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David Bedford - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner CD (album) cover


David Bedford


Crossover Prog

3.11 | 29 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

4 stars If one thinks of sequences of albums on Virgin Records in the 1970s, which artistes spring to mind? Mike Oldfield, obviously. Gong, natch. Tangerine Dream, most definitely. Henry Cow? Hatfield and the North? Steve Hillage? Maybe even Ivor Cutler. My older sister's boyfriend (twelve years senior to me) had them all and much more besides, yet none of his vast prog collection entranced me as much as 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner': partly because I knew of the poem from school, partly because of its minimal and understated cover art, but mostly because I had never heard anything like it.

Mr Bedford tends to be overlooked in the history of Prog. This is understandable as he was often a collaborator or arranger, rather than someone whose priority was making Prog albums of his own. His focus was on his serious, avant-garde "classical" compositions (though it's debatable whether his classical compositions from the late 70s onwards were avant-garde at all) and latterly on works for school and community projects. His Prog-cred is further muddied by the fact that his Virgin albums are a real mixed bag: sometimes very, very good indeed, and sometimes decidedly underwhelming. His first for Virgin Records,'Star's End' was a very unsuccessful cross-genre marriage. The orchestral writing is interesting enough, but Mike Oldfield's guitar sound doesn't blend with it at all (and his long solo near the end of part one is excruciating).

Thankfully, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' was a much more successful entity (and, sans orchestra, no doubt a lot cheaper to make.)

Part One. The album starts straightforwardly enough, with a simple rendition of a basse-danse by 16th century Flemish composer Tielman Susato (which reappears in various guises throughout the album). However, once that's over, we are in very different territory. Part one builds slowly into something eerie and ominous, perfectly capturing the sense of dread of Coleridge's poem. It is beautifully paced and totally original, helped no end by Robert Powell's clipped and sparse narration. Without attempting a blow-by-blow account of the narrative, part one captures the mood of the original text perfectly.

Part Two. The division between parts one and two of 'TRotAM' exemplifies a division in David Bedford's career as a whole. Part one is perhaps closer to some of his compositions of the 60s and early 70s, whereas part two is more akin to the melodic style of his later work. It starts with Mr Powell showing off his superior reading chops again, but after a few minutes of expectant calm, the guest star (Oldfield - who else?) turns up. He solos for about 5 minutes to fill up some time, there's a brief return to the tense sound-world of part one (though less well-executed), then everyone sings a sea shanty (with Mr Oldfield soloing over it of course). Finally, there's a triumphant restatement of the opening basse-danse theme, and we can all go home. It's nice enough, but a bit too normal for its own good, and pales in comparison to part one.

Ratings. Part One: 5 stars. Part Two: 3 stars.

trout.phosphor | 4/5 |


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