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Beggars Opera

Symphonic Prog

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Beggars Opera Act One album cover
3.63 | 225 ratings | 36 reviews | 20% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1970

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Poet and Pesant (7:10)
2. Passacaglia (7:04)
3. Memory (3:57)
4. Raymond's Road (11:49)
5. Light Cavalry (11:57)

Total Time 41:57

Bonus track on 1997 CD reissue:
6. Sarabande (3:32)
7. Think (4:25)

Line-up / Musicians

- Martin Griffiths / lead vocals
- Ricky Gardiner / lead guitar, vocals
- Alan Park / organ, piano
- Marshall Erksine / bass
- Raymond Wilson / drums

Releases information

Artwork: Keith "Keef" MacMillan

LP Vertigo ‎- 6360018 (1970, UK)

CD Repertoire Records ‎- REP 7041-WP (1997, Europe) 2 bonus tracks (1971 singles in Mono audio)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to silly puppy for the last updates
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BEGGARS OPERA Act One ratings distribution

(225 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(20%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(48%)
Good, but non-essential (25%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

BEGGARS OPERA Act One reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!! This debut album is a better example of what is called proto-prog but its main flaw is also to be one of the earliest examples of derivative albums of better known groups. When putting an ear on this vintl , on e cannot help to think of two groups : The Nice and Deep Purple Mk I. This is not to say that the organ dominates that much the music but there are many moments where the Jon Lord/Keith Emerson influences are over-bearing and the guitarist is much in Line with Ritchie Blackmore and David O'list's great contributions on The Nice's Toughts album. Also the drumming is a little too derivative of Purple's Ian Paice's very original style.

Side I is more reminiscent of Mk I Purple's more prog moments and it is quite an enjoyment to get all of those greats solos and superb interplays. Side 2 is made up of two 11 min+ tracks which delve more into The Nice's early stuff. Beggar's Opera even make a reference to Blue Rondo A La Turque in the first track while the second track is IMO the highlight of the album. The Repertoire re-issue comes with two bonus tracks and they appear to come from a non-Lp single : Sarabande (3:32) and Think (4:25) are two great tracks that really add value to this promising debut.

However enjoyable this album may be , I cannot award more stars because of its tooo evident influences. Still worth a spin and Progheads are advised to check out the second album, which shows that those guys matured quickly and well.

Review by lor68
4 stars This is a less pompous version of such "organ-drive progressive rock", in the vein of the late NICE and QUATERMASS that I don't like very much, but resembling also the band ELP as well, in a lighter vein (these latter in some circumstances only). They have got a stronger orientation to the hard rock stuff by DEEP PURPLE, unlike ELP and NICE, by adding however some sweltering guitar/organ interplays, whose long length, in a few songs fortunately, is quite bearable.

Interesting, but totally out of a "progressive rock contest"...

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Beggar's banquet!

Beggar's Opera's first album has, with the passage of time, gradually gained belated (but justified) recognition as a truly superb piece of work. The band, which hails from my native homeland (and in fact played at my High school around the time this album was released!), hit the ground running in terms of originality and imagination.

"Act one" precedes the Mellotron driven symphonic prog which featured on its immediate successors ("Waters of change" and "Pathfinder"), but is nonetheless heavily influenced by the classics. Consisting of just five tracks, it needs to be remembered that this album was released in the same year as Pink Floyd were moving from psych into prog with "Atom heart Mother", Genesis were only just getting beyond their Jonathan King phase with their first proper album "Trespass", and ELP had just come together and released their first album. With that in mind, it is difficult to explain why those albums have gained legendary status, while "Act one" is all but forgotten.

The album opens with "Poet and peasant", which borrows heavily from Franz von Suppe's overture of that name. The track features dominant Hammond organ, and the highly distinctive vocals of Martin Griffiths. The music has something of an early 70's Italian prog feel to it. "Passacaglia" continues in a similar vein, with some Keith Emerson like (The Nice era) organ work, incessant time changes, and vocals through an old radio mike some 30 years before Arena used the same effect on "Contagion". If you listen carefully, you can here the introductory theme to "Sarabande" within the track. "Sarabande" was an excellent non-album single released at the time, which is now included as a bonus track on the CD version. "Memory", the final track on the first side of the LP is the shortest, and weakest track on the album, but it still features some nice lead guitar to close.

The second side consist of just two long tracks. "Raymond's Road" is a lengthy instrumental collage of classical pieces played at breakneck speed. Hammond organ once again dominates the track, but the screaming lead guitars and galloping drums make the track reminiscent of Love Sculpture's (Dave Edmunds) mesmerising interpretation of Katchaturian's "Sabre dance". While "Sabre dance" does not actually appear, other classical pieces which do include "Toccata", "Peer gynt", and "William Tell". Tellingly, there's also a brief rendition of "Karelia Suite" which sounds very similar to the Nice's "Five bridges" interpretation. The album closes with another Suppe based piece, "Light cavalry". This is similar in structure to the opening track, with vocals and classical variations.

While the band take full credit for the compositions throughout, no attempt is made to disguise the classic pieces which have been borrowed when making the album. Generally, they do not appear to be taking themselves as seriously as say ELP, giving the album a definite air of fun. Heard for the first time today, "Act one" will undoubtedly sound dated. Given it's place in the timeline of prog however, it is a genuine landmark album, full of originality and fine musicianship. It might even be appropriate to classify the album as, dare I say, seminal.

