SAMURAI – Samurai

By the end of the 60s, jazz fusion band The Web had recorded and released two interesting but commercially unsuccessful albums. 1970 found the struggling musicians in a period of minor flux: a change in line-up saw frontman John L. Watson replaced by vocalist/keyboard player Dave Lawson (ex-Alan Bown) and a change of label took the newly christened Web [no longer the definitive; that was so last decade – just ask Pink Floyd] from Deram to Polydor. The new phase saw the release of their third and arguably best known LP, ‘I Spider’. ‘I Spider’ became their most famous work not through any increased exposure or notable sales, but by eventually becoming one of the era’s most sought after rarities.

By 1971, the final Web line-up changed their name to Samurai, switched record companies again and released one sole LP on the Greenwich Gramophone label. Like its predecessors, ‘Samurai’ failed to convince the record buying public and eventually faded into relative obscurity. Much like ‘I Spider’, the Samurai LP gained interest on the collectors’ market over the following quarter of a century, but never really got the mass re-appraisal it deserved. Despite the band showing lots of talents that should have found them mentioned in the same breath as Gentle Giant, King Crimson and early Soft Machine, the name Samurai is likely to be greeted with a shrug.

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MARILLION – Live @ Roskilde Festival 1983

For many years, Marillion fans had to make do with the ‘Recital of The Script’ and ‘Grendel/Web’ VHS tapes for their fix of early Marillion live footage.  Thanks to the internet, further footage promoting ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’ later surfaced, including a brief clip from The Marquee, but this footage from the Danish Roskilde Festival might just be the most exciting yet.

It captures Camel drummer Andy Ward’s brief time occupying the drum stool, making this a vital historical document.  Ward automatically gives the performance(s) a little more energy than Mick Pointer was able (though still not quite enough if Steve Rothery’s expressions are anything to go by on occasion), but anything lacking musically is more than made up for by a ridiculously boisterous audience being tackled by Fish in a fearless mood.

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MARILLION: Chippenham Goldiggers – 12th March 1984

A lot of great Marillion shows have been made available on video, DVD and blu ray over the years.  Dozens of shows from the 90s onward have been issued via the band’s official website, but fans of Marillion’s formative years have had to make do with just two shows – neither of which show the band at their best.

‘Recital of The Script’, filmed at Hammersmith Odeon in 1983, remains the definitive document of early Marillion despite being hampered by some painfully slow drumming.  At the other end of the “Fish Years”, the 1987 festival set ‘Live at Loreley’ shows Marillion seeming rather tired and in need of a little re-invention.

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DUKES OF THE ORIENT – Freakshow

Vocalist John Payne will be familiar to most as having been the singer with Asia between 1991 and 2006. For a lot of people, he’s often that bloke who “isn’t John Wetton”. A somewhat unfair tag, maybe, but prog and AOR fans aren’t exactly known for being open to change, especially where a favourite vocalist is concerned. Despite Payne being treated by some as an “also ran” or some kind of stand in until Wetton returned (which he eventually did), it doesn’t change the fact that Asia’s 1992 album, ‘Aqua’ is their best work (‘Little Rich Boy’ and ‘Who Will Stop The Rain?’ are amazing songs) and in many ways, 2006’s ‘Arena’ remains one of the band’s most musically rich works, with a few tracks veering away from their pomp style and drawing influence from the smoother sounds of Toto. Unless you’re completely ignorant (like those people who have somehow written off over thirty years of a Fish-free Marillion after hearing three songs in 1989), John Payne’s contribution to Asia cannot and should not be undervalued.

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