I’m barely a teenager meandering through Oasis market, on one of the boutique stalls’ wall is a poster for a group called Greenslade who’ll be playing either Birmingham or Aston University. Absentmindedly I presume they’re a cover band of Noddy and the lads. If I’d bothered to make a joke about it to my mate Gary walking in front of me, he might’ve given me Bedside Manner Are Extra to listen to a year earlier than he did. To my mind it’s one of the most perfect progressive rock records ever committed to vinyl, and the rest of the collection is pretty nifty too.
Disc One: Greenslade (1973)
For reasons unknown however, back when we had record shops down our high streets, their self-titled debut, Greenslade, was never in the racks. That 1973 release reveals a band compatible in sound and abilities, the music showing individual influences that would develop, meld and diverge a little as time went on. The group name was chosen because their management company listed them thus, rather than the fact keyboard player Dave Greenslade was the most high-profile member having been in Colosseum. Bass player Tony Reeves had also come from that band, drummer Andy McCulloch had played on King Crimson’s Lizard album. And, as with Spooky Tooth before them, they featured two keyboard players, in this case Dave Lawson proved the final piece of the original jigsaw, and he had formerly been with the lesser-known Samurai.
Melodic is a word that would best suit this band. They could change time at the flick of a hat and extemporise as is the protocol of progressive rock acts, but there tended to always be something hummable about their music. This belied the fact that In Lawson they had a lyricist with an articulate caustic bite. Add to this his higher pitched nasal range, and but for a hop, skip and jumping of ship he could’ve replaced Roger Hodgson in Supertramp during their more sardonic charting periods.
That first album shows the influence of the previous Colosseum in its grooves, it’s just a lot warmer, and less prone to jazzy outrage. Certainly, organ heavy opening number ‘Feathered Friends’ sits in that pocket, while instrumental ‘An English Western’ combines the sounds of the Morris dance with fairground attraction in playful manner, the former aspect being a theme they’d return to throughout their work, one that surprisingly tended to work. ‘Drowning Man’ is practically downbeat stoner blues reworking lines from the Lord’s Prayer, while the following ‘Temple Song’, from whence the collection gets its title, is more upbeat though still a little melancholy as it applies musical motifs from the Far East.
Odder times signatures and passages of time are felt in the aptly titled ‘Melange’ wherein Reeves begins to solo, in delightful effect-laden mode. McCulloch having applied himself sparingly to the beat on that number drives hard ‘What Are Doin’ To Me’ the rockiest number on the album, alongside jazzy interludes and a film-themed orchestral Mellotron climax – A number that wouldn’t be out of place within The Ian Gillan Band, who Lawson was later invited to join. Following a piano introduction ‘Sundance’ is similarly stirred through its changes by McCulloch’s drumming as keyboards solo over the progressive instrumental in blues and jazz derived mannerisms, returning towards piano in the album’s closing coda. A pleasant recording, more coherent than the Canterbury section of progressive rock, less dramatic than the ELP/Genesis/Yes triumvirate. They sounded like a band; it would just be the song-writing they would need to develop.
In the liner notes, Lawson makes the claim Greenslade’s influences were blues based and his jazz, both are peppered with a very Englishness quality, but also a certain forwarding thinking approach. That their records often listed which keyboards each of them played made the listener pay all the more attention in those by-gone days where you could spend a day exploring gatefold album sleeves. With Greenslade they were more often than not blessed with strong artwork too, with front covers that tended to feature a character plucked from Indian mythology metamorphosed into a grasshopper-styled wizard meditating in some Alice in Wonderland otherworld scene. The initial design had been by Greenslade, the first two album covers by Roger Dean. I fear a lot of Dean’s art work has dated for me, but the covers for Greenslade stand the test of time.
Disc Two: Bedside Manners Are Extra (1973)
Later that year, because in those day you could, they released their second album, and in the months between they had flowered beautifully as a unit. Dean’s wrapround cover for a gatefold sleeve took the band’s totemic character a step further, a black cat beside him adding further intrigue. Open the album out and there were the lyrics to pour over and photographs of the individual members playing away. They’d played hard, recording the album in nine days, with few overdubs. This was their masterpiece, Bedside Manners Are Extra.
