Tony Stratton-Smith’s Charisma Records signed many innovative bands in the late sixties. Van der Graaf Generator, The Nice, and Genesis were just a few of them. Another was fellow U.K. band Rare Bird.
Formed in London in 1969 Rare Bird originally consisted of keyboard players Graham Field and Dave Kaffinetti. Steve Gould covered lead vocals, bass, and rhythm guitar, while drummer Mark Ashton completed the band.
Rare Bird would soon develop into true progressive rock pioneers releasing six studio albums between 1969 and 1975. There was to be several line-up changes along the way including the departure of both Field and Ashton.
Their keyboard rich music helped pave the way for many of the most successful progressive rock bands of the seventies. Ironically, they enjoyed better recognition across Europe remaining a somewhat overlooked gem in their homeland.
Despite this, and in surprisingly quick time, they secured a residency at London’s legendary Marquee Club. Their first album Rare Bird was recorded in London’s Soho during October 1969. It reached number 117 on the U.S. charts.
It has now been re-issued on the Esoteric Recordings label who specialise in helping keep classic albums from being overlooked by later generations. Rare Bird is undoubtedly a fine debut. Further albums followed with 1970’s As Your Mind Flies By, Epic Forest in 1972, 1973’s Somebody’s Watching, and Born Again the following year.
Within the Rare Bird cover notes founding member Graham Field explains their lack of lead guitar by saying, "A guitar has a romantic sound, not a nasty little sound. We want to kick people in the ribs. An electric piano on fuzz is really evil".
It was the track “Sympathy” backed by “Devil’s High Concern” (both included on this album, the latter as a bonus track) that appeared as the band’s first single. It provided them with a breakthrough into the mainstream charts reaching number 27 in the U.K. single's listings. In true Rare Bird style it did better abroad reaching number one in several other European countries and selling over two million copies in the process.
The album opens with the superb “Iceberg” which, to me at least, remains a quintessential Rare Bird moment. Breathtaking in scope and structure, its use of sweeping keys and classical undertones is utterly memorable. Steve Gould’s impressive vocals add to the overall quality.
The direct “Times” is definitely a track of its time, building within a crescendo of keys. A beautifully atmospheric “You Went Away”, with its constant time changes, leads to “Melanie” which completes the old side one of the original release.
“Beautiful Scarlet” opens side two which contains the magnificent highlight of “Sympathy”. If you can’t quite place it, play it and you will recognise it instantly. “Natures Fruit”, the twisting “Bird On A Wing”, and the dramatic “God Of War” brings the original album to a highly impressive end. Don’t forget the two bonus tracks included on this re-issue.
Rare Bird has a set of such strength that it leaves you scratching your head as to why this album isn't more widely known. Highly inspirational, innovative, creative, rich with imagination, and superb musicianship, Rare Bird had it all. All they lacked was the recognition they deserved.