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Spirogyra - Bells, Boots And Shambles CD (album) cover

BELLS, BOOTS AND SHAMBLES

Spirogyra

Prog Folk


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars By the time of their third album , Spirogyra were down to a duo as both Cussack and Borril were listed as guests along with Dave Mattacks and others including a cellist. This third offering is a fine return to form compared to their poorer Old Boot Wine album. The inventivity of the tracks may actually exceed their St Radiguns album but the album is slitghly less even but no tracks are weak at all!

The Furthest Point is probably my fave track from them and the cello is put to excellent use to provide solemn and melancholic atmospheres that were so absent in the previous album. Old Boot Wine, Parallel Lines and Everyday Consumption song are typically great songs (Gaskin's vocals are crystal-clear) that makes this album great but might have helped the previous one especially the eponymous track. The Sergant Says is an almost goofy acid rock tune that just like the consumption track are very politically conscious. Spiggly , a filler here might habe been a highlight on the previous album , had it not be so short! The final tracks is the other highlight (in anotherwise very light-full album) with its 13 min mini-suite called Western World. It is divided into four parts and is full of great melancholic athmospheres that only a cello (besides the Mellotron absent here) can create. I cannot say whether they knew this would be their last track, but what a way to finish a band's Oeuvre - worthy of Starless in the Red album.

Very much recommended along with their debut. Gaskin will be the only one to have a well known carreer to progheads with her work with other locals (Spirogyra were from Canterbury) in Hatfield, National Health , Bruford and Stewart.

Report this review (#34698)
Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Prog-jester
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars SPIROGYRA – the privilege of the chosen few (c)

I found it for 3 $ in a Lugansk bargain store. No, wait: in THE Lugansk bargain store; the owner knows me well since those times when I got GANDALF and STUD almost for a song here. So he said he has something unique for me. I believed and bought some CDs he proposed.

Have you ever got that feeling that all albums you enjoy were written in 70s? There are major exceptions, but only prove the rule! I mean, every third obscured Prog album from 70s is a guaranteed Masterpiece! This time it is SPIROGYRA’s latest release for me.

Good Lord. This is simply one of the most touching records I ever chanced to experience. Emotions, beautiful melodies, eerie atmosphere, no crappy (as Hugues noticed) traditional songs covers, wonderful female (Barbara Gaskin will later sing in Canterburish projects like NATIONAL HEALTH) and male vocals, excellent songwriting skills…That bridge in opening 3-parts epic “The Furthest Point” on 3:27 makes me cry!!! “In the Western World”, band’s swan song and their multi-layered magnum opus evokes best RENAISSANCE moments, but it’s derived from their pathos and pompous approach, filled instead with more soul and emotions. Another good comparison is COMUS – just check sad “Old Boot Wine” or biting “An Everyday Consumption Song”. Some songs like “Parallel Lines…” and “Sergeant Says” recall BEATLES melodic genius, but SPIROGYRA is absolutely original all way thru. Shame they didn’t survived, and double shame they’re so damn overlooked!!! I’d give away 20 other reviews of mine for this album just to make it less obscure! Check it; otherwise you’ll definitely regret you didn’t!

Report this review (#135729)
Posted Saturday, September 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars 9.3/10 Incredible

Wow! I never saw this one coming! This album is absolutely brilliant, with a few hickups but nothing to take away from it's deserving 5 stars on here. This is a folk-prog album, definitely, but like almost no other folk prog you have heard...Spirogyra has a fantastic original sound all their own. This album has a strong vibe of darkness at times, but the bright moments are so incredible it is hard to contain yourself!! Barbara Gaskin was quite possibly the best female vocalist of the time, along with all of the other greats (Sandy, Nico, Annie...) and Martin Cockerham has a great, dark, intense vocal that will hit you right away. There is alot of great singing on here, mixed with consistent acoustic guitars, and in tracks like "In The Western World" you even get some trumpet!

This album is a must have if you are a fan of folk rock, folk prog or what have you. It is really hard to compare this sound to other bands I have heard, the closest I can come is maybe Trees, Forest, even some Jethro Tull feel sometimes, and perhaps a bit of Comus in there. My favorite track is by far "In The Western World", followed closely by "The Furthest Point"...great stuff!!

Report this review (#145408)
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is of a rare breed; one that can shatter your emotions and slowly melt you into a deep hole for thirty minutes and reciprocate completely in about three.

