I've always considered myself a very lucky man for Pallas sharing many recordings with me (and others), giving me sneak previews of forthcoming albums and the chance to listen to recordings from the archives of both Mike Bentley and Mike Stobbie. It would be a matter of time before those treasures would be released, but people need time, right?
Last year, fate struck when founding member and keyboard player Mike Stobbie (with Pallas 1974 - 1979, 1991 - 1993, and stepping in when Ronnie Brown was unavailable for a gig in 1999) barely survived an attack by a deadly bacteria, the results of which left him unable to play and work. An important part of the rehabilitation is not covered by the British NHS.
To help him, a GoFundMe project was set up to raise money for this. Head over there for more information.
Also, the band released two albums (Bandcamp only) in support as well. That is 5.5 hours full of previously unreleased live and studio material!
I have been patiently waiting till the band (I have always considered Mike Bentley to be part of the band, like Mick Brockett was part of Nektar) were ready to release their old recordings in some form. It is of course a very sad reason that it is happening now. But here we have two amazing collections, and let me tell you about it, so you can both enjoy this piece of history and support the cause.
Pallas featuring Mike Stobbie — Compendium
The first collection is Compendium. It is credited to both Pallas and Mike Stobbie, since it contains two of Mike's solo pieces at the end of the compilation, taken from a yet unfinished project called Exordium, which he has been working on and off on for many years now. (I first heard this when Mike sent me a tape in 1993.)
Mike Stobbie — Exordium
The short intro Camelot prepares us for a cinematic experience. That is temporarily changed by Exordium opening with a classical piano piece full of stellar play. It transforms into modern melodies, and you just know this is going to be epic. Loads of keyboard sounds, duh, but material for a full band to play, including some parts you will recognise in some Pallas tracks.
Perfect for a film soundtrack, from pastoral soundscape to epic scenes, depicting the many sides of Mike as a pianist, keyboard wizard, and composer.
Check out the GoFundMe page for the 10-minute video for Exordium!
The Pallas material focuses, of course, on the time when Mike was in the band, which was from 1974 to 1979 and from 1987 to 1993. (Mike also stepped in for Ronnie Brown for a single gig in 2003 when Ronnie was not available for that date, impressively with a minimum of rehearsal.)
The first era is represented by recordings from 1977. 66 minutes of previously unreleased Pallas music, including 10 unreleased songs. In 1977, we have Craig Anderson on vocals and Dave Holt on guitar, besides founders Mike Stobbie and Graeme Murray on keys and bass respectively, plus Derek Forman on drums.
Several tracks show you a band trying to find their way within the genre, experimenting with styles and compositions. From the four-track EP released early 1978 (recorded December 1977), we know Pallas were experimenting with a punk-form of prog. That could have been a more conscious decision at the time, a certain punk-y approach or at least energy to making music, a rough style of especially the guitar was already there before that, and after that as well. (Interesting to see that before Niall Mathewson, Dave Holt could also break into rougher parts.) But the symphonic parts are never far away. I believe the EP depicts just a brief era, and only shorter tracks chosen for the EP.
Some tracks here show a clear wish to write prog suites. Me Through You is a rather curious or perhaps more experimental collection of song parts that show a sense of contemporary pop music, sections clearly influenced by Yes, and some flashes of what made Pallas the band they became a few years later. Some guitar and some keyboard solos, but the last minutes are just one big keyboard section. As a whole the contrast in different sections might be too big and not have worked in this case, but show elements that I would now call classic Pallas. The instrumental Joan Of Arc is of the same length but working a lot better as a whole. The second compilation has a version with lyrics that is just as impressive, when you know that one was recorded live.
Other songs were less complex in structure but still have some amount of prog in them. Thinking About You or June Illusion for example. And just when you think All I Need Is You could be a single, the Genesis approach to writing shorter songs shows up and some very progressive elements come in that would scare any single-buying person. Rags To Rags too, which is in the prog punk style of the EP until the second half goes totally symphonic again. This is clearly blurring the borders between some seemingly incompatible genres or styles, but I just love the result.
