What does it sound like?:
Take The Nice’s rhythm section plus Patrick Moraz on keyboards, and you’ve got another ELP knock-off (Germany had Triumvirat). Refugee only produced one album proper, as Moraz was offered Rick Wakeman’s place in Yes, where he added stellar contributions to “Relayer” and the live shows of the time. (Moraz was then unceremoniously dumped and Wakeman brought back in 1977, which I think was a bad move, Moraz being a better player than Wakeman – OOAA). But what a belter the first Refugee album is… frenetic instrumentals like “Papilon”, “Rit Mickley” (Moraz’s pronunciation of rhythmically, “Mind Your Language” fans of comedy foreigners, note), two epics, one “The Grand Canyon”, the other “Credo” (with church organ, natch), and more. There is a nice fusion feel to parts, as this was from 1974, and wibbly keyboard sounds were no longer enough; they had to be slightly funky wibbly keyboards.
Lee Jackson’s vocals remain a sticking point for many, myself included, mixing to questionable appeal, Brian Johnson and Roger Chapman. However, there are not a lot of these, as this is mostly all about the music, man. The second and third discs are live recordings made a month apart, one a BBC “In Concert” the other a longer selection from the Newcastle City Hall, which includes Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and The Nice’s “The Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon” (which I recall hearing on the b-side of my brother’s copy of “America” in 1968, when I was 7). In truth, these concerts don’t add much more, but they do show the band had chops, and could perform this material live. There is a lot going on in the music, so it’ll take a while to habituate to the live versions.
What does it all *mean*?
Progressive Rock’s autumn was 1974; still fruitful, but the winter coming in, and sooner than you might think. There was only so much you could do with progressive rock keyboard-led trios as times changed, and popular music phases are, in truth, generally quite brief, even if individual acts sustain over decades. The Nice remain appreciated where ELP are mostly not, and I do wonder if that’s because of the solidily middle class vocals of Greg Lake. The grit provided by Lee Jackson for Refugee made music that in many ways was like a less lumpen ELP, and so class war warriors opposing progressive rock might have been less pissy about this. But it was not to be – Refugee only existed for a year and a bit, and when Yes came calling, you can understand Moraz deciding to trade up, even if it didn’t work out. Sometimes the “almost” bands are better than the ones that were successful.
Goes well with…
In my case, writing a report, some toffees, and a cup of tea. This would have been a definite cider and bifters job back in the day.
August 30th, 2019
Might suit people who like…
Classic progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, under-appreciated early 70s also-rans.