A Brief History
The origins of Aquila lie in the Welsh psychedelic proto-progressive outfit Blonde On Blonde. In fact the founder of Blonde On Blonde, named after the famous Bob Dylan album, was a certain Ralph Denyer who in 1970 left the same band he had founded whilst their album Rebirth was about to be released. When one compares the works of Blonde On Blonde, it seems that Denyer wished to move away from the Psychedelic drenched rock that Blonde On Blonde were playing and move further towards a progressive style that combined influences of Rhythm & Blues and Jazz.
The new vehicle for Denyer's work was called Aquila, though the group only released one album during their very brief history, the 1970 self-titled album released on the RCA label. The line-up consisted of James Smith (drums, percussion), Martin Woodward (Hammond organ), George "Snakes" Lee (flute, saxophones) and Phil Childs (bass, piano). Denyer took care of guitars and vocals as well as wrote all the compositions of the band.
Musically the group played a straight forward progressive rock with tinges of jazz provided mainly by Lee's playing.. As already mentioned the album, was released in 1970 in a gatefold sleeve and has become somewhat of a minor collector's item (RCA SF 8126,Value BS30.00). Keith Besford designed the sleeve while production of the album was entrusted to Patrick Campbell-Lyons (Nirvana).
Unfortunately I have been unable to collect any information whatsoever regarding the band and its short history. What is definite is that of the five members only George "Snakes" Lee continued his musical career by joining another short-lived band, Arrival prior to the recording of their self-titled CBS album as well as working as a session musician with various other artists. Ralph Denyer has created a career out writing books on guitar tuition, which have received rave reviews and are considered amongst the finest of their genre.
Aquila - Aquila
Side 2: The Aquilia Suite First Movement: Aquila (Introduction, Flight Of The Golden Bird Second Movement: Cloud Circle, The Hunter, The Kill Third Movement: Where Do I Belong, Aquila (Conclusion)
Line-up: Ralph Denyer (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars), Phil Childs (fender bass, piano), George Lee (flute, alto, soprano, tenor & baritone saxes), Martin Woodward (Hammond organ), James Smith (drums, tympany & various percussion)
All tracks were composed by Ralph Denyer
Produced by Patrick Campbell-Lyons
As Thoughts Are,
They would only confuse others more.
So with bailey's wood in hand,
Filter and form a collage
Of time against vibration.
Such are the words that adorn the back cover of the only album Aquila ever released and they are as enigmatic as the band is. However they play a most pleasant form of progressive rock music that follows in many ways where groups such as King Crimson left off following the release of In The Court Of The Crimson King. The group manages to combine straightforward rock music with rather more complex arrangements together with the introduction of various "unconventional" rock instruments such as saxophones to great effect.
Looking at the track layout, it is immediately obvious that the focus of the album would be the Aqulia Suite, which occupied the whole of Side 2. However the first side also offers its fair share of good moments.
Change Your Ways has the band opening with saxophones and Hammond blaring out the main theme while the band seems to plough along an almost rhythm and blues backing rhythm. Denyer's vocals are pleasant and rich with a distinctive sixties sound to it. Electric Guitars are almost non-existent on this track as the bass is brought to the front of the mix accentuating the soulful rhythm of this track. At times there are hints of early Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, mainly caused by the generous use of saxophones coupled with the strong roaming bass sound. Thus the group from the onset show where their musical roots seem to lie though they manage to include an amount of musical diversity thanks mainly to George Lee.
How Many More Times maintains that happy feeling that Change Your Ways presented though the style seems to shift towards a more Latino approach. At times Denyer's voice resembles Garry Brooker's (Procol Harum) vocal style, another artist inspired by the R&B movement. This time the saxes are replaced by a flute that give the track a more tender touch though the incessant rhythm driven by James Smith's drumming, replete with offbeats give the track that special feel that make it stand out from any regular track. Furthermore this track presents the Hammond Organ as a solo instrument for the first time on the album. he final section that has the flute playing to a blues backdrop is very similar to the early Jethro Tull sound, when Mick Abrahams was still with the band.
While You Were Sleeping creates a sixties feel, no less maintained by the delightful Hammond drone that pervades the track. Musically the track is very similar to Change Your Ways with the sax duetting with Denyer's vocals, though the track shows very little variance throughout and does become a tad tedious after a short while. We Can Make It If We Try, the final track on the album, features a more uptempoed style with a chorus that reminds me of the musicals of those times, especially Jesus Christ Superstar! The second side of the album is dominated by The Aquila Suite, which in itself is divided into three movements. The first movement has two sections, Aquila (Introduction) and Flight Of The Golden Bird. Aquila (Introduction) starts off in a mellow way with an acoustic piece of music featuring a duet between flute and acoustic guitar. This then merges into Flight Of The Golden Bird which shows the more progressive strain of the band. Once again the use of the flute does bring Jethro Tull to mind but the group seem to have a more soulful style to their presentation than Tull do. The Hammond leads the track off to a blistering pace with the flute joining at intervals between the vocals. Uncharacteristically the acoustic guitar also joins in the solo proceedings, allowing the track to possess a particular power and drive though still retaining that acoustic flavour. The track also features an excellent drum solo from James Smith that conjures the spirit of the times this music was composed in.
The second movement consists of Cloud Circle, The Hunter and The Kill. Cloud Circle is as airy as the title suggests with a slow plodding beat and flutes dictating the matters, though slowly as the the aquila seems to soar higher the Hammond and guitars join in creating a crescendo that seems to build up, yet just as soon as it seems to climax it fades away. As can be expected The Hunter is a more movementuous affair with the track possessing more of a strength and certain heaviness that the other racks did not possess. Even the tempo is more dragging giving a sense of dreariness to the hunter a feeling further compounded by the fact that saxes and organ are playing the same power chords in unison thus creating that sense of doom. The Kill is the culmination of events that The Hunter was building up towards as the instruments (organ, sax and guitar) all seem to be toying in different directions as the tempo is steadily increased amidst a barrage of chords and solos. The third movement consists of Where Do I Belong and Aquila (Conclusion). Where Do I Belong, as the name suggests is a reflective piece of music that is contrasting to The Kill. The music is somewhat subdued though the music is drenched in a wave after wave of organ and sax chords, though these never reach a level conducive to one thinking of a feeling of power, but rather one of melancholy and frustration. Even the saxophone solo is a very contemplative one, leaving the listener to ponder over what has been achieved by The Kill. Aquila (The Conclusion) closes the whole of The Aquila Suite, As can be expected the conclusion is rather bombastic featuring contrasting chords blared out from the different instruments crating a cacophony of noise that brings down the curtain on this Aquila Suite.
Admittedly the album is not a classic, but nevertheless it still makes an intriguing listen especially for those who like to listen to a proto-progressive style of rock stepped in R&B roots, very much like Procol Harum. Possibly the group came a few years too late with this brand of music that was rather more popular just a few years previously. Of further interest are the sections when George "Snakes" Lee plays the flute as his playing should please Ian Anderson fans, especially when one hears the uncharacteristic breathing he employs (like Ian Anderson) which in reality breaks the classical teachings of flute playing!
Though I have not managed to find any version of the album for sale on CD, I have found reports that the album was released on the German label TRC as TRC046, though these reports are unconfirmed.
There is little or no information available about this band.
Should you have any further information regarding Aquila that could be added to the site, do not hesitate to contact me.