Tuesday, 16 February 2016

"In Fields Of Ardath" by EYES OF BLUES (2015 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…After The War…" 

Welsh cult band EYES OF BLUE released only two albums at the extreme ends of 1969 – "Crossroads Of Time" in January and "In Fields Of Ardath" in December. Yet this legendary pairing of Mercury Records Psych LP classics have incredibly stayed off the official CD reissue schedules-list for three whole decades and more. That is until now.

At last in late 2015 - along comes Mark Powell’s Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red of the UK) who have reissued both complete with new liner notes, collaborations from the remaining members of the band and rare bonus tracks (non-album single sides). And typically Esoteric have done a bang-up job for both. With the pair regularly clocking in at £250+ for vinyl rarities that few who love the genre get access to - both of these first-time-on-cd expanded reissues are welcome news for collectors and the curious alike. Here are the visionary details for album number two…

UK released 27 November 2015 (December 2015 in the USA) – "In Fields Of Ardath" by EYES OF BLUE on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2523 (Barcode 5013929462342) is a CD Reissue/Remaster of their second album with one bonus track and plays out as follows (42:30 minutes):

1. Merry Go Round (from the film "Toy Grabbers")
2. The Light We See
3. Souvenirs (Tribute To Django)
4. Ardath
5. Spanish Blues
6. Door (The Child That Is Born On The Sabbath Day) [Side 2]
7. Little Bird
8. After The War
9. Extra Hour
10. Chances
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 2nd and last studio album "In Fields Of Ardath" as Eyes Of Blue – released December 1969 in the UK on Mercury Records 20164 SMCL and in the USA on Mercury Records SR 61220 (both Stereo).
Tracks 1 and 10 written by Ritchie Francis
Tracks 2 and 8 written by Gary Pickford-Hopkins
Track 3 is a Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli cover
Track 4 written by John Weathers
Track 5 written by Graham Bond
Track 6 written by Phil Ryan and Roy Bennett
Track 9 written by Phil Ryan
The album was produced by LOU REIZNER (as was their debut) and featured 1969 liner notes from Quincy Jones – also reproduced on the last page of the booklet.

11. Apache '69 (Mono). Non-Album A-side – an updated version of the 1960's Shadows hit "Apache" originally written by Jerry Lordan years earlier. The 1969 7" single was released in the UK on Mercury MF 1080 and in the USA as Mercury 72911. However - the US 45 credited the band as EYES OF BLUE - but the UK issued it used the moniker THE IMPOSTERS. Both songs on the single were non-album on release and the B-side "Q III" is a bonus track on the "Crossroads Of Time" CD reissue (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2522).

EYES OF BLUE was down to a 5-piece for their 2nd album and featured Gary Pickford-Hopkins (Vocals), Phil Ryan (Keyboards), Ray "Taff" Williams (Guitars), Ritchie Francis (Bass) and John Weathers (Drums) – the original sixth member of the band Vocalist Wyndham Rees left after the first LP.

The 16-page booklet features new liner notes by noted musicologist MALCOLM DOME with a history of both The Mustangs and The Smokestacks (two bands that gave rise to EOB), interviews with former band members Weathers and principal songwriter Francis on the formation of the band, the making of the album and the disappointing 'no sales' aftermath. There are black and white photos of the original line up, flyers for gigs at the Langland Bay Hotel in March 1969 and London's Speak Easy in February, rare foreign picture sleeves - the usual spread of period memorabilia that a body expect from a quality reissue like this.

BEN WISEMAN – a name that’s graced oodles of these classy reissues – has handled the exclusively licensed Remaster. While the first record was thrashed together in only 5-days – the second LP saw the band take a more careful approach and you can hear it in the accomplished Audio presented here. The transfer on songs like the hugely complex "Door..." with its Mellotron, layered vocals and Sitar alongside funky organ vehicles like their cover of Graham Bond's "The Sound Of '65" classic "Spanish Blues" is clean, ballsy and full of Psych power and raunch. This is a great sounding CD reissue...

Their association with a visiting Quincy Jones hunting for Soundtrack Rock saw their opener "Merry Go Round" featured in the risible 1969 movie "Toy Grabbers" starring Julie Newmar and Victor Bruno who both played villains in the US "Batman" TV Series. As the liner notes tell us – Eyes Of Blue also featured in the film "Connecting Rooms" (a drama that starred movie heavyweights Betty Davis and Sir Michael Redgrave) where they played a whole set to the extras (sadly none of it is available for this release). The Django Reinhardt tribute instrumental "Souvenirs" is initially covered in deliberately applied 78" scratches but then fades into an Acoustic and Electric Guitar jaunt – it’s interesting but not a lot else really. Far better is the melodic "Ardath" – a swirling "shining graceful" acoustic floater with lovely piano in the background like a childhood dream before it breaks into a wicked Graham Bond type shuffle and groove.

But it's when you play either "After The War" (penned by Pickford-Hopkins) or the superb and ethereal "Extra Hour" – does it becomes pretty clear that their songwriting talent as a band had taken huge leaps forward compared to their good but patchy January 1969 debut. By now Eyes Of Blues were sounding not unlike an early version of YES with all the keyboard and guitar skills of Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe in Phil Ryan and Ray Williams. The chipper piano-vocal driven "Little Bird" would have been a 7" single contender too. It ends on the almost Midnight Cowboy Pop of "Chances" – a lovely Ritchie Francis harmonica warbler. A truly impressive album...

Psych fans will love the inclusion of their Guitar and Keyboard instrumental re-working of The Shadows 1960 hit "Apache '69" – their rare non-album 7” single from 1969 in Mono (the band credited as THE IMPOSTERS in the UK). They will then quickly work out that its equally hard-to-find and brilliant instrumental B-side "Q III" is the bonus track on the first CD – "Crossroads Of Time" - also released by Esoteric Recordings on 27 Nov 2015.

Eyes of Blue then morphed into BIG SLEEP who produced one album in 1971 called “Bluebell Wood” on Pegasus Records PEG 4 that will undoubtedly be the subject of CD reissue soon also...

Difficult but brilliant - off its time and yet ahead of it - Eyes Of Blue have carved a semi mythical name in the pantheons of Psych and Prog lovers - and on the evidence of this superb but criminally forgotten second outing - it's easy to hear why...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is COOL 1960s MUSIC - an E-Book with over 200 entries and 2000 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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