GREENSLADE – Bedside Manners Are Extra

Greenslade’s self-titled debut from February 1973 introduced the world to an intricate world of double keyboard led prog, peppered with occasional elements of jazz fusion. It was by no means a perfect record – some of the tracks seemed over complicated for the sake of it and the production wasn’t as crisp as it could’ve been – but it gave the band something solid on which they could build, and just nine months later they returned with a follow-up. Released in the November, ‘Bedside Manners Are Extra’ is superior at almost every turn. Keyboard player/singer Dave Lawson mightn’t have the best voice in the world and occasionally the lack of guitar can be jarring, but the arrangements throughout the album are enough to make it stand up. Decades on, it’s easy to see how ‘Bedside Manners’ is a landmark recording for Dave Greenslade and really helped to make a name for the band in progressive rock fan circles.

The title track begins the album in a very understated fashion as a slow and almost ballad oriented number unravels over a very leisurely six minutes. A mellow bass riff echoing old sixties soul records is quickly joined by smooth harmonies, suggesting someone within the band grew up listening to old doo-wop 45s, before a lovely piano takes precedence. Atop a collection of strident chords, Lawson delivers an unsure vocal, but there’s still something about the overall sound that draws in the listener. Gradually, the soft piano sounds are augmented by shameless 70s synths and at the point you’d expect the band to explode into a Genesis/Yes inspired prog frenzy…very little actually occurs! Instead, occasional drums punch through the keyboards and then slunk away again, realising they’re possibly not wanted, before a huge mellotron chimes in with droning orchestral sounds. In terms of 70s artiness, things have certainly reached an early peak, but for those looking for a melody, it’s not too long before a quirky keyboard solo adds a little of a 60s psych-pop flourish to the otherwise by now proggy atmosphere. Moving into the last part of the track, an assured piano riff lays down a repetitive groove while a repeated vocal refrain actually gives the air of its inspiration being lifted from an old reggae track as opposed to the usual influences. Prog fans shouldn’t be too deterred, though, since a squirly keyboard in the left speaker channel screams 1973 like nothing else, making the kind of squelchy noises usually reserved for the Open University or Schools & Colleges programmes of the day. Finally, tailing off with a huge wall of mellotron noise, Greenslade have made an affable entrance, even if it’s sometimes gentile nature suggests that some bigger ideas will follow.

…And indeed they do. ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ is a sprawling instrumental that makes the very best of the double keyboard set-up – with one in each speaker channel, naturally – as Greenslade and Lawson trade riffs and solos with each other throughout. The track’s busy nature makes it the ideal vehicle for such indulgence, but there are times when there’s a feeling that the rhythm section are working just as hard. Drummer Andrew McCulloch quickly locks into a groove from which he barely deviates, whilst bassist Tony Reeves plays hardest of all. Given a space really high in the overall mix, his thundering bass sound gallops throughout with a joyous confidence, and while the semi-rigid melodies could limit him, he actually drops various great flourishes into the arrangement throughout. In a concise five minutes, ‘Time To Dream’ presents Greenslade’s best track this time out, when the earlier use of mellotron meets the upbeat nature of the second track to demonstrate an art rock band in full flow. Right from the intro showcasing heavy funk bass set against parping keyboards, it’s clear the track is special. As the first verse takes shape, Lawson puts down blankets of Hammond to great effect whist Tony continues to wring the neck of his bass. Eventually Dave Greenslade steps up with various keyboard noises sounding as if on loan from Keith Emerson, before breaking into what might possibly be the ugliest solo this side of ‘Valerie’ by Steve Winwood. Following the surprisingly brief instrumental wig-out, the track reverts to its song based funk where, obviously, Tony Reeves is the true star but it’s also nice to hear Lawson sounding a touch more confident, too – the busy, driving nature of the arrangement certainly helps in disguising any vocal short-comings.

Delving into something far more experimental, ‘Drum Folk’ starts with dark drones, gongs and deep drums in a soundtrack like manner, before stretching into a rhythm that tests McCulloch’s jazz chops. Throughout the next barage of riffs, he alternates between militaristic rattles – played with impeccable tightness – and quirky jazz-inflected fills, while the keyboards add a world of noise. After a couple of minutes, the gloves are off and he’s put into the spotlight for a full-on solo [lavish drum solos weren’t just restricted to gigs in the early 70s] that allows him to explore the whole of his kit. It’s long enough to feel like an integral part of the track without seeming long enough to feel like album filler. Into the second part of the number, the mood changes entirely as a morose instrumental melody plays out, much in the manner of Pink Floyd’s classic ‘Saucerful of Secrets’, which was surely a massive influence on this track, the theatrical feel and featured drum solo. Various jazz oriented keys are exploited – though never the most melodic – and Reeves approaches his bass in a slow and methodical way which only reinforces the sadness within the music itself. With an extra drum solo thrown in for good measure to bow out, it’s a tour de force for McCulloch – and he certainly steals the show, as was the intention – but overall, these nine minutes represent listening geared towards the bigger Greenslade fan.

In many ways, the album’s final pair of numbers don’t so much recycle previous musical ideas as reinforce them. In terms of taking Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s unashamed pomp and shifting it further towards a jazz fusion ideal, ‘Sunkissed You Are Not’ presents another album standout. Taking a rigid groove – the best parts of which, at first, come from a great bass and the more understated keyboard elements – Greenslade sound set to really impress. It’s one of those numbers that aims for grandness and succeeds (despite the vocals), thanks to a jazzy keyboard solo, various funky rhythms and the feeling of a band ready to stretch out. The funk elements are great; the jazz rock leanings, greater…and by the time the number reaches it’s climax where short bursts of noise are interspersed with quiet keyboard drones, you know things can’t get much better. On record, it’s not just one of ‘Bedside’s finest moments but an entire catalogue highlight, thanks to a brilliant crossover style where the two keyboards duel for dominance, but it comes with a feeling that it would have been ten times better live. Finally, the instrumental ‘Chalkhill’ gives the band one final chance to experiment with a slow and almost soulful groove – or at least it would be soulful if not for the keyboards. Taking sounds not far removed from those that would adorn the late 70s Rush albums, the first part of the track is somewhat of an an acquired taste, but after shifting into high gear and mixing prog and jazz with a rock ‘n’ roll shuffle, every member of the band is given chance to shine. Behind the kit, McCulloch knows the importance of the end groove; Reeves delivers a superb lead bass, while Lawson and Greenslade disappear into their own worlds – part self-indulgence, part cutting loose and every moment leading to a fun climax to a surprisingly varied LP.

‘Bedside Manners Are Extra’ is the very definition of “cult 70s album”. It became a favourite among more experimental listeners at the time of its release and, decades on, it holds up well. While many might still consider this the band’s definite forty minutes, that honour truly belongs with the following year’s ‘Spyglass Guest’. With a bigger focus on jazzier influences and the presence of a guitar on a Greenslade album for the first time, it continued the trend of improving on the previous record to give Dave Greenslade and company a genuine masterpiece.

[A deluxe edition of ‘Bedside Manners Are Extra’ released by Esoteric Records in 2018 couples the original album with a DVD featuring the band on the classic UK TV show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’. 2CD editions of ‘Greenslade’ and ‘Spyglass Guest’ are also available.]

Read a review of the expanded ‘Spyglass Guest’ here.

November 2018