Eyes of Blue was a short-lived Progressive Rock six-piece band from Neath, Wales that formed in fifty years ago that had a touch of the Psychedelic and Soul/R&B sound in their music. The band received a breakthrough when they won the 1966 Melody Maker National Beat Contest and were signed to the Mercury Label after meeting American record producer Lou Reizner who would later work on the Symphonic Orchestral version of The Who’s Rock Opera Tommy in 1972.
The band considered; Gary Pickford-Hopkins on Vocals, Wyndham Rees on Vocals, Phil Ryan on Keyboards, Ray “Taff” Williams on Guitar, Ritchie Francis on Bass, and John Weathers on Drums. The two albums (Crossroads of Time and In Fields of Ardath), are reissued by the good people by Esoteric Recordings. These two albums were released in 1968 and 1969. When you listen to the albums, you can imagine why they were ahead of their time and why the label gave them a chance at that time period before doing one more album entitled, Bluebell Wood under using the name, Big Sleep.
Which I will delve into another time. But let’s get to the debut album. Recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes at South West London and completed under four to five days, you can imagine yourself just being in awe of what is spellbound track after track of the band’s music. There is the West Coast Rock sound, Classical Music, Jazz, and Soul. It’s right in Crossroads of Time. Not to mention the support of the late great and often overlooked master of the keyboards himself, Graham Bond, who wrote the original sleeve notes about the band.
There are the covers they did from Love, The Beatles and Bond (7 + 7 Is, Yesterday, & Love is the Law). And Eyes of Blue decided to give it a good version of the compositions of the covers. They bring the thunder with a soaring version from Arthur Lee’s version thanks to Weathers galloping drumbeat, rumbling rhythm guitars thanks to Ray Williams while the
ballad and mourning beauty of Bond’s version stays true to the master.
And their take of the Beatles classic, begins with a carol-like introduction from the vocals, before heading into the Vanilla Fudge treatment with a church choir sound from Ryan’s organ that gives it a powerful interpretation of the Lennon-McCartney composition with a Mellotron swirl. The thumping and stomping rhythm before delving into an Indian psychedelic improvisation by Williams himself and then ending with a joyous groove in the styles of Steve Winwood-era of Traffic to give the listeners, the ultimate trip for the Prodigal Son.
The Mellotron-Sitar combination gives it an interesting take as it heads into a romantic and classical beauty of Largo. It reminded me of a combination between both the Beatles and Barclay James Harvest’s Pools of Blue to give it that swimming aquatic sound on the two instruments to delve into the ocean and find the one and true love that makes it at time atmospheric with a soulful twist.
I Wonder Why goes into a waltz with a jazzier and the soul punch. Both Weathers, Francis, and Ryan bring the time signature of ¾ in a haunting and dramatic essence. It feels as if it could have been recorded during the sessions of Blonde on Blonde’s second album, Rebirth while they go into the road with a Blues Rocking approach for driving down the highway for a finale for Inspiration for a New Day.
Pre-Zeppelin and Proto-hard soul rock, the vocals have the reminiscent of Steve Winwood with powerful riffs, organ, bass, and drums. And you can dance to the groove and see how they nail in the style of a harder approach of the Spencer Davis Group as if they did a hit single and Eyes of Blue nailed it to close it off. The bonus track sees Phil Ryan going into his homage to Graham himself of Q III which was released as a B-side. Phil is powerful on his Hammond to go.
He is bringing the fire, energy, and electricity through his instrument to show a lot of intense and jaw-dropping eruptions that would get him some recognition. The Esoteric release has a 15-page booklet which features rare photographs of the band, interviews with Ritchie Francis and John Weathers, who would later join up with Gentle Giant and then, Man. The liner notes are done by Malcolm Dome and it’s a perfect history of the obscure and the hidden treasures on what is to come.
I can’t wait for this year to see what both Mark and Vicky Powell has in store for the Esoteric label. If you love Gentle Giant, Man, Traffic, and Graham Bond, then delve into Eyes of Blue’s Crossroads of Time.