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CLOUDS

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Clouds biography
Starting life in Edinburgh, Scotland, as The Premiers, then, following a few personnel changes, enjoying some critical acclaim as innovative organ-led rock trio 1-2-3, The Clouds were at the epicenter of the thriving progressive rock scene from its inception in the mid-late 1960s. They remained there until 1971 but never really hit the big time and remain one of Prog's great unsung.

According to some sources, 1-2-3 were instrumental in influencing Keith Emerson's band The Nice to stop being P.P. Arnold's backing band and become a classically influenced organ-driven rock group themselves, although Emerson has never confirmed this. It is also likely that they were influential on the young Rick Wakeman and other future Prog Rock group members who were known to frequent the Marquee club at that time.

1-2-3 initially specialised in arranging pop and rock songs in extended and highly improvised formats, frequently including both citations and adaptations of classical music and jazz arrangements. One example of this is Simon and Garfunkel's America, arranged similarly 5 years later by Yes, into which 1-2-3 seamlessly incorporated quotations from Bach.

The band played extensively at the Marquee club in London in the late 1960s, notably early in 1967, alongside bands such as The Nice, The Syn (later Yes), Jethro Tull, The Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix. A young David Bowie wrote an enthusiastic newspaper article on the band, a facsimile of which may be found on the band's website. They were taken on by NEMS management company, run by Brian Epstein, in late 1967.

After changing their name to The Clouds, they quickly got to work writing and recording the album Scrapbook, which was released in 1968 on Island Records. Deram (London) released the U.S. Export album in 1969, and it was not until 1971 that Clouds released their final album, Watercolour Days.

The band, Billy Ritchie, Ian Ellis and Harry Hughes, were reportedly never happy with the recorded work and felt it was not a true representation of what the band did in a live environment - and the material on Up Above Our Heads would seem to support this, as some of it is very different to the two Island/Chrysalis albums.

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CLOUDS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

CLOUDS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.44 | 20 ratings
Scrapbook
1968
3.48 | 18 ratings
Up Above Our Heads
1969
3.84 | 15 ratings
Watercolour Days
1971

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4.04 | 7 ratings
Scrapbook/Watercolour Days
1996
4.19 | 8 ratings
Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71]
2010

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CLOUDS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71] by CLOUDS album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2010
4.19 | 8 ratings

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Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71]
Clouds Prog Related

Review by DiamondDog

5 stars Its funny the way things turn out; this group, lost to history, turns out to be THE prime catalyst for UK progressive rock, yet due to lack of early recordings, even now it doesn't get the credit it deserves, not even on this site, which owes them so much. Then again, this is partly their own fault. When the group finally did record, we got Scrapbook, which is caught between pop and progressive, and full of stuff the band didn't even play on stage. Then Up Above Our Heads, with long boring solos, maybe the odd good song, but nothing that can give younger proggers, stuck with accepted history, a clue about the validity of the claims made on behalf of the band. Even Watercolour Days, perhaps the most clear and finest album of the three, is lagging behind the progressive rock of the day, especially in the realm of keyboards, relying on organ and piano, not synths, sound and style lagging behind ELP, Yes, Crimson, hugely ironic when you consider how this thing got started in the first place. The bonus tracks don't help much either, mainly that same mixture of pop and early prog that seems largely unexceptional in style for that time, albeit containing some stand-out songs and playing. Its only when we get to the live track of 1-2-3 playing America at the Marquee in 1967 that we begin to see what the fuss was about, the whole reason why we have Yes, The Nice, King Crimson etc. In isolated quality, these albums would earn somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, but we must give 5 stars for the importance and potency of this great lost group.

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 Up Above Our Heads by CLOUDS album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.48 | 18 ratings

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Up Above Our Heads
Clouds Prog Related

Review by b_olariu
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71] by CLOUDS album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2010
4.19 | 8 ratings

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Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71]
Clouds Prog Related

Review by giselle

4 stars An important anthology, bringing together at last the three crucial recordings of an enigmatic but essential band. Already extensively reviewed in these pages, the three albums tell the somewhat sad tale of a trio that was the catalyst for much that happened, yet it remains quite unknown in vast swathes of the public mind.