The record opens with its title track. Casually the music laces its way in, sighing vocal harmonies coming on board then pianos, bass and synthesisers gracefully play with classical and blues ballad themes. The title we are decades later informed refers to the way posh doctors talked down to patients, whereas I prefer the view I’ve held most of my life: Lawson takes the role of a public school boy and is narrating a love letter to the girl he got pregnant, with lines like “Your mother and father weren’t to know what we already knew,” and later “Please write to me if you have the time, please write to me let know it’s mine,” what else could this then pubescent lad think listening to it all on his own? The moods shift subtly throughout, drums not coming in until three and a half minutes in, keyboards solo happily when Lawson sings about the person having “a holiday” by which again I inferred the lass being sent away to have the child Sad melancholy moments prevail too, ebbing and flowing the piece reaches its conclusion, thematically tied, voices and music having worked so well together. To my mind this song, on its own, still stands tall and should be considered a worthy companion to some of the more thoughtful novels and films that came to be published in that era.
‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ is a seven-minute musical adventure, while the rhythm section remain fundamentally blues bopping. It’s progressive rock down to its heart and soul with keyboards tumbling over metaphorical hill and dale, lost in woods, but always coming up safely for air until reaching their eventual goal. ‘Time To Dream’ finished side one of the vinyl edition. Musically a funky-spunky jelly-rolling upbeat track, Lawson obsessing and ignoring in equal measures the vision of beauty before him, though we’re not sure if she’s actuality standing before him in a bar, the things that dreams (or drugs) are made of as the title suggests, or just photos in the spanking new copy of Mayfair held within his hands. Two very different keyboard solos also keep the progressive rock fans attention here but let’s face it, add a dirty guitar riff and Dave Lee Roth or Steven Tyler could just as easily make this one their own.
Side two lead off with ‘Drum Folk’ and you will not be surprised to learn it begins with tinkling orchestral percussion and gongs, weird organ or Mellotron effects rising and fading before a quick paced rhythm ensues and more keyboards give merry chase – Greenslade rarely went beyond a musical gallop, nor were oddly named scales their cup of tea when taking to solo mode – That a drum solo figures in this number will not be a surprise. That there are two may upset some, but they both work in rhythmic affinity with the work, and, in between the piece slowing down, the four musicians all adding integral parts.
‘Sunkissed You’re Not’ ranks as my second favourite song on this album. Lawson’s narrative role being on the receiving end by contrast to the one he took in ‘Time To Dream’. Did I know what fetishes were when first I heard this? Certainly, I was beginning to get an inkling by the end of this track with lines like “Sunkissed you’re not, masochist you are” all delivered with gleeful conviction, the music too was again funkily spruced and remains an added intoxicating delight. Once more Greenslade would end an album with an instrumental. This time it was ‘Chalk Hill’, a number that seems to wrap up all the gleeful, considered motifs at play through this album in a totally new number as musical reminder of how good the last forty minutes of listening should have been for you.
What can I say, other than that Bedside Manners Are Extra is a sexy, sardonic and exquisitely performed progressive work that has stood the test of time.
Disc Three: Spyglass Guest (1974)
Greenslade and Lawson were the main songwriters, and had mainly collaborated up until this point. Generally, Greenslade supplying the initial music, Lawson lyrics when required, then them elaborating thereafter. With 1974’s Spyglass Guest they tended to write separately, and not always play on each other’s tracks. The liner notes state this was not down to any musical differences, indeed the foursome apparently all got on well, but more down to time and circumstances.
Lawson did object to the inclusion of the Jack Bruce/Pet Brown composition, ‘Theme From An Imaginary Western’. Not so much because Greenslade and Reeves had recorded it previously in Colosseum but that it didn’t suit his own playing style. Personally, I find that ironic as the Greenslade version was the one I heard first, before countless others, and it’s still my favourite, albeit I can see how it sits just beyond the Greenslade house style. But then this album was about changes. From the songs chosen, the replacement of illustrative album cover with that of a photograph (Not a brilliant one, it was years later someone had to tell me there was a panther on it and it symbolised the black cat from Bedsides fully grown, or magically transformed). It also featured guest musicians. This resulted in an album that was a less cohesive work than previously, but had some standout songs within, not least with Lawson penning songs less than comfy listening for the more passive prog rock atypical Tolkien fan.
Things open with another enchanting run round the maypole with Greenslade’s ‘Spirit Of The Dance’ instrumental. Then, comes the tale of a farmer ready with his gun in ‘Little Red Fry Up’ as those held within the chicken coop prepare to meet their end. Leaping about musically like a Warner Bros Loony Tunes cartoon, Lawson adding different voices for the characters told within this absurdist mini-rock operetta, it also features the first of two guitar solos from another former Colosseum instrumentalist, Tamworth’s Clem Clempson; then filling out stadiums in the USA playing with Humble Pie.