As well, for a British band, never before have I heard melodies so unmistakably American. Throughout my listening, images of the wild west, Grand Canyon and the wide open sunny plains filled my head, and it's truly a sublime experience. 'In The Western World' is written in such a way that, if you removed the lyrics and didn't tell me the title, I would nevertheless instantly know what the song was about. Songwriting of this caliber comes along far, FAR too scarcely, and I consider it one of the human race's great follies that so few are aware of this absolutely marvelous album.

Barbara Gaskin's vocals deserve special mention; yes, they really are as good as people have told you, and I'm not going to tell you any differently. Listen to her range on 'Spiggly' and 'An Everyday Consumption Song' and tell me with a straight face that you can match that pitch. You can't. Leave it to the professionals who do it right. I'm not even going to tell you about 'In The Western World', because I don't want to even slightly ruin the experience of what is definitely one of my favorite songs of all time. It's perfect in every sense of the word from start to finish, and culminates in one of the best climaxes in all of recorded audio. It's truly worthy of a smile, a nod, and the assurance that, maybe if just for a while, all is right with the world.

If there were some way for me to distribute this album to everyone on the planet, I would happily do so. I urge you to spend every penny it takes in tracking down this album. It's a crime that not enough people already have.

Report this review (#173963)
Posted Sunday, June 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
lor68
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Well probably it's their unique work of prog-folk to be a "master work" from the beginning to the end, as it can compare to the best albums (even in a different style) from Gryphon, Fairport Convention (these latter being anyway more folk rock oriented), Strawbs (with Wakeman in the vein of the Medieval music) and so on...well Mr Martin Cockerham and Mrs Barbara Gaskin were the true "master minds" of the band, where their creative genius is expressed by means of their alternating music composition, passing through the "spiritual" tunes and something more "psychedelic" (even though in an elegant manner), as well as quite complex arrangements...Cockerhams acoustic guitar is often intelligent (despite the uneven mix, which doesn't enhance it); while the music harmonies are enriched by means of such a good depth in the vocal intepretation, being perfectly "complementary" if compared to the guitar passages!! Then you find some orchestral instruments here, such as cellos, treated vocals, trumpets and flutes, making the atmosphere more "progressive"; the male vocal lines instead are quite simple, but at the end it's a minor defect in the economy of the ensemble!!

This albums represents the beginning and the end of the best period for the band: in fact Mrs Barbara Gaskin, by entering the world of Canterburian Music after this experience with Spyrogyra, will join Hatfield and the North...however- after all- it's a remarkable album, especially if you're completely into such a particular prog-folk, even though I prefer another kind of prog-folk (more "symphonic prog oriented" I mean, a-la Renaissance...)

Report this review (#296440)
Posted Saturday, August 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Spirogyra is the definition of Prog Folk and they prove it with this album, "Bells, Boots, and Shambles". Who came up with the idea of blending instruments like the cello, keyboards, and trumpet together, along with many others. Spirogyra almost perfectly blends the instruments together without having one overpower another. My favorite track on the album is "Furthest Point" which has sort of a sad, gloomy feeling to it. But the whole song flows unusually perfect. There are many other great tracks on the album like "Parallel Lines Never Separate" and "In the Western World". But other tend to bore me like "Spiggly" and "Old Boot Wine". Over all it is a great album and I completely recommend it! 4 1/2 stars! Oh and remember that you probably will not enjoy this album through your first listen. It took me about 3 listens to fully understand the album.
Report this review (#350578)
Posted Sunday, December 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I daresay at the moment I appreciate "Bells, boots and shambles" much more than their debut album "St. Radigunds" (which maybe takes less time to grow it on you). It's also good news for those who didnt expect anything worth attention after a weaker album "Old boot wine".

"The Furthest Point" is easily one of the best songs Spirogyra ever made. It starts with long a beautiful intro and later turns into a several nicely joined different parts with no strict structure. I only wish the guitar which finishes the song sounded a little bit longer.

"Old Boot Wine" and "An Everyday Consumption Song" are probably the most melancholic acoustic tracks with some good lyrics sung by Gaskin.

"Parallel Lines Never Separate" reminds of previous works by Spirogyra, even some demos. Yes, it's another typical song you can expect from them.

"Spiggly" could definately been longer. You start enjoying its great melody, and here it finishes.