Part of the fault for that lies in the inability of the group to transform itself into the new age. After laying the foundations for much of what became known as progressive rock, the band curiously failed to capitalise on their own advantage, staying almost stuck in the mud, unable to transform their own writing into something comparable to the exciting re-inventions of existing compositions that had so transformed musical thinking in 66-67. We get a glimpse of the real thing in the bonus tracks, with the sole known recording of 1-2-3 and America. It's difficult now to transport ourselves back to 1967 and imagine the impact this kind of arrangement made on young impressionable and talented musicians, such as the members of Yes, The Nice, King Crimson. Yes later even produced their own version of the same song, arranged in the same fashion as 1-2-3, but the originators of the form faltered and lost their way.

This sad trail is laid out on a plate in these three albums, wonderful songs (but stilted at times by uneasy performances and a band unsure of what to do with them) sitting awkwardly side by side with riff-like pieces (often somewhat mundane constructions whose purpose was to enable the individual musicians to parade their particular talents), the two never really meeting in harmony, except at rare moments, such as in the opening section and verses of Watercolour Days (the title track), the middle section of Waiter, the verses of I am the Melody. These fleeting moments give glimpses of a rare talent that never truly found expression.

The remaining bonus tracks only add fuel to this theory, the striking moments are almost exclusively Ritchie's songs, Why is there no Magic, A Day of Rain, Clockwork Soldier; lovely indeed, sometimes profound, but what have they to do with Clouds? Not much. This is the fatal schism of songs and band, still exposing itself 40 years on.

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 Watercolour Days by CLOUDS album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.84 | 15 ratings

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Watercolour Days
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Review by giselle

4 stars A brave attempt to marry the opposing elements in the previous two records; pop adventurism with the needs of virtuoso musicianship. The constant battle between these two forms within the band makes interesting listening, at times one winning, the song emerging or the band imposing its identity, but always an uneasy marriage.

The tragic consequences are plain to hear. 1-2-3's originality was born of rewriting other people's songs, not their own, but the often-mentioned blueprint that other bands took from 1-2-3 was transformed in the hands of a band like Yes into what it should have been; the real marriage of musicians with their own musical compositions, perhaps reaching true fruition at last in King Crimson.

This is what Clouds couldn't achieve, despite Ritchie's songs being among the best of pop writing at the time. The band could not make that transition, and that's why they were ultimately left behind when their contemporaries moved into the new age. Ritchie, though probably the greatest Rock organist of them all, was also at least partly responsible, being unable or too slow to move into the era of synths and alternative keyboards, being left far behind in that sense by those who he had influenced in the first place like Emerson and Wakeman. As has been already pointed out, the textures on this album were already sounding dated in 1971. The towering impressive organ is still something of an anachronism for the 70s, a lingering almost nostalgic whiff of the sixties spilling over into the new decade. It's as if Ritchie has his head so down among his own meanderings, he hasn't noticed that the gears have changed and the open road ahead is now a motorway.

The title track is a glorious goodbye, the sheer cleverness of the arrangement, and the opening section wrapped around a gorgeous tune with typically-poetic lyrics hitting dead centre, though at times it's more like the Beatles or ELO than anything progressive. Every so often, something of this elusive and magnificent quality pushes its way through the wandering music, seemingly searching for coherence, finding itself somewhat in Long Time and I am the Melody in particular.

This unique and crucial band nevertheless remains lost somehow on its own bridge between the past and the future.

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 Scrapbook by CLOUDS album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.44 | 20 ratings

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Scrapbook
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Review by giselle

4 stars The brilliance of this band was never really captured on record. The influence it had was profound; the credit received for that influence was minimal. But even with that said, the records still contain flashes of pure genius, in both writing and instrumental technique ' Hughes and Ritchie were among the greatest of Rock's talents, and Ellis was no slouch either. It's ironic that this record is probably the most uneven of the three Clouds albums, yet it's the most important, standing on the very edge of pop and progressive, the bridge that traverses the gulf, the unique flavour of 1-2-3 sifting through Ritchie's pop ballads and whimsical sixties ditties, the two meeting head on in Waiter there's something in my Soup, with its sometimes clumsy words and images clattering into moments of sheer beauty and sublime inspiration. An oft-unappreciated and misunderstood treasure.

