The recent rerelease of two of their long out of print albums on CD promted me to dig out and update this retrospective.
This is not the Shakespeare play, but the neglected progressive rock band from the early 80s. While contemporaries Marillion went on (at one stage in their career) to play enormo-domes like Wembley Arena, and lesser bands like IQ and even the derivative Pendragon went on to lengthy careers, both commercial success and critical acclaim were to elude Twelfth Night.
I first encountered Twelfth Night as a four-piece instrumental band when I was a student at Reading University, in 1980. The band were students themselves at the time, and played the student's union and local clubs in the Reading area. The band's sound revolved around guitarist Andy Revell's extensive use of an echoplex. With song titles like "Fur Helene part 1" and "Afghan Red", they were either loved or hated by the student fraternity. Old-school rock fans loved them, punk and new-wave fans hated them with a vengeance.
This lineup recorded a live album, "Live at the Target", which gives a good impression of what the band sounded like at the time. I was in the audience for this recording, in a underground pub with the band's equipment crammed in a tiny stage at one end of the long, narrow room. The music, described by the band as a "timeless kaleidoscope of sound", climaxed with the 20-minute epic "Sequences", which condensed all the best bits of their sound; spacey echoplexed guitar in the early sections, atmospheric keyboard sections, and fluid guitar soloing.
The band sensed they needed to add a vocalist to move forward. After a unsuccessful start with a woman named Electra Macloed, and an awful, awful single called "The Cunning Man", they chose fellow Reading fine art student Geoff Mann. Then they gave him a baptism of fire; to debut as singer in front of the biggest crowd Twelfth Night had ever played to; the 1981 Reading Festival. Adding vocals to "Sequences", he transformed the former instrumental epic into the story of an idealistic recruit swallowed up in the horrors of World War One.