I cannot continue without giving King Across The Water a special mention. It has an unexpectedly and awesome swinging groove with Hammond that combines a Deep Purple blues stomp with Genesis' The Knife powerful prog (which also had a bit of a punk attitude even then) with the band's own later composition Queen Of The Deep, and then breaks into an old proggy hard-rock with bluesy guitar solo that is taken over by a keyboard solo. What an amazing track!
For recordings made in Graeme's dad's garage, they are surprisingly well done, as well as well-preserved. Even the drums and bass are properly audible without distorting other parts. A few tape warbles here and there, where the original tapes apparently have deteriorated too much for restoration, but an important piece of history has been preserved here.
The information on the Bandcamp tracks is not complete and in a few cases incorrect. Mike Stobbie gave me the following information:
- Tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 8: Graeme's Dad's Garage, Deeside, Aberdeen, early 1977
- Tracks 4, 6: 1977-03-15, live at The Croft, Tree Tops Hotel, Aberdeen
- Tracks 7, 10: 1977-06-01, live at Queen's Links, Aberdeen
- Track 9: Graeme's Dad's Garage, Deeside, Aberdeen, late 1977
- Track 11: 1977-02, live in Peterhead, 33 miles north of Aberdeen (this might just be the oldest Rainbow/Pallas recording available)
Five tracks were recorded live at three gigs. One can only wonder whether the complete recordings for those gigs have survived...
1988 - 1991
For the second era we get 52 minutes of songs from 1988 to 1991. Voices In The Dark was released on the Sketches tape, but this is a different version. When Sketches was reissued on Bandcamp, three different versions of The Real World were added as bonus tracks. The version of The Real World on this Compendium album is the same as what on Sketches is called The Real World 3. War Of Words is a different version than on the SI Magazine Compilation Disc.
There were tapes doing the rounds called Voices In The Dark Demo and 1988 Demo (Falling Apart, Refugee, and What The Teacher Said are from that 1988 tape; see the two versions of this tape above), which most likely will have some of the same versions as these, but my tapes are stored, so I cannot compare right away. Needless to say, these have not been released officially anywhere, so having these digital and as official release beats any umpteenth-generation tapes from the 1980s.
The songs from School Daze to Goodbye were all recorded at Great Linford Manor (Linford Manor is a 17th century mansion converted into a recording studio complex, in Great Linford, a district in Milton Keynes) in 1988, as part of an intended follow-up album to The Wedge. Those who know the Sketches tape know Pallas were very much into the influences of the second half of the 1980s in both songwriting and production. Easier song structures but with a rockier touch and still full of proggy elements. Well-crafted compositions, with interesting drum and bass patterns.
There are songs like Falling Apart At The Seams on the easier side of the musical spectrum, but there is also Refugee on the far more progressive side with a darker sound and excellent guitar solo. I still remember both being played as new songs when I saw the band in 1988 in Amsterdam. Voices In The Dark is in the middle there. Goodbye as well, and could have grown into something big, but apparently that track was never finished. It is instrumental here, and it sounds like it was still in demo stage.
Recording details for this section:
- School Daze up to and including Goodbye: Great Linford Manor, 1988
- The Price Of Love and Real World: recorded at the band's Ice Station studio September 1988
- Lifetime: recorded 11 November 1989
- We All Go To Heaven and War Of Words: recorded at Mike Stobbie's studio, Muswell Hill, London, 1991
Pallas featuring Mike Stobbie — Themelios
As a Pallas fan and collector with an OCD that puts an emphasis on complete recordings, this second compilation is even better than Compendium as it has the full recordings of two very early live shows, plus almost an hour of bonus tracks of more early recordings.
12 March 1977
This set starts with a live recording from 12 March 1977 at The Croft, a tavern in the Tree Top Hotel in Aberdeen. The line-up at this stage has Craig Anderson on vocals and Dave Holt on guitar. Mike Bentley shared a photo of the cassette in a Facebook group some time ago.
