The 21st Century has seen a resurgence in popularity for many ’70s prog bands, even prompting a few of them to reform and do some live shows, or even an album or two in their old age. One such band that I feel has yet to enjoy this resurgence is Fruupp, the Northern Irish proggers that produced a quartet of brilliant albums between 1973 and 1975 before fizzling out due to some unfortunate circumstances. They were not destined to become future legends like their debut album announced, except to a group of dedicated fans who one day formed a Facebook group in the band’s honour.
I’ve rarely been enticed to join fan groups of any description, knowing how toxic some fans can be. Fruupp has been the exception; the music was so good and yet so obscure that I was happy to find anybody that also knew this music and enjoyed it as much as I did. It made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy! For a while, however, there was little more activity than posting YouTube links to one of the band’s thirty-two songs or sharing pictures of vintage posters and ticket stubs, which were fascinating to see.
And then, all of a sudden, there was a flurry of activity spearheaded by a few of the members who were close to the band. Talks about a retrospective book were thrown around, alongside ideas to make a live album using publicly available recordings of Fruupp on YouTube. Fruupp had actually recorded one of their shows for a live album in December 1975, but the master tapes were destroyed in a fire at their manager Paul Charles’s house, just one of the unfortunate circumstances that would cause them to split not long after. A new live album would be seen as a way to finally bring about what had been lost all those years ago.
And then, by a sheer miracle, a recording of a gig at Friars in Aylesbury – coincidentally, the exact same gig whose recordings had been lost in the fire – was discovered in Holland; a cassette made by a fan named Roger Pettit who hadn’t wanted to wait for the live album to come out and decided to record the concert himself. Over the years, there would have been plenty of opportunities for the cassette to have been lost, stolen, given away or simply dumped, but in this most serendipitous of universes, its presence made its way to the founders of the Fruupp project.
The tape was cleaned up at a studio in Italy and is now presented for all to hear on vinyl, CD and digital. It should be made clear, this is still a bootleg recording that does not have the audio quality you’d expect from an ‘official’ live album – especially in the more dynamic sections of the music – but the recordings are plenty clear enough to enjoy and is made all the more special knowing that this was the very music that was ‘lost’ all those years ago. I had mistakenly thought that this was the only surviving live recording of Fruupp, which made it even more special the first time I heard it, but at any rate, it is joyous to finally have a Fruupp live album available, half a century after the band’s formation.
Even better, since this recording was taken from their final tour, we get to hear tracks from across Fruupp’s sadly limited discography; only Seven Secrets remains unrepresented. I happen to be in the minority opinion that their final album, Modern Masquerades, is their best, and it’s a blessing to hear all five of its ‘proper’ tracks recreated live – I’m not sure anyone was interested in hearing the shorter single tracks Why or Janet Planet. Alongside is a selection of songs from The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes to represent the journey of Mud Flanigan and some fan favourites from Future Legends to round out the experience. It’s fascinating to hear John Mason tickling the ivories on tunes originally played by Stephen Houston.
Presented as an encore is the elusive On a Clear Day – featuring a finale inspired by Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets suite – which had to be deleted from their debut as it got them into trouble with the Holst estate. As an intro to the encore, the band play part of the show tune On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever) from the musical of the same name, adding some context to their own brilliant track.
This isn’t the only place where the band modify or embellish their tunes; Gormenghast receives a lengthy spoken intro with sound effects, It’s All Up Now is lamentably cut short before the final verse and chorus and Song for a Thought is prefaced by an instrumental segment that is unfamiliar to my ears; while it is used to introduce the band here, according to some sources, it might have ended up on the never-to-be-realised fifth Fruupp album. When I saw Dream Theater earlier this year, I was disappointed that all of their songs were played exactly as they sounded on the album, so it’s wonderful that Fruupp showed more than a little of their personality on this live recording, even if some of the stage banter is lost due to the sound quality. I was astonished at just how fast they blew through some of their most complicated tracks; Lord of the Incubus made me think the band might spontaneously combust.
The set is lovingly accompanied by a booklet with a short essay about the discovery of the recordings and the creation of the live album and, crucially, lyrics to each of the songs on the album. Fruupp only had very few of their lyrics ever officially published in the past and the Northern Irish accent has made it necessary to guess what I’m singing along to, but no longer. I’ve been assured that a lot of research has been put into the accuracy of these lyrics so they are a valuable addition, almost worth the price of admission.
For Fruuppies, this album is a dream come true, but newcomers to the band could also treat this as an excellent starting point as the set contains almost all of the band’s best songs – almost, because Faced with Shekinah isn’t present. Moreover, it’s extra special because, due to the nature of the recording, you really feel as if you’re in the audience during the band’s set; as Mystery Might begins, a voice from the crowd – quite possibly Pettit’s – assures their neighbour “It’s great this… best track on the album.” I wince every time I hear it because it’s not my favourite track at all, but I nevertheless feel about as close as I possibly can to the band on that cold December night in Aylesbury in 1975.
01. Masquerading with Dawn (6:55)
02. Mystery Might (6:08)
03. Misty Morning Way (6:26)
04. It’s All Up Now (5:57)
05. Lord of the Incubus (7:17)
06. Annie Austere (5:03)
07. Knowing You (2:32)
08. The Perfect Wish (9:19)
Time – 49:32
01. Gormenghast (12:01)
02. Sheba’s Song (7:35)
03. Decision (6:25)
04. Song for a Thought (10:05)
05. On a Clear Day (10:00)
Time – 46:02
Total Time – 95:34
Peter Farrelly – Lead Vocals, Bass
Martin Foye – Drums
John Mason – Keyboards
Vincent McCusker – Guitar
Record Label: Bad Pressings
Catalogue#: BP CD 33 01/02
Country of Origin: Northern Ireland
Date of Release: 1st September 2022