Saturday, 25 May 2019
Mick Dillingham On Greenslade
God I was so young when I first got into Greenslade. Sifting back through the memories these reissues have evoked it seems like another time, another place and almost another me. Back then my adored record collection was little more than maybe forty or fifty album strong but boy did I love the albums I had.
After a childhood spent basically ignoring music in 1972 or thereabouts, my elder brother Todd started bribing me to listen to music from his, even then vast collection. Which I did reluctantly at first, we were more enemies than friends at the time and the sibling rivalry ran deep. Soon enough I started to love some of the sounds I heard blasting out from the speakers.
Music went from meaning nothing to meaning everything. Now I was above all else a music freak. The bands that swept into my heart were the progressive ones back in the days when progressive music was a wider term than it was later pigeon holed into.
It simply meant for a band to be on a mission to progress with each new album, to strive to push the boundaries of what they could achieve with each new release. Todd introduced me to Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Steely Dan, Family, VDDG, Egg, Little Feat, Caravan, ELP, The Floyd, Focus, Camel, Rundgren and Barefoot Jerry, all of whom were, I considered Progressive.
Once I left school and started working, I had more money to spend on building up my collection, the hunt was on to find bands that had maybe passed us by. In the record section of the lighting and electrical shop in Mill Hill, which had a listening booth, I discovered Three Friends by Gentle Giant and Capability Brown’s Voices.
I remember standing in Serendipity Records in Hampstead in my lunch break and eyeing up the first
Greenslade album. It was housed in a beautiful Roger Dean cover and that was somewhat alluring but was in itself no guarantee that the music within was necessarily going to be to my taste as the likes of Uriah Heep and Osibisa from Todd’s collection had shown.
In those far off pre-internet days it wasn’t that easy to find out about stuff and with little in the way of money to spend I had to be careful when venturing into the unknown. But for some reason I decided to be bold that day and take a chance on Greenslade, even though they had no guitarist but instead were fronted by two keyboard players, Dave Greenslade and Dave Lawson.
A couple of plays in and I knew that my nervous chance had paid off in spades. The interplay
between the two keyboards was both delightful and interesting, full of colour and texture. Leaning more towards the caressing mastery of Wakeman than the exquisite maniac torturing the mighty Emerson inflicted on his ivories.
In the space left by the lack of a guitarist, bassist Tony Reeves was both driving and brimming with complex melodic invention. Playing his bass like a lead instrument rather than a subservient part of the band in the grand tradition of Squire, Lake and Wetton and every bit as great.
Turned out Andrew McCulloch was also the drummer on my favourite King Crimson album, Lizard and the stunningly precise, clean and masterful drumming that he displayed throughout that fine album was there at the heart of Greenslade’s unique sound.
Throughout their short existence their albums mixed instrumentals, that generally came across like wordless songs rather than just tunes and actual songs and it is the latter that gave the band it’s individuality above all else.
Dave Lawson’s striking enunciated vocal style that like Roger Chapman’s and Peter Hammill’s, ranged effortlessly between the strident and the wistful was utterly unique and unmistakable. Nobody sung like Dave Lawson and I loved it.
Just as unique was the unexpected subject matter of the songs themselves. Often pitched from the perspective of an innocent trying to get by in a guilty world the lyrics delved into reluctant relationships with dysfunctional partners, foreshadows of ecological disaster and social
While the first album was excellent and contains the bands signature song Feathered Friends,
the follow up, Beside Manners Are Extra found the band at their creative peak. I loved it and must have been hunkering to see them live, desperate enough to take a chain of long bus journeys all the way out to the exotic wilds of Hounslow to see them at the Technical College.
An adventure into the unknown that paid off handsomely since the venue was beautifully civilised, (unlike the black walled smelly dumps that constituted most small London venues at that time). The sound system was warm and crystal clear and the performance magnificent. It remains a perfect gig in my memories even now.
A third album Spyglass Guest continued the high quality that proceeded it effortlessly and even grazed the album charts for a brief moment. I saw them live again, this time at the shabby shit hole that was the Chalk Farm Roundhouse. which always boasted a pretty harsh sound system full of unpleasantly sharp sibilance and muffled murkiness.
The band was in blazing form, despite the less than ideal sonic shambles of the venue. By 1975
the record labels were growing less tolerant of progressive music and the smaller bands like Camel,
Caravan and Gentle Giant were the first to cop it, told to be more commercial, more Prog Pop than Prog Rock.
It’s hard to say if Greenslade were affected by this as their final album Time and Tide, with new bass player Martin Briley, is a slight and brief affair. The songs as ever are great, though played more straight forward than before, the instrumentals are nice enough but lack passion and half an hour in its all over.
I saw them live one last time and they were as ever excellent, but their days were numbered and soon they were no more. Cherry Red’s newly remastered and expanded reissues of all four albums are superbly packaged beautifully realised and reasonably priced.
The first album has a lavish ten bonus tracks from the BBC archives, Bedside Manners has only three but comes with a bonus DVD of three previously unseen promo films and the two tracks performed on the OGWT. Spyglass Guest has another eight wonderful BBC tracks while Time and Tide has a sparkling nine track 1975 Swedish radio in concert as the bonus disc.
For the long term fan there’s plenty here to justify opening the wallet. For the uninitiated…well welcome to the world of the truly excellent Greenslade, a forgotten band that are well worth remembering.
You can buy these Cherry Red Reissues here.