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 Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71] by CLOUDS album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2010
4.19 | 8 ratings

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Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71]
Clouds Prog Related

Review by Easy Livin
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars I've looked at Clouds from both sides now

Having disbanded after the release of their third album "Watercolour days" in 1971, the world quickly forgot about Clouds. This travesty was finally put right in 2010 when BGO records put together this superb compilation. Not only do we have for the first time ever, all three of the band's albums, regardless of whether you live in Europe, North America or anywhere else, but we have a selection of 9 well chosen bonus tracks not previously available anywhere.

All three albums are carefully remastered, bringing out the essence of each perfectly. The first CD gathers in the band's first album "The Clouds scrapbook" (released in Europe only) and their second album "Up above our heads" (released in North America only). The three tracks which appeared on both are only present once, slightly disrupting the running order of "Up above our heads". It would have been good though if the full running order of that album had at least been listed somewhere within the package.

The band's third album "Watercolour days" (was this "Watercolor" in North America?!) occupies the first half of the second CD. Reviews of all three albums are of course posted under the Clouds entry on this site.

It is though to the bonus tracks that we head for this review. The first pair of these are a single A and B side from 1968, the band's first recordings as Clouds having changed their name from 1-2-3. The A-side, "Make no bones about it" is very much of its time, offering a Barrett-era-Floyd/Wood-era-Move like slice of psychedelia, but it failed to garner much interest. Had it done so, which in retrospect with the right exposure it could easily have done, the single may have set Clouds on the road to fame and fortune. The B- Side "Heritage" is a more ambitious story song, which now sounds a little clumsy but at the time would have certainly been viewed as progressive. The track features a captivating organ interlude, but the vocals are weak.

The following three tracks were recorded for the "Watercolour days" album, but to the dismay of the band they were omitted from the track listing by band manager Terry Ellis. "Why is there no magic" is a multi-tracked Beatles like pastiche with a strong melody. The track's omission from the album borders on the criminal, this being one of the band's strongest recordings ever. "The world is a madhouse" and "Shadows" are interesting but less essential, the Jim Morrison like vocals betraying an obvious attempt to imitate the Doors.

"Once upon a time" appears to be a leftover track from "Up above our heads", but this time the decision to overlook it was probably justified. Not a bad song, just undistinguished. "A day of rain" and "Clockwork soldier" are further leftovers from "Watercolour days". These tracks though were only seen through to the point of being demo tracks at the time, although the band had written them some years earlier. The sound on these tracks is different though, with a more modern feel. It turns out this is due to Billy Ritchie revisiting the recordings some years later, and adding synthesisers and processing the vocals! Admittedly he has done a good job on them, even if the authenticity has been tarnished. "Clockwork soldier" is based on the reading of a poem over sympathetic instrumentation, and as such sounds as if it has been lifted straight from Jim Morrison's solo album "An American prayer".

The most significant of the bonus tracks here is an 8 minute live recording of the band's cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "America". Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, this interpretation pre-dates the famous Yes version by some distance. While by no means identical to Yes' version, many of the nuances are the same. This track alone finally confirms Clouds rightful place in prog history, the recording actually coming from a time when they were still known as 1-2-3. It also demonstrates how much Terry Ellis sanitised their work before the début album was released.

The package is rounded out by an excellent booklet containing an essay on the entire history of the band and the lyrics to the first album (reproduced from the gatefold LP sleeve).

In short, a wonderful way to discover the criminally under-appreciated history and influence of this fine proto-prog band.

With grateful thanks to our Interviews guru Torodd, who drew my attention to the availability of this superb package, which retails at a very reasonable price.

