing more. Add to that the aforementioned booklet that, in addition to those detailed Malcolm Dome sleevenotes also includes recording details, lyrics and loads of photographs and press cuttings and, I think you’ll agree, it all amounts to an impressive and desirable package, all wrapped up in the usual Cherry Red/Esoteric clamshell box! It’s a mouthwatering prospect!
So what about the music?
Well – this has been a pleasant surprise for me. I used to own vinyl copies of Greenslade’s first two albums and, for a while, between 1974 and 1976-ish, they were on pretty heavy rotation, but, before opening this latest compilation, I hadn’t heard either of them for something like 43 years. I was amazed how deeply they had both embedded themselves into my psyche and, right from the first bars of Feathered Friends, the debut album’s opening track, the memories came flooding right back. Sure, these tunes are very much of their time – swirling keyboards, intricate basslines and complex drum patterns, all with strong parallels to Yes, ELP and early Genesis, but I couldn’t help but be taken by the outstanding musicianship and the tight, disciplined playing.
The debut album forms Disc 1 of this compilation and it’s packed with great tunes. I always felt that Dave Lawson’s vocals sounded a little forced and, perhaps wisely, the debut album is predominantly instrumental. The aforementioned Feathered Friends is an old favourite and is, perhaps, the song I most closely identify with Greenslade, and I loved rediscovering An English Western, a galloping amalgam of quasi folk/classical with shots of raw blues. The hymn-like Drowning Man and Temple Song (the album’s single) both stand scrutiny today, whilst on What Are You Doin’ to Me, jazz meets boogie, and both genres benefit from the union. But it’s perhaps on the album’s two longest cuts, the Tony Reeves bass piece-de-resistance, Melange, and the multi-themed keyboard extravaganza, Sundance, that things get particularly interesting. Both tracks made me realise, once again, what the Greenslade fuss was about!
Greenslade’s second album, Bedside Manners Are Extra – Disc 2 of this collection – saw the band moving away from the Yes and, particularly, ELP-inspired trimmings that were such a feature of their debut and, instead, consolidating their own unique Greenslade signature, for which the potential of their keyboard arsenal, as well as the various members’ particular strengths were more adequately exploited. Given that Bedside Manners… was released only nine months after its predecessor, there are certainly some similarities with the debut, but, listen closely, and it’s the progression that is the most striking feature of the second album.
I’ve always wondered how this album’s title came about and, unfortunately, not even the band members are able to help solve that particular conundrum… Dave Greenslade has suggested that the title was thought up by Dave Lawson, but, as Lawson says: “I don’t think it was actually me. It might well have been Frances, who was Andrew’s girlfriend at the time and later became his wife. She was doing our PR back then and may well have been the one to put this forward as a suitable album title.” So that clears that one up then…
Once again, after relistening to Bedside Manners… after a gap of forty-something years, I am struck by how familiar the tunes still feel, although, with the benefit of hindsight, comparisons and influences that were not originally evident seem now to leap from the speakers. The opening title track sounds very, very English in a Ralph Vaughan Williams sort of way – something that had never occurred to me before – and the band’s delivery on the instrumental sections remind me of a cross between early Genesis and Supertramp. And it remains a beautiful, well considered piece of music.
Pilgrim’s Progress is a piece in several movements, each separated by pleasant, pastoral-sounding interludes in which trumpet or woodwind sounds are coaxed from the various keyboards; Time to Dream is closest thing on either of two early albums to a straight rock song, and the keyboard solos demonstrate exactly why Greenslade didn’t consider it necessary to add a guitarist to their lineup. Andrew McCulloch takes centre-stage for Drum Folk, a track that lives up to its name by including two sections of (often dreaded) drum solo. That might sound ominous to those with preconceived impressions of 70s prog, but the solos are well executed and relief is provided by keyboard passages that are, alternately, lively, dreamlike and, ultimately, almost life-affirming. Sunkissed You’re Not is an enjoyable slice of jazz/rock with some interesting lyrics and Greenslade sign off their second album with the pleasant, evocative Chalk Hill, an instrumental piece which builds in drama until its closing section, when things are calmed right down with a soothing piano passage.
The process of maturity, already evident on Bedside Manners… took a leap forward with Greenslade’s 1974 offering, Spyglass Guest, the third disc of this set. It’s an album that is far less obviously dated than either of the band’s first two and the clean, clear production is very evident (and that’s not to infer that the production on either Greenslade or Bedside Manners Are Extra is muddy – it’s merely reflective of the evolving studio standards of the period). The move away from full band compositional collaboration is also clearly evident, but, if anything, that’s resulted in an album of greater variety and interest. Unlike the first two Greenslade albums, Spyglass Guest is new to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing it through.