A couple of interesting footnotes. The album was produced by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter who wrote many hits songs including Eurovision song contest winner "Puppet on a string" for Sandi Shaw, and runner up "Congratulations" for Sir Clifford of Richard (but don't let that put you off!). It was originally release in 1970 on the Vertigo "swirl" label. First edition LPs in pristine condition with untarnished sleeves are now very collectable, and change hands for exorbitant prices.

Review by hdfisch
4 stars Edited 09/29/05!

Somehow I love this band still nowadays maybe because it's a very early love for me. I liked their music very much as a teenager and when I put it today every now and then into my player I still like it.

Okay let's come to their first work which is heavily influenced by classical music, but unlike with many other bands by the serious and heavy one more by the lighter operetta music, namely by the compositions of Austrian Franz von Suppé in the tracks "Poet And Peasant" and "The Light Cavalry". Their whole music is centred by Alan park's awesome organ play with a solid rhythmic basement. Both tracks are surely not very complex, well it's light classical music arranged for rock, but nevertheless they're offering plenty of variability. Rest of the songs are no classical arrangements but still sounding very much influenced by classical music. On "Passacaglia" there's a nice contrast between the organ dominated first and last parts and the relatively heavy guitar-driven middle one.

Beggars Opera's music might sound dated nowadays to some (especially younger) ears. I'd like to express it in a positive way, it possesses some nostalgic charming and moreover it lacks the usual bombastic and pathetic features of some other kind of classical inspired music. For me worth 4 1/2 stars!

Review by erik neuteboom
4 stars What a mindblowing debut-album this is! The very melodic and harmonic music from this five-piece band is based upon an incredible dynamic and propulsive rhythm-section and splendid, very exciting Hammond organ work, often accompanied by a powerful and fiery electric guitar. The interplay between the musicians is magnificent and the excertions on keyboards and guitar are very compelling, in the spirit of the late Sixties and early Seventies. The vocals are also worth to be mentioned: distinctive with an enthusiastic approach and often a bit cynical undertone but at some moments also warm and plesant. The highlight on this CD is the track "Raymond's road" featuring awesome guitarsoli (inspired by Hendrix and Page)and exciting work on the Hammond organ in the vein of the best Keith Emerson, including short renditions of known classical pieces from Bach and Grieg. AN EXCELLENT ALBUM THAT WILL PLEASE EVERY HAMMOND AFICIONADO AND FANS FROM THE EARLY SEVENTIES PROGROCK SOUND!!
Review by loserboy
4 stars Scottish 70's proggers Beggar's Opera signed to Vertigo label in the early 70's and carried that expressive yet highly progressively exploratory prowess found in many of the Vertigo bands. "Act One" was their debut album and featured some pretty amazing musicianship and song writing including an ode to composer Suppe's popular "Poet and Peasant" overture which opens up this album. Essentially this album is organ led with full support by the bass, guitar and drum. This album in many ways is my personal favourite of all their albums and I love the exploratory and unique space they explored on recording this gem. There are a couple of longer 11 min tracks as well which gives the band a bit more space to open up with musically. The Repertoire CD version also contains 2 bonus tracks that are circa 1970 and are nice to have as well.
Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Named after the eponymous poem of John Gay (from 1728),BEGGAR'S OPERA were found in late 60's in Glascow,Scotland and were signed by Vertigo Label.They debuted in 1970 with an excellent first LP ''Act one''.At a time when GENESIS or YES were trying to find their own identity,BEGGAR'S OPERA clearly mixed classical music with heavy rock,resulting a spectacular work.Comparisons with THE NICE are undenieable,but BEGGAR'S OPERA had a heavier and more polished sound.Sometimes they borrow classical pieces from famous composers transforming them into superb classical rock dynamites,other times they focus on playing original material with tasteful Hammond organ to the front and light beautiful piano passages.This is one of the best connections between classical music and heavy progrressive rock,which make this album an absolutely essential addition in your collection!
Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I found this pretty entertaining, even though it isn´t my favorite style. Beggars Opera plays prog rock which is driven very much by Alan Park´s organ. He is a great organ player, and some of the organ parts are played very very fast. It´s pretty astonishing really.

The other members of the band also play well, and singer Martin Griffiths has a great voice for this kind of music. The music is kind of humorous and as you can see on the cover this is not the kind of band that takes themselves too seriously ( I love the cover). The music is not too silly though, and they don´t loose to much of their integrity in silly affairs.

I´ll give this album 3 stars for the magnificent musicianship, but I won´t give it more as I find some of the instrumental passages too long and improvised. This is not to my taste, but if you like these kind of instrumental parts with lots of organ soli, this might be the thing for you. The quality is high throughout the album. No fillers.

Review by ExittheLemming
3 stars Run for the hills, proggers in kilts with comedy breasts and bonus tracks!

I must have passed over this album cover hundreds of times while rummaging through Glasgow record shops back in the late 70's, all the while oblivious to the fact that my 'ain folk' had produced a Prog band to rival that of those produced by the oxygen thieves south of the border (the English, pah!)

