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


David Bedford

Crossover Prog

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Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Narrated by Robert Powell this work was released by Virgin Records in 1975. Great album sleeve with a noteworthy credit being Mike Oldfield assisting on guitars. The album itself comprises of two parts, Rime Of The Ancient Mariner 1 & 2. Oldfield's association with David Bedford went back to The Kevin Ayers and the Whole World band. While Oldfield was flexing his creative muscle and getting frustrated within the confines of that band he confided more and more with David Bedford and struck up a strong rapport with the keyboard player that lasted long after 1975.

This is an unusual album, typical of a Virgin release for the mid 70's in that it allowed the artists to express freely their creative juices. Part one for me is the least accessible with long passages of of frenetic discord with some elements of calm. Remember David Bedford was depicting the mood around the Rime, doldrums, ghosts etc. all interspersed by Powell's narrative. Part two seems to lift up both in mood and in creative output not least some excellent guitar work from Mike Oldfield. The Queens College Choir lend some pleasant vocal backdrops too. It is a strong work perhaps indicating that composer and keyboardist Bedford was thoroughly enjoying these experimental days. He did though have stronger studio output than this.

Report this review (#181922)
Posted Saturday, September 6, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is an album that shows Bedford on middle ground, so to speak; not as hardcore avantgardistic as some of his recordings but not as accessible and prog-compatible as others. It still leans more towards the avantgarde side than to any form of prog save the most experimental though. Mike Oldfield appears on guitar once again, but except for two instances towards the end he's quite removed from what we've come to expect from him, while blending in very effectively with the avantgardistic nature of the album, proving once again just how versatile a musician he is.

As for the actual music; I must admit that I have never read the poem, only a summary and of course the narration from this very album, but from what I gather I believe the music must capture the mood of the poem very well. It is for the most part rather sparse; piano, guitar, and other instruments take turns in creating an eerie atmosphere, and as the piece moves on, the narration also becomes a part of the music itself, at times initiating rather dramatic turns.

Many of you will be aware that Iron Maiden also have a track called Rime of the Ancient Mariner, of course based on the same poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Surely there is no relation between the two pieces, except through the poem itself, you will say. Well, bear with me for a minute here. The Iron Maiden track has this atmospheric part starting around the 5 minute mark, which depicts the ship in the doldrums. If you can imagine this part extended to full album length, retaining the same basic mood but refracted through the language of avantgarde music, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what, not all, but a good portion of this album sounds like. I'm quite serious; the Iron Maiden piece is of course much more conventional in composition, but the eerie, maritime atmosphere is very similar.

The rating is to be taken in context; I honestly believe Bedford to be a master of his craft, and as an avantgarde piece this works really well as it conveys exactly the atmosphere that - I have to assume - the poem calls for. At times, it can become downright frightening, while most of the time it's just very eerie (this word really describes the album best); towards the end, when the curse is lifted off the mariner, there's a noticeable relaxation in the music and it becomes much more tonal.

However, I doubt that this is to the taste of most fans of progressive rock. Even the Oldfield fans probably won't find this album particularly rewarding. So while I can't bring myself to rate this album as non-essential, it is also hardly a masterpiece of progressive music. Hence the four star rating.

Report this review (#184069)
Posted Monday, September 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars The least we can say is that Bedford's "rock adventures" with the Ayers & Oldfield crowd are certainly not representative of his own solo works, as his NSWE and Star's End albums have shown us so far. To be honest, his orchestral re-working of Olfield's Tubular Bells (a major commercial success) is no less representative of it either, and it's certainly not the present ambitious project of an adaptation of the famous poem from Samuel Taylor Coleridge (into two movements, one aside), which gives its name to the present album. With Bedford playing most of the instruments himself, save Oldfield's guitar parts and the vocals (narration and others), this album is slightly easier of access to more mainstream progheads, but still dissonant enough to discourage many of them, although the discordant tone or dissonances are not very pronounced, compared to his previous works. A vry XIXth Century graving artwork graves the album's sleeve, the whole thing released on Branson's Virgin label.

The opening movement is the more difficult half of David's adaptation, often bordering on the discordant and dissonant, with many keyboards interlocking and/or clashing, and Oldfield's strident guitar twitches adding a certain kind of eeriness to the ghostly ambiance. The narration goes on through the album no matter how the gentle or dissonant the musical backdrop is, and even gets magnified by the dramatic dynamics around the second third of the movement, adding a bit more speed to a generally very slow album. The closing movement starts on a few verses before entering a slow church-organ-lead, later joined by Oldfield's gentle guitar and later a female choir taking things ever so gently on the grandiose and lyrical side (despite a certain amount of cheesiness), despite keeping a slightly-dissonant feel throughout most of the movement.

I believe that Bedford's adaptation of Oldfield's TB album attracted him a lot f attention and that, as a result, this album sold lots more than it would've normally, but I'm not sure many mainstream music buffs appreciated it to its just value. Those who actually like narration albums, like Wakeman's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, might actually love this album, and if not nearly as cheesy as the latter, it's definitely more challenging because of the light dissonance.

Report this review (#503252)
Posted Monday, August 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#2543202)
Posted Sunday, May 16, 2021 | Review Permalink
1 stars What a mess.

This album sounds like a recording of someone trying to pretend to be able to play the piano with no musical knowledge. The record starts off with promising organ chords, but then something goes wrong. You hear a bunch of unrelated piano parts on top of each other with notes interfering and not making sense at all. Then, there's this section with random percussion and synth effects. You thought the improv part of Moonchild was tedious? This is something along the lines of that but turned up to 11. And then the off-pianos played by a chimp return back into the spotlight.

In addition to that the cacophony is sprinkled with unfitting narration that has nothing to do with the music. Neither does the narration fit the annoying piano puke nor does this racket illustrate the narration, like a good score in a film or a rock opera. Generally speaking, the whole album is a mix of everything but the kitchen sink, where no element is really fitting.

This is a perfect example of music put into a blender and shattered, then put back together by an amoeba.

Report this review (#2960726)
Posted Thursday, October 12, 2023 | Review Permalink

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