The album kicks off with Spirit Of The Dance, a lively, meandering, Dave Greenslade tune with classical and medieval overtones. Former Colosseum colleague Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson guests on Dave Lawson’s Little Red Fry Up, breaching the hitherto rigid prohibition of guitarists. It’s a jazzy, interesting song with unsettling part-spoken lyrics about cannibalism and the song characterises the variety of the music on offer. The dreamy Rainbow is another Dave Lawson song, before Tony Reeves steps forward onto the composer’s podium with the excellent Siam Seesaw, a tune that merges the sounds of Thailand with bluesy AOR, and, once again, guitarists (this time Andy Roberts from Plainsong, as well as Clem Clempson) are welcomed to the fold.
The lyrics to Joie de Vivre, another excellent song, were provided by Martin Hall, a friend of Dave Greenslade who later went on to contribute lyrics for Peter Gabriel’s first solo album. The tune is another of Dave Greenslade’s multi-passage epics and it fits well with Martin’s enigmatic lyrics that contemplate the evolutionary process. Grahame Smith from String Driven Thing guests on violin and the overall impression is light, bright and hopeful. Dave Lawson’s Red Light reminds me of The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love, updated and given a sinister, somewhat uncomfortable edge for the new generation, and Dave Greenslade’s Melancholic Rage manages to convey the emotions, hinted at in the tune’s title, of introspective self-pity and outright angry frustration.
Spyglass Guest signs off with Greenslade’s take on the Jack Bruce/Pete Brown epic, Theme From an Imaginary Western. Perhaps the first time that Greenslade had attempted (on record, at least) anything that could be considered a ‘conventional’ song, it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. Competently played, with some nice Fender Rhodes touches, it nevertheless leaves me wondering why they bothered… Nothing new is really added, and both Jack Bruce and Felix Pappalardi had already done the vocal delivery a lot more justice than Dave Lawson manages here.
Notwithstanding my reservations regarding Theme…, Spyglass Guest is, indeed, an excellent album and fully deserves its place in posterity as Greenslade’s best-selling product.
I’ve always believed that 70s prog rock was a difficult act to follow, once its various exponents had discovered the genre’s limits and exploited its potential for excess, and the original Greenslade’s fourth and final album, Time and Tide – Disc 4 of this set – is a textbook illustration of that theory. Significant changes had occurred by the time of its release in February 1975 – both in Greenslade and in music. Tony Reeves had left the band, replaced by Martin Briley. In Briley, Greenslade not only had a new bassist, but they’d also acquired an accomplished guitarist and the potential to expand and develop their sound. Time and Tide, however, reveals a band with one eye on the emergence of new, stripped-down musical trends (exemplified by the rise of Pub Rock) and in search of a new direction.
It works, in places. The ambient explorations of Dave Greenslade’s twin short passages – the choral Time and the atmospheric Tide – and Dave Lawson’s sublime Doldrums open up a potential new avenue for this most talented group of musicians, as does the delicious Gangsters, a Dave Greenslade composition originally commissioned for a BBC TV play. Elsewhere, the material veers towards the quasi-commercial, suggesting that the band was willing to compromise their principals somewhat in a bid to remain relevant. The end result is an album unlikely to appeal to their new target audience and which their committed fanbase would probably buy, play a couple of times and then consign to the shelf.
The single exception to the above generalization is Dave Greenslade’s excellent Catalan, the Time And Tide track that most completely represents a natural progression from the Greenslade of Spyglass Guest. Built, as the title suggest, around a strong Iberian theme, with crashing percussion to represent maracas and castanets and a contagious flamenco rhythm, it’s a lovely tune and my favourite, by some distance, on the album.
Shortly after the release of Time And Tide, those management issues made the continuation of Greenslade unfeasible, and they called it a day. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. Punk was around the corner and any reactionary temptation to further compromise the band’s integrity would certainly have soured the memory of what they actually achieved. As it is, we’re left, as this excellent collection ably demonstrates, with three uniquely wonderful albums, plus an intriguing insight of where, in a different world, Greenslade might have headed. After the 1976 split, Dave Greenslade continued to compose for the BBC and also recorded five solo albums over a 15-year period. Dave Lawson became a sought-after session musician and Martin Briley went on to find success as a songwriter for the likes of Celine Dion and NSYNC.
But Time And Tide wasn’t quite the last we ever saw of Greenslade. In 2000, Dave Greenslade and Tony Reeves reunited, together with keyboardist John Young, to record a new Greenslade album, Large Afternoon. The reformed band toured and, in 2002, Greenslade 2001 – Live The Full Edition, a treasured memento of the reunion, was released. With a track listing that represents the Best Of compilation that Greenslade never got round to issuing, it’s a wonderful way to round off the career of a band that was, in many ways, cut down before its time.
Watch Greenslade perform Bedside Manners Are Extra – the title track to their second album – here:
Greenslade Online: YouTube