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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Above Some People's Heads.

This is not a 1 star album. It's simply too full of proggy ideas and catchy tunes.

Neither is it an essential, but should appeal greatly to ELP fans, and fans of the wilder, improvised stuff (and I don't mean noodling around a single chord, I mean proper, off-the- wall, over-the-edge-of-the-cliff improvisation).

It's like a missing link.

We all know that there's Prog, and then there's the stuff that came before.

People talk about jazz influences and classical influences, long songs, and so on, and, if you've heard Clouds' general release albums, you'll know that they played a progressive style of well crafted pop/rock with occasional jazz and classical forays.

Up Above Our Heads contains a couple of pieces from Scrapbook, reworked, and tributes to the jazzmen, particularly, it would seem, drummer wildman, Gene Krupa.

Imagine Me is a song crawling with infectious melody, walking jazz bass lines, and Manzarek style keyboard chops, interspersed with loose (indeed, slightly ragged) interjections, and amuses right to the end of the wild keyboard solo at the end.

Sing, Sing, Sing revisits the Krupa version of the Louis Prima number, with Billy Ritchie's sometimes lengthy trademark organ and piano interjections - often simultaneous, but mostly featuring Ian Ellis' meandering bass over Hughes' rock interpretation of Krupa's jazz drum soloing.

A manic, dangerously loose song "Take Me To Your Leader" follows, with added jazz, and blaring horn section.

This segues into "The Carpenter", followed by "Old Man", songs from Watercolour days, sounding much more polished than the newer material.

Two new songs follow, before the album is wrapped up with the Prog Epic "Waiter, There's Something in my Soup".

Big Noise From Winnetka is based on Gene Krupa's drum-oriented version of the Bob Haggart composition, but contains a lot of studio larking about, with some suprise noises and sounds - this one is really entertaining, and made me jump a couple of times.

In The Mine is the final new original composition for this album. An acoustic guitar intro preceeds a scene-setting dirge before the song kicks in. The familiar Clouds' looseness and over-production could spoil this for some, but to me, it just sounds as raw as it can get. It verges on the messy, but despite this, has a remarkable overall coherence, and moments of pure magic, with rhythmic passages that have since caused well-worn paths in progdom.

The various Spaghetti Western references in the music evoke Muse's Knights of Cydonia to some extent.

There are no drums on this track - but somehow, you don't miss them.

An excellent album - yet another flawed gem in the Clouds' catalogue.

It's a pity they haven't produced anything since Watercolour Days - this was a band with masses of potential and invention, and I'd really like to hear something with the polish that this music deserves.

Report this review (#261970)
Posted Friday, January 22, 2010 | Review Permalink

Most music fans interested in Clouds know little about this album, as it was only released in the USA and Canada on the Deram label, not on Island, as were the other two Clouds albums. It is one that any fan of Clouds, or any fan of Prog, should seek out, as it contains some quite brilliant musicianship and jazzy ideas that are perhaps a further extension of what you hear on the other two albums. Whereas The Clouds Scrapbook was mainly an album of songs interspersed with invention and musicality, and Watercolour Days a wrestling match between the songs and the group, Up Above our Heads is consumed by dazzling virtuoso playing and showy pieces that display the band's range and power, but somehow at the expense of the fine song-writing we know from the other recordings.

Listening to Imagine me, the last paragraph becomes a contradiction. This is a muso Clouds piece that somehow is still a fine song, but with that dynamic organ pressing the accented tune through a roller-coaster ride of impressive drums and catchy melody with a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck organ and vocal ending that whacks you round the ears then belts you over the head for good measure.

Sing Sing Sing, a bow to Benny Goodman and the Big Bands era is exuberant and effective, outstanding organ and piano take centre stage, with a climactic ending that must have had concert-goers off their seats.

Take me to your Leader , with fine brass arrangement from David Palmer, may not be much of a song, but it's a jazz-syncopated outing that dances confidently on the ledge of timing, and pulls it all off with aplomb.

The Carpenter is the song taken from The Clouds Scrapbook for inclusion here. Yet another jazzy offering, with exciting organ and vocals.

Old Man , another inclusion originally from the previous album, is a Fever-like song with nice harmonica and tight rhythm .

