Various Artists – Round and Round – Progressive Sounds of 1974: Album Review

Round and Round is a superlative box set collection of artists and bands who were making an impact in 1974, under the broad banner of progressive rock.

Release Date: Available Now

Label: Esoteric Recordings / Cherry Red Records

Format: 4 CD Box Set


By 1974, progressive rock, as Mark Powell in his introduction to this new box set describes, seemed to be the dominant force in rock, moving from the underground to a very sizeable audience and community, that would devour album releases and live shows. The album format became the vehicle for an ever increasing musical experimentation and ambition, often expressed in conceptual form.

Progressive rock also became an umbrella for a diverse range of musical influences and genres, where jazz, folk, classical, rock, blues and psychedelia, could all be blended to produce exciting new musical approaches and concepts. Punk was just around the corner ready to deliver a welcome new dynamic and anarchic music with a political voice. Nevertheless progressive rock has endured, and the experimental creativity and musical openness of the musicians celebrated on this release of progressive music from 1974, explains in large part why.

When approaching a box set of this scope, with four CDs encompassing so many bands and artists and such a diverse range of music, a different reviewing approach seems called for. So here I will organise my reflections around a set of genres within progressive rock, rather than working through the highlights on each disc. Inevitably, the choice of genres to highlight, and who to put within a genre, may at times feel a little arbitrary, but with that caveat, it is hoped it will provide an interesting journey through some great music and spark your curiosity to explore this box set and the artists represented on it.

The Canterbury Scene

The Canterbury scene is well represented across the set, including for example Hatfield and the North, Kevin Ayers and Caravan. The Canterbury scene had its origins in Canterbury based musicians who populated a number of associated bands, from the late 1960s onwards, where rock was inter-whined with jazz and an appreciation of improvisation, together with a playful whimsy. I will also be including the band Camel here, who didn’t have their origins in Canterbury, but whose sound I think has much in sympathy with the Canterbury scene.

Hatfield and the North are represented by Son of ‘There’s No Place Like Homerton’ and Lets Eat Real Soon. The former track, clocking in at over ten minutes, shows off the band’s virtuoso command of tricky time signatures, and breathtaking ensemble playing, mixed in with inspired use of brass and woodwind, and the superb pastoral vocals of the Northettes (Amanda Parsons, Ann Rosenthal and Barbara Gaskin). Let’s Eat Real Soon, led by Richard Sinclair’s vocal, has an endearing whimsical storytelling feel, with some lyrical soloing from Dave Stewart on keyboards and Phil Miller on guitar. Any mention of Hatfield and the North must of course include mention of drummer and composer/ lyricist Pip Pyle, an extraordinary player who made the band’s sound so unique.

Caravan have the tracks Virgin on the Ridiculous and Mirror for the Day, taken from the live album, Caravan and the New Symphonia. Caravan are still touring and both in live performance, and in the studio, remain a vital musical force. Dave Sinclair’s keyboard solos on Virgin on the Ridiculous are simply exquisite, full of melodic invention, and Pye Hastings vocals and Geoff Richardson’s electric viola across the two tracks add an emotional depth, so characteristic of the band’s sound.

Kevin Ayers, Didn’t Feel Lonely ‘Till I Thought Of You, is a great example of his thoughtful songwriting, incorporating both humour and pathos, together with a great ear for an engaging pop arrangement. It also features the first appearance of future long term musical partner, guitarist Ollie Halsall from the band Patto.  His guitar phrases and solo perfectly complement the songs ethos, while also showing off a signature guitar sound that still amazes today. Once heard you will keep going back to hear his solo.

Camel have the tracks Freefall and Lady Fantasy, taken from their classic album Mirage. They beautifully combine jazz rock fusion with bluesy melodies that sweep you down some intricate musical tributaries. Camel of course, the year following, released the quite wonderful The Snow Goose, a musical imagining of Paul Gallico’s moving story, and a progressive rock classic.

Orchestral meets Progressive Rock

Within progressive rock, many artists sought to incorporate orchestral arrangements and classical music influences into their work. Barclay James Harvest  worked with orchestras both on record and live. In 1974, they released two albums, Everyone Is Everybody Else and Barclay James Harvest Live, with on this set a track taken from each album. The jewel here of course is the live version of their signature track Mockingbird. It is a song of grand sweeping melodies, that builds through a number of  musical movements, into a completely shattering crescendo, with the mellotron elegantly taking the place of an orchestra. 

Renaissance in 1974 released Turn of the Cards, one of most assured and creatively impressive albums of that year. Mother Russia and Black Flame from the album represent all of the band’s qualities. Annie Haslam’s beautifully expressive and unique vocals are complemented by intricate and classically influenced arrangements and fine playing by every musician, together with Betty Thatcher’s evocative lyrics. In particular, on Mother Russia, all these elements blend seamlessly with the orchestral arrangements, to create an epic masterpiece inspired by the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Darryl Way’s Wolf was formed by classically trained  violin, keyboard player and songwriter Darryl Way, after leaving Curved Air.  His superb violin playing is to the fore of The Envoy, taken from the Night Music album. His solo is wonderfully inventive, and effortlessly navigates the band’s funk like rhythmic drive.

