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The Parlour Band - Is A Friend ? CD (album) cover

IS A FRIEND ?

The Parlour Band

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5 stars How far I go back with loving this album should tell you something about it. Nearly 30 years old I am, and I became addicted to this record's sweeping beauty when I was only 17. I own an original copy that I lucked into a few weeks ago in my collectiion, but I've owned it in as an original, CD, and reissue before and only for one year was I ever without it, the worst time of my life. Forming in the Channel Islands was something very unusual, I mean, how many bands can you think of from there? The group were the combined talents of vocalist/ keyboard player/songwriter Peter Filleul (pronouned Fill You- a French name), and a local Jersey band who played hard rock. Combining Filleul's love of Beatle esque lush melodies and the band's love of American West coast hard edged rock, they were both a psychedelic pastoral pop band and a heavy progressive group, something very unusual, but something that was going on in the British Isles at the time. This album I have had mixed reactions from people about. I rave about it, and some love it as well or can't understand it. My own opinion is all that matters to me, but I really do think this is about the best melodic album there is along with the shamefully ignored Deep Feeling, Fickle Pickle, and Dog That Bit People (sadly, I only own a CD of this one). Every song is masterful, filled with great melodies, rich soaring flowing textures of great guitars and keyboards, and the vocals especially harmonies are really great. My favourite tracks here if asked to choose a few highlights are the short yet complex rocking opener "Forgotten Dreams," the proto Queen epic within a short time length darkness of "Evening' (sung by Pix), and the highly original and remarakable closing suite "Home." Every track though is outstanding. Very laid back, but actually rocking out at the same time as well. This is a subtle and complex album, it may take you a few listenings to fully appreciate it and it must be said in all honesty that people who don't like pop overtones to their symphonic prog will not like this, but if you have an open mind you really need to find this album and treasure it. Everyone in the band is an outstanding musician, particularly the twin guitars of Pix (full name Jonathan Pickford- I knew him once) and Craig Anders. Mark Ashley Anders is also a great bass player, and Filleul's solid down to earth approach to the keyboards is a refreshing diversion from all the pompous bashing that was going on then. One of the best things about Is A Friend? is that it not only is a brilliant album in itself, but will open up a world of great music to you if you like it. I would say that this album was also a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the band, with Filleul who wrote every track pushed in the background the group became The O Band- an extremely inferior and even at times downright irritating attempt to imitate the American bands of the the era such as Little Feat and The Dead or even perhaps Quicksilver. While there is a strong US influence to some of The Parlour Band, it is never painful and never contrived. Had the group gone back to their day jobs after this album we'd be left with a one album masterpiece legacy. This album is one of my all time favourites and a magical experience. It is among the best ever.
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Posted Friday, April 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
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3 stars Somewhat of a `one-and-done' act, The Parlour Band hailed from the Channel Island of Jersey between England and France, and they were fortunate enough to have their 1972 debut `Is a Friend?' released on the Decca progressive label imprint Deram. While you'd be hard-pressed to consider them a fully-fledged `prog rock' band (although they could boast cool-points for supporting Canterbury prog notables like Caravan and Khan on tour in their time), and nor would you probably consider their sole album a true classic, their colourful and lively arrangements offered plenty of variety, with the group performing a highly melodic kind of adventurous soft rock music. The focus was mostly on tightly written and crisply performed vocal-driven tunes, all wrapped in silken group harmonies.

The foot-tapping `Forgotten Dreams' is a punchy opening rocker brimming with tasty Hammond organ, but even with countrified guitar licks and sighing harmonies worked in, it's a shame the band doesn't try to stretch it past barely two and a half minutes. The first real signs of magic emerge on the sun-kissed pop perfection of `Pretty Haired Girl', the band grateful that `she makes us stoned...', and it effortlessly drifts into the bluesy, spacey wisps of drowsy ballad `Springs' Sweet Comfort'. The jangling guitars of the catchy `Early Morning Eyes' are met with snarling flare-ups, shimmering electric piano droplets and breathy vocals, although the near-five minute `Follow Me' wears a little thin and could have seriously shortened an over- buoyant and gratingly joyful near-gospel-like second half!

The flip-side's `Evening' is certainly one of the more ambitious pieces here - backwards effects, sweetly murmuring bass, rattling drums and swooning Queen-like harmonies weave between a reprising symphonic theme powered by organ and piano, but banal lyrics like `I can make a lover hit the ceiling' let it down a little (dig that snaking outro, though)! Placid acoustic guitars and sparkling electric piano float through hopeful ballad `Don't Be Sad', the Argent-like `Little Goldie' is richly romantic, and `To Happiness' could almost be a gentler Uriah Heep outtake. The near-eight minute closer `Home' sees the band play their strongest prog hand, but while the three-part suite doesn't offer numerous instrumental passages or wild soloing, it does have the group deliver all manner of exquisite harmonies that remind of the Beatles, Supertramp, and even the Beach Boys.

After this debut, the band would change their name to A Band Called O, then simply The O Band, and turn to something closer to a more straight-forward, American-modelled AOR sound. As for their sole Parlour Band legacy, while not every track on `Is A Friend?' is a memorable killer, and the album has a professional polish that might leave some wishing for a few more rougher edges, it still remains a tight collection of cool tunes performed well, and if describing it as undemanding or a perfect background listen doesn't sound like a negative, then there's tons to enjoy here.

Three stars.

Report this review (#2341122)
Posted Tuesday, March 10, 2020 | Review Permalink

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