Most people do know the song In Dulci Jubilo. This traditional Christmas carol was released as a Christmas single by Mike Oldfield in 1975. It featured Leslie Penning on two recorders and a kortholt. It appeared in Christmas season playlists on radio across Europe, charting at number 4 in the UK, and is one of his most re-issued short songs. It also charted at number 7 in the Irish Singles Chart and at number 2 on the Dutch Top 40. The following year Mike released Portsmouth (Oldfield's arrangement of an English folk tune of the same name) as a single in an attempt to repeat the success of his previous year's Christmas hit, In Dulci Jubilo. When Mike recorded another traditional folk melody dating from 1701, he was again using Leslie Penning on recorders. It became Oldfield's highest charting single in the United Kingdom, charting at number 3. As you see the name of Penning became quite familiar among the fans of Oldfield. Moreover his name could also be found on the credits of Mike Oldfield's much-loved third album Ommadawn, which came out in1975.
Now, forty years after the release of Portsmouth and forty one years after In Dulci Jubilo, I finally did get to know a little bit more about the man who became popular in the seventies by working with the legendary Mike Oldfield. However nowadays he calls himself Les Penning and thanks to Rob Reed's Sanctuary II (2016, see review) he is back into the spotlight. Even more now with the release of Belerion, a solo album which he made with the help of the earlier mentioned Reed on guitars, bass, bodhran and keyboards. There is also a leading role for Phil Bates on guitars and bass. Reed we of course all know for his albums he made with Magenta, Kompendium, Cyan, The Fyreworks and Chimpan A. Bates is less known in the prog scene, but you might know him from his albums he made with Trickster and Quill. Furthermore was he the lead guitarist, songwriter and joint lead vocalist for ELO Part II from 1993 through to 1999. Finally worth mentioning is the participation of Miguel Engel de la Llave who played lead guitar on the track His Rest. The album was produced by Robert Reed and Les Penning and mixed by Robert Reed.
Before you hear this album, you must know that back in 1976 Penning and Oldfield were working on compositions that were intended to be on a solo album to be released by Les. Six tracks were already recorded but strangely enough they were never released until now. That is why they are rerecorded with the line up mentioned above! They added a new version of the earlier mentioned Portsmouth and seven other compositions. When you hear the entire album you just go back in time to when Portsmouth and In Dulci Jubilo hit the charts. So you might say it's a trip down memory lane back to the seventies, just like Reed did with his Sanctuary project. Not only the parts played by Les on the recorders, crumhorn, Lorriman pipe, Shaw whistles, but also the guitar parts will bring you back to Oldfield's first hit success.
I'll have to admit that you have to be in the right mood to hear this album. I know for sure not everybody who enjoys progressive rock is into the music delivered on this album. The best track, which comes closest to the genre we all love is the seven minutes long Lymme. It contains wordless vocals which are done by Les. Moreover it features some beautiful orchestral keyboard sounds. Very enjoyable are also the parts performed on the e-bow and acoustic guitar next to the recognisable parts played on the recorder.
If you want to know a little bit more about Les himself, you'll have to watch his interview on the bonus DVD. Here he discusses his career and the period in the mid 1970s when he was in the charts with Portsmouth and In Dulci Jubilo. Two videos can be enjoyed as well. The Portsmouth promo video was shot with Les and Rob sitting in a boat on a lake performing the song. The Sellinger's Round promo video was shot with Les and Phil performing the song in a recording studio. Both were very well made and are rather entertaining.
Those who are into the music Mike Oldfield made in the mid-seventies are advised to have a listen to Belerion. Those who like things more complex, with lots keyboards and electric guitars can skip this release. I guess the best possible way you can enjoy it is by sitting at the fireplace with your loved ones, drinking some wine and listening to the music of Belerion. Maybe you find no better company!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Yvonne Kremers-Vermeulen)
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