The Welsh Renaissance 

From the late 1960s, a legendary band emerged from Wales, who brought together their own unique musical ideas and philosophy, with influences from the United States West Coast sound of bands like the Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead.  Man combined fine musicianship and songwriting skills with a freewheeling approach to improvisation. Also present was a very engaging romanticism and warm heartedness that added a winning emotional core to their music. 

The two tracks here, Scotch Corner and Exit, are taken from the album Winos, Rhinos and Lunatics, where the band teamed up with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. The album magically highlighted both the bands songwriting skills and its dynamic compositional mastery of stretched out instrumental sequences. On Scotch Corner, we are treated to empathic story telling, gorgeous harmony vocals, and herculean guitar soloing by Deke Leonard and Micky Jones. The thoughtful lyrics by Deke and Malcolm Morley also contain a tribute to the great actor Shirley MacLaine and quite probably her role in the film Some Came Running. This track is a wonderful representation of a simply marvellous band, quite rightly cherished by all who listened to them on record and saw them live. 

The Neutrons were put together by former Man members Phil Ryan and Will Youatt. Living in the World Today, from the album Black Hole Star, is a stunning mix of psychedelic rock, jazz, and funk rhythms, with Phil Ryan’s organ and synthesiser player creating a maelstrom of sound. It was also deservedly included in the BBC Play for Today, Just Another Saturday.  

Quicksand, of whom Will Youatt was a member before joining Man, provide the track Flying, from the Home is Where I Belong album. It is a very successful combination of psychedelia, harmony vocals, and a flowing United States West Coast sound reminiscent of the Jefferson Airplane.

Budgie, formed in Cardiff, in contrast took hard rock into proto-metal territory, sometimes mixing in progressive rock elements. Zoom Club, from the In For The Kill album, unleashes a storm of hard edged guitar, with some fiery and imaginative guitar soloing from Tony Bourge. Burke Shelley’s soulful and blues soaked vocal rides over the top of a funk driven rhythm. The intensity of the Budgie sound underlines why they were so influential with many major metal artists that followed.

Simply put, these great bands that came out of Wales, were at the top of their game in 1974, and deservedly are an important feature of this set.

Folk meets Progressive Rock

Progressive rock and folk has always felt a fresh and forward-looking combination, where traditional musical structures are re-interpreted within expansive and complex musical arrangements. While this combination is only one element of the diverse musical canvas Jethro Tull have drawn on over the years, Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of A New Day), from the marvellous War Child album, must surely be one of the finest examples of  the melding of these two musical traditions. The rippling array of acoustic instruments and percussion carry Ian Anderson’s pastoral vocal, and novella like lyrics, to perfection. The way the individual instruments move in and out of the mix is just gorgeous.

The Strawbs are represented by two tracks from their Hero and Heroine album. The early mix version of the title track, written by Dave Cousins, illustrates the full adoption by the band of progressive rock influences, while still retaining many elements of their traditional folk origins. Featuring John Hawken’s skilled use of the mellotron, the song has an epic sweep, while still retaining a strong folk based story telling voice.

The West Country’s Stackridge, on the instrumental God Speed The Plough, deliver a poignant, shimmering amalgalm of the two genres, with the added special ingredient of producer George Martin’s magnificent orchestration. The piano, flute and violin led sections are just beautiful on this imposing and impressive musical suite.

Jazz meets Progressive Rock

There are some fine examples of the meeting of the flowing style of jazz and progressive rock on this set. The Jack Bruce and Pete Brown song Keep It Down from the Out Of The Storm album, is a great choice to be included on the set. Jack Bruce’s unique bass style is well to the fore, propelling the song’s intense pacing, while also providing some wonderful syncopated solo phrases. The jazz influenced phrasing of his vocal work is a joy to experience.

Traffic have two tracks on the set from their album When The Eagle Flies. Over the eleven minutes of the track Dream Gerard, the band really stretch out instrumentally with a series of impressive improvised solos. Steve Winwood’s piano journeys through the twists and turns of some delightful melodies, while Chris Wood’s saxophone solo expresses a sense of regretful longing, before switching into some edgy electronically treated sounds. Jim Capaldi’s glorious drumming adds an irresistible swing to the proceedings. When The Eagle Flies is a much underrated album in the Traffic canon and deserves much greater recognition.

Todd Rundgren

A review of this fabulous set would not be complete without mention of Todd Rundgren. He is an artist who has never stood still, and when he immerses himself in any style of music will produce something that will both intrigue and charm. On the live Utopia Theme, with his band Utopia, he is at his most technical and progressive. It lasts an awesome fourteen minutes, over which the banks of keyboards from three keyboard players, particularly the moog synthesisers, and Todd’s electric guitar, are on complete overdrive. It can be at times a shattering experience listening, which is testament to the musical power the band were able to unleash live. It is just brilliant. 

Many more of the other genres that permeated progressive rock can be found on this excellent set, and while there is not the time to cover them all here, suffice to say that this box set is full of musical treasures for anyone who is drawn to progressive rock. As with all Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red releases of this type the presentation is uniformly excellent. The sturdy clamshell box has some striking artwork that just seems to work with the music contained in the set, and the comprehensive booklet has a great level of detail about each of the artists and a helpful introduction, setting the scene, by Mark Powell. The CDs are also nicely mastered and sound great.

Here is video of the late great Jack Bruce and his band playing Keep It Down on the Old Grey Whistle in 1975, with Mick Taylor on guitar and Carla Bley on keyboards:

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