"The Sergeant Says" is kind of a political song and holds perhaps the happiest tune on the album.

"In The Western World"... could there be any possible better way to end the album? Probably no. Spirogyra proved to be very strong in creating "epics" (as "The duke of beaufoot" in St. Radigunds", as "World's eyes" in "Old boot wine") and this one is simply perfect - full of emotions, lightly flowing melodies and lots of beautiful psychedelic moments.

Conclusions? Get it, buy it or steal it. Recommended for everyone, even for those who are not that keen on folk.

Report this review (#528054)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
friso
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Spirogyra - Bells, Boots and Shambles (1973)

After getting very excited whilst listening to the pleasant psych(acid)-folk the band created on the debut 'St. Radigunds', I was glad to find yet another vinyl reprint of Spirogyra, this time the respected third album of this English progressive/psychedelic folk group from Canterbury.

At first spin I was slightly displeased by the differences in sound and style. On the debut Spirogyra sounded wild, original, very psychedelic in an authentic way and relentless when it comes to artistic expression (almost like Comus). I loved the relentless vocals and shouts of song-writer Martin Cockerham, though I was also a bit troubled by his not so pitch-perfect abilities as a vocalist.

On 'Bells, Boots and Shambles' the band has lost its flexible sound and sounds a bit over- produced. The band's style has moved towards the neighbouring bands of the Canterbury scene with extremely tight playing, simplistic drums on almost all the tracks (by Bill Bruford) and a less troubling and exciting impact. No more shrieking violins, no more shouts. Furthermore, the reverb-folk sound was replaced by a 'dry' recording. In exchange we get to listen to a pleasant recording with most vocals being pitch-perfect, the songs concrete and professional. Luckily, Barbara Gashkin is there to save the day with great angelic vocals on most tracks and Cockerham manages to write yet some more memorable songs. The occasional trumpets of John Boyce are a good addition to the instrumental passages and the keyboards sound professional. On the tracks on which Cockerham does sing he sounds as if very deprived from his personal style, but he still manages to touch me with his lyrics. Some vocal passages on 'The Sergeant Says' and 'In the Western World' are not very beautiful, I really would have preferred the vocal style of 'St. Radigunds'.

Conclusion. Indeed another strong prog-folk record, but I must admit I'm not too happy with the choices made when it comes to how the bands sounds much less like itself then on 'St. Radigunds'. It doesn't need a wise man to tell me that I'm not the one to decided how Spirogyra should sound, but I have my intuition. However, for fans of not too psychedelic folk rock this is likely to be the most pleasant and memorable album of Spirogyra. I can warmly recommend this to fans of folk rock, Canterbury and all-round progressive rock collectors. The small four star rating.

Report this review (#583505)
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars Spirogyra's third album exists on the daintier side of progressive folk music, but does a fine job juxtaposing light and dark styles. Despite a slight similarity Peter Gabriel, the male vocals are generally too off-key and whiny for my taste. The lovely singing of Barbara Gaskins tempers the wild grit this album sometimes possesses. Those who like early Genesis or perhaps Renaissance should enjoy this light progressive folk album.

"The Furthest Point" A striking bit of acoustic guitar and flute contrasting light and dark textures fades into murkier music with shrouded vocals. As the drums elevate the music, so does the feminine voice and piano. The final jaunty segment of the song is similar to early Genesis.

"Old Boot Wine" Blithe acoustic guitar and flute accompany a lovely female voice in the vein of "Cadence and Cascade," adding sleek violin.

"Parallel Lines Never Separate" This more straightforward song rocks in a similar way to The Rolling Stones, but has some mystical sections scattered here and there.

"Spiggly" This acoustic interlude has lovely vocals and a bright whistle.

"An Everyday Consumption Song" A slower piece with plodding guitars and a singsong vocal, this tune has a fluttering flute dancing in the backdrop. It does become dull and tedious after a time.

"The Sergeant Says" Bob Dylan fans would enjoy this simple, folky, number. I don't quite care for it, particularly the rambling ending.

"In the Western World" This more upbeat extended song begins with a faux-Medieval style, featuring several captivating rhythmic turnarounds. Midway through, the music tapers off with some marching sounds just prior to becoming nearly nonexistent. The growling during the second half is like a drunken lout singing in a pub stale with spilt beer (is that Lee Jackson?). That unfortunate section leads into an upbeat four-chord acoustic guitar sequence, which in turn becomes an anthem-like conclusion.

