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Clouds - Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71] CD (album) cover

UP ABOVE OUR HEADS [CLOUDS 1966-71]

Clouds

 

Prog Related

4.19 | 8 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars I've looked at Clouds from both sides now

Having disbanded after the release of their third album "Watercolour days" in 1971, the world quickly forgot about Clouds. This travesty was finally put right in 2010 when BGO records put together this superb compilation. Not only do we have for the first time ever, all three of the band's albums, regardless of whether you live in Europe, North America or anywhere else, but we have a selection of 9 well chosen bonus tracks not previously available anywhere.

All three albums are carefully remastered, bringing out the essence of each perfectly. The first CD gathers in the band's first album "The Clouds scrapbook" (released in Europe only) and their second album "Up above our heads" (released in North America only). The three tracks which appeared on both are only present once, slightly disrupting the running order of "Up above our heads". It would have been good though if the full running order of that album had at least been listed somewhere within the package.

The band's third album "Watercolour days" (was this "Watercolor" in North America?!) occupies the first half of the second CD. Reviews of all three albums are of course posted under the Clouds entry on this site.

It is though to the bonus tracks that we head for this review. The first pair of these are a single A and B side from 1968, the band's first recordings as Clouds having changed their name from 1-2-3. The A-side, "Make no bones about it" is very much of its time, offering a Barrett-era-Floyd/Wood-era-Move like slice of psychedelia, but it failed to garner much interest. Had it done so, which in retrospect with the right exposure it could easily have done, the single may have set Clouds on the road to fame and fortune. The B- Side "Heritage" is a more ambitious story song, which now sounds a little clumsy but at the time would have certainly been viewed as progressive. The track features a captivating organ interlude, but the vocals are weak.

The following three tracks were recorded for the "Watercolour days" album, but to the dismay of the band they were omitted from the track listing by band manager Terry Ellis. "Why is there no magic" is a multi-tracked Beatles like pastiche with a strong melody. The track's omission from the album borders on the criminal, this being one of the band's strongest recordings ever. "The world is a madhouse" and "Shadows" are interesting but less essential, the Jim Morrison like vocals betraying an obvious attempt to imitate the Doors.

"Once upon a time" appears to be a leftover track from "Up above our heads", but this time the decision to overlook it was probably justified. Not a bad song, just undistinguished. "A day of rain" and "Clockwork soldier" are further leftovers from "Watercolour days". These tracks though were only seen through to the point of being demo tracks at the time, although the band had written them some years earlier. The sound on these tracks is different though, with a more modern feel. It turns out this is due to Billy Ritchie revisiting the recordings some years later, and adding synthesisers and processing the vocals! Admittedly he has done a good job on them, even if the authenticity has been tarnished. "Clockwork soldier" is based on the reading of a poem over sympathetic instrumentation, and as such sounds as if it has been lifted straight from Jim Morrison's solo album "An American prayer".

The most significant of the bonus tracks here is an 8 minute live recording of the band's cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "America". Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, this interpretation pre-dates the famous Yes version by some distance. While by no means identical to Yes' version, many of the nuances are the same. This track alone finally confirms Clouds rightful place in prog history, the recording actually coming from a time when they were still known as 1-2-3. It also demonstrates how much Terry Ellis sanitised their work before the début album was released.

The package is rounded out by an excellent booklet containing an essay on the entire history of the band and the lyrics to the first album (reproduced from the gatefold LP sleeve).

In short, a wonderful way to discover the criminally under-appreciated history and influence of this fine proto-prog band.

With grateful thanks to our Interviews guru Torodd, who drew my attention to the availability of this superb package, which retails at a very reasonable price.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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