Amazing I missed it really, given they were stalwarts of Glasgow venue the 'Burns Howff' and the frankly 'creepy' cover featuring the lads garbed in costumes discarded as 'just too outlandish' by the wardrobe departments of both Peter Greenaway and the Muppets. (The Queen Miss Piggy with the huge fake plastic breasts is particularly disturbing, even 38 years later)

'Poet and Peasant' - in accordance with the ambitious musical zeitgeist of the time, this is an adaptation of a 19th century classical overture by Franz Von Suppe. (A Romantic composer who is largely forgotten now, but you will probably recognize some of the music as it still crops up occasionally in adverts and movies etc) We get a real whiff of the Nice on the galloping bass and drum groove with the Hammond organ dominated keyboards of Alan Park very much to the fore. Mr P is a very fine player and contributes some fiendishly rapid runs and virtuoso solos throughout this record. Ricky Gardiner's guitar is largely that of a supporting role and he sensibly restricts himself to punctuating the climactic passages for emphasis and texture to avoid a demi-semi quaver pile up with the organ. The piece goes through many sudden changes but these are well arranged amongst the whole band with each player getting an opportunity to add his own unique timbre to the overall development. I know a lot of people who find Martin Griffith's vocals a tad cheesy and although I would concede he is firmly from the 'Camembert Humperdink' school, I like his voice immensely (although not perhaps as much as he does - Yep, you can almost 'see' the twinkle in his eye and he is clearly a very lovable fellow indeed)

'Passacaglia' - Like the previous number this is mostly instrumental and given its title, could very well be another classical adaptation (Dunno?) The melody from Griffiths is much more conventional but (marginally) less melodramatic than Poet as even here, his bravura delivery is filtered to lend it that quality of an old thirties wax cylinder record with the 'sepia tinged' effect conspiring to work very well on this track. The baroque ornamentation and affectations are halted dramatically at one point to embark on a wickedly grinding Hendrix groove featuring a particularly good solo from Gardiner which showcases the laddie has some fiendishly fast chops and a commensurate grasp of scale and note choice with which to inject some eastern/indian spice. The roles are reversed at this point and Park wisely takes a back seat to provide some room in the busy mix for the fuzz guitar to take the spotlight.

'Memory' - A chattering organ groove with a nod and a wink to Deep Purple that exploits space very effectively by leaving the vocal unaccompanied at periodic intervals which lends the lyrics more weight and the song more punch as a result. True to form, Griffiths milks these little windows of opportunity for all their worth with a suave and debonair crooner's relish. (as we speak, he is now employed in the 'scampi in einem basket' nightclub lounge circuit in Germany)

'Raymond's Road' - This reeks methinks of a rather sprawling collection of little arbitrary bitties and bobbies that although Beggars Opera rehearsed into sequential form, don't really belong together. Yep, it's one of those medleys that sound brilliant when you see a band live, but in the harsh glare of the morning after in front of the home stereo, never carries the same rush or excitement. Crashing reverb explosions and Leslie speaker siren effects a la the Nice on an intro heavily indebted to Rondo soon retreat to uncloak a string of classical quotations via Park's astonishingly nimble digits. Bach's already disheveled Toccatta and Fugue suffers further molestation at the hands of one of Prog's street gangs before they even quote verbatim very large chunks of Emerson's adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. William Tell is fed and watered for a brisk canter and Greig's Hall of the Mountain King also gets the republican insurrection treatment. This is all very enjoyable and good fun, but the piece hardly stands up as credible composition in its own right.

'Light Cavalry' - The second of the aforementioned Von Suppe's overtures to divest the attentions of this Scottish 5 piece and a damn fine job they make of it too with a 'teasing' intro featuring some mock conservatoire chords and tongue in cheek whammy bar abuse from Gardiner. As soon as the main theme enters you will all recognize this music instantly (but no-one can ever remember the composer) Once again there is very accomplished high tempo unison playing and some tightly disciplined ensemble passages in an arrangement that never sits still for long. The mood darkens thereafter and we enter a sparser and more sombre harmonic realm for the first time on the album which comes as a welcome change after the unwavering exuberance of what went before. Gardiner contributes an atmospheric and lyrical guitar solo (but does sound a tad tipsy from too much time spent in Davy O'Lists whammy Bar) Raymond Wilson makes tasteful use of tom and snare rudiments to imbue the music with a suitably martial feel befitting this number and there is a nice growly bottom end provided by the improbably named Marshal Erskine. (which sounds more like a royal decree than a moniker)

'Sarabande' - I seem to find many songs from this era that resemble Deep Purple's Hush and this is yet another that exploits the latter's infectious groove and feel to memorable effect. Slopes along very agreeably with a truly inspired harmony vocal chorus until it veers off without warning into a charming little instrumental section via some beautiful organ playing from Alan Park. Even though I know its coming, it still manages to surprise and delight me every time. Sarabande was a charting single throughout continental Europe but met with stony indifference in the UK (which may have been down to Prog's hit singles are for horrid girly bands manifesto of the time)

'Think' - Motown quavers on the snare during the intro and what was hitherto 'capricious' comes across as 'convoluted' here. There are many good instrumental ideas on Think but it suffers from a paucity of memorable lyrical content and despite Griffith's most theatrical performance on the record he cannot redeem this song. Like many bonus tracks we are left with the rather bloated sensation you get when entering a restaurant after having just eaten.