Big Noise from Winnetka, another nod to the Big Bands, is probably included because of the very visual showpiece with Hughes playing his drumsticks on the strings of Ellis' bass guitar. Although not a totally original idea, Haggart & Budauc deserve the credit for that , this is probably the most technically difficult version, something of a tour-de-force by Hughes & Ellis. The new arrangement is well worked and neat, though the gimmick effects can by annoying and out-of-date in their humour.

In the Mine is another gem of a song, much more of a song than a band showpiece, it contains a mid-section with a building harmony structure that is nothing less than brilliant in its concept, if not exactly perfect in performance.

Waiter there's Something in my Soup , also previously included in The Clouds Scrapbook, closes the album. This marvellous piece is nothing less than a Rock drama, and, as it has been noted, is a true precursor of Progressive Rock.

The album in general suffers somewhat from the infusion of musical expression in favour of a diluted injection of songs and melodic content, but it is still a piece of the fascinating and incomplete jigsaw that defines Clouds contribution to music. 4 stars.

Report this review (#294573)
Posted Sunday, August 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'm not sure about the compositional quality, but the musicianship is first rate here, outstanding organ and piano and virtuoso drums from Harry Hughes, the guy who gave Carl Palmer and Bill Bruford lessons, no less. They even both appeared on Hughes' Premier drums book, one of the first rock drum tuition books and records ever, though so rare now, I can't find a copy on the internet.

Some of the tracks included here are also on the Clouds Scrapbook album, so there's quite a bit of overlap and wasted space for anyone making a double purchase at the time. Interestingly, the duplicated tracks sound almost like a different mix, but friends who know better tell me that it's because of the different pressing plants involved, this record being from London Deram USA, the other from Island Records UK.

Of the other tracks exclusive to this album, Imagine me is stirring stuff, and a decent tune. Powerful organ ends in blistering style, daring anyone else to manage to do the same. Similar pyrotechnics are on display in Sing, Sing, Sing, though the long solos get a bit boring for my ears. I love the organ solo, Ritchie at his best, and the speed of the playing on the coda is mind-boggling. Apparently this track is the one remaining 1-2-3 number kept in the Clouds routine because of the drum solo spot for Hughes. If this is what the Marquee crowd heard in 1967, it was way way ahead of its time.No wonder the band made the fuss that they did and drew the attention of Brian Epstein, who became their manager.

Take me to your Leader is again full of virtuoso musicianship, but seems to me rather perfunctory otherwise. Big Noise from Winnetka was wonderful to see on stage, but without the visuals (and with the gimmicky effects) it doesn't seem quite the same.

A bright shining light of composition arrives in the last song, In The Mine, with a beautiful instrumental section complimenting a fine ballad that is perhaps a bit too doomy gloomy for its own good.

A fine album, though naggingly incomplete somehow. 4 stars.

Report this review (#361989)
Posted Thursday, December 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first ever symphonic prog album ? It probably is !

For some very strange reason, this album was only released in the USA and Canada back in 1969 and only made available 1. November 2010 (some weeks ago) both here in Europe and on CD (as a part of the 2 CD box Up Above Our Heads which also include the two other albums). I have no clue why. Anyway...........

The music on this album is cobbled together with some songs from Scrapbook which the band was not happy with (did not reflect their playing abilities, according to the band) and some new tunes. The music here is a mix of jazz improvisations and the type of symphonic prog workouts Keith Emerson copied over to The Nice and ELP. The songs are pretty cleverly put together too. My version of this album is from the above mentioned box and hence; the sound is crystal clear. The vocals are great (typical 1960s), the drummer drums for dear life and does it wonderfully. The bass too is excellent. The leading instrument are the Hammond organ too and Billy Ritchie creates an absolute wonderful sound and vibe with his Hammond. His solos here is worthy the whole album itself. They are in fact jaw dropping and exhilerating.

Having included the best of Scrapbook on this album in addition to some new great songs plus added some extra solos on this stuff, it goes without saying this album is really pulling the heart strings on any symphonic prog fan. This album is indeed a good reminder why I started to love this type of music in the first place. My only gripe is the lack of a really outstanding track. And that and the fact I wish I was a fly on the wall when Keith Emerson was listening to this album for the first time is my only gripes with this album.