The anticipation of going to listen to a Pallas recording that old was indescribable. The fact that this exists and has survived blows my mind, let alone the fact that it is available for us fans now.
The band were still playing several covers in their set and apparently regularly opened with one as well. In this case it is Us And Them (well, that song until the end of the album). With Pallas (OK, Rainbow) having more Yes and Genesis in their sound, to me this was a more interesting cover, as they make it more their own. (Let's not forget the equally interesting renditions of Echoes, which are on Arriving Alive and An Alternative Arrive Alive.) Although I love the blues side in Pink Floyd, Pallas taking this a bit more into prog spheres just makes it very interesting, while their version of Supper's Ready was closer to the original (albeit the guitar having more power). I love the harmony singing and how the bass is more upfront.
I am a big fan of early Genesis, but I've never seen the charm of I Know What I Like. I appear to be one of the very few. You probably had to be there, in the audience. After the studio version on Compendium we here have a live version of Thinking About You, with a great soaring Hackett-like guitar solo at the end. Things get fascinating with a version of Joan Of Arc with lyrics. It's a pity this section of the tape has a few dropouts, but it still clearly shows the band on fire in the compositional department. All different sections flow naturally, the long instrumental middle part has an awesome keyboard solo by Stobbie. Classic Pallas if you ask me, a track that could have survived a lot longer in their set.
Now I didn't expect Pallas to do a cover of Stairway To Heaven but there it is. Craig Anderson almost has no problem with the vocals (perhaps a bit out of breath in places) and Dave Holt's guitar solo is more than adequate. Wilmott is quite a bit longer than the EP version. Especially on this version you can hear this track bears the foundation of what would become the song Arrive Alive.
Rags To Rags is quite a good song as well. Although abandoned, it contains some melodies you will recognise in Queen Of The Deep or in some places on The Sentinel. I love the breaks from slow into full prog powered keyboard solos. All I Need Is You is full-on prog, leaning mostly towards Yes, packed between catchy verses and choruses. And Me Through You will appeal to most Genesis fans with a long keyboard solo, probably the most Tony Banks-style solo Stobbie has done.
For some reason, this live version of Me Through You seems to work better than the studio version on the previous album. Heavier? A fuller sound? Live energy? Better rehearsed? I don't know, but it is very exciting.
Outtakes 1977 - 1979
Some studio and live outtakes from 1977 to 1979. Craig Andeson is on all tracks except Shine On Down, where Euan is singing. Dave Holt is on guitar except for CUUK, Moonline, and Shine On Down, which have Niall Mathewson.
Military Madness and Carnivore are the only duplicated tracks from Compendium. They sound a little different since one source was running too fast when digitised. These second versions sound closer to the originals.
With Yours Is No Disgrace, the band show their Yes influence. Craig Anderson is singing as high as his namesake Jon, which is no surprise, but he remains in control throughout the song. The recording is slightly incomplete at the end, but we do get some wonderful 8 minutes of the band recording a cover in their studio. Some tape fluctuations here.
The fact that The Knife is instrumental is making it very interesting. The first part is close to the original but without the vocals you hear so much more of the layered keyboards and guitars. One Over Par is a live version, but a different one than on Compendium. It's 2 minutes shorter but nothing less exciting. Not their best song, but it would not have been out of synch with the 1990s material.
This live version of CUUK is a lot more progressive than the EP version, and it has a longer instrumental section. Keyboards are higher in the mix, guitar sounds rougher, and playing is very tight. Not very typical Pallas, not even at the time, is Moonline. Slower, Pink Floyd-like sections with a dark atmosphere are book-ending a heavier, aggressive middle section.
Recorded 3 June 1979, Shine On Down has Euan on vocals. As Moonline, this is a little experimental for the band. To me, the former outshines the latter.
