Late last year, Cherry Red's Esoteric Recordings arm reissued the rock-meets-classical interpretation of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf conceived by Jack Lancaster (Blodwyn Pig) and Robin Lumley (Brand X). Now, on March 25, Esoteric will turn its attention to the next album from the pair of Lancaster and Lumley. The 1976 concept album Marscape was inspired by the landing on Mars of NASA's Viking Explorer 2 in September of that year
Though the success of Peter and the Wolf directly led to Marscape, it was far from the first collaboration of the pair. Lancaster and Lumley had already worked together on short film soundtracks and played together in the bands Karass and The Soul Searchers. Marscape was recorded at Trident Studios where the duo would welcome some of the same personnel who had played on Peter, including drummer Phil Collins and bassist Percy Jones. Lancaster and Lumley both played a variety of instruments including woodwinds and violin for the former and pianos, organs, and synthesizers for the latter. They jointly composed the music and produced the LP while Lancaster handled the brass arrangements; he farmed out the string parts to Simon Jeffes. They were joined by John Goodsall on electric guitars and six- and twelve-string acoustic ones.
Actual science and science-fiction both played influenced the composers as they crafted a baker's dozen of largely instrumental songs to conjure the Red Planet. Though Bernie Frost's vocals occasionally appear to add an otherworldly feel to the tracks, the album has no lyrics and relies upon its evocative, progressive-spirited music to bring the listeners to Mars. The compositions were written out in advance and no material was left behind, but Lancaster confirms in the excellent liner notes by the late Malcolm Dome that there was some degree of improvisation in the studio. "Out of this came something better than we had first envisaged," he confirms. One of those better things was the birth of the band Brand X; Marscape has long been considered ground zero for the fusion group. The first Brand X album, also from 1976, featured Phil Collins, John Goodsall, Percy Jones, and Robin Lumley, as well as Jack Lancaster. Jack never became an official member of Brand X. It's been reported that Marscape was recorded after the first Brand X album but Lancaster denies this, telling Dome that "when we were doing this album, Brand X hadn't even been conceived, so the band were not yet in existence." However, the seeds might have well been planted.
Marscape arrived, like Peter and the Wolf, on Robert Stigwood's RSO label. From percolating prog-rock to languid jazz and gentle, spacy soundscapes, the musical portrait of Mars was a diverse one, indexed as one long, continuous suite. Though Lancaster and Lumley wouldn't release any further albums as a duo, their two high-concept albums have held up remarkably well and have avoided the whiff of novelty.
Esoteric's new edition has been remastered from newly-discovered tapes by Paschal Byrne, and the four-panel digipak includes a full-color sixteen-page booklet containing elements of the original LP artwork. The CD adds two bonus tracks, the single versions of "With a Great Feeling [Of Love]" and "Hopper."
The remastered Marscape is due from Cherry Red and Esoteric on March 25 and can be pre-ordered at the links below.
- Sail On Solar Winds
- Phobos and Deimos
- With a Great Feeling (a)
- With a Great Feeling (b)
- Olympus Mons
- Blowholes (The Pipes of Mars)
- With a Great Feeling of Love (Bonus Track)
- Hopper (Bonus Track)