Report this review (#722458)
Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Spirogyra's Bells, Boots and Shambles finds the band in a subdued, contemplative mood, having been pared down to the core duo of Cockerham and Gaskin after Old Boot Wine. With Gaskin's lead vocals given a bit more prominence than the debut and the group's progressive inclinations dialled back just enough to give the singing space to breathe, the album highlights the duo's particular gift both for singing and for penning lyrics. Prog fans need not despair, though, because what the album lacks in flashiness it more than makes up for in intricate, extended compositions. With a mood just as low-key as the dimly-lit cover art implies, the release is not quite as fresh and revelatory as the debut but still worth a listen for all fans of proggy folk.
Report this review (#900784)
Posted Monday, January 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Containing one of the stellar voices of Prog Folk in Barbara Gaskin is only overshadowed by the sophisticated instrumental arrangements and ahead-of-its time sound engineering.

1. "The Furthest Point" (8:16) an incredibly emotional and well-recorded, well-constructed "epic." Not what I was expecting (with other Prog folk albums and the band's previous masterpiece, St. Radigunds in mind). (18.5/20)

2. "Old Boot Wine" (4:18) gentle pastoral folk flute and picked acoustic guitar and cello beneath Barbara's soothing angelic voice. Don't know why the band has had to do three very different versions of this song under this title--including an entire album in 1972--but here we have the third. (9.25/10)

3. "Parallel Lines Never Separate" (5:05) cool song, though very 60's feeling. (9.25/10)

4. "Spiggly" (1:12) cute little Beatles-esque ditty with piccolo, guitar and Barabara. (4/5)

5. "An Everyday Consumption Song" (4:29) cute little folk song with incredible harmonized vocal duet. Maybe Barbara has that effect on men: they want her to themselves. (guitar flute bass and multiple tracks of Barbara deliver an eerie/odd song. Piano joins in for the second half. Such an quirky, unusal vocal. Reminds me of 21st Century Prog Folk artist Nick Talbot (GRAVENHURTST)(8.75/10)

6. "The Sergeant Says" (3:43) another Beatles- or David Bowie-like acoustic guitar-based song over which Martin sings in a very David Bowie- (or Donovan-) like style. Even a little JTullishness in the second half. (8/10)

7. "In The Western World" (12:59) (22.25/25) - Part 1: In The Western World - Barbara with solo piano accompaniment for the first minute. Very delicate and contemplative. Beautiful melodies. And singing. At 1:28, the full band of acoustic folk instruments bursts in with a furiously paced display. (4.5/5) - Part 2: Jungle Lore - At 2:20 there is a brief stop after which the music brings forth a kind fusion of the two paces and styles--becoming much more proggy, with some interesting non-folk melodies coming from singers and lead instruments. Very active flute and cello within the aggressively strummed acoustic guitars. Ends with half a minute of recorded footsteps of a military unit en march. (8.75/10) - Part 3: Coming Back - dramatic music with a very theatric vocal performance from Martin Cockerham. Almost has a pirate/sea shanty feel to it. (4/5) - Part 4: Western World Reprise - amazing acoustic guitar strumming with full band in support. Very MOODY BLUES-like. There is a shift beginning at 10:20 during which the music becomes more symphonic and anthemic with Barbara's vocalise and trumpets blaring. My favorite section of the song and album. (5/5)

Total Time: 42:02

As powerful as St. Radigunds with much better sound production and more proggy and mature song structures and sound palettes.

B+/4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of progressive rock music and a minor masterpiece of Prog Folk.

Report this review (#1705820)
Posted Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars SPIROGYRA (not to be confused with the similarly-named American Jazz-Fusion band, Spyro Gyra) were an English Prog-Folk band from Bolton in Lancashire. They recorded three albums in the early 1970's:- "St. Radigunds" (1971); "Old Boot Wine" (1972); and the album reviewed here, "Bells, Boots and Shambles" (1973) (a witty version of the well-known play "Bell, Book and Candle"). A fourth album was planned for 1974 but it never materialised and the band decided to go their separate ways following poor sales from their third album. After taking a VERY long hiatus, the band reunited again for two comeback albums: "Children's Earth" (2009) and "Spirogyra 5" (2011). The two principal players on the "Bells, Boots and Shambles" album were Barbara Gaskin on vocals and Martin Cockerham on guitar and vocals (who both appeared on the album cover), with a number of guest musicians brought in for the album session. In the mid-1970's, Barbara Gaskin featured as a backing vocalist for Dave Stewart's Canterbury Scene band Hatfield & the North and she later teamed up with him again in 1986 for "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)".