4 stars

Report this review (#379339)
Posted Thursday, January 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Clouds over America... but nothing for Europe

Clouds felt that their début album "The Clouds Scrapbook" did not fully succeed in capturing the essence of the band. The diversity of the selected tracks and the orchestration of a number of the songs were by and large due to the intervention of their manager and their record company. As a result, the style they had developed during the preceding years was to some extent repressed.

When the band set about recording their second album "Up above our heads" (get it? Clouds!) they were determined that it be much more representative of the way they wished to portray themselves. By this time, Clouds were starting to break in North America and this would be their first release there. Ironically though, the album was never released in their homeland UK. This was almost certainly because it contained three tracks already included on the début album. Those three tracks, "The Carpenter", "Old man" and the wonderfully proto-prog "Waiter there's something in my soup" were presumably selected as the band felt they fitted in with their intentions for the album, and that the North American audience should not miss out.

The difference between the first and second albums is therefore enormous. The opening "Imagine me" is not too much of a shift, being a 60's pop organ based romp which includes a burst of "Nutrocker", as previously made famous by B Bumble and the Stingers and later adopted by ELP.

It is though the 13+ minute "Sing, sing, sing", a cover of the Benny Goodman number, which is the first truly different piece. This drums, organ, piano and scat based track sounds largely improvised, having been developed over several years, even before the band took the name Clouds. The track is firmly rooted in jazz, with little real rock or prog as such. The excessive and overt nature of the drums on the track may suit some, but to these ears it is an indulgence too far.

Things get back on track with "Take me to your leader" a short burst of organ fuelled brass rock. It is all wonderfully dated sounding proto-prog, and over in under 3 minutes. As mentioned, "The Carpenter" and "Old man" are recycled from the previous album. "Big noise from Winnetka" is a sort of cut down version of "Sing sing, sing", although here bass guitar gets to take centre stage too.

"In the mine" sees the band successfully putting together their most complex vocal harmonies, creating a song of considerable beauty and mystique. The 7 minute closing track "Waiter there's something in my soup" was a feature track on "The Clouds Scrapbook".

In all, an enjoyable album, but one which for me is flawed. This may be more representative of what the band were seeking to achieve, but when indulgence is allowed to prevail, things take a definite dip. There is some fine music here though, and it is good to hear the missing link between the band's two official UK releases.

Footnote, the wonderfully flawed masterpiece UK sampler "Bumpers" ( contained the track "Take me to your leader" which it claimed was from "Clouds forthcoming (UK) album", but the track was never actually available in the UK on a Clouds album. The sleeve notes to the recent Clouds reissue also go on to point out that European releases of "Bumpers" contained a non-album single by Clouds instead!

Report this review (#398221)
Posted Friday, February 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3,5 for sure

The band, Billy Ritchie, Ian Ellis and Harry Hughes known as Clouds is a very intristing band in my opinion. I mean this album issued in 1969 named Up above our heads is quite very promissing and full of great ideas for that period, verz proggz and with some memorable passages for sure. I was very pleasently surprised by this band and this album specialy, because they sounded diffrent then the rest of the bunch from that era, with some exception of course, they offer some organ progressive rock verz catchy in arrangements, even in places the album gets the impression is dated, not realy it was a very talented and full of great ideas this Clouds. In places they remind me of The Nice, and is couple of years before ELP makes any ripples around them with the first album, a quite groundbreaking release in his own way that is for sure. The music is very chalenging, symphinic passages interluded with jazzy moments make from this album a pleasent journy. The voice of Ian Ellis is great, warm and typical for that period and combined with the hammong origan of Billy Ritchie and quite intrsting druming of Hughes makes from this album a winner. The opening track is a killer , or at least for me, even is quite dull in places, another highlight is the lenghtier piece of the album named Sing, Sing, Sing with catchz arrangements, jazzy monets and szmphonic passages, quite a musical ride for 1969. So, overall a good towards great album, with plenty of memorable passages, specialy the hammond is realy intristing and inventive , that gives the path to progressive rock a couple of years later, even this band was totaly unknown and still is to largerar public. Recommended album to a point where some of you can dig ELP, The Nice and bands similar in attitude and sound.

Report this review (#468994)
Posted Saturday, June 25, 2011 | Review Permalink

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