I must admit that I do suffer from a sentimental attachment to this band (seeing as how they're Scottish y'all) but can honestly say that this is a very entertaining listen worthy of some of your time if you are at all receptive to the promptings of the Nice, Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster, Ekseption etc

Act One's main flaw is that it is extremely indebted to the work of the Nice (but let's take stock here, you are a progressive rock band inspired by classical music and have a virtuoso organ player, and you DON'T sound like the Nice?)

Beggars Opera are guilty of some amateurish lapses in taste on their treatment of classical source material but two more very good albums were to follow which addressed these shortcomings. We can only wonder why this extremely talented band appear to have met the same fate as that of the forgotten Franz Von Suppe.

Review by ZowieZiggy
4 stars This is another good heavy rock album, fully keyboards driven and so typical of an era.

The band never played in the premier league, but the music available on this debut album is frankly very good. Coming out at the same time of some seminal rock albums (prog or not), this release definitely deserves more interest on PA.

The psychedelic years surely had an influence on the band (Passacaglia, Memory); but they added some heavier textures which made them somewhat original.

The second part of the album mixes some classical themes with the wildest beats you can think of. This is particularly true during the AWESOME Raymonds Road. It features an orgy of frenetic drumming (from . Raymond Wilson) and powerful keys. It is by far the best piece of music available and there is not a second of relief during these almost twelve minutes. It is great track in the tradition of their contemporary ELP, on the heavier side. It is my highlight from this very good album.

The other long track is not so performing IMO. It is yet another very pleasant psychedelic/heavy prog song but inspiration is not at its eight. It features a great guitar break (which is not quite usual on this album) and some frenetic parts as well. Light Cavalry is another excellent track which is another showcase for the excellent Raymond Wilson on the drums. And believe me: there is nothing light in here.

The bonus Sarabande is fully psychedelic and even Hendrix oriented while Think is very much like an old Purple Mark I song (but it is the only track I can related to one of my most beloved bands).

Four stars for this very good debut album. An ocean of great bands and creativity probably brought Beggars Opera behind the scene. It is a pity though.

Review by ProgShine
COLLABORATOR Errors & Omissions Team
2 stars 01. Poet And Pesant Keyed percussivo, and much 'excitement', a sort of soundtrack of silent movie of adventure. Impossible not to pay. The vocal of Martin Griffiths is very good, he has a very legal, somewhat serious insignia. The sound for hour psychedelic, prays virtuously, prays melodically is quite uncommon and interesting. The organ of Alan Park is another find also, always very quite tipsy and totally essentially to the sound of the band, giving a differential perfection.

02. Passacaglia Somewhat classic of beginning, medieval way. The effects of voice together with the melody of the guitar were completed, one of the most legal melodies what I heard. In the environment a small and quite tipsy ground of bass, and in the sequence a beautiful instrumental passage of guitar, and a certainty ' haste ' of the faces, almost a 'late' music (laughters). If in the track of opening of the disc who was giving the letters was the organ this way who is in charge it is the guitar of Ricky Gardiner. And after the madness completely we return to the sensational subject of the music. In the end the keyboard commands again, total church.

03. Memory Memory (the shortest of the disc), in does not remind of me what should be the commercial song of the disc at all, arranges what should be touched in the radio, since what we have here it is instrumental perfected, affected melodies, wha in the organ, passages of vocal one and sensational pauses. I would say a classic if I should discover. An almost acoustic guitar, and a bass marvellously well touched by Marshal Erksine, and it is a stupidity to talk again about Alan Park.

04. Raymond's Road The side 2 was left pras two bigger songs, Raymond's Road begins already totally crazy, instrumental 'train' passing without seeing for where it goes, with urgency of reaching the destiny. But that I am sure what the principal melody I already heard somewhere, only I do not manage to remind of myself of where, if anybody hears and knows if there is some known passage of some another place please they warn about me. In fact I think that he is still one ' best of ' of many sensational melodies on top of a more sensational base. The martial battery of Raymond Wilson always working perfectly beside the bass, and the guitar appearing undoubtedly from what it must be done. A beauty of collection of psicodelia without limits (not being them almost 12 minutes to which it was destined, laughters).

05. Light Cavalry This from here is a bit a Cavalry same (as the name says). And again with a series of melodies conhecidíssimas of all. There has a series of quite mighty battery this music and a vocal excellent melody! Fascinating much binds that one, with climatic variations up to the end, as a matter of fact as in practically the whole disc.

This disc of the Beggar's Opera is still an almost progressive-psychedelic album, the dominant insignia of the organ do so that that turns still more clear, do not stop them to me being a good audition!

Review by Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars An underrated gem

Call it destiny, bad luck or whatever, BEGGARS OPERA is a band, formed in the precise moment, being that they still have a strong Psyche influence, very appropriate for 1970 but had also advanced the extra step towards Symphonic Prog, you can say they played the right music, in the right moment, with great skills, but never got the place in history of Prog they deserved.

"Act One" is a superb debut with reminiscences of THE NICE, but IMO with better vocals, and despite not having a guy like Keith Emerson, the sound of the organ is simply fantastic, but against the odds, they are practically unknown by younger Progressive Rock listeners.

