What does it sound like?:
I was very fond of Greenslade in the early 1970s.
I first saw them supporting Rory Gallagher. It seemed a bizarre combination – Greenslade a band consisting of two keyboard players, bass and drums supporting a guitar hero. It was a double bill of convenience as both acts were managed by Gaff Management (more notable for managing Rod and The Faces) and at the time it seemed a strange line-up, though in retrospect I now think it was eminently sensible. After all, what guitarist wants to front a band, only to be shown up by the brilliance of Rory half an hour later?
Anyway this album brings together a mostly good selection taken from Greenslade’s four studio albums (though not necessarily my choice – for instance from the Bedside Manners Are Extra album, I would have selected Chalkhill ahead of Time To Dream).
Let’s get the negative aspect out of the way first; that being Dave Lawson’s vocals. While never the strongest singer, when I listened back in the 1970s I don’t recall being bothered by them at all, but now, especially when he strays out of his natural range, I find him grating, and also rather cringeworthy when he tried to sound lascivious on the aforementioned Time To Dream. Whether this is a result of the processing of analogue sound to digital, or simply me becoming more critical I couldn’t say for sure, but is more likely the latter. But let’s not get too picky, because Greenslade were essentially an instrumental band who used vocals to provide colour and interest, rather than a band that had personal or political concerns that they had to communicate to the world through their lyrics.
There are many positives though. I had forgotten what a great bassist Tony Reeves was. Given the absence of a lead guitarist Reeves bass is often pushed to the fore, providing a really nice, fat, melodic pulse which melds so well with the drums of Andrew McCulloch. McCulloch has a crispness and attack to his playing that was a real feature of Greenslade’s performance. They both seem to have disappeared from the music scene. There is old information about Reeves playing regularly in Camden while McCulloch has given up music to become a yacht master, working in the Mediterranean. Not a bad choice, I’d say.
Greenslade’s greatest strengths lay in their gift for melody and ability to develop a piece of music without venturing into the excesses of other bands from the same era.
The sleeve-notes point out the differences between Dave Greenslade’s and Dave Lawson’s styles. Greenslade coming from Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band and Colosseum whereas Lawson came from a jazz background, allowing for both contrasting and complementary playing.
Title track Sundance, probably the strongest number on the album, starts with with a beautiful adagio acoustic piano, which is joined by electric piano before bursting out with organ and drums and a pumping bass line. The composition builds, solos are exchanged it slows only to work via crescendo to a climax before a return to the opening adagio theme.
Album opener, the excellent Melange, with its interplay and variations in pace and mood exemplified Greenslade’s strengths. Tony Reeves especially, was given a chance to shine and he didn’t waste it.
There is a live version of Feathered Friends (from the eponymous first album) recorded at the Reading Festival . The notes say the performance was fraught with sound problems, so I do wonder if this version has had a post-performance workover.
I received this album on the day of Greta Thunberg’s “betrayal” speech to the UN and only a few days after reading that the bird population of North America has declined by three billion in the last 50 years. It’s pretty depressing to think that Greenslade recorded Feathered Friends (here’s to all our feathered friends that used to fly, Gone is all motion, on land and in ocean and sky) in the early 70s and that things have got so much worse. I don’t think, for a moment, that a song changes anything, never mind one by a fairly minor band, but it reminded me that we have been aware of the problems for such a long time and things get worse and worse.
One surprise for me was finding I now enjoy the title track of the second album, Bedside Manners Are Extra. I never liked it originally and used to lift the needle to avoid hearing it, but I’m now surprised to find I really enjoyed it, and to give Dave Lawson some credit I do think he produces his best vocal performance of all the songs collected here. It has also solved a riddle for me, which is that quite often in recent years, when I’ve been heading off on holiday I have been singing to myself the lines “Have a holiday, Have a holiday, holiday love” and been unable to identify the song, forgetting about it until the next time I queued at airport security. This is the song it comes from.
I parted company with Greenslade after the release of Spyglass Guest. Two of the three tracks from that album included here are magnificent. Joie De Vivre and Spirit Of The Dance are both examples of Greenslade at their best. I had also forgotten about the fabulous violin playing by Graham Smith (a member of the band String Driven Thing) on the track Joie De Vivre. Both tracks embody their titles and are a pleasure to listen to.
The third choice from that album, the poor Melancholic Race, with its staccato playing followed by an awful wibbling synth is just pretty poor. Spyglass Guest also included a version of Theme From An Imaginary Western, which really put me off. I loved Jack Bruce’s original version. I assume Dave Greenslade was a fan of Songs For A Tailor, because this song as well as Rope Ladder To The Moon (a spectacularly bad version on Colosseum Live) were recorded by Colosseum.
The three songs from the final studio album Time And Tide were completely new to me, and on this evidence I’m pleased that I dodged that album.
On the song Flattery Stakes the awful vocals are like fingernails down blackboard and they contrast badly with the female backing vocals singing tunefully “If you want it, you can get it”. In this case, sadly, they didn’t get it.
But the album ends with a nice surprise – the theme from the series Gangsters. I loved the programme (set in West Midlands Big City, a very clumsy euphemism for Birmingham) which ran for a couple of years. I guess Greenslade would have been list in the rolling credits, but if they were I’s forgotten. Anyway, this tune has a really sleazy feel to it and makes me want to go back and watch it.
When Greenslade were good they could be absolutely excellent and I think most of this album demonstrates that, but when they weren’t they could be absolutely average.
What does it all *mean*?
There was a lot of quality and variety around in the early 1970s. Greenslade would probably have been considered a second division act, (today I think that translates into ‘cult act’) but given the right breaks, who knows what they could have done. The talent was there. The success wan’t.
A decent quality vocalist (male or female) would have helped.
Goes well with…
Rory Gallagher’s Blueprint album
25th October 2019
Might suit people who like…
…any of those keyboard bands of the era – Caravan, Egg, Rare Bird, Yes and maybe even Atomic Rooster