Gracious: Gracious!/This Is… (1970/72)
For every Yes, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, etc., there were many more lesser known prog rock bands. Bands like Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, Caravan, Cressida, Beggars Opera, Spring, etc. all created some great music but were often forgotten in the mists of time, but those who found out about these bands gave high praise to many of these albums, and for good reason. Gracious was yet another one of these bands. They released two albums and then disappeared. Gracious formed in the mid 1960s at a Catholic school in the well-to-do stockbroker belt of Surrey, England (south of London, Surrey was also home to Genesis as well) playing typical pop covers. The band was known as Satan’s Disciples at that time, probably to cause a stir, since the school they went to was religious in nature. But as the ’60s came near an end, and the band members graduated, the progressive scene started with the likes of King Crimson, Colosseum, Rare Bird, Yes, Genesis, etc. The band started writing original songs, and changing their name to Gracious. They even had the pleasure of being King Crimson’s opening act! And that inspired Gracious’ keyboardist Martin Kitcat to buy a Mellotron. They then signed to Vertigo and released their debut in 1970, which was entitled Gracious! (with the exclamation mark). The album was also released in America on Capitol Records (making that one of the more collectible artists on that label), but with a different cover.
Anyway, their debut is a wonderful, early British prog classic. A lot of the music is quite complex, with lots of great use of piano, harpsichord, and Hohner electric piano, as well as great guitar work from Alan Cowderoy, and jazzy drumming from Robert Lipson. Paul Davis adds some great vocals, in that typical early ’70s British prog style. Don’t buy in to the Mellotron hype on this album, as it’s only used on two cuts, that is “Heaven” and “Dreaming”. The album opens up with “Introduction”. I like the use of harpsichord, and those wonderful Gentle Giant-like vocal harmonies (I’m pretty sure Gentle Giant, who were also Vertigo labelmates, listened to Gracious) and that wonderful guitar solo in the middle.
“Heaven” starts off with some great use of Mellotron, before the acoustic guitar kicks in. When the vocals kick in, the chorus keeps repeating, “Do you have a clean mind?” over and over while singing about doing deeds, good or bad. “Hell” is a truly bizarre piece, where Martin Kitcat playing on a distorted electric piano that makes it sound almost like a synthesizer. This piece sounds a lot like what King Crimson had done, with those dissonant passages. Then suddenly the music changes sounding like honky-tonk music with that ragtime piano and the band being silly, then they suddenly get in to a silly version of Offenbach’s “Can-Can” before going back to Crimson-like territory. “Introduction”, “Heaven” and “Hell” all have religious themes in their lyrics (thanks to their Catholic school upbringings) but don’t let that scare you off.
Side two starts with “Fugue in ‘D’ Minor”, which is basically a classically-oriented piece played on harpsichord and guitar, and is the least rock-oriented piece. The album ends with the 16 minute “Dreaming”. I like how the band starts playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, before they start jamming on electric piano and guitar, being silly by playing a very short clip of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. I also love those dreamy vocals passages that just blow me away. This piece goes through many different changes and styles. Definately a high point. In 1971, the band recorded their followup This Is… Gracious, but Vertigo Records rejected it and it wouldn’t be until 1972 when Philips Records released it, by which point the band broke up.
This album features artwork by Roger Dean, but looks very little like any of the artwork he’s done for Yes. Anyway, the Mellotron hype of Gracious is totally justified on this album, as it’s used on every cut! This time the band dropped the classical influnces, the harpsichord and electric piano is gone, leaving the Mellotron and standard piano to dominate. The music tends to rely more on grooves, and is perhaps a bit more accessible and song-oriented than their debut, but still quite progressive.
The album starts off with the wonderful side-length suite “Super Nova”. It’s a four movement suite (actually it was supposed to be a five movement suite, but it couldn’t all fit because of time contraint of the LP). The music starts off deceptively in Krautrock territory, sounding like something Amon Düül II or Tangerine Dream were doing at that time. That movement was called “Arrival of the Traveller”. But then they quickly enter British prog territory with the “Blood Red Sun” section. “Super Nova” in general features some killer jamming, as well as some great acoustic ballads (that is “Say Goodbye to Love” and “Prepare to Meet Thy Maker”). All the music of “Super Nova” was about astronauts returning to Earth only to find it destroyed by a super nova (Morgan Fisher did something similar for his 1972 prog rock album Nova Solis).
The second half of the album consists of four cuts that are plastered with Mellotron and lots of great melodies and jams, like “C.B.S.”, “Blues Skies and Alibis”, and “Hold Me Down”. The stunning ballad “What’s Come to Be” was supposed to be included in the “Super Nova” suite but wasn’t. In 1995, BGO Records (Beat Goes On) in England reissued both classic albums as a 2-for-1 CD package, which is by far the best way to get both albums (as neither are easy to come by as original LPs). These two albums are nothing short of essential prog rock classics. If you like King Crimson, the Moody Blues, Gentle Giant, or early British prog in general, you’re sure to enjoy these two albums!
– Paul Davis: vocals, 12-string, timpani
– Martin Kitcat: Mellotron, piano, electric piano, harpsichord, vocals
– Alan Cowderoy: guitar, vocals
– Tim Wheatley: bass
– Robert Lipson: drums
Comments on Gracious: Gracious!/This Is… (1970/72)
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.