Monday, November 9, 2015

Flaming Youth - 1969 - Ark 2

Flaming Youth 
Ark 2

01. Guide Me, Orion
02. Earthglow
03. Weightless (instrumental)
04. The Planets
05. Changes
06. Pulsar
07. Spacechild
08. In the Light of Love
09. From Now On (Immortal Invisible)

- (Flash) Gordon Smith / Guitar, 12 string, Bass Guitar, Vocals.
- Ronnie Caryl / Bass Guitar, 12-string Guitar, Vocals.
- Brian Chatton / Organ, Piano, Vocals.
- Phil Collins / Drums, Percussion, Organ, Vocals.

Most Prog fans listen the name Phil Collins and immediately think in the great GENESIS and BRAND X drummer or make a grimace of pain remembering the late Genesis era, but almost nobody even mention the excellent 60's Psyche/Proto Prog band in which he was a clue member.

This is something really unfair, because this guys were doing a solid act which included not only orchestral sections, but even dared to make a tribute to Holst with their very clever piece inspired in The Planets by the mentioned artist.

The band was formed by the former keybordist of THE WARRIORS (with Jon Anderson) Brian Chatton who also added vocals, Ronnie Caryl on bass and vocals, Gordon Smith guitar, bass & vocals, plus of course Phil Collins in the drums, organ and vocals. Later and for a short period, Rod Mayall joined the band to play organ, adding a touch of free Jazz.

In 1969, Fontana Records released The band's only LP called Ark 2 which blends various styles and genres, from British Invasion to Proto Prog and Acid Psychedelia, passing through Melodic Rock, in other words a gem for lovers of early predecessors of Prog.

Despite the good material and critics, the commercial success eluded the album so FLAMING YOUTH made an attempt of reviving their career with the single Man. Woman and Child, but it was too late, the band dissolved.

All the original FLAMING YOUTH members had a long career, Phil Collins and Ronnie Caryl auditioned for GENESIS, but only Collins was recruited (the rest is history), Ronnie later performed with such artists as David Hentschel, David Bishop and his old friend Phil Collins.

Brian Chatton was member of a band called Boys Don't Cry and played with musicias such as Collins or Meatloaf among others. Last but not least, Gordon Smith became a respected session musician with a long career.

Despite the pass of time, Ark 2 remains as one of the finest examples of the fusion between Psychedelia and Proto Prog.
 "Ark 2" is a conceptual album about a journey of an astronaut across the solar system and beyond, of course the lyrics has the influence of the times, with clear references to the search of peace and hope, and even when not as strong as they could be, the idea is interesting.

The album starts with the excellent vocal intro of "Guide me Orion", somehow like THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS without The Mamas, but suddenly the band bursts in fire with typical British Invasion sound, but in this case fused with Classical music and Rock, a very good start.

"Earthglow" is a radical change, starts melancholic and Baroque, with clear references of PROCOL HARUM but with better vocals, Gordon Smith does an outstanding job with an almost religious voice and Brian Chatton playing killer keyboards, incredibly beautiful song.

The beauty of Weightless is the contrast between the clearly Baroque organ intro that without advice turns into some sort of 50's Rock Boogie Boogie and Jazz instrumental with classical overtones, the guys were really versatile, but the stars of the track are Phil Collins in the drums and Ronnie Caryl who complement the outstanding rhythm section perfectly.

Now is the turn for the epic "The Planets" (In some versions each planet of the solar system is a song), there's little (if any) connection) with Gustav Holst's masterpiece but it's clearly inspired in this work, even the inner notes make clear references to each movement of the classical piece and as Holst they ignore Pluto.

Now lets talk a bit about the music, there's everything, from 12-bar Blues, to Classical - Orchestral, Jazz, Rock,Vaudeville, Acid Psychedelia, etc, and the "personality" of each planet is described by the music, we can find influences from THE NICE and almost every great musician of the 60's but with a unique touch. This 12 minutes track alone would pay the album.

Changes marks the point where the astronaut leaves the solar system and a turn for Phil Collins and Gordon Smith to take the lead vocals and both make a hell of a job, the sound is lost in the boundaries hat divides the late first British Invasion from early Psyche until Chatton starts to jam with the organ and crosses all the possible boundaries of Rock, but that's not all, the band enters into melodic (almost Symphonic) territory, one of the best songs of the album

"Pulsar" is a frantic track in the vein of THE NICE with Chatton adding an incredibly fast keyboard performance with Phil covering him all the way, another excellent track that leads to "Space Child", which after a keyboard and guitar intro allows us to listen Phil Collins singing some sort of early Symphonic with real feeling, a bit cheesy by moments but beautiful.

Almost every release has a weak point and "In the Light of Love" is the one from "Ark 2", this guys have proved they could play almost everything, but an almost Latin percussion song with Motown touches is not one of them, not so bad to press the skip button, but clearly bellow the level of the album.

"From Now On (Immortal Invisible)" presents Brian Chatton as a vocalist (he can also sing) and at least in the live video Phil Collins in the organ, extremely beautiful and melodic musical piece with full orchestra and chorus, a brilliant closer for "Ark 2".

Not a perfect masterpiece, but very far from some reviews that qualify them as a disaster, in my opinion an excellent addition for any Prog collection.

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