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 Watercolour Days by CLOUDS album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.84 | 15 ratings

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Watercolour Days
Clouds Prog Related

Review by Easy Livin
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars Art rock

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Clouds enjoyed increasing recognition of their talents on both sides of the Atlantic. Unfortunately for them, this was a great time for music though, and other bands were securing far greater commercial success. One such band was Jethro Tull, who were also managed by Clouds manager Terry Ellis. Ellis became ever more committed to Tull, leaving Clouds twiddling there collective thumbs waiting for him to devote some time to them. It was therefore some 2 years after their "Up above our heads" release that this their third and final album was recorded.

By 1971, those who had discovered Clouds through their previous albums had probably assumed that the band had come and gone, so interest in "Watercolour days" was somewhat limited. In the US, the album at least attracted a handful of favourable reviews, but in the UK both the record company and the music press were united in their apathy.

"Watercolour days" sees the band refining the contrasting works of their UK début ("The Clouds Scrapbook") and their North America début ("Up above our Heads"), with proto-prog explorations standing alongside pop orchestrations. By this time of course, music, especially prog, had moved on at an astonishing pace. Such was the extent of the progress that in two short years, the band went from being ahead of their time to sounding rather antiquated.

There are certainly similarities here with the early work of Yes, whom Clouds pre-dated by some distance. The frantic"Cold sweat" has some fine organ playing supporting an adventurous arrangement. It seems reasonable to assume that a young Tony Banks of Genesis may well have heard tracks such as this when advancing his early style. There is also a fair hint of Emerson to be found too!

On the ballad side, "Lighthouse" is a natural development of the avenues explored on "Scrapbook" (the track). "Leaving" has all the mood of a Scott Walker classic, the sensitive orchestration sitting well alongside the drifting organ.

One of the best tracks is the protest song "Mind of a child", which has something of a John Lennon feel to it, both lyrically and in the echoed vocals. The title track also raises the bar considerably, its intense arrangement testing the band well. Band member Billy Ritchie says of the track that he would have preferred not to have sung on it as it was not in his key, but he does a fine job of it nonetheless.

Overall, there is a maturity to the package this time, with progressive elements being developed well. The lack of lead guitar is no great issue in the main, although some variation in the organ backing would have been good. Those in Europe who enjoyed "The Clouds Scrapbook", and those in North America who enjoyed "Up above our heads" should find this to be an interesting yet natural development.

Significantly, while the band were given almost total freedom while recording the album, history now records that at the behest of manager Terry Ellis a number of tracks were dropped unbeknown to the band. These tracks can now be found on the newly released "Up above our heads" compilation.

This would prove to be the band's final album, collective disillusionment setting in when it failed to find the recognition it deserved. Fortunately, having lain dormant for 40 years, the work of Clouds is now gaining some of the recognition it deserves.

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 Up Above Our Heads by CLOUDS album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.48 | 18 ratings

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Up Above Our Heads
Clouds Prog Related

Review by Easy Livin
Special Collaborator 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" (www.progarchives.com/album.asp?id=11440) 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!

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 Scrapbook by CLOUDS album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.44 | 20 ratings

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Scrapbook
Clouds Prog Related

Review by Easy Livin
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars You can all join in now

The story of Scottish band Clouds is one of missed opportunities. The band came about in the late 1960's after paying their dues under other names. Noteworthy individuals such as Brian Epstein, Robert Stigwood and Terry Ellis were all involved in their career, they recorded music which was quite simply ahead of its time and they were around when prog was born, yet few even in these parts will remember them. Clouds may well have become a household name in 1969 along with acts such as Traffic and Jethro Tull had things been slightly different. The pioneering Island record label released their first sampler "You can all join in" around then, to great acclaim. This low priced LP contained tracks by a fine selection of proto prog bands and artists, and sold in great quantities. Many of us went off to explore the albums of the acts on that album, but when we went to find the album containing "I'll go girl" by Clouds (according to the sleeve notes called simply "Clouds"), no such album could be found.

