England: Garden Shed (1977)
As the disco and the punk movements took over the late '70's , it became obvious that progressive rock was in it's twilight years. The big name bands were getting away from what had made them big and the smaller bands couldn't get record deals because their sound was deemed 'out'. As a result, many great bands who emerged in this era went absolutely unnoticed. If not for a few astute students of progressive rock who seeked out these rare records to remaster them to CD and subsequently plugged them on sites like this one; bands like England would have been completely overlooked by the general progressive audience. What a crime this would have been because this disc truly is a classic from the past .
Encompassing many of the styles of the great progressive bands hailing from land of tea and crumpets, England is aptly named. Their sound is a veritable microcosm of the classic symphonic sound of the 70's. This foursome utilizes vintage keys, Rickenbaker bass, and superb vocal harmonizing to create a disc that borrows freely from many bands yet never sounds entirely derivative.
The opening "Midnight Madness" plunges us immediately into a realm left vacant by masters such as Genesis, with it's keyboard intro and build up reminiscent of classic tracks like "Watcher Of TheSkies." This is a superb song filled with complex beats and great vocal harmonizing by all four members. It bobs and weaves, wrapping itself around a complex bass line. Keyboardist Robert Webb wears his Tony Banks' influences on his sleeve during his lead breaks. Following this one is the short and sweet "All Alone." It's a duet featuring piano and vocals which clocks in at 1:51 before it segues into track 3- "Three Piece Suite"; with it's very Yes sounding opening (Close To The Edge anyone ?). This 12:59 opus lets the band expand on many themes, thus serving up many influences. They themselves may have influenced certain Neo bands which followed. The lead guitar breaks from Franc Holland are very dramatic and deliberate, reminding this reviewer of guitarists like Steve Rothery (Marillion). Shades of Supertramp can also be heard with a very Rodger Hodgson-like vocal foray roughly 8 minutes in. The track closes with some odd-time signatures and complex percussions courtesy of Jode Leigh, accompanied by more Banks' like keys from Robert Webb as it fades to black. "Paraffinalea" is more reminiscent of Gentle Giant with it's quirky keyboard intro and acrobatic vocal interplay . Superb bass playing by Martin Henderson as he nimbly struts his fingers across the frets of his Rickenbaker bass, dominating the song. "Yellow" is a much softer track, permeated by acoustic guitars and laid back vocals. It leads us into the show-stopping closer "Poisoned Youth." The track opens with a Chris Squire (Yes) bass line and lush keyboards which slowly augment and burst forth. Dramatic vocals throughout as the track goes through many moods and tempos. Clocking in at 16:17 seconds, the song allows the band to fully showcase their musical arsenal, as they jump around from ethereal to bombastic, to discordant, to dramatic in the space of a few minutes. As a final influence, we're treated to a David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) soulful solo around 12 minutes in. The song then builds up one last head of steam in a frenetic Yes-like foray before fading away with the sound of the wind.
Although this disc will not dazzle anyone with virtuosity it is a must own for any fan of the Golden Age of British progressive rock. It's a highly enjoyable excursion down a well traveled road. The band did release a second disc Land Of The Jubblies which did not live up to the buzz created by Garden Shed. I would chalk that one up to the sophomore jinx along with the band trying to please record company executives for a prolonged contract. It would be very interesting to hear what this band could have produced had they arrived on the scene a few years earlier or decided to reunite today. I wonder if the latter is still possible. Let us hope.