Taken their name from a 17th century composer, Glasgow’s Beggars Opera were almost the bees knees of Orchestral and Classical Rock music in the 1970s. They were one of the most electrifying and mind-blowing overlooked bands to come out that Progressive genre and this 2-CD set released by the good people at Esoteric Recordings covers their time period at the time when they were with Vertigo Records on their first four albums from 1970 to 1973
The liner notes are done by Metal Hammer/Classic Rock Magazine writer Malcolm Dome which shows the history of the band and the rare pictures show almost like going back in time to see how their performances were if you were be able to see them live back in that time period of the golden-era when Prog was king. They are well researched and it shows how they were ahead of their time and still pack a huge punch with their music.
The sound of Beggars Opera resembles adventure, time-and-space, and its out of this world time signatures. And while they received a fan base in Germany, the band could have been bigger than ELP and would have given them a huge run for their money. The sound of Alan Park’s organ is haunting and soothing as lead singer Martin Griffiths whose voice resembles Angus Cullen and Ian Gillan feels that he’s right behind you telling a story and who could not forget Virginia Scott who’s now married to guitarist Ricky Gardiner, whose guitar playing is astonishing and with a Ritchie Blackmore sound that is out of this world that is a mix of Hard Rock, Jazz, and Symphonic while Virginia's mellotron playing could take the listener somewhere beyond the future.
Act One released in 1970 is pieced together with classical compositions and its thumping debut makes it a surreal structured well-balanced explosive introduction and owing a debt to Keith Emerson and The Nice. With the swirling Poet and Peasant, Passacaglia, and the 11-minute roaring suite on Raymond’s Road, sees them going into a eruptive yet volcanic rollercoaster ride like they’ve never been on ages ago and just have a grand old time while the closer Light Cavalry pays an homage to the Canterbury band, Arzachel and a doomier version of Caravan as Alan Park carries the sound of David Sinclair and Dave Stewart in his sleeve.
1971’s Waters of Change is the band’s turning point and remains a favorite among Prog fans. The psychedelic trip into Space and travelling backwards on the atmospheric Time Machine is a true centerpiece as the Jazz Rock comes in full swing on I’ve No Idea as a Mellotron fanfare turned into Fantasy Rock makes it a perfect combination on the Silver Peacock while they go into a thumping hard rock with a dosage of the Moody Blues late ‘60s period on The Fox that makes Beggars Opera carrying some of the flaming fire in their pockets to see where the flaming torch will take them to.
When they released Pathfinder, it was the last real Beggars Opera album before they went into a Straightforward Rock sound and although they wanted to go into a different direction, the album itself has some outstanding moments in there. The cover of Richard Harris’ MacArthur Park, which stayed true to the original pop hit, is jaw dropping as the swooping thunderous evil eruption on The Witch, makes it a terrifying story featuring Alan’s moment to shine on the Organ along with the rumbling galloping rocker dealing with the Sister of Satan on Madame Doubtfire which could have been a perfect Hammer Horror film title and a perfect piece that is perfect for Halloween.
With Get Your Dog Off Me released in 1973, they went into more of a Soul and Bluesy Rock genre and adding Linnie Paterson from Writing on the Wall fame replacing Martin as a vocalist, almost sounds like it was going to be a dividing line in the sand among Beggars Opera fans to whether or not to appreciate the new direction they were going into. Even though its not the full album, there are only four tracks that made it on there as they were saying good-bye to Vertigo and moving on to Jupiter Records.
There’s the raunchy shuffling rockin' balls out roar of Working Man (not the one by Rush, but a different song) as Linnie sings his heart out about going to work and blessing him for what he’s doing as Requiem is pre-Queen and Frippertronics that Ricky does on his guitar with a dosage of Brian May and Robert Fripp that makes it experimental while the cover of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas is unbelievable.
Starting off with this mellowing piano introduction, it goes into this Renaissance Rock sound from Guitar, Harpsichord, Drums, Mellotron, Synths, and Bass that makes it a tribute to the composer as it sounds very spacey and funky in the midsection and not screwing it up, it’s a nice tribute to Mason himself. Now if you see an Astronaut riding with a horse flying off into the universe, make sure you wave and smile by saying ‘Hi!’ to him and let him know how much Beggars Opera meant so much to you.