Sky were an English/Australian instrumental progressive rock group that was specialised in combining a variety of musical styles-most of all the combination of rock and classical music which worked very well. The group's best known members were classical guitarist John Williams, bassist Herbie Flowers (ex-Blue Mink and ex- T. Rex), drummer Tristan Fry, guitarist Kevin Peek and Francis Monkman (ex- Curved Air). Their first two album are now reissued, the original album artwork is fully restored and the booklet features a new essay. Furthermore it includes a companion DVD.
The origin of the band started in a way in 1971. In this year the world-famous Australian classical guitarist John Williams released his album Changes. It was at the time his first recording of non-classical music and the first time played the electric guitar. Among the musicians working on the album were Herbie Flowers and Tristan Fry, who was at the time an established session drummer who was also the timpanist for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields. The three musicians became friends, kept in touch and continued working together on various projects. Fry, Flowers, and Francis Monkman were performers on Williams' 1978 album Travelling, another cross-genre recording which was a substantial commercial success.
The success of Travelling inspired Williams and Flowers to set up their own long-term cross-genre band. Fry and Monkman were swiftly recruited, and the first Sky line up was completed with the addition of Australian session guitarist Kevin Peek. Peek was equally adept at classical guitar and pop/rock styles, having built up a reputation both as a chamber musician and as a long-standing member of Cliff Richard's band. He also worked with the likes of Manfred Mann, Lulu, Tom Jones, Jeff Wayne, Shirley Bassey and Gary Glitter. The band began writing and recording instrumental music drawing on their collective experience of classical, light pop, progressive rock, light entertainment and jazz. After a protracted search for a record company, Sky signed with the small European label Ariola Records.
Sky's self-titled debut album was released in 1979 and was highly successful in Britain and Australia, quickly reaching gold record status and eventually topping out as a platinum record. Although the band was run democratically and all members contributed on the arrangements and music, the presence of John Williams in the line-up was regarded as the band's biggest selling point. Williams' concurrent solo instrumental hit - Cavatina - Theme from The Deer Hunter - also helped to raise the band's profile. However, this was counterbalanced by some negative reviews from critics accustomed to Williams' classical performances, who remained unimpressed by his new direction with Sky. The band toured the UK in summer and autumn 1979, particular triumphs being sold-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the Dominion Theatre in London. The most important composition on the album was of course the epic piece Where Opposites Meet Parts 1-5.
The newly re-mastered edition includes the bonus tracks Dies Irae, the single version of March To The Scaffold and a live version of Where Opposites Meet recorded by BBC Radio One at a charity concert recorded at "The Year Of The Child” UNICEF Concert at Wembley Arena in November 1979. The DVD includes all of Sky's surviving BBC TV appearances in 1979, all previously unreleased on video or DVD including the footage of the already mentioned live version of Where Opposites Meet. It's nice to see all of this and although it looks like it's from a long time gone, it still is very enjoyable to watch!
In 1980, Sky recorded and released their second album, Sky 2 - a double album that built upon its predecessor's success. Despite being a double album it reached number one in the British Album charts, and at the time was the fastest double album to receive platinum status in the UK. The album included Monkman's side-long rock suite FIFO. He played guitar on the 20-minute rock suite FIFO because he felt it necessary to inject a grunge element. FIFO stands for "First In, First Out", and is a song about computer processing. Moreover the album also contained four classical pieces including three established chamber music pieces and the band's electric treatment of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor". The latter was released as a single under the name Toccata and reached high in the national pop charts, giving the band the opportunity of performing on Top Of The Pops. A special mention goes also to their fantastic version of the Curved Air piece Vivaldi.
The newly re-mastered edition includes a DVD with Sky's surviving BBC TV appearances in 1980, all previously unreleased on video or DVD. The main feature is Sky's concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1980 which was broadcast by the BBC on "Rhythm On Two”. The footage is not of today's standards, but this didn't prevent me from enjoying it all the way. Just like the clip of Sky's performance of Toccata on "Top Of The Pops” in April 1980, this video most of all showed that the band members were real professional musicians that enjoyed their time on stage. Just look at the way Monkman tried to play back his keyboard parts.
Following further tours of Australia and the UK, Francis Monkman left the band in 1980 to concentrate on his own projects, most of all because he had scored success with his soundtrack to the film The Long Good Friday. The split was entirely amicable and the band had no doubts about carrying on despite the fact that Monkman had been Sky's most prominent original composer and arranger. Monkman was replaced by Steve Gray.
Both re-mastered Sky releases are a must have for lovers of instrumental progressive rock music. Both releases sound so much better than the original vinyl album's earlier released reissues. Also, the extra liner notes in the booklets gave a lot of extra information about the band and their music. The extra bonus DVDs were certainly appreciated because not much footage of the band is available. So bravo to Esoteric Recordings for releasing this great moment in the history of progressive rock!
****/**** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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