Gordon Giltrap - Peacock Party | Airwaves

Gordon Giltrap – The Peacock Party & Airwaves

Gordon Giltrap began his recording career some 44 years ago with the release of the 1968 self titled album. With a mixture of instrumental tracks and songs his debut set the bar high and it was evident, even from those early recordings, that Gordon Giltrap would go on to become one of the truly great acoustic guitar players of our time – although a career as a singer songwriter, maybe not. Since then Gordon has released a vast catalogue of material, either under his own name or as part of notable collaborations. Throughout his career Gordon has continued to tour on a regular basis and I have had the great pleasure of seeing several of his solo concerts.

In 2013 Esoteric Recordings re-mastered and rereleased what are recognised as Gordon’s best known and most ‘progressive’ albums, notably Visionary (1976), Perilous Journey (1977) and Fear Of The Dark (1978). His 1979 album The Peacock Party however seems to have been somewhat overlooked across the ages and in my opinion this should be held in the same esteem.

Gordon Giltrap

The Peacock Party took its inspiration from the works of artist, graphic designer and illustrator Alan Aldridge. Perhaps best known for his illustrated book ‘The Butterfly Ball And The Grasshopper Feast’ (1973), but also as an album cover designer – Elton John’s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy and The Who’s A Quick One, along with design work for Andy Warhol and The Beatles through to Tears For Fears and Incubus. Aldridge is also responsible for the now iconic Hard Rock Café logo…

Gordon Giltrap’s ‘interpretations’ of Aldridge’s The Peacock Party start with the fiery Headwind – The Eagle featuring the core band of Gordon on acoustic and electric guitars, Rod Edwards (keyboards), John Etheridge (electric guitar), John Gustafson (bass) and Ian Mosely (drums) and harks to the progressive jazz/rock of the period as well as the melodic fusion of Al Di Meola. A fantastic opening statement. In contrast Magpie Rag is a more whimsical piece with Gordon’s masterful guitar work set against Richard Harvey’s punctuated Crumhorn and the dancing flute of the late John Acock. Another splendid track and one that brings a smile to my face every time it comes on. And this joyous feeling is indicative of the album as a whole.

The Peacock Party, like much of Gordon Giltrap’s work is uplifting and very seldom bogged down with lofty idealism or overly long pieces merely for the sake of them. This has meant that although his guitar virtuosity has never come into question his abilities as a composer have, somewhat unfairly in my opinion. Listening, as I am at this moment in time, to the captivating Tailor Bird I’m in awe of just how much arrangement has gone into this brief but beautifully interwoven piece. It is a mere two and half minutes but there’s more detail going on here than in many a track of two or three times the length. Tailor Bird brings a more classical, chamber orchestra element with delightful contributions from John Acock and Richard Harvey. Although not the version from the album, which is played a much spritely pace and has a more detailed arrangement, it is still worth taking a couple of minutes to enjoy…

The wonderful and melancholic Black Rose – The Raven follows, a track full of emotion brought to life with Gordon on 12 string guitar, Rod Edwards superb keyboard arrangements and all neatly interlaced with flute. Elsewhere on the album we are treated to track after track of finely crafted music and one that just keeps bring that grin back. Currently as Jester’s Jig is playing, feet tapping and along with the fluid guitar lines is Richard Harvey’s delightful soprano crumhorn – there’s just not enough crumhorn in prog these days!

Rather than repeating myself The Peacock Party is chock full of wonderful tunes, superbly played by all the cast. But before concluding mention of the wonderful Dodo’s Dream. Still a track played by Gordon, in his solo set and one which sees him start with the basic melodic chord structure before he adds layer upon layer of graceful guitar lines.

Just needs a Bob Harris Mmmmmm to complete proceedings…

The bonus material is somewhat of a mixed bag and both Shel-Em-Nazam and Bella Donna are totally misplaced here – and I’ll just leave it there. Birds Of A Feather [First Version] remains fairly close to the version which opened side two of the original album, whilst the single version of Headwind offers subtle variations making both equally engaging.

It had been quite some time since I had last listened to The Peacock Party, so I’m grateful to the Esoteric team for this re-mastered reissue and reminding me what a fine album it is…

01. Headwind – The Eagle (3:00)
02. Magpie Rag (2:37)
03. Hocus Pocus (2:20)
04. Turkey Trot – A Country Bluff (2:44)
05. Tailor Bird (2:30)
06. Black Rose – The Raven (4:15)
07. Birds Of A Feather (3:37)
08. Jester’s Jig (2:36)
09. Gypsy Lane (2:56)
10. Party Piece (2:41)
11. Chanticleer (3:29)
12. Dodo’s Dream (4:12)
~ Bonus Tracks:
13. Shel-Em-Nazam (4:34)
14. Bella Donna (5:51)
15. Birds Of A Feather [First Version] (4:00)
16. Headwind [Single Version] (3:16)

Total Time – 54:27

Gordon Giltrap – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
John ‘Bimbo’ Acock – Saxes, Flute & Clarinet
Rod Edwards – Keyboards & Vocals
John Etheridge – Electric Guitar
Ian Mosley – Drums
John G Perry – Bass
John Gustafson – Bass (1 & 4)
Morris Pert – Percussion
Ric Sanders – Violin
Eddie Spence – Keyboards
Shirley Roden – Vocals
Richard Harvey – Recorders & Soprano Crumhorn

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2453
Year Of Release: 2014
Original Release: 1979

Giltrap Airwaves

The follow up to The Peacock Party came three years later in the form of Airwaves and with a somewhat pared down band consisting of Gordon Giltrap guitars along with long time collaborators Rod Edwards on keyboards and John ‘Bimbo’ Acock on saxophones, flute & clarinet. The rhythm section consisted of former Strawbs bass player Chas Cronk and former Jethro Tull sticks man Clive Bunker.