The album opens with the frantic "Poet and Peasant" based in the homonymous Overture by Franz von Suppé, a well known musical peace played even in cartoons of that time. The track starts with a short intro and then directly pass to the central section with a tremendous bass and drums work, the keyboards by Alan Park still show that classic sound of the late 60's but also a Baroque touch more consistent with the 70's. The voice of Martin Griffiths is just perfect for the music. Radical changes, excellent instrumental breaks, keyboard solos, this song has absolutely everything.

In "Passacaglia" we're not talking about a new version of "Bach's" work of the same name, but something like a tribute to the great musician and in general reminiscent of Baroque music, even when much faster

It's impressive to listen the vocals in second plane, perfectly distorted to sound as a radio transmission, create a great effect with the organ as the lead instrument, again the bass - drums interplay between Erskine and Wilson is simply outstanding. Around the middle of the song an incredibly radical change transports us to USA scenario, with a heavy Rock that could had easily been played by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, just to mutate again returning us to the XVIII Century with the amazing organ.

"Memory" is the shorter track of side "A" (LP format), shorter and much more violent than the two previous, now we're talking about pure rock with great keyboards, the use of Mellotron is not so obvious as in other bands but still evident enough, the instrumental sections change from frenetic to soft in a matter of seconds, maybe a couple of hints of "Witches Promises" by JETHRO TULL, but must be coincidence, because both songs were released with only some months of difference. Some people find this song weaker than the rest of the album, I find it different and a necessary change. Special mention to Ricky Gardiner, who plays a killer guitar.

"Raymond's Road" opens side "B" (of the old vinyl format), a track in the vein of "Rondo" by THE NICE, featuring sections of Bach's Toccata & Fugue·, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from "Peer Gynt" by Grieg, William tell Overture by Rossini, of course Mozart's "Turkish March"", etc. Not original due to THE NICE previous song, but still very nice to listen this sort of classical collages. Again the drumming by Raymond Wilson is simply breathtaking, not sure if the name is a reference to his name.

The original version is closed by "Light Cavalry", another version of Von Suppé's musical piece, this time much closer to the original, but still with time enough to enjoy the audience with the interplay between Park's keyboard and Wilson drums with very good vocals. Radical changes, Psyche jamming sections, this track has everything, good closer

My CD version has two bonus tracks, the excellent "Sarabande" and "Think", but as always will limit my review to the original release, because that's the way the author made it to be listened.

Not a masterpiece, but close to the status, 4 solid stars.

Review by Marty McFly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Errors and Omissions Team
4 stars Before I started to love mellotron, I loved Hammond organ and perhaps I still do. Title track "Poet and Peasants" pleased me. Not only for H. solos, which are by the way perfectly, but also something like pompous style of Martin Griffiths vocal style. But the biggest importance of this album lies in. Classical music. Because these tracks has nether original melody composed by BO, or uses music of well known composers of past times. First I though that just "Raymond's Road" has these traits, but after little bit information (thank you Google), I realize that it's in almost all of these tracks as major theme, or more themes. Of course, this is modern approach and in fact, this is one of meaning of progressive music, to take previous music to another level.

Classical music with medieval themed lyrics, fast pace, rock instruments joined with then usual little bit of psychedelia. I found myself quite interested in this approach. Last time it was symphonic Yes and before that, London Symphonic Orchestra and their rock hits. Well, I suppose it can work both way, classical => rock, rock => classical. You'll hear many well known melodies, even played on rock organs, drums making tempo, voice giving it life itself.

Four stars for this marriage of classical sounds with rock.

Review by kenethlevine
2 stars Little more than an extended jam session starring Alan Park's Hammonds and Ricky Gardiner's guitars, this debut album bridges the gap between late 60s heavy psych and the burgeoning keyboard oriented trio configuration. I would not be surprised to find that this album was hastily assembled and recorded, but in any case it sounds that way. Classical riffs chug incessantly occasionally punctuated by stoned vocals, with no hint as to the compositional and arranging prowess that would rise to the fore on their very next album. The pace is rarely below break neck, as if the rush to end is on, the pleasure of the journey forsaken.

I'm dubious as to how fresh this sounded on release but it certainly shows its age now. There is a general lack of conviction and a total lack of restraint and/or finesse. Any individual passage might sound fine in a proper setting, but that's another area where Beggars' Opera seems lacking. If pressed to pick a highlight, I choose the frontier abandon of "Light Cavalry", where at least the mood suits the historical themes.

If you want to hear how a similar sound could be parlayed into a real piece, even more miraculously given its live setting, have a listen to "Where is this Dream of Your Youth" off STRAWBS' "Antiques and Curios" album. But I'm sure there are dozens of examples you could pick that are comparably superior and more tasteful.

I'm teetering on the brink of an operatic death by consumption on this one, but have to beg off before I can fairly make up my mind, so 1.6 stars it is.