There's a tremendous opening to the album with "The Furthest Point". The music is like a lovely walk in the autumnal woodlands, with Martin Cockerham on lead vocals and featuring the sound of a haunting flute, a charming cello and a vibrant acoustic guitar. The music sounds slightly unsettling but it's also hypnotic and hauntingly beautiful at the same time. It's an eight minute folky fantasia of musical magic. The angelic honey-coated vocals of Barbara Gaskin appear halfway through the song and her voice is just heavenly. This is gorgeous music designed to carry you away on a sea of blissful dreams, and we've only just begun our musical adventure together. We have a long way to go before we reach "The Furthest Point" because it's time now to take a swig of some "Old Boot Wine", which just happens to be the title of Spirogyra's second album and the second song on this album. It's a very tasty and intoxicating wine too, despite apparently being made from old boots. Honey- voiced Barbara Gaskin takes the lead on this charming melancholy ballad, featuring a prominent mournful cello and flute accompaniment. It's a gentle tender-hearted melody and Barbara has a voice as sweet as sugar that could melt the hardest of hearts. The next song "Parallel Lines Never Separate" features some lovely harmonising between Martin and Barbara with each taking turns on lead vocals. The music opens as a lively Folk rocker but transposes midway through into the gentlest of romantic Folk songs, sounding like a melodic keyboard masterpiece that Renaissance might have recorded back in their heyday. The sound of Martin Cockerham's voice might sound somewhat nasal to some ears on this song, but that's more than offset by the gorgeous sugar-coated vocals of Barbara Gaskin. Side One draws gently to a close now with the short but sweet flute and acoustic guitar melody, "Spiggly", with Barbara in romantic mood with these charming lyrics:- "Love so easy, Love so fine, Into our lives, The time we always needed, No more to strange shadow, I feel us make it, Hope we make it over." ..... Barbara's crystal-clear vocals on this album are heaven-sent, and they're even more pronounced than ever on this gentle acoustic ballad.

Barbara Gaskin's enchanting vocals weave their magical spell again on "An Everyday Consumption Song". This is the kind of eerie but beautiful ballad that's most evocative of the classic English Psych-Folk sound that we've come to know and love over the years. Yes, the music's a little bit spooky and off-kilter, but not so scary that you'll need to leave the lights on at night for fear of what might lurk in the darkness. It's time now to stand to attention for "The Sergeant Says", a traditional rousing Folk- Rock number where Martin Cockerham takes the lead and gives his best travelling troubadour impression of Bob Dylan. And now we arrive at the sensational suite "In the Western World", to close out the album in magnificent style. The extended suite is split into four parts:- 1. "In the Western World"; 2. "Jungle Lore"; 3. "Coming Back"; & 4. "Western World Reprise". This rip- roaring 13-minute-long suite opens deceptively gently with a peaceful pastoral melody. This is just a harbinger though for "Jungle Lore", a dynamic outburst of rollicking Folk-Rock barrelling along on a sparkling crescendo of cellos, flutes, violins, trumpets and piano. The third part of the suite, "Coming Back", resembles a rousing sea shanty with a rough-voiced sailor, sounding like he's been swigging back a bit too much rum. It's the triumphant anthemic grand finale "Western World Reprise" that represents the ultimate dramatic highlight of this superb album though. This is a tremendously uplifting piece of music with all of the grandiose pomp and majestic splendour of the best Symphonic Prog, which might just surprise and delight you if you were expecting a gentle Prog-Folk album.

SpiroGyra have really reached the heights of musical glory and sweet perfection with their stunning third album. They've extended their diverse musical tendrils to deliver a gorgeous mixture of hauntingly beautiful ballads and rousing Folk-Rock songs and a very surprising symphonic epic for the magnificent grand conclusion. Barbara Gaskin truly has the voice of an angel and this stellar album represents a timeless Prog-Folk masterpiece to treasure for all eternity!

Report this review (#2308685)
Posted Thursday, January 23, 2020 | Review Permalink

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