Crossover Prog • United Kingdom
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Welsh band Aquila arose from the ashes of late 1960's band BLONDE ON BLONDE. Founding guitarist Ralph Denyer left that band in 1970 to work on his Aquila project. Blonde on Blonde recruited new vocalist/guitarist David Thomas (an old school friend of Denyer) to replace Denyer, and went on to record their best album "Rebirth".
Aquila's music, while substantially based in art rock, draws in influences from a diverse range of influences, including jazz and heavy rock. Deyner was the clear leader of the band, writing all the songs on their sole release, a self titled album.
Quite what happened to the band thereafter, and why they split up so quickly is something of a mystery, especially since they were signed to a major label (RCA). Wind instrumentalist George Lee joined ARRIVAL, a mainly vocal collaboration who enjoyed brief singles success before his arrival with the song "Friends". (Answers.com notes that this is the same George Lee who was born in Ghana, real name Kwame Narh Kojo Larnyoh, who was a member of Burning Spear and Toots & the Maytals, but I suspect this is inaccurate.)
No photos of the band appear to exist, even the images on the album sleeve are sketches of each band member. The image on this page is taken from the LP sleeve.
The sole "Aquila" album ended up in the bargain bins of the UK, but ironically, is now a sought after rarity.
With due acknowledgement to an article written by Nigel Camilleri for DPRP.net, about the only reference to the band currently traceable!
Studio Album, released in 1970
4 stars A forgotten classic
1970 band Aquila's only release was this self titled album. In that year, founding member of Welsh proto-prog outfit Blonde on Blonde, Ralph Denyer, left that band to go it alone. He brought in four other musicians including George Lee, a dedicated wind instrumentalist and the five piece Aquila was formed.
Denyer is the clear leader, writing all the material on the album. He did however entrust production duties to Patrick Campbell-Lyons who at the time formed 50% of the real Nirvana, i.e. the late 60's early 70's proto-prog outfit, not the grunge band from Seattle.
Whenever I play this album, and even though I bought it over 30 years ago I still do so on regular occasions, right from the start I find myself anticipating the sensational ending section. I am of course doing so again here, and we should return to the beginning.
The album is split into two distinct halves. Side one has four self contained tracks which range from jazz rock to psychedelic proto-prog, while all the while remaining firmly in art rock territory. Side two is taken up entirely by the "Aquila suite", a 26 minute venture in three parts, delving into much deeper territories.
The opening track "Change your ways" has a jazz tinge to a rock basis. The mid-pace of the song seems quickened by the driving beat of the rhythm section. The track is reminiscent of the early work of CHICAGO, with a similar gruff vocal. "How many more times" is a slightly softer Hammond organ based piece with overlain flute and still that strong rhythm section, perhaps reminiscent of MOUNTAIN. The strength of the melody and the passionate vocals, together with a lengthy Rod ARGENT organ style solo make this one of the album's highlights. This track in particular is reminiscent of the music of STEAMHAMMER.
"While you were sleeping" is the closest of the set to Denyer's former band, with a more psychedelic feel. The literal echoing of the vocal line by the sax is quite striking, the song being very similar to TEN YEARS AFTER's "Love Like a man" from their "Cricklewood Green" album released the same year. Side one closes with "We can make it if we try", which combines light pop verses with loose thunderous choruses. The instrumental break is a jazz sax solo backed by Hammond organ. Some nice bass work by Phil Childs here too.
And so to the crux of the album, "The Aquila Suite". The first movement opens with a brief solo flute rendition of the closing theme before the band burst in and we're straight into a Hammond led blues rock rhythm. The feel is slightly JETHRO TULL ("Thick as a brick" era) accentuated not just by the presence of flute and organ, but by the way the former is played. Once again, the rhythm section drive the track along as it twists and turns through various instrumental leads and occasional "Fly high" verses. Midway through, a percussion break (as opposed to drum solo) intervenes, not unlike OSIBISA's contribution to the closing section to URIAH HEEP's "Look at yourself".
The brief first part of the "Second Movement" is entitled "Cloud circle", the music being onomatopoeic as it moves from flute to organ. This is followed by "The hunter", a slower section with more of a blues feel, but lyrically the song is perfunctory serving only to carry the concept forward. "The kill" lifts the pace, as the high pitched organ backed by dramatic percussion simulates the bird of prey's dive for it quarry, the sax leads the ever increasing pace until the deed is done.
The third movement is what we have been anticipating right from the start, and is for me one of the most delightful pieces of music in my collection. There are two distinct sections, "Where do I belong" and "Aquila (conclusion)". "Where do I belong" is an uplifting, emotional ballad with sensitive lyrics which prolong the bird of prey analogy in a personal context. Here the organ is swirling and ever present, while saxes carry the main theme coming to the fore for the almost smooth solo section. During the solo, the Hammond is all the while raising the emotion of the piece until Denyer brings things to a wonderful conclusion. Acoustic guitar backs Denyer's link vocal which ends with a single held note on the organ. The held note swells driven on by rolling drums before bursting in to the magnificent closing section. This organ and multi-tracked sax wall of sound is simply awesome. Think "Hamburger concerto" (Focus), think "I want you" (Beatles), and your approaching the majesty of the conclusion. As endings to an album go, this is the standard by which others should be judged.
In all, an unjustly lost album from 1970. It is perhaps George Lee's contribution which distinguishes "Aquila" from other releases of the time, his multi- instrumental talents giving each track a unique flavour. Ralph Denyer's own contribution though should not be under-played. As sole songwriter and vocalist, as well as lead guitarist, he takes great credit for the way he exploits the talents of his fellow band members.
Highly recommend, if you can find it!
Songs / Tracks Listing
1. Change your ways (5:18)
2. How many more times (6:22)
3. While you were sleeping (5:25)
4. We can make it if we try (4:35)
5. The Aquila suite
... First movement - Aquila (Introduction), Flight of the golden bird (8:29)
6. Second movement - Cloud circle, The hunter, The kill (8:52)
7. Third movement - Where do I belong, Aquila (Conclusion) (8:57)
Total Time: 47:48
Line-up / Musicians
- Ralph Denyer / vocals, electric & acoustic guitars
- Phil Childs / Fender bass & piano
- George Lee / flute & Alto, Soprano, Tenor and Baritone saxes
- Martin Woodward / Hammond organ
- James Smith / drums, timpani, various percussion
- Produced by Patrick Campbell-Lyons
Aquila - Aquila (1970)[TRC046@1994]
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