An enormous and menacing hand looms over a graceful yet defiant swan: here is an album cover fit for a symphony orchestra. Yet Gnidrolog’s Lady Lake, despite it’s romantic artwork and title, features neither orchestra (a la Camel’s The Snow Goose) nor keyboards imitating the sound of an orchestra (a la nearly every symphonic prog band) nor even the prominent sound of a stringed instrument (guitars notwithstanding, and they are not the driving force behind this work). Instead, Gnidrolog relies on a blend of saxes, flutes, and recorders to create a full, rich sound that provides the foundation for one of the stronger obscure prog albums of the 1970s.
Lady Lake is the second of three albums produced by Gnidrolog, an English quintet consisting of identical twin brothers Colin and Stewart Goldring (lead vocals and guitar, respectively), John Earle (flute and saxophones), Peter Cowling (bass), and Nigel Pegrum (drums, flute, and oboe). Although each member is clearly talented (all of them, like the members of Gentle Giant, play several instruments), Earle is the star on this album, and he puts his woodwinds – a refreshing substitute for keys or mellotron – to good use. Here are some of the highlights from this under-appreciated gem:
Released during the Vietnam War (1972), Lady Lake opens with the idealistic epic “I Could Never Be a Soldier.” The longest piece on the album, it opens with some superb flute courtesy of Earle and the multitalented Pegrum, giving the song a Jethro Tull-like feel. Colin’s vocals, however, sound nothing like Mr. Ian Anderson’s: think Peter Hamill without the “apocalyptic” quality and grittiness. (The vocals are not bad, but neither are they the strongest element here.) Colin’s twin Stewart enjoys some time in the limelight with a brief guitar solo about ten minutes into the song, followed by some funky bass work by Cowling, before the epic finishes just shy of twelve minutes with a flourish of sax courtesy of Earle.
The title song is perhaps the best on the album. After Cowling and Pegrum lay a solid foundation with bass and percussion, respectively, Earle’s layered saxophones add a welcome richness and texture. Toward the middle of the piece the layered saxes are blended with the smooth sounds of recorder and oboe. Cowling’s ominous pounding bass reminds us, however, that the looming hand continues to threaten our (false) sense of tranquility. The frenetic ending hits with the force of Van der Graaf Generator thanks to Earle’s talent on the sax, which would impress any admirer of David Jackson.
“Social Embarrassment” may be one of the stranger finales on any album, progressive or not. Earle sings lead vocals on this one (his voice sounding a bit like Jon Anderson’s). Cowling again demonstrates his chops on bass guitar, and Stewart Goldring unleashes a furious electric guitar solo toward the end of the song before he is overwhelmed by the screams (yes, screams) of the Colney Heath Male Choir: perhaps the hand has conquered! Now that’s a memorable way to close an album.
Despite my reservations concerning the vocals, Lady Lake is nevertheless an excellent example of early progressive rock. The songwriting is above average and the musicianship top-notch. It would be a worthy addition to any serious progger’s catalogue.
Stay tuned for number twenty-two!