What does it sound like?:
Band archivist Andrew Batt has put this sprawling seven cd box together. It’s a mixture of unreleased material combined with difficult to find obscurities, live material, and some familiar tunes in less familiar versions – oh, and there’s a selection of their best material from the first ten years too.
All told, there are one hundred and twenty one tracks, of which fifty five are previously unreleased. It comes together with a good forty eight page book, although I’d have liked more information on the previously unreleased material here.. So there’s a lot to get through, but in brief summary:
Cd 1 basically covers their debut through to Unhalfbricking, including a lovely alternate take of Who Knows Where The Time Goes.
Cd 2 has a selection of Dylan covers and some BBC sessions, together with material from Liege & Lief. The most interesting pieces are a nice Ballad Of Easy Rider and an outtake of The Deserter, but there’s plenty of great music on here from this part of their career.
Cd 3 contains seven previously unreleased live tracks from the Full House era, the highlight being a lengthy version of Sloth. There are also half a dozen songs from the BBC documentary The Man They Could Not Hang, which are available officially for the first time since its broadcast in 1975.
Cd 4 is maybe the weakest here, with the band in disarray after the departures of Dave Mattacks and Simon Nicol. The music of this time is nothing special really, and some of the grounds for including various songs seem a little tenuous. Nevertheless, there’s a nice Sandy Denny rehearsal version of Think It Over, which stands out. We then come on to ten songs that make up a lost album recorded between Babbacombe Lee and Nine. These ‘Manor Sessions’ from 1973 are interesting to hear but are a bit variable in quality, with some not altogether successful experiments into almost country rock territory. The album seems to have been scrapped at quite an early stage, and judging by these recordings that was a wise move.
Cd 5 is the last in the chronological sweep through the archives, and there’s not too much in the way of unreleased material here, in the Rising For The Moon/Gottle O’Geer period. The highlight for me is a TV recording of White Dress.
Cd 6 gives us Live At Fairfield Hall from 1973. This is a really great recording, with Sandy Denny guesting on the two encores, and top versions of Cell Song and The Claw.
Cd 7 has a live show from The Troubador in 1974, a rather disappointing choice as this is already available on the deluxe version of Rising For The Moon. So this fascinating box rather ends with a whimper than a bang.
What does it all *mean*?
An exhaustive and exhausting set. Not for the casual fan looking for an introduction to this iconic band, this is aimed at the must have everything completist – although I would assume they would already have a good deal of the material on here. It is quite expensive, but like the Tull reissues, it’s been very well put together.
Goes well with…
An evening when you have time to fully immerse yourself in the treasures to be found here.
Might suit people who like…
Fairport, Richard Thompson, folk rock.