After already reviewing the earlier released Sky reissue albums, it was obvious that the next two remastered versions of the band's back catalogue will have a review on this website as well. Once again Esoteric Recordings did an excellent job with the rerelease of Cadmium and The Great Balloon Race. Both were unavailable on CD for over two decades. The reissues have been newly remastered and the original album artwork is fully restored. Furthermore the booklet features a new essay.
Sky released their sixth album, Cadmium, in December 1983. The album marked the end of the road for Sky as guitarist John Williams quit the band after this one, and probably took a lot of fans with him. On the album you hear more shorter tracks than on their earlier releases. The more accessible prog-rock tracks of the first two Sky albums are difficult to find on this release. This time around the songs are often driven by quite basic themes. The album is very 'light' and 'poppy', with a certain degree of over-production and dominance of keyboards and sequencers. However the material here holds up well enough. Son Of Hotta is perhaps the best track here, a kind of optimistic finale to the John Williams era. Furthermore the classical-rock arrangement of Prokofiev's Sleigh Ride (from the Lieutenant KijÚ Suite) was a descent single and got the title Troika. The song works very well alongside the seven original compositions and the first examples of commissioned compositions from contemporary writers from outside the band. In this case, Kevin Peek's old friend and fellow Cliff Richard collaborator Alan Tarney, who provided two original tunes.
Completists will be pleased by the inclusion of three bonus tracks. First we have the 12" extended mix of Troika. Followed by its B-side Why Don't We, which has a kind of jazzy-skiffle. The last extra track is the band's version of Lennon/McCartney's Fool On The Hill, which came out a year later on a Greatest Hits album. This is certainly a great adaption of a classic Beatles track. You could see it as a classical guitar duet by Williams and Peek. The acoustic guitars play a very nice melody of the song and are accompanied by the keyboards in a very gentle way.
Once again a DVD is included on the bonus disc. It has a short clip of them playing Troika on the Val Doonican Show from December 1983.The main feature is a Christmas concert recorded during the same month at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. It's generally up to the solid playing you'd expect from a band of Sky's pedigree, but also full of festive japes and seasonal novelties. The roadies appear to have arranged fake snow to shower the band during Troika, much to their hilarity. Herbie Flowers' Tuba Smarties antics go on longer than ever and even has a funny moment when a bad Santa enters the stage and gives keyboard player Steve Gray a bang on his head while playing his saxophone. To close the set the whole band use a variety of glockenspiels and bells to do a version of Carillon from their first album. They also have some slightly incongruous middle-aged Caribbean singer on to do a couple of festive numbers. All in all a rather enjoyable concert to watch.
Sky's future as a group was definitely hanging by a thread when the next album came out in 1985. By now, guitarist John Williams had left the project, taking his kudos with him, and the band's contract with Ariola Records had come to an end. However I guess none of the remaining members were particularly panic struck by these events, as they all had successful and lucrative careers as session musicians. So, they appear to have decided to make a further album together, just for the fun of it, and label Epic offered to release it for them.
Sky opted not to recruit a permanent replacement for Williams: instead, the band remained as a quartet, working with a succession of guest musicians. In September 1984, Sky began recording their seventh album in Kevin Peek's Tracks Studio in Western Australia. The Great Balloon Race was the first Sky album to feature entirely original material without any classical content. Although the two pieces Allegro and Caldando were strongly classically-inspired. Guests included Ron Aspery (sax and flutes), Adrian Brett (pan pipes), Lee Fothergill (guitar), Clare Torry (vocals) and Tony Hymas (synths and vocals). Hymas wrote the first track on the album, and seems to set the tone for the rest. Now we hear a clever hybrid of jazz, prog and well written tunes. Some of the heavier sections remind me of tracks from the band's first two releases. Sometimes you hear more stylistically varied pieces, and in places they try the dreaded mid 80s digital drum machine and sequenced bass synth sound. Overall, we're a long way from Sky's original prog/classical-fusion. Despite some favourable reviews, sales of The Great Balloon Race were significantly lower than they had been for previous recordings, and when Sky toured the UK to promote the record, they found themselves playing to smaller audiences than on previous tours. Unfortunately the new version of the album does not have some bonus tracks or a DVD where you can watch the band perform on stage!
Sky returned in late 1987 with the Mozart album, which united the band with The Orchestra Of The Academy Of St Martin In The Fields. The project was initiated by percussionist Tristan Fry (due to his parallel work with both band and orchestra) and was inspired by the bicentenary of Mozart's death. The album contained full orchestral performances of Mozart's work with Sky incorporated into the arrangements (most of which were written by Steve Gray). Unfortunately we did not get a review copy of the album and therefore I can't tell you why the Mozart project was panned and dismissed by the press.
All in all I was very pleased with the new CD versions of Cadmium and The Great Balloon Race. I guess they were still albums worth listening to during their latest years of existence. Finally I would like to thank Esoteric Recordings for rereleasing the complete Sky catalogue. They were at the time certainly a part of my musical education in which I learned a lot of original classical songs which were transferred in to more popular rock tunes!
**** (both) Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2016