The Welsh progressive rock band Eyes of Blue had its share of ups and downs - the "ups" certainly including gigs opening for The Spencer Davis Group, The Move, The Moody Blues, The Who, and Led Zeppelin, and the "downs" relating to the promising group's flameout in a short period of time. Late in 2015, Cherry Red's Esoteric Recordings imprint shone a light on Eyes of Blue with the first authorized CD releases of the band's two Mercury albums, both from 1969: Crossroads of Time and In Fields of Ardath.
Like many of the above-named bands with whom Eyes of Blue shared bills, the group's sound developed quickly in the ever-changing musical landscape of the 1960s. Born from the merger of The Smokestacks and The Mustangs and adopting the latter name, they were rock-and-rollers; soon, they gravitated towards Motown and soul. As the Eyes of Blue, they were signed to Decca's hip Deram label, but Deram tried to shape them into pop artists, a move at which they took umbrage. After two singles, they parted ways with Deram to pursue a heavier sound. In the new liner notes to Esoteric's reissue of Crossroads of Time, bassist Ritchie Francis recalls, "We heard the Doors and that changed everything for us." Drummer John Weathers adds, "Bands like Vanilla Fudge, Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, Love and Moby Grape were all big influences on us." American producer Lou Reizner, then working in A&R for Mercury, took an interest in the band. He signed them to a licensing deal with the label, and began working on their first album.
Francis composed most of the songs on Crossroads, and Reizner's connection with Graham Bond resulted in two Bond songs appearing. Covers of The Beatles' "Yesterday" and Love's "7 + 7 Is" rounded out the LP. Crossroads showed off its classical-rock leanings (soon to be tagged "progressive") alongside American West Coast pop and rock styles. At the same time, Reizner (as a de facto manager) had the band record with Buzzy Linhart and tour with Miriam Makeba. Esoteric's reissue of this diverse debut adds one bonus track, the mono single version of B-side "Q III," a composition credited to all six band members which was introduced as the flip of "Apache" (included on the Fields of Ardath reissue).
Despite weak sales, Mercury didn't give up on Eyes of Blue. Reizner's friendship with Quincy Jones led to the band being tapped for the bizarre sex comedy Up Your Teddy Bear (a.k.a. The Toy Grabbers, Mother, Hot Mother, and Seduction of a Nerd) for which Jones supplied the score. Ritchie Francis wrote "Merry Go Round" for the film starring Wally Cox, Julie Newmar and Victor Buono, and the Eyes of Blue played the groovy instrumentals heard in the movie. The band also got the chance to appear onscreen in the Bette Davis/Michael Redgrave drama Connecting Rooms. "Merry Go Round" would get the opening slot on the Reizner-produced sophomore LP for Eyes of Blue, which would feature one crucial change: vocalist Wyndham Rees had departed the line-up, unhappy with the move from Motown-esque soul to heavier rock.
In Fields of Ardath was recorded during the same period that the band was working with Quincy Jones on the film score. In contrast to the movie's groovy pop tunes, the album was more experimental in nature, with backwards tape and other effects utilized. Ritchie Francis again penned original songs which were joined on the LP by covers from Graham Bond (The Graham Bond Organization's "Spanish Blues") and even the jazz duo of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt ("Souvenirs"). Keyboardist Phil Ryan, guitarist Gary Pickford-Hopkins and John Weathers all contributed songs, too. But despite the change to a more timely sound, The Fields of Ardath wasn't met with much commercial success, and Mercury dropped the band from its roster. One more album followed under the name of Big Sleep (Bluebell Wood, on the Pegasus label) before Eyes of Blue broke up. The Esoteric reissue of Ardath has been expanded with a non-LP single revival of Jerry Lordan's "Apache" (as "Apache '69") in mono.
Both Eyes of Blue titles are available now from Esoteric Recordings, and include new liner notes by Malcolm Dome drawing on Francis and Weathers' reflections. Ben Wiseman has remastered both albums. You can order at the links below!
- Crossroads of Time
- Never Care
- I'll Be Your Friend
- 7 + 7 Is
- Prodigal Son
- Love is the Law
- I Wonder Why
- World of Emotion
- Inspiration for a New Day
- Q III (Mono Single) (Mercury single 72911, 1969)
- Merry Go Round
- The Light We See
- Souvenirs (Tribute to Django)
- Spanish Blues
- Door (The Child That Is Born on the Sabbath Day)
- Little Bird
- After the War
- Extra Hour
- Apache '69 (Mono Single) (Mercury single 72911, 1969)