Despite Procol Harum’s newly recorded output being rather scant since their first reformation in the 90s, the band managed to maintain something of a public profile. Gary Brooker and associated friends kept themselves busy on the road, while fans got plenty to enjoy during the recording drought thanks to various super-deluxe reissues and a couple of excellent box sets. Their ‘Still There’ll Be More’ set – released by Cherry Red Records to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary – was especially wonderful, bringing together classics, rarities and various live shows on DVD for the first time. For those who could afford the expensive price-tag, it was a genuine treasure trove.
After leaving Yes in 1979 following the tour for their ‘Tormato’ album, Jon Anderson barely rested. Between 1980 and 1982, he split most of his creative time between his own solo projects and collaborations with Greek keyboard virtuoso Vangelis, which brought the vocalist some UK chart success with the commercial new age/synth pop singles ‘I Hear You Now’ and the much-loved ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’. By the summer of 1981 and with the second Jon & Vangelis album ‘The Friends of Mt. Cairo’ having barely hit record shop shelves, Anderson was back in the studio working on the material that was soon to become his third LP ‘Animation’.
Upon release in June 1982, ‘Animation’ was a cult hit among fans, but not especially a commercial success. It marked the first time since the 1960s that Anderson failed to break the top 40 of the UK albums chart, and yielded no hit singles – which might seem weird considering his recent success with Vangelis – but, in all fairness, ‘Animation’ is a really complex animal. On the surface, it’s shiny pop oriented sound and extensive use of the technologies of the era make it appear as if it should’ve been much better received, but closer inspection reveals a sometimes challenging album that often delights in being busy, sometimes for the sake of it, and very occasionally at the expense of obvious hooks. However, it’s one of those albums which, with enough time invested, will eventually present a lot of brilliant material. Some of it is about as singalong as the more excessive bits of ‘Topographic Oceans’, but as is often the case with solo Jon, there’s far more at stake cheeky pop tune.
After a run of synth pop hits, Howard Jones took a musical detour. All artists grow and change, but the bulk of the material on his fifth album ‘In The Running’ (originally released in 1992) presented Jones in a more introspective light. Its ten songs tackled heavyweight subjects like pent up aggression (‘Gun Turned On The World’), mental illness (the self-explanatory ‘The Voices Are Back’) and the need for forgiveness (‘One Last Try’). Musically, his trademark synth pop style was dropped in favour of more of an adult AOR sound, sometimes much closer to Bruce Hornsby, and unfortunately, the UK radio stations seemed less than convinced. The album didn’t yield any massive hits and it subsequently became overlooked by all but the biggest fans.
By the early 2000s, it was much easier to find a copy of ‘In The Running’ from a US cut out bin than anywhere in the UK. A 2012 reissue coupled the album with ‘One To One’ and ‘Cross That Line’ and associated extras, but aside from a cover of Donald Fagen’s ‘IGY’ (released as a single in ’93) it didn’t offer much by way of ‘Running’ era extras. With that in mind, a massive reissue coupling the original album with a wealth of extra period material was something of a necessity. This four disc set from Cherry Red (issued in April 2021) aims to be the last word for ‘In The Running’, since it features a truckload of remixes and extra goodies alongside a DVD where Howard reflects on a much underrated work.
The 1960’s spawned a generation of guitarists who paved their way to stardom through vast amount of session work. Arguably the most celebrated of these players are Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page, but for these genuine megastars, there were a legion of other six string heroes who worked every bit as hard – or harder – but never reached “household name” status. Unless you’re the kind of fan who devours sleeve notes and credits with as much enthusiasm as the music itself, names like Clem Clempson, Geoff Whitehorn and Jim Sullivan, for example, might not be too familiar, and yet, if you love 60s, 70s and 80s rock, chances are you own a record or two featuring those guys.
Ray Fenwick is another musician who has maintained a presence for several decades, but has never seemed to get his full due. Beginning as a session man in the 60s, he’s played with some of the greats. ‘Playing Through The Changes’ – a three disc anthology from 2021 – shows off a chunk of his legacy more than admirably, pulling tracks from a very busy career. What it may lack in consistency it makes up for with variety, and unlike so many rock-based anthologies devoted to a singular talent, it doesn’t rely on too many really obvious recordings you’ll own elsewhere – purely because the nature of Fenwick’s work means there aren’t any obvious compilation filling hits and standards. There are a lot of oddities – which aren’t all good, naturally – but, in the main, it’s an enjoyable musical adventure.
Ever since the CD boom of the 90s, the market has been flooded with easily affordable and easily accessible rock compilations. These sets, often adorned by artwork showing a guitar or having a car and open road theme have typically been aimed at the undemanding listener – the kind of person wishing to revisit the classic rock singles of their radio filled youth; the kind of person who’d happily listen to Thin Lizzy’s greatest hits in their car forever. You’d think the market would eventually run out of these people as their target market, and yet year after year, cheap comps featuring Thin Lizzy’s ‘Boys Are Back In Town’, Rainbow’s ‘Since You Been Gone’ and Free’s ‘All Right Now’ seem to fill supermarket shelves continually.