This project started life as a library album, but was thought strong enough to release commercially. It was first issued on PVK records in 1982, but it was decided because of the cohesive overall feel, to release it as a Gordon Giltrap Band album.

Following up The Peacock Party and the triumvirate of Visionary, Perilous Journey and Fear Of The Dark was always going to be difficult and perhaps why Airwaves remains one of the more obscure albums within the Giltrap discography. Reading through the liner notes I gather not only was Gordon going through ‘writer’s block’ but also a difficult personal period. On top of this the music was not initially destined for release:

All of which may well explain why, for the main part, I struggled for the first time with a Gordon Giltrap album. The original album, released in 1981 on the Themes International Music Label, had a slightly different track listing and altered running order. In fact it concentrated the band compositions on the A side under the heading “Contemporary rock music” and the acoustic numbers on the B side under the heading “Featured acoustic guitar”. Just as a note of interest it also included the The Snow Goose tracks which were omitted on the subsequent 1982 release.

Other contributing factors as to why Airwaves didn’t fully resonate with me are because of the shift to a more collaborative approach on the writing side and Gordon’s move towards the electric guitar for this release. Although by no means has he forsaken the acoustic and across the album those truly memorable moments are centred around the aforementioned instrument. More on these tracks a little later…

Album opener, Black Lightning, acts as a lengthy fanfare with an attractive electric guitar line underpinning the brassy synth and driving beat. Unfortunately it doesn’t really expand much further than this. Similarly the brassy sounds remain for the funkier Heroes, which has some sweet guitar licks and a couple of nifty, ensemble instrumental breaks, but again seems incomplete. In fact the majority of the collaborative pieces strive for a more mainstream approach and therefore lose something of their magic as amply displayed in the Mark Knopfler influenced Sad Skies and Lost Love. Although the former does contain one of Gordon’s finer electric solos. Rod Edwards sole composition, Dreamteller, revolves around the piano and layers of keyboards and although pleasant enough is a rather bland affair. As is the case with Airwaves, the title track and sadly the weakest offering on the album, which comes across as rather insipid and cheesy.

In contrast those tracks written solely by Gordon Giltrap fair much better as can be heard in the Hispanic flavoured twelve string dominated, El Greco, a track more reminiscent of his work on Perilous Journey. Whilst the tuneful Reaching Out would have been a welcome guest at The Peacock Party, Empty could easily form part of the excellent The Snow Goose suite which turns up in the bonus material. Lake Isle again is delightful with Acock and Edwards adding the subtle nuances that make this a piece to savour. And in more familiar territory is Haunted Heart, with its subtle Celtic backdrop and pastoral flute over a back drop of piano and strings. ‘Bimbo’ Acock completes this gentle tune with a couple of melodic saxophone parts. Finally in the Gordon Giltrap penned material is Rainbells with one of his pacey and rippling guitar lines, nicely orchestrated with layers of strings, voices and woodwind.

Similar to the bonus material on The Peacock Party the five tracks on Airwaves are of varying interest. Blue Haze is brief but enjoyable bluesy tune which nicely sits on the back of Lost Love whilst album closer Sad Skies is, as described, an edited version of the same track from the album. The tranquil, classically inspired, three part The Snow Goose suite is in the truest sense a bonus. At a little under five minutes it is a sheer delight centred around Gordon’s guitar and some inspired keyboard embellishments from Edwards. Most of the melody lines are carried by a cello, but as there’s no credit to a cellist, I most attribute these to cleverly performed and orchestrated keyboards – a splendid job. Part Three sees the cello accompanied by with sublime flute from Acock.

I suppose with the legacy of the four previous albums a dip was always on the cards, but despite my early misgivings Airwaves turned out to be an enjoyable album and in parts excellent. Both albums feature the customary attention to detail from the Esoteric Recordings team and certainly the re-mastering is far superior to the previous 2 on 1 CD version in my collection. Airwaves marked an ending to Gordon Giltrap’s first progressive era although he continues to tour on his own, with Raymond Burley, as apart of 4 Parts Guitar and of course along with Oliver Wakeman and as part of the Ravens & Lullabies ensemble made a welcome return to the progressive world in 2013.

01. Black Lightning (3:03)
02. El Greco (3:56)
03. Heroes (3:31)
04. Haunted Heart (3:53)
05. Rainbells (2:29)
06. Dreamteller (3:11)
07. Reaching Out (2:55)
08. Sad Skies (4:52)
09. Airwaves (3:35)
10. Empty (2:27)
11. Lake Isle (2:05)
12. Lost Love (3:35)
~ Bonus Tracks:
13. Blue Haze
14. The Snow Goose – Part One (0:49)
15. The Snow Goose – Part Two (1:57)
16. The Snow Goose – Part Three (1:54)
17. Sad Skies [Edited Version] (3:50)

Total Time – 49:12

Gordon Giltrap – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Rod Edwards – Keyboards & Vocals
John ‘Bimbo’ Acock – Saxes, Flute & Clarinet
Clive Bunker – Drums & Percussion
Chas Cronk – Bass

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2454
Year Of Release: 2014
Original Release: 1982

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