***** 5 Stars Rating
Ah... the concept album, although not actually invented by
Progressive Rock, it must go down as the responsibility of people like The
Pretty Things with ‘S.F. Sorrow’, or The Who with ‘Tommy’ when they were
called Rock Operas. Concept albums suit the genre of Progressive Rock so well,
they were made for each other.
The story of the ‘Jabberwocky’ has been set to music by
two of Britain’s finest rock musicians. Clive Nolan, the leader of both Arena
and Pendragon, who, although well respected in the realms of rock, has never
quite reached the international acclaim he should have, and Oliver Wakeman, who
has obviously inherited all father Rick’s skills, and then some.
To bring this project to reality, they have surrounded
themselves with some of the finest musicians of their ilk including Bob Catley,
ex of Magnum, who plays the part of the Jabberwocky’s adversary, ‘The
Boy’. Tracy Hitchings of Langmarq, whose distinctively clear vocal style suits
the role of story telling, plays the love interest that the lovers fight over.
James Plumridge relishes the part of the ‘Jabberwock’, putting real venom
and malice into his voice. Paul Allison plays the part of the ‘Magic Tree’
with Gandalf style wisdom, and Rick Wakeman has been pulled into to the Richard
Burton role of narrator, which he pulls off with great aplomb. The four singers
work together best in the more frantic sections of the saga, when they are all
wrestling vocally to get their part of the story over. Now, where could you find
four more talented vocalists to play these whimsical parts?
However, no matter how good the vocals are, it is the
musicians that shine through, telling their own story. Having both Nolan and
Wakeman as leaders of the project obviously leads the music to be very keyboard
orientated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t leave room for
the other musicians to sparkle - far from it.
Tony Fernandez’ drum and percussion work is superb,
especially on ‘The Forrest’, where the relentless tribal drumbeats are used
to positive effect over a repetitive choral chant that quite chills the blood
(it would make the perfect backdrop to any horror movie).
Pete Gee, Nolan’s band mate in Pendragon, handles all the
bass parts in the story, often playing as a lead instrument along with the
keyboards or underpinning the vocal sections and allowing them to tell the story
while keeping the music flowing.
But perhaps the real stroke of genius was to bring in the
original progressive rock guitarist Peter Banks, the man who set the benchmark
for all others to be judged. Ex ‘Yes’, ‘Flash’, ‘Blodwyn Pig’,
‘Empire’, and a startling solo career, he laid down a couple of his
distinctive electric guitar solos on the two longest tracks on the album,
‘Dangerous World’ and the climax of ‘Call to Arms’, which add great
variation to the proceedings, not to mention spine-tingling excitement.
The music starts out perfectly with a spoken introduction
before we are acquainted with all the recurring themes of the concept during the
‘Overture’, before the storytelling starts in earnest. Each song opens up
like the next chapter in a book, leading you through all the ups and downs of
our heroes and villains, and a bit like a violent re-counting of Beauty and the
Beast, before taking us to its dramatic conclusion and finale.
Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman are to be applauded for this
marvelous work, especially for their own astounding keyboards, which throughout
this hour’s worth of music twists from the pomp and glory of the Hammond organ
to the wailing of the Moog synthesizer, the subtlety of the harpsichord and
piano, not to mention the words and music they penned.
The sixteen-page booklet you get with this collection is
worth the price alone. It includes complete lyrics, pictures of all the
participants, and wondrous artwork by Rodney Matthews. If you want to know what
a Jabberwock sounds like, you will just have to buy the album.
I will leave you with the final verse of Jabberwocky:
“Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All minsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths out grabe”.
Now perhaps you can see why I am so impressed. They managed
to make head or tail of this, let alone put together a whole concept album.
I wonder if Jabberwocks like Dogs!