Collectors Corner #5

DPRP's writers dives into their collections of forgotten albums and bands that deserve a little more attention.

These are not full-blown band histories and often just short album reviews, but we bet some of these artists here will end up having an article in our Forgotten Sons series one day.

The French Connection

In this fifth episode of Collectors Corner I would like to draw your attention to some lesser-known bands from France.

Prog-rock has always been a genre primarily dominated by bands from either the UK or USA and, for a vast majority, sung in the English language. But.... elsewhere in Europe and in the rest of the world, there were numerous bands experimenting in different genres, and also in the field of progressive rock.

Unfortunately, many albums recorded by these artists from outside the UK or USA were either never noticed, hard to come by, or never got a fair chance to compete with the English / American bands.

Many bands that come from France will be known by a large group of prog fans. The bigger names like Ange, Minimum Vital, Pulsar, Magma, or Mona Lisa. But I presume not many of you will have heard from Shylock, Artcane, or Alpha Ralpha.

Three of the four albums in the spotlight here date from 1977.

Read the descriptions, listen to the samples. You might discover some old music here!

Menno von Brucken Fock

Shylock — Gialorgues

Shylock - Gialorgues
LP: Le quatrième (13:05), Le sixième (3:50), Le cinquième (18:54)
CD bonus tracks: Pendule (3:02), Sous une Arche de Pierre (6:26), Prélude à l'éclipse (2:11), La robe et le chat (1:48), Pour le bal des pauvres (1:45)
Didier Lustig - keyboards; Frédéric L'Épée - guitar, bass; André Fisichella - drums and percussion

Shylock only made two albums in the seventies before the musicians went on to pursue other goals in life. The band was founded in Nice in 1974 by self-taught drummer André Fisichella, together with keyboard player Didier Lustig, a talented musician who got piano lessons from the age of 8 before he switched to organ at 16. Through an advertisement Didier and André found guitarist Frédéric L'Épée, also autodidact. Much later, the band got some recognition when the famous Japanese label Belle Epoque released the album La Somme des Parties - Re-Recorded Best Of Shylock on CD in 2016.

The instrumental music on the first album is often compared with music by King Crimson, albeit early King Crimson. The guitar sound certainly has some characteristics of the sound Robert Fripp used on the first KC albums and the sometimes slightly annoying experiments also tend to resemble the extravagant or rather weird escapades and interludes by KC.

The music, certainly the keyboards and several melodies remind of bands like VDGG or Camel and show influences of classical music as well. Most of the pieces were composed during improvisation sessions.

The first track Le quatrième is the most consistent of the three tracks. It shows classical influences and has some really awesome melodies. The guitar is the leading instrument when it comes to the melodies with accompaniment of keyboards, drums and some bass.

The second track is called Le sixième and just like the opening track, the guitar is the 'vocal' instrument. There some changes in tempo, but the main theme has got a 'march' feel to it, with delicate drumming by Fisichella here.

The second side of the LP consisted of just one track, Le cinquième. The first few minutes sound like the trio is having fun experimenting with "table tennis" sounds and effects. Then some haunting keyboards and an equally haunting guitar sound, resembling the sound by Steve Hackett on his first few Genesis albums, take over and the music builds up to a climax before it is reduced to a classical interlude by keyboards, a bit later joined by an acoustic guitar and subsequently a bass and more orchestral keyboards. This part could easily have been recorded as a part of Trick Of The Tail by Genesis.

Some ten minutes onwards in this track, more guitar-oriented music, again a bit sounding like Genesis but this time the early Genesis: the album Tresspass with Anthony Phillips on guitar. The last few minutes are experiments and effects over a rather simple theme played on keyboard. The closing chords sound like "decent" music again.

From the nearly 19 minutes I would say some 15 minutes are a highly enjoyable listen. The title of the album is named after the mountain the trio could see from the church (see the cover!) which was their rehearsal space for many months.

The bonus tracks are performed by Didier Lustig and Frédéric L'Épée. They were recorded in a studio in Nice, southern France, in 1981, so a couple of years after Shylock had disbanded. The sound quality of these tracks is actually better than the quality of the original LP tracks.

Just guitars and keyboards, but awesome playing by the two musicians and a mixture of classical influences, folk. Some jazz too in the tracks Pendule and Sous une Arche de Pierre. Some moments remind of early semi-acoustic pieces by Focus.

The last three rather short pieces were intended to be parts of a soundtrack but the producers of the movie the music was written for never used these pieces. Prélude à l'éclipse is an exquisite keyboard dominated track with some addition from the bass played by L''Epée. La robe et le chat has the quality and characteristics of a song that could have been on the And Then There Were Three album by Genesis. Finally, Pour le bal des pauvres is a very nice keyboard piece played by Lustig, the first part using the sound of a barrel organ.

This album has been re-issues by the Replica record label and is available in digital format (vinyl is sold out) from their Bandcamp page.

