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Seven Secrets / Prince of Heaven’s Eyes
Label: Esoteric (Cherry Red Records)
Time: 7 Tracks / 46 mins
10 Tracks / 49 mins
Those fine people at Esoteric have let us have two discs from the set of four that they are re-issuing of the under-appreciated Northern Irish prog band Fruupp.
The set features extensive new liner booklets which link to tell the whole story, and it sheds a new light on the band. It turns out that they only really covered their home province, London and the Home Counties, barely touching vast swathes of Britain. The booklet to the third disc Prince of Heaven’s Eyes shows up a surprising fact about the preceding Seven Secrets. The set list for the tour includes only material from their first (1973’s Future Legends) and third albums – not a single track from their second. Reading between the lines, I would guess that when they first recorded, they used their strongest songs for their début, and knocked out Seven Secrets six months later, using six leftover tracks (and a 67-second tongue-in-cheek piece that they wrote to round it up to seven). It’s hard to think why else they would ignore Seven Secrets while touring the following project.
Seven Secrets (1974) sounds like a band in development, clearly influenced by early Genesis, with a sound quite close to the more chilled sections of Trespass and Nursery Cryme. Relaxed in feel, it centers around the Camel-like “Garden Lady” and features some tasty guitar work from founder Vince McCusker. Fruupp’s ideas are not yet quite fluid here. Vocal lines seek out melodies that do not come naturally and stand out from the drifting instrumental sea like islands. It’s almost as if they sat down and said, “We’ll start a couple of tracks with snatches of Handel and Bach, extend them with arpeggios and key changes. We’ll take a mythical idea, like Genesis do, and add a bit of our own Christian imagery and vocab to complement it, bolt-on some instrumental passages and string it out the lot with solos until it all reaches forty-odd minutes.” Many of the vocal lines end in a way that suggests Peter Farrelly lacks confidence in keeping the notes.
The cover art of both albums betrays more than is intended. The faint pointillism of Seven Secrets indicates an unfinished picture with gaps; The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes has a richer, yet more naïve look, which captures the innocence of the story. There is a restrained simplicity about this highly endearing album that limits extended solos and concentrates on strong tunes, plenty of character, Irish mythology and resolved musical ideas that are fleshed out by tasty licks and carefully-written instrumental side paths.
Comparing Seven Secrets with its follow-up is like standing a young teenager next to the successful thirty-something adult that it would become. All the signs of what they could achieve are not just realized, but exceeded. The arpeggios are replaced by flowing musical ideas; the copycat sections are gone, as the band knows its own identity and all the germ-concepts of tracks are fully developed. Surprisingly, there is none of the macho posturing, massive riffs or overblown pretentiousness that were so rife at the time. It is a strange phrase to use for rock, but The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes is absolutely charming. You could talk about it like it was a playful puppy; it is a lovely little album, that once known you don’t want to lose.
The original disc has always been great. It fades in with a fanfare-like crescendo, brings in the classical piano (briefly, this time) and after a neatly crafted set of link lines, hits a plaintive melody that tells of the hero, Mud, setting off to see the world after his parents’ death, apprehensive, but planning to find the end of a rainbow and leave his wealth there for others to find. On “Prince of Darkness” they give a distinctly English accent to the devilish baddie as Mud is lured into the underworld. The music brilliantly captures the mood of this part of the story, and is as close to early Genesis here as anywhere. Already, just two tracks in, there has been a superb contribution by bassist Farrelly. After the short instrumental “Jaunting Car,” they burst into the most memorable track, “Annie Austere” (which keyboard player and oboist Stephen Houston reprised with faith-based lyrics on his solo album after he left the band). Propelled headlong by some superb drumming, this is a track to make your heart soar and get you singing.
Showing the join between the original sides one and two, the fade-out fades back in with birdsong for the quiet, longest piece “Knowing You,” with its Caravan-like organ solo. The second half continues the quality of the first, this time with the short instrumental track “Crystal Brook” and the half-instrumental “Seaward Sunset,” with its Renaissance-like piano melody. Stephen Houston’s “The Perfect Wish” ties it all up by reprising the album’s opening crescendo.
The album is so finely honed that virtually no lines or notes are wasted and the disc feels over before you know it, leaving you wanting more. With this re-mastered re-issue, there are two bonus tracks. The first is the single “Prince of Heaven” written by the whole band (for the only time) about the project, but never included on the original album. The other musical extra is single version of “Jaunting Car.” But there is another bonus. The album is based on a short story by Paul Charles, which was available with the vinyl album as a limited edition. That substantial story is now reproduced in the CD liner booklet.
Stephen Houston left the band at this point, joined Liberation Suite for a bit and then got ordained. Fruupp were not quite the same without him, but went on to produce one more album, Modern Masquerades.
Prince of Heaven’s Eyes is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys early Genesis or melodic early-‘70s prog. Those who want to investigate further are probably best following it up with Future Legends or Modern Masquerades, depending on whether they prefer an earlier or more refined sound.