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Music Review: Morgan – Nova Solis

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Many years ago I sat in the corner of a smoke filled room alongside similar weirdo teenagers listening to the albums that we had brought along with us. I have a vague recollection that I had brought King Crimson, someone else had The Yes Album, and I’m sure someone else had Nova Solis by a band called Morgan.

The subsequent winds of time have covered the album in dust and despite several re-releases it remains a lost diamond in the crown of early seventies prog. In fact I didn’t hear the album again until very recently when I received this new digitally re-mastered edition.

Quite how such an innovative and accomplished work was allowed to drift away is beyond me. Maybe it was merely poor timing as this particular time slot for progressive rock was amongst the richest in its history. Sadly, whereas many of their contemporaries went on to produce a wealth of work, Morgan dipped below the surface after only a couple of albums.

In hindsight their pedigree was obvious. Vocalist Tim Staffell had been with future Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor in Smile. When he left to be replaced by a certain Freddie Mercury the rest, as they say, is history.

Morgan Fisher had been the keyboard player in The Love Affair, who had a number one hit in 1968 with “Everlasting Love”, released whilst he was on a break from the band.

Morgan, formed in 1971, continued in the direction that the now defunct, and renamed L.A. had been heading, away from pop, and towards the world of keyboard rich, experimental prog. It was a style inspired by the likes of The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The band brought together the talents of Staffell, bass player Bob Sapsed, and fellow Love Affair drummer Mo Bacon. The material that became Nova Solis evolved and they soon became a frequent and popular feature at London’s legendary Marquee Club. 

The album was recorded at the RCA label’s studio in Rome where they, all but, took up residence and utilised the cutting edge technology available. The resulting album represents an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards.

Nova Solis consists of four pieces, the vivid opener “Samarkhand The Golden”, “Alone”, “War Games”, and the nine part epic “Nova Solis”. The concept for the latter was centred on an astronaut who whilst journeying through space sees the planet Earth’s destruction.

It opens, and closes, fittingly with interpretations from The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst and continues its journey, through “Floating” and the majestic “Earth”, revealing the compelling story along the way.

Unfortunately, the album found itself cast adrift without a budget sufficient to do it proper justice, a fact reflected in the sales. Subsequently, it has become something of a collector’s piece.

Fortunately Esoteric Recordings have now re-released, a re-mastered version which comes complete with extensive and informative album notes, photographs, and reproduced letters and documents regarding the recording of the album.

Part of the magic of this recording lay within the lyrics. Any album that can paint an instant picture as vividly as this, in its first line, simply has to be heard. “Desert sun, scald the sky, scorch the land, bake the desert dry”, opens the imagination to “Samarkhand The Golden”, a near ever present in their live set.

It's an evocative track during which the central character finds himself alone and lost in the desert. It's powerful stuff. Nova Solis is a complex work that successfully resists the temptation to become overblown or even pompous.

The musicianship, and brave readiness to push technical boundaries, make it an important addition to those who appreciate the history of progressive rock music.

Meanwhile the bands individual qualities produced some excellent moments. For example Tim Staffell’s vocals were never better than on the lovely “Alone”. His lyrics on “War Games” address the age old question of war in the name of religion, surely a contradiction in terms.

Of course, all this leads to the epic triumph that is “Nova Solis” which filled the second side on the original vinyl release. Incidentally the opening Holst theme was also used by Morgan Fisher’s next band Mott The Hoople.

A second album The Sleeper Wakes recorded in 1973 was destined to remain on the shelf before finally seeing the light of day in 1977. By then Morgan were no more.

The best way to rediscover a band who could easily have become a household name is by visiting the Esoteric website to obtain a copy of Nova Solis.

Morgan Fisher also has a website with some interesting background information on the band and the album.

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About Jeff Perkins