Review by Tom Ozric
4 stars Pass me a valium, I need to calm down. Scottish Proggers Beggars Opera never repeated themselves from album to album. They started out strong, but gradually lessened their impact as the 70's rolled on. This debut release of theirs, 'Act One', features a fine blend of hard- rocking, psychedelic and classically inspired music. Fans of the Rod Evans line-up of DEEP PURPLE as well as THE NICE (featuring Keith Emerson) should look into this album. Heavy with keyboardist Alan Park's virtuosic Hammond organ chops and a Blackmore-esque flavour with Ricky Gardiner's searing lead-guitar runs, this is a sure treat for many prog-heads. The rhythm section of Ray Wilson and Marshall Erskine (drums and bass respectively) are quite able and energetic too. Lead vocalist Martin Griffiths has a fine voice and delivery but it hasn't aged very well, actually, this album hasn't aged very well but it still delivers some superb musical arrangements ; only 1 song clocks in under 4 minutes, 2 tracks around the 7 minute mark, and 2 tracks on side two almost 12 minutes long each. Right from the get-go this is clearly a proto-prog adventure, and one of the finest. 'Poet and the Peasant' sets the album off in a big way with those classical organ lines and Griffiths' vocals - the instrumental passage is reminiscent of Deep Purple's Mandrake Root (live versions anyway, to draw a similar comparison). 'Passacaglia' offers some great melodies and a cool guitar work-out in the middle. The organ and bass work really well together, creating fugue- like complexities. One of my personal faves from this band. 'Memory' is the shorter tune here and very catchy with an 'underground' vibe and bluesy riff - the wah-wah organ is quite psychey. It does tackle some intricate territories to make it a bit more substantial. Finishing off side one is me staring into the Vertigo swirl label which looks like some sort of void with a cone in the middle....... Emersonian organ crashing and pitch-bending kicks off 'Raymonds Road', an extended, jammy instrumental featuring many classical licks from Bach to Sibelius, Rossini to Greig, along with some abrasive guitar soloing. The bass-line is reminiscent of The Nice's 'Rondo'. And on it goes. 'Light Cavalry' leans towards the psychedelic with a colourful wah-wah organ section. More classical riffs along the way. So, nothing too revolutionary nor original, but definately a near-masterpiece in my ears. 4 stars.

Review by Warthur
3 stars Ricky Gardiner lays down some mean Hendrix-inspired solos here and there on this debut album, but the show is well and truly stolen by organist Alan Park. Indeed, most of the compositions here simply involve the rhythm section playing at a frantic pace and Park playing his guts out, referencing as many different well-known classical anthems as possible whilst Ricky dives in with his guitar work here and there to spice things up. I wouldn't call this a top- rank album because its compositions are a bit *too* dependent on that schtick - sooner or later listening to the album becomes an exercising in spotting the classical quotations rather than actually enjoying the music - but it's a good enough first effort.
Review by stefro
3 stars The debut release from Scottish outfit Beggar's Opera, 'Act One' mines a distinctly neo-classical vein, offering up a familiar brand of symphonic progressive rock that comes complete with modern baroque rock interpretations of Franz Von Suppe both opening and closing the album. Issued in 1970 on the Vertigo imprint, original copies of 'Act One' are now actually quite sought after, the album's less-than-spectacular commercial performance rendering it quite rare. Now, however, and thanks to German reissue label Repertoire Records, the colourful discography of Beggar's Opera is readily available in classy mini-vinyl replica editions, granting a pair of interesting albums from the group's early days a timely revaluation. The first of these, their debut 'Act One', is pure symphonic grandstanding, a fast-paced fusion of rock and classical ingredients taken right from the the ELP school of progressive rock. The second, however, showcased just what Beggars Opera were about. Gone was the overt classical influence; in came guitars and sharper, shorter tracks for 1972's enjoyable 'Pathfinder'. Completely different from each other, 'Act One' and 'Pathfinder' both defined and illuminated the other, exhibiting two very different sides to the same collective. 'Act One', with its strings, fast-paced instrumental sojourns and almost reckless abandon, proved the more expansive of the pair, an album coated in musical ambition. 'Pathfinder', however, was far more accessible, a genuine rock album and arguably the group's most cohesive overall effort. For anyone interested in taking a closer look, both 'Pathfinder' and 'Act one' - in that order - represent Beggar's Opera at their very best. Later albums, although still resolutely offbeat, failed to scale the same lofty heights of curiosity engendered by the continued and highly-varied work of founding member / leader Ricky Gardiner, and it should also be noted that throughout two incarnations the beggar's Opera name has continued to write, record and release music well into the 21st century. Neither album is a masterpiece, though both feature some excellent moments; 'Act One', which features Martin Griffiths(vocals), Alan Park(keyboards), Ricky Gardiner(guitar), Marshall Erskine(bass) and Ray Wilson(drums), is definitely the more ambitious of the two; fans of ELP, Refugee, The Nice etc should all find something here. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012
Review by ALotOfBottle
4 stars Beggar's Opera was an obscure Scottish prog rock act, that managed to stay under most's radar back in the day. Their debut album shows strong classical aspirations in conjunction with heavy psychedelic rock and a bit of jazz influences, all sounding very intelectual. Alan Park, the classically-trained keyboardist is on fire here! His playing can closely be compared to that of Keith Emerson, Jon Lord or Dave Stewart on Egg's debut album. Ricky Gardiner's playing is something rare in progressive rock. It can vary from wild, Hendrix-esque riffs to something we can imagine as a guitarist treating his instrument like a philharmonic musician treating his violin or cello. All in all, a very versatile solo section. All supported by an incredible rhythm section that can go from pumping to light jazzy touches. In Beggar's Opera every instrument works like a Swiss watch - very accurate and rather pleasing. The key track and a highlight of this album is "Raymond's Road" - a compilation of well-known classical compositions like "Turkish March", "Karelia Suite", "Fugue in D-minor" and some more. All this based on a fast rhythm, reminiscent of "Sabre Dance" by Khachaturian. This best showcases fantastic musicianship of Beggar's Opera. Other tracks are also very classical-based, perhaps with more jazz influence and phenomenal British sense of humor.