That solo rocks out well but less so than and even more unexpectedly in the later Tony Reeves instrumental ‘Siam Seesaw’ – That number, also featuring acoustic guitar by Andy Roberts (who would later play with Roy Harper, as would Lawson) and for the most part is something those of us of a certain age would perceive as being very similar to the musical box style of Gordon Murray’s Trumptonshire trilogy children’s TV puppet series, only for an odd bossa nova groove to kick in then Clempson unleash blues licks that get every more fiery as he wails away furiously – Listen to an early Kansas album and musically the similarities to Greenslade but with added guitars is quite remarkable.
In hindsight, the familiarity to Trumpton was probably the reason a teacher I later knew chose ‘Siam Seesaw’ as the track her infant school children would dance along to during a school performance when asked for musical suggestions and I had given her Spyglass Guest. I had in fact thought she would choose the lullaby ‘Rainbow’ that sits between the Clempson-guesting tracks. Minimal piano and harmonies naming the rainbow’s colours are the barest accompaniment as Lawson sings about that sky illusion, and now in more mature years we possibly perceive the pot of gold at the end of it alluded to love.
Further comparisons to early Kansas can be found on the vinyl edition’s Side two opening track ‘Joie De Vivre’ wherein violinist Graham Smith of Van Der Graaf and String Driven Thing fame stirs things up quite epically with uplifting refrains, between regular Greenslade musical tropes, snapped into shape through the changes by McCulloch, on this enigmatic journey of presumed discovery with lyrics by one Martin Hall, all sung by Lawson with conviction over the Greenslade composition. Its progressive rock in many shapes and forms, glistening adventurous keyboards one moment, suspenseful mysteries outlined the next, the growing pomp and ceremony of assured march and spiritual rebirth near conclusion, even as organ and violin jig in near Stravinsky primordial joy towards fade out.
After that, we have Lawson to bring us down to earth with the slightly melancholically sordid but somehow bittersweet and tender ‘Red Light’, as he discovers his lover moonlighting and on the game. Interesting to note here that this stalker’s romance number combines in one song what it took Sting to simplify as two, in ‘Roxanne’ and ‘I’ll Be Watching You’, and become hit singles. Even more curious, that The Police’s Stuart Copeland, then looking to jump ship from Curved Air (who Reeves had also previously played with) nearly joined Greenslade. For sadists out there, the song is ‘Sunkissed You’re Not’ part two thematically. Despite its title, ‘Melancholic Race’ is anything but, sitting stylistically somewhere between Greenslade’s other compositions on this album the various keyboard solos do literally race towards its finish line.
With the last refrains of ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’ fading in the grooves, next time round there would be both further changes and returns to more established formulas. In demand as a producer and elsewhere musically, Reeves left the band to be replaced by Martin Briley on both bass and guitars, both tending towards more fundamental roles.
Disc Four: Time & Tide (1975)
The totemic Greenslade figurehead returned to front the cover of what become their final album together in 1975, Time & Tide. This time however it was illustrated Patrick Woodroffe, with the character looking more warlike in the manner of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tharks in his John Carter novels. Importantly the old writing partnership of Greenslade and Lawson was employed once more, though not on all tracks.
Despite the collaborations this album does tend to show the two side of the creative coin more markedly, and each generally improving stylistically. Lawson’s wry observations on humanity were markedly pointed, articulate and hit the mark going straight for the jugular far better than Johnny Rotten would do in a year or two, just never achieve the same kind of notoriety. While Greenslade himself was experimenting further with synthesisers and all manner of thematic composition as he edged into TV and film work.
Forswearing their customary gentle lead in they deliver the two-pronged vocal delivery attacks of ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Newsworth’ as opening numbers, performing as a trio on the first, Greenslade then joining for piano on the latter. The first has ARP synths parping in loud heralding away as pianos race honky-tonk fashion, the song less Orwellian than expected, more the expectations of the countryside vs confronting the reality of where you got your two meat and veg back in the day. The second seems pointed at weekly music papers’ journalists of the time, and is the one song that’s lost some of its bite lyrically in these D-list celebrity and social media influencer times.
