The history of Progressive Rock is strewn with a strange variety of bands who were active in ‘Prog’s Golden Era’ of the early ’70s and then disappeared, receding into the distant memories of some and forgotten by others. Cherry Red Records have made a speciality of unearthing some of these treasures, dusting them off and presenting them afresh to the world. Fruupp were formed in Belfast in 1971 by Vincent McCusker with Peter Farrelly, Stephen Houston and Martin Foye. They released four albums and toured extensively through the UK and Europe, including supporting the likes of Genesis, Hawkwind, Queen and Supertramp. Eventually, in the face of poor album sales and the rise new punk movement they broke up in 1976. So what legacy did they leave us?
I must confess to being somewhat of a Fruupp virgin previously, only having heard of them through the 2010 compilation Wondrous Stories: A Complete Introduction To Progressive Rock, on which their song The Seventh Secret featured (but not on this compilation). I had heard they were from Northern Ireland, and whilst the island of Ireland is responsible for some great music, I was not really aware of any great Irish heritage in progressive rock. Therefore, I approached this compilation with some curiosity but no real preconceptions or knowledge of this band. What immediately strikes you is the diversity of styles and the quality of the song writing. A strident trumpet fanfare announces opening track Janet Planet and we enter a world of psychedelia tinged with clear echoes of late-’60s Beatles. Decision is clearly one of their most notable songs, rolling in on a cascade of piano and drums followed by crunchy guitars and an almost cartoon-ish drop, leading us into whimsical sounding vocals and a jazzy rhythm. Vince McCusker later breaks out into a striking, dirty sounding guitar solo, backed up by an avalanche of sound from the band – what this must have sounded like is anyone’s guess (sadly, live recordings intended for a planned live album were destroyed in a fire after the band broke up). In contrast, Three Spires is a lovely pastoral piece with a gentle acoustic guitar on a bed of mournful violin sounds, over which Peter Farrelly intones melancholic vocals.
The diversity of sounds and styles continues with standout track Sheba’s Song, with Supertramp-style keyboards and harmony vocals. The tempo rises over an organ sound, that could only come from the early 1970s, which flowers into a jazz workout as a tinkling keyboard flows along on a cool bass line and some skilful and subtle drumming. In hindsight, this diversity of styles may also have been Fruupp’s Achilles Heel as they do not seem to have stamped their mark on one recognisable ‘sound’ that was unmistakably ‘Fruupp’, which may partly explain why they never really broke out into more recognition at the time.
The less impressive elements of this release include the pastorally whispering but rather meandering White Eyes and the uneven and rather flat Knowing You (although it does have a lovely flute interlude). However, those misses are more than balanced out by more impressive tracks, such as the magisterial and medieval sounding Wise as Wisdom, which features Stephen Houston on oboe alongside his other great work on organ and later keyboards, intertwining ornately with McCusker’s labyrinthine guitars. In contrast to these rather more regal sounds, there is simply madness in the excellent Graveyard Epistle, which features an opening furious harpsichord, guitar and drums intro. Eastern sounds manically whirl in a frenzy, which, reprised in a frankly bonkers finale. Maid in Ireland is completed by the bright celebratory piece Prince of Heaven. In truth, it sounds a bit dated to modern ears, but one has to understand the context and times in which this music was produced… of course it sounds rather dated 35 plus years later!
Maid in Ireland is well presented in colourful packaging, reflecting the distinctive artwork of their albums, and includes an interesting essay written by their manager and lyricist Paul Charles. By the sounds of Maid in Ireland, Fruupp were more than capable musicians who had the ability to skilfully weave together styles and instrumentation. It is perhaps understandable why they did not rise above the ‘supporting cast’ of the wave of early ’70s progressive rock bands, but in this collection there are certainly nuggets of real quality. Their willingness to experiment in blending styles is worthy of exploration for the more adventurous listeners wanting to broaden their palate from the ‘usual suspects’ of early ’70s ‘Prog’.
01. Janet Planet (2:57)
02. Decision (6:26)
03. Three Spires (5:00)
04. Sheba’s Song (8:29)
05. White Eyes (7:15)
06. Wise As Wisdom (7:07)
07. Knowing You (10:47)
08. Graveyard Epistle (6:15)
09. Prince of Heaven (3:32)
Total Time – 57:48
Vince McCusker – Guitars, Vocals
Peter Farrelly – Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar, Flute
Martin Foye – Drums
Stephen Houston – Keyboards, Vocals, Oboe (1971 – 1975)
John Mason – Keyboards, Vibes, Vocals (1975 – 1976)
– Future Legends (1973)
– Seven Secrets (1974)
– The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes (1974)
– Modern Masquerades (1975)
– Maid in Ireland (2020)
Fruupp – Cherry Red Product Page