In 2013 we reviewed on our website the eponymous album by the Newcastle trio Ginhouse, which was released for the first time in 1971! Unfortunately, this album (see review) will always remain in the margins of the history of progressive rock! Another album that probably will end the same way is also from Newcastle, the band Kestrel. Their debut was made in 1975. Their self-titled album was totally unknown to me unfortunately. But thanks to the good work of Esoteric Recordings it can be enjoyed once again after an obscure CD version released in 2000. This release was newly re-mastered from the original tapes. Furthermore it has a bonus disc which includes six bonus tracks, with four of them previously unreleased in the UK. Moreover it also includes a booklet that fully restores the original album artwork and features a new essay.
For those who do not know this band, I can tell you a bit of band history before I'll go deeper into the content of their music. They were in the early seventies a symphonic rock quintet that were doing the London college circuit when they caught the attention of producer John Worth who signed them and released their one album in 1975. The band featured Tom Knowles (lead vocals), Dave Black (guitar, vocals), John Cook (keyboards), Fenwick Moir (bass) and Dave Whitaker (drums), who had previously been with the earlier mentioned Ginhouse. However, their album didn't sell too well. The boys took it more or less in stride and then went their separate ways, leaving just one album and a single as their recorded legacy. Guitarist Dave Black, who had composed the lion's share of the material, went on to become a member of David Bowie's band for a few years and then formed several other groups of his own such as Goldie. The group scored a hit single with Making Up Again in 1978. Several former members of Kestrel were involved in this combo.
Let's get to the music now! The original album was almost forty five minutes long and contained eight tracks. Right from the start you do hear you are dealing with a progressive rock outfit. Not so strange when you do know that Black was influenced at the time by acts such as Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Camel, Yes and Genesis. However don't expect that kind of music on this release. The songs the band recorded for their album were more radio friendly than most of the bands that had influenced them. This certainly did not lead to what you could call “sell out songs”. The use of keyboard instruments such as the Mellotron, Hammond organ, Clavinet and Moog synthesizer gave them their true progressive rock sound. Also, the strong bass parts many times made me think of Chris Squire of Yes. The not too complex compositions and the strong harmony vocals moved them often into a direction which you nowadays should regard as commercial sounding. For me, their sound reminded me most of all of bands such as the UK outfit Argent or the American proggers of Ambrosia. They also were both great in the lead and harmony vocals and could shine on their instruments as well. At the same time they mixed their complex compositions with rather catchy sounding three minutes songs. This was something which gave them a couple of hits in their own country. Unfortunately the lack of promotion of by their record company at the time made it impossible that Kestrel would receive the same international success. This is too bad because the band had certainly everything to make it bigger.
The single and alternate versions on the second disc plus the two new pieces proved once again they had it in them to go to the next level. The members from those days still regret it wasn't meant to be for them. How wonderful their music sounded, but apparently there was no large audience for them that was interested in the work of this band. Hopefully this fantastic album now gets a second chance. Discover a band from the early seventies and be baffled by the quality that is exhibited here. A hidden gem without a doubt!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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