Stuck at the end of the compilation is another bonus tra ck. Probably to hide it a little, Crimes was something the band was glad never got out. (I hope I remember the story correctly and am not mixing it up with another song!) Not because of the music, but the lyric, which are a little controversial. The vocals are very low in the mix, so I cannot say anything about those. Music-wise it is wonderful. The intro is a variation on Holst's Mars, the main theme would sit very comfortable next to something like Crown Of Thorns. Fast-paced, heavy, and loaded with melodies. Since only two incomplete recordings of this song exist, what you get here is a mix of both.
By the way, no tracks from this section were used on the Pallas EP. (Check out the Bandcamp page for an official re-issue of that EP. All the track pages include the lyrics.)
- Yours Is No Disgrace, The Knife: Graeme's dad's garage, Deeside, Aberdeen, late 1977
- Military Madness, Carnivore: 1977-06-01, live at Queen's Links, Aberdeen
- One Over Par: live at Queen's Links, Aberdeen, late 1977
- CUUK, Moonline: live between June and October 1978 (Craig and Niall are in the line-up)
- Shine On Down: 3 June 1979
Now I only know of a track called Actor (also a 1977 studio outtake) that is not on these albums. Ah, just to know that there are even more treasures...
31 August 1979
The third section in this set is the full recording of a gig on 31 August 1979 at the Cuinzie Neuk in Kinghorn, Scotland. This was dubbed (although possibly only afterwards) as The Last Gig, as it was planned as Mike Stobbie's last gig with Pallas. (He did play the next day as well though, at an afternoon gig.)
This was the first time I heard the band's Genesis Medley, consisting of I Know What I Like plus sections of Firth Of Fifth and Stagnation. It must have been a great opener to get a prog-minded audience in the mood. Good renditions with some Pallas power and humour to spice up the originals, and lots of jamming. Or fooling around, perhaps.
Space Minstrel is an amazing track. For some reason it was dropped, like several other very good tracks from this era, but the band must have thought it was good enough to use parts of it in later, newer songs. As far as I know it was written when Euan was already in the band so it being an old song could not have been a reason. You will hear a few bits that would end up in Crown Of Thorns and on The Sentinel.
Moonline was an older song, there is an older version with Craig Anderson singing on this same set. A slower song, with great soaring melodies.
It was funny to hear one of my favourite songs Queen Of The Deep being announced as a new song.
Closing a gig with Supper's Ready - I don't know how many bands would or could do that. Mostly a faithful representation, but still that extra bit of Pallas. It's too much of a monster to say they made it their own. The band played this quite a lot, so much they called it a millstone around their neck. To be honest, I wouldn't miss it at all, and preferred it if they had replaced it with some of their own songs.
Deja Vu is The 17 minutes includes a lot of post-gig audience noises. The actual song is about 10 minutes.
Even after having studied the Pallas timeline for many years and gained a lot of inside information, I am still amazed by what is on offer here. As a long-time fan it is amazing to get such a look into a band's history. Even from a more objective reviewer's point of view, there is some very interesting music here. The quality is not perfect, so I wouldn't recommend newcomers to start here, but if you like the early years of the band and have heard other rough recordings, then I am sure you will love this.
Everybody can hear the band changed their style throughout the years. The formative years are like that for every band. The influence of punk did something, line-up changes do something to the overall sound, etc. That happens with most bands. But what I find particularly interesting is that a couple of times in their history, the band changed their set completely. We now get about two full sets of songs that were played and not too long were ditched in favour of other, newer songs. (This happened again later, around the Radio Silence tour, some bits of which appeared on the Mythopoeia collection.) There are some really great songs among them here. I bet they could play songs like Joan Of Arc, King Across The Water, Moonline, or Space Minstrel even today and make a lot of fans happy.
Referring back to where this double review started, I hope my writing about this will make some more people aware and interested to buy these albums and support the cause and support Mike Stobbie.
Here's the link to the GoFundMe page again: