Monday, 4 April 2016

"Pathfinder/Get Your Dog Off Me!" by BEGGARS OPERA (2015 Beat Goes On CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...From Shark To Haggis..." 

Ah the much-maligned Prog Rock of Vertigo Spiral – swirling labels and inner bags ahoy. Scotland's BEGGARS OPERA have had their two previous outings covered by England’s Beat Goes On in November 2014 when they reissued their rare November 1970 debut album "Act One" and its equally hard-to-find follow-up "Waters Of Change" from September 1971 – again both Vertigo releases. Beat Goes On now finish the job off with the band’s forgotten 3rd and 4th outings (their last for Vertigo) – both albums squashed onto one Remastered CD. Here are the 'turn your money green' details...

UK released Friday, 30 October 2015 (November 2015 in the USA) - "Pathfinder/Get Your Dog Off Me!" by BEGGARS OPERA on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1207 (Barcode 5017261212078) breaks down as follow (78:00 minutes):

1. Hobo
2. MacArthur Park
3. The Witch
4. Pathfinder [Side 2]
5. From Shark To Haggis
6. Stretcher
7. Madame Doubtfire
Tracks 1 to 7 are their 3rd studio album "Pathfinder" – released July 1972 in the UK on Vertigo 6360 073. All songs band originals except "MacArthur Park" which is a Jimmy Webb song first covered by Richard Harris. This album is a listed UK rarity at £120 (no USA release).

The Band was:
ALAN PARK – Keyboards
RICKY GARDINER – Lead Guitars and Vocals
GORDON SELLAR – Acoustic & Bass Guitar and Vocals

8. Get Your Dog Off Me
9. Freestyle Ladies
10. Open Letter
11. Morning day
12. Requiem
13. Classical Gas
14. Sweet Blossom Woman
15. Turn Your Money Green
16. La-Di-Da
17. Working Man
Tracks 8 to 17 are their 4th studio album "Get Your Dog Off Me!" – released July 1973 in the UK on Vertigo 6360 090. All songs are band originals except "Classical Gas" which is a Mason Williams cover version. This album is a UK listed rarity at £40 (no US release).

The Band was:
RICKY GARDINER – Electric & Acoustic Guitars and Vocals
ALAN PARK – Keyboards
GORDON SELLAR – Acoustic & Bass Guitar and Vocals
COLIN FAIRLIE – Drums (Tracks 8, 9, 11, 14, 15 and 17)
RAY WILSON – Drums (Tracks 10, 12, 13 and 16)

As with all these Beat Goes On CD reissues nowadays - it comes in a tasty outer card slipcase and features a very detailed booklet (16 pages) with great liner notes by noted musicologist NEIL DANIELS. It’s famously elaborate original gatefold sleeve folded into a poster of a ‘Pathfinder’ spaceman on his horse (a listed rarity at £120) – that’s pictured in the centre pages. There are also quotes from previous interviews with Lead Guitarist Ricky Gardiner - but the big news as ever is the new 2015 remaster by ANDREW THOMPSON which reflects the accomplished Production Values of the time (Roger Wake did an exemplary job on "Get Your Dog Off Me!"). Both albums are very clean and warm and even though they’re are traces of hiss on some tracks - its neither dampened by noise reduction nor amplified to impress. This well-played Prog Rock is as it was - just better.

The sophisticated "Pathfinder" album opens with "Hobo" sounding not like Emitt Rhodes circa 1972 (Paul Griffiths' vocals are remarkably similar) – a far more pop affair than the Prog cover would have suggested. If anything it's almost Sparks or even Todd Rundgren. Things stretch out considerably with the clavinet opening to their 8-minute cover of Jim Webb's 1960’s anthem - "MacArthur Park". Beggars Opera make the song suddenly feel like ELP on a cover version bender – and although fans have slagged it off - it's beautifully played and cleverly arranged – the recognisable theme to the song not turning up until nearly two minutes in. Side 1 ends with "The Witch" – a Scott/Gardner composition that is finally Prog as we would recognise it with a heavier guitar riff and Tull flute flourishes. "From Shark To Haggis" is a seven-minute affair with ever-so-slightly Thin Lizzy guitar affectations. The instrumental "Stretcher" has beautiful piano flourishes from Alan Park complimented by Gardiner’s superlative guitar playing (so Brian May) – easily the most accomplished tune on the LP. "Madame Doubtfire" has lyrics like "...sister of Satan...your scorpion sits by your side..." and vocals that ape the worst excesses of Arthur Brown – its derisory stuff I’m afraid.

Sporting an album cover that suggested British Rock 'n' Roll and naughty schoolgirls at pub gigs – "Get Your Dog Off Me!" feels like the band has suddenly had the spirit of Americana invade their camp. It's entirely different and opens with the happy and rhythmically upbeat title track - an acoustic ditty that turns into an Allman Brothers romp and could have been a winning single. Now it goes Rock 'n' Roll with "Freestyle Ladies" where it feels more Foghat than Gentle Giant. "Open Letter", "Turn Your Money Green" and "Working Man" offer more of the same Legend/South End rockers while their cover of Mason Williams’ "Classical Gas" is a hoot.

BEGGARS OPERA re-launched themselves in Germany and put out two albums on Jupiter Records – "Sagittary" (1974) and "Beggars Can't Be Choosers" (1976). Both albums were reissued and remastered on CD by Repertoire in 2007. But if you want to know where that Prog Rock journey started and then morphed into more straight-up British Rock 'n' Roll – this and its superb-sounding CD predecessor is the place to go...

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