‘Time’, ‘Tide’ and ‘Catalan’ are all Greenslade compositions, the first two featuring him as the only musician. ‘Time’ is a short harpsichord piece with The Trevera Male Voice Choir la-la-ing somewhat jollily along, ‘Tide’ a more mysterious mood piece with Mellotron and Fender piano that wouldn’t be too out of place on a Tangerine Dream album. Things then really kick in with ‘Catalan’ so titled after a memorable concert performed there by the band. Slower string-arranged keyboard melodies flirt between bright, jumpier synth and clavinet runs all punctuated by flamenco percussive sounds and punchy bass, rounding out the original vinyl side one well indeed.
One gets the feeling a quest for fame, power and money, and not getting it were very much of it was on Lawson’s mind around this time. ‘The Flattery Stakes’ features a rolling melody in the manner of Genesis’ Tony Banks while vocals exasperate almost in continuation of the earlier ‘Newsworth’ number, while ‘Waltz For A Fallen Idol’ shuffles round the dance floor with inward looking regret and that too feels a little Genesis like when Briley exudes a long-noted echoing guitar solo. Then, in like a jackhammer, comes ‘The Ass’s Ears’ with rhythm section propelling and shuffling the piece, organ chords held firm, Lawson giving it full throttle over more fine lines, tempos changing, a burst of guitar ascending forth, then another quick gallop around the keys to end on.
‘Doldrums’ that follows is a solo piece, of voice and keyboards, all performed by Lawson. Thoughts of a better yesteryear ensue as music ripples back and forth underneath with added seagull effects for good effect. Lines like “As usual we’re too late to pay the piper” might well reflect that the tormented allegories in his lyrics this album we’re saying it was time to call time on the band. As such it might’ve been a good place to end Time & Tide. However, the instrumental ‘Gangster’ did that, and in so doing highlighted that while the band would soon cease to be, brighter days were around the corner for them individually. With full band in swing ‘Gangster’ swerves gleefully like an Artful Dodger, with an air of mystery and daring do. It was a Greenslade written piece used for a BBC Play For Today that would then be commissioned as its own ground-breaking series set in Birmingham.
Ironically, on 7th December 1975 Lawson played his last gig with Greenslade, in Birmingham at Barbarella’s (The TV adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club screens a good facsimile of the venue, albeit too clean and well-lit). He was offered a place in the Ian Gillan Band, but turned it down, his own brief replacement in Greenslade, Colin Towns, taking that job eventually. Fed up with management inefficiencies, Dave Greenslade decided the only way out way to dissolve the band.
Greenslade would go onto become a much in demand composer of TV themes, record solo albums, work with Discworld’s Sir Terry Pratchett, join a reformed Colosseum, and temporarily reignite a new version of Greenslade. Lawson’s career saw him play with Roy Harper and the infamous supergroup rehearsal band XYZ, featuring Chris Squire, Alan White and Jimmy Page, and his many sessions would lead him into TV work too but also music for Hollywood films. Tony Reeves was similarly kept much in demand, with sessions, bands and as head of MTR Professional Audio for over thirty years, his replacement Martin Briley joined the Ian Hunter/Mick Ronson Band and has since written songs for or played with artists as diverse as Meatloaf, Celine Dion, Gregg Allman and Charles Aznavour. Drummer Andy McColluch would play with the London Symphony Orchestra before leaving music behind and taking up a successful career as an international yachts master.
They all did well. Should they have stuck it out a few more years and streamlined their musical affairs the right management would’ve secured them a comfy career sat somewhere between Supertramp and Asia. But to do that, they would have to compromise, and as these four albums show, they were never about grandstanding and making a show of themselves and they would never compromise either – Music always came first, and it was rarely never less than very good.
- Review by Paul H Birch.
- Temple Songs: The Albums (1973-1975) is released via Cherry Red Records on 25th June 2021
Disc One: Greenslade (1973)
1. Feathered Friends
2. An English Western
3. Drowning Man
4. Temple Song
6. What Are Doin’ To Me
Disc Two: Bedside Manners Are Extra (1973)
1. Bedside Manners Are Extra
2. Pilgrim’s Progress
3. Time To Dream
4. Drum Folk
5. Sunkissed You’re Not
6. Chalk Hill.
Disc Three: Spyglass Guest (1974)
1. Spirit Of The Dance
2. Little Red Fry Up
4. Siam Seesaw
5. Joie De Vivre
6. Red Light
7. Melancholic Race
8. Theme For An Imaginary Western.
Disc Four: Time And Tide (1975)
1. Animal Farm
6. The Flattery Stakes
7. Waltz For A Fallen Idol
8. The Ass’s Ears