Beggar's Opera "Act One" will make a great album for all fans of old progressive rock and classical music. This is an especially important album, which shows the face of early prog. A true gem!

Review by Matti
2 stars 20-Year Chronological Run-Through pt. Eight: 1970.

This British band, founded in Glasgow in 1969, took its name from a Baroque play of John Gay. Stylistically the quintet followed the path of The Nice. Debut album Act One emphasizes on the Emerson-like organ work of Alan Park, as well as on the heavy borrowing from classical music.

Perhaps this feature helped to hide the fact that there were no strong songwriters in the band at that point. 'Poet and Peasant' is derived from an operetta overture by Franz von Suppe. Especially Raymond Wilson on drums is very good, but Martin Griffiths' vocals go a bit over the top with a heavy use of vibrato. 'Passacaglia' and 'Memory' are original compositions that carry on the same energetic style.

'Raymond's Road' is a tiresome 12-minute potpourri featuring references to several art music pieces, as if it was asking how many of them are recognized by the listener. In addition to The Nice, Beggars Opera were certainly familiar with Love Sculpture's rock version of Khatchaturian's Sabre Dance. Equally long 'Light Cavalry' is the album's second dive into Suppe's operetta world, but also IMHO its most succesful piece as it combines both borrowed and own ideas.

Act One may be considered a noteworthy classical music inspired prog debut, but I prefer their next two albums. 2,5 stars rounded down on a subjective basis.

Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Named after the famous ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay with music from Johann Christoph Pepusch, the Glasgow, Scotland based BEGGARS OPERA were one of the immediate successors of 1960s The Nice and the Mark I lineup of Deep Purple who were perhaps the most successful bands to popularize the so-called rockin' with the classics sound. This band was formed in 1969 by guitarist Ricky Gardiner, vocalist Marin Griffiths and bassist Marshal Erskine who resonated with the classical music inspirations interpreted into a rock context that Keith Emerson had brought to fame with his first band The Nice before departing and starting the even more audacious Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

With the addition of Raymond Wilson (drums) and Alan Park (organ, piano), BEGGARS OPERA adopted the visionary classically inspired hard rock sounds that both The Nice and Deep Purple had abandoned in order to take things to the next level, however BEGGARS OPERA infused the style with a breadth of creativity which immediately found a bit of success starting with its debut album ACT ONE which was released in late 1970 after scoring a record deal with Vertigo Records. As evidenced by the flamboyant regalia that graced the album cover, BEGGARS OPERA unleashed a plethora of passion on its debut with an invigorated zeal for adapting classical music to a rock context.

One of the bands that gives a true context in how the term symphonic prog came into existence, the five tracks on ACT ONE showcased complex arrangements that featured heavy rock riffing with the focus on the classical melodic heft of the Hammond organ, piano and heavy doses of mellotron. The classical adaptations stand out immediately as "Poet And Peasant" presents a creative interpretation of Franz von Suppé followed by an equally compelling Handel second coming in the form of "Passacaglia." The band was noted for its heavy driving grooves, Hendrix-inspired guitar gymnastics and most of all classically infused keyboard virtuosity very much in the vein of Keith Emerson in The Nice only BEGGARS OPERA took it all to the next level shortly after Emerson called it a day and went on to form ELP.

Released in November 1970, ACT ONE came out when progressive rock was just getting warmed up for the staggering complexities that emerged from 1971-75 and already showcased long suites in the form of "Raymond's Road" and "Light Cavalry" which both just missed the 12-minute mark, a trait that hadn't really caught on in the mainstream of the progressive rock paradigm quite yet. While The Nice and early Deep Purple had successfully introduced such rockin' the classics sounds to the evolving rock music paradigm, it seems it was BEGGARS OPERA who finally stepped in and made it interesting with creative compositional fortitude that offered a more balanced band approach without sacrificing the dramatic flair of the keyboard wizardry that made this style of symphonic prog so exhilarating. In other words, BEGGARS OPERA successfully married the classical sophistication of the keyboard melodies with the energetic heft of hard rock which included not only excellent guitar performances but a heavy driving bass / drum rhythmic drive.

While mostly relying on instrumental virtuosity as the main driving force, the album is pleasantly lifted to a higher level by the competent vocal style of Martin Griffiths who sounded a lot like David Bryon of Uriah Heep. Most of al it's the compositional fortitude of BEGGARS OPERA that takes them to the next level beyond the obvious influences and even though the keyboard sounds are dated, an attribute which makes some of the music of this era sound a little hollow, this team of music maestros were so intimately in tune with the varying dynamics, tones and tempos that they pulled it off by crafting an album that while dated in terms of technology comes off as a more timeless album in terms of composition. While ACT ONE usually gets overlooked in favor of the band's following "Waters Of Change" and "Pathfinder," this debut is not to be missed as it single-handedly revived the rockin' with the classics sounds of the late 60s only made it all interesting enough for return visits.

