Sky: Toccata – An Anthology (Deluxe remastered edition - 2CD/DVD)
Considering the allegedly earth shattering impact punk had on the rock and prog scene, can there have ever been a band that proved that the public at large simply didn't care than Sky? The very idea of a bunch of classically trained chaps teaming up with some of the most respected session players in the business to reinterpret classical pieces and write original tracks in the same vein, surely more than enough to have the snot noses gobbing furiously at their heroes and to send the sales of safety pins soaring. And yet in 1979 Sky arrived, John Williams, Herbie Flowers, Kevin Peek, Tristran Fry and Francis Monkman keenly recrafting pieces from the likes of Satie and Ruiz-Pipo around a selection of their own work which landed somewhere between the spectrums of prog and classical. It shouldn't have worked and even that it did, it shouldn't have captured the public's imagination and yet a succession of hit albums, singles and tours followed as Sky, in their own inimitable fashion, set about becoming one of the biggest acts of the late seventies and early eighties. The musicianship on show was second to none, Williams and Peek a guitar pairing capable of the most dazzlingly breathtaking fret work and some of the most poised, beautiful interplay possible. However with the bass work from Flowers more likely to dart into the lead role than sit in the background and Monkman's keys/synth contributions keeping and at times setting the pace, then there was seldom a moment where the virtuosity wasn't on full display. Arguably however it was the percussion from Fry which drove the music into the rock sphere; to the point, but never overly simple drums pulsating just below the sumptuous melodies. Monkman would leave after the band's second album, Stuart Gray filling a seemingly irreplaceable spot in the band with ease, before Williams too departed in 1984 after five hugely successful studio albums. Interestingly in this excellent 2CD/DVD pack, the original five musicians in the band are credited on the cover alongside Gray, while William's replacement Paul Hart and later member Richard Durrant are not, even though selections from the albums they contributed to are.
In truth, at the time, and ever since, Sky have often been viewed as too twee for the prog crowd and to radical for the classical aficionados, and I have to admit that while I have all of their albums on vinyl, it has been many a year since a listened to their music. Hence Toccata – An Anthology is a welcome opportunity to revisit a catalogue that while undoubtedly of it its time, proves surprisingly engaging even now. In fairness, few high profile acts can sound as 'of their time' as Sky, nor can a million selling act be as almost forgotten as Sky and yet any of the selections from the earliest days of the band, "Westway", "Cannonball", the single only "Dies Irae","Toccata" itself, or "Dance Of The Little Fairies" prove instantly recognisable. They are also a prime example of how to make technical music accessibly memorable.
Impressively as you move through the selections from Sky3, such as "The Grace" or "Connecting Rooms" or album four, Forthcoming, such as "Fantasia" or "Masquerade" the standard doesn't dip. Slowly however an evolution does appear, less grandiose, or obviously prog/classic crossover fare taking shape, although "Troika" and "The Boy From Dundee" certainly hold up their end of the bargain. It's the post Williams days where things do veer slightly off track, the selections from The Great Balloon Race and Mozart introducing voices and spoken sections which feel out of place and less individual. The inclusion of "Fool On The Hill" shows another side of the band again, and one which works well, while having the b'side version of "KP II" is welcome.
Disc three is a DVD of Musikladen, The Bremen Broadcast May 1987, which finds the original line up in their pomp (and a selection of extremely bad sweaters). The performance is captivating (certainly much more captivating than the bored looking audience would suggest), the quartet both lost in the moment and clearly having a superb time. Unsurprisingly, given its vintage, the picture quality isn't exactly fantastic, while the sound does have some issues. However with five of the selections never before available on DVD, the shortcomings can be forgiven, especially when the opportunity to see how easy the five musicians onstage make these hugely technical pieces seem, is a joy.
Sky may be one of the seventies and eighties more forgotten outfits and maybe even one of the less fashionable from a (looking back) decidedly unfashionable era. However Toccata – An Anthology illustrates one thing superbly, the music was pretty damn impressive and it still is to this day.
5. DIES IRAE
9. DANCE OF THE LITTLE FAIRIES
11. THE GRACE
12. CHIROPODIE NO. 1
14. CONNECTING ROOMS
1. MY GISELLE
3. RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES
5. THE ANIMALS (Live)
6. A GIRL IN WINTER
9. THE BOY FROM DUNDEE
10. FOOL ON THE HILL
11. THE GREAT BALLOON RACE
12. DESPERATE FOR YOUR LOVE
13. PETER'S WEDDING
14. NIGHT SKY
15. KP II (Single Version)
16. COME SWEET MAY
17. EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK: ROMANZA
DISC THREE: DVD SKY- MUSIKLADEN 1980
5. GYMNOPEDIA NO. 1
6. DANCE OF THE LITTLE FAIRIES *
7. SAHARA *
8. EL CIELO *
10. TOCCATA *
11. TUBA SMARTIES *
12. WHERE OPPOSITES MEET PARTS 1 – 5
* previously unreleased un-broadcast tracks
Added: December 12th 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Toccata - An Anthology at Cherry Red
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