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"...Have Your Eyes Really Seen..."
on 5 December 2011
There are a couple of things about this rather odd little compilation that ranker - and more to the point - need explanation.
First up - it uses the "Old Grey Whistle Test" name (the famous BBC Rock Program aired in the early to mid 1970s) - so people may presume that these are live-in-the-BBC-studio recordings from the shows long and illustrious history - they're not. Without saying so anywhere on the packaging - every track is an album cut by US and UK artists from 1964 through to 1976 - none are previously unreleased or exclusive in other words. More to the point - none of it is new - and most of these artists have 'never' appeared on the show.
Second - the booklet (as you can imagine for a comp pitched at a fiver) is a crappy 8-page affair that spends much of its time advertising the other discs in this series. The tiny liner notes by the much admired Bob Harris (the show's first and most famous presenter) are merely adequate, but are also staggeringly misleading in that they mention Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Roy Harper and Richard Thompson - when none of these Folk-Rock giants feature on the compilation itself - a sloppy and lazy approach to say the least.
Third - the 20 tracks are listed in the centre spread - but that's it. There are barely any other details given. There's a clue in the copyright date - "Hard Times For Old England" by Steeleye Span is 1975 so it's from their "All Around My Hat" LP on Chrysalis, "No Regrets" by Tom Rush is 1968 so it's from his "Circle Game" album on Elektra (which I've reviewed), "Fly High" by Bridget St. John from 1972 is from her 3rd album on John Peel's Dandelion Records "Thank You For..." What would it have taken to supply simple details like that? There's no history of FOLK music - no pictures - no interviews - zip. And this BBC set also carries the RHINO logo - a label once synonymous with quality and great liner notes by enthusiasts keeping the flame alive - not anymore.
Fourth - is the sound - it's all over the place. It's good in places, great in others - but mostly it's dull - and awful on some (huge hiss levels on the lovely "Gaye" by Clifford T. Ward). There's not a mention of who mastered it or where?
Having said all of that - there are some very clever song choices here; one of them is the gorgeous "Love Song" by Lesley Duncan - it's off her 1971 CBS Records album "Sing Children Sing" and has graced loads of my 70's Fest CDs in the shop shuffle as a criminally forgotten gem (lyrics above). It was pre-covered by Elton John on his 1970 album "Tumbleweed Connection" with Lesley on Guitar and Backing Vocals and there's a trippy instrumental of it on Johnny Harris' 1973 Warner Brothers album "All To Bring You Morning" with guests Steve Howe and Alan White of Yes. The CD reissue of her rare and obscure album is in itself deleted many years now - so it has acquired an extortionate price tag online. This is therefore a very cheap way of getting that great track without being creamed.
The beautiful "May You Never" by John Martyn sounds alright, but the 'Deluxe Edition' version is a proper remaster (see review also) and it's infinitely better. Al Stewart's "Year Of The Cat" from 1976 is wildly out of place and "Can I Have My Money Back" by Gerry Rafferty is a terrible track choice for an artist who produced so much better.
Speaking of which - I can think of 2 compilations which would serve your ears and your exploratory curiosity better - the 2006 "Garden Of Delights" CD compilation (track list by UK Folk Radio program experts) and best of all - the Island 3CD Folk/Rock Box "Meet On The Ledge" from 2009 is stunning and has properly great Denis Blackham remastering. It actually features Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson etc and has a booklet to die for (see detailed review).
To sum up - yes its cheap - and there's good tracks and bad. But you can't help but feel that this is a wasted opportunity and a naff cash-in on a name remembered with real affection. And as I say - there's so much better to be had elsewhere - and for not too much more wonga either...