Latest members reviews

5 stars BEGGARS OPERA are a Scottish Symphonic Prog band who've been around seemingly forever, or at least since the beginning of the prog era anyway. They formed in Glasgow in 1969 and released their first aptly-titled "Act One" album in 1970. They followed it up with five more albums in the proggy 197 ... (read more)

Report this review (#2303220) | Posted by Psychedelic Paul | Thursday, January 2, 2020 | Review Permanlink

4 stars My Brother bought this Album for me for my Christmas in 1975 and I have loved it ever since. It is a shame they did not have more recognition in this country (Scotland). They were more succesful in Europe. I have three other Albums, Pathfinder, Get Your Dog Off Me and Waters of Change. Although ... (read more)

Report this review (#921734) | Posted by JAZZSAXMAN | Saturday, March 2, 2013 | Review Permanlink

1 stars Do you like classical music? Listen to the real thing. The first album of Scottish band Beggar's Opera, released in 1970, is one of many attempts, typical of that period, of mixing rock and classical music. "Act One" contains all the exaggerations typical of baroque rock. References to classi ... (read more)

Report this review (#438764) | Posted by Dark Nazgul | Monday, April 25, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The Glasgow based Beggars Opera is almost an unknown band. Which is a shame because they will appeal to all The Nice and ELP fans out there. I am one myself so I should know. This album, their debut album, is a heady mix of the first incarnation of Deep Purple, Captain Beyond and The Nice. Add ... (read more)

Report this review (#186707) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Thursday, October 23, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 4,2 Stars! At least a good album. Beggar's Opera is a kind of band that can wash a human soul. To me, ''Act One'' is my favourite work from them (not that ''Waters of Change'' and ''Pathfinder'' aren't good, is just that I personally think this album is more creative and experimental, with a ... (read more)

Report this review (#176877) | Posted by ProgPeter! | Monday, July 14, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This was one of the first prog-albums I have ever heard. I got a recommendation from my friend when this was released back in 1970 and immediately like the one. I like to give five stars to this, especially when put to the right perspective. It was released at the time when this was something rea ... (read more)

Report this review (#168996) | Posted by Altti_H | Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars There seems to be a strong love/hate dynamic for this band and especially for this record, the band's first. Having lived through the first wave of prog and knowing how this record sounded in the context of that period, as well as now, I offer the following: Beggar's Opera, Act One was and st ... (read more)

Report this review (#156398) | Posted by jonsilence | Sunday, December 23, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars In a glut of nostalga I decided to buy a boatload of CD's reminding me of bands I saw in my youth. I saw Beggars Opera a few times in their various line ups generally in tired run down College bars or University Refrectories made forums for the night. Beggars Opera were always at least excel ... (read more)

Report this review (#97734) | Posted by Phil UK | Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Very fast paced, generally organ based symphonic prog. The rhythm section is frantically beating along in most songs with fast runs coming from the organ or rocking solos by the guitarist. Not much vocals on this record and for the most part (aside a few parts of track 1) they are decent. Th ... (read more)

Report this review (#78886) | Posted by bapazian | Saturday, May 20, 2006 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Beggars Opera is a great band and the Pathfinder was a masterpiece. This recording is still quite raw. There are elements present here that will mature in the coming albums. The singing is strong and there are glimpses of the great melodies to come. As some other reviewers have said there too ... (read more)

Report this review (#67256) | Posted by pirkka | Sunday, January 29, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars The first work released in 1970 "Act One". Debut work astonished at bold arrangement that borrows theme of classics. It is enough to enjoy it overall. And, the impression with a strong modern jacket is left more than the content. The work of Keef is an eminent masterpiece. It is classical rock ... (read more)

Report this review (#60744) | Posted by braindamage | Sunday, December 18, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Released in 1970, the debut album of this Scottish band should appeal to fans of the organ vs. electric guitar battles typified by Deep Purple. Emersonian keyboardist Alan Park must have been classically trained, as familiar runs appear throughout the album, beginning none too subtly with the ... (read more)

Report this review (#40593) | Posted by | Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Beggar's Opera first album has an interesting mix of classical and rock music. This sounds dated today (I wonder what punk rockers would do if they had brains to listen to this album), but as a product of early 70's, it's just another piece at the puzzle of prog-rock. There are great musicians ... (read more)

Report this review (#38825) | Posted by M. B. Zapelini | Friday, July 8, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Act one is one of those albums/cd's that will make you listen. Excellent musicianship, interesting compositions. Very nice interplay between organ/syth and drums. Other reviewers mention the interplay between guitar and organ, which is there as well. If you like progressive or just plain interest ... (read more)

Report this review (#21669) | Posted by | Thursday, May 5, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars One of my alltime favourite albums! And its funny how I came across it. Back in '88 I bought a box of albums off an art teacher of mine.Beggars opera was in the batch so I threw it on the turntable and gave it a listen.The first track floored me! Its exactlly what I was looking for..psychedelia ... (read more)

Report this review (#21668) | Posted by | Friday, April 15, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The reason I am giving this album 5 stars is for the excellent musicianship, and a far- reaching vision. Think about it: in 1970, when even Genesis were still finding their feet, and ELP has yet to unfold their wings, these guys had the prog sound dead on target. This is what prog rock is all a ... (read more)

Report this review (#21665) | Posted by EMinkovitch | Thursday, January 6, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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