This album, often simply referred to as "Scrapbook" but actually titled "The Clouds scrapbook", appeared a few months later, once the politics had been resolved. Before it was completed, the band's manager Terry Ellis had decided on the tracks to be included and arranged for some to be orchestrated. I actually bought it not long after it came out, and it has been a personal favourite ever since.

The resultant album is a wonderful myriad of ideas and styles. These range from the minute long drums'n'scat of "Humdrum" to the genuine proto prog of the 7 minute "Water there's something in my soup". There are the beautifully arranged pop prog ballads "I'll go girl" (with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After on guitar) and "Scrapbook", the latter bookending the album perfectly. There is the whimsical tongue in cheek British pop of "Grandad" and "Union jack" and there is the creeping blues of "Old man".

For me, one of the best tracks is the superbly arranged "Ladies and gentlemen" a song which is styled lyrically as if the singer is delivering a very self indulgent speech.

Musically, the album is devoid of lead guitar but heavy on the organ, leading to comparisons with fellow travellers Rare Bird and perhaps the Crazy World of Arthur Brown/Atomic Rooster. In terms of content though, the inclusion of so many many different styles combined with the highly melodic, quasi-symphonic recordings also brings to mind the first album of Barclay James Harvest.

Given that the album was recorded over 40 years ago, it sounds as fresh and invigorated today as it did then. Naturally, it will not have the impact now that it had then and it is easy to overlook the place of this album in the time-line of prog and indeed rock. "The Clouds Scrapbook" is though a superb set of great diversity and invention.

While the LP has long since been out of print, the recently released 2 CD set "Up above our heads" offers a superb way to obtain the album in full.

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 Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71] by CLOUDS album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2010
4.19 | 8 ratings

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Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71]
Clouds Prog Related

Review by toroddfuglesteg

4 stars An excellent compilation of this band's outputs.

Clouds........ who ? I had no idea who this band was until two months ago. I did an interview with them and purchased this 2 cd's box from Amazon. Then I got stucked into their world and reviewed their three albums. All of them included here.

Let's start with the packaging here. This box includes one of the best ever booklets I have seen. It is the full Clouds story, compiled and written by one guy called David Wells. Excellent job, David ! The Clouds story is excellent written and includes a lot of very useful stuff. It is a booklet you cannot stop reading if you have started on page. It is that well written. Hence, this booklet is alone worthy a purchase. The booklet also includes the lyrics and linear notes for each individual albums and the extra tracks. It is obvious that the record label BGO Records has spared no money to get this box perfect. That also goes for the sound which is spotless and absolute perfect, as far as I gather on my office stereo rack. Maybe if you put this box on a $ 25 000 stereo rack, the sound may not be perfect. But it is perfect on my rack. The result is a very impressive box which I seriously wish should be copied by other labels too. All praise to BGO Records for this job.

There are 2 cds here. The first CD includes their first two albums Scrapbook and Up Above Our Heads. The latter album was only released in USA and Canada, but never in Europe and world wide. Hence; this is the first world wide release of this album. The sound on the two albums has very probably been cleaned up from the LPs. Which is both fair and right. You will find my reviews of these two albums somewhere else on these pages. But let me shortly ad that they and their music in general sounds like a crossbreed between The Beatles (who was also managed by Clouds manager Brian Epstein) and The Nice. The music is very much Hammond organ based and we are talking Proto Prog here in it's truest sense.

The second CD contains their third album Watercolour Days and nine bonus tracks. I again refer to my review of the album. The nine bonus tracks are the A and B side of a single, unreleased material and their version of Simon & Garfunkel's massive hit America, later also covered by Yes. Their version was probably spurred on by Clouds, or 1-2-3 as they were called back then. I very much prefer Clouds version which has a lot more bite and meat than the Yes version. In short, the nine bonus tracks is all great and would had made a great album.

In short; this is an excellent documentation of a band who influenced David Bowie, Keith Emerson, The Nice, ELP and scores of other artists and bands. The price of this box is also very reasonable too. It is therefore close to being an essential purchase for any prog head with a bit of self respect. I am a very happy owner of this box which goes straight into my top 5 of the alltime best compilation boxes. Hence some awarded stars.

4 stars

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