Shylock — Île De Fièvre

Shylock - Île De Fièvre
LP: Île de Fièvre (13:00), Le sang des capucines (5:40), Choral (1:52), Himogène (5:11), Lierre d'aujourd'hui (2:13), Laocksetal (10:25)
CD bonus track: Le dernier (9:12)
Didier Lustig - keyboards; Frédéric L'Épée - guitars; André Fisichella - drums, percussion; Serge Summa - bass

After the three musicians fulfilled their military service obligations, they rejoined, aiming to record a second album. The trio encountered considerable trouble finding a suitable bass player. Once they found one, this musician had to bow out a few months (and many rehearsals) later due to personal circumstances. Ultimately, Serge Sumna joined the band. Recording a second album proved to be a lot more difficult as anticipated, but early 1978 the group had their second LP.

Sales were disappointing, however, and the record company, CBS, urged the band to move into a more commercial direction musically. This led to endless discussions within the group and in spite of several attempts to comply with the wishes of CBS, the contract with Shylock was terminated. Frustrations and lack of a common goal led to a split in 1979.

The first title, Île de Fièvre, derived from a book on Chritopher Columbus, is a stunning piece with great melodies. At first, hints of Tony Banks' playing are recognizable, a bit later it's very obvious that Gentle Giant was the major influence.

The second track is totally different. Le sang des capucines sounds much more like an improvisation without a clear construction or melody. The atmosphere tends to go much more in the direction of King Crimson experiments. The guitar-dominated track develops into a long guitar solo, accompanied mainly by drums and bass, and just a bit of piano.

A suitable name for track three is Choral, a slow melodic piece primarily played by Lustig's keyboards and some bass by Sumna. King Crimson meets Gentle Giant in Himogène, a rather powerful theme I think I recognize from a Gentle Giant song, anyway in the vein of GG's Valedictory.

Much more expiremental and probably mainly improvisations are the sounds in Lierre d'aujourd'hui in which the musicians playing their hearts out more in the vein of free jazz.

Gentle Giant influences again in Laocksetal, one of the first songs recorded for the second album. A varied piece of music with a lot of changes in tempo and atmosphere. Fierce guitar sounds by L'Épée dominate the music, lacking a recognizable structure and totally devoted to musical freedom that the band so desperately seeked. The second part is centered around a rather simple GG bass theme with some orchestral keyboards, a lot of percussional sounds & effects.

The CD bonus track, Le Dernier (what's in a name... "le dernier" meaning "the last"), for me is the second sublime track on this album. Influences of both KC and GG are recognizable but this track is much more melodic and has some great themes and there's a good balance between all the instruments. In the last part, Genesis shines through the sound of the guitar, which is getting close to the playing and sound of Steve Hackett.

This album has also been re-issues by the Replica record label and is available in digital and vinyl form from their Bandcamp page.

Artcane — Odyssée

Artcane - Odyssée
LP: Odyssée (2:27), Le chant d'Orphée (3:39), Novembre (9:41), 25ème anniversaire (4:46), Artcane 1 (16:18), Nostalgie (4:44)
CD bonus track (Musea): Medley live 1976: Le chant d'Orphée / Nostalgie / Élégie / Odyssée (15:34)
Alain Coupel - keyboards, vocals; Daniel Locci - drums, percussion; Jack Mlynski - guitar, vocals; Stanislas Belloc - bass, vocals

A Brief History

Artcane, promo poster Artcane were a quartet that hailed from Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France.The band was formed around 1973 by Jack Mlynski (musician, composer, singer, and artist) and Alain Coupel, who had played together before in a group from 1967 until 1968. At the end of 1973 they decided to form an experimental rock band. Alain Coupel, with a strong interest in electronic sounds, plays synthesizer and keyboards. Jack Mlynski was taught by his father, at first on clarinet, before switching to guitar. He also played keyboards and had an interest in electronic sounds as well.

Daniel Locci, a classically trained pianist but also drummer and percussionist, joined them, and in the beginning of 1974, Stanislas Belloc completed the group as their bass player.

The name "Artcane" is a combination of two words "art" and "arcane". The logo is a felucca, an Egyptian boat, reflecting in the river Nile. It's a symbol of dream and escape.

In 1976, the band record six songs, which would all appear on the original release of the album, which was released in May 1977 by Philips Phonogram. The record is well received by the specialised press in France, and even picked up in the USA.

Artcane played a lot of gigs throughout France to promote the album, and even a short film, Artcane at the Landogne Castle, was made in January 1978. But things didn't go as planned or hoped. In the spring of 1978, new material was ready for a second album. However, when a change in personnel at Philips lead to a different artistic direction, Philips decided to put an end to Artcane's contract. As an unfortunate result, the band's new material would never be recorded. Artcane gave what would be their final concert in December 1978. After Alain Coupel left in January 1979, the others decided to put an end to the group.

Mlynski went to the USA in 1982 and later settled in Montreal (Canada) for a number of years before returning to France. He kept on composing and playing contemporary music. He also is known as a visual artist and has produced a number of artworks: oil on canvas, charcoals and pastels as well as inks and lead mines. Daniel Locci passed away in 2015, Stanislas Belloc died in 2017.

