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Spirogyra - Bells, Boots And Shambles CD (album) cover

BELLS, BOOTS AND SHAMBLES

Spirogyra

 

Prog Folk

4.16 | 153 ratings

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Psychedelic Paul
5 stars SPIROGYRA (not to be confused with the similarly-named American Jazz-Fusion band, Spyro Gyra) were an English Prog-Folk band from Bolton in Lancashire. They recorded three albums in the early 1970's:- "St. Radigunds" (1971); "Old Boot Wine" (1972); and the album reviewed here, "Bells, Boots and Shambles" (1973) (a witty version of the well-known play "Bell, Book and Candle"). A fourth album was planned for 1974 but it never materialised and the band decided to go their separate ways following poor sales from their third album. After taking a VERY long hiatus, the band reunited again for two comeback albums: "Children's Earth" (2009) and "Spirogyra 5" (2011). The two principal players on the "Bells, Boots and Shambles" album were Barbara Gaskin on vocals and Martin Cockerham on guitar and vocals (who both appeared on the album cover), with a number of guest musicians brought in for the album session. In the mid-1970's, Barbara Gaskin featured as a backing vocalist for Dave Stewart's Canterbury Scene band Hatfield & the North and she later teamed up with him again in 1986 for "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)".

There's a tremendous opening to the album with "The Furthest Point". The music is like a lovely walk in the autumnal woodlands, with Martin Cockerham on lead vocals and featuring the sound of a haunting flute, a charming cello and a vibrant acoustic guitar. The music sounds slightly unsettling but it's also hypnotic and hauntingly beautiful at the same time. It's an eight minute folky fantasia of musical magic. The angelic honey-coated vocals of Barbara Gaskin appear halfway through the song and her voice is just heavenly. This is gorgeous music designed to carry you away on a sea of blissful dreams, and we've only just begun our musical adventure together. We have a long way to go before we reach "The Furthest Point" because it's time now to take a swig of some "Old Boot Wine", which just happens to be the title of Spirogyra's second album and the second song on this album. It's a very tasty and intoxicating wine too, despite apparently being made from old boots. Honey- voiced Barbara Gaskin takes the lead on this charming melancholy ballad, featuring a prominent mournful cello and flute accompaniment. It's a gentle tender-hearted melody and Barbara has a voice as sweet as sugar that could melt the hardest of hearts. The next song "Parallel Lines Never Separate" features some lovely harmonising between Martin and Barbara with each taking turns on lead vocals. The music opens as a lively Folk rocker but transposes midway through into the gentlest of romantic Folk songs, sounding like a melodic keyboard masterpiece that Renaissance might have recorded back in their heyday. The sound of Martin Cockerham's voice might sound somewhat nasal to some ears on this song, but that's more than offset by the gorgeous sugar-coated vocals of Barbara Gaskin. Side One draws gently to a close now with the short but sweet flute and acoustic guitar melody, "Spiggly", with Barbara in romantic mood with these charming lyrics:- "Love so easy, Love so fine, Into our lives, The time we always needed, No more to strange shadow, I feel us make it, Hope we make it over." ..... Barbara's crystal-clear vocals on this album are heaven-sent, and they're even more pronounced than ever on this gentle acoustic ballad.

Barbara Gaskin's enchanting vocals weave their magical spell again on "An Everyday Consumption Song". This is the kind of eerie but beautiful ballad that's most evocative of the classic English Psych-Folk sound that we've come to know and love over the years. Yes, the music's a little bit spooky and off-kilter, but not so scary that you'll need to leave the lights on at night for fear of what might lurk in the darkness. It's time now to stand to attention for "The Sergeant Says", a traditional rousing Folk- Rock number where Martin Cockerham takes the lead and gives his best travelling troubadour impression of Bob Dylan. And now we arrive at the sensational suite "In the Western World", to close out the album in magnificent style. The extended suite is split into four parts:- 1. "In the Western World"; 2. "Jungle Lore"; 3. "Coming Back"; & 4. "Western World Reprise". This rip- roaring 13-minute-long suite opens deceptively gently with a peaceful pastoral melody. This is just a harbinger though for "Jungle Lore", a dynamic outburst of rollicking Folk-Rock barrelling along on a sparkling crescendo of cellos, flutes, violins, trumpets and piano. The third part of the suite, "Coming Back", resembles a rousing sea shanty with a rough-voiced sailor, sounding like he's been swigging back a bit too much rum. It's the triumphant anthemic grand finale "Western World Reprise" that represents the ultimate dramatic highlight of this superb album though. This is a tremendously uplifting piece of music with all of the grandiose pomp and majestic splendour of the best Symphonic Prog, which might just surprise and delight you if you were expecting a gentle Prog-Folk album.

SpiroGyra have really reached the heights of musical glory and sweet perfection with their stunning third album. They've extended their diverse musical tendrils to deliver a gorgeous mixture of hauntingly beautiful ballads and rousing Folk-Rock songs and a very surprising symphonic epic for the magnificent grand conclusion. Barbara Gaskin truly has the voice of an angel and this stellar album represents a timeless Prog-Folk masterpiece to treasure for all eternity!

Psychedelic Paul | 5/5 |

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