Sometime back in the last century, young Mr Nolan and myself were on the way to the pub (all our interviews took place in the pub back then, no idea why), and he was incredibly excited about his next project. “I’m recording an album with Oliver Wakeman” he said to me, “and I’m going to have Rick on it but he will be providing narration and not playing keyboards, that will really mess with people’s minds!”. By this time in his career Clive had already been working on multiple projects (often many at the same time), some of which were bands but he had also undertaken Strangers On A Train which had seen him bring together different musicians and some singers (BTW – where is the third album in that set Clive?), and in some ways this was the next logical step.
This set brings together both albums released by Clive and Oliver, namely ‘Jabberwocky’ and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ along with ‘Dark Fables’ which is more of a bonus disc, containing songs from the unfinished ‘Frankenstein’ project plus a few others which did not make it onto the first two. Here we find Clive really pushing away from the progressive scene and instead much more into theatre, although using many from that genre to provide the music and vocals. Bob Catley (Magnum) and Tracy Hitchings (Quasar, Landmarq) are two key lead singers on both albums, but Ashley Holt is also involved and he is not the only Rick Wakeman musician as Tony Fernandez is also here, while Clive also reached into his back pocket to involve Karl Groom (Threshold) who was involved in virtually everything Clive was doing back then, as well as the likes of John Jowitt, Peter Gee etc.
‘Jabberwocky’ has less in the way of narration, but Rick does a nice job, while the songs and performances are a delight throughout. I have always felt that Tracy has been an under-utilised and somewhat under-rated singer, and throughout this and the next album she is an absolute delight, certainly showing no sign of nerves of being pitted against Bob Catley. Playing this album now, one can almost feel this is a transitional piece in some ways, as Clive and Oliver moved into theatrical but not leaving the prog world too far behind. There was a higher concentration on performances and songs than spoken word, and while there are some incredible passages, in some ways they were holding back a little.
After it had been released, Clive was at one of Rick’s parties where he met Robert Powell. The actor said he had enjoyed ‘Jabberwocky’ and would be pleased to be involved in the next one, which is how he came to be an integral part of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. I have no hope at all of saying anything useful about this album as not only has it been one of my favourites ever since it was released, it was also the same for one of my daughter’s and there was a solid year when it was the only music played in the car when she was in it (strangely enough, one of her older sisters had the same affinity with the debut Shadowland album). It is the perfect bringing together of music and narration, telling the story of Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes and the case of the hound of the Baskervilles. Clive and Oliver have warmly embraced the storytelling, and have combined to produce an album which to my mind is incredibly important to this day. Just putting this on the player was like listening to an old friend and I was immediately transported back in time and up to Dartmoor.
It is a faultless album from start to end, and if one listens to this with an open mind with no expectation of it being an overbearing progressive masterpiece then there is much to be gained from it. Yes, of course there are proggy elements but there are also times when we get Russian folk dancing, classical, theatre, and so much more. Powell adds a certain gravitas, something which comes through with the singing as well, where all the performances have been taken to a new level.
‘Dark Fables’ is in many ways a bonus disc, and as I have only just written my review I suggest you seek that out separately, but to hear Rick closing the complete set with his rendition of “The Jabberwocky” is fitting.
For those who did not come across these albums the first time around then now is the time to discover the wonderful music of Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman. They have stood the test of time, while ‘Baskervilles’ will always be a classic in my mind.
9/10 Kev Rowland