The Album

The first track Odyssée was composed by Daniel Locci. It's an up-tempo composition featuring intelligent drumming and a leading role for Mlynski's guitar. The electronic sounds remind of Hawkwind's space rock. Le chant d'Orphée was composed by Jack Mlynski. He sings the French lyrics with a voice full of echoes. The music is a mix of King Crimson and Hawkwind.

Novembre was composed by keyboarder by Alain Coupel. This longer track sounds a bit more experimental, somewhat darker, but absolutely with all the characteristics of progressive rock in the vein of King Crimson. Numerous "weird" effects by Coupel's synths in this instrumental piece of music.

25ème Anniversaire is credited to Mlynski again. More KC influences here and lots of soloing on guitar but also a really gorgeous and somewhat slower interlude with delightful synth playing by Coupel.

The second lenghty track was the first track on side 2 of the original LP. The music of Artcane 1 was composed by Daniel Locci. The first section consists of mostly keyboards and effects, followed by an ethereal piece sounding more like new age than progressive rock. At around five minutes drums and bass join in, and here we have genuine progressive rock music dominated by keyboards. In the next section, Mlynski is strumming his guitar and Coupel produces spacey sounds on his synths. The electric guitar takes over, accompanied by electric piano, drums, and bass, in a section largely influenced by KC again. The last up-tempo section features soloing on the synth by Coupel.

The only contribution by bass player Stanislas Belloc is the ballad Nostalgie, which is also sung by him. Although this is a lovely piece of music, enriched by synths sounds, this track is definitely more in the vein of melodic rock music and not so much "progressive" as such.

On the pressing by Musea there's some 15 minutes additional material consisting of a live medley dating from 1976.

Please note that you can buy a digital version of the album and even a vinyl re-issue from the Replica record label's Bandcamp page!.

Alpha Ralpha — Alpha Ralpha

Alpha Ralpha - Alpha Ralpha
Synergie (4:14), Nova (5:55), Syrtis Major (2:20), Genese (9:27), Rez (3:47), Gothic (0:31), Magellan (7:30), Lagune Ouest (3:42), Hymn (4:15)
Claude Alvarez-Pereyre - guitar, vibraphone; Jean-Alain Gardet - keyboards; Michel Mareska - electric guitar; Emmanuel Lacordaire - drums, percussion, vibraphone, marimba; Charlie Charriras - bass; guest musicians: Francois Bréant - piano, synth; Jean de Anthony - guitar; Claude Samard - guitar; Jean-Jaques Goldman - vocals; Khanh Maï - vocals; Taï Sinh - vocals

Alpha Ralpha were a French progressive rock "super group", who existed for less than a year. The band was founded around the mid-seventies by Taï Phong keyboardist Jean-Alain Gardet and famous French magazine Rock & Folk journalist Claude Alvarez-Pereyre, who was also a member of the group Malicorne. Guitarist Michel Mareska (Kamasutra Blues Band) is the brother of a well-known Parisian producer, Jean Mareska. Bass player Charlie Charriras was a member of Variations and drummer Emmanuel Lacordaire was a member of Nemo (not the nineties band, also from France!).

This self-titled lp was released for Warner in Canada and France in 1977. The music could be described as a mixture of jazz rock and French symphonic prog, mostly instrumental, where guitars are keyboards are carrying the melodies for the most part. There's an occasional usage of vibraphone and marimba, and vocal harmonies. Main composer on the album is guitarist Michel Mareska, with one joint effort by Mareska and Alvarez-Pereyre.

The opening track Synergie is a mid-tempo, guitar-oriented track in a mix from jazz-rock and progressive, while the closing section, same as the short sixth track, Gothic, is an a-capella piece.

Nova is a more up-tempo piece of rock music in which the melodies are carried by guitar and then synth. Halfway the song there's a slower interlude played by acoustic guitar, followed by a very melodic part with addition of electric guitar, bass, piano and drums. A slide guitar takes over the melody and the closing section a more fierce-sounding electric guitar plays the solo's, followed by Gardet's synth.

In Syrtis Major we only hear lush keyboards and a very melodic sounding guitar.

The longest track on the album is Genese, and it is mainly a gentle and slightly jazzy prog-piece. Although more instruments are added along the way, the music remains very relaxed with parts played mainly by acoustic guitar and marimba.

Track five is called Rez and features a delightful keyboard intro by Gardet. When drums, bass, and guitars are added, and with melodies mostly carried by guitar, it turns into the most "jazz-rock" sounding track. Both Mareska as well as Gardet are soloing here.

After Gothic, it's the second lenghty track, Magellan. Just as the previous track, only keyboards (but a lot of them) in the first section, with contributions by Bréant. After the intro there's a short guitar-driven theme, followed by a very slow symphonic piece carried by keyboards, while the melodies and solos are played by both synth and guitar.

Lagune Ouest opens with an equally beautiful symphonic intro, followed a more jazzy, somewhat Oriental-sounding piece, where we hear the marimba again. The last track is called Hymn, and as could be expected there are some very nice vocal harmonies in the track. Mainly symphonic prog here, very melodic. The orchestrations are tasteful and the guitar is sounding quite mellow.

From the four albums featured in this episode of Collectors Corner, Alpha Ralpha is the most accessible album by far.