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Stackridge - The Man in the Bowler Hat (AKA Pinafore days) CD (album) cover



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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!!

Third album from this strange and quirky combo with the sextet line-up unchanged. Generally regarded as their best by connoisseurs (most likely due to Sir George Martin's production and he played piano on two tracks), the album comes in a gatefold sleeve, but I must say that they could've made so much better with a little better judgment. Again, Stackridge pulls an incredibly English mood, and while I would not call it as typically folk (as in the folk rock of Fairport, Pentangle or even Comus), the group does have the traditional songs as the main influences and these guys entertained a bit of music hall tradition as they use Rhubarb leaves and garbage cans as stage props.

Starting again on the Beatlesque Fundamentally Yours, and continuing on the similar Pinafore Days, the album is full of strings and other arrangements (which I find are cluttering and choking the songs) and most of the album's lyrics are attributed to Smegmakovitch (bless you ;-), whomever he might be. The longer Last Plimsoul does pull the proghead's interest by finally giving us a bit more of musical interplay and the also longer Road To Venezuela but this is about it for interest on the first side. Both are separated by a very cheesy and overly symphonic Sun And Moon track.

The second side opens on the silly Galloping Gaucho (much too much a music hall track) the first one sung by flutist Mutter Slater and beautifully pastoral, slightly cheesy (but ultimately boring) Humiliation. More boredom awaits the proghead with Dangerous Bacon and Indifferent Hedgehog. Only the bright God Speed The Plough shows the group's real capacities at excellent and inventive songwriting, but even then, it is brought down by heavy Martin orchestrations. Ultimately I would prefer groups like Klaatu that managed a more credible and entertaining Beatles impersonation than this mistake of an album.

Not really agreeing on TMWTBH being their best album, I was always very taken aback from the overall Beatles-pop influences (always present in Stackridge's oeuvre), but this was a mistake to call on Sir George Martin. I would rather guide you with the preceding Friendliness or Extravanganza or even the rock opera of Mr. Mick.

Report this review (#97770)
Posted Thursday, November 9, 2006 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars "The galloping Gaucho comes to town riding like a demon vaquero, bought his horse for half a crown and called him Scar Faced Jock"

For reasons which have become forgotten with the passing of time, I have the US version of this album which was released under the title "Pinafore days". The track listing is essentially the same, except that two tracks "To the Sun and Moon" and "The Indifferent Hedgehog" are replaced by "Spin round the room" and "One rainy July morning" from the following "Extravaganza" album (The latter was titled "Highbury incident (rainy July morning)" on "Extravaganza".

The album is very much a continuation of the previous "Friendliness", with perhaps an even lighter atmosphere. Right from the opening "Fundamentally yours", there are suggestions of the Korgis (a future pop focused band for Andy Davis). Once again though, the melodic pop sounds disguise some fine instrumentation and inspired compositions. This time, Beatles producer George Martin is brought in, emphasising further the band's aspirations to be a West country Beatles. Martin orchestrates three of the tracks, and plays piano on one ("Humiliation"). On tracks such as "The last plimsoll", the sound is so Beatlesque, it could be almost taken from one of their albums.

Only occasionally do we find a more reflective song, such as "The road to Venezuela", but even here the castanets and violin merely play a supporting role to what is essentially a very vocal album.

For me, side two is noticeably the superior. "The Galloping Gaucho" which opens the side will never win any prog awards, but it is a magnificently irreverent bit of fun. The lyrics are simultaneously amusing and totally impenetrable. When combined with the grand arrangement which harks back to the music hall days, this one of the album's highlights. The song contrasts wonderfully with the soft "Humiliation" which sounds like one of 10CCs most tasteful moments. "Dangerous bacon" also has 10CC similarities, but this time in an upbeat pop way.

The album closes with "God speed the plough". To describe this as an instrumental would seem inappropriate, as it is a wonderful symphony in 5˝ minutes. The track, which builds from solo piano to full string and mellotron orchestration is the high point of the album, sweeping along majestically while painting a wonderful picture of rural Britain.

Whether the substitute tracks on the US version are an improvement on those they replace is a matter of opinion. "Spin round the room" is however a rather ordinary melodic pop song. "One rainy July morning" is a fun Beatles parody. Interestingly, despite all but two of the tracks on "Pinafore days" also being on "The man in the bowler hat", the sleeve of the album has photos of the "Extravaganza" line up, thus ignoring, among others, James Warren's significant contribution.

In all, those who enjoy the "Rubber soul" era Beatles will find much to their liking here. The pop basis of many of the tracks is undeniable, but there are notable exceptions which make overall for a nicely balanced presentation.

Report this review (#131931)
Posted Sunday, August 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, the Beatels connection is obvious since Sir George Martin produce this album. But do not get fooled. Stackridge has enough to offer to make any pointless comparasing meaningful. They already made two exellent and eclectic albums, so what next?

"The man in the bowler hat" is, if not, an improvment concenering previous efforrts. Gone is the charming ditties and instead we are served a delicate menu of well crafted tunes. For me, a lost nothern hobo from one of the land of the rising sun (norrsken), this is an amalgam of joyus playing and well crafted arrangements. Hard to pick any favorites. the hole album is on the the menu. Take it or leave it!

Report this review (#250326)
Posted Friday, November 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Stackridge's popularity increased with each release and in February the band made its television debut on a BBC programm, followed by a two-month tour.It was something like a tradition for them to be supported by future Prog Rock giants, this time the supporting act meant to be the legendary Camel.Later on ex-Audience Keith Gemmell joined the band on saxophone and during the summer they recorded their third work ''The man in the bowler hat'' at the Air Studios in London, supervised by The Beatles' producer George Martin, who also appeared in a few tracks as a pianist.The album was the last one on MCA, launched in 1974 and released in a different version in USA and Canada under the title ''Pinafore days''.

At this point Stackridge appear to lose contact with their progressive beginnings, the presence of George Martin on the production stool surfaced an even more evident THE BEATLES' relation both on vocal and instrumental parts and the complex themes have been pretty much reduced to zero.On the other hand this was not your average Pop/Folk Rock album, it maintained a highly sophisticated profile with demanding orchestrations and instrumental richness among the sweet mono- and polyphonic harmonies and the charming melodies with the discreet GENESIS influences being still around in the guitar and organ parts, this is basically an Art Pop album with glimpses of British Prog Rock, heavily relying on the instrumental variety, lots of flute, strings and keyboards pop out in the process next to the standard electroacoustic sound of the band.The long tracks are sorely missed here and actually their length has been decreased to an average of 3 minutes each, but the inspiration of the British veterans remains always at a high level, even if THE MOODY BLUES, THE BEATLES or STEELEYE SPAN seem like more appropriate comparisons than to say Genesis or Strawbs.Veteran producer George Martin helped the band to complete some great orchestral moves, doubled with Britrish Folk and Pop sensibilities, the result was a pretty fascinating work with lovely harmonies and a pretty accesible sound.

Not among the priorities of a Classic Prog fan.This sounds mostly like The Beatles at their most complicated attempts, orchestral and melodic music with minor proggy vibes, quite tasteful and fairly entertaining.Recommended.

Report this review (#1384775)
Posted Thursday, March 19, 2015 | Review Permalink

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