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Twelfth Night - Smiling At Grief  CD (album) cover

SMILING AT GRIEF

Twelfth Night

 

Neo-Prog

2.45 | 32 ratings

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stefro
Prog Reviewer
2 stars A scratchy, low-budget, cassette-only affair, Twelfth Night's 'Smiling At Grief' was the group's first album-length release, and the first album to feature lead-singer Geoff Mann. Basically a selection of demo's recorded at either Woodcray Manor Farm Studios in Berkshire or various band-members basement's, 'Smiling At Grief' would prove to be the group's stepping stone towards their impressive first-album proper, the excellent 1982 album 'Fact & Fiction'. The early 1980's had seen a small group of British bands intent on keeping the prog torch burning in the wake of punk rock's bloody onslaught, and, once the dust had settled at the beginning of the 1980's, Twelfth Night were joined by the likes of Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas in trying to emulate their early-1970's progressive rock forefathers, albeit in a new, modern context. The bands that had so influenced this new crop of musicians, the likes of Genesis, Yes and King Crimson, were no longer producing straight-ahead prog, instead being forced to adapt to the changing musical times by the bloody punk cull. Genesis, in the wake of guitarist Steve Hackett's departure in 1977, had slowly inched their way towards a more commercially-orientated, radio-friendly sound, producing a string of hit albums that began with 1978's '...And Then There Were Three' and culminating with the worldwide smash-hit 'Invisible Touch' album from 1986. Others, such as Yes, had struggled through myriad personnel and financial problems before, like Genesis, reverting to a sleeker, more modern pop-rock sound with the 1983 release of their massive- selling '90125' album, whilst even King Crimson, led by the enigmatic Robert Fripp, had eschewed the overtly-progressive material of their past in favour of a hip, metallic, newly- minted post-punk sound. By 1981 prog-rock was very much a lost art. The genre's major exponents had either changed or disappeared from view, leaving just Twelfth Night and their neo-prog cohorts. However, this new crop of groups would not be able to call on the major-label backing or large recording budgets enjoyed by the likes of Yes or Pink Floyd. As 'Smiling A Grief' demonstrated, Twelfth Night were, at this time, very much an amateur group, without a record contract but with a loyal 'live' following. Others like them, such as Southampton's IQ, would also be forced to record their debut album's quickly and cheaply, and it wouldn't be until the completely-unexpected success of Marillion's EMI-backed 'A Script For Jester's Tear' album in 1982 that the music industry door would be opened for prog's second-wave of groups. 'Smiling At Grief' was, for years, available on cassette only. Then, in 1997, French label MSI re-released the album on CD, making it available for a few years until the label's bankruptcy in early 2000. Finally, after almost 10 years, 'Smiling At Grief' has finally had a proper re- mastering job thanks to the F2 label, and the album now comes complete with 2nd disc featuring live recordings from the same era entitled 'Smiling At Grief Live'. Although the quality of the original recordings isn't great, the remastering job has certanily enlivened the original tape album, and it's interesting to find that the material has a slightly sharp, punky edge. Songs such as 'This City' and 'Creepshow', which would appear in fuller versions on the 'Fact & Fiction' album a year later, seem half-complete, with the obvious recording limitations giving the overall package a very low-budget, DIY feel. The recording quality is, sadly, even worse on 'Smiling At Grief Live', which must go down as a recording for die-hard fans only, although the end of the disc features an intriguing live offering of one of the groups most popular tracks, the epic, 20-minute plus 'Sequences'. What 'Smiling At Grief' does do is provide a fascinating picture of the band's early existence, offering up early versions of songs that would go on to become staples of the group's live show. 'Fact & Fiction', their seminal 1982 album that would define the group, would build upon the rough ideas first sown here, with better recording facilities and more time contributing to more rounded and professional album. Fans of the group will surely lap this newly-released archive recording up in droves, which features over 29 tracks and offers an insight into the group's early development. Non fans, however, are urged to stick with 'Fact & Fiction'. Interesting, but in the overall canon of prog, non-essential. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010
stefro | 2/5 |

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