Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Beggar's Opera - Act One

Beggar's Opera
Act One

Released 1970 on Vertigo
Reviewed by mcongraff, 27/07/2005ce

Beggar’s Opera: Act One

Released in 1970, the debut album of this Scottish band should appeal to fans of the organ vs. electric guitar battles typified by Deep Purple. Emersonian keyboardist Alan Park must have been classically trained, as familiar runs appear throughout the album, beginning none too subtly with the first song, Poet and Peasant, based on an overture by Franz von Suppe.

However, the first track is one of the album’s weaker ones. Musically, the organ is similar to the work of the Three Suns; something you might hear on a carnival carousel or roller rink; rink-rock as my friend called it. The vocals by Martin Griffiths are dramatic and expressive, but he unfortunately goes over-the-top here, at times sounding like a bad attempt at a Halloween ghost “wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo – yeahhhhhhhh”. Lyrically this song contrasts the leisurely life of the wealthy poet with that of the poor, hard-working peasant. Either these guys were art school boys, or 1970 Scotland was much more supportive of poets than any other culture in history.

Beginning with the second cut Passacaglia, the album finds the right groove. Vocals are subdued and processed to sound like old-time radio or a megaphone. The guitar comes to the front here, with an extended solo that rocks with some great wacka-jawacka that any 70’s hard rock fan or prog guitar fan will love.

The next song, Memory, could be off any early Jethro Tull album; romantic, slightly jazzy, with punctuating keyboards.

The instrumental Raymonds Road starts off with a keyboard thunderclap that quickly builds to a galloping and lengthy classical riff that includes a brief Mozart passage. Ray Wilson’s drums keep everything together, with a steady beat, and some nice fills of his own. Here the guitar solo is more acidy and dark. At nearly 12 minutes, this song takes the listener for quite a ride, including snippets of the 1933 pop vocal Temptation and the William Tell Overture. Perhaps Raymonds Road was the location of the art school or Park’s piano teacher?!

Light Calvary closes the original album in fine form. Melodic keyboards dominate the opening of this song, giving way only briefly for a short guitar part. Again, classical snippets are peppered into the mix. Lyrically, this song tells the story of a former light cavalry soldier, now a gray haired man.

Sarabande, the first bonus track, was recorded as a single and is the shortest track. The wacka-jawacka guitar from Passacaglia is the basis for this number; funky with some nice harmonies.

The final cut Think, with its echoed vocal parts, is somewhat more psychedelic than the rest of the songs here.

This stuff is beautifully played, with an overall optimistic feel. Fans of the Nice, ELP, Deep Purple and roller rinks are sure to dig it. Wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo – yeahhhhhhhh!

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