The very early 1970s was something of a golden age for folk-rock and acoustic-based folk-pop, and it’s something of a surprise that quite a number of fine LPs from that era have still not been reissued in decent CD transfers. The album Fly On Strangewings by the trio Jade is one such artefact; it came out in June 1970 on the DJM label (home of Elton John), and sported a typically lavish 1970 gatefold sleeve adorned with arty photos of the trio walking across Hampstead Heath in equally typical florid 1970 garb. The basic acoustic-guitars-and-keyboards-with-vocal-harmonies sound of the Jade trio (Marian Segal, Dave Waite and Rod Edwards) was generously augmented with the talents of sundry session musicians including Pete Sears, James Litherland, Michael Rosen, John Harper, Terry Cox, Pete York and Clem Cattini, some tracks also bathed in sublime string arrangements by Phil Dennys. To some extent, the general sound-world of the LP varied between tracks, but it can be best classified as pastel-pastoral contemporary-folk with folk-baroque harpsichord and occasional guitar-rock leanings; individual tracks conjured anything from Magna Carta, early Fairport Convention and Johnstons to Spriguns, Storyteller, Mellow Candle, Future-Passed Moody Blues, Forever-Changes-era Love and Trader Horne, while there were also uncanny echoes of the Sandy Denny & The Strawbs album (tracks such as the beautiful Fly Me To The North – later covered by Rod McKuen – and the LP’s title song, the latter uncannily starting off with an identical note progression to Who Knows Where The Time Goes?). Bad Magic was a tough twelve-bar number, while album finale Away From The Family was a credible slice of Americana/country-rock; but the majority of its songs typified a perceptive, if introspective lyricism that was thoroughly appealing yet not without a certain depth. This latest reissue of Fly On Strangewings (Disc 1 of this handsome Cherry Tree set) reveals it as one of the worthiest of true cult classics, and comes freshly remastered from a pristine UK vinyl copy that’s claimed to sound even better than the original master tape. It’s topped up with seven bonus cuts, which include three invaluable 1970 rehearsal/demos (two are non-album tracks), three 1971 studio tracks (including pleasantly rocky Joni Mitchell and James Taylor covers) and a US radio trailer. By the time of those latter studio recordings, seeds of a band breakdown were being sown, and Marian was being pressured into making more commercial, mainstream music. That’s where the Marian Segal story picks up again at the start of Disc 3 (subtitled Kiss Of The Buddha), with a couple of tracks from an aborted 1971 solo album. The remainder of Disc 3 takes us on a magical journey through arguably the best of Marian’s classy post-Jade recordings, many of which are previously unreleased. These include some impressive Marian Segal Band demos from 1972, 1973 and 1974 (the latter including the catchy Bullseye On A Rainy Night, which sounds a dead-ringer for a lost Joni song), a pair of mid-70s studio cuts produced by Jeff Wayne, a live track or two, then assorted recordings from 1979, 1984, 1990 and 1996, ending up with a strong version of The Water Is Wide from the (frustratingly unavailable) 2013 Aldbrickham Band album. This selection is something of an exception to the rule, for virtually all of the material on Discs 1 and 3 of this set consists of Marian’s own (excellent) compositions. However, it needs to be pointed out that Disc 3’s otherwise fairly comprehensive post-Jade Marian Segal overview omits entirely Marian’s 2007 solo album The Gathering, which by all trusted accounts would be an excellent investment.
All that remains is discussion of Disc 2 of this wonderful anthology. Its contents take us back in time to the period 1967-69, presenting a collection of pre-Jade recordings – mostly by Marian and Dave in duo mode (these were originally issued in 2004 by Lightning Tree). By 1967, Marion and Dave had teamed up out of a mutual admiration for the American singer-songwriters, and quickly found their feet with a blend of distinctively English vocals “counterpoised against” a transatlantic guitar style, soon absorbing Marian’s own developing songwriting into their sets. Thus, Disc 2, subtitled Paper Flowers (after Dave’s lone original composition), begins with the three 1969 demos which employed orchestration and session musicians (definitive west-coast sunshine pop in sound), then continues with a plethora of revealing early demos. These include covers of songs by Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Jacques Brel (an astonishingly powerful version of The Dove), and (less expectedly) Mike Heron, together with a couple of unusual choices from the Dylan songbook.
Listening to the anthology’s three discs in a single continuous sequence today reinforces just how consistently superb a singer Marian has been down the years (and I’ve enjoyed the Strangewings album so much more this time round in this excellent new transfer). She has a genuinely enduring voice, and can in retrospect be seen as a classic example of a “what might have been” talent that has never attained the recognition it so richly deserves.
|Martin Simpson: Trials & Tribulations||Ian Foster: Sleeper Years|
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