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Beggars Opera - Act One: Beggars Opera CD (album) cover

ACT ONE: BEGGARS OPERA

Beggars Opera

 

Symphonic Prog

3.64 | 176 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
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 also do betray a little amateurishness in some of the baroque phrasing together with some lapses in taste on their treatment of classical source material. Two more very good albums were to follow which addressed these shortcomings, and we can only wonder why this extremely talented band appear to have met the same fate as that of the forgotton Franz Von Suppe.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |

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