Eyes Of Blue - Crossroads Of Time | In Fields of Ardath

Eyes Of Blue – Crossroads of Time / In Fields of Ardath

Esoteric certainly know where to look when choosing content to reissue. These two releases from Welsh outfit Eyes of Blue come from 1969 – the dawn of the progressive era – and show the band pioneering the infantile genre. The year is utterly critical here, as the band claim that they “were definitely one of the first bands to play what you’d call ‘progressive’ rock. The guys from Yes would come along to our gigs, stand at the back and make notes.” Quite the achievement, but does the music match the sentiment?

The band had released two insignificant singles with Deram (not included in this set unfortunately) before they signed with the American Mercury label to release their debut LP. Crossroads of Time is a bizarre beast indeed, swinging from pop to rock to psychedelia in the blink of an eye, with a few covers thrown in too. This would be fine if it were at least consistent in quality, which it regrettably isn’t. Take the two covers, 7 + 7 and Yesterday, for example. 7 + 7 is a live in the studio performance that does nothing to enhance the original and doesn’t even sound as good, despite drummer John Weathers’s claims that the band gave it their own ‘stamp’. Yesterday, on the other hand, is transformed into a highly surreal and somewhat proto-prog outing, barely recognisable from the original. Nevertheless, the roots for what was to come are here, with vocal harmonies, lots of keyboard effects and a clear desire to break from the norm.

It could be said that their dream was more fully realised on In Fields of Ardath. The nine-minute Merry Go Round kicks off the album in an unmistakably progressive style. I’d go as far as saying this is the pinnacle of the band’s recorded output, as it is not only pioneering but enjoyable and catchy too. The non-lyrical vocal calls during the verse and in the intro and outro easily remind the listener of Yes, so it’s not difficult to see why the band claim to have had an influence on them. The song structure also ensures that an initial theme heard at the beginning of the song comes in right at the end as well, like a neat bookend. An early masterpiece of progressive rock.

Sadly, the rest of this album isn’t so fine, but the quality is a vast improvement from Crossroads of Time. Bassist Ritchie Francis says in the notes; “It is a lot more representative of what we were doing musically.” On the previous album’s notes, he remarks:

“All the original songs on [Crossroads of Time] were mine, but they were all a few years old. They stretched back to a time before we had developed the way we had gone musically. So they were out of sync with what we wanted to achieve. Sure, the way they were recorded was very contemporary, but these were obviously pop songs, which didn’t fit in with our desire to become more progressive. The upshot was that we fell between two stools. The songs were blatantly melodic, but our treatment of them wasn’t commercial enough.”

While the point he’s making is convoluted, it does seem to ring true. The effect of the first album is that it seems to be trying to go in two directions at once, while the second album is definitely set on being experimental. Every song has it’s own feel, although only a few tracks are worth mentioning, one being Door (The Child That Is Born on the Sabbath Day), the second longest track at nearly seven minutes, that has contrasting lyrical and instrumental sections that aren’t a million miles from what Yes was doing.

Esoteric have done a decent job packaging these albums. The back cover photo of In Fields of Ardath is a bit cropped and difficult to see behind text in this case, but it’s a small complaint. There’s a treasure trove of band photos and memorabilia amongst the notes written by Malcolm Dome, which are well-written and informative. The only thing that’s missing is a band members list on each booklet, meaning I’ve had to scour the internet for information as well as piece together what I can from the notes. It’s a pretty curious set of albums, and one that’s had me scratching my head a lot over whether I like them or not. I’d definitely recommend starting with In Fields of Ardath before testing the debut. Who knew that the prog boom started in Wales?

Crossroads of Time

01. Crossroads of Time (5:07)
02. Never Care (3:23)
03. I’ll Be Your Friend (3:55)
04. 7 + 7 Is (2:38)
05. Prodigal Son (5:34)
06. Largo (3:19)
07. Love Is the Law (5:21)
08. Yesterday (4:28)
09. I Wonder Why (3:20)
10. World of Emotion (2:55)
11. Inspiration for a New Day (3:16)
~ Bonus track:
12. Q III (2:36)

Total Time – 45:44

In Fields Of Ardath
01. Merry Go Round (9:12)
02. The Light We See (2:16)
03. Souvenirs [Tribute to Django] (2:46)
04. Ardath (2:39)
05. Spanish Blues (4:05)
06. Door [The Child That Is Born on the Sabbath Day] (6:51)
07. Little Bird (2:34)
08. After the War (3:34)
09. Extra Hour (2:33)
10. Chances (3:01)
~ Bonus track:
11. Apache ’69 (2:59)

Total Time – 42:25

Gary Pickford-Hopkins – Vocals
Wyndham Rees – Vocals
Phil Ryan – Keyboards
Ray “Taff” Williams – Guitar
Ritchie Francis – Bass
John Weathers – Drums

Record Label – Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue# – ECLEC 2522 (Crossroads of Time)
Catalogue# – ECLEC 2523 (In Fields of Ardath)
Release Date – 27th November 2015

Cherry Red – Crossroads of Time | In Fields of Ardath