Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mandalaband - Eye of Wendor 1978

Mandalaband were not one, but really two of England's more ambitious progressive rock ensembles, featuring two completely different lineups behind the same guiding personality. The second incarnation of the band featured the work of Barclay James Harvest, 10cc, Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior, and the Moody Blues' Justin Hayward. The two versions of Mandalaband were responsible for LPs on the Chrysalis label during 1975 and 1978. But both versions of the group were conceived as vehicles for musician/scholar David Rohl's mythological musings.

David Rohl, who has since become a noted Egyptologist, formed his first band, called the Sign of Life, in 1968. The group's name was later changed to Ankh, as a reflection of the founder's interest in ancient Egypt. The band recorded a set of demos at a studio with Eric Stewart, who, at that time, was the ex-lead singer of the Mindbenders (of Wayne Fontana fame) and future co-founder of 10cc. Those demos led to a contract for Ankh with Vertigo Records, the progressive-oriented imprint of Philips Records, which declined to release the resulting LP. Rohl gave up making music for a time and turned to a career in photography, which led to his being commissioned to photograph the Moody Blues for the interior jacket of their 1970 album A Question of Balance.

Rohl later set up a studio of his own, where he met drummer Tony Cresswell, keyboard player Vic Emerson, bassist John Stimpson, guitarist Ashley Mulford, and vocalist David Durant. They became Mandalaband, played their first gig in January of 1975, and earned an opening act spot on a British tour by ex-Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower. The group was signed to Chrysalis, and the future seemed promising for all concerned until the record company decided to bring in an experienced producer and deny Rohl the chance to produce their debut album. Rohl left the group he'd founded on the eve of Mandalaband recording an entire album devised and written by him. Rohl was brought back into the project to remix the album when Chrysalis' management found themselves disappointed with the resulting recording, which had a very topical political theme, inspired by the Tibetan people's resistance to the Chinese occupation of their country. Rohl was nothing if not eclectic in his sensibilities, but not even he could rescue the album after the fact.

Rohl went on to a career in audio engineering, working with the likes of Marc Bolan, Thin Lizzy, Barclay James Harvest, Tim Hart, and Maddy Prior. What was left of Mandalaband rechristened themselves Sad Cafe, with future Mike & the Mechanics lead singer Paul Young. By 1976, Rohl was back with Chrysalis, where the management was encouraged enough by his work and vision that they revived the name Mandalaband as a rubric for his own work. This time there was no group, but an array of musicians assembled for the occasion of the recording by Rohl himself. By that time, Rohl was well known enough in the business that he was able to draw upon the talents of Justin Hayward, Maddy Prior, Barclay James Harvest, and 10cc.

Rohl conceived of a series of three albums built around an entire mythology devised along lines that recalled the depth and complexity of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, covering several epochs in the history of the kingdom of Wendor, peopled by such characters as King Aenord, Princess Ursula, the hero Florian, and the Witch Queen Silesandre. Only one of the albums, The Eye of Wendor: Prophesies, was ever completed, and it took two years to record, a result of the array of artists involved.

The record was a modest success for Chrysalis, selling reasonably well in England and Australia as well as parts of Europe. By the time it was released in 1978, however, the progressive rock era that helped propagate concept albums of this kind was waning, and the company declined to record the remaining two albums in the trilogy. Rohl continued to work in music, collaborating with Barclay James Harvest keyboardman Woolly Wolstenholme on several soundtrack projects and working with several bands, as well as writing songs.

Arguably the most successful and listenable of the progressive rock era's declared concept albums, and certainly a rival to Yes' Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans and more concise than Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. The music encompasses classical and new age elements as well as folk influences, as it tells the story of the early history of the kingdom of Wendor. Justin Hayward, in excellent voice, sings the part of King Aenord, Maddy Prior makes a wonderfully expressive Princess Ursula, and Eric Stewart is an attractive Florian. Other participating musicians include John Lees, Woolly Wolstenholme, Les Holroyd, Noel Redding, Graham Gouldman, and the Halle Orchestra. There are lots of fluid synthesizer passages and loud guitar flourishes to keep things lively and interesting, and one need not necessarily know anything about the "plot" (a series of Lord of the Rings-style convolutions) to appreciate it. Some of the material meanders needlessly, but other passages are beautifully written and sung. (British import) AMG.

listen here


Post a Comment

Popular Posts