Bedside Manners Are Extra by Greenslade is another beautifully packaged re-release of a classic album from Esoteric Recordings, who pride themselves on curating high-quality reissues of material from earlier times. This was Greenslade’s second album, originally released in 1973 at the height of the ‘Golden Era’ of Prog. The elaborate Roger Dean artwork, portraying some sort of multi-limbed alien guru sitting in a mysterious elevated Asiatic town, underlined their Prog credentials, and it is certainly very striking and attractive in appearance. I recall looking at Greenslade albums as a younger man, wondering what wonders must be contained in such sumptuous artwork, but back then I never plunged into that world… there was only so much pocket money back in the ’70s! For many though, the musical contents of this attractive package will evoke a great sense of nostalgia for a fondly remembered band.
What do we get in this package then?
Well, there is the original album which has been remastered by Ben Wiseman. On the CD there are also three additional tracks, taken from a BBC Radio One Sounds of the Seventies session. In all honesty, as I have not heard the original album before, I cannot judge how much difference the remastering has made to the audio experience. The sound is fine and clear, though it is clearly a relic of the early ’70s in terms of the quality of audio production – there’s only so much remastering can do for an original recording. Together with the CD is a DVD which includes three songs from a 1973 Warner Brothers promotional film, and two songs from the BBC TV series Old Grey Whistle Test. The chunky CD set displays Dean’s artwork well, but such ornate images were designed for the dimensions of a vinyl album. The accompanying booklet gives the artwork in more details with all the lyrics. There are also interesting extended sleeve notes from rock journalist Malcolm Dome, which gives some fascinating insights into the album’s creation and the times in which it was made.
What about the music?
For existing fans there probably is not much needed in the way of introduction as they will be aware and love it from their old LPs or previous CD releases. For new listeners, it’s probably a good idea to place the album in its historical context. It is probably also worth underlining that whilst Greenslade and Yes may share the same cover artist in Roger Dean, they have little in the way of musical similarities. What is particularly noticeable is that Greenslade are a band with an unconventional configuration – two keyboardists alongside drums and bass but no guitarist. Malcolm Dome’s booklet essay also tellingly informs us that the keyboardist Dave Greenslade and bassist Tony Reeves were originally in a jazz trio with Jon Hiseman (who sadly died last year), later a member of Colosseum. Greenslade are not coming from the more orchestral/classical influence of progressive rock bands like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. There is very much a jazzier edge to their material.
Title track Bedside Manners Are Extra is a quirky opening song with a gentle undulating keyboard intro. Dave Lawson’s vocals are rather idiosyncratic and tremulous, and his lyrics humorously take a dig at privately educated doctors who know their subject but talk down to their patients. What also becomes clear from the opening song, alongside the double keyboard attack, is the prominent place Tony Reeves’ bass guitar has in Greenslade’s music, sometimes akin to a lead guitar. This gives the music an unusual quality unlike most other bands of that time.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an energetic instrumental with triumphant keyboard flourishes and strangely distorted synth passages. Andrew McCulloch drives it all long fluidly on drums before the piece subsides into a rather more sedate mid-section, embroidered with peculiar synth lines. Pilgrim’s Progress returns to its earlier thrust and the double keyboards of Lawson and Dave Greenslade wig out in the finale. Reeves’ bass and McCulloch’s drums kick off Time To Dream rather funkily before the waves of keyboards join the headlong drive. Lawson’s eccentric voice is an acquired taste, but in all honesty, it appears that vocals were never a crucial element of the Greenslade ‘modus operandi’, as demonstrated by the flights of jazz-infused keyboard improvisation that thread through this song.
Drum solos? Peculiar things – they can be very entertaining in usually relatively small doses in a live setting… but it’s unusual to find studio albums with extended drum solos – Drum Folk is a rare example. The percussive onslaught is separated by simmering jazzy keyboard pieces, but there’s a lot of drums here. To be fair, McCulloch performs some finely judged drumming, and on a live version I have heard it is interesting and impressive – on a studio album it is less beguiling. Thankfully, next song Sunkissed You’re Not is the best song on the album, with a rapid-fire vocal from Lawson in a song more suited to his voice. The CD booklet reveals that when the band recorded the album they completed the songs played live in the studio together in ONE Take (!!) and the only overdubs ever done were for the vocals, which is truly remarkable. It also indicates Greenslade would have been a formidable live band. The ensemble playing on Sunkissed You’re Not is outstanding as the bass and drums really lock into a groove with the bubbling, sizzling and brilliantly played keyboards. Album Finale Chalk Hill is an instrumental, but in a rather more laid-back style initially, as McCulloch and Reeves lay down a cool backing rhythm. Greenslade and Lawson’s keyboards are initially restrained and stately before picking up tempo, power and jazziness in a rather thrilling ride. Chalk Hill ends with a rather calmer feel on pianos, and concludes what many fans regard as the best Greenslade album.
The bonus tracks from a BBC session are interesting but not essential. They are fairly close to the original versions. Nevertheless, the BBC version of Time To Dream does have a particularly head-spinning take on the mid-section keyboard solo, clearly benefiting from being played in a more live setting.
The DVD is a real throwback in time. The three songs from the Warner Brothers 1973 promotional film do not feature on the original album. Filmed in what probably sounded like a cool idea of green light (Green = Greenslade… geddit!?) frankly gives the band a rather odd and sickly pallor. The band hardly light up the studio with their charisma, but their musical prowess and high-quality performance are undoubted. The ‘Old Grey Whistle’ takes on Pilgrim’s Progress and Bedside Manners Are Extra are rather more captivating, although it may just be the nostalgic glow of the iconic rock music TV show. In truth, the DVD appearances are mainly just curiosities or for the most committed fan – they probably will not maintain the interest of the less committed or new listeners.
The question as always with re-releases is, ‘Is it worth buying?’
For veteran Greenslade fans this is a well-presented package with interesting but not essential extras… but those fans were probably always going to get this album, weren’t they? They certainly won’t be disappointed.
What about those who are just curious or new fans?
Well, it has to be said that this is an album which is very much ‘of its time’ in style, and more modern ears may take some adjusting in my view. I would advise some caution based on what you might expect from this album – if you’re drawn to trying this album by the admittedly gorgeous artwork under the illusion that if it’s Roger Dean then it’s bound to be in the vein of epic, symphonic classic Prog in a similar vein to Yes, then you may feel disappointed by what you hear.
However, if you come to this album hoping for a more jazz-inflected rock experience with skilful keyboards and an excellent rhythm section then you will find much to recommend it. The old adage ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is certainly relevant for this album. In short, it’s an interesting document of an unusual band at its height… but it probably won’t change your world if you’re new to Greenslade. The longer-term confirmed fans will love it.
01. Bedside Manners Are Extra (6:24)
02. Pilgrim’s Progress (7:05)
03. Time To Dream (4:51)
04. Drum Folk (8:54)
05. Sunkissed You’re Not (6:36)
06. Chalk Hill (5:28)
~ Bonus tracks:
BBC Radio One ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ Session – recorded 31st October 1973
07. Time To Dream (3:47)
08. Bedside Manners Are Extra (5:30)
09. Pilgrim’s Progress (6:41)
Time – 55:16
~ Warner Brothers promotional film – 1973
01. Drowning Man
02. Temple Song
~ BBC ‘Old Grey Whistle Test – 20th November 1973
05. Pilgrim’s Progress
06. Bedside Manners Are Extra
Dave Greenslade – Keyboards
Dave Lawson – Keyboards, Vocals
Tony Reeves – Bass Guitar
